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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

4.5 out of 5 stars 183 customer reviews

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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 Inside Flap

Inside the Games You Grew Up with but Never Forgot
With all the whiz, bang, pop, and shimmer of a glowing arcade. "The Ultimate History of Video Games reveals everything you ever wanted to know and more about the unforgettable games that changed the world, the visionaries who made them, and the fanatics who played them. From the arcade to television and from the PC to the handheld device, video games have entraced kids at heart for nearly 30 years. And author and gaming historian Steven L. Kent has been there to record the craze from the very beginning.
This engrossing book tells the incredible tale of how this backroom novelty transformed into a cultural phenomenon. Through meticulous research and personal interviews with hundreds of industry luminaries, you'll read firsthand accounts of how yesterday's games like "Space Invaders, Centipede, and "Pac-Man helped create an arcade culture that defined a generation, and how today's empires like Sony, Nintendo, and Electronic Arts have galvanized a multibillion-dollar industry and a new generation of games. Inside, you'll discover:
-The video game that saved Nintendo from bankruptcy
-The serendipitous story of Pac-Man's design
-The misstep that helped topple Atari's $2 billion-a-year empire
-The coin shortage caused by "Space Invaders
-The fascinating reasons behind the rise, fall, and rebirth of Sega
-And much more!
Entertaining, addictive, and as mesmerizing as the games it chronicles, this book is a must-have for anyone who's ever touched a joystick.
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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 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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