The past is a foreign country; here are some guidebooks
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.