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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 (47 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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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Go to Holywood? May 4 2004
I like a lot to read; but I struggle trying to finish a book quickly. This one is one of the few that I happen to finish in a record time (for me at least). I've read several reviews of people saying they read it in no more than a day. It actually took to me about 10 days. Reasons? My kids, my wife and my work. But, whenever none of these three "reasons" was asking me to stop reading, I was devoring the book. A standard book takes me several weeks and months to finish (I happen to read more than one book at a time too).
Well, that's "about me". About the book, what can I say? The reason why I "devored" (in my own terms) the book is because I certainly found it way interesting and entertaining. And that tendency was kept from beginning to "almost" end (the last chapter was not as entertaining, for me). I am actually one of those guys that was part of the "doom" generation, with few months of delay (the game came to my country few months after it was released in U.S.A.); yet I was one of those that happened to keep until too late overnight playing doom (in many cases until the next morning, as the characters of the book). Also, I was quite identified with the two main characters: one because his ancestors roots are the same than mines (mexicans, I speak about Romero) and the other because his main concern in his life is the same than mine: computers programming (Carmack), despite the business, despite the money, despite the marketing, the strategy. Programming is his life, doors closed at his desk without interruptions (of course I don't program graphics, yet I program another type of computers systems and that's my main purpose in this life... besides my kids and wife).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Love this book, I do not want to stop reading it! April 2 2014
By Patrick
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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. I like the way chapters are divided so far. It is easy to understand each characters and to understand how they travail through their life to become those great developers. I think that this book is a must read for those who has played Commander Keen, Wolfenstein and Doom. Being a developer myself, the story of the glory of nerds always intrigued me. If you are in the IT domain, I suggest that you read this book.

I am done with this book. I read it within 2 weeks. One of the best book I have read of my life. It is awesome to see the rise and fall of John Romero and see how John D. Carmack seem to be so in control but cold in the same time. The only negative comment that I have is that it ends at 2003. I had to go on Wikipedia to know what happen from there :) A highly recommend book if you like real story of fame that does not end the way you may think.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced, informative and inspirational Feb. 16 2014
By Bryan
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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 entrepreneur. It really opens your eyes to how stressful and dark the game industry can be. I have made it my business to not review products I purchase from the internet as I've no time but when I saw the email to do this book I thought it was entirely necessary. I'm an indie developer trying to start up right now and I noticed that my productivity really increased while and after reading this bio, very inspirational.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Informative Dec 28 2013
By Mat
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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 Apogee were producing were both fun and innovative. The book highlights the story of how id, along with Apogee, helped to start a new phase in PC gaming. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to read this book, I recommend you look into it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book! July 24 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
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By Luke
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Masters of Doom tells a business story so crazy, fast-paced and fun that you won't be able to put the book down. The book tells of the rise and fall of two figureheads in the video game industry. People who have played ID's games may find a deeper appreciation for some of the interesting details and ridiculous anecdotes peppered throughout the story. Even if you haven't played the games though, I would suggest reading the book. It's a fascinating story which proves that with the right mixture of brains and practicality, amazing things are possible - and you might just gain a deeper appreciation for video games and the people who make them by reading the book. My mother, a 55 year old woman, loved the book and she knows nothing about video games.

It's a page turner for sure and I highly recommend it.

Warning: The book was last revised in 2003, so some of the details about the "present time" are somewhat inaccurate, but this only represents a small portion of the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for Any Gamer June 2 2013
By Dennis Madison TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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. This book takes me back to those days and makes me appreciate how ground-breaking it all really was.

If you are a gamer, even a casual one, this book is a great read. The reader doesn't need to be scared that there will be a lot of tech talk - this is written so even a person not familiar with programming or even computer hardware can appreciate what was created by these talented, if dysfunctional, bunch of computer programmers.

One of the best parts of the book is how it describes all the different personalities that were involved. In this way it's more like a biography of a company and not geeky tech description of a video game. Also involved are all the business aspects involved and how the people involved dealt with taking their passion into something that turned into one of the most successful companies of it's time.

Overall this book takes many topics (gaming, programming, personal biographies, and business tactics) and makes it fun read. It was one of those books I couldn't put down!
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Most recent customer reviews
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 13 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Energizing
The energy of Carmack and Romero is beyond inspiring - I wish I had even half of the brainpower, luck and perseverance that they do. Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2009 by Martin Kess
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best book i have ever read.
Sorry for the short review here i am short on time but i must tell you that this book is absolutely stunnig. There is simply no bio-book that gamers will enjoy more than this one. Read more
Published on May 25 2005 by Sam
5.0 out of 5 stars You don't have to play Doom to love this book
I am not a gamer and have only played Doom once when I was dating an engineer, but as an entrepreneur and start-up person I loved this book. Read more
Published on July 13 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow--if you were around for the Doom revolution, buy this!
Great book, great writing. No superfluous "filler" chapters. I finished this book in a 24-hour period. Read more
Published on July 8 2004 by S. SUNDBERG
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