Masters of Doom

28.10.2013 19:16

Recently I finished reading Masters of Doom by David Kushner. It came on my radar because of a post on Hacker News that said this was a book that inspired Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman to make Reddit.

The story follows John Carmack and John Romero from childhood, through the founding of id software, later successes and failures of games they developed and concludes with the founding of Armadillo Aerospace. Compared to other books I read about ups and downs of US start-up companies (like The Facebook Effect or Dreaming in Code) it presents a more personal view of people in it. It often goes into first-person details of how someone felt about other people or the way some project was going. That makes for an interesting description of dynamics in a team and how they led their lives. It also makes me wonder how much of these details can genuinely be learned through interviews and how much has been added later to make for a more interesting read.

While this part of the book is quite well written in my opinion, the author fails horribly at describing technical details or any of Carmack's many breakthroughs in computer graphics. Even though I knew beforehand many details of id game engines I was constantly baffled by their descriptions in the book and went several times to Wikipedia to check my memory (by the way, the best description of Carmack's smooth-scrolling trick in Commander Keen I could find is on this Wikipedia talk page). Even more puzzling is the wrong explanation of gamer slang telefrag. Thankfully only a small part of the content is dedicated to technical topics, but it makes me wonder how such mistakes could have happened when the author describes himself in the epilogue as a hacker that was himself involved in the gaming culture.

In the end I still enjoyed reading the book. It included many events I remember reading about in magazines years back and presented them from the other point of view. The story also gives a quite good time line of events and gives a genuine impression of the amazing speed at which advances in technology happened at that time.

According to the book, Doom was half-jokingly made to be the number one cause of decreased productivity in businesses around the world. If designers of Reddit took that as inspiration for their website you could certainly say their success was along the same lines.

Posted by Tomaž | Categories: Life

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