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Encyclopedia of Game Machines (Book review)

I purchased the book The Encyclopedia of Game Machines back in the summer of 2006 from Vesalia online store for 24.90 Euro without VAT. The order was with other books, games, magazines and T-shirts. It is hard to calculate how much it cost to deliver, but I will apply an old accounting method by using simple equation. The whole delivery cost me 38.40 Euro, the order was for 405.24 Euro, which means that if taken not by weight but by price allocation, the shipment of the book cost me only 2.36 Euro. This is not expensive considering the package I received was heavy over 5 kg - an old online purchases rule - if you order abroad, order as much as you can afford or want at once, to pay less for shipping per single piece.

I knew about the book before - from various retro gaming oriented sites and forums, but at first it was in German only. As I saw it in English version as second edition, added it immediately to my order, but even if my German language understanding is poor, it would still be worth book to have for every retro enthusiast. The impression I had after getting the book at my hands and reading it for the first time was more than positive.

The Encyclopedia of Game Machines book - front cover. After paying the 20% VAT of the invoice, since we were not in the European Union yet, I took the package from the customs house and I brought the heavy box to home. I removed all the contents of the big box package and sorted all the goods received, checking them one by one for their condition, entirety and quality. Some magazines were missing, which were sent to me directly from their publishers, a week later, without any additional fee. The book was one of the most important purchases and I took it first to look at it. The cover is soft, only little thicker than the next pages, but the paper is strong and it does not get damaged easily. The top of the cover have the GAMEplan. logo on white background and a screenshot of the game Galaga, looking mostly like the arcade version of the game with gradient on the background from dark-blue on the top to light blue on the bottom. On the cover are also pictures of several gaming consoles - Sega Mega Drive with Mega CD expansion underneath. On the right of the Sega console is a Vectrex gaming machine with racing game on the screen of the built-in monitor and folded out Vectrex Joypad in front of it. Next to the Vectrex is a picture of the Atari VCS console - the case with wooden imitation and 4 switches in front of it. There are no Joypads or cartridges attached neither to the Sega, nor the Atari consoles. Under the Sega and the Vectrex consoles is a picture of ZX Spectrum 48K with ZX Microdrive attached to it on the left. In the Microdrive is seen Games cartridge, while under the Microdrive are seen the Business and Introduction cartridges. Next to the lower left edge of the ZX Spectrum is box with the cartridge on top of the Jet Pac game for Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Attached to the Sinclair on the right top is the Interface 2 with the PSSST game cartridge put in it. Right to the Sinclair is a picture of open silver Nintendo DS with a Japanese game on the screen. Over the Nintendo DS is placed 3D rendered Mario adding better atmosphere to the picture. The text of the title says The encyclopedia of Game.Machines Consoles, handhelds & home computers 1972 - 2005. In orange star spot on the center left is written From Atari to Sega, from Apple to Nintendo DS: The illustrated history of 500 machines, 600 pictures, history & technical data. The text on the cover already looks tempting to the gaming people, not only for the retro freaks, but also for the people who want to peek at newer machines as well. On the book at the left is written the name of the author - Winnie Forster, who did the job of collecting all the information and pictures in the book together. On the cover very good range of machines is chosen as well. The cartridge based consoles Atari VCS, Nintendo DS, Vectrex and Sega Mega Drive, the CD based Mega CD addition and the computer Sinclair ZX Spectrum which have cartridge and tape storage, but also the unique rubber keys. The cover itself makes the reader to feel that something really good about different range of computers and consoles is inside. From consoles of the 1970ies to the most recent dual screen entries crossing through various computers and consoles.

The side cover of the book is on blue background transferred from the left of the front cover with GAMEplan The encyclopedia of consoles, handhelds & home computers 1972 - 2005 text. The GAMEplan logo makes the book easy to distinguish from the other books in the bookshelf.

The Encyclopedia of Game Machines book - back cover. On the back cover of the book, three console pictures and one computer picture in frames are seen on the center. The picture frames are only alignment, as every picture crosses the boundaries of the frame around it. On the left is picture of white Sega Dreamcast with controller pad over it. Right to Sega is Fujitsu FM Towns with controller pad and keyboard and next to it is picture of Atari Lynx console with Shanghai game on screen. Under the Atari Lynx is a picture of Sony Playstation with classic PSX controller attached to it.
Over the pictures with small letters are written model names of different computers and consoles for example Aiwa CSD-GM1, Commodore Amiga 1200, Nintendo New Famicom, Thomson TO7. Under the Sega Dreamcast and FM Towns is small introduction text for the book, a quote from the Official Playstation Magazine, OPM and information about the author of the book and it's website. On the bottom right is the Hang-On motorbike with the rider on it, turning left and then on white background is the price in English pounds, ISBN number and barcode, which luckily for me was not stick with other custom bar code over it, like they do in the big bookstores. The front and back covers being very professionally done, would make impulsive buyers take the book in their shopping bag even if they are not interested in the retro gaming or classic machines.

Opening the book, the back side of the covers are white. The book starts from page 1 (the page numbering exclude the covers), where the title of the book, the author and then the English edition translator and the localizer are written - everything on white background. On page 2 and 3 are the contents and from there the default layout of the pages can be seen. On the top of the pages on around ten percent of the pages is a screenshots of some popular game with informational text on the left. On the contents is seen that the book is split in 6 main parts: First era: Birth of electronic games. Mainframes, arcades and TV games, Second era: Videogame crash and home computer success story, Third era: 16-Bit, Fourth era: Rendered crazy, Fifth era: The 21st century: Caught in the net of gaming and Appendix: Technical data. Small comic along the contents are seen with videogame topic and a picture of Bandai Wonderswan console with text to the bottom right of it. The page numbers are written on the leftmost and rightmost bottom parts of the page making it much easier to find any page without the need to even open the book.

On page four and page five are Preface and Acknowledgements (revised and expanded edition) and description of the Gameplan trilogy, which consists of this first part, second part - the book about controllers and human-machine interfaces and the third part which will be about game software and graphics. On page six is Explanation of hardware chapters, where information about the pages layout is given and how the info box is made. On page seven, eight and nine are description of the three main types of storage media used for the game machines - Electronic media, Magnetic media and Optical media with description of the main storage mediums used, their pros and cons. Pages ten to thirteen contain another introduction chapter with story about The birth of electronic games: Mainframes, arcades and TV games, where history about the first computers, consoles, games and their programmers is given, along with pictures, screenshots and facts from the world history of the era.

On page fourteen starts the description of the first game machine with Magnavox Odyssey, introduced in USA in 1972, with the information box on the next page mentioning Hardware sold, Numbers of games, Game Storage and Games developed until. Under these descriptions is the overall machine rating with 5 stars scale, the lower being half star and the higher - five stars. The pages are filled with very good shot pictures of the machines, screenshots of popular games with comments and description text for the machine. The description text for each machine is informative, yet not boring, filled with names of the conceptual and development team, reasons and intentions for the release of the machine, fun trivia, notable games and their creators, how the console influenced the market at the era it was released, and why it failed or established itself for longer or shorter time. Does it had support from the developers and manufacturers, was it popular among the consumers, how they reacted and was it easy or hard to develop for it. Reading this text can make the reader to think why a console have only half stars, even if being more technically advanced than another which had less features but higher rating. The more important machines for the market overall are described on more pages, than the small names which only take one page with the all the information about them. For example Tandy TRS-80 with two star rating, occupies only one page, while the four star Apple II occupies five pages. The book is established on facts and real stories, and hard to read at one breath and I don't recommend it. With all the facts for every single machine, there is time needed to assimilate all the useful information, before going on with the next machine. At the end part for each console are written the Variants and successors officially released during the machine active life span. There are no clones mentioned for most of the machines, unless they are officially approved by the initial manufacturer. For example there are no mention of the Laser 128, Franklin ACE, Agat or Pravetz 8A clones of the original Apple II line, or the Pravetz 8D and Oric Nova clones of the Oric Atmos. The lack of clones is understandable, considering all the clones of popular computers made around the world for which is hard to find any information even today. In the first chapter there are many machines of the late 1970ies and early 1980 of which I never heard before, which helped me know these rare items, especially the machines from Japan, which hardly made it to Europe, like NEC PC-8001 and Sharp MZ. The prices written for the machines are from the era they were sold and written in US dollar, or Japanese Yen and hard to recalculate in current Euro, taking into account the inflation and deflation rates from the era, especially for the older machines. Still it is very good to know that the C64 was much cheaper than the IBM PCjr and why it sold much better than the other competitive machines. Or the Sega SG-1000 was more expensive in Yen than the Epoch Super Cassettevision. This first chapter marks the years between 1972 and 1981.

From page 48 starts the second chapter of the book with the Second era: Videogame crash and home computer success story where 8 bit machines are widely described with much more colorful screenshots and better looking games overall. Among the machines here which still were in competition between each other are the Commodore C 64, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair Spectrum in the home computer front and Atari 5200, Atari 7800, CBS Colecovision, Nintendo Famicom & NES and Sega SG-1000 & Master System on the consoles front. Very interesting chapter for the period, where the main players started to form the market for the next years. The second chapter allocated the years from 1982 to 1984 - the smaller in years part but still most of the machines are here, where the market was unpredictable.

The Encyclopedia of Game Machines book - Pages 106 and 107. The third chapter about The 16-Bit era is another very interesting chapter where the main players of the already established market still had hope to take a bigger part of the market pie. IBM PC/AT, Apple Macintosh, Atari ST and Amiga on the home computer space are described as being the main rivals of the epoch, while Sega Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, NEC PC-Engine and SNK Neo Geo on consoles market still fought for dominance and the Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear and Nintendo Game Boy on the handhelds market paved their way into the pockets of the gamers. The Amiga part is well suited with pictures of Amiga 500, Amiga 1000, Amiga 600, Amiga 2000, AmigaCDTV and Amiga CD 32. Screenshots of popular games like Defender of the crown, Lotus II, Turrican 2 and Blood Money will fill nostalgia every gamer who every used and played on Amiga. The IBM PC/AT have screen shots of The Secret of Monkey Island, Flight Simulator II and King's Quest - the most recognized titles of the era while the Apple Macintosh features black and white screenshots of Sim City, Quarterstaff, Shanghai and a color screenshot of the Japanese Gadget and Prince of Persia. The Atari ST sports color screenshots of Future Wars, the player from Barbarian (Psygnosis) and the hit role playing game Dungeon Master. The Sega Mega Drive part features screenshots of some hit titles - Ecco The Dolphin, Castle of Illusion, Musha Aleste, Gunstar Heroes and The Revenge of Shinobi. The Super Nintendo part is filled with screenshots of Street Fighter 2, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Donkey Kong Country 2 and Fire Emblem. This third part although named the 16 Bit era features pure 8 bit platforms like the Enterprise and the Sega Game Gear and 8 bit platforms with 16 bit graphic capabilities like the Atari Lynx and the NEC Pc-Engine. All the machines in the separate chapters are sorted by the year of release, not by technical specifications, so it is no wonder that they are in the Third Era chapter. There is also nowhere mention of the Sam Coupe, probably because it was not officially endorsed by Sinclair, despite more successful than the Enterprise, which is presented in the book on a whole page among the 16 bit machines. The third chapter of the book manages the years 1984-1990.

The fourth chapter named Fourth era: Rendered crazy is filled with other interesting machines, where some hardware manufacturers made their last futile efforts to produce something for the mass consumer, before the Sony PlayStation also presented in this chapter beat them all to obscurity. Mentioned here are the Atari Jaguar - Atari's last hope for revival, the Panasonic 3DO - the highly successful at the start console, the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64. In this epoch much less machines are presented, in a period where not everyone was able to develop a console for a month or two and sell it worldwide, like in the previous eras, as mostly seen in the first and second chapters. The market already got strongly established with main players being the Sega and the Nintendo. In this chapter appears the Sony where it was not presented almost nowhere before, except in the MSX computer where it produced more than twenty models. Described is how Sony set new standards for games and genres and how it took the lead in the market and why the others did not succeed. Interesting chapter, where Sega still have hope to be a consoles manufacturer. The chapter covers years from 1991 to 1997.

The fifth chapter The 21st century: Caught in the net of gaming still have some interesting and rare machines, but also describes the most common formats being the Sega Dreamcast, the Sony Playstation 2, the Nintendo Gamecube, The Microsoft Xbox, and the Handhelds Nintendo Game Boy Advance, the GamePart GP32 and even the hybrid phone-console Nokia N-Gage is mentioned, but no other phone with gaming capabilities is in there. The final era covers the years from 1998 to late 2004 and most of the machines were still on sale, so the information given have become inaccurate after I bought the book, but the initial release information are still actual as well as the trivia about the hardware and the games released for these machines. At the end of the chapter are some pages with Other formats: Home computers and Other formats: Game consoles with information of computers and consoles not mentioned in their relative chapters, which for some reason did not make it there. Described only with some sentences and sometimes with picture. Shot with pictures are the Dragon 32, Fujitsu FM-7, FM-77, Mattel Aquarius, NEC PC-98, Sinclair QL, Sord, Takara M5, Spectravideo SVI-318, SVI-328, Thomson TO7 and Tomy Pyu-Ta. Computers from different eras. On the Game consoles and handhelds part consisting only of one page are mentioned APF M1000, Bally Astrocade, Bandai Playdia, Casio PV-1000 and Nintendo Pokemon Mini.

After the five main chapters is the appendix with Technical data. Six sheets with easy to compare and sorted by Manufacturer, Type, Year, CPU, Memory (in Byte), Graphics, Sound, Features and Keyboard can be seen next to each other for 8-Bit and BASIC home computers, 16-Bit and 32-Bit computers, 32-Bit and CD-ROM consoles, 64-Bit and DVD consoles and Handhelds. The sheets are very easy to follow and can be very useful for comparing capabilities of similar featured machines. For the 8-Bit and 16-Bit game consoles the Features and Keyboard rows are gone in favor of the Official Add-ons. The 16-Bit and 32-Bit computers feature additional Operating system row with Graphical user interface and Conroller ports, instead of the Features and Keyboard. The 32-Bit and CD-ROM consoles feature CD, Other formats, Ports and AV port rows. For the 64-Bit and DVD consoles there is Storage medium part with Capacity and Transfer rows, Connections, AV ports and Video out. The handhelds have Networking, Case, Screen, Specific add-ons and Other functions rows. On page 215 is the Computer and video game technology: Notes and explanations on Bits and Bytes chapter, where the main terms in the computer technology are described like the Bit, Processor power, Data bus width, power of sound and graphics hardware and the Byte with some example sheets. Pages 216-219 are with Hardware index where any machine can be searched alphabetically, and if the hardware is add-on, Computer, Game console or Do it yourself kit, it is mentioned. If the page number is in bold, it means that the page have picture of that hardware. Pages 220-223 are with the Games index where games can be searched alphabetically and if the page is in bold, that mean there is a screenshot of the game. If I was not sure for some game name I searched first the name here, and if it is still not found I have to look for the page, which is harder, because the list is sorted by the game names. The final page 224 is with Bibliography, where the Books, Magazines, Documents and supplements, Internet sites and Picture credits are written. Under them is the Imprint. The version of the book I have is published in Jan 2005.

After reading the book for first time I was very happy with all the information I got to know, not only for the obscure machines, for which I never knew until I opened this book, but also for the more popular machines, with their place in the market, their stories and the screenshots of some games I never saw before. Some of the pictures of the machines are the same as on the cover, but inside they are on different scale, so it is worth to open it even if for looking some of the consoles how do they looked. The book follows in depth the reasons for the Videogame crash, the revival of the game machines, the development of the most successful ones and their fall. It is great historical review, and a nostalgia trip for the people who remember or want to know more about the glory past of the computer and console games. The information in it is very well structured, the pictures are professionally shot, the screen shots are with proper colors and the information is most of the times correct and checked. I use it as a guide for the gaming machines, which is worth and which is not, what games to expect from a given platforms and what standards to set. Very often I open it if I want to know more for a particular platform, or just to be informed about the specifications of some rare machine. I recommend the book, not only for the retro gamers, but for anyone who is interested in the videogames overall, to get knowledge little more about the game machines can always be a plus for anyone who claims to be in the computer and gaming industry. The book is nice and still one of my most important gaming book purchases. I recommend it to everyone who still reads books.


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