Gaming Books Round-up

Written by Joe Martin

January 8, 2008 | 11:41

Tags: #art #bar #best #book #carmack #coffee #content #cut #design #doom #gift #half #library #money #morris #read #romero #writing

Companies: #history #valve

The Good

Whether you're a hardcore gamer who wants to learn more about a specific game you're obsessed with (a pain I share), or a casual gamer who just wants to know a bit more about gaming in general, it seems like there's a book out there for you.

Finding the good ones though, that's the key.

We're not sure why it is that the gaming scene specifically has undergone such a radical makeover lately, but if I had to guess I'd probably have to blame Nintendo. The DS and the Wii, along with the rising popularity of casual games like BeJeweled and Peggle, has pushed gaming into the living rooms and dinner parties of many. In fact, sweeping generalisations aside, this overarching change has made computer games a lot more interesting to people who otherwise wouldn't have even glanced at a keyboard or joypad.

So, whether you're admittedly part of that new market which all the console makers are so fond of or you've been around since before Zork was born, we've got a selection of great gaming reads for you below. Take a gander.

Masters of Doom

Gaming Books Round-up The Good BooksAuthor: David Kushner (335 pages)
UK Price: £6.99
US Price: $10.85

It only seems fit to start at the very beginning and you don't get much more revolutionary and ancient than id Software. Well, you do, but nobody really wants to fill a book with pictures of Pong and Adventure.

Masters of Doom isn't like most of the books in this selection in that it clearly isn't a coffee table kind of book. Large, colourful illustrations are completely absent and the book itself is a tightly written history of some of the most important people in the business: Romero, Carmack, Hall, Hollenshead and the rest of the gang.

The book starts back at the very beginning with Carmack and Romero as kids learning their way around simple game design through platformers like Dangerous Dave, continuing up through the invention of adaptive tile refresh, raycasting and true-3D engines. It's a credit to Kushner's writing that discussion of adaptive tile refresh, a method which only refreshs portions of the screen which have changed since the last completed frame to speed-up game loading, remains as interesting as everything else.

The story charts the meteoric rise of the two prominent developers, John Carmack and John Romero, then the stunning fall of the latter, dishing out the inside scoop on exactly what went wrong and why. Along the way, there's anecdotes and trivia a plenty that clue fans in on possible future games for id such as Quest and giving the humourous origin of Daikatana's name (it came from a D&D game the team played and lost spectacularly). The whole thing is well-told and maintains a constant forward motion, carrying its relevance through into the future – a feat not achieved by many other books of this type.

Half-Life 2: Raising The Bar

Gaming Books Round-up The Good BooksAuthor: Valve (287 pages)
Available through Valve

From one of the best games of old to one of the best games of new, we come to Raising The Bar. A behind the scenes look at the entire Half-Life phenomenon. The book charts the origins and development of the original game as well as Counterstrike, Team Fortress and Half-Life 2.

Deliberately lacking a distinct author, the book (which is only available in large hardback) is a collection of pithy comments from the Valve team alongside a boatload of high-quality concept arts, writing scraps and design documents. It's an interesting format which makes the book great for picking up and flicking through, giving unique insight into what Half-Life could have been. It's for that reason that I always keep a copy in my desk with which to subtly survive long editorial meetings.

The two main appeals of the book mean it's suited to pretty much anyone. Those with a less-obsessive interest in the adventures of Gordon Freeman than us can easily while away hours staring at the beautiful sketches and paintings of zombies, familiar locations and character concepts. Those with a head for coding and game design meanwhile can look at how the facial animation system for the game works or how some of the more fascinating enemies, like the Hydra, were cut for balancing reasons.

Plot-fiends meanwhile can read original story outlines from Marc Laidlaw to see how the story of Half-Life changed over time and how the whole universe of Half-Life 2 is a lot deeper than it first appeared. Want to see the original model for Gordon, dubbed Ivan the Space Biker? Want to know who Alyx's father was supposed to be originally and learn exactly what the Combine are? This is the book for you, detailing not only abandoned Valve projects such as Prospero, but also cut creatures from Half-Life 1 like Mr. Friendly – a phallus shaped alien who played on teenage fears of homosexuality by raping Gordon to death. No, seriously - you couldn't make something like that up!

Yeah, sure, now you're interested.
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