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Alive 14
                          The Video Games Guide

      "From Pong to PS3, over forty years of computer and videogames"

                               by Matt Fox

Sometimes,  among all the socks,  solar-powered egg-timers, and general Xmas
strangeness, you get a present that you actually wanted. Sometimes, the idea
of  giving  a significant present-giver a list to take ideas  from  actually
works. And even more incredibly, she then manages to correctly identify your
heart's  desire from a blurry crudd-o-vision 0.1 megapixel  mobile  phonecam
picture, which is blummin' amazing, come to think.

Which  is  how I came to set eyes on 'The Video Games Guide' for  the  first
time on Xmas day.

The  format  is simple and appealing,  a big softback at 550 pages,  crammed
from  end to end with mini-reviews of famous and obscure computer,  console,
and  arcade games,  right from the first 'Computer Space' game made back  in
1962. I am put in mind of the tirelessly comprehensive 'Guinness Book of Hit
singles', which sort of did a similar thing to the music business.

This book offers to be "A truly essential reference book for the gaming  fan
and the industry professional alike".It is laid out alphabetically, and is
designed  to  be  dipped into at random,  or if you are on a  search  for  a
favourite title beginning with the letter 'F'.

And indeed there are lots and lots of reviews,  all rounded off with a star-
rated  system  going from 1 - crud,  to 5 - all time classic.  Matt Fox  the
author is quite fair and accurate with his reviews, and isn't afraid to pull
any punches where a game turns out to be a big pile of steaming brown  hype.
He  manages to cover a huge range of time and hardware,  everything from the
first  arcade  and  mainframe-based games,  through the  home  computer  and
console years, down to current and next-gen systems. This is both a strength
and a weakness of the book.

I  don't think it was Matt's intention to offer a book with every  videogame
ever made, but the blurb on the back of the book-jacket is misleading, as it
refers to it being "The first ever comprehensive guide to computer and video
games." This may well satisfy casual browsers with superficial interest, who
will think that the whole subject is covered in a single volume,  brilliant,
by 'eck!  but almost as soon as I opened the book, I started to play another
game, nitpick for the missing entries!

Looking at it from a narrow,  parochial, and 16-bit viewpoint, I immediately
came  up  with  a serious lack of games like Brattacus and  Captain  Blood.
Considering that he is trying to highlight the quirky and unusual  releases,
this is a serious omission. Likewise, most of the Bitmap Brothers catalogue
was missing,  although Speedball and Chaos Engine got in there.  There was a
total  lack  of any of the interesting Digital Image Design  games  such  as
Robocop III and Epic. And this is only what I came up with off the top of my
head!  Considering that obscure releases like 'Zeewolf', an Amiga game, made
right  at  the end of that machine's lifespan,  were included,  you have  to
conclude  that  this  anthology  is  a close  mirror  of  the  author's  own
collection, and not at all the 100% comprehensive guide that some people may
have been led to believe?

I  don't blame Matt for giving the generic film licence shovelware  platform
games made by US Gold and Ocean Software a miss though ;-)

As  this book has been done as a one-man band,  the choice of subject matter
tends  to  reflect his own preferences and prejudices.  The Acorn BBC  micro
manages  to  get a decent amount of airtime in here,  which might reflect  a
historical pattern of ownership of that machine. The Atari ST (as opposed to
Atari  arcade)  hardly rates a mention,  usually being tagged on behind  the
Amiga  when  it comes to describing 16-bit games,  apart from rare  releases
like  Dungeon  Master and MIDI-Maze,  where there is no way of ducking  that
issue. (You might be pleased to know that Dungeon Master did rate five stars

Another  weakness is in the inconsistent treatment of sequels.  For example,
Starstrike  3D and Starstrike 3D II rated separate reviews,  but 'Frontier',
the  sequel  to  Elite,  was only mentioned in passing in the  main  'Elite'

There  are other things to mention.  There is a great screenshots section in
the centre pages of the book, with all the five-star all-time classics shown
here.  There is a useful glossary of terms at the end,  a list of awards for
different  games,  and a chronological section which lists all the  reviewed
and referenced games year by year.

This  is  a good book to dip into,  but if you are looking for a  particular
favourite  game,  there is an even chance you may not find it and come  away
disappointed.  I think there is too much claimed on behalf of this book.  It
is  NOT a comprehensive guide to everything ever coded that calls  itself  a
videogame.  It  could  be a good reference point if you are doing  your  own
research, but it would need to be taken in conjunction with other sources.

In  my opinion,  the ultimate guide,  or even a decent history of videogames
has  still yet to be written.  Matt tried to do too much and perhaps  should
have pared the book down to more detailed write-ups of the five-star  games,
in  a  chronological order,  and why they influenced future  development  so
much, but that's my opinion!

However, considering it on its own merits, Matt did a pretty decent job.

Nice and attractive format, wipe clean cover etc.
Shows a lot of hard work gone into it.
A pretty good round-up, if not comprehensive, the main points are covered.
Mini-reviews are objective, fair, and accurate.

Misleading claims made for it, the back cover blurb writer should be shot!
Random  choices of the more obscure games,  no clear case made why they went
in when other more deserving titles didn't?
Erratic treatment of sequels, some went in, others didn't.

                                                  CiH, for Alive Mag,Dec '06
Alive 14