August 1998

While there have been a number of books that have attempted to tell the story of computer games, most recently JC Herz's lop-sided Joystick Nation, the definitive version has yet to be written. In many respects, Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames does not advance the big picture either. What it does have, however, is one unique quality, an obsessive interest in detail. Whereas conventional histories are triumphal, as if the growth of the computer game has been a predetermined success fueled by large corporations, Leonard Herman knows differently. Instead, he tells a story that is built on technical advances and small- scale failures.  

Starting in 1962 with Steve Russell's Spacewar and continuing in year-sized chapters from 1970 to 1996, Phoenix chronicles every console and peripheral that has ever been produced. It lists their capabilities, price, availability, and in most cases, the reasons for their eventual failure. Sometimes this level of detail becomes too much and readers may find the book dry at first - it's probably best to tackle one chapter per sitting, in an industry that seems  to pride itself on only looking forward, such a detailed viewpoint slowly becomes addictive in the basic framework of the emerging world games market becomes apparent.  

As Sega prepared to launch Dreamcast and re-enter the battle with Nintendo and Sony, its executives could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of this and remember  the mistakes of the past.