At work today, as I gazed over the banks of computers, an idea suddenly struck: Dude, ask to get Quake installed on all the computers. We can Deathmatch during lunch breaks. Seemed like a fine idea to me; unfortunately it’s probably against all kinds of company policy to jump up from my desk and scream “suck it down, bitch!” at a faraway colleague after blowing their face off with the BFG. (Especially if a client was being shown around the office at the time.)
This thought will no doubt have occurred to me thanks to having just finished reading Masters of Doom for the second time. Released in 2003, it tells the story of the early-to-mid-1990s boom in computer and console gaming as seen through the eyes of John Carmack and John Romero: co-founders of id Software, the company responsible for 3D first-person shooters Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake; the men mostly responsible for such a boom.
From re-telling their oft-troubled childhoods, through their meeting at Softdisk software company, Carmack’s ground-breaking work on game engines and Romero’s ingenious game design providing the means to exploit it during their time together at id, the book by David Kushner paints a brilliant picture of the games industry and its hunt for the next thrill – thanks to intensive research and hundreds of interviews with the key players in the story.
The particular angle that Masters of Doom goes for is how the Two Johns’ partnership was greater than the sum of its parts; while Carmack thrived on pushing the envelope to make the next game even more successful than the last, Romero lived a rock-star lifestyle as the man who “Wrote It” – the slogan he added to the Doom t-shirts which he and other members of the team wore to gaming events.
It’s Carmack’s love of order and Romero’s lust after chaos which proved the winning formula for id; not only in real life but in the story presented too. It’s a powerful combination which is never more apparent than when Romero parts company with id to form his own company, Ion Storm. Without Carmack to push his phenomenal design skills, he underestimates the need to have the semblance of order and organisation around him – with dire consequences. The element of chaos now lacking at id also makes for a tense atmosphere, as Carmack cracks the whip over his staff who needed that unpredictability to spur them onto creating bigger and better games.
The story of the Two Johns makes for a fascinating read no matter what; but I would highly recommend Masters of Doom as a starting point.