Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984

Posted February 8, 2015

I took my time finishing Supercade, slowly flipping a few pages a night. With full-page screenshots from games that mostly produced 224×256 images, accompanied by ruminations that rarely run longer than one page, this is a book that suggests casual reading.

Published in 2001 and written by Van Burnham and an assortment of game writers, Supercade is a coffee table book true to its form that’ll put you in the mood to fire up the early classics and get lost in the innocence of the era. It’s heavy, square frame successfully pairs original game art and advertisements (with happy, white families) with in-game photos (likely snagged via MAME as suggested on Amazon, which is fine, but I’d like to see a few warped CRT shots). How can one not be fond of a book that starts with a quote by Eurgene Jarvis (“The only legitimate use of a computer is to play games.”), has a forward by the late Ralph Baer, and peppers it with BASIC code, start-up rom tests and a kill screen or two.

While the majority of the book covers arcade releases (and doesn’t much stray from the staples), home consoles and computers get a few pages: Baer’s Odyssey, Coleco’s Telstar, Mattel’s Intellivision, Commodore 64 (“Are you keeping up with the Commodore?“, and of course Atari’s 2600 and Home Computer.

This isn’t a book for learning something new as much as it is for celebrating what you like. “Visual history” is accurate, and one should look elsewhere for the more exhaustive and dramatic tales of video gaming. Considering it was printed just before the release of the Xbox, a new edition covering the late-80s through the mid-90s would be a welcome follow-up.

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