The past is a for­eign coun­try; here are some guide­books


01 But­ton­less

Ryan Rigney

Short chap­ters on the mak­ing of 100 mo­bile games might sound su­per­fi­cial, but Rigney’s in­ter­views tell the hu­man sto­ries at the heart of th­ese games, teas­ing out the love af­fairs, friend­ships, wars, new pup­pies and dy­ing cats that shaped their cre­ation. The mo­bile mar­ket­place emerges as sub­lime chaos, where global law­suits and fiveyear-old de­vel­op­ers co­ex­ist, a sin­gle Ap­ple guide­line blip can crush dreams, and the au­thor can claim straight-faced that the mu­sic for En­viro-Bear 2000 was com­posed by “a ho­tel man­ager from Bali, In­done­sia” and you can’t be sure whether he’s se­ri­ous. A gem.

02 Grand Thieves & Tomb Raiders Re­becca Levene and Mag­nus An­der­son

There’s room for both to­day’s stal­warts and yes­ter­day’s for­got­ten pi­o­neers in this riv­et­ing his­tory, which makes clear how UK gaming’s ups and downs have been shaped by its pe­cu­liar his­tory: the BBC, Thatcherite en­ter­prise, Oxbridge, class, Girl Power and Cool Bri­tan­nia. The run­ning theme is a na­tion bluff­ing its way to suc­cess, found in an early pub­lisher whose of­fice was se­cretly a phone box; Tim Wright cre­at­ing Wipe­out’s iconic mu­sic the morn­ing after spend­ing just one night in a club; and Acorn knock­ing out a chip de­sign that to­day pow­ers almost ev­ery mo­bile phone on the planet.

03 It’s Be­hind You

Bob Pape


on the wheez­ing ZX Spec­trum should have been im­pos­si­ble. Pape pulled it off mag­nif­i­cently, but the strength of this rough-and-ready free mem­oir isn’t the tech­ni­cal story. It’s made by Pape’s glo­ri­ously dead­pan hu­mour as he flatly de­scribes the al­ter­nate uni­verse of ’80s UK game de­vel­op­ment: sleep­ing at the of­fice, show­er­ing at the lo­cal leisure cen­tre, and trac­ing en­emy pat­terns from his bed. At an Ac­tivi­sion party gone wrong, Pape de­scribes “the crêpe pa­per start­ing com­ing un­stuck from the milk crate” – a phrase that per­fectly sums up ev­ery turn of the very Bri­tish farce un­fold­ing around him.

04 Nin­tendo Magic

Osamu Inoue

If you’ve al­ready de­voured Game Over, this is the per­fect dessert. Pub­lished in Ja­pan in 2008 and built from rare in­ter­views with Nin­tendo ex­ec­u­tives and in­sid­ers, it’s of­ten over-rev­er­ent, but it’s also packed with in­sight, es­pe­cially on the deep his­toric ri­valry be­tween in­ter­nal teams that Iwata is keen to sweep away through col­lab­o­ra­tive ‘Miyamo­to­ism’. This is a company guided by spir­its: Hiroshi Ya­mauchi’s de­mand for in­no­va­tion and Gun­pei Yokoi’s in­ven­tive­ness clearly drive Miyamoto, who con­cepts the first DS on a sty­lus-con­trolled Pocket PC with mask­ing tape across the mid­dle.

05 Rac­ing The Beam

Nick Mont­fort and Ian Bo­gost

The ti­tle refers to just one of the ar­cane skills needed to code won­ders on Atari’s VCS, a sys­tem tech­ni­cally de­signed to play Pong, Tank and lit­tle else. Through the lens of six games, this trans­ports you back to sit along­side the early Atari devs whose day job was to give birth to the whole field of videogames, and help the world

un­der­stand new con­cepts such as mov­ing be­tween rooms (“move ‘off’ the tele­vi­sion screen…”). It’s tech­ni­cal but ex­pertly writ­ten; there’s no bet­ter evo­ca­tion of the 1983 US crash than ET “peer­ing out at the in­dus­try like a death’s head” on the in­fa­mous game’s ti­tle screen.

06 Rogue Lead­ers

Rob Smith

Be­fore Dis­ney’s buy­out of its par­ent, Lu­casArts (in all its guises) sur­vived three decades, far out­liv­ing Atari, which fa­thered the company through a $1 mil­lion cheque to George. It made Mon­key Is­land and works based on a galaxy far, far away, of course, but Smith dusts off lost lev­els and con­cept art from many tan­ta­lis­ing can­celled projects too. His book’s a lit­tle rushed, and anec­dotes – such as Star Wars Episode I: Racer be­ing con­cepted by two dogs pulling a de­vel­oper on roller­skates – are few. But Lu­cas pops in and out to in­sist on a fire but­ton in Res­cue On Frac­talus or, baf­flingly, to ban Wook­iees from ever be­ing a game lead.

07 Dun­geons And Desk­tops

Matt Bar­ton

This is such a weighty his­tor­i­cal tome fo­cused on US-style com­puter RPGs that it’s di­vided into ‘ages’. Bar­ton in­jects his own opin­ion too of­ten and is no­tably stronger on the most an­cient games, but to his credit he ad­ven­tures far beyond the well-trod­den realms of the Ul­ti­mas and the Di­ab­los to ex­plore the genre’s cob­webbed cor­ners, bring­ing un­ri­valled in­sight into the in­no­va­tions of even the most ob­scure dun­geon crawler.

08 Game Sound

Karen Collins

A like­able survey of ev­ery­thing from Noël Coward’s thoughts on fruit-ma­chine sounds to the com­poser of Tomb Raider: Leg­ends drop­ping in the sound of an orches­tra turn­ing pages for added authenticity. Collins’ work is too brief on rhythm-ac­tion games and in­no­va­tions like the speaker built into Nin­tendo’s Wii Re­mote, but it’s filled with earopen­ing ex­am­ples. Read with YouTube to hand.

09 A Mind For­ever Voy­ag­ing

Dy­lan Holmes

Holmes ar­guably picked the wrong games for his per­sonal his­tory of videogame nar­ra­tive: the main text is mostly ob­vi­ous choices ( Heavy Rain is in­cluded, while Metal Gear fea­tures twice), while the brief ap­pen­dix in­cludes a far juicier and more eclec­tic se­lec­tion (in­clud­ing the tit­u­lar In­fo­com ad­ven­ture game it­self, dat­ing from 1985). But it’s lu­cidly writ­ten, with many ref­er­ences and foot­notes to send you off to learn more.

10 Ocean: The His­tory

Chris Wilkins and Roger M Kean

For ’80s kids, Ocean tale was the story of Da­ley Thomp­son’s De­cathlon and big-name li­cences from the movie and coin-op world. The mem­o­ries from p96 on­wards of this well-re­searched book (co-au­thor Kean co-founded News­field, home of Crash and Zzap!64) re­count the true his­tory: young de­vel­op­ers in the ‘dun­geon’ base­ment of Ocean’s Manch­ester of­fice, united in ca­ma­raderie, pranks, prob­lem- solv­ing and sheer love of games as they mine for the gold that would make their bosses rich.

11 Re­play

Tris­tan Dono­van

To cover a truly global his­tory of games is quite the am­bi­tion, and as such, en­tire gen­res like stealth have to be cleared away in less than a page here. But Dono­van re­ally does man­age to take in French lit­er­ary games, the Rus­sian videogame scene pre- Tetris, Korean PC bangs and much more with­out com­ing apart at the seams. Hugely im­pres­sive.

12 Stay Awhile And Lis­ten

David L Crad­dock

Book one of a pro­posed tril­ogy on Bliz­zard. It’s sus­pi­ciously one-sided – there’s barely a whiff of con­flict or dis­agree­ment in 200 pages, and laugh­able Atari Lynx plat­former Gordo 106 is fêted like some kind of Miyamoto master­piece. But in key mo­ments such as the birth of on­line War­craft and a tense Di­ablo pitch meet­ing, Stay Awhile And Lis­ten is thrillingly told.













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