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Book Report: All Your Base Are Belong To Us…

For the past couple of years I've pretty much relegated my library of reading material to two kinds of books. No, not books with pictures and coloring books, although those definitely have some value.  Nope...I pretty much only read fiction books about video games AND...non-fiction books about video games. Well, I recently finished the book, All Your Base Are Belong To Us by Harold Goldberg.

If this book sounds familiar, that very well could be because a couple of our fellow community members actually had the opportunity to chat with the author of the book and post it in their weekly podcast. It's true, a few months ago the Indie & Mojo Show Episode 29 featured special guest Harold Goldberg. Ironically, I received my copy of this book from none other than...no, not Harold Goldberg. Even better. I received my copy of All Your Base Are Belong To Us as a Christmas gift last year from mojomonkey12. The inscription isn't too mushy, so I think I can share it without offending him...I hope.

Saint, Wouldn't it be great to get a signed book by somebody famous? Too bad you only get me! Have a Merry Christmas my friend.  -Mojo


As I do or have done with other video game books I've finished...I blog about it. I don't go into all the details and certainly don't spoil any big revelations. I just provide a gamer's perspective on the book. Doesn't make it right...doesn't make it wrong...just my opinion.

Before I get to the details, I'll cut straight to the chase or as we like to say in the Navy...the BLUF.

BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front

You can pick the book up at Amazon or wherever you buy your books from...for about $10 bucks and it's a must have in any gamer's library. For older gamers who were around for some or all of the various generations featured in the book, it's like a walk down memory lane; and for the younger generations it is like a history book. Not like American History or European History...more like Video Game History 101.

Okay, so now that you know I would recommend the book, let me offer some supporting evidence why. First of all, the book is organized into 19 chapters starting from the earliest days of the video game and the first machines built to play them all the way to modern day with the final chapter discussing the future. If you're my age (which I know some of you are - Hist and Kyle) then probably somewhere about Chapter 2 or 3 you are more than likely to say, "Man! I remember that." Or some similar phrase. It's somewhat ironic reading a book that you can say, "Yes. That was my childhood. I grew up playing that. I was there for that. I saw that happen." And now you're reading it like it's some great historical event that you had a front row seat in the audience.

Even though the book delves into various era of gaming, it focuses in on a few remarkable systems, developers and games including the Wii, Rockstar, and Bioshock. I actually preferred some of the earlier chapters covering the 80s and 90s and the discussions about the Atari 2600, Nintendo and Raid on Bungeling Bay.

Of course I knew at one time that Raid on Bungeling Bay (one of my favorite games to play on my brother's Commodore 64) was designed by Will Wright and published by Brøderbund. I still remember to this day playing the game, and seeing the name Will Wright and the Brøderbund logo but now having grown older (and supposedly wiser) obviously the name Will Wright carries a significant more amount of weight and is a lot more prestigious. Of course Brøderbund went out of business years and years ago, but who knew playing that game then that one day I would grow up and still be playing video games created by Will Wright.

What I find most amazing about Will Wright and his legacy as the creator of the Sim series is how highly regarded these games are now...today...but how much of a struggle Will Wright had getting the first Sim City game published. He was told by so many people that the game would fail and fail miserably because it wasn't "winnable" - that gamers didn't want to sit around day after day just building and managing their user created worlds. I chuckled a bit when I read that, because we apparently haven't learned from our past. Many doubted Minecraft and it's "unwinnable" game play would be successful, yet clearly that's not the case. There are a number of similarities between Sim City and Minecraft...not just with the games but also with the creative geniuses behind their design.

So, as I read the book...I took notes (makes blogging about it easier) about things I thought were noteworthy and worth sharing.

First of all, the book sports a few quotes and mentions by Game Informer. The most obvious is on the cover where Matt Helgeson states, "If you're one of the millions of people who have fallen in love with videogames, this is required reading." Later in the book during the chapter discussing the success of Bioshock, the author makes a comment about Bioshock being featured on the cover of Game Informer. And finally there is a quote about Grand Theft Auto from the magazine. It's kind of neat reading a book and seeing a company where you devote a lot of your time mentioned.

There is a chapter that goes into a lot of detail about Nintendo, and more specifically Shigeru Miyamoto. I love Nintendo and am a huge fan of Miyamoto, but I'm not one to read or study a lot about the corporation and history of their relationship. I did find this section of the book very interesting as I read about how Shigeru Miyamoto and some of his early influences, like the fact that before he made Donkey Kong, he was working on a Popeye and Olive Oyl themed game design. Was Donkey Kong inspired by Popeye (Mario trying to save Princess from Donkey Kong compared to Popeye trying to save Olive from Bluto)? I also thought it was pretty cool that as a young boy Shigeru Miyamoto would go adventuring in the woods (hard to imagine him doing that now) and that was part of the inspiration for the Zelda games. Who knew?

I wrote a blog a while ago that was received with mixed reaction that discussed how the video game industry is about making money. Now I didn't say nor do I think that the developers are in it just for the money. I do think they enjoy creating video games. But often times the Venture Capitalists and investors don't know anything about video games other than it is profitable. Having read this book, I have to believe even more so now that that's the way it is. The book is full of stories that talk about the role, influence and heartache money has caused more than a handful of developers and publishers; which is certainly still true today. When you read about Atari and the mess it's endured, you see exactly what I mean. When you read about 38 Studios today (or Activision and Infinity Ward), you realize making video games can be a cutthroat business; sounds like that has gone on (including copyright infringement) ever since the earliest days. We have Pong clones, Doom clones and now? Practically everything is copied or cloned.

There was an entertaining story about Steve Jobs, the iconic figurehead of Apple in the book. Maybe it's because of his passing that I thought it was neat, but the author tells the story about how in the early days of Atari and the game called Breakout, Steve Jobs was paid to figure out a way to develop the game using less hardware components. Seems the man was always a shrewd player in the industry.

I was also amused with the story of William "Trip" Hawkins III and his run in with a professor at Harvard who made the statement, "You are wasting your time at Harvard by monkeying around with games."

If you're not familiar with the name, he's uh...the founder of Electronic Arts. A name I'm sure you've heard of...sure, he's no longer with them and that is a colorful tale in itself (and yes, money is involved). The story is even a little more ironic given that he was the eighth person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame and is said to have designed his own major at Harvard University in Strategy and Applied Game Theory. Harvard, such a prestigious school that oh by the way, now offers a course or two about video game development. Doesn't sound like they still agree that it's a waste of time monkeying around with games anymore.

Another story relating to those who doubted the future of video games and with Trip Hawkins, the author recounts that Trip had created a new football game and was negotiating a deal with the legendary John Madden. John Madden was leery of the video game industry and declined the EA stock options and opted for $100,000 instead. Obviously he stood to make way more if he had went with stock in EA, but he would eventually go on to make millions by allowing his name, face and voice to be used in later video games.

Oh boy, I could probably talk about this book for a bit more but I've run on long enough. Like I opened with above, the book provides valuable insight and awareness into what got us where we are today. There are a few slow parts but overall the book was a joy to read and will make you a more knowledgeable gamer. It's affordable and absolutely recommended if you were playing games in 80s; if you're part of the younger generation, my recommendation isn't as strong as most of it might not be as meaningful, but there is still knowledge to be gained from it.

A special thanks to mojomonkey12 for blessing me with this gift and to Harold Goldberg for keeping the history of our history alive in print.

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