Tuesday, 9 September 2014

On the road to Doom - review

I was delighted when someone pointed out the book Masters of Doom. It's not a new title, dating back to 2003, but it covers a period that anyone of a certain age with an interest in computer games will regard with interest.

Describing the rise and fall of the two creators of id software, John Carmack and John Romero, it is a classic silicon valley business/bio - with some particularly extreme characters. I knew nothing of these people at the time, but reading the book brought on waves of nostalgia as they were responsible for three of the key milestones in gaming history. I was still programming PCs when Wolfenstein 3D came out and I remember being amazed by the effects and responsiveness they coaxed out of the early PC's terrible graphics. By the time Doom and Quake came along, I was reviewing games for a living. Though my personal tastes ran more to the X-Wing series and Seventh Guest, I was stunned by the capabilities of the id games. They were the only first person shooters I ever found interesting - and each moved on the field immensely. All the first person shooters that are popular today from Call of Duty and Halo to Destiny owe them so much.

So from a techie viewpoint, this was fascinating, though the author does tend to rather brush over the technical side to keep the story flowing. And from the personal side, there were plenty of fireworks too. While the book slightly overplays the traditional US business biography style of presenting disasters and triumphs to regularly fit chapter boundaries, there is no doubt there was a real roller-coaster of an existence in a way that all those reality TV stars who overuse that term wouldn't possibly understand.

Although there are plenty of other characters, the two Johns are at the book's heart - Carmack the technology wizard behind the engines that powered these worlds, and Romero the designer and flamboyant gamer. The pair inevitably clash on direction and when they split it's interesting that it's the John who doesn't go for the classic US software developer heaven of turning the offices into a playground who succeeds.

All in all, truly wonderful for anyone who was into games in that period (and should be of interest to those who have followed them since). It's a shame it stops in 2003, as things have moved on a lot since its 'how the main characters are now' epilogue - but a quick visit to Wikipedia can bring you up to speed.

You can buy Masters of Doom at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

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