Author(s): John Romero
Let's begin with the end: I won't say that I did not enjoy reading this title because I did, all in all, like the 1980 to 1996 stories. But for someone who boasts multiple times about having an extraordinary capacity to recall past events in absolute detail, it is interesting to see what the book does not speak about. e.g., all we get from the Daikatana epoch is a series of founding and management issues and mistakes and a final mea culpa.
So, I will focus on the positive things instead, of which there are also plenty.
The contents of the book are laid out, according to my ebook reader, as follows:
- 10% early life (until early 80s)
- 65% pre-id "dev life" & id Software (until 1996)
- 15% Ion Storm & miscellaneous (until 2001)
- 10% Up until 2022 (emphasis on his new DooM map packs)
This means that there is a majority of content related to Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, DooM, and Quake; I am adding Daikatana to the last one, as it used the Quake & later on Quake II engines.
This book represents an excellent tale of how, with effort and dedication, you can create great things, no matter where you come from. It might not be easy, it might take some time, but it is possible. We'll read about the first PC games and the abundant problems they posed, always limited by CPU speed, but also severely handicapped by primitive graphic cards. We'll also learn about the first steps of the shareware distribution system, and why John Romero and John Carmack got a lot of money, founded id Software, and then became very wealthy in their early 20s.
I grew up living the same PC evolution and playing the very same games they were creating, from Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D to DooM and DooM II, and Quake is my all-time favourite videogame, so I devour any article or book that tells me more about them and how they were made. You won't be disappointed in that regard, there is plenty of internal information about building each title.
Many other geeky details are also fascinating, like why coding both DooM tools and the game itself in NeXT computers, or many of the features that Romero added to each version of the map editors, or the rare tools they would build (
"Carmacizing the maps", aka compressing) and insane work they'd all put (e.g.,
"Michael Abrash had had to rewrite his highly optimized renderer eight times"). There are also notes of humour and funny stories here and there.
The best part of the Ion Storm era is some good lessons that Romero states as some introspection-work outcome, primarily oriented towards managing people in a company, but a few are also related with being in the videogame production industry. And, of course, the whole thing is a cautionary tale about correctly picking co-founders (and deciding their share).
The final chapters, post-Daikatana era, lose momentum and are salvageable only because of the Sigil DooM maps part.
It was a decent read, which I wasn't sure what to expect and delivered in some areas, but did not on others. Just don't expect any shocking reveal regarding what you can already read about on the internet about id Software.