Vintage Games: A Trip Down a Gamer's Memory Lane

"Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time" is a recent publication written by a couple of avid gamers and collectors who happen to run Armchair Arcade and that we have known for quite some time.

Ok, so you might find my name on the back cover with a clever remark about the contents, but the truth is, the book really is an interesting and insightful trip down a gamer's memory lane, focusing on titles that have become benchmarks in videogame history. And yes, I just quoted myself there.

And although the title does mention a few, there is much more to the book than just Super Mario or GTA. Vintage Games is composed of 25 chapters, each focused on a particular title. Some would probably think "how is that any different than just writing 25 game reviews?", but each chapter goes well beyond a review. Sure, there is information about gameplay, detailed descriptions how of the games look and feel, even screenshots, but the real "meat" of the pages are the numerous comparisons and references to even older games, predecessors that inspired (and more than likely continue to inspire) titles that we have enjoyed in the past and others that we still play today.

The chapters aren't presented in chronological order (which for some reason would have made more sense to me) but in alphabetical order, from Alone in the Dark to Zork. In between, you will find chapters dedicated to Tetris, The Sims, DDR, Street Fighter and Pac Man, stating in detail the history of each game, mentioning predecessors that have lead to their creation, and describing the successors that may have come from them.

Take Ultima, for example. There is a chapter entirely dedicated to it and its lenghty two decade evolution period, leading on to the next chapter and Ultima Online - the pioneer of MMORPGs. Having played several MMOs, especially EverQuest for about 5 years, it was interesting for me to read where EQ had come from and how it completely "replaced" UO and learned from its mistakes.

It was by reading the DDR chapter that I learned what the hell were these pieces of plastic that my husband had in a box and formed an octagon when put together. It's called the "Activator", a device by SEGA that would register the player's movements and basically translate them into game controls (think the more recent EyeToy). And while I thought that was just a bunch of junk in a box, now I think it's pretty cool that my husband still has his.

The massive amounts of trivia made me wish I could just download the whole book straight into my brain. I learned that it wasn't Alone in the Dark nor Resident Evil that sprouted the horror genre, but something released on the Atari 2600 entitled Haunted House. I found out that stealth began with Castle Wolfenstein. And I think the most fun I had was reading the Sim City chapter, where I discovered that I basically have played about 90% of the games mentioned in that chapter. Nothing like having a god complex to manage cities, theme parks, hospitals and so on! I even remember playing Sim Earth and Sim Ant many, many years ago on my cousin's Mac. Good times...

But it's not just the roots of each particular game that make this book special, nor the reminiscing... Well, ok, fine, reminiscing is half of the fun. But I particularly enjoyed the images and respective legends: there are in-game screenshots, scans of game boxes, photos of the contents of said boxes (which I am sure are taken from items belonging to the authors' personal collections!). Not to mention that to me, it was a massive learning experience.

I've read about some of my favorites, remembered games I had forgotten, learned about some that I only knew by name, and discovered several that I never heard of or seen before. Not to repeat myself yet again, but it truly is an interesting and insightful approach to the history of games. Reading Vintage Games turns out to be time very well wasted for any gamer and - yes, I dare say it - non-gamer.