Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture is one of those guilty pleasures I find myself reaching for during the summer months. This is an incredible tale of two young men (John Carmack and John Romero) who formed an incredible partnership and create arguably the most influential game to come out of the 1990s – Doom.

Having played Doom in the 1990s I could readily relate to the late night frag fests that spontaneously seemed to spawn up all around the world with the release of Doom.

People don’t realize how big this game was. In 1995 it was the most installed software on windows PCs, after the operating Windows95.

When released it cause numerous outages, crashes, and University ended up having to ban it because of it’s huge popularity and viral nature. Everyone was playing it!

The engine that John Carmack used on Doom, Doom2, and eventually the Quake series also spawned numerous other games that wouldn’t have existed with it.


Unreal – Epic
Deus Ex
Dark Forces
Half Life – Valve

What impressed my most about the book through was the behind the scenes research, dialogue, and drama that went into making this pop culture phenome.

For example, here’s how the game Doom got it’s name:

“All they needed was a title. Carmack has the idea. It was taken from The Color of Money, the 1986 Martin Scorses file in which Tom Cruise play a brash young pool hustler. In one scene Cruise saunters into a billiards hall carrying his favorite pool cue in a stealth black case. “What you got in there?” another player asks. Cruise smiles devilishly. “I here?” Cruise replies, flipping open the case. “Doom.”

Man I love that stuff. Little things like that.

Or little behind the scenes stories. Like how Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, was so addicted to Doom, that after a concert, his security guards would rush him off stage, past the screaming groupies, and onto his tour bus, forsaking the drugs, beer, and scantily clad women to the computer that was waiting for him. Booted up, and ready to play Doom.

So cool.

I also didn’t get how Doom was so instrumental in pioneering the shareware model of distribution. iD owned that space. That’s how they got Doom out there so fast into so many hands. Shareware. They you pay for additional levels or the full game.


Quake was the name of a Dungeons & Dragsons character Carmack played who possessed a really powerful warhammer (these guys played a lot of D&D).

Microsoft was scared of Doom, and tried unsuccessfully to buy the company. It drove Gates nuts that this little company from Mesquite was outperforming him with some game.

But it’s also a story of failure. Daikantana was a hugely ambitious game Romero wanted to create after the two Johns broke up. Carmack was the engineer. He wanted to keep the company small and just focus on the tech and coding. Romero was the level designer. He thought it was all about design.

In this case, engineering won. Even though Carmack licensed his 3D engine to Romero, he couldn’t keep up with the pace of innovation. He built a huge company which eventually collapsed in on itself – and lost Edios a lot of money.

Next Ready Player One, this was the most fun I have had reading a book in a long time. If you are a retro gamer, enjoy reading about empires, how they were built, and they fell, and love a good story about two computer hackers how changed the world, you could do a lot worse they reading Master of Doom.