The ultimate game history book

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    I’ve been thinking for few years now how it would be great to have a book that goes over the history of games from the 2600 days up to the PS3/Xbox 360 generation (cut off point). When I got into retro gaming properly back in 2011, I remember how much research I had to do. Not just to find out things like does a PAL power supply work on an American Sega CD and is the Amiga CD32 region free, but just studying the history of different genres and the game library of each platform; which games are considered essential, which are hidden gems, is game X better on SMS, NES or C64 and so on.
    So I thought that a big book on game history that would give the “TL;DR” version of everything (as well as more in-depth explanations) would be great. Just think about getting into Sierra adventure games as some one who has never played one, it’s overwhelming! Many series have 5-7 sequels and in the older games case the you need to play on Amiga, FM towns or some other such platform or use certain kind of soundcard to get the optimal gameplay experience. Which ones are the best ones? Do I need to play them in order? Etc. And that’s just one genre and games made by one company.

    The purporse of the book I have in my mind would be simple, but ambitious: to cover all the information you’ll ever need about “classic” games. Young people shouldn’t spend countless hours going through old games in hopes of finding the ones that are worth playing when there are a lot of people who grew up in the 80s, retro gamers and hardcore collectors who’ve been there and done that. There’s a risk that the value of these games will be forgotten if no one’s going to come up with the video game equivalent of literary canon.

    The book would go over the history of video games in 5 year increments (or console generations), explaining what was happening in the game industry at time. Major events like the video game crash, how the CD format effected video games (and had a different effect on Western and Eastern gaming, 7th guest and FMV games in the West, YS and Lords of Thunder on PC-Engine), the birth of ESRB, what kind of effect Playstation had on the industry when console gaming “matured”, what kind of effect Xbox had on the industry when it drew Western developers away from the PC market, the rise of social gaming, F2P, DLC and kickstarter and so on.
    After that there would be sections dedicated to different platforms, both important and obscure like Sharp X68000 and Apple Pippin, going over their history and important games. For example with Amiga you’d go in detail about demoscene, how it dominated the PC for a long time but started loosing relevance after 3D gaming and CD technology came about, poor management and so on.

    And naturally there would be also genre specific sections that would explain where each genre got its roots, how it evolved (and in some cases, how it died), most important landmark titles in the genre and so on. These sections would be divided into three different color coded sections: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Beginner explains the genre’s history in layman’s terms and covers all the big, genre defining games. Intermediate and advanced sections could stop dumbing it down and start to use more genre specific lingo of the MMORPG players, fighting game community, RPG fans, people who 1CC shoot em ups and so on (of course the book would have dictionaries in each section). These chapters would talk more about subtle mechanical differences between superficially similar games and go way more in-depth on the history sections (how game X or phenomenon Y effected the genre), crediting obscure games for their innovations and so on. To give an example: you could say something like “Ultima V was the first game to implement day and night schedules for NPCs” in the beginner section, and you could point out all the obscure little DOS games from the 80s that also had one in the advanced section. But you should also give the beginners a taste of what to come, so even if some one who likes strategy games isnt going to read up on the minutiae of shoot em ups, they should understand how complex the scoring mechanics can be so they can give the genre the respect it deserves. That goes both ways, for all genres. Make the reader understand why these games are revered and how much thought is put into their design, even if it isnt their cup of tea.

    So while game historians like Matt would cover the big picture, you would need the members of different genre specific communities to help write about their niche. While Matt could write the general history of Western RPGs, some one like the CRPG addict could check his facts and offer tidbits and trivia: “Hey, did you know that this shareware game from 1982 that only sold 500 copies actually innovated the mechanic that’s generally credited to game Y from 1987?”

    Meritocracy is important, the opinions of those who are more knowledgeable are more valuable. In WRPGs this would mean picking games like Arcanum and Planescape: Torment over games like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect as the best RPGs of all time, in shoot em ups obscure games only released in Japan like Battle Garegga would rank more highly than more well known games and so on.

    Finally, at the end there would be a big summary of all the information contained within the book that would make lists like

    1. Video games every one should play/2. Best games of all time
    →Games falling into different categories
    1a)Games that are great example of what video games are capable of as a medium: Metal Gear Solid 3, Eternal Darkness, Deus Ex, Ultima 5, Dwarf Fortress, Chrono Trigger, Dark Souls etc. Games that have very clever design and ideas that utilizie the interactivity of the medium in different ways.
    1b)Most well designed games of all time (Civilization, Xcom, Super Mario Bros 3, Ikaruga, System Shock 2, Day of the Tentacle, Dark Souls etc)
    1c)Most well written games of all time (Planescape: Torment, Silent Hill 2, The Longest Journey etc)
    1d)Examples of games being an art form
    3. Video games every developer/game journalist needs to play
    →Developer section espescially could/should contain poorly designed/written/executed games as an example of what not to do when making your game
    3. Games that every fan of the genre should play: Is Pool of Radiance something every gamer should play? No. Should every self respecting RPG fan give it a try? Yes.
    5. Most influental games of all time: Being the most influental does not always mean being the best. Mortal Kombat is poorly designed and can’t hold a candle next to Japanese 2D fighers, Super Mario Bros 3 is in every way superior to Super Mario Bros (same goes for Ultima 5 and 4), LucasArts adventures are arguably better than Myst and so on.
    6. Games that aren’t great games but do something very well, are extremely unique or serve some certain niche (Panzer Dragoon Saga, I have no Mouth and I must Scream, DreamWeb, EarthBound etc)

    The games in the number 1&2 categories (ie games that are recommended for every one as must plays, regardless of their taste, how long they’ve been gamers etc) should follow certain guidelines

    1. Not being outdated.
    Now nothing gets me as riled up as the old “nostalgia goggles” argument, but it’s equally important to realize that some games that are held in high regard haven’t aged well and are inferior when compared to newer titles. Often people who remember them fondly haven’t played them for 20+ years. Some games are timeless classics, others aren’t.
    I really don’t know how, but it would be of paramount importance to find a way to objectively evaluate whether or not a game has any value left in modern times. The assumption is that who ever plays the game does not play it with modern expectations (not just graphical, but also playing old games with a different mindset: I’m supposed to do think for myself and not having an arrow tell me where to go). If some young player can’t find any enjoyment in Fallout, that does not make its design any less valid. But some games do not hold up.
    Whether or not old school design like having to make notes and draw your own maps is something that we can expect from modern gamers is something I’ve often pondered when thinking about books like this. I’ve played gold box and Ultima games with out trouble after I got used to the interfaces, but can you expect that from every one? I mean the kind of analogue input you do in those games that’s half derived from pen&paper RPGs and half from technical limitations of the time is clearly something that is beyond the realm of normality in most video games. It’s an unique experience that many can respect for the novelty value alone, but is it really worth to put 40 hours into completing a game like Ultima IV when neither the story nor the gameplay is good (the story has an interesting idea, but the writing is unremarkable, ie not enjoyable in 2015). It’s important to note the historical value of these games and make sure they’re not forgotten, but the games that should be chosen should be the best in their field and be better than every other game in atleast some aspect (in case of RPGs: writing, exploration, C&C, combat, RPG systems&character development…)

    2. Meritocracy: age, platform, influence, availability and popularity are irrelevant, design merits alone should determine whether a game gets on the list or not. For example games like Gradius, Darius Gaiden and R-Type are the corner stones of the shoot em up genre, but games like Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun and many games by CAVE are held in higher regard by the shoot em up community and have deeper mechanics. Though of course a certain level of genre savyness should be expected even from the uninitiated: System Shock doesn’t seem so special if people havent been exposed to Doom and other early shooters just to see how much more sophisticated it is.

    Though I guess some people struggle with the availability point as they are opposed to piracy and emulation. I don’t have trouble owning 50 different game consoles and a PC just so I can play everything, but you can’t expect every one to do the same. I think it’s more important to show good games and what the medium is capable rather than to limit the range of what you can talk about to what ever is available on Steam, GOG, PSN and Nintendo’s e-shop. Those cover only a fraction of what’s available on old platforms, and it’s better to pirate and emulate than to let those games die in my opinion. Not to mention the fan translated stuff, there’s a huge amount of old japanese console and PC games that will never get a translation.
    In any case you need emulation to play arcade games that were never brought over to home consoles anyways, as there’s a huge list of excellent, genre defining arcade games in many genres, from the days of pacman to mid&late 90s beat em ups, shoot em ups and fighting games.

    3. Brevity and diversity: no repetition. Each game that belongs to a same genre should offer something different, and as much as I love Deus Ex, System Shock 2 and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines equally, you can’t put 3 FPS/RPG hybrids on the same list. Choosing whether to pick Master of Magic, Alpha Centauri or Master of Orion 2 to represent strategy games alongside Civilization is an equally agonizing task, but you have to be concise. If you make the list too big and too full of similar looking games, it’s going to turn off more casual people. But it should be also stressed that there are many more wonderful games out there, and if Fallout wasn’t your thing, you might like Wizardry 8 and Baldur’s Gate 2 better.

    Another aspect of diversity is celebrating all genres and platforms (except mobile games, F2P trash, shovelware and other games of no substance or cultural value). The problem I constantly come across online is the PC/console and East vs West dichotomy. Millenial generation (which I’m a part of) completely ignoring old CRPGs and acting like JRPGs and Bioware/Obsidian/Bethesda titles are the only RPGs that exist annoys me just as it annoys me to see PC gamers ignore genuinely well made games just because they’re Japanese/on console (even if they are actually more deep&complex than most Western games). It annoys me when “plebeians” cant appreciate the depth of slower paced strategy and point&click games just as much as I hate seeing PC game elitists scoffing at platformers and shoot em ups that can be mechanically simplistic but extremely challenging, deep and well designed.
    A book like this should even study the history of sports game meticulously, going over the differences between annual releases and so on. Everything should be accounted for and people should be forced to go outside their own comfort zone (though the only sports game I’d add on a list of universal must play games is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, which is more like a mix of a skillful platformer and a course on 3D level design).

    Naturally a project like this would be huge and time consuming. You’d want to have multiple guys like Matt (game historians and hardcore game collectors that have 4000-10 000+ games in their collections and know a lot about obscure old games) acting as “executive producers”, taking care of the big picture. Then you’d need tens if not hundreds of developers and genre enthusiasts to take care of the genre and game specific write ups. For example when you’re covering World of Warcraft, you really need to tell about things like what competitive PvE and PvP are like and what machinma is to really give the uninitiated a picture how massive and deep the game is. With MMORPGs in general you want to get people on board who can actually remember player driven events from 10, 15 years ago when talking about games like Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online, EVE online, Dark Age of Camelot and even vanilla WoW. Hell, just finding some one who actually played Dark Sun online to tell you what the game was like is going to be a challenge.
    And then there’s the different regions. There are thousands of Japanese games that were never brought over to America/Europe. Among those are hundreds upon hundreds of worthwhile games, though thanks to import gamers many of them are well documented. Many of the best platformers and shoot em ups never left the shores of Japan. And like I said earlier, there are also RPGs, adventure gamers, puzzle games etc that were never localized. You have to draw the line somewhere, but there are notable fan translated games like Policenauts. Outside of Japan there are all the European C64/Spectrum/Amiga/Amstrad games. Most of them are bad, but there might be some diamonds amongst all those games. You’d likely need to get different collector groups/fans of certain platforms to help you: what Apple 2/C64/Atari ST/MSX 2/Cdi/3DO/X exclusive games are worth a mention. Games like Fate: Gates of Dawn on Amiga.

    Basically the idea of such a book would be that nothing of value will be lost: the entire history of 80s&90s gaming would be secure. A lot of mediocre, run of the mill games and pure shovelware trash wouldn’t warrant a mention, but you’d have the collective knowledge of hundreds if not thousands of gamers who’ve played for 3-4 decades within the pages of one single book. Even if it is just a one sentence mentioning a title, it would still immortalize a lot of games that might otherwise be lost in time. Take the list of games mentioned in here
    Is any one ever going to play them 50 years from now? Probably not, apart from few historians maybe. BUT there’s still a mention that Dungeons of Daggorath from 1982 innovated this and that.
    Even if an otherwise very mediocre game with nothing special in it does something unique and memorable, it’s nice its mentioned for the fact (like say the ending of Pitfall the Mayan Adventure). But of course trivia like that is best left on pages dedicated to such trivial information. The main goal of this book would be to celebrate the best of retro gaming much like a list of best black and white movies, so that truly classic and excellent games (both well known and hidden games) wont ever loose their sense in history as gamers who grew up with the medium and the old guard of developers start dying of old age. It’s important to take a step for preserving gaming history and establish a canon.

    Even then, printed media can not do video games justice. You have to experience the atmosphere of Silent Hill and the sound design of Thief to really get how good those games are. You have no idea how challenging a bullet hell like Mushihimesama Futari is unless you see a video of some one avoiding the bullets, much like saying that “Quake and Unreal Tournament are much more frentic and fast paced than Call of Duty” doesn’t mean much until you see actual gameplay footage of rocket jumping and bunny hopping. Explaining how it feels good to shoot enemies in a well designed FPS like Counter Strike or Doom is pretty meaningless on paper. And it’s one of those things where its good to make people play some horrible games as well so they can better respect the responsive and fine tune controls of games that are considered great. But hey, that’s what the list of for. So people know which games to pick up. There should be instructions on how to use different emulators, MAME, a DOSbox front end etc to go with the book to encourage people who’ve never played old games to go out and start playing old games.


    • This topic was modified 4 years, 10 months ago by  90sgamer92.


    A book like this should also be supplied with a DVD/USB stick that would contain:
    1. Gameplay footage to showcase gameplay mechanics as well as things like art and athmosphere in the case of games like Amnesia, Portal, Silent Hill, Metroid Prime, Half Life 2 and Thief the dark Project.
    This would give context to things like how fast paced Quake is, what a speed run is, how insane it is to 1CC a bullet hell, how intricate boss battles a game like World of Warcraft has (as well as showcasing player created events like a world boss killing hundreds of people in a major city, World PvP and the Corrupted Blood incident). Not just that, but also showing some of the unique aspects of video games. Like spinning your character in options screen in Metal Gear Solid 3 untill he throws up and escaping from your prison cell that way. The sanity effects of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. The list goes on and on.
    Even if those games don’t end up on the list of must play games, readers would still appreciate the ingenuity of those titles. That’s great espescially when it comes to older PC games as many younger gamers aren’t willing to give them a chance the same way they’ll try out a NES or SNES game from the same time period.

    You could also create tutorials to strategy games, CRPGs and 4X games that have so steep learning curves that most casual players aren’t willing to give them a chance.

    You could also add in legendary frag videos and footage from fighting game tournaments and eSports events with commentary that would explain the tactics of high level play. You could combine different videos into one to make a short 5-15 minute long compiliation video out of things like machinma videos and frag movies to showcase the community and competitive aspects of online gaming.

    2. “A best of” selection of game music from different eras, showing some of the best music of each major platform. You could make “mix tapes” for each different platform.
    If it’s illegal to include the actual songs, you could make text files that would list the most memorable game songs/soundtracks of each platform so those who interested in the subject could search them from youtube and sites like KHinsider. And you could categorize songs in to chiptunes, ambient, orchestral etc.

    3. Screenshot archive for the games. This could also showcase the art of video games, a selection of some of the best pixel art seen in games compiled to one folder, one folder dedicated to animated gifs of fighting game backgrounds and sprites, one dedicated to concept art and so on.

    4. Mods and legendary custom maps for PC games.

    5. Emulators like WinUAE, MAME, DOSbox game launcher etc with instructions on how to use them.

    6. Documentaries/written articles on what game development was like in the 70s, 80s and 90s, what kind tricks developers had to pull off because of limited color palette/sound channels/memory, what sacrifices they had to make and so on.

    Now obviously if you include music, videos made by people, footage from competitions etc, it complicates things. I don’t know what’s the legal status of using things like that for educational purporses, espescially if no one is profiting from the book.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 10 months ago by  90sgamer92.
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