Reviewlet: Masters of Doom

I’ve been on something of an early 90s bender recently, starting with digging out a stack of old PC magazines for the “It was (x) years ago today” articles (1992 coming soon), then within a couple of days of each other Gamasutra had a great interview with Tim Sweeney of Epic Megagames (prompting fond memories of Jazz Jackrabbit, Epic Pinball and One Must Fall: 2097 amongst others), and Eurogamer had a piece on “The Shareware Age”, generally very good, though I’d disagree slightly about its pre-1993 PC gaming “Dark Age” suggestion. Off the back of all that I picked up David Kushner’s Masters of Doom, “How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture”, the “two guys” in question being John Carmack and John Romero of id software.

Masters of Doom is a fascinating read, thoroughly researched, covering the genesis of id, their early games (Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D), and the seismic release of Doom. Though the supporting cast are well fleshed out it’s the relationship between Carmack and Romero that’s the focus, the way it clicked to kick-start the first person shooter revolution, their contrasting personalities complementing each other perfectly. Unfortunately, though, the differences that initially sparked such creativity turned into a rift that forced them apart, like Lennon and McCartney or Peter Cook and Dudley Moore before them. After Doom there’s the rocky road of Quake leading to Romero’s departure to found Ion Storm and the debacle of Daikatana, while id stuck with Quake and Doom sequels.

It would have been interesting to have a little more context around the effect of id’s games on the wider PC gaming scene, comparative sales figures perhaps, or the reaction of id to rival games and vice versa; there are brief mentions of e.g. Half Life, Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex, but further depth would be outside the scope of the book, really, so it’s hardly a flaw. All in all an excellent book for anyone with any interest in the formative years of the FPS.