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Masters of Doom

How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture
Written by: David Kushner
Narrated by: Wil Wheaton
Length: 12 hrs and 43 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (37 ratings)
Price: CDN$ 33.54
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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

Average Customer Ratings

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John Romero will make you his bitch...

I still remember being a snot nosed kid in the 90s playing doom. It was the start of my love affair with video games. They really were rock stars. Its a shame whats happening to the industry now with the triple A developers and publishers following trends and destroying any credibility they have with consumers with their shady practices. Publishers now suck all the creativity and force games out early all for the bottom line. It was eye opening to see how success and money change people in the industry. Well everyone except Carmack, that dude will be Carmack no matter what. Great narrator with a 90s vibe. Felt like i was there making the game with them.

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Amazing

I've already read the book before and enjoyed it a lot so I decided to give a chance to this audio book, and it was amazing! Will Weathon made me forget that it was him who was reading the book and I imagined like it was the same Romero, Carmack and the other guys who made their own dialogues. This book was the reason I subscribed to audible and I'm very happy with what I listened. Totally recommended!

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The epic tale of the rise and fall of ID

I grew up with Doom and Quake, both Carmack and Romero are my idols but I never truly knew beyond the games how things went down until now. After listening to this my respect only grew for them and I now feel nostalgic for the 90s, it truly was the golden age of gaming. Events after the book have not been favorable for ID, they are nothing but a shambling corpse kept alive by corporate greed which is what is dominating the industry now. It's truly a shame that it ended this way.

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Amazing book

David Kushner's opus. It weaves a tale not just about two men who created a legendary game. But also about their flaws, and in so doing tells a far grander story about the value of productivity and unbridled ambition. The story of John Carmack and John Romero is intensely relatable to everyone even if you're not a fan of video games. Will Wheaton's performance is also very good and it adds something to this book that you wouldn't get otherwise just from the text alone. Highly recommended for just about anyone to read.

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  • Ryan
  • 2013-08-27

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.

46 of 47 people found this review helpful

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  • L. Productions
  • 2013-03-24

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Daniel
  • 2013-08-31

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.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Jason Comely
  • 2013-01-15

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!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Brian
  • 2012-10-04

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • TM
  • 2013-12-05

A Great Start-Up Story

Any additional comments?

Whilst I like technology books and books about start-ups, I have little interest in first-person shooter games and have not played the games described in this book more than a handful of times.

However, the book is so well written and the characters are described in such relatable terms, that I inhaled this audiobook in a couple of days.

I recommend it. Enjoy!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Fjolnir
  • 2013-01-14

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Sumit G.
  • 2012-11-26

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Keith
  • 2012-11-24

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!

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Pi
  • 2013-10-29

Fascinating story, perfectly told.

With the break-neck pace that the gaming industry moves, it's amazing that anyone has had the clarity of vision to step back and document the history of this new form of entertainment. In Masters of Doom, Kushner does just that by detailing the careers of two of gaming's earliest superstars, John Carmack and John Romero. The fact that this book even exists is a testament to Kushner's foresight, and the quality of its presentation leaves nothing to be desired.

There's something fascinating about a creative duo, something magical about the dynamic it creates. Kushner positions the two John's, Romero and Carmack, as that sort of pairing, reminiscent of Jobs and Wozniak of Apple fame. But where Jobs and Woz were the design and engineering halves of the computer revolution, Romero and Carmack were those halves of the PC gaming revolution.

Kushner takes what could have been a rather boring history of id software and turns it into a real narrative. He shows Romero and Carmack as yin and yang, two parts of a whole. But he also shows them as headstrong individuals who just don't see enough of themselves in their partner. Ultimately, we see the two split ways and compete, seemingly never to achieve the greatness alone that they had together. Along the way there are many recurring themes and characters, all of which Kushner takes great care to point out to the reader.

It's worth noting how tight of a time frame this book exists in. Masters of Doom was published in 2003. Doom came out in 1993, and Daikatana (the development of which is a focus of the latter half of the book) was released in 2000. 3 years separation from the subject matter is nothing, but reading this book in 2013 still shows it to have significant historical perspective.

As for the narration, Wil Wheaton is, as always, a fantastic reader for anything and everything geek related. His delivery here is pitch perfect, and it really brings the story to life.

The only thing I might have wanted was a more recent afterword. I believe the one presented in the book is from the 2004 softcover reprinting. Considering the audiobook was recorded in 2012, and both Carmack and Romero have continued to work in the industry during that time, an extra chapter to bring the book back up to date would have been appreciated. That's a lot to ask from an audio release, however, and I can hardly fault the publishers for merely doing a "great" job with this book, rather than going way above and beyond.

If you care about gaming, and you enjoy a good biography, Masters of Doom is tough to beat.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful