Friday, June 13, 2014

Inexplicable Book Review: All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Image from Amazon. dot com.
All Your Base Are Belong To Us is a pretty spiffy overview of the video game industry from a somewhat unique perspective – The 300ish pages of Harold Goldberg’s book instead focus mostly on the development of the games themselves, as opposed to the rise and falls of the companies involved.

Yes, it’s kind of weird that that’s a “unique” perspective for a video game book, but most of the previous ones I’ve read only mention the games themselves in passing, as opposed to charting the rise and fall (and sometimes rise again) of companies like Atari, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. It also helps that Goldberg has a bit more of a journalism background than some other writers who have tackled the games’ industry; the book is well-researched and doesn’t make leaps when it comes to its subjects.

However, while Goldberg does cover some unique ground – AYBABTU came out in 2011, so there is plenty about BioShock’s development and the Wii – he doesn’t really go broad enough for my taste. For example, the first 50 pages are still devoted to the rise of Nolan Bushnell and the video game crash of the early 1980s, both of which are covered more in-depth and better in at least three other books. The same thing goes with the courting ritual of Tetris, which has a footnote acknowledging that Game Over by David Sheff is a better book on the subject, but then goes on for a dozen pages anyway about Tetris.

I’d rather these first chapters have been swapped out for something in the 2000s, which are still somewhat unexamined when it comes to gaming books. The book picks up speed once it gets past the Super Nintendo and Genesis era stuff, and focuses on the rise of online multiplayer and casual gaming. The chapters on Blizzard’s development of World of Warcraft, Sony and EverQuest, and Bejeweled were all much more compelling than yet another ode to Atari and Nintendo.

One last note – There is an odd thing going on with the book’s title, in that the meme is not discussed at all. For the uninitiated, it comes from some Engrish in the otherwise forgotten game Zero Wing. For more info, Wikipedia has got you covered. However, neither the meme nor the game are ever mentioned by Goldberg, which seems odd.

So, to steal Roger Ebert’s act, I’d give AYBABTU a mild thumbs up. There is enough interesting stuff, especially in the book’s later half, to make it worth a read, but some other tomes are better from an overall video game history perspective. In a future post, I might even do a ranking, since at this point I’ve probably read through a dozen different ones.

… I should find different hobbies.

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