19th Century and Onwards, Books, Technology

Masters of Doom

Now, normally a book about 1980s video games wouldn’t be something I’d cover on this site. However, the early days of home computers and video games has always been a particular interest of mine. In fact, it’s my stock answer for the “if you had a time machine” question – while I would love to visit all sorts of historical periods, I’d probably fare a bit better in the early ’80s as a very liberal, non-religious, mixed-race woman than I would in the Tudor era, for example!

Masters of Doom isn’t a new book by any means, but when I saw that a friend of my husband’s had sent it to him to read, I eagerly awaited my turn. While I didn’t play Doom or Quake or Wolfenstein 3D, I did grow up playing video games, and still play them today. So I was intensely curious to find out the story behind iD Software and the creation of its most famous, historically significant, games.

One reason I’m so interested in this early period of personal computers and video games is because of the sense of hope and possibility, using burgeoning technology to indulge in curiosity, explore new ideas that seem life-changing – the sorts of ideas we take for granted today:

As originally intended, the walls were anything but ninety degrees; they were octagonal, tiered, with steps leading from one room to the next. Carmack had also devised a way to create windows within walls, so a player could look from one room into another, though not know how to get inside. There were actual light sources in the games – strips of fluorescence on the floor or above.

I also like the image of a group of people getting together to investigate ideas they believe in, things that everyone else thinks can’t be done.

Carmack punched a few buttons on his keyboard and showed Tom his other new feat: side scrolling. The effect . . . made it appear as if the game world continued when a character moved toward either edge of a screen . . . Carmack had finally figured out how to simulate this movement on a PC.

. . .

As Tom immediately understood, this meant one thing: They could do Super Mario Brothers 3 on a PC! Nobody, no one, nowhere, had made the PC do this.

As someone who’s been writing online and making websites for twenty years, I guess I feel an affinity towards that sort of feeling. I certainly didn’t break any new ground with my particular thing, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for people who find a new technology to connect with, to try and make their own.

While Masters of Doom is of course non-fiction, there was a novelistic quality to it that made me think about it when I wasn’t reading. If you have even a passing interest in video games, I would recommend this book. Beware, though, if you’re susceptible to craving food based on repeat mentions in books – you may emerge from Masters of Doom with a sudden urge for pizza and Diet Coke!

You can find Masters of Doom on amazon.com and amazon.ca.

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