CUL­TURE AND MEM­OIR

Dig­ging into stu­dios, games and the peo­ple who make them

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01 Boss Fight Books Michael Kim­ball, Dar­ius Kazemi and oth­ers

Each of th­ese com­pact odes to sin­gle games is in­tensely per­sonal, and your own taste will de­ter­mine which you love and which you’d rather fling across the room. Michael P Wil­liams’ take on Chrono Trig­ger is boy­ishly en­thu­si­as­tic; ZZT sees au­thor Anna An­thropy embrace the game’s di­verse com­mu­nity of level cre­ators and mod­ders as well as heart­felt themes of iden­tity and ac­cep­tance; Su­per

Mario Bros 2 finds trea­sure in the nooks of the game’s strange his­tory.

Galaga, Jagged Al­liance 2 and

peren­nial nostal­gia mag­net Earth­bound com­plete the set, while Sea­son 2 has made well over 800 per cent of its Kick­s­tarter goal.

02 Killing Is Harm­less

Bren­dan Keogh

We need more books like this. Whether the satire of Spec Ops: The

Line opened your eyes or had them rolling, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to team up with Keogh for this crit­i­cal walk­through. He over­reaches in the search for sig­nif­i­cance: like the game’s mind-ad­dled Cap­tain Walker, he of­ten sees things that aren’t there. But he’s cap­ti­vat­ing on how the game up­ended his views on game vi­o­lence and player agency – there’s some­thing gen­uinely chill­ing in his anal­y­sis that en­e­mies fear the player’s abil­ity, not the character’s, and that by the end Walker is “stretch­ing back, out of the TV, and grop­ing for the player’s mind”.

03 Jacked

David Kush­ner

It’s grip­ping, but Jacked is the story of Rock­star, not GTA – Kush­ner is se­duced by the an­tics of Sam Houser and “one hun­dred peo­ple [who] felt like they were in The Bea­tles”, while the coders of GTAIII on­wards largely re­main as elu­sive as the myth­i­cal San An­dreas yeti. Rock­star is painted as a be­guil­ing tu­mult of ge­nius, luck, hus­tle and mad­ness (at one point, Gary Cole­man be­comes a “ful­crum of un­der­stand­ing” for Vice City). But the sur­prise scene stealer is cutscene di­rec­tor Navid Khon­sari, drily babysit­ting be­mused Hol­ly­wood guest stars and nail­ing an elec­tri­fy­ing mo­tion-cap­ture ses­sion for GTAIII’s car­jack­ing an­i­ma­tion.

04 Minecraft

Daniel Gold­berg and Li­nus Lars­son

De­spite dig­ging all the way down to Markus Persson’s trou­bled fam­ily his­tory and Nordic gaming’s de­moscene ori­gins, this book still can’t quite fully ex­plain the rise of the unas­sum­ing game that Gold­berg and Lars­son say “em­braces the pixel”. Still, it’s a brisk, en­dear­ingly warm telling of Notch’s jour­ney, and by the end it’s sur­pris­ingly clear that the fu­ture prom­ise of Scrolls, not the ex­plo­sive suc­cess of Minecraft, truly drove Mo­jang. The world should ul­ti­mately give thanks that Mrs Persson didn’t man­age to tempt a youth­ful Notch away from his com­puter by plant­ing foot­ball posters on his bed­room walls.

05 The Mak­ing Of Prince of Per­sia

Jor­dan Mech­ner

“How did I do it for Karateka? I can’t re­mem­ber. I’m not sure I can do it

again.” Twenty-five years after Prince Of Per­sia’s launch, th­ese in­tensely in­ti­mate – and bravely un­cen­sored – jour­nals are a vi­tal time cap­sule, with a bright, elo­quent and cul­tured young Mech­ner en­dur­ing the game’s pro­tracted four years of de­vel­op­ment. He’s con­stantly dis­tracted by Hol­ly­wood screen­writ­ing, tor­mented by self-doubt and frus­trated by pub­lish­ers and mar­keters, but, ul­ti­mately, he’s driven on by the “lit­tle shim­mer­ing bea­con of life” he’s cre­ated in the metic­u­lously ro­to­scoped Prince.

06 Rise Of The Videogame Zinesters

Anna An­thropy

By the end of this en­er­gis­ing man­i­festo, you’ll be fired up with the drive to play games, cre­ate them and cheer­lead for them all at the same time. An­thropy be­lieves the game in­dus­try is an end­lessly spin­ning wheel of the same old themes for the same old au­di­ences, and she wants to poke a stick in the spokes. Half the book is An­thropy’s love of games (and a thought-pro­vok­ing per­spec­tive on their his­tory) poured into a call for read­ers of all stripes to get stuck into di­ver­si­fy­ing games; the other is a prac­ti­cal guide to do­ing it now that the en­try bar­ri­ers have crum­bled.

07 The Art Of Fail­ure

Jesper Juul

Games keep in­tro­duc­ing us to new things we’re bad at. Why is it we like them again? ‘Lu­dol­o­gist’ Juul briefly ex­plores the para­dox, and will jolt you into con­sid­er­ing why you use bor­ing strate­gies to avoid los­ing, or get turned off by too-easy games. As he drily notes, “We are not nec­es­sar­ily dis­ap­pointed if we find it easy to learn to drive a car.”

08 Clip­ping Through

Leigh Alexan­der

While os­ten­si­bly a GDC 2014 re­port, that’s only half the story. This is a highly per­sonal jour­nal, a soul-bar­ing trib­ute to the things and peo­ple Alexan­der loves. By turns it’s sadly funny (the stand­out be­ing her dread at see­ing Ken Levine after she pub­licly evis­cer­ates BioShock In­fi­nite) and mov­ingly hon­est. Short, but very sweet.

09 The Cul­ture Of Dig­i­tal Fight­ing Games

Todd Harper

Ar­guably gaming’s most vi­brant and di­verse com­mu­nity gets a year-long an­thro­po­log­i­cal treat­ment. Harper shows SFIV and Smash Bros fans in two minds, ap­par­ently ea­ger to swell ranks but quick to jump on new­bies who do the equiv­a­lent of “go­ing on a chess fo­rum and com­plain­ing that the knight’s moves are too con­fus­ing”. And god for­bid you ever choose Hilde in Soul Cal­ibur IV.

10 Doom: Scary­dark­fast

Dan Pinch­beck

Dear Es­ther de­signer Pinch­beck is at his best draw­ing par­al­lels be­tween Doom’s al­pha and beta fea­tures and the be­hind-the-scenes wran­glings at id (and at his worst when knee-deep in the deadly tech­ni­cal de­tail). His de­vel­oper’s eye and solid re­search make the well-worn story of Doom’s in­no­va­tion – “sim­ple things ex­e­cuted bril­liantly” – freshly ap­peal­ing.

11 Go­ing Nowhere

Sam Leith

In just 60 pages and six games, Leith evokes more of the magic and melan­choly of gaming nostal­gia than most other me­moirs com­bined. Some­how, he uses Su­per Sprint and Red Fac­tion to beau­ti­fully echo the mile­stones of grow­ing up, and there’s a sparkling turn of phrase on ev­ery page ( Elite’s wire­frame Cobra looks as though some­one had “carved a space­ship from a gi­ant di­a­mond”).

12 Un­rav­el­ing Res­i­dent Evil

Nadine Farghaly (ed­i­tor)

From a se­ri­ous se­ries of ‘con­tri­bu­tions to zom­bie stud­ies’, this brings aca­demic brains to Resi’s games and films. Ad­mit­tedly it’s un­likely that Resi is re­ally about US cap­i­tal­ism, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal con­spir­a­cies, fem­i­nism, film noir and Freud all at once, but in its ac­ces­si­bil­ity and range, this acts as a good en­trylevel in­tro­duc­tion to game stud­ies.

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