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Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture | [David Kushner]

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture

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 produce the most notoriously successful game franchises in history - Doom and Quake - until the games they made tore them apart. This is a story of friendship and betrayal, commerce and artistry.
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Publisher's Summary

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 produce the most notoriously successful game franchises in history - Doom and Quake - until the games they made tore them apart. 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.

©2003 David Kushner (P)2012 Audiobooks.com

What the Critics Say

"Compelling . . . Masters of Doom succeeds on several levels. It's just great storytelling, with perfect pacing, drama and characterization. It's also an excellent business book, a cautionary tale with the kind of insider detail that other writers working in the genre should envy." (Houston Chronicle)

“Kushner’s mesmerizing tale of the Two Johns moves at a rapid clip . . . describing the twists and turns of fate that led them to team up in creating the most powerful video games of their generation. . . . An exciting combination of biography and technology.” (USA Today)

“Meticulously researched . . . as a ticktock of the creative process and as insight into a powerful medium too often dismissed as kids’ stuff, Masters of Doom blasts its way to a high score.” (Entertainment Weekly)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 08-27-13
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 08-27-13 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "How it was"

    While I wasn’t at Id Software or any of its spin-offs, I was part of the videogame industry from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, working at one small company that created a blockbuster hit, as well as several studios that didn’t make it. Much in this book speaks to my personal experience. Learning to program on the Apple II and IBM PC. Getting in touch with the hacker and homebrew community via BBS’s (the real predecessor to the web). Being an eager 20-something for whom coding and life were the same thing. The huge rush of making a game that connects with fans. The politics, ego battles, and emotional burnout that inevitably come with fame, high expectations, and endless project crunch. Kushner seems to have done a thorough job with his research and interviews, and the result is a very honest account of how things were during the last cowboy days of the videogame industry, when a handful of basement coders and artists with no real professional experience could still create a technologically-impressive smash hit game. (Nowadays, you need dozens of developers and tens of millions of dollars -- at least.)

    The history of Id Software itself is a definitive story for gamers and gaming. John Romero, John Carmack, and their various partners were basically just passionate young hobbyists with a dream and a lot of faith in themselves. I grew up playing their games years before DOOM came out, and it was a pleasure seeing the crew’s design and programming skills mature with each title. By the time they hit their peak of fame, they had helped push the once clunky PC into a viable gaming platform; invented the first-person shooter and online deathmatching; and opened game development up to casual hobbyists, by making their products relatively easy to customize with mods, tools, and add-ons.

    The yin-yang partnership between Carmack and Romero is the central drama here. Romero was a gamer’s gamer, a brash, trash-talking, heavy metal-loving guy bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. Carmack, meanwhile, was an introverted, Aspergian whiz kid with a drive and knack for understanding technology. I can tell you that the games business wouldn’t exist without both types of people (tempered by others), and Masters of Doom casts the two of them as friends who drove each other to greater heights, until their differences became too great for them to get along, and the partnership collapsed. In my opinion, this breakdown was probably inevitable -- fame had given Romero an inflated sense of his own prowess as a game designer, and Carmack was never that interested in game design to begin with (just coding). Both were overtaken by the industry their work had fueled, as pioneers often are. Kushner gives us all the sordid details, though. There’s Romero’s hubris and humiliating downfall post-Id, after the failure of Ion Storm proved that being a rock star doesn’t equate with knowing how to run a company. There’s Carmack’s inability to manage and easily relate to other people, not an uncommon fault in technical geniuses -- though he seems to have since softened around the edges and remains an important innovator.

    Being so specific to an era and a subculture, and full of dated technology and game references, this book will speak to some readers more than others, but I think it’s at least skim-worthy for anyone with an interest in gaming or game development. If you don’t tire of the immature antics of young geeks, there are some funny anecdotes, such as the moment when Romero hires a designer who’s a Mormon and keeps putting his foot in his mouth (“At least you’re not one of those crazy Mormons with a ton of kids.” “No, I have five children.” “Okay, well, at least it’s not ten kids and you’re not one of the ones that wears the magic underwear.” “No, I’ve got it on right here”. Etc...) And the tale of Carmack’s commitment to the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, to the point of destroying his own labored-over world after Romero acquires and unleashes a world-ending weapon, is telling.

    As a former game developer, I urge anyone aspiring to that field to absorb the lessons here. Between them, the members of Id had many instructive successes, disappointments, and failures.

    I should mention that Will Wheaton is brilliant as an audiobook narrator, his boyish enthusiasm a perfect fit for the subject matter. Sometimes he gets so carried away in his excitement, his voice actually cracks. He also does some amusing vocal affectations, from the nasally, “concerned parent” voice of an organization opposed to videogame violence, but not having much of a clue about how gamers really think or act, to a suitably cheesy “dungeon master” intonement of the bad writing in the introduction to one of Carmack’s early games.

    A riveting read for the right audience. I was tripping on memories all the way through.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Keith Springfield, MO, United States 11-24-12
    Keith Springfield, MO, United States 11-24-12 Member Since 2007
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    "Fun with a twist of mean!"

    I enjoyed the world that David Kushner painted and enjoyed even more the way Wil Wheaton brought it all to life (he is an extremely talented narrator and if you have not listened to anything else he has narrated, you are missing out in a big way). I spent many lonely and bug-eyed nights playing Doom and its many sequels. I admired the way I could actually download a game and play it for free. I loved killing the demons and then being so hooked that I had to buy the whole game. This is what I loved about the first portion of the book: hearing about others and their experiences with the game. Then we moved on into the in-fighting and the clashes of personality. I was okay with that too. But when they got to the point where they split off and were no longer able to work together (big shocker for such big personalities), I kinda lost interest. I finished it, but often found myself daydreaming instead of listening. But, I will put that squarely on my own shoulders. I found myself psychoanalyzing these guys and trying to put them back together the way they were when they first started. I rooted for the lone programmer whose brilliance behind the keyboard drove the success.

    I liked this book. It was a fun primer for the uninitiated (like me) in the story behind the rise, descent, and ultimate destruction of id!

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Channelview, TX, United States 08-31-13
    Daniel Channelview, TX, United States 08-31-13 Member Since 2006

    “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Narrator of the Year"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Masters of Doom to be better than the print version?

    Yes. Wil Wheaton was the perfect narrator for this book in so many ways. Imbued with a sincere passion for the subject, his reading of the two John's story is gripping.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Carmack. I personally identify with many of his traits, very forward looking and intellectually curious.


    Have you listened to any of Wil Wheaton’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have not listened to him before.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Commander Keen Must Die.


    Any additional comments?

    Again, Wil Wheaton made this book absolutely sing. One of the best narrations I have heard in some time.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nate Christensen UT, USA 08-21-12
    Nate Christensen UT, USA 08-21-12 Member Since 2012

    Revolutionist

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    "Very Intresting"

    It is amazing what 2 men could/did for an entire industry and pop culture. Having known bits and pieces of the story before this brings it all together and at a great pace. A must for gamers wanting to understand where and how this came to pass.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason Cambridge, ON, Canada 01-15-13
    Jason Cambridge, ON, Canada 01-15-13

    ZEN. LDS. GTD. FTW.

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    "If you were ever a fan of Doom or Quake, get this"

    Masters of Doom was a treat to listen to, and finished it completely in a few short days (I went on extra walks as an excuse to listen to it).

    Wil Wheaton nailed the narration and David Kushner really captured the time and the two starkly different personalities in Carmack and Romero.

    Glad I took a chance on this. Well worth it!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Connor North Carolina 08-18-13
    Connor North Carolina 08-18-13 Member Since 2011

    Enjoy the adventure

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    "As Addictive as a Video Game"

    The story of John Romero and John Carmack who were the creators and programmers of popular PC games during the 1990’s. It’s also a book about mixing hard work with fun. The “Two Johns” were successful because of their passion to create PC games that they and their friends would enjoy playing. Fortunately, for the “Johns”, there were many others who also enjoyed these games.

    Wil Wheaton, who achieved stardom on Star Trek during the 1990’s, was perfect as narrator.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. Productions Charlottesville, VA 03-24-13
    L. Productions Charlottesville, VA 03-24-13

    Nate

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    "Excellent work by Kushner + Wheaton"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I absolutely recommend this book. The reporting by David Kushner is thorough and balanced. I didn't like Wil Wheaton before I picked up this title, but the work he does here is incredible. If you are even considering getting this one, just go for it. You won't regret it.


    What other book might you compare Masters of Doom to and why?

    This book is not unlike Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. The teamwork between Jobs and Wozniak in founding Apple and going big with the Apple II is mirrored in the collaboration between John Carmack and John Romero. Anyone interested in the development of modern computer technology should look into both of these tomes.


    Have you listened to any of Wil Wheaton’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have listened to one other Wil Wheaton performance: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Wheaton did a great job there as well (Ernest Cline's book is somewhat mediocre). The great thing about Masters of Doom is that Wheaton's performance is surpassed by the quality of the text (Wheaton is great though, so it makes for a terrific combination).


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    There are a number of inspiring moments where Carmack makes an incredible break through; these just blew me away.


    Any additional comments?

    I won a badge in the Audible app for listening to the entirety of this book 3 times.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Fjolnir Isafjardarbaer, Iceland 01-14-13
    Fjolnir Isafjardarbaer, Iceland 01-14-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Loved the games and loved the book"

    This was a surprisingly suspensful story, everybody who is familiar with Doom and Quake should be interested in the story behind the games. I was one of those who were waiting (and waiting and waiting) for John Romero's Daikatana and I finally gave up waiting, now I know what happened!!! The reader gives such a great performance that the book is elevated to a new level. I really liked this one.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    11-26-12
    11-26-12 Listener Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Excellent, detailed analysis of id Software games"

    Great Book! Heavy and graphic in detail (in a good way), the book covers the rise of id software and its highly influential games Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake.

    However, the story becomes much more about two people - John Romero and John D Carmack. David Kushner goes into a fascinating level of detail and realistic information or fictionalised narrative to give a sense of really being in the room with these guys.

    He does end up clearing a lot of "conspiracy theories" and appears to give an honest account of the rise and then middling of id software.

    The book lingers at times on dungeons and dragons too much as well as wolfenstein - but at no time I was bored listening to the book.

    Highly entertaining, I would recommend this book to anyone - whether they are interested in computer games or not.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brian Norwalk, CT, United States 10-04-12
    Brian Norwalk, CT, United States 10-04-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Awesome"
    What made the experience of listening to Masters of Doom the most enjoyable?

    A must have for gamers, entrepreneurs, and programmers alike! Though this book is not labeled as an entrepreneurship resource, as a software developer and entrepreneur myself, I place this book above the many other great books in the entrepreneurship/startup category.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 33 results PREVIOUS124NEXT
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  • Mr. C. J. R. Beale
    Stevenage, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "Very inspiring"

    I never usually buy books about people's lives, I tend to find them over the top and overly glorifying of the person. The fact is though nothing could over glorify the story of ID software, these guys made the gaming industry we have today and whenever they make something it tends to change the entire industry.



    So I bought the book, what I found was an inspiring tale of a group of rebels that beat empires. These guys all had bad childhoods yet managed to make themselves successes but that's when the real drama begins.



    The narrator is good and you can tell he put his heart into reading this, very energetic voice perfect for this book.



    I recommend this audiobook to anyone it's a great listen, I've listened to many different types of book and this is by far one of my favourites

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • henrik
    Roskilde, Denmark
    8/12/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Top notch book, Superb narration by W.W"

    As always. Wil W. does an exelent job of narrating. But with this book, it was an easy job for him. See, Will Weaton is a geek (just like me) and a child of the generation who lived through this time in history. Theese guys was part of making computer games becomming mainstream. This story is a great insight into the lives of the 2 Johns and the story of ID software. If you are just remotely interested in gaming history, this is a must have. And Even if you'r not, The story is well worth your time anyway. Highly recommend !

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Tariq
    United Kingdom
    3/24/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Very cool!"
    Would you listen to Masters of Doom again? Why?

    I've read the print several times and Will's narration is pretty spot on for the audio version.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The early days, their drive and commitment.


    Which character – as performed by Wil Wheaton – was your favourite?

    John Romero and Tom were pretty great.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes!


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Mr
    Ipswich, United Kingdom
    1/15/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Programmer, Gamer or Geek? you need this!"
    What made the experience of listening to Masters of Doom the most enjoyable?

    I listened to this in the car everyday on the way to work and back and Wil Wheaton's energetic delivery of this book just made me think about it during the day which made me yearn for home time so I can continue it again. The book delivers the story from each of the different characters very well!


    Which character – as performed by Wil Wheaton – was your favourite?

    John Romero of course!


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    It was very edgy not knowing what was round the corner and what direction the it was going to take which no doubt made it exciting. I was Sad when the book ended thinking how I was going to find a similar audio book to compare with.


    Any additional comments?

    The start of the audio book is a little slow as it goes though the characters childhoods which is understandable. You need to push your self through the first 30 minutes to the point when the experience of Soft Disk employment starts and from that point you're reap the rewards!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    Helensburgh, United Kingdom
    12/10/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "If you grew up with Doom you'll like this."

    This is an interesting listen, if you grew up playing Wolfenstein and Doom covering everything from the first Commander Keen game to Quake. If you are not into computer games then this is probably not for you.
    The narration is a little cutesy sometimes, and I didn't really like the impressions of the iD guys. However it was interesting enough to keep me listening.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Catherine
    Tayport, United Kingdom
    12/4/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A fascinating insight into a very strange culture"

    As somebody who was there at the start of personal computing, Doom itself and the games that led up to it are very much stuck in my memory and I was delighted to see this book. All in all I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the era because there is a fair bit of background information and it certainly brings back memories of good times when these games seemed the cutting edge of technology.
    The book is well written although I would have liked a lot more technical detail, and it moves along quickly, with plenty happening and lots to keep you listening. However I found the people involved almost universally dislikeable, and while this is obviously just what they are like, it made it a difficult read at times.

    The narrator surprised me a little. I know his voice from other things he has done and he read this in a rather stereotyped way which while suited to the story, did grate a bit. I got the impression he had decided to read the book with a very specific accent because of the subject matter and at times (especially when he said "we are not worthy" repeatedly) it was quite annoying. I would have preferred it if he had just read in his normal voice and let us imagine the way that the people of the time might have spoken.

    However, despite this niggles I enjoyed the story and it gave me a lot of background to something that was a significant part of my youth - I would really like to read a more technical story covering the actual creation of the software.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Paul
    PEVENSEY, United Kingdom
    12/1/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A must for PC children of 80's / 90's"
    Where does Masters of Doom rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful book on the history of ID software and the people behind the PC games Doom and Quake


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Both John's were very interesting characters well depicted


    What about Wil Wheaton’s performance did you like?

    Really good performance adding an extra dimension to the book and bring it to life


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    The book is pretty long so not one for a single sitting. I listened to it over a few weeks during my commute to and from work


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Liam
    United Kingdom
    9/15/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A gripping and inspiring story."
    What made the experience of listening to Masters of Doom the most enjoyable?

    A great story that covers a fascinating period in game history from the point of view of true pioneers.

    The book is well written and covers both the humour and passion of the subject matter. It is also really well read.

    The only comment I would make is there is a lot of swearing. It didn't bother me but worth mentioning.

    Well worth it.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Matt
    Truro, United Kingdom
    8/21/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Absolutely awesome! SUCK IT DOWN!"
    Would you listen to Masters of Doom again? Why?

    I absolutely would. The story is so captivating, and Will Wheaton does an excellent job narrating.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    There are so many, but I think it has to be John Romero. He is just larger than life and never stops dreaming.


    What about Wil Wheaton’s performance did you like?

    His voice is well suited to audio books, and he does a good job of putting on voices too.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Definitely. I have tried my best too as well, alas life gets in the way!


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Olivier
    thouare sur loire, France
    9/4/12
    Overall
    "A Great Human and Technological Saga"

    "Masters of Doom" is yet another tale of 2 buddies starting an IT company that shook the world (Bill Gates/Steve Allen, Steve Jobs/Steve Wozniak, Larry Page/Sergey Brin, ...).

    Having read biographies of all the pairs mentioned above, why did I bother to read yet another biography ? Because, each of these is a different story, and when well written (and read) these are engrossing human sagas that also place our modern technological world in context.

    "Masters of Doom" has it all.

    The pair of characters that it follows are anything but boring, and the text does a great job of bringing their character and idisyncracies to life (and Wil Wheaton's reading is excellent). If you have any interest in technology (not necessarily computer games, which I do not play) then this is a sure winner.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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