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The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon--The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World Paperback – October 2, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this rollicking, mammoth history of video games from pinball to Pong to Playstation II Kent, a technology journalist and self-professed video game addict, covers almost every conceivable aspect of the industry, from the technological leaps that made the games possible to the corporate power struggles that won (and lost) billions of dollars. Anecdotes are legion. Readers learn that early Atari, for example, had the corporate climate of a dot-com startup, with rampant drug use and meetings staged in outdoor hot tubs. The original name for Pac-Man turns out to be Puck-Man; its creators changed the name after worrying that vandals in arcades would replace the P with an F. In 1978, there were so many people playing Space Invaders in Japan that the game caused a national coin shortage. Kent meticulously documents the rise of home video games and the console wars of the past decade, when Sega, Nintendo, Sony and others raced to produce the fastest, most powerful game system. Also addressed is the public backlash of the '80s, when video games were thought to distract students from homework, and the '90s, when Doom and other violent games were linked to the massacre at Columbine High School. Along the way, Kent interviews virtually every key player in the industry. At times, Kent's comprehensiveness is exhausting 500-plus pages on video games may be a bit much, even for their most ardent admirers. But most often Kent's infectious enthusiasm is enough to carry the reader along. Equal parts oral history, engineering study, business memoir, game catalogue and Gen-X nostalgia trip, Kent's book is a loving tribute to one of the most dynamic (and profitable) industries in the world today.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From the Back Cover

"A major triumph."
Next Generation Magazine

"If anyone knows game history, it's Steve Kent."
—Dave Theurer, creator of Tempest, I*Robot, and Missile Command

"This is the best video game history book I've ever come across."
—John Romero, founder of Ion Storm

"For industry insiders and game players alike, this book is a must-have."
—Mark Turnell, designer for Midway Games and creator of NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, and Wrestlemania

"A compelling journey through the evolution of the video games industry."
—Minoru Arakawa, president of Nintendo

"This book is from the horse's mouth. Finally, the game designers speak out in all their wisdom and stupidity."
—Eugene Jarvis, creator of Defender and Robotron 2084

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; 1 edition (September 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0761536434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761536437
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven L. Kent has published several books dealing with video and computer games as well as a series of military science fiction novels about a Marine named Wayson Harris.

Born in California and raised in Hawaii, Kent served as a missionary for the LDS Church between the years of 1979 and 1981. During that time, he worked as a Spanish-speaking missionary serving migrant farm workers in southern Idaho.

While Kent earned a Bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in communications from Brigham Young University, he claims that his most important education came from life.

Many of the lessons he learned from the Mexican field workers in Idaho have appeared in his stories. Later, from 1986 through 1988, Kent worked as a telemarketer selling TV Guide and Inc. Magazine. His years on the phone helped him develop an ear for speech patterns that has been well-reflected in dialog in his stories.

As a boy growing up in Honolulu in the 1960s, Kent developed a unique perspective. He spent hours torch fishing and skin diving.

In 1987, Kent reviewed the Stephen King novels Misery and The Eyes of the Dragon for the Seattle Times. A diehard Stephen King fan, Kent later admitted that he pitched the reviews to the Times so that he could afford to buy the books.

In 1993, upon returning to Seattle after a five-year absence, Kent pitched a review of 'virtual haunted houses' for the Halloween issue of the Seattle Times. He reviewed the games The Seventh Guest, Alone in the Dark, and Legacy. Not only did this review land Kent three free PC games, it started him on a new career path.

By the middle of 1994, when Kent found himself laid off from his job at a PR agency, he became a full-time freelance journalist. He wrote monthly pieces for the Seattle Times along with regular features and reviews for Electronic Games, CD Rom Today, ComputerLife, and NautilusCD. In later years, he would write for American Heritage, Parade, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and many other publications. He wrote regular columns for MSNBC, Next Generation, the Japan Times, and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

In 2000, Kent self-published The First Quarter: A 25-year History of Video Games. That book was later purchased and re-published as The Ultimate History of Video Games by the Prima, Three River Press, and Crown divisions of Random House.

During his career as a games journalist, Kent wrote the entries on video games for Encarta and the Encyclopedia Americana. At the invitation of Senator Joseph Lieberman, Kent has spoken at the annual Report Card on Video Game Violence in Washington D.C.

In 2005, Kent announced his semi-retirement from video games so that he could concentrate on writing novels. Though he still writes a monthly column for Boy's Life, he has mostly concentrated his efforts on writing novels since that time. His first efforts in science fiction, The Clone Republic and Rogue Clone were published by Ace Book in 2006.

Despite his "retirement," Kent continues to write the occasional game article or review. His sixth novel, The Clone Empire was released in October, 2010, and a seventh novel is due in 2011.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Miketheratguy on March 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
I've been playing video games for 20 years now. I began with the Atari, saw the market crash, grew up with Nintendo, and got caught up in the 90's proliferation of newer and hotter systems. I know a great deal about the industry, yet this book puts my knowledge to shame.

Exhaustively researched and crammed ridiculously full of information, anecdotes, and hundreds of direct quotes from every walk of video game life, this book is worth more than one read-through. My copy is well-worn because I find it so easy to take with me on plane trips and just start reading through at random points. It's written in a very friendly, conversational tone and engages you with its prose. The book is extremely interesting because the author is clearly interested in the subject himself. He manages to get the kind of details and answer the type of questions you'd want to know, yet stays very thorough and accurate throughout.

Loads of different subjects are covered, sometimes at great length: The bar where Pong was first tested. Nintendo's lawsuit against Galoob's Game Genie. Tengen illegally producing Nintendo games and the big N's forceful prosecution. The battles over Donkey Kong and Tetris. The founding of Electronic Arts. Sega's mid 90's dominance and slip of the cd based systems. The furor over Mortal Kombat. School shootings. I can't list enough, and I can't go on enough about it. This book is extremely comprehensive and covers the entire video game industry and all its major players chronologically from the 70s until the turn of the century. It's well-written, accurate (given all those direct insider quotes) and completely objective.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful By M. S. Hillis on October 21, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is really two books in one. The first half is a detailed history of the rise and fall of Atari. It is chock full of interesting details, and rightly focuses on the fascinating personalities who drove the company that did more than any other to take video games mainstream. The author's years of covering the industry and these people paid dividends in this section.
By contrast, the second half of the book, which mainly covers the rise of Sega, Nintendo and Sony, feels rushed and is far less comprehensive. Many part felt like rewrites of news articles, rehashing history rather than bestowing new insights. I don't want to sound too harsh, because this is a good overview, but this section falls short compared with the high standards set by the Atari history.
I also have a couple format quibbles. Many direct quotes are offset from the main text in bold. This is distracting. Some quotes simply repeat what had just been stated in regular text. I understand the need to back up assertions with quotes, but some of the comments are bland and don't really add anything. Other sections begin with quotes that are only tangentially related to the ensuing text, or were from speakers who don't make further appearances or whose comments are not elaborated on. Another complaint is the use of excerpted passages from contemporary news articles that don't give the source up front but force the reader to look up footnotes in the back. If a passage is important enough to offset from the main text, the reader should be told right away who wrote it and in what publication.
Also, I thought the title was slightly misleading, since this is more a history of the video game *industry* rather than of video games themselves.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Dan Amrich on November 17, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Combine Leonard Herman's accurate but dry Phoenix with the intimacy of David Sheff's Game Over and you've got The Ultimate History of Video Games, the best account of video game history to date. Numerous anecdotes from the people who made the games that made history--from Atari's Al Alcorn and Nolan Bushnell through to Square's Hironobu Sakaguchi and Sony's Kaz Hirai--give the book an personal, friendly tone. Gamers should note that this is a reprinted but noticably improved version of Kent's self-published The First Quarter, with a full index, more photographic examples, a more attractive layout, and the removal of all the confusing typos and minor errors (sadly, the original book's clever title was removed as well, but the amended facts are worth it). Ultimate History's conversational tone, broad scope, and authoritative direct quotes make it very compelling as a narrative but just as useful as a reference. Along with David Sheff's Game Over, it's an entertaining must-read for students of gaming history.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
I love to read about video games, and I pretty much devour everything I can find on the subject. So I became excited when I heard about the release of this book, written by one of America's most beloved (and yet perennially controversial) video games journalists. Steve Kent's MSNBC, USA Today and Next Generation columns are always honest and a bit quirky, which is a good combination from my perspective.
When I buy books, especially ones with the word "ultimate" in the title, I expect a lot. This book, a properly edited and indexed version of Mr. Kent's self-published "The First Quarter," absolutely delivers on its title. As a telling of history, The Ultimate History of Video Games is not pretentious, nor is it heavily opinionated, and those are among its greatest assets. The approach: interview nearly every major decision-maker involved in video gaming and let their words tell the 25-plus-year story of the industry.
And Ultimate History actually tells the WHOLE story. It's not just about Nintendo. It's not just about 10 years worth of old arcade games. It covers everything -- from before the dawn of video games to just before the releases of the Xbox and Gamecube. Plus it does so without pulling any punches. It's a big thick book with a lot of previously undisclosed information. Fans of The First Quarter will even find some surprising new additions inside, too.
This is the sort of book you stay up all night reading and then consult again whenever you're talking with your friends. And it's also the sort of book that ANY person considering a career in video games, especially the gaming business, really has to read. These are the reasons it rates a "buy" instead of a "borrow" or a "skim." I keep a copy on my shelf at work.
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