Game Over - David Sheff, 1993

434 pages

By now, the story of the rise and... plateau... of Nintendo has been well-trod, with numerous web, magazine, and podcast articles covering various aspects. All inevitably draw upon the research covered in 'Game Over', one of the earliest and most in-depth books covering a video-game company in detail.

Starting from its roots over a hundred years ago as a playing card manufacturer, Game Over covers Nintendo expanding into the mechanical, then LCD, then video game industries, all the way up to the announcement of their Silicon Graphics-driven new 64-bit console, which would become the Nintendo 64.

Some of the main topics include the creation of the NES, the forming of Nintendo of America (and its insane growth), Tetris (and associated ownership lawsuits), and the anti-trust lawsuits aimed at Nintendo after the strongarm tactics used in America. The lawsuits in particular make for pretty gripping reading. The fact that Tengen illegally acquired the source code to the 10NES lockout chip in order to create their unlicensed game carts was something I haven't seen highlighted much, and really changed my opinion on how that case went down (as much as lock-out chips, authenticated peripherals etc. aggravate me).

Being a book from '93, there are a couple of amusing-in-hindsight claims, such as that Super Mario World was a big disappointment to gamers, that Sonic wasn't a good game, a throwaway comment that CDs will 'never degrade', how Street Fighter 2 is simply described as an 'incredibly violent fighting game' where you can 'bite an opponent's skull and draw blood', but by far the most interesting is how Nintendo is positioned at the time - apparently dedicated to dominating both the burgeoning 'Multimedia' space about to takeover all livingrooms, and also the intent to own the entire network-service infrastructure. We of course found Nintendo failed utterly on both these counts, with a complete withdrawal from the multimedia space (N64 stayed with cartridges over optical discs, the GameCube eschewed DVD playing when using 3" optical discs, the Wii and Wii-U had no DVD playing ability unless hacked, and the Switch has again reverted to cartridges). Given how Nintendo have implemented and cultivated their (incredibly backwards) online infrastructure since the 3DS and Wii, I shudder to imagine a Nintendo-monopolised version of what became our internet - there's a reason why the open internet exploded on an open computing platform where it could evolve. Instead, Nintendo saw success in the places where it sought to broaden the game-player demographic: Tetris, Brain Training, Wii Bowling. Each of these widely-appealing games sold numbers of Nintendo devices in record-breaking numbers.

While much of this book has now been copy-pasted into enough of the afore-mentioned articles that fairly little remained legitimately unknown, for those who love reading about the early days of the video-game industry, 'Game Over' is still a book worth reading - at the very least to understand how much was already covered even in the early 90s. I certainly assumed lots of this knowledge was only researched post-2000, when 'retro gaming' became popular. Why was I surprised to learn such a book was written about it back when 'retro gaming' was simply 'gaming'?

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