66 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2005
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. One of the best things about it is the fact that it gives details of so many things from my video game youth, such as the first Nintendo commercials, as well as the good old days of parents rampaging through stores for a copy of the "low supply" games. Aside from interesting industry information, this book helped me reminisce.
I've read "Game Over" (the only book comparable to this one on the subject, though it centers on Nintendo), "Phoenix, the Fall and Rise of Videogames, "Masters of Doom", and several other video game books. Honestly, this one still entertains me after four years. Though it ends at about the dawn of the PS2 and Xbox, it covers so much history and gives so many informative, interesting, and humorous stories that it really does deserve the title "Ultimate". Forgive me for not being more objective, but I must shrug and stick to my story. At 500 pages, and with such a wealth of information about so many familiar faces, companies, and games, I just find this to be the best book on the subject without question. Absolutely worth checking out for any video game player.
51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2003
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. A subtle distinction perhaps, but while there is background on certain titles, especially from the Atari years, I had expected more on actual games.
Overall, the book is informative and interesting though I believe it falls short of its lofty claim of being an "ultimate" history.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2001
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.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2001
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2004
Having been born in 1984, I was open to the video game revolution when Nintendo became a big influence. My life revolved around near worship of Nintendo of America. From buying the systems, games, and gear, I totally immersed myself in the culture of video games. However, I was not aware of the heritage that had preceded my birth and the work and love that had gone into the video game industry. This book has opened my eyes to that and has given me a much greater appreciation for the work done by the great geniuses in the video game industry.
Kent begins with the major pinball companies to give you a grounding in the leading companies that would eventually move into the coin-op and then consumer video game businesses. The book chronicals the making of games from a ragtag group of MIT students to Nolan Bushnell's grand experience of Atari and then all the way up to Microsoft proposing X-Box. The major focus of this book is the early years of gaming. Much of the material chronicals the work of the early Coin-op and console manufacturers. This is a very refreshing view of the industry, showing the original roots of the market.
I definitely suggest this book. Kent's light-hearted style is augmented by the thoroughness of his work. This book is brimming with direct quotes from the major players in the gaming industry. If you have had an interest in the work done to make the video game industry as popular as it is, this book is a definite suggestion. Read away!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2001
Anybody over the age of 18 will remember the classic arcade games that raked in billions of dollars in quarters (or later, their video console and home computer translations) - Donkey Kong, Defender, Asteroids, Battlezone, Space Invaders - the list is almost endless. And the companies that produced them were as well known as major league sports teams: Atari, Midway, Williams, Electronic Arts, Commodore, etc.
This book chronicles the fascinating story of the birth and evolution of the video game industry, from the pre-video arcade games to the modern high res computer games. It's large, about 600 pages,but it reads more like a fast paced novel than an encyclopedia, and contains just enough information to keep the narration interesting without getting bogged down in minor details.
As the title indicates, this book covers it all, and it does so with an insider's perspective, Kent having reconstructed the full story from hundreds of interviews with the major players. It's also full of interesting insights and anecdotes about the games, their creators, and the founders and movers of the industry. Ever wonder where the strange title Donkey Kong came from? Did you know there was a military training version of Battlezone? Which video game resurrected a dying arcade industry?
The business, as well as the technical, side of the video game history is covered, with stories about the wheeling and dealing that took place to launch and maintain the companies, and the reasons behind the successes and failures.
I thought I'd read a little bit of this book at a time, but ended up plowing through it, it was that engrossing.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2001
Weighing in at a massive 608 pages, Steven L. Kent's THE ULTIMATE HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES is nothing less than glorious, especially for admitted coin-op history junkies such as myself. Kent chooses to lay his foundation in Chapter 1 with the early rise of coin-op devices and the introduction of David Gottlieb's BAFFLE BALL bagatelle table in 1931. Devoting his opening pages to coin-op's roots was a wise move, he pays homage while giving the reader a greater sense of how we got here. From then on it's full tilt into the video realm. Kent utilized Leonard Herman's excellent book, PHOENIX: THE FALL & RISE OF VIDEOGAMES as one of his research cornerstones, but don't let that fool you. The author logged over 500(!) interviews with the small, medium and large insiders of the video game landscape. It's an amazing feat which yields an abundance of quotes from luminaries such as Al Alcorn, Dave Theurer, Nolan Bushnell, Ray Kassar, Ed Rotberg, Maysaya Nakamura, Dave Thiel, Joel Hochberg, Dave Rosen and Ed Logg (just to name a few!). From the corporate movers and shakers to the programming geniuses, Kent leaves no voice unheard. He also weaves the intricate origination tales of giant game makers such as Sega. Few realize it was founded by Americans living in Japan and that "Sega" is not a Japanese word. It's an abbreviation of the original company, SErvice GAmes founded in 1952. Kent's THE ULTIMATE HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES delves deep into the explosive home console successes and failures as well as the coin-operated arena. Even today, former CEOs marvel at the days when they could do no wrong. Just ask former Atari topper Ray Kassar who is still awestruck by the 1982 sales figures of Pac-Man cartridges. Twelve million went out the door that year, setting a retail sales record. In short, THE ULTIMATE HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES is a book whose timing couldn't be better. With video game hobbyists and players residing throughout the world, they've come to know that the machines of their childhood are now treasured collectibles. Rest assured, there will be more and more books forthcoming about the video game phenomenon. For now, Stephen L. Kent has delivered us pixel-eyed vidiots a wondrous tome that peeks "behind the screens."
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2005
This book is really amazing, a must read for videogames fan or not. Talks its history since the first pinball machines that leads to the videogames industry, from Pong to GTA...
I only don't give 5 stars because it don't have much photos...I really don't want a kid book, but adding photos in a book like this is essential because not all the people knows how the machines looked liked on the past.
This problem can be solved by buying the package listed below with The Illustrated History by Russel Demaria and Johny Wilson...
Thanks Steve L. Kent for this great book and I am waiting the next edition, since the Xbox is only mentioned, without a big cover...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2001
Not to sound sappy, but the best part of this book (for me) is the resurrection of all the forgotten memories I've stored away as Steve takes me back through a tour of my early childhood. Each game or system he discusses takes me back (in sight, smell, location) to very specific and memorable (but forgotten) scenes and events. I grew up with Odyssey, Atari, Intellivision, Activision, Coleco-and virtually all of the Cabinet games discussed (my Mom used to drop me off at the arcade as my babysitter). Reading this book has been pure joy for me.
But aside from the memories--the stories are fantastic (told almost entirely by the characters themselves): 1) LaGuardia (NYC Mayor) smashing pinball machines w/ sledge hammers, 2) Japan coinage shortfall due to Pac Man, 3) University of Utah having 1 of only 4 minis in US, 4) Atari setting up fake company to secure total market share, 5) Pac-Man creator getting $5K bonus????!!! (Bummer), 6) Fumes/syringes/Jacuzzis at Atari, 7) The military conversion of BattleZone, 8) the numerous interations of Pac Man, 9) the Genius of the Coleco strategy, 10) Steve Jobs at Atari!!, 11) the Birth of Chuck E Cheeze, and 11) I could go on and on.
Steve--thanks so much for this incredible contribution to history.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2002
Steve Kent's book truly is the "Ultimate" history of video games. I was not bored once and kept finding myself craving more with each passing page. I bought The Ultimate History of Video Games primarily to learn about Atari, Commodore, and Nintendo in the 1980s, a time from which I have many fond video game memories, but no real knowledge of the industry and the people behind it. What I received was a book that easily met my expectations and provided so much more. From the beginnings of Pinball (which Kent actually makes a very interesting read) to the launch of the Playstation 2 and the development of the Gamecube and X-Box, this book has it all.
I assumed that I already knew a lot about the 1990s video game industry. I WAS WRONG. There is a ton of information in this book. Pick you subject, person, or game system and they are probably in here and you will almost definitely learn something you didn't know, even if you are an expert on a particular subject. Thank you Steve Kent!