on 20 August 2013
David Kushner not only manages to write this book with incredible accuracy (having had a long interview with John Romero himself for instance)but also manages to write this book as if it where an unfolding story rather than a simple account of video game history. Managing accuracy with an interesting and appealing writing style that is entertaining, witty and unique is incredibly accomplished. I have read no other book on gaming history that has both of these strengths. Many video game history books lean toward the academic, which can be a chore to read, or to the editorial.
Kushner somehow manages to avoid being too academic and too editorial in this book, and as such it is a book I can recommend to anyone interested in Commander Keen, Wolfesntein 3d, Doom, Quake and the respective careers at those who worked at id software etc.
on 22 November 2003
The two guys referred to in the sub-title are the two Johns, Carmack and Romero, near-legends for their creation of the Doom and Quake games. The book traces their careers from modest beginnings with the shareware release of their first games through to the inevitable Ferraris and eventual breakdown of their partnership.
The book is never less than absorbing, notably when describing the amazing single-mindedness of Carmack when developing the 3D "Engines" that led to the development of some definitive 1st person "shoot 'em up" games. If you enjoy reading about the lives of successful programmers then get this book!
on 26 August 2015
I don’t usually read biographies. I find them to be a bit dull and intrusive. But I broke my own rule this time and read “Masters of Doom” by David Kushner. The reason? Well, I am a gamer by heart and loved the computer game “Doom”. It was a game of my youth, a first person shooter full of demons and violence. A match made in heaven…or hell if you like.
This book is the account of how Doom came into existence, created by a group of pioneering computer programmers in the 90’s. The book’s main protagonists are the “two Johns”; John Romero and John Carmack. Romero is the crazy, wild designer of the pair, mirrored by Carmacks calm, collected hardcore programmer. There are other ‘characters’ that appear in the book, such as Adrian Carmack, Tom Hall etc. But the two Johns are the focal points of the novel.
The book starts with the childhoods of the Johns and describes how they finally meet and how, from humble beginnings, they jump from strength to strength and end up creating a multi million dollar business. Very much the American dream. From reading this book I can only define Carmack and Romero as Geniuses. Programming is hard. I’ve tried it. It’s full of hard maths, syntax problems and logic arguments. Its like trying to measure the moon, with your eyes closed. With your hands tied behind your back. And yet the Johns (and many other bit players of the industry who make an appearance in this book) seem to just “get it”. The book doesn’t show the hard graft that I’m sure went into learning the programming languages, but by the age of 14 they were already coding. You have to be extremely intelligent to be able to pick it up that easy and with this intelligence and hard work they made themselves millionaires.
The two Johns’ careers started with creating small simple games in high school on early Apple computers. They then got small jobs with developers such as Origin and Softdisk. Ultimately, with their eagerness and entrepreneurial spirit, they finally branched out on their own. Their beginnings were questionably legal, with them borrowing work equipment and moonlighting. However the whole era just oozed rebellion and breaking loose the shackles of big business so this ambiguity of law just increases the spirit of self actualisation. Where young, passionate, hardworking and not forgetting extremely clever individuals made their fortune in their own way. This book makes it look so easy to make millions from computers. If only it was that easy.
Games created by the team include Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake 1, 2 and 3, all synonymous with the video game revolution of the 90’s and both the birth of first person shoot ‘em ups and the prevalence of PC gaming. Its touched on briefly in the novel that the Johns were not the only people capitalising on the rise of the video games industry, but the majority of the book does read like they were.
In the end the duo run into the humanity side of all business’. Arguing, jealousy and contempt all led to their eventual split. Following the split, they each run their own companies in their own different styles. With successes and failures, the book tapers out and brings us up to the books publication date.
The positives of the book are many if you are fan of the games and the gaming industry. The book goes into some what detail of the creation of the games and gives insights into how the minds of the creators processed. Even if your not a gamer, the book is still a good tale of the underdogs making it big. The tension during the crunch days, when deadlines were looming, is brought to life by Kushner and each characters personality is shown to the reader. For a book written some 10 years after the majority of the facts, it goes into quite intricate details. This is proof of the amount of research carried out by the author. The epilogue at the back tells us he interviewed all parties in depth, as well as spent months sifting through mountains of old computer magazines to gather dates and locations.
Theres not much to be negative about the book, its hard to criticise real life. Some of the dialogue felt pushed, but then it would have been transcribed from interviews which would have been dragged out of half-forgotten memories. In my opinion, there wasn’t enough detail on the actual design of the main games, Doom and Quake. It seemed like the design and code was glanced over for tension and drama. More prose than fact but drama sells and too much code detail in the book would have slowed it down and turned it into more of a text book.
In all a good book however its audience is automatically narrowed by its genre and topic. Not everyone will find it interesting however I found it enjoyable, intense and fascinating. I could almost see myself writing the next best selling video game and making my millions! Or maybe not…
I was delighted when someone pointed out the book Masters of Doom. It's not a new title, dating back to 2003, but it covers a period that anyone of a certain age with an interest in computer games will regard with interest.
Describing the rise and fall of the two creators of id software, John Carmack and John Romero, it is a classic silicon valley business/bio - with some particularly extreme characters. I knew nothing of these people at the time, but reading the book brought on waves of nostalgia as they were responsible for three of the key milestones in gaming history. I was still programming PCs when Wolfenstein 3D came out and I remember being amazed by the effects and responsiveness they coaxed out of the early PC's terrible graphics. By the time Doom and Quake came along, I was reviewing games for a living. Though my personal tastes ran more to the X-Wing series and Seventh Guest, I was stunned by the capabilities of the id games. They were the only first person shooters I ever found interesting - and each moved on the field immensely. All the first person shooters that are popular today from Call of Duty and Halo to Destiny owe them so much.
So from a techie viewpoint, this was fascinating, though the author does tend to rather brush over the technical side to keep the story flowing. And from the personal side, there were plenty of fireworks too. While the book slightly overplays the traditional US business biography style of presenting disasters and triumphs to regularly fit chapter boundaries, there is no doubt there was a real roller-coaster of an existence in a way that all those reality TV stars who overuse that term wouldn't possibly understand.
Although there are plenty of other characters, the two Johns are at the book's heart - Carmack the technology wizard behind the engines that powered these worlds, and Romero the designer and flamboyant gamer. The pair inevitably clash on direction and when they split it's interesting that it's the John who doesn't go for the classic US software developer heaven of turning the offices into a playground who succeeds.
All in all, truly wonderful for anyone who was into games in that period (and should be of interest to those who have followed them since). It's a shame it stops in 2003, as things have moved on a lot since its 'how the main characters are now' epilogue - but a quick visit to Wikipedia can bring you up to speed.
on 23 August 2011
Very interesting account of the early days of PC gaming covering an iconic software developer. If you want someone to blame for the dominance of first person shooters in today's games, look no further than Id software and DOOM. The personalities of the two protagonists, John Carmack and John Romero, seems to have been a little simplified by the author (Carmack is the brain, Romero the soul) but the interaction between the two Johns adds an extra layer of human interest to the story (and probably why they're making a film of it).
I have to say that, for me, John Carmack doesn't come out of this book very well. Basically a very talented graphics programmer he ends up running Id software like his own fiefdom, making it an unpleasant place to work and releasing the same game every few years with a new graphics engine and very little else in terms of game evolution. John Romero is the one who increases the profile of the company and brings "the gamer" to the attention of the mainstream media and gets very little credit for it. Ion Storm, Romero's offshoot company, bombs but not before releasing one of the best games of all time on any platform : Deus Ex in 2000. In an age of identikit shooters (Call of Duty, Halo, Bulletstorm, etc) truly Romero's mantra of "Design is Law" is more pertinent than ever.
on 14 May 2012
It was 1992 and I was using a 2400 baud modem in my fathers office to log on to BBSs around the country when wolf3d first appeared for download. I gave in to temptation and spent the download credit and call charge time to snag a copy and when completed and unzipped I don't think anything could prepare me for what was a about to happen n screen! From that moment on I was hooked on pretty much everything id software would release. Doom and Quake took that forward and each time I thought "surely this is as good as it gets". This book gives a fantastic understanding and insight into how these landmark releases in gaming history came to be and what became of these coding and designing gods. My only tiny criticism of the book is that the second half doesn't have as much about the actual tech discoveries (like the scrolling EGA trick of Commander Keen or texture mapping n Wolf) and is more about the nit picking and hate between the Johns. That said up to the 80% mark on my Kindle I was hooked and the last 20% was very good. If you were hooked on Keen, Wolfenstien, Doom or Quake then you owe it to yourself to read the history and learn how two geeks took the games industry by storm and caught the attention of Bill Gates along the way.
on 25 July 2013
This satisfies a desire to revel in the technical joy that was Doom, as well as discovering the internal friction and decisions that occurred throughout the development. The difference between Carmack and Romero could not be more pronounced - and it makes the story of Doom all the more interesting for it. If you like Doom, and you have an interest in gaming history, I think this a great book for you.
on 23 February 2011
Masters of Doom tells the story of two Johns -- Carmack and Romero -- who pioneered first-person shooter computer games in the early 1990s. Like chalk and cheese, but sharing a die-hard interest in programming, the pair masterminded iconic classics such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake.
Kushner does a marvellous job of telling this roughly decade-long tale. In fact he spent six years researching the book, and it shows. No stone is left unturned as Kushner delves into everything about the two Johns -- their troubled childhoods, their first job together at software company Softdisk, their mutual die-hard approach to programming, their formation of ID Software, their quick rise to fame and fortune, and the eventual disintegration of their relationship.
Few books have gripped me like Masters of Doom. An expertly told rags-to-riches tale of big ideas, bigger egos and office politics, it may not appeal if you have no interest in computer games or business in general. But for everybody else, this comes highly recommended!
on 1 November 2004
I normally keep to technical programming literature, but whilst spending some book vouchers I saw this book and decided to pick it up as a filler. Now I've read it, it turned out to be perhaps my favourite book of the lot.
I think the book would appeal to anyone with an interest in the gaming subculture, despite other reviews. The book is filled with great insight into the hearts and minds of the team that created Doom, starting from their humble beginnings to the beginning of Doom3.
It is very light hearted, puntuated well by the humourous machine-like nature of the lead programmer John Carmack. It does also cover the many downs of the various team member's lives, and has plenty of painful decisions (such as John sending his old cat Mitzi being sent to an animal pound, probably to be put down), and you come out the otherside fully understanding what a miracle Doom's creation really was.
on 3 May 2013
Great book which gives an insight into the two Johns (Carmack & Romero) early days within the first two chapters before moving on to their meeting at SoftDisk and then the teams brake away adventures with id. Its not all plain sailing later on though as Romero finds out with Daikatana and the guys having to put up with the backlash from tragedies like the Columbine High School massacre.
The book is very well researched and highly detailed with dates and locations etc (maybe even slightly too much for my own taste)and reads very well, keeping the chapters flowing and keeping you reading!
The book also helps to inspire and motivate. As John Carmack notes within the book that people no longer face the same restrictions with technology that he and Romero experienced in their youth, all that's needed now to create is a cheap PC plus pizza and cans of coke as fuel.