Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Smartbomb

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the heat-seeking-culture-missile dept.

Books 31

The history of videogames is a subject that has been remarkably well documented. From Pong to the launch titles of the 360, games have always had historians. Now that gaming is taking its place beside movies and music as a recognized art form, new players have to be informed of the hobby's past. Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution tells the tale of modern gaming's formation via the personal stories of the people who make them. It's a well-considered look at the early days and recent history of interactive entertainment. Read on for my impressions of a book with not only a sense of history, but a handle on what's fun.If you don't follow games, you won't recognize the name of CliffyB. Suffice it to say that Cliffy (a designer at Epic Games, makers of the Unreal series) has a reputation in the games industry. His swagger and bravado at industry events early in the decade fills the first chapter of the book, and had me sighing. While I respect the man's work, I have a low tolerance for that kind of machismo. Cliffy has changed since then, though, and despite the image he portrayed back then the authors of the book make it clear that the swagger was all an act. As they describe the man's dissatisfaction with his situation, and a humanizing moment where he walks from a dance floor seeking solitude, it was clear that Smartbomb was not going take a superficial look at the games industry or its people.

Smartbomb uses the individuals who make and play the games we love as lenses to focus on distinct segments of the videogame industry. Each chapter is a mini-novel, with characters and reflections that explore the roots of gaming as an art form, as a medium, and as a culture. The story of Nolan Bushnell and the early days of Atari are a lead-in to the formative years of the home gaming scene. Through the eyes of Shigeru Miyamoto we see the ascendency and decline of Nintendo in the Western market. Angel Munoz's CPL tournament allows us access to the world of FPS titles, and lets us lament the loss of Looking Glass studios all over again. Seamus Blackley attends the launch of the original Xbox, and we tag along to reflect on Microsoft's bid for the living room.

Though the outlines of much of this may be familiar to anyone who's been a gamer for a while, the immediacy of the book's language places you in the flow of history as it unfolds. They don't just tell you about the Xbox launch, they put you in the moment. You're standing there as Gates plays a round with The Rock, and are a fly on the wall as Blackley proposes to his girlfriend. Though the tone feels somewhat unnecessary at times (we don't have to 'be there' to see Will Wright's buddy making a fool of himself at a GDC), it breathes life into what could have been very dry material.

The story of Smartbomb, the oral history of the gamers, is not dry in the slightest because the authors make it a human tale. During the course of the book there are plenty of games to talk about, but the authors chose to focus their attention on the people behind the games. It pulls our attention as readers away from the subject matter and forces us to consider gaming history in a more holistic way. For example, the launch of Star Wars Galaxies, discussed in a chapter on Raph Koster and virtual worlds. The game's launch was a harsh time for everyone involved. It lead to harsher times and marked the start of a game that has always been troubled. The authors force us to consider the human toll that must have taken, revealing that the live team was in crunch mode for almost three years after the game's launch. Several Christmases away from your loved ones is a high cost to pay for fun gameplay. In addition to humanizing raw statistics, the tone of the book forces the reader to see these people as no more or less than human. Will Wright's genius is well known, but he's an intimidating person to talk to. The launch of the Xbox saw a lot of friendships broken up, and thousand dollar purses at the CPL are won by teens and young adults who spend far too much time in front of a PC screen.

The chapter in the book most likely to deal with new ground for the reader shares its title with the entire work. Though it doesn't use that term, the 'Smartbomb' chapter touches on serious games. The most serious of games, actually, the ones the military is using to train the next generation of soldiers. Where the other chapters talk about the creation of an industry and the advancement of a hobby, 'Smartbomb' introduces the reader to games like America's Army and Full Spectrum Warrior. The human face of military gaming are the men and women who developed the titles, and are even now adapting lessons learned from their play to training programs for U.S. soldiery. Humanized in the same way as the more jocular portions of the book, the look at gaming and the military is probably going to be the most informative for gamers already familiar with the rest of the text's characters.

The book accomplishes some admirable goals in relating the history of the hobby, the industry, and the people who have made both possible. Despite that, there are some elements I felt could have been better. Average players are included in some portions of the tale, and the device would have been more effective if it had been used throughout the book. Impressions from a Sims player would have been a poignant offset to the cloud castles of Will Wright's thought processes. While the book does an admirable job of grounding some icons it doesn't do so evenly; Some industry personalities are brought to earth harder than others. The book ends on a postscript during 2005's GDC, and the few sentences mentioning the designers' views on the modern industry were not satisfying. Revealing the founders of modern videogaming as human could have been followed by more exploration of that humanity, an opportunity missed.

Alongside titles like Masters of Doom and Dungeons and Dreamers, Smartbomb is a stab at capturing some legitimacy for the community by creating well-informed members. It uses a casual tone to relate the tales of videogaming past, and places readers in the middle of the moment. This first-person perspective of history is certain to appeal to readers who might otherwise not be interested in the formation of an industry. As an extension of gaming's oral history, the book accomplishes its objective well. It's both informative and entertaining, a title you can feel comfortable giving to a non-gamer without pause. For long-time gamers, familiarity with the book's subject matter may detract from your enjoyment. The only truly new story that 'Smartbomb' tells is that of the military's involvement with gaming. Many of the most interesting aspects of the book are anecdotes gamers have been telling each other for years. That said, those who enjoy gaming history will enjoy Smartbomb. It treats the subject matter with respect and the icons of the gaming world as people. It is a well-crafted look at an immature medium, and will hopefully open up younger readers to the events that prompted the news of today.


You can purchase Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Book? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14662131)

So... this is a book review, then? How 'bout putting Books: in the title like usual, eh?

BECAUSE ZONK IS A FAGGOT (0, Troll)

CmdrTaco (troll) (578383) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662247)

That's why.

Re:Book? (2, Funny)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662258)

High, I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such books as "Pac Man... The Odyssey of a Gay Joystick Fanatic" and "Super Mario Brothers 3 and How I Ended Up Living In My Parents' Basement Until I Was Thirty Five".

Re:Book? (1)

c_forq (924234) | more than 8 years ago | (#14663405)

I was thinking about the same. I saw Smartbomb in my live bookmark and clicked on it thinking it was about Russia's new missile technology or something involving smart bombs, and was very disappointed to see it was a book review.

I should stick to using the front page instead of RSS, for I have that set up to ignore book reviews.

missing the target (0, Offtopic)

Douglas Simmons (628988) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662143)

Given that gamers are too busy gaming to read, who's gonna buy this??

Re:missing the target (1)

irongoddess (890487) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662230)

Die-hard gamers are too busy gaming. Don't forget about those of us who love gaming but not to the exclusion of all else... I go through gaming phases and then through phases in which I read 3 books a week, then through phases where I obsess about something like neurology or Ajax.

Online zines like The Escapist exist for those of us who have hooks into the gaming world but don't live and breathe MMORPGs.

Re:missing the target (1)

Elad Alon (835764) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662639)

Ajax? The floors-cleaning stuff? Next time you go through that phase, give me a call.

Re:missing the target (1)

popra (879835) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662269)

It may be interesting to people who aren't hardcore gamers, or people who used to play alot but for some reason can't seem to find the time anymore (like me :) ) and would find relaxation reading and going back the memory lane.
Just a thought.

Re:missing the target (1)

MaestroSartori (146297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662302)

All the gamers I know read books fairly regularly. Of course, they're also all adult and in full time employment or education, and probably are the real target for this book.

Sample chapters (4, Informative)

jacoplane (78110) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662162)

The article [wikipedia.org] on WP has some links to sample chapters.

Sad... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14662167)

If you're reading a book about videogames, your chances of getting laid are pretty much zero.

LUCKY WANDER BOY IS ON TEH SPOKE (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14662249)

REFERRAL FREE LINK [amazon.com]

Amazon has it cheaper (2, Informative)

heffel (83440) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662168)

Amazon [amazon.com] has it cheaper than BN ($16.47 vs $20.20).

Re:Amazon has it cheaper (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14662332)

It can be found even cheaper [google.com] .

Re:Amazon has it cheaper (1)

Retroneous (879615) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662598)

Wow, and you even got your affiliate code in there. Very smart.

Based on the title of this article... (2, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662456)

I expected a review of Smart Bomb for PSP because the game was generally thought to suck. It got a 45% rating on Metacritic [metacritic.com] and 0% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes [rottentomatoes.com] .

Adventure games? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14663076)

It sounds as if the only games out there are platform/arcade/fps games. I don't think that the authors are doing 'the history of video games' much justice if they leave out the genre that dominated the late eighties and early nineties: adventure games.

Save $5.98 by buying the book here! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14663163)

Save yourself $5.98 by buying the book here: Smartbomb [amazon.com] . And if you use the "secret" A9.com Instant Reward discount [amazon.com] , you can save an extra 1.57%! That's a total savings of $6.24, or 28.21%!

Save $5.98 by buying the book here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14663312)

Save yourself $5.98 by buying the book here: Smartbomb [amazon.com] . And if you use the "secret" A9.com Instant Reward discount [amazon.com] , you can save an extra 1.57%! That's a total savings of $6.24, or 28.21%!

Legitimacy? (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 8 years ago | (#14663341)

Now that gaming is taking its place beside movies and music as a recognized art form,
Recognized by who precisely?
new players have to be informed of the hobby's past. Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution tells the tale of modern gaming's formation via the personal stories of the people who make them.
And why precisely do new players have to be so informed? This assumption does not flow from the assumption preceeding it. (That games are now 'recognized'. Whatever that means.
Alongside titles like Masters of Doom and Dungeons and Dreamers, Smartbomb is a stab at capturing some legitimacy for the community by creating well-informed members.
The pentultimate paragraph (whose opening sentence is quoted above) is an interesting reversal from the opening one... Now legitimacy is being 'captured', rather than being assumed to be present. But again, we have the unsupported assumption that having informed members creates... something.

Re:Legitimacy? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14666749)

It's actually penultimate, not pentultimate. Nice attempt at trying to sound smart though, I can see why you signed in for that one. Looks like some people even fell for it.

The missing pieces from the review (4, Interesting)

Torgo's Pizza (547926) | more than 8 years ago | (#14663402)

This book isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Smartbomb, for the most part builds most of it's historical material off of greater works like Leonard Herman's "Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of Videogames" or Game Over. Nor does he mention that Aaron Ruby inserts himself and his wife Heather Chaplin into the story for much of the Star Wars Galaxy multiplayer experiences.

This book isn't so much about the history of gaming. It's about the cult of personality that is erected around people in this industry. They interview some of the biggest pricks in the industry, Angel Munoz being chief among them. At least the Will Wright and Myiamoto interviews temper it. Strangely, because the length of this project took several years, the interviews seemed a touch dated especially as we move forward to a new generation of games.

The book is okay, good at best. It isn't something that I'd recommend to someone right off the bat, nor would I include in my list of books to study for gaming history. If you want to know more about competitive gaming, what drives these people and a little more about people who aren't in the gaming history spotlight, this book does a pretty good job.

In-game historians (3, Interesting)

thomasoa (759290) | more than 8 years ago | (#14663436)

When will there be a MMORPG that is so complicated that it will require in-game historians to document the deeds of the players?

Re:In-game historians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14663789)

"When will there be a MMORPG that is so complicated that it will require in-game historians to document the deeds of the players?"

Rather, when will someone design a mmorpg so SOPHISTICATED that players will DEMAND in-game historians to document and preserve the Glorious events that helped shape their virtual world?

A Living History is a good thing, it indicates that the world you live/play in is WORTH documenting.

Save $5.98 by buying the book here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14663590)

Save yourself $5.98 by buying the book here: Smartbomb [amazon.com] . And if you use the "secret" A9.com Instant Reward discount [amazon.com] , you can save an extra 1.57%! That's a total savings of $6.24, or 28.21%!

I like the part where Carmak killed a squirrel (2, Funny)

ezeecheez (931550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14663859)

with his brain. That was AWESOME!

Save $5.98 by buying the book here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14663970)

Save yourself $5.98 by buying the book here: Smartbomb [amazon.com] . And if you use the "secret" A9.com Instant Reward discount [amazon.com] , you can save an extra 1.57%! That's a total savings of $6.24, or 28.21%!

Save $5.98 by buying the book here! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14664365)

Save yourself $5.98 by buying the book here: Smartbomb [amazon.com] . And if you use the "secret" A9.com Instant Reward discount [amazon.com] , you can save an extra 1.57%! That's a total savings of $6.24, or 28.21%!

Save $0.99 by buying the book here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14672128)

Save yourself $0.99 by buying the book here: Smartbomb [amazon.com] . And if you use the "secret" A9.com Instant Reward discount [amazon.com] , you can save an extra 1.57%! That's a total savings of $1.25, or 7.24%!

Well, this was a submission dead out of the gates. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14715980)

First and formost - there was no such thing as a smartbomb in early games, so any attempt to align this crap to history is utter crap.

Second - the reviewer is an ass and so is the author.

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?