kevin42 writes "Everyone who was into computers 10 years ago knows about Doom. Less people are familiar with Wolf3D, and even fewer people ever played any of the Commander Keen games. But those of us who played them when they were cutting edge games couldn't wait for what would come next. To hard-core gamers, these games were amazing, and important. The change came with DOOM; suddenly everyone was interested in this groundbreaking game." Kevin reviews below David Kushner's Masters of Doom.
Virtual reality was the craze of the time, and Doom offered a glimpse into what it was all about. But this innovative game did not come from any of the "big" video game developers of the time, and it was not the built by a large team with huge resources. Although it was the product of many people's efforts, it was primarily the creative genius of two people, both named John.
John Carmack and John Romero are names that every self-respecting Slashdot reader knows. Carmack even posts here occasionally (hi John!). Until I read this book, I knew very little about the personal life of Carmack, and I thought I probably knew too much about Romero. Like many, I have been intrigued by their successes (and failures), and was interested in learning more about what makes them tick.
Masters of Doom starts off with a chapter for each John, telling stories from their childhood that made me realize they were just typical American kids, with the same kind of problems that many of us probably had. These are important chapters, and the author repeatedly references these stories throughout the book. Although the book chronologically covers the entire lives of the two Johns, most of the book details their working years, from their time at Softdisk until now.
This is where the book was most interesting to me. The details of the camaraderie that existed among the team made me feel like I was there. The author got a lot of his information from personal interviews with people, and it really shows in his writing style. First-person accounts are woven together so you get to know what each person was thinking while the story plays out. For instance when the id team met with Sierra On-Line in 1992, you get first-person impressions from both sides of the meeting, giving the reader a lot of insight that you would ordinarily never get.
For me, the book's climax was during the initial releases of Doom, when huge checks were pouring in. Things were going really well for the team at this point, and the book describes things like John C. and John R. dropping off a check for five million dollars at the bank's drive-through, while riding in one of their Ferraris. Although things were looking great for the team at this time, the future really held turmoil and disappointment.
The only negative comment I have about this book is not really a criticism of the book itself, or even the author. I believe the story was accurate, and while it didn't have any shocking new information, it left me feeling sad to see such a powerful combination of talent break apart because of personality conflict, and sad at the thought that Carmack seemed to be losing interest in id Software. The book does mention Carmack's current interests in rocketry (which are even more exciting to me than his games), and Romero seems to have settled into a life he is enjoying, but the mood of the book seemed very depressing to me in the end.
Anyone who is a gamer or a self-taught programmer like Carmack and Romero would enjoy this book. The book does not require the reader to know much about games or computer programming, but I suspect it might be uninteresting to people who aren't either gamers or interested in computers. To the average Slashdot reader though, I would definitely recommend this book.
You can purchase Masters of Doom from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.