Masters of Doom is the amazing true story of the Lennon and McCartney of video games: John Carmack and John Romero. Together, they ruled big business. They transformed popular culture. And they provoked a national controversy. More than anything, they lived a unique and rollicking American Dream, escaping the broken homes of their youth to co-create the most notoriously successful game franchises in history—Doom and Quake—until the games they made tore them apart.
Americans spend more money on video games than on movie tickets. Masters of Doom is the first book to chronicle this industry’s greatest story, written by one of the medium’s leading observers. David Kushner takes readers inside the rags-to-riches adventure of two rebellious entrepreneurs who came of age to shape a generation. The vivid portrait reveals why their games are so violent and why their immersion in their brilliantly designed fantasy worlds offered them solace. And it shows how they channeled their fury and imagination into products that are a formative influence on our culture, from MTV to the Internet to Columbine. This is a story of friendship and betrayal, commerce and artistry—a powerful and compassionate account of what it’s like to be young, driven, and wildly creative.
“To my taste, the greatest American myth of cosmogenesis features the maladjusted, antisocial, genius teenage boy who, in the insular laboratory of his own bedroom, invents the universe from scratch. Masters of Doom is a particularly inspired rendition. Dave Kushner chronicles the saga of video game virtuosi Carmack and Romero with terrific brio. This is a page-turning, mythopoeic cyber-soap opera about two glamorous geek geniuses—and it should be read while scarfing down pepperoni pizza and swilling Diet Coke, with Queens of the Stone Age cranked up all the way.”—Mark Leyner, author of I Smell Esther Williams
Long before Grand Theft Auto swept the video gaming world, whiz kids John Romero and John Carmack were shaking things up with their influential and sometimes controversial video game creations. The two post-adolescents meet at a small Louisiana tech company in the mid-1980s and begin honing their gaming skills. Carmack is the obsessive and antisocial genius with the programming chops; Romero the goofy and idea-inspired gamer. They and their company, id, innovate both technologically and financially, finding ways to give a PC game "side-scrolling," which allows players to feel like action is happening beyond the screen, and deciding to release games as shareware, giving some levels away gratis and enticing gamers to pay for the rest. All-nighters filled with pizza, slavish work and scatological humor eventually add up to a cultural sea change, where the games obsess the players almost as much as they obsess their creators. Fortunately, journalist Kushner glosses over Carmack and Romero's fame, preferring to describe the particulars of video game creation. There are the high-tech improvements e.g., "diminished lighting" and "texture-mapping" and pop cultural challenges, as when the two create an update of the Nazi-themed shooter Castle Wolfenstein. The author gives his subjects much leeway on the violence question, and his thoroughness results in some superfluous details. But if the narration is sometimes dry, the story rarely is; readers can almost feel Carmack and Romero's thrill as they create, particularly when they're working on their magnum opus, Doom. After finishing the book, readers may come away feeling like they've just played a round of Doom themselves, as, squinting and light-headed, they attempt to re-enter the world.