High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games Review

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Publisher: McGraw-Hill/Osborne
Authors: Rusel DeMaria and Johnny L. Wilson

Details: Paperback, 328 pages

Perhaps you didn't realize it, but the computer and video game industry only recently came into its own sufficiently to become the subject of coffee table books and illustrated retrospectives. High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games is one of the tomes that has stepped in to fill the void with hundreds of photographs, box covers, posters and other art, accompanied by simple anecdotes that bring the history of computer gaming to life.

Kyle Ackerman

Starting with Pinball and Pachinko, High Score! takes you step by step through the personalities and companies that created and developed the modern market of video and computer games. This is an ideal coffee table book for folks between age thirty and forty (if they own a coffee table), but should have a strong appeal for anyone with a fondness for coin-op arcade games, the first generation of gaming consoles, and games for platforms like the Commodore 64 and Colecovision. In fact, if you still keep an Apple IIe or Intellivision in your attic or garage, this book is a must-have.

The book starts off with a brief nod to "ancient history," by which we mean a few pages giving the requisite nods to integrated circuits, Nintendo's origin as Marufuku Company (founded in 1889 to make playing cards), Spacewar, Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer. From there, High Score! moves into the 70s, moving from Pong and Atari to the origins of Apple computers. There are handheld games. (Remember Mattel's Football, in which 27 red LEDs transformed a hunk of plastic into an engaging sport?) All of this is accompanied by pictures of nostalgia-inducing pictures like that of the upright, coin-op Asteroids unit and the cover art for the original Temple of Apshai game from Epyx.

High Score! really comes into its own when it starts to tell the tales of gaming in the 80s. Nearly two-thirds of the book is devoted to the decade in which console gaming became a competition between powerful corporations, and many of the powerful publishers of today were formed to publish games programmed by one or two individuals. While there is a skimpy index, this isn't a reference publication. Rather, it's a book you can flip through for minutes or hours at a time to enjoy an illustrated version of your 8-bit youth. The 80s section begins with coin-op games and the earliest console wars (Atari vs. Intellivision with a little bit of Colecovision and Vectrex). Personal computing enthusiasts will enjoy flipping through sections on Origin Systems (with Richard Garriott and the Ultima Games), Sierra and the early adventure titles, or just ogling the Archon box and wondering where you left that big piece of white and black folded cardboard or the original 5.25" disc.

Again, this isn't an effort to create a complete narrative history of the era. Rather, it's full of little discoveries – photos of the original Electronic Arts team, a picture of Dan/Dani Bunten's M.U.L.E. Skinner certificate and the earliest team at Interplay. Exploring each two to four page spread on a company or individual will be a joy for anyone who remembers this era in computer and video gaming. As with many illustrated books of this sort, some sections seem to exist to provide a frame for great pictures or box images. One section entitled "More Favorite Games of the 80s" seems to exist just to showcase pictures of The Prisoner game and Castle Wolfenstein. That's just fine. They're pictures we want to see, and they're fun to explore.

High Score! concludes with the 90s (going all the way to 2001 and including "A Very Brief History of Online Gaming"). Despite the fact that gaming continues to grow exponentially, as it has since Akalabeth came in a ziploc bag, the 90s are really an afterthought for High Score!. As the 90s dawn, High Score! moves into the battle between Nintendo and Sega. Neither has the cool inserts or breakability of the Intellivision controller, but it's a topic that should receive more attention in another venue. The 90s in High Score! feel more like the authors are playing "check the box" than exploring a genuine love affair. That's OK, as the 80s are the heart of the volume, but it's still fun to see spreads in the 90s section on folks like Will Wright (of Sim Everything fame). And frankly, if there hadn't been at least one picture of Abe (and his Oddysee) or System Shock (p. 295) FI would have been forced to consign this volume to the fireplace flames.

As it is, High Score! offers concise vignettes of everything near and dear to the hearts of middle-aged (and younger) gamers. It may not be a detailed history appropriate for a university course, but it is something that can make the average gamer laugh or exclaim "that's cool!" If you've been looking for something to pass brief moments of time, or if you'd like to lounge back and sink into nostalgic photos of your youth, High Score! is exactly the overview of 80s gaming that you've been looking for.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 27, 2003 6:09 PM.

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