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Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984

4.2 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262524209
ISBN-10: 0262524201
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The generation now in its 30s pumped innumerable quarters into free-standing video consoles with protruding joysticks, steering wheels, and "fire" buttons the quaint precursors of today's dollar-based sensory overload and sleekly sophisticated home systems. Burnham, an L.A.-based Wired contributing editor and a member of the Video Arcade Preservation Society, lovingly collects screen shots of faves like Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Q*bert, along with early games like Computer Space and Pong, and home games from Atari and Nintendo. The cheeky capsule descriptions of each game from Burnham and others are matched with longer essays from writers like Julian Dibble (My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World), who writes about the text-based game Adventure, and former Feed editor Steven Johnson (Emergence) on Atari competitor Intellivision. The chronological organization holds the book's disparate games and players together adequately, but readers looking for a straight narrative history should look elsewhere: this is all about memory jogging and rapturous description. Notably, Burnham did the book's text, design and production; the layout is quirky and provocative but not disorienting, and the print quality is excellent. (Nov.) Forecast: While the book can't compete with the actual experience of playing the games, Burnham's time capsule will given as a gift among gamers (not a small subculture), and browsers from its demographic will at least flip through. The MIT imprint could lead to some campus acquisitions, especially for schools with modern media and culture departments.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Initially thought to be mere fads, video games have become entrenched in global popular culture. These two books use different approaches to document the phenomenon. Kent, a freelance writer, interviewed video game innovators such as Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani, among hundreds of others, to provide a definitive history. He includes photos of the major video game players and quotes extensively from his interviewees in an academic but highly readable style. The promised index will be needed to navigate the text, but this remains a fascinating and well-researched account of the games many of us grew up with or have encountered in an arcade.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (October 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262524201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262524209
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #875,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm 33 and cut my teeth on Firetruck, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Dkong. Having been involved with the Mame project for 6 years, which attempts to preserve arcade games through emulation, I'm always interested to read new books on this subject. Supercade caught my attention with its gaudy presentation and heft. It's a glossy collection of easily smudged pages with screenshots taken from Mame with rudimentary Photoshop filters applied along with some image skewing, and flyers and cabinets shots also from the collection/emulation community. Most of the screenshots are accompanied by short descriptions that could easily have come verbatim from Mame's history.dat file, originally compiled by Brian Deuel. One could also imagine the author going through Mame32's year folders one by one looking for tasty tidbits to present as one-offs or games not as mass produced as Pac-Man. Steven Kent's books do a better job burrowing into the stories behind these games and I enjoyed his writing style more than this author. All that said it does still have merit in that it nicely lumps all of this together in what could be described as a coffee table style art book. It may provide an accessible entry to the classic gaming genre for the newbie, but the hardcore will already have delved into other more mature offerings on the subject, including Mame itself which this book owes for much of its information.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was extremely disappointed with this book. The content of this books consists entirely of video game screen shots taken from PC based emulators and small snippets of information taken from other, better books. There are no notable insights in this book, and the writing is weak and uninspired. There are many notable exceptions in the content of this book, including one of many collectors favorite games, Atari Quantum.
The book holds up fairly well (relatively) on the raster games, but on the true XY games, the emulator screen shots do no justice to the beauty of the real thing. Do not excpect any history lessons on arcade games in general either, there are other, better books for that.
If you want to learn a little about the games you play on your emulator, this may be the book for you, but if you are looking for info on the history of video arcade games, you will not find it here.
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Format: Paperback
For anyone interested in early videogame history, this is a nice coffee table book to have lying around. It's filled with interesting information and game trivia. Nothing deep, but there are other books for that ("Understanding Video Games" is one that comes to mind). However, what really kills this book is that, unless you plan to have it sitting sexily on some book shelf, it WILL fall apart. The pages and cover are of excellent quality, but the binding appears to be double-sided tape. Open the book up at the middle, and there goes your spine.
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Format: Hardcover
From the looks of things, I was all ready for SUPERCADE to be one of the best video game books ever -- but upon receiving my copy from Amazon, I was utterly disappointed. The "text" is nothing but rehashed capsulized material from other sources that have already covered the topic in far more detail, while the pictures are mainly screen captures from PC emulators (available online with several clicks on your mouse), often out of focus at that. There's no "voice" in Burnham's words -- in fact, the whole book feels like it was assembled on her PC, copying and pasting from other's works. Like someone else wrote, the binding is poor and likely won't be durable enough for repeated use.
Bottom line? WAY too expensive, and not nearly in-depth OR colorful enough for arcade fans. Any reader would be better off checking out the terrific GAME OVER (which is about Nintendo's history but also has extensive material on Atari and the origins of the video game medium), John Sellers' ARCADE FEVER, and Leonard Herman's PHOENIX for more entertaining and satisfying reading. There just isn't anything here really worth the purchase, for casual readers OR video game addicts.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's very pretty, and very big, and knowing Van I would love to give it a glowing 5-star review, but in an attempt at being impartial I need to dock it in two critical areas.

First, the image quality of a lot of the historic material is really rough-- perhaps too-small of scans blown up too large for the format of the book? While I originally tried to write that off as simply being part of "the aesthetic" there were enough counter-examples of good quality images interspersed that that seemed unlikely. While it's not easy to source the sheer volume of all the material available, I wish that better quality examples were presented. (I mean, really, there's no reason an Atari 2600 box should be a blurry two-page spread when there's plenty of good quality examples to photograph/scan available on eBay every week. Similarly, a weekend spent with a game flyer collector would have yielded plenty of better quality images of those...)

Second, the heavy reliance on emulated screenshots as others have mentioned bothers me as well for a work that purports to be a 'visual history'. I can forgive that in the case of particularly rare games, but having extremely low resolution shots of rasterized/emulated vector games is kind-of unforgivable for a book that really would do well to show off some of the beauty of technologies that a lot of people have never experienced first-hand today. It's a bit like going to a museum only to find that all the displays are cardboard props instead of real artifacts.

I'm still generally pleased with my purchase as it was via a gift-card from Christmas, but if I was spending 'real money' I'd be tempted to pick up a used copy of the paperback on the cheap before committing bigger dollars.
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