Monday, November 23, 2015

STRANGER THAN FICTION: Masters of Doom by David Kushner

The Two Johns in Prose

Growing up, I was an enormous id Software fan. For me, it started with a pirated copy of Wolfenstein 3D on my Packard Bell 386, but Doom 2 was really my jam. I spent countless hours finding and playing user-made levels and modifications. I lived through the split, when John Romero broke from id to form Ion Storm. I anxiously awaited each new game. Even now, hearing a Doom alum worked on something gives me enough reason to take a look at it. I thought Masters of Doom wouldn't contain much I didn't already know, but I was quite wrong.

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture primarily follows the two Johns of id Software, John Romero and John Carmack. Though the narrative involves all members of the id team, it starts with the two Johns. Masters of Doom follows their lives from early adulthood, through the formation of id Software, their formal split, and closes shortly after the release of Quake 3: Team Arena. It's primarily focused on the early days of id, Doom, and Doom's impact on the company.

Masters of Doom is a excellent look at the wild days of 90's game development. I'm talking about when a team of less than 10 can make a game that changes the game industry and makes them bazillions of dollars, which is precisely what id did. Even more incredible, they did so without much of a plan beyond "make games" and "have fun". When you consider how video game hits today are made, it's shocking to me that they got as far as they did. Sure, we occasionally get a Minecraft, but most games are done with teams of hundreds.

What is also surprising is how much internal strife occurred along the way. id made big moves, and stepped on a lot of toes along the way. It's arguable that they didn't even properly utilize the resources they had, with people instrumental to their games' development either half-hearedly doing so, or outright unhappy with the games direction. When Romero split from id, it was huge and public because Romero was a huge, public figure in the gaming community, but there were equally important and devastating losses throughout id's history.

If you're not a fan of Doom, or id Software's games, or game development in general, there might not be a lot of reasons to read Masters of Doom. It knows its audience, the 90's PC gamer, and its audience should know something about the time before heading in. However, if you have any interest in those things, Masters of Doom is truly compelling for providing an inside look at one of the most important video game developers of all time.


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Reference: Kushner, David. Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture [Random House, 2003]