Anant Jain

Masters of Doom

Book Review

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

Masters of Doom is the incredible story of two Johns: John Carmack and John Romero, the legends behind two of the most well-known first-person shooter games in the history of gaming: Doom and Quake. I listened to this book on Audible, and was very impressed with Wil Wheaton's narration. I'm sure I wouldn't have liked the book half as much (or even finished it) had I tried reading it on Kindle: so, I highly recommend grabbing an audio copy for this one. This also means that I don't have detailed notes/highlights to share for this book — so, I'll keep this summary short.

John Carmack, John Romero, Adrian Carmack (not related to John Carmack), and Tom Hall founded id software in 1991. The story centers around the evolution of the 2D gaming into 3D brought on by the combination by John Romero, the game design virtuoso, and John Carmack, the masterful programmer who fiddled with bits and buffers and compute cycles to juice as much realism as possible from a 33MHz Intel 386 processor. The story is not a biography by any means, but it closely follows the two Johns through their broken childhoods, multiple failed relationships and marriages, and interpersonal conflicts that serve as an effective backdrop to the carnage depicted in their games.

Doom and Quake changed the world forever. They served as an escape for numerous teens and adults (mostly males) from their boring lives into a violent, bloody dream, where they could run amok and shoot not just alien bots, but also each other's avatars in deathmatches played over a local area network. Over time, the lack of people skills and absence of a shared vision led to to the two Johns parting ways, and, eventually getting into a number of bitter public squabbles over the internet between their gaming software companies.

The thing that stood out to me the most was the amount of sheer brilliance, creativity, and ambition existed at id software, and despite (or maybe, because of) all the intelligence in the room, the struggle, and ups and downs these guys went through were no different than any other startup. I'd highly recommend an Audible narration of this book to anyone who's a fan of video games, of programming, or of just ambitious people living their dreams.

This is #62 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.