Masters of Doom Book Review

I am not an avid gamer and honestly, I don’t think I played Quake or Doom as a kid growing up. If I did, I certainly didn’t play through either. Masters of Doom appealed to me from a single quote which appears at the end of the book and that I originally read in a blog post by Jeff Atwood titled You Don’t Need a Million Dollars. “Carmack disdained talk of highfalutin things like legacies but when pressed would allow at least one thought on his own:”

“In the information age, the barriers just aren’t there,” he said. “The barriers are self-imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don’t need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers.”

To say I was unfamiliar with the two creators of Doom and Quake would be an understatement, but author David Kushner brought me up to speed with the first three chapters: Two Johns, the Rockstar and the Rocket Scientist. Kushner did a tremendous amount of research to accurately depict the two Johns back stories.

The chapter about John Carsmack is entitled The Rocket Scientist. He was a razor sharp kid from Kansas City (Raytown) who got involved with BBS (online bulletin board systems) early on. He also had a rebellious side from an early age, making bombs and trying to steal Apple IIs from a nearby school. Carmack was caught and spent one year in juvenile detention. He was the brains and the engine behind the company. Romero on the other hand was the visionary and the rock star. They began as equals but in the end, they couldn’t be more different. However, they needed each other to totally change the direction of video games.

This is an inspiring tale of two guys who pioneered the world of first person shooters, living out the new American Dream. The Engine and The Surgeon. As a fellow computer programmer, John Carmack is obviously an admirable hero of the occupation. A voracious learner and humble craftsman adhering to the Hackers Manifesto. Carmack is always figuring out how to improve his current obession whether that is the graphics engine for his video games, his Ferrari, or building a manned rocket. Carmack is no doubt a hero of the craft and a role model. He is the quintessential hacker. John Romero is the yin to Carmacks yang, immersing himself in the life of a video game God. Romero created the level builder and honed his 3D craftsmanship. The Rock Star had an intuitive feel for how players should be directed in the game, how the story should be told and when surprises should be thrown at them.

Their games broke them apart, they had different visions of the company. Carmack just wanted to improve the technology, build great games and open source the code. Romeo wanted to build an empire around game design.

Carmack is now working on pioneering more groundbreaking technology in the form of virtual reality over at Oculus. John Romero released an epic new Doom level called Tech Gone Bad in 2016. He started a new FPS game design company - Romero Games Ltd, maybe he will build another empire.

David Kushner did a tremendous job with this novel. He got me excited and passionate about the two protagonists. I have played and love the first person shooters that they designed. This is a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in the Doom early days, how id was formed/collapsed, and the general attitude the two giants of the industry had at the time of development as well as present day. This is also a great primer on how to start a tech company. I would highly recommend this book, it was one of my favorites in 2016. Here are some quotes that I enjoyed:

“For any given project, there is some team size beyond which adding more people will actually cause things to take longer. This is due to loss of efficiency from chopping up problems, communication overhead, and just plan entropy. It’s even easier to reduce quality by adding people. I contend that the max programming team size for id is very small.”

“It really comes down to work ethic. If you’ve got two equally talented people and one works twice as hard as the other, that person is going to run away from the other person.”

Review: 10/10

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