Masters of Doom
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture is a 2003 book by David Kushner about id Software and its influence on popular culture, focusing chiefly on the video-game company's co-founders John Carmack and John Romero.
|May 6, 2003 (Hardcover)|
May 11, 2004 (Paperback)
May 15, 2012 (Audiobook)
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
ISBN 0-8129-7215-5 (Paperback)
|794.8/092/2 B 21|
|LC Class||GV1469.15 .K87 2003|
Upon release, Masters of Doom received positive reviews from critics and has been placed on numerous "best of" lists for video game books. The book would later influence Palmer Luckey to establish the technology company Oculus VR. In 2019, it was announced that the USA Network greenlit a pilot episode of a potential series based on the book.
David Kushner was a contributor for news outlets such as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Wired. Since this was his first book, Kushner spent five years on research. He moved to Dallas, Texas to conduct the interviews with the subjects, interviewing them late into the night.
The book describes the "Two Johns'" respective childhoods, their first meeting at Softdisk in 1989 and the eventual founding of their own company, id Software. It discusses in detail the company's first successes, the popular and groundbreaking Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D games, as well as the new heights the company reached with Doom, which granted the company unprecedented success, fame and notoriety. It also discusses id's next project, Quake, as well as the aftermath of Romero's departure from the company and his founding – and the eventual collapse – of Ion Storm, his new game development studio. Kushner also describes the new gamer culture created by Doom and its impact on society.
While the games themselves are discussed in detail, Kushner's main focus is in the work dynamic and personalities that enabled their creation. He describes Carmack and Romero as the driving forces of id Software, but with very different personalities: Romero is presented as having unbridled creativity and considerable skill, but he loses focus when the spectacular success of the games allows him to adopt a rock star-like public persona. Carmack, on the other hand, is depicted as an introvert, whose unparalleled programming skills are the backbone of id Software, enabling the company to create extremely sophisticated games. However, he has little interest in – or even understanding of – the social niceties that enable people to enjoy working together.
Much of the book concentrates on this dynamic. While the two men initially complement each other well, eventually conflicts develop, leading Romero to be fired from the company. Carmack, the skilled creator of the complicated and fast game engines the company's products use, is repeatedly referred to as the only person in the company who isn't expendable, and this gives him a great degree of authority and influence. However, this influence transforms id Software into a considerably less pleasant and fun place to work and causes the company's games to become increasingly repetitive, despite their technological sophistication. Romero is on the opposite end of the spectrum; his Ion Storm is intended to be a very fun place to work, where "[game] design is law" (Ion Storm's slogan was "Design is Law") and that technology must be created to realize the designer's vision, instead of the other way around. However, his lack of management and organizational focus leads to poor and financially disastrous results.
Although Kushner adopts a novel-like narrative, Masters of Doom is a work of journalism. According to Kushner's notes in the book, it is based on hundreds of interviews conducted over a six-year period. Kushner was an early entrant into the field of video-game journalism, and recycled some of his own original reporting in the book.
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture was first published in May 2003 by Random House in hardcover and ebook form. Random House released an excerpt of the book before its release. Random House later negotiated a deal with UK publisher Piatkus, releasing a trade paperback in autumn 2003.
Seth Mnookin for The New York Times described the book for its pacing and detail, calling it "an impressive and adroit social history." Jeff Jensen for Entertainment Weekly gave it a "B" rating. Thomas L. McDonald for Maximum PC offered praise for its prose and its representation of the subjects. Edge described the book as being akin to a Greek drama without the pathos, adding that the story was "a cautionary tale of relationships in the games industry." Hardcore Gaming 101 considered the book to be "a highly entertaining and quite informative read." Scott Juster for PopMatters gave praise to Kushner's extensive research and interviews of Carmack and Romero. Since its release, the book been placed on several "best video game books" lists.
Salon contributor Wagner James Au, while declaring the book to be "excellent", criticized David Kushner for giving too much credit to Catacomb 3-D in terms of technical merit in comparison to Ultima Underworld. Ann Donahue for Variety considered the character study of "the two Johns" to be interesting but thought the book had "problematic tunnel vision" by rarely taking a broader look at the impact Doom had outside of the gaming industry. Computer Gaming World's Charles Ardai called it "clumsily written but nonetheless compelling". Publishers Weekly considered Kushner to have given too much leeway about the violence in the two Johns games. The magazine also criticized the narration to be dry in parts of the book.
Palmer Luckey, the founder of the technology company Oculus VR, first became interested in virtual reality after reading Masters of Doom. John Carmack would later leave id Software in 2013 to work for Oculus as their chief technology officer. In 2016, Kushner released an audiobook follow-up titled "Prepare to Meet Thy Doom and More True Gaming Stories". The book is a compilation of Kushner's long-form journalism which included a “where-they-are-now” article on Carmack and Romero. The book was read by Wil Wheaton.
In 2005, former Ion Storm chief executive officer[a] Michael Wilson sued publisher Random House Inc., claiming the book made false allegations against him making a dodgy business deal to purchase a BMW with funds from the company. Wilson sought $50 million in damages, with further punitive damages from the publisher. A spokesperson for Random House issued a statement announcing the publishing company's support of David Kushner. As of 2020, the outcome of the lawsuit is unknown.
Plans to adapt the book was first conceived in 2005, when it was announced that producer Naren Shankar was planning a television movie for Showtime based on the story. The movie never materialized beyond the initial announcement.
In June 2019, USA Network greenlit a pilot episode of a potential series based on the book, to be written and produced by Tom Bissell under James and Dave Franco's Ramona Films label. The series, if it should continue, is expected to be an anthology series. The series will feature Eduardo Franco as Romero, Patrick Gibson as Carmack, and will also star John Karna, Jane Ackermann, Siobhan Williams, and Peter Friedman, and will be directed by Rhys Thomas.
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