CULTURE AND MEMOIR
Digging into studios, games and the people who make them
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
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”.
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.
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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.