A Gremlin in the Works
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