Fascinating View into Early Computer Games Industry
With a title like “Masters of Doom“ one might expect the book to be some end-of-epoch blockbuster but instead this book highlights the careers of two of the founders of the modern computer gaming industry. John Carmack and John Romero are outlined in the book as somewhat teenage rebels, Romero in particular could have gone either way when he was young but for one saving grace. Both were enamoured and obsessed by the early games that appeared not long after the home computer revolution started.
The book is a riveting read, and filled in a lot of blanks in my knowledge of this particular part of internet history. I can remember clearly playing Castle Wolfenstein on my 386 computer with friends back in college in the early nineties. As innovators in the gaming space, the duo brought the first ‘rockstar’ games that went beyond fanboys. Romero in particular was a larger-than-life character that followed on from the public’s fascination in early computer entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs. In particular many readers will have played or heard of their main games, being Doom and Quake. It’s also an example of how revenue-rich companies don’t need much in the way of venture funding, a lesson perhaps lost on the modern generation of tech entrepreneurs.
It also deals with the controversy such as the attacks on ultra violent games that followed the Columbine shootings in the US.
But it is also an interesting set of anecdotes about seeing and seizing opportunity, particular in the shareware sector that developed alongside their companies. It is also a cautionary tale about what happens when the vision of the two founders starts to diverge. Modern gaming companies like Zynga have some of Carmack and Romero’s DNA in their system.
Originally published in 2004, a reprint came out earlier this year. A great read, I started and finished it in a weekend.