Masters of Doom : A Book Review

Genre: Book

Author: David Kushner

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture is a title which I read at least twice a year. This is the story of two industry giants, John Carmack and John Romero who formed a mighty partnership and created one of the most influential games ever made. Doom.

I played Doom when it was released in the 1990s, I can attest to the late nights spent fragging friends, strategising on the fly and using the knowledge of the environment to my advantage. Doom wasn’t just a run and gun shooter, the sophisticated players didn’t rely on luck but on research and tactics.

Looking back on that era, its hard to explain to those younger gamers who found their feet in the next decade of the industry just how important this title was. In 1995, it was the most installed piece of software on the PC after the actual operating system of the era – Windows 95.

When it was released, it caused consistent outrage and network crashes. Due to its high popularity, universities had to ban it as the deathmatches caused constant network lag in campuses. The engine which John Carmack had used on the Doom series then spawned numerous other popular game titles which wouldn’t have existed without it. Some of these include Unreal, Deus Ex, Heretic, Hexen and Star Wars: Dark Forces.

The element which impressed me the most about this book was the in-depth behind the scenes research. Keeping the focus on the on the enthralling behind the scenes drama that occurred as this revolutionary title developed. Its a very human story and showcases the development teams genius. Its a book which focuses on the best moments of ingenuity and passion which excites many gamers and developers to this day.

My favourite quote was connected to how the title of the game was decided.

All they needed was a title. Carmack has the idea. It was taken from The Color of Money, the 1986 Martin Scorsese file in which Tom Cruise play a brash young pool hustler. In one scene Cruise saunters into a billiards hall carrying his favorite pool cue in a stealth black case. “What you got in there?” another player asks. Cruise smiles devilishly. “I here?” Cruise replies, flipping open the case. “Doom.”

There’s also some nice anecdotes regarding how various celebrities became hooked on the game. One example is the story of how Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails was so addicted to Doom that after a concert his security guards would rush him off stage to the computer that was booted up, waiting for him and ready to play Doom. This rock star forsook the beer, drugs and screaming groupies just to get his much needed fix.

Masters of Doom also explains how instrumental the title was in pioneering the shareware model of distribution. ID completely owned that market. Its one of the reasons that Doom was able to get into the hands of the public so quickly.

This is one of the best books concerning Retro gaming ever published. It’s a story of innovation, two gaming giants, power struggles, successes and failures. It focuses not just on the game but the personalities of those who crafted it and established a genre. The writing style makes it easy to digest and helps the characters of ID jump off the page. If you love a good story about how two computer programmers changed the world. You should read Masters of Doom.

Masters of Doom is available at Amazon

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