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King Pong

How videogames took over the world

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Today's videogame industry is swallowing entertainment whole. Movies, television and print are making less than the $25 billion industry that has invaded the living rooms of many Americans. Chaplin and Ruby are here with Smartbomb to give readers the lowdown on the industry, its history and the seedy workings of today's major players.

Chaplin and Ruby start off by tossing the reader head-first into the wild world of gaming conventions as seen by a developer/programmer, in this case Clifford Bleszinski aka Cliffy B. This makes for a great introduction, but it also casts doubt on the reliability of the writing -- how can the authors tell us what a celebrity programmer is thinking?

Though the reflections of Cliffy B. are dubious, the informal tone of the book is fantastic for those looking to learn something of videogame history without trudging through academic-style writing. The tone is upbeat and the comfortable writing draws you in. Chaplin and Ruby have a way of making the big creators into approachable characters, so much so that after reading the book, I felt as though I knew many of the more famous programmers personally.

The history depicted in Smartbomb is largely accurate and very well-researched. When Chaplin and Ruby go back to the early days of Pong, they have the whole story, starting with the first and little-known creator Higinbotham and drawing us through entrepreneur Nolan's eventual use of it in the Atari system. This got the Japanese competing and kicked off the videogame revolution.

It's not the listing of facts that makes Smartbomb such a good read, but the presentation and details that come with it. Chaplin and Ruby really did their interview homework with detailed conversations, recounting the actual pitches made in the early days, and the tiny nuances such as Higinbotham's "chain-smoking, Coke-bottle-glasses-wearing" persona. The little character bits added about each important figure make the people seem more than history -- real, tangible subjects the reader can cozy up to.

It's rare nowadays to find a non-fiction book which makes you want to go out and participate in the subject; luckily, this is one of them. I suggest grabbing a copy, having a read, and then hitting the local game store for copies of the classics.

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