SupercadeOrder this bookStory: Through descriptive text, occasional product shots, and tons of emulator screen shots, formed Wired editor Van Burnham takes us on a journey from the days of the protozoan Pong prototype developed at M.I.T. in the late 1950s straight through to the Xbox, with a focus on the 1972-1984 epoch of the early video game era.

Review: “Supercade” was being hailed as the definitive, end-all and be-all of classic video game books…at least by some people. I’m not sure if Van Burnham ever made that claim, though she did come kinda close to saying so in her web site almost a year ahead of the book’s release.

“Supercade” is not that book, however. As much as I liked the text, so much of the (rather expensive) book is taken up by gigantic MAME and other emulator screenshots of various games that I ultimately find it a bit unsatisfying. It’s really the flipside of Leonard Herman’s “Phoenix”, whose dry text was offset by as few pictures as possible. Here, the graphics and pictures – many of them which look very sketchily scanned or sources from low quality JPEGs – take precedence. In many places, the description and/or history of a game is crammed into a little black box in one corner of one page of a two-page spread. (Keep in mind, too, that these aren’t normal pages; “Supercade” is a coffee table book with almost album-cover sized pages, a term which may be lost on some of our younger readers.)

Much of the text isn’t written by Burnham herself, with many good contributions from such retrogaming luminaries as the aforementioned Mr. Herman, Keita Iida, and others; I was a bit disappointed that Warren Davis’ first-hand reminiscences of the making of Q*Bert were just taken directly from his web site (with permission, of course). I enjoyed the in-depth essays on the various consoles, but most of the book is taken up by arcade games with their paucity of information (and a lot of picture space).

It’s hard for me to be completely objective about books on this topic, what with that monster chunk of this site that we call Phosphor Dot Fossils. But with all the hype and the hope that surrounded “Supercade”, despite the bits of it I liked, I somehow expected more. Your mileage may vary.

Year: 2001
Author: Van Burnham
Publisher: MIT Press
Pages: 180 pages