Review: Masters of Doom by David Kushner

2003’s Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture., by David Kushner, is a biography of id Software’s “Two Johns,” John Romero—the gregarious designer—and John Carmack—the Whiz Kid who’s all about programming. Kushner gives the reader an unprecedented look into the roller coaster world of the 1990’s PC gaming boom. Anyone who has played an id title will get a kick out of knowing what went into making their favorite games, and how oversized egos nearly destroyed the company time and time again.

Masters of Doom was a solid read, although at times it felt like an overly long magazine article, belying Kushner’s day job. Some parts of the book blew by, and I was left wanting some more in-depth information. While other parts drug on, going into too much detail—especially for those of us who are already familiar with computer gaming, and the history of the internet.

Personally, this book brought me back to my teenage years. I can still remember playing Doom for the first time over at a friend’s house—the only kid I knew who had a computer. Finding my way through this elaborate maze was mind boggling, but I didn’t care so long as I had my trusty chainsaw to get me through. Then a few years later when I finally got my own copy of Quake. I’d stay up all hours of the night playing it over and over again, minus the online play since we lived out in the country and internet service wasn’t available outside of town. I also remember the glossy ads for John Romero’s Diakatana back in the late 90’s, then waiting (and waiting) for it to hit the streets.

One of the fun things to do while reading this book is to count how many of the names you recognize. Which ones still work in the video game industry. Personally, I enjoyed learning more about American Mcgee’s early days at id. Having enjoyed his level design in the Quake titles and loved his twisted vision of Alice in Wonderland.

From where I stand, Masters of Doom is a must read for gamers of all ages. There’s the nostalgia factor for the 20-40 somethings, and all those young whipper snappers will realize how far we’ve come since the days when being able to jump in an FSP was a novel idea.

The only correction I’d like to note is towards the end when Kushner is talking about id’s work on the then upcoming Doom 3. Kushner mentions that Carmack enlisted the aide of Trent Reznor to once again score an id game. It was actually former Nine Inch Nails drummer/programmer Chris Vrenna who scored Doom 3, not Trent Reznor. Vrenna had however also worked with Reznor to score Quake for id back in the day. An easy mistake to make, but something of note for a fan of both musicians.

Chris Vrenna’s Doom 3 Theme

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