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Classic Games (Games)

Submission + - Vintage Games (

Aeonite writes: "Featuring a subtitle that is almost longer than the preface,Vintage Games: An Inside Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time offers a retrospective look at those games which authors Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton feel were, in their words, "paradigm shifters; the games that made a difference." As the preface points out, these are not necessarily best-selling games, innovative games, or novel games, but rather titles that, "in their own special way changed videogames forever."

The book itself features 25 chapters, each devoted to the study of a particular title that best stands out as "vintage" in its particular genre. Those games chosen as particularly "vintage" are (in order): Alone in the Dark, Castle Wolfenstein, Dance Dance Revolution, Diablo, Doom, Dune II, Final Fantasy VII, Flight Simulator, Grand Theft Auto III, John Madden Football, King's Quest, Myst, Pac-Man, Pole Position, SimCity, Space Invaders, Street Fighter II, Super Mario 64 (covered in tandem with Tomb Raider), Super Mario Bros.,Tetris, The Legend of Zelda, The Sims, Ultima, Ultima Online, and Zork. In addition, nine additional "Bonus Chapters" are available online at the book's website, covering Defender, Elite, Pinball Construction Set, Pong, Robotron: 2084, Rogue, Spacewar!, Star Raiders, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.

Though listing the titles here seems a bit tedious, it does serve two purposes. First, it demonstrates the broad range of game genres and titles covered in the book, with selections made from across four decades of gaming history. Worth noting in this regard is that each chapter is not solely dedicated only to the titular game; related games that both preceded and followed the selected title are also discussed, and although I didn't keep count many hundreds of titles are at least mentioned, if not covered in some depth. Indeed, this broad range leads to one of the minor issues I have with the book, which is a slight feeling of imbalance and inconsistency between chapters.

By way of example, the first chapter on 1992's Alone in the Dark begins with a two page look at the title itself, followed by a brief peek back at other "horror" games such as 1981's Haunted House, 1982's Dracula and 1988's Splatterhouse. The chapter then dives back into a detailed overview of the introductory scene of Alone in the Dark (along with illustrative screenshots), followed by four pages covering the game's sequels and some brief mentions of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Chapter 2, covering Castle Wolfenstein, follows more or less the same formula of focusing on the titular game, as do Chapter 7, covering Final Fantasy VII, Chapter 9, covering GTA III, and Chapter 15, on SimCity.

However, this "formula" is not followed in many of the other chapters, which makes reading the book from cover-to-cover a somewhat uneven experience. Chapter 3, covering Dance Dance Revolution only really devotes about four of the chapter's 11 pages to DDR itself, instead choosing to spend more collective time (and screenshots) on related subjects like Dragon's Lair, Video Jogger, the Nintendo Power Pad, Sega's Activator, and Karaoke Revolution (among others). Chapter 10, covering John Madden Football goes for over a dozen pages before it truly covers the title in question on five entertaining and screenshot-packed pages. Chapter 14, covering Pole Position and Chapter 17, on Street Fighter II are other notable examples where the focus is not as tightly aimed at the vintage title in question.

This is not to say that the writing is flawed; on the contrary, it is always entertaining and interesting, and frequently illuminating. Loguidice and Barton cover a lot of terrain, and they are not afraid to point out the warts as well as the beauty marks in their selections. For those who grew up with video games in their house starting with the Atari 2600 (or before), the book is like a trip through time, giving the reader a chance to reminisce about days gone by while also learning about the many titles he or she didn't even known existed. All of this material is written in an informative yet casual style that never feels stilted or pretentious, nor too fanboyish. Indeed, the only awkwardness is the inconsistency in coverage from chapter to chapter, which sort of feels like the authors — rather than co-write each chapter — sort of divided the book in half. I have no idea if this is the case, and there are certainly no glaring stylistic differences from chapter to chapter; all are equally entertaining.

The above chapter list also demonstrates that the titles are arranged in alphabetical order, as opposed to release date or genre. While this certainly makes a sort of structural sense, it does feel a bit awkward while reading the book cover-to-cover, as the reader is constantly dancing back and forth through time, from 1992 to 1981, followed by five titles released in the '90s, a title from 1980, and then 2001's GTA III. In addition, the decision to alphabetize The Legend of Zelda and The Sims in the T's, rather than the L's and S's respectively, does feel a bit odd (especially since the titles are listed under L and S in the index). Whereas Ultima and Ultima Online, and Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Bros. are in adjacent chapters, The Sims and SimCity are separated by six chapters. This is an admittedly minor quibble, however.

If there is a more-than-minor flaw with the book, it is the same flaw that seems to beset all books covering the video game industry: the screenshots, and their inconsistent placement throughout the text. Occasionally, a screenshot will actually fall on the same page where the game it depicts is being mentioned, but in many cases screenshots appear a page or two away (a mention of Second Life comes to mind in this regard. In several cases, screenshots actually overwhelm the text (most notably on pages 312-313), and fewer would have served better. There are also a number of "back of box" shots, which hardly seem as interesting to the reader as an in-game screenshot would be; in one case, almost an entire page is given over to a blown-up back-of-box shot of Maxwell Manor, which otherwise barely gets a mention in the main text.

Also worth mentioning is that screenshots do not always guarantee title mentions, and vice versa. In some cases, the vintage title being covered in a chapter is given many screenshots, whereas in other cases there are only one or two devoted to that game title. Some other mentioned titles are given a lot of text but no screenshot, such as Resident Evil, Metal Gear, and Half-Life. Other screenshots depict titles that are not even mentioned in the text (though they are still relevant to the subject at hand, as the captions generally make clear); examples include Silent Service, Blades of Steel and Mario Kart: Super Circuit. In places it often feels as if the authors are "making do" with the art resources available to them, rather than placing the images that would best suit the topic.

Whatever the reason for these sorts of issues, they present only the occasional bump in what is otherwise a very smooth and entertaining ride. The somewhat inconsistent coverage of titles means that readers looking to read about their particular favorite game may be in for a treat, or may be disappointed, depending on which particular game they're looking to read about. However, this is not that book. What Vintage Games is, is a four-decade retrospective on 25 games that have truly made a difference, and readers who expect just that (as you now do) will come away wholly entertained."

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