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Joystick Nation

Joystick NationOrder this bookStory: This fascinating, but painfully short, book provides a look into the history of video games in both the home and the arcade, and the various evolutionary steps that led from their creation to the present-day media marketing blitz that surrounds a form of entertainment most of us consider commonplace.

Review: Actually, that description barely does justice to “Joystick Nation”, which covers a lot of ground, and is certainly intended for that portion of the gaming population which was around for the early days of arcade video games, not for those who were young when the first NES hit American shores. The book spends a great deal of time discussing sociological issues, ranging from players’ basic mental, emotional and instictual reactions to video games, to the degree to which the iconography of video games (and game-related marketing) have entrenched themselves in our culture. There are also diversions into the moral ramifications of video game violence, the growing connection between animè, manga, comics and games, the military’s use of high-powered video game engines as training tools, and more. Continue reading

High Score: The Illustrated History Of Electronic Games

High Score: The Illustrated History Of Electronic GamesOrder this bookStory: The authors guide us through a well-illustrated survey of the history of electronic gaming, from Spacewar through the Xbox, with a particular focus on the histories of specific game series, and the companies and personalities behind them. Abundant examples of rare packaging, prototypes and hard-to-find goodies are on display throughout.

Review: If you liked “Supercade”, you’re gonna love this one. “High Score!” is the closest I’ve seen to the “definitive text meets incredible variety of photos and visuals” mix that I’ve been hoping for someone to hit in the rarified genre of video game history tomes. And some of the stuff seen in here, I’ve never seen before – such as the cartridge-based Atari Video Brain that was scrapped to make way for the Atari VCS (a.k.a. the 2600), or the unused Centipede publicity poster and the rejected artwork for Atari’s Vortex, later reamed Tempest. Ample advertising material and box art are also reproduced here, a collector’s dream. Continue reading

Game Over: Press Start To Continue

Game Over: Press Start To ContinueOrder this bookStory: An overview of the history of Nintendo, one of the most influential companies in the video game industry. Traces the company from its beginnings as a playing card manufacturer to the heights of its popularity, when its video game consoles were in practically every home across the world. New chapters continue the story into the PlayStation era, when Nintendo’s dominance was surpassed by the international conglomerate Sony.

Review: “Game Over” is the story of a company. If you have ever read a corporate history, you know that they generally do not make scintillating reading. But author David Sheff has done something impressive. He has taken the hard corporate world and put a human identity to it. While there is plenty of hard information: data, trial information, etc., it is the stories of the men and women behind Nintendo that makes the story real. Continue reading

The First Quarter: A 25-Year History Of Video Games

Note: This book has since been reprinted under a different name, “The Ultimate History Of Video Games“.

The First Quarter: A 25-Year History Of Video GamesOrder this bookStory: In the beginning, there was Spacewar, a game designed and played by college students, on college campuses, using lab time on college mainframe computers. And people took note. Though Spacewar got no commercial action, it was only a matter of time before others had the same idea, or created their own games after experiencing Spacewar for themselves. Thus was born the video game industry, now a hyper-competitive, multi-billion dollar industry dominated by Nintendo, Sony and Sega – built on the ashes of now-extinct outfits like Atari, who at one time could do no wrong. This book traces that history, referring frequently to interviews with designers, programmers, executives, and others whose actions shaped the industry.

Review: While I’m pining away for that Holy Grail known as The Ultimate Classic Game Book, I’m quickly discovering that existing tomes each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Leonard Herman’s “Phoenix” is a drier read than yesterday’s police blotter, yet it uncovers a wealth of forgotten hardware and software developments, information valuable to collectors. Many readers felt J.C. Herz’ “Joystick Nation” skimped on the history of those very same games, though it was meant to be less a history and more of an academic exercise. “The First Quarter”, then, reads like the Wall Street Journal version of “Phoenix”. Continue reading

Extra Life: Coming Of Age In Cyberspace

Extra Life: Coming Of Age In CyberspaceOrder this bookStory: Programmer and Wired columnist David S. Bennahum recalls tales of a troubled youth – starting with his parents’ separation and leading to some juvenile delinquency – that was turned around when he was presented with the gift of an Atari 800 computer. Though he originally wanted to play games on it, Bennahum discovers a new love in the art of programming and hacking, and new ethical struggles in learning how to use that knowledge.

Review: I’ll come right out and say this upfront about “Extra Life” – it’s a great read (and I’m not alone in thinking that, as apparently the rights to the book have just recently been optioned for a movie), but whether or not you really “get” the book’s emotional core and its author’s struggles will depend on whether or not you were around and aware of the computer revolution as it was happening. If nothing else, Bennahum really latches on the sense of sheer wonder of growing up in that era. Continue reading

Digital Retro

Digital RetroOrder this bookStory: The author traces the evolution of the personal computer, including several video game consoles along the way, in terms of both technical features and external appearance. Extensive notes are provided on the histories of the companies that made them, along with a brief esay that places the product in question within the context of that history. And, of course, there are lots of pictures.

Review: Far more than just a picture book, Digital Retro really takes me back to the early 80s, and the lovingly-photographed full-spread magazine ads for things like the Commodore 64 and the Apple Macintosh. This book takes me right back to those days of “hardware porn,” when young fellows like myself would see computer advertisements and tech specs and would respond with a bit of drool hanging from our chins that would’ve done Pavlov – and Apple’s marketing division – proud. Continue reading

Confessions Of The Game Doctor

Confessions Of The Game DoctorOrder this bookStory: Along with Arnie Katz and Joyce Worley, Bill Kunkel created the idea that an entertainment feature magazine could focus entirely on video games, and after a “trial run” column in Video Magazine, Electronic Games Magazine was born. Here Kunkel talks about the trials and tribulations of the magazine’s history, and how they paralleled the ups and downs of the video game industry itself. He also tells plenty of equally outrageous-but-true stories carrying the story forward from the end of Electronic Games’ publication to the present day, stopping along the way to comment on the state of the game industry as well as the game journalism industry that Kunkel helped to create.

Review: You’ll have to forgive me if I can’t be completely objective about Confessions Of The Game Doctor, when it’s written by one of a handful of folks whose writing I read in my idealistic youth and thought, “Hey, that looks like fun. I’m going to become a writer when I grow up.” To put it mildly, I was a faithful reader of Electronic Games magazine, and very probably owe a healthy amount of my knowledge on that topic to its articles and reviews. But how fun was it to be a writer for EG? To hear Bill Kunkel tell it, both nerve-wracking and an absolute blast. Continue reading

Commodork: Sordid Tales From A BBS Junkie

CommodorkOrder this bookStory: BBS veteran Rob O’Hara relives the pre-internet glory days of the bulletin board system, from his first computer and his first screamin’ fast 1200 baud modem (a luxury in those dial-up days) to the active Commodore 64 warez scene to the death of the BBS era, and how friendships and relationships from those days have stretched even into his life on the ‘net as we know it today.

Review: In the interests of disclosure, I’m going to point out up front that Rob has reviewed DVDs, books and Commodore 64 games aplenty for theLogBook.com. So if you love this book, and if you’re of a certain age, you will love this book, please remember that you can always come back here and soak up more of his fine writing.

I say with certainty that you’ll love “Commodork” because, having heard what some other folks are saying about this book, it’s quickly become clear that there’s a wealth of shared experience among those of us who were “online” back in the days when it was almost an elite thing, when only the technically adept could connect and configure a modem and even claim to be “online.” Continue reading

Arcade Treasures with Price Guide

Arcade Treasures with Price GuideOrder this bookStory: A well-written history of pinball games unearths such little-known facts as when certain features were introduced, when certain manufacturers came into being, and so forth. And the photos and reprints of various games’ sales brochures are rather nice. Later in the book, a scant section devoted to arcade video games is included; some of the rarer items depicted in the book’s pages are a pristine specimen of a Dragon’s Lair arcade game, the original Pac-Man sales literature (before it was a runaway hit), a 1970s Star Trek arcade game (whose manufacturer was blasted to smithereens by a volley of Paramount copyright attorneys set to “kill”), and – something I’d never even heard of before – a Joust pinball game. Photos of such machines as the Pong coin-op are also included.

Review: Here we sit, divided amongst ourselves as to which book is best: “Phoenix” or “Joystick Nation”? (Okay, okay, so I admit, I’m the only one here facing that particular metaphysical dilemma.) And while we wait for Van Burnham’s “Supercade” (which looks like it’s going to meet or exceed national safety limits of coolness), there are other alternatives. Bill Kurtz’s “Arcade Treasures” is one of them. Continue reading

Arcade Fever

Book titleOrder this bookStory: Originally titled Arcade Planet in early sales materials (compare the original and final covers), Arcade Fever is an irreverent, never-too-serious look back at the video game era’s greatest boom, the early 80s, fueled by the arcade game craze. Now, I know a thing or two about this subject myself, having written almost a book’s worth of material in the form of theLogBook.com’s own Phosphor Dot Fossils section, so I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to accuracy (even though I myself have gotten it wrong from time to time, sometimes spectacularly). And in Arcade Fever, ’80s trivia expert John Sellers, who has created questions for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as well as writing ’80s trivia books of a more general nature, proves that he’s got a good grasp of the quarter-munching hits (and misses) of old.

Review: Sellers’ text is amusing, observant, and conveys both the essence of the games and the author’s estimate of a given game’s place on the “cool” scale. Each article is accompanied by MAME screen shots aplenty, as well as some gorgeous photos taken by Steve Belkowitz at the well-stocked traveling Videotopia retro-gaming exhibit. The photos, which really bring out the long-forgotten beauty of many games’ controls, cabinet art and design work, put “Arcade Fever” on a plane above Van Burnham’s “Supercade”, a book that a lot of us assumed would be the definitive history work on classic arcade games. Continue reading