Here's why every programmer should read "Masters of Doom"

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I just got through with reading (hearing?) "Masters of Doom" by David Kushner and if you are a fan of either video games or a programmers in general then I highly recommend you picking it up. Not only does it give you an insight into how one of the most beloved video game franchises came to be, but it also gives you a look at just how much technical work had to go into its evelopment.

Fair warning, some spoilers to follow though I will avoid the more interesting ones.

If you were around in the early 90''s then you might be one of the lucky ones that got to partake in the game known as "Doom" which changed the way that we thought about video game for decades to come. From a programmatic standpoint, the game was a marvel. And from a video game perspective, it was edgy and violent (though pixelated violence).

"Masters of Doom" follows the origins of id Software in the early 90's known for making top-tier games, more notably Doom. But more importantly the book really focuses on the 2 founding members, or "Two Johns" as they came to be known. John Romero and John Carmack. 2 video game developers who came together to create some of the most widely known video game series' ever to come out.

Just to name a few titles that id Software released that I'm sure you are familiar with:

- Wolfenstein 3D
- Doom
- Quake
- Rage
- Doom 2
- Doom 3
- Quake 2
- Quake 3

Needless to say, id has quite a track record when it comes to making games. But back to the book. To say that both John Carmack and John Romero are somewhat eccentric, would be an understatement. They are highly passionate programmers each with then own set of strengths and weaknesses that they must battle through in this story in order to get their creations out into the public.

John Romero is a rockstar in the gaming industry. And as far as game design goes he sits atop a pantheon of a rare few. The book goes through each of the games being built and puts you into the mind of Romero as he designs characters, levels and mechanics that at the time had never been done before. Most of it sounds farfetched, until you see it in action on the screen. Then you start to see the method to the madness.

John Carmack on the other hand is like the Steve Jobs of the group. He thinks on a different plane than most as he relentless works to build a game engine that no one thought possible in the past. You can consistently feel his inner battle with himself as he tries to one-up his past achievements with more complexity.

And for me personally, that was the fun part in the story. I am a programmer and I like building complex things. And hearing about how Carmack came up with the game logic that would render higher performance and better graphics on each iteration of Doom is intriguing.

The timespan of the book is long however. It covers years and years of not only game development, but personal and business politics. People are hired then fired, deadlines are missed, millions are made in the process.

It's a story about 2 developers who cast off much of regular societal norms in order to do what they do best and that is make video games.

This definitely isn't a technical book by any means. The actual programming concepts aren't covered in detail but they are discussed. And the more you read the more you get to see what goes into making a video game. But it also shows you just how far we have gotten in game development.

Back in the day you could easily get away with 2-3 people working on a successful single title. Games were new and novel and people wanted them at any cost. John Carmack worked on the game engine, and Romero used that engine to bring his ideas to life. And in between diet coke and pizza was head late into the night.

Compare that to the current process where a single title can have hundreds of employees, years of production and millions of dollars for a budget and it definitely puts into perspective just how important these digital games have become to our society.

The book pays a big tribute to this old way of game development. A way that we probably won't see anymore in our current modern society.

So do I recommend it?

As the title suggests, yes you should read it (or listen on Audible). Full disclosure, I have not read a whole book in some time. But I do use Audible frequently enough that I do recommend it.

If you try Audible you Get Two Free Audiobooks and you can pretty much cancel at anytime. This is what I did, and every so often I will subscribe and cancel depending on my budget and interest in new releases.

If you enjoy programming or game development, then you will enjoy this book. You might not walk away learning how to make the next Doom competitor or million dollar company, but you will get a very entertaining glimpse into the lifestyle of an indie game company. And just maybe, the next time you pick up Doom for a quick bout, you will think differently about it.

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