|Fellow video gamers. where
did we come from and where are we now? Practically everything the EG reader
has lived through or wondered about regarding the video game genre is here
and more. This is not the concentrated history of one company, as in Oavid
Sheff's remarkable study of Nintendo, Game Over (Random House), but takes
the broad view, from before the beginnings of Atari to the controversy
over Mortal Kombat.
Herman's primary interest is in home video games, so he makes no effort to cover arcade or computer games except insofar as their influence on the home variety. Nevertheless, his introductory chapter runs quickly through calculating and computing devices from the abacus (which Herman points out first appeared in China about 2600 years ago, though he doesn't suggest any coincidence between that and the Atari 2600) through the Babbage difference engine, ENIAC and the first games played on computers. (The first was not Spacewar, as is generally thought. but a tennis-like demonstration created in 1958 for visitors to the Brookhaven National Laboratory.)
But it was Spacewar, designed at MIT by Steve Russell. that inspired Nolan Bushnell to start Atari and put Ralph Baer on the road to the Odyssey. The second chapter covers the period 1970-1973, with the creation of Pong, the actual founding of Atari as a coin-op game maker, the flood of video-tennis copy-cat games, Magnavox's introduction of the Odyssey-and the fledgling industry's first lawsuit, over Pong.
Chapter 3, 1974-1976, chronicles other pioneering home systems-Atari's Home Pong, Coleco's Telstar and Fairchild's Channel F-and Warner Communications' acquisition of Atari. Each of the remaining chapters covers one year, from. 1977 through 1993. The Atari VCS was introduced in '77, in '78, Space Invaders coin-ops overran Japan and the U.S. and Magnavox brought out the Odyssey2. Asteroids appeared in Atari coin-ops in 1979; the VCS version of Space Invaders came out in 1980. So did Adventure, which included the first "Easter Egg."
And so the chronology continues, through the defection of Activision founders from Atari, the Pac-Man phenomenon" the Vectrex programmable stand-alone", Mattel"s Intellivision, Colecovision-all in the early '80s, before the big shakeout in '83. Herman follows the floundering and deal-making of the following years leading up to Nintendo's introduction of the NES in 1985, and in the following months the phoenix of video gaming was born from the flames of retailing hell.
The book itself had its own rollercoaster history. It was begun as a directory of VCS software that was ready just in time for the crash, so no publisher wanted to handle it. With the return of a national interest in video games, he began to revise it as a history. He had it ready in 1991, hoping to get it published for the 20th anniversary of video games (based on the release date of the Odyssey), but again found no publisher. Finally, after great encouragement from the gaming fan press, he resorted to seIf-public-ation. This book will thus be found in relatively few retail outlets.
Herman writes with insight born of love for his topic, and offers in-depth research and straightforward reporting of the events, deals and conflicts that mark video game history. (Ross Chamberlain)