A Gremlin in the Works

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When I first started get­ting into cof­fee ta­ble books, I felt guilty about not own­ing a cof­fee ta­ble; these days, I’m ap­proach­ing it from the per­spec­tive that if I buy enough books, I can use them to build a cof­fee ta­ble. Hence yet an­other ac­qui­si­tion for my groan­ing shelves: Mark Hardisty’s A Gremlin in the Works.

Pub­lished by Bitmap Books – of Com­modore 64: A Vis­ual Comm­pendium fame, and founded by Sam Dyer (in­ter­viewed in Is­sue 136) – A Gremlin in the Works chron­i­cles the birth and even­tual demise of one of the greats of the clas­sic com­put­ing world: Gremlin In­ter­ac­tive, née Gremlin Graph­ics.

Born as an off­shoot of high-street com­puter re­tailer Just Mi­cro, Gremlin was re­spon­si­ble for some of the best-known games of the 1980s and 1990s. The Monty Mole fran­chise is still fondly re­mem­bered to­day, as are its Hero Quest and Space Cru­sade games, while Zool was a mas­cot for the Amiga era. The com­pany even picked up DMA De­sign, at the time rid­ing high on Lem­mings and Grand Theft Auto suc­cesses, be­fore be­ing ac­quired it­self by In­fo­grames and shut down in 2003.

That’s a short pot­ted his­tory, but no such short­cuts are taken in A Gremlin in the Works. The book spans nearly 600 pages, split into two vol­umes. The first vol­ume be­gins with the com­pany’s ori­gins in 1983 and runs through to 1989; the se­cond vol­ume picks up in 1990 and brings the story through to 2015, with the back cat­a­logue and rights now owned by founder Ian Ste­wart un­der his mo­bile-cen­tric de­vel­op­ment house Ur­ban­scan. If you like a book to tell a story, you may strug­gle with A Gremlin in the Works: the con­tents are pre­sented ex­clu­sively in ques­tion and an­swer in­ter­view for­mat. While that of­fers a di­rect in­sight into what hap­pened in the words of the people who were there, it takes a lit­tle more ef­fort to read than a ti­tle such as Con­sole Wars, where the events are pre­sented in semi-drama­tised prose.

That, though, is one of few crit­i­cisms. It’s def­i­nitely worth fight­ing through the in­ter­view for­mat for the tale that’s told, and the hard­backs are bril­liantly pro­duced, with mat­tfin­ished, full-colour pages through­out and plenty of im­agery, in­clud­ing archive ma­te­rial never be­fore seen by the pub­lic. There’s even a thick card­board outer to keep the two books to­gether.

Span­ning more than 30 years, there’s a good read for al­most any­one in­ter­ested in games, from the early days of Gremlin Graph­ics and the break­out suc­cess of Wanted: Monty Mole to the Rik May­al­lvoiced Hogs of War decades later.

Hardisty does a fan­tas­tic job, too, of ask­ing the right ques­tions and pulling fas­ci­nat­ing trivia from his sub­jects.

Where A Gremlin in the Works re­ally stands out, though, is in its sta­tus as a liv­ing doc­u­ment. Hardisty is con­tin­u­ing to in­ter­view sub­jects and pub­lish ad­den­dums col­lected in a PDF jok­ingly re­ferred to as The Ex­pan­sion Disk. The lat­est up­date adds an­other 128 pages to the al­ready 572-page-thick tome.

A Gremlin in the Works comes highly rec­om­mended, and con­sid­er­ing its length, the amount of de­tail it con­tains and its pro­duc­tion qual­ity, its cur­rent price of £24.99 (VAT ex­empt) from www.bitmap­books.co.uk makes it a steal.

If you can look past the Q&A in­ter­view for­mat, GITW is a fan­tas­tic book

A book so big it needs two vol­umes and a box to store them, A Gremlin in the Works tells a fas­ci­nat­ing tale

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