An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games Book Review

An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games Book Review


An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games
is a . . . history book about landmark games. Most of the images in the book are
screenshots. The final entry in the book is about a game released in 2012, so
there isn’t anything more recent than that. Overall it’s a really good video
game history book, but it would likely be of limited interest to you of you’re
expecting development artwork. This review will cover the quality of the
physical book itself, the content of the book, the aesthetics, and the nostalgia
evoked by the book. I’ll also look at whether it provides any insight into the
development of the games. Let’s start with the quality of the physical book.
It’s eight-and-a-half by eleven inches. It has about 250 pages of content. It
comes with a dust jacket, and I’d say the cover pages and the image printing
are all of pretty average quality. Alright, now on to the content of the book.
I think the writing is very good. It’s clearly a book for adults who are
interested in video game history. I say it that way because I’ve read some other
books that are sort of defensive or apologists for the video game industry,
and they come off as a bit insecure and immature. The tone of this book is one
that assumes you’re already on board with video games and you aren’t
judgmental of them. I liked that the writing doesn’t feel
forced. What I mean is, the author doesn’t spend two pages on a game if it’s only
worth talking about for one page, or less. I mean just because a game is worthy to
be in this book doesn’t mean we need to wax philosophical or pretend that games
are more important than they are. There are a few exceptions to that but overall
I find the book really engaging due to the pace. One of my favorite examples of the
effectiveness of his writing is about Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. Here’s part
of what he has to say: “But the game’s core and enduring
brilliance is in the moment-to-moment combat: the powerful recoil of the sniper
rifle, the thwup satisfaction of the silenced PP7, the roaring ineptitude of
two dual wielded clubs . . .” The roaring ineptitude! Anyone who’s played Goldeneye
knows exactly what he means, right? Back then it was awesome to dual wield
weapons, but the clubs are so inaccurate . . . and to dual wield them just adds to all
that. I think the way he uses the phrase “roaring ineptitude” just perfectly
describes the experience. And because he so perfectly captured THAT experience
that I’m familiar with, I trust that he’s also accurately
describing the games that I haven’t played. Is there any writing or insight from the
artists and developers themselves? Well, yeah – pretty much every game has some
sort of remark from the lead developer. It seems like Simon Parkin really tried to
include something from them on each of the games he covered. Okay, is the book organized in a logical
way? Well, all the games are presented in chronological order of their release
date. Interspersed between the games are summaries of major console releases, and
there’s also a few pages that summarize gaming history for the entire decade. So
though the book title mentions 151 games, there’s actually closer to 180 entries.
On each entry there’s a large number showing which of the hundred and
fifty-one games is being discussed, the date it was released, and an image of the
start screen (well it’s usually of the start screen). It also includes where you
can play the game today, which by now is often out-of-date or incomplete.
For example, many games listed as being on the Xbox Store are also on the
PlayStation Store. I also think it’s funny that a lot of them just say MAME,
which is an emulator. So it’s basically saying “Well, if you want to play this
you’ll have to pirate it.” There are some errors in the book but
not very many. For example, here’s a cool illustration of the entire first level
of Sonic the Hedgehog. The problem is, the keen among you will notice it’s actually
from Sonic 2! Sinful, Parkin! Sinful! With regard to the image variety – they’re
almost entirely screenshots of the finished product, but there is some
promotional art for the older games and there is also some occasional
development art. There’s also some other images that have been put together like
all of the Pokemon, the Marble Madness levels, and some levels from Mario. Does this book have what you want it to
have? Well that depends on whether or not you agree with the games that were
selected for this book. The main idea is that each game is exceptional or
influential in some way or another. And this criteria does lead to the exclusion
of certain well-loved games. For example, though Halo 2 was very popular and is
fondly remembered by millions of people, it was really the first Halo that had a
huge impact on the industry. There are certain series that rightly
deserve multiple spots, though, like Metal Gear and Resident Evil. Resident Evil 1
essentially started the modern survival horror genre, and Resident Evil 4, among
other things I would say, pretty much popularized the over-the-shoulder
shooting perspective. As I looked through the book I noticed
I’m more likely to disagree with the inclusion of the more recent games. For
example, I don’t think Red Dead Redemption or Super Mario Galaxy really
did anything that hadn’t been done before, and just as good. However, I do
think it would have been hard for Simon Parkin to know which games released in
the past year would be considered influential down the line. I mean, if you
had to pick two games that were released this year that would be considered as
influential as Pac-Man, I kind of doubt you can do it. So though
I didn’t personally agree with the inclusion of every entry, I thought the
content was very well selected. Summing up this section, I think the
content of this book is exceptionally good. Though it would be nice if there
were more images that aren’t screenshots, the writing is great and that’s the main
reason you’d probably buy this book anyway. On to the aesthetics. Does the book have
an artistic, pleasant layout? Well, as I read through the book I found
it was pretty easy to see what was going on with each page. The pages look pretty
crowded but I think everything flows pretty well.
I like the little design touches like how there’s a symbol for each game, and
the front and back covers have all of them. One thing I didn’t like aesthetically is
that throughout the book the title pages have these “image conglomerations” and I
didn’t find them aesthetically pleasing at all. In fact I find many of them quite
unpleasant to look at. It’s like image barf. Are there any full pages of art? Well
other than these monstrosities, not really. Images of the systems usually
take up a whole page, though, and there are some images that are pretty big like
this map from the original Zelda. Is there anything else about the book’s
aesthetics that are worth mentioning? The cover of the book is, in my opinion,
not very good. It feels more appropriate for a poster than for this well-written
history book. I mean, I honestly almost didn’t buy it because it looked like it
would be kind of a “simple” book rather than the thorough and interesting read
that it is. One other kind of weird issue with the
book: most of the captions under the images don’t necessarily have much to do
with the images themselves. I think what probably happened is that they didn’t
want the pages to be too busy, but they also wanted to have some screenshots and
interesting little tidbits about each game. I think what they did was
essentially combine the screenshots and the tidbits even if they had nothing to
do with each other. Perhaps they could have just used isolated floating words
or found some other way to incorporate the tidbits? I mean- so though this is a
little weird and makes no sense of your casually browsing the book, I actually
didn’t find a problematic at all as I read through it. All this considered, overall I would say
the aesthetics are below average. If you’re reading through the book the
experience will probably be fine, but if you’re looking for aesthetically
pleasing art you probably won’t be amazed. Next up: the nostalgia evoked by the book.
Several times while I was reading through the book I was transported back
to when the games were actually released. The book is a time machine of sorts.
I think Parkin does a good job of describing the historical context of the
games and why they were a big deal at the time, and I think all of that is a
part of video game culture. Like, when Mortal Kombat was the latest craze, kids
really did talk on playgrounds about how to unlock the secret character Reptile. I
mean, I personally remember discussions like that happening. So I would suspect
the average reader will feel a lot of nostalgia for the games they have some
connection with, but for many of the other entries the experience will
probably be mostly academic. Alright, how does the book show us the
inner workings of the gaming industry? Well I think the whole premise of the
book is to help people appreciate the strides the industry has made and the
contributions of the various creators. Here are some examples of that.
Here it talks about how the original Street Fighter arcade cabinets had
buttons that would do light, medium, and hard attacks based on how hard you hit
the button – and that led to a massive problem where most of the arcade
cabinets were breaking constantly. Here is perhaps a lesser-known story
about Pong: “Nolan Bushnell had just hired a rookie engineer, Al Alcorn, and told him
that he had brokered a deal with General Electric to produce a coin-op version of
Pong. He reasoned that the task of replicating
such a simple game on the relatively complicated circuits Bushnell had
created would make for excellent training for Alcorn, who would be
inspired to work hard if he thought it was a legitimate commercial product.
There was, however, no deal. Nevertheless, the trick worked, and Alcorn applied
himself to the work, improving the design by having the ball bounce at different
angles depending on where it hit on the bat, and adding sound effects, and a
scoring mechanism.” Another little story of trickery
involving the game Breakout, which you might know as Brick Breaker: “Steve Jobs, a young, free-spirited engineer who had taken a job at Atari in order to save
enough money to go backpacking in India, was handed the project. Jobs was offered
a hundred-dollar bonus for every integrated circuit he managed to cull
from the game – on top of his 750 dollar flat fee for building the game – an
incentive design to help keep production costs down for Atari. Jobs promised he
would have the design completed in just four days and, in order to hit the
deadline, he pulled in the help of his friend Steve Wozniak, a technical whiz-kid he worked for Hewlett Packard. Jobs offered Wozniak half of any bonus Atari
paid out. Wozniak spent every night working on the project without sleep,
creating the game from a description Jobs had given him with neither drawings
nor plans. He managed to reduce the number of chips required by the game from
between 150 to 200 to just 46. The work netted Jobs a bonus of several thousand
dollars (about ten thousand dollars, actually), but he told Wozniak that he’d
received just 700, passing on 350 dollars to his friend for the help.” (Disdainful scoff) Man! (Sarcasm) A true business visionary. In addition to some of these stories I think there’s some interesting insights
into game design. For example, here it talks about how Eugene Jarvis thought
defending things would be more emotionally engaging than attacking them.
Investors thought the simple mechanic of rescuing humans in Defender was too
complex for people to understand, but the game made something like 35 million
dollars per week (apparently not much has changed – investors still have no idea
about game design). I really liked a lot of the other little
tidbits of information, like how Black Onyx in 1983 was the first game to
represent health points in a horizontal bar. It’s funny the things we take for
granted that someone, at some time, needed to invent and design. Well, in closing, I really like this book.
Simon Parkin has an enjoyable writing style and he’s created something special Well different people want different things in video
game art books, or history books, but I hope this review has been helpful in
showing you what you can expect from this book. If you have any complaints
about this video – or if you want to argue about some mistake in this video – please
feel free to contact my customer support center. (Persona 4 “Victory” music until end of video.)

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