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Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture [Hardcover]

David Kushner
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 6 2003
“To my taste, the greatest American myth of cosmogenesis features the maladjusted, antisocial, genius teenage boy who, in the insular laboratory of his own bedroom, invents the universe from scratch. Masters of Doom is a particularly inspired rendition. Dave Kushner chronicles the saga of video game virtuosi Carmack and Romero with terrific brio. This is a page-turning, mythopoeic cyber-soap opera about two glamorous geek geniuses—and it should be read while scarfing down pepperoni pizza and swilling Diet Coke, with Queens of the Stone Age cranked up all the way.” —Mark Leyner, author of I Smell Esther Williams

Masters of Doom is the amazing true story of the Lennon and McCartney of video games: John Carmack and John Romero. Together, they ruled big business. They transformed popular culture. And they provoked a national controversy. More than anything, they lived a unique and rollicking American Dream, escaping the broken homes of their youth to co-create the most notoriously successful game franchises in history—Doom and Quake—until the games they made tore them apart.

Americans spend more money on video games than on movie tickets. Masters of Doom is the first book to chronicle this industry’s greatest story, written by one of the medium’s leading observers. David Kushner takes readers inside the rags-to-riches adventure of two rebellious entrepreneurs who came of age to shape a generation. The vivid portrait reveals why their games are so violent and why their immersion in their brilliantly designed fantasy worlds offered them solace. And it shows how they channeled their fury and imagination into products that are a formative influence on our culture, from MTV to the Internet to Columbine. This is a story of friendship and betrayal, commerce and artistry—a powerful and compassionate account of what it’s like to be young, driven, and wildly creative.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Long before Grand Theft Auto swept the video gaming world, whiz kids John Romero and John Carmack were shaking things up with their influential-and sometimes controversial-video game creations. The two post-adolescents meet at a small Louisiana tech company in the mid-1980s and begin honing their gaming skills. Carmack is the obsessive and antisocial genius with the programming chops; Romero the goofy and idea-inspired gamer. They and their company, id, innovate both technologically and financially, finding ways to give a PC game "side-scrolling," which allows players to feel like action is happening beyond the screen, and deciding to release games as shareware, giving some levels away gratis and enticing gamers to pay for the rest. All-nighters filled with pizza, slavish work and scatological humor eventually add up to a cultural sea change, where the games obsess the players almost as much as they obsess their creators. Fortunately, journalist Kushner glosses over Carmack and Romero's fame, preferring to describe the particulars of video game creation. There are the high-tech improvements-e.g., "diminished lighting" and "texture-mapping"-and pop cultural challenges, as when the two create an update of the Nazi-themed shooter Castle Wolfenstein. The author gives his subjects much leeway on the violence question, and his thoroughness results in some superfluous details. But if the narration is sometimes dry, the story rarely is; readers can almost feel Carmack and Romero's thrill as they create, particularly when they're working on their magnum opus, Doom. After finishing the book, readers may come away feeling like they've just played a round of Doom themselves, as, squinting and light-headed, they attempt to re-enter the world.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-John Romero and John Carmack started programming games as teens. After they met, they became the first to make a video game on the PC that scrolled smoothly. In their 20s, they went on to create the hugely popular and controversial video games Doom, Wolfenstein 3-D, and Quake. But the passions that drove them to stay up late night after night, living on pizza and Cokes, drove them apart, causing Romero to leave to form his own company. The book traces their successes and failures, giving some insight into what it means to be a video-game designer, and is liberally sprinkled with humor, much of it from the twisted minds of the programmer/gamers themselves. Readers may not find the individuals likable, but they will be fascinated by watching what happens to them. While much of the story takes place in the '90s, the book continues on into the 21st century, where Carmack's Quake 3 is still heavily played and Romero's Daikatana has become one of the most hyped failures in video-game history. The company the young men founded, id Software, continues to be a force in gaming. Both video-game players and budding venture capitalists will find something entertaining and educational here.
Paul Brink, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Eleven-year-old John Romero jumped onto his dirt bike, heading for trouble again. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely stunning Dec 28 2003
I cannot give this book any higher praise than I will now attempt to bestow.
This is a fascinating account of perhaps the most intriguing story in the world of computer gaming: the story of id Software's rise to prominence through the development of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake, as well as the highly publicized split between the two men most responsible for these blockbusters, the two Johns: John Carmack and John Romero.
The book is not only an entertaining blow-by-blow account of the events that transpired in this story, but is also a cunningly crafted and penetrating look inside the psyche and personality of two fascinating human beings, and the wild initial success of colloboration followed by the bitter conflict bred by the polar forces that drove them. As such, its appeal transcends that of the video gaming community; it is a marvelous case study in sociology as well as a chronicle of the creation of computer games.
Masters of Doom is ultimately a "rise and fall" tale, in a sense. id Software, John Carmack, and John Romero will likely never reach the heights they achieved in the glory days following the release of Doom, but it is arguable that no single company or individual developer will ever do so again either.
The book is uncompromising in its account of the conflicts, and assesses blame only through the eyes of the people involved, without sounding preachy. Kushner assumes a neutral role and presents a remarkably balanced portrayal of the events, siding with neither Romero nor Carmack on the critical issues, leaving the reader with the accurate perception that both were right in their own way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Suck it Down! Wonderful book for even non-fans Dec 27 2003
What a gripping glimpse behind the curtain! Even if you don't like video games, you can't ignore the human drama in this story: two towering personalities who transcend their work; office politics for huge stakes; the birth of a multi-billion dollar industry; a blast of creative spirit so strong it still gets my heart going.
The story is perfectly readable for a "non-fan", and I'd bet a game-hating girlfriend or wife would enjoy this book and maybe even feel a connection. The game developers at "id" were like snotty kids who created a huge fad, only to discover they had talent and the fad wasn't going away. John Carmack was the brains and John Romero the heart, an incredible partnership of opposites that created (or at least cemented) an new form of entertainment, only to break up at the height of their success. Like the Beatles, fans have argued who had the greatest impact, but in truth the magic was lost and never really regained.
By now their story has been ground into the dirt by the gaming press. At the time, the events seemed very one-dimensional with clear losers (first Carmack, then Romero), but author Kushner points out enough obvious contributions that I was reminded of the greatness of the partnership, not their egos. Hardcore fans will find all kinds of "So THAT's what happened" moments, lots of cameos and observations from famous id employees, and the all important history of the "Two Johns" after their break-up. The story of Ion Storm is included but too brief to feel authentic (ion deserves it's own book) and Kushner follows the conflicts within id after Romero left.
I don't have enough good things to say. This book isn't perfect, but the subject is so fascinating I couldn't put it down. Buy it, now.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent "Behind the Video Gamer Makers" story July 6 2003
Kushner's book is a "Behind the Music" type of story detailing what drove these young men to devote their lives to making some of the world's greatest video games. You'll especially love it, if like me, you played Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, and Quake in the 80s and 90s, and wondered how id software could revolutionize gaming every few years. The author gives a great inside scoop on how Carmack created graphics engines that turned the PC into a gaming machine, which at that point in time seemed almost unthinkable. Romero, in the early days, was the perfect complement to Carmack's skills, creating the first level editing tools to develop levels for Commander Keen and Wolfenstein. And the rest of the people at id software--Adrian Carmack, Tom Hall, etc., their stories are detailed, as well as people like DWANGO Bob, who made money off networked DOOM servers before the Internet came along. My only wish was that the book had pictures so we could visualize what everyone looked like at the time!
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Bottom line: This is one of the best researched and written business stories I have ever read. I polished off this 302-pager in one day. Okay, I missed a flight and was stuck in a hotel airport, but I still stayed up past 2:00 a.m. to finish it.
"Masters of Doom" benefits from its colorful cast of characters. We meet not only the cold, distant programming genius of John Carmack and the maniacal enthusiasm of John Romero, but secondary players like Stevie Case, a gaming grrl and Quake champion who became a developer and Playboy model, and one fellow who took up game programming after he abandoned a shot at the ministry and become an exotic male dancer who went by the stage name "Preacher Boy". You can't make this stuff up.
Kushner obviously did his homework. He conducted hundreds of interviews and had access to material such as Romero's hoard of childhood memorabalia such as old drawings and comics. The book has in-depth footnotes, and while I wondered about the origin of certain quotes, Kushner says he did his best to reconstruct conversations and events based on multiple sourcing. The story is driven by the polar-opposite personalities of the Two Johns, and Kushner does a great job of being impartial, almost always presenting multiple accounts of the same event. I disagree with the reviewers who seem to think he went light on Romero or failed to give Carmack enough credit for driving id. Kushner dishes out both credit and criticism where it is due, and does so in details that really humanize his subjects. We see Carmack stun his friends by announcing he had taken his cat, a longtime pet, to the pound because it was interfering with his work.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of great history
It's amazing to think that John Carmack and John Romero worked on Commander Keen, Doom, Quake, and the sequels to those games together and changed the world. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Rudolf Olah
5.0 out of 5 stars Love this book, I do not want to stop reading it!
I have bought this book few days ago and I cannot stop reading it. It is well written and even if I have read only about 50 pages, I cannot stop reading it. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Patrick
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced, informative and inspirational
This book is fantastic, it has a really quick pace that matches the subject matter.Honestly, its a must read for anyone who ever wants to get into game development as an... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Bryan
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Informative
I purchased this as a gift since I own a copy already. The book is a great look back at an interesting and perhaps important time in PC gaming as the types of games id and also... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book!
As a teenager I played The sharewares of Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom and Quake. This book presents the story of how those games came to be. Fascinating.
Published 15 months ago by David Laprise
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story, regardless of whether you're a gamer or not.
Masters of Doom tells a business story so crazy, fast-paced and fun that you won't be able to put the book down. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Luke
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for Any Gamer
I vividly remember the first time I played DOOM on my desktop computer. I was blown away and when I got up from my desk I was actually dizzy and disorientated from the experience. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Dennis Madison
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting insights into the minds of legendary game developers
This book is excellent. I found all the facts and figures to be quite interesting. It is very evident that the author spent a lot of time gathering these facts and quotes. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Samuel Henderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Incapable of putting this book down.
For anybody that ever played and enjoyed a video game between 1980 to present this book is a must read. Read more
Published on April 28 2011 by Mr David A Fenrich
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read
Once I picked up this book, I was hooked.
Vidid description and story telling keeps you interested and hooked to read more.

Great read. Read more
Published on March 14 2011 by Yop83
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