All Your Base Are Belong to Us

Title: All Your Base Are Belong to Us

Author: Harold Goldberg

Genre: Video Game History

Length: 306 pages

Read: April 5, 2011

Summary: All the good stories!

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This new addition to the field of video game histories is a whirlwind tour of the medium from the 70s blips and blobs to the Facebook games of today, with everything in the middle included. Given the herculean task of covering 45+ years of gaming history in a completely serial fashion would probably result in about 4,000 pages, Goldberg has wisely chosen to snapshot pivotal stories. He seizes on some of the most important games, and even more importantly, the zany cast of creatives who made them.

My personal favorite is Chapter 8, “The Playstation’s Crash” featuring none other than that lovable Bandicoot, myself, Jason, Mark Cerny and various other friends. This chapter covers loosely the same subject matter that Jason and I detail in our lengthy series of Crash blogs (found here). It’s even 98% accurate! 🙂 If you enjoyed our Crash posts, I highly recommend you check out this book, as it includes not only some extra insights there, but 18 other chapters about other vitally important games or moments in gaming history.

These include old Atari, the great 80s crash, Mario, Tetris, EA, Adventure Games, Sierra Online, EverQuest, WOW, Bioshock, Rockstar, Bejeweled, and more. All are very entertaining, and focus heavily on the personalities behind the scenes — and boy, are there personalities in this business! In many ways this reminds me of Hackers, which is dated, but was one of my favorite books on the 80s computer revolution.

So click, buy, and enjoy!

For my series on Making Crash Bandicoot, CLICK HERE.

Book Review: The Road to Tyburn

Title: The Road to Tyburn

Author: Christopher Hibbert

Genre: Biography / History

Read: Feb 18, 2011

Summary: Really fun glimpse into a sordid little world.

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In the last 2-3 weeks I’ve read at least 8-10 books on 18th century London, many on the criminal element of said city. Lest one think I’ve got an unnatural fascination with antique crime this is research for my new novel (more on that here). This book, however, was a standout, and despite being long out of print is well worth mentioning.

It’s short (160 pages), and very lively, reading as fast as a novel. It does a very good job characterizing the bizarre underworld of 1720s London, pretty much that which is depicted in the engravings of William Hogarth. London of this time was a city unique on earth, transitioning out of the 17th century’s religious zealousy and into the head long rush toward industrialization. It was a place of great freedom, great crime, great industry, and an infrastructure and society nearly overwhelmed by change. Pretty damn fun, and why I chose it for my novel.

Jack Sheppard — not to be confused with the protagonist of Lost — is a colorful character I hadn’t previously encountered. More or less just a charismatic young house burglar, he entered the public eye in a huge way — foreshadowing today’s media fascination with crime and criminals — by being a prison breaker of staggering talent. Nothing could keep the guy down, tied, barred, locked, or whatever. He broke out of the notorious Newgate prison no less than three times! (and several others as well).

As a working class, non-violent, handsome, achem… thief, seemingly able to escape punishment at will, he captured the hearts and minds of his fellow Londoners. For me, one of the book’s great moments is the description of his insanely daring and audacious fourth escape, known even then as the “Great Escape.” The guy used only a single bent and rusty nail to extract himself from a huge pile of irons, fetters, and chains, broke open a masonry chimney, climbed up, picked and opened five heavily fortified prison doors, leapt across rooftops, and descended great distances on a rope made of bedding. If anyone ever earned an escape, it was this guy!

Too bad they hung him when they caught him the last time. But he seemed to enjoy the attention and show.

The book does a great job telling Jack’s life story intermixed with really vivid and quick background sketches. The story of the the infamous Jonathan Wild, self proclaimed “Thief-taker General of Great Britain and Ireland” is also an eye-opener as to the origins and history of organized crime. As the book states, no other criminal mastermind in 300 years has ever had London crime (a pretty notorious city) so well organized!

Book Review: The First American

Title: The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

Author: H. W. Brands

Genre: Biography

Read: Jan 25-Feb 10, 2011

Summary: Big solid Bio of a VERY interesting man

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While I’m waiting for the last bits of line editing on my almost-finished novel, The Darkening Dream, I’ve been researching and outlining the  next. Given that it’s me, the new novel features both the historical and the fantastic. As to the historical: enter Ben Franklin. Who was one cool dude.

There’s a reason why he’s on the hundred dollar bill.

Now to reviewing this biography (I’ll call it TFA). It’s very well written, and easy enough to read. It’s also LONG (800 dense pages). Now, Ben lived 84 years, from 1706 to 1790, and he was perhaps the best known and most highly diversified American of his era. So there’s a lot to cover. As a printer/writer Ben left us a lot of his thoughts, and the book does a tremendous job capturing these, with long tracks of his writing embedded in the text. Lest you think this might be dry, he’s a surprisingly witty and modern voice. Eerily so. The book could have used a little bit of trimming here and there — but no more than 5-10%. It marches along steadily from Ben’s parents to his death and legacy, covering everything in between. This is not a history of the Revolutionary War, but covers more Ben’s role than the conflict itself. Good thing since that would’ve doubled the size. TFA does a good job characterizing the era, and particularly the politics of both Pennsylvania and London, and to a lesser extent Paris. It does a great job characterizing Ben.

Overall, I would give the book a 8/10 on the biography scale. That’s independent of it being Ben, but just in managing the job of conveying an important life in a different era. It’s not quite as good as Caesar: Life of a Colossus, Alexander of Macedon, or the Rise/Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, but it’s pretty close.

But it’s worth talking about Ben. He was a pretty amazing guy, as influential in his own wry was as those three aforementioned titans. And he didn’t kill thousands or conquer nations doing it. Ben was a man of rare genius. Observant as to causes and effects, be it weather, electricity, ocean currents, politics, or business. And he’s depicted here with all his very human faults. But fundamentally he was a spirit of curiosity, optimism, energy, and general good intentions. He wasn’t the best husband or general, but he sures seems to have been one hell of a human being.

Book Review: A World Undone

A World Undone

Cover via Amazon

Title: A World Undone

Author: G.J. Meyer

Genre: History

Read: August 2010

Summary: Highly Recommended

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Doing research for the sequel to my novel I started reading a number of histories of World War I. This is simply put: an amazing single volume history of the war, its causes, and course of events (but not the post-treaty fallout). I’ve read hundreds (or more) of history books, and as single volume war histories go — this is excellent. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the world we live in, because the modern political arena was forged in World War I (far more than WWII). The often autocratic (or at least Imperialist) regiems of Europe were not prepared for what it really meant to bring the full might of post industrial powers into conflict. The last real shakeup of Europe had been a hundred years earlier with the Napoleonic wars, but the 19th century had remade the economies of the world. The clash, cataclysmic in terms of everything, ended the old world order. All of the big old autocratic states collapsed (Prussia, Russia, the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans) and even the winners were left unable to hold onto their empires. Meyer does a great job introducing the players gradually so as to not overburden the story of the war’s origins with background. It reads like a taut horror novel — and that’s pretty much what it is.