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Book Review: All Your Base are Belong to Us

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All Your Base book

Product: All Your Base are Belong to Us: How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture
Price: $15.00
Release Date: April 15, 2011
Author: Harold Goldberg
Publication: Three Rivers Press
ISBN:978-0-307-46355-5
Rating: One thumb up, one sideways; 86;B+; *** 1/2 stars out of five
Pros: In-depth look at crucial moments in the history of the video games industry; written in a casual manner with plenty of anecdotes
Cons: Some middle chapters are filler; some important moments in gaming history not covered; some anecdotes go a little too far.
Overall: The book provides a fun, fascinating look at fifty years of video games written in a way that both gamers and non-gamers can enjoy.

Sometimes a book on the history of a certain phenomenon can read a bit dry and academic. However, when you read Harold Goldberg’s All Your Base are Belong to Us, you don’t feel like you’re reading a history book that just rattles off names and dates. Instead, you feel that you’re reading a collection of stories of fascinating innovators who weren’t afraid to take chances.

Most gamers have heard of Shigeru Miyamoto and of Blizzard Entertainment. But did you know that as a child Miyamoto staged puppet shows and loved Disney movies? Or that Blizzard was originally called Silicon and Synapse, but when the founders sold it to a software company, they were asked to change it? All Your Base is peppered with these little tidbits of information that give a lot of flavor and depth behind the humble beginnings of these people and companies.

THE PIONEERS

The first several chapters cover the rough, early years of the video game phenomenon. We meet people like Ralph Baer, inventor of Pong and considered the Father of Video Games, and Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari. We learn how an Italian plumber propelled a Japanese company called Nintendo into the stratosphere, and how Alexey Pajitnov almost didn’t get credit or money for inventing Tetris.

All Your Base covers the highs and lows of these early years — the sacrifices made by these people, and how their inventions were accepted by the public. We learn of the rise and fall of Sierra On-Line, of how venture capitalists helped destroy the duo that created The 7th Guest, and of how a little company called Blizzard made MMORPGs accessible to everyone with a game called World of Warcraft.

FORGOTTEN MOMENTS IN HISTORY

It’s not easy to write a book that takes readers on a historical journey of a particular phenomenon. Many people and events have to be scrapped, otherwise the book would be hundreds of pages long. Still, an author has to carefully decide what to include and what to leave out. While Goldberg does a solid job in covering the early history of video games, he falters about 2/3 of the way. Some chapters read more like filler (really, video game movies?), while others should have been part of a more encompassing topic. And finally, the book neglects to cover some noteworthy events and engaging topics.

For example, there’s an entire chapter on the Houser brothers, who founded Rockstar. It’s followed by a chapter detailing the Grand Theft Auto series and of course, the Hot Coffee controversy. These two chapters could have easily been combined into one. Meanwhile, Hot Coffee could have instead been in a chapter on mainstream media’s misconceptions towards video games. Throw in a little Jack Thompson, some Mass Effect and it would have been an interesting chapter.

All Your Base also fails to include topics such as Microsoft’s entry into the video game industry with the Xbox, and of the rise of social games and mobile phone games. And what of the role of women in video games? The press release of the book noted this, but in reality this topic was barely mentioned, appearing in a small paragraph at the end of the chapter on Sierra On-Line.

CONCLUSION

Overall, All Your Base are Belong to Us is a fun look into the history of video games. It’s a really casual read that both gamers and non-gamers can enjoy. It doesn’t quite cover every single noteworthy event, but it particularly does a great job in highlighting the early years of the video game industry.

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