I’ve been playing video games for a really long time. If my math is correct I’ve been staring at my television with a controller in my hands for roughly 35 years and seven console generations. As time goes by, those early days of gaming in the 80’s become harder and harder to recollect with any clarity (thanks mom for my great memory). Thankfully though, Bitmap Books is here to help me relive those days gone by without having to spend my children’s college savings rebuilding my collection.
Bitmap was founded by Sam Dyer, a graphic designer whose goal is to produce visually stunning books chronicling the early days of home computers and console gaming. They offer a variety of books covering everything from classic arcade cabinet art, to a collection of box art from the Super Famicom. I was lucky enough to get a hold of two of their collections recently and they sent me on a wonderful nostalgia trip back to my childhood.
COMMODORE 64: A VISUAL COMPENDIUM
The Commodore 64 was the first computer that my family ever owned. My brother got it as a gift for his 8th grade graduation, and while it was most likely meant to be used for homework and educational purposes, it turned into my first introduction into computer gaming. There was a neighbor who lived down the street from us and every so often he would give my brother a stack of floppy discs loaded with games. We never had any idea what games would be on them or how to play them (no instruction manuals) but it was a joy to jump in and discover what weird (and often times incredibly inappropriate) games awaited us.
The first thing that will strike you about the books that Bitmap creates is just how extensive and packed full of information they are. They have obviously gone to great lengths to create the definitive encyclopedia of everything Commodore. They’ve enlisted dozens of experts from programmers and designers to graphic artists and journalists to tell their stories and give their 2 cents on the 200+ games that you’ll find inside. Each entry features a bright and colorful full-page spread with information like the year the game was released and the developer and publisher as well as quotes from experts giving you inside information on each of the titles.
The library of games that were available on the Commodore 64 may not contain as many household names as later computer games and consoles, but if you had a Commodore back in the day you’ll find plenty of familiar games. As I made my way through the book I found so many of the games I had loved as a kid. Games like California Games, The Bard’s Tale, Impossible Mission & Defender of the Crown. I also rediscovered games I had completely forgotten about like Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior, The Last Ninja & Spy vs. Spy. My one critique would be that I wish there were more images for each of the games. For some games they only feature the titles screen or an illustration and I found myself wishing that I could see more, but with the sheer quantity of material in the book it’s a small gripe.
It’s not just the large amount of games that impresses though, the book also features plenty of bonuses and extras to keep you busy and give you loads of information you most likely never knew. They’ve included artist interviews, company profiles, a look at the demo scene, unreleased games, and even a celebration of the very best loading screens (yes really). Also, I would be remiss not to mention that the book itself is of a very high quality. The hardcover edition I got was gorgeous and included a nice dust jacket and high quality glossy pages. With over 400 pages crammed with Commodore 64 love, you’ll spend countless hours reliving the 80’s and rediscovering a classic gaming computer.
NES/FAMICOM: A VISUAL COMPENDIUM
The Nintendo Entertainment System is another remnant of my childhood that holds countless cherished memories and was really the console that turned me into a lifelong gamer. It was the dawn of a new gaming age and the NES became massively popular with over 60 million units sold, turning Nintendo into a household name. It was a huge influence on me as a kid and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the NES played a big role in who I am today. I can all but guarantee that there wouldn’t be a Mega Dads if it wasn’t for the NES.
The book that Bitmap has devoted to the NES is every bit as impressive as the one for the Commodore 64. The book that I received was the softcover edition and it came with a great protective slipcase with a lenticular cover. Over 500 gorgeous, glossy pages fill this edition and they’ve packed more Nintendo goodness into it then you could ever wish for. You’ll find all of the classics that you know so well. Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Duck Hunt, and just countless other timeless games. Almost every time I turned the page I was struck with a childlike excitement to see game after game that I had spent so much time with as a kid.
There are so many tales to be told about that period of video game history, and every page features stories and behind the scenes anecdotes from a seemingly endless list of industry legends. Shigeru Miyamoto, Keiji Inafune, Satoru Iwata, Koji Kondo, Hironobu Sakaguchi and so many more. Whether you consider yourself to be a student of gaming history or just a lifelong fan of Nintendo, the stories you’ll find inside will be incredible gems.
Fantastic extras fill the book including profiles of developers Capcom, Konami, Rare & Namco, as well as interviews, fan art, box art, and a collection of unreleased titles and homebrew games that coders have continued to create long after Nintendo ended support for the system. Did you know that there was a Chinese made port of Final Fantasy VII? Or an unreleased game based on the film Aliens developed by Square and led by the designer of Final Fantasy II & III with music by Nobuo Uematsu? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
The care and attention to detail put into each one of the books Bitmap publishes is apparent. These are labors of love created by people who truly care about the history of video games. Whether you having been gaming since the 80s and want to take a trip down memory lane or you’ve fallen in love with gaming more recently and are curious about the early days of the industry, these books will provide you with hours of insight and entertainment.
You can find all of the books published by Bitmap by visiting their website or they are also available for purchase on Amazon.com
Photos courtesy of Chris Daw