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Books about computer people

I have always been an avid reader. I have mostly been into a science fiction, such as Heinlein, Dick, Asimov and Clarke. I recently got rid of all my books, which was a very nice collection of the above writers, including others of the classic science fiction-writers. The purge of the books came after I previously purged all my comics books and LaserDisc-collection.
Recently I started reading again, but this time I am changing my ways; now I read about old computers and old games. I find it amazing to feel the zeitgeist of the pioneers in this field. In this section of the the site, I plan to review those books – ligthly review – to have a list present for these books, which might fly under the radar for many people.

Once Upon Atari

Once Upon Atari: How I Made History by Killing an Industry
Howard Scott Warshaw, 2020.
Scott West Productions

The history of Atari has always been one of my favorite tales from the beginning of computer- and videogames. It is on par with the history of Commodore and Jack Tramiel. Personally, the latter impacted me way more than the former. This is probably due to living in Scandinavia, where computers took more hold than game consoles in the early years. When game consoles got big, it was Nintendo and Sega – not Atari to any great extent.

I have been a great fan of the “Once Upon Atari”-documentary series created by Howard Scott Warshaw in the early 2000’s. I still watch it fairly often. I am also a great fan of Nolan Bushnell. As such, I was pretty stoked for this book. So let me get right to it: The book is a poorly written mess. This is the first major problem. It screams for an editor to cut out pages by the bushel. The writing is terrible, with countless sub-chapters and jumps in a bewildering timeline. Howard Scott Warshaw spends a lot of time (pages) presenting the awesomeness of himself, at the same as the same sentences and fancy words are repeated several times – which shows a lack of proof reading. Some quotes are states two of three times in chapters following each other, making the reader contemplate if the book should have been worked on for a longer time. I firmly believe that the book should have been written by a ghost writer or the like. Howard Scott Warshaw comes off as a Messiah, and he throws every half-baked thought he ever had on the wall – and does it over and over again. He also chooses to drown the story in constantly commenting on his text in his text, which gets very tiresome. The same goes for the “informal” way of writing, which just rub me the wrong way. This is presented all through the book – examples are something like: “Ooooohhhhmmmmm My God” and “Aaaaaand”. Both are actual examples from the book. At the end of the book you are presented to some information about Howard Scott Warshaw. It states: “…He’s an artist, technologist, creator and healer”. Painting youself in such a light is totally unacceptable to me. I cannot stand such self-praise. Missed opportunity.

Read Masters of Doom or Sid Meier’s Memoir! instead.

Masters of Doom

Masters of Doom – How two guys created an empire and transformed pop culture
David Kushner, 2003.
Random House

At the time of Doom’s arrival I was nowhere near having a PC. At that time I was still hooked on Amiga, where I stayed until 1995 – when I finally bought a PC with Windows 95. Thus, I only tried Doom at my friend’s houses. However, I never cared much for it. When 1995/1996 came around my world consisted of Command & Conquer – and only that. I got on the ID bandwagon in 1997 with Quake II. But Doom never caught my attention.

Masters of Doom is an amazing, powerful and extremely well-written book. It captures the zeitgeist of the time perfectly, contains all the great stories and life situations of the team. All the way from the beginning of Carmack and Romero meeting, to ID, to Romero leaving and starting Ion Storm. I cannot fault this book for anything. It is the best book on computer people I have read – and one of the best books I have ever read, I think. I cannot recommend it enough.

Masters of Doom cover
ID Software

Sid Meier’s Memoir! : a life in computer games

Sid Meier’s Memoir! : a life in computer games
Sid Meier and Jennifer Lee Noonan, 2020.
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

I just finished reading Sid Meier’s book on Sid Meier. I ordered this book the second I found out that it existed, and read it within two nights. I find it to be an engaging read – well written, fast-paced and entertaining. I have always known of Sid Meier, but I have never played many of his games; I am a great fan of Pirates!, but mostly I am a fan of his contribution to computer games. I never cared for Civilization – or turn-based strategy for that matter – before playing Civilization V. I was always an RTS-guy, and I probably always will be. I understand Sid Meier’s argument that turn-based strategy increases the ability of the player to make sound descisions without being pressed by the computer or another player to make a descision quickly. However, I like the idea of games where the universe does not care if you can keep up or not. This may be from a life of playing arcade games, in which the player has to keep up with the game.
Regarding “military realism”, I find it much more in tune with “real” warfare: Rommel does not wait for Patton. He does not wait his turn.

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Book cover

The book is a chronological list of chapters covering all Sid Meier’s games. This structure works extremely well, making for a very cohesive and well laid-out narrative. Every once in a while back story from Sid Meier’s childhood is interspersed into the chapters. This is done very well, as it does not slow down the pacing of the book – but sets up who the man is, and why he chooses as he does, and why he creates the games he does.
I must recommend this book to everyone who is interested in computer games or just computers or games for that matter.

It is one of the best “computer people books” I have read to date!

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Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings

Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings
Ken Williams, 2020
Ken Williams (self-published)

Some of my fondest memories involve the Sierra Online games, especially Space Quest II and III. Space Quest II is probably one of my favorite games of all time. I absolutely love that genre, but the text parser interface is a requirement for me. As soon as the series went to a point-and-click interface – I just moved on, and never looked back. But the games always stuck with me. When I learned that Ken Williams were writing a book about the life of Sierra, I was stoked right away. I absolutely love the title (I have always been a sucker for titles)

My first impression upon reading the first bunch of pages was that the book comes off as being poorly written, or written in a hurry. Finishing the book became somewhat of a chore for me; I wish that it was better written and better paced. Compared to the other game designer book from 2020, Sid Meier’s Memoir!, the Ken Williams-outing needed editing – or something else – to produce a tighter and more precise narrative.

I did not really want to finish the book. I had to force myself to come back to it. In comparison, I had to pry myself away from Sid Meier’s Memoir! – a game designer whose most famous game I don’t even care that much for. I should note that Ken Williams does introduce some nice ideas and he does produce some fine quotes. But for the price of the book (and the horrible cover) I would recommend going elsewhere for the Sierra story.