Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984

Posted February 8, 2015

I took my time finishing Supercade, slowly flipping a few pages a night. With full-page screenshots from games that mostly produced 224×256 images, accompanied by ruminations that rarely run longer than one page, this is a book that suggests casual reading.

Published in 2001 and written by Van Burnham and an assortment of game writers, Supercade is a coffee table book true to its form that’ll put you in the mood to fire up the early classics and get lost in the innocence of the era. It’s heavy, square frame successfully pairs original game art and advertisements (with happy, white families) with in-game photos (likely snagged via MAME as suggested on Amazon, which is fine, but I’d like to see a few warped CRT shots). How can one not be fond of a book that starts with a quote by Eurgene Jarvis (“The only legitimate use of a computer is to play games.”), has a forward by the late Ralph Baer, and peppers it with BASIC code, start-up rom tests and a kill screen or two.

While the majority of the book covers arcade releases (and doesn’t much stray from the staples), home consoles and computers get a few pages: Baer’s Odyssey, Coleco’s Telstar, Mattel’s Intellivision, Commodore 64 (“Are you keeping up with the Commodore?“, and of course Atari’s 2600 and Home Computer.

This isn’t a book for learning something new as much as it is for celebrating what you like. “Visual history” is accurate, and one should look elsewhere for the more exhaustive and dramatic tales of video gaming. Considering it was printed just before the release of the Xbox, a new edition covering the late-80s through the mid-90s would be a welcome follow-up.


Posted March 30, 2014

The followup to Bits, Sticks, and Buttons, Grails drills past the arcade essentials to lay out collector’s most pursued games of the period. More or less an 80-page extension of the first book, with plenty of glossy photos and the author’s take on each game, with a quote or two from the cab’s owners. If there’s to be a third in the series, I’d enjoy hearing more from the owners themselves, and a deeper dive into the technical makeup of each game. And back stories; how did they end up with this 250lb box in their basement?

Bits, Sticks, and Buttons

Posted February 7, 2014

After hearing it brought up a few times on the Arcade Outsiders podcast, I ordered a copy of Bits, Sticks, and Buttons: The Unofficial Guide to the 50 Greatest Arcade Games. This 80-page, entertainingly assembled book is a fun look back at some of the more popular arcade games of the 1980s and 90s. I have to say at over $50 with tax and shipping, this is probably the most expensive video game book I’ve owned yet. But considering the costs of self-published, color, print-on-demand books, that’s to be expected.

It almost feels like a companion piece for those who actually own some of these cabs. I own zero but still found it enjoyable, despite my indifference to “best of” and “top” lists. Descriptions of the games and clear, colorful photos of the cabinets dot every page, along with quotes and photos of some game owners and KLOV crew looking like either eternal bachelors or family men reliving their youth. That’s the appeal here: you either wish you owned some of these arcade games yourself, or maybe better yet, that you just lived next door to those who do. When I have more space and an elevator door wider than 25″ I hope to join them.

The Ultimate History of Video Games

Posted February 2, 2014

When I became interested again in arcade and home console gaming, I bought several books on the subject last year. The largest of my growing collection is probably The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent. At just over 600 pages, Kent covers a lot of gaming ground, from the pre-Pong 1960s, up to the release of the Xbox, around the time the book was published, in 2001. Which is fine by me considering my attention on the subject doesn’t really reach beyond the PlayStation 2.

I appreciated that a third of the book spanned the arcade, where I knew the least, much of which was devoted to the rise and fall of Atari and Nolan Bushnell. Nintendo of course receives a lot of attention, as do many other Japanese companies, which is great considering their immense contributions, a fact some Western authors tend to gloss over. This leads to the home showdown between Nintendo and Sega, then eventually Sony.

Exhaustedly assembled quotes and anecdotes carry you through the massive amount of information here at a fairly quick pace, reading more like a conversation than a serious historical assemblage, which is really what this is. Highly recommended.

On a side note, I signed up for Amazon Associates so if you happen to buy the book using the link above, I get some tiny portion. Considering the traffic this site generates, I should make enough in a year for a NES-era cup of coffee.