INTRODUCTION Just a decade ago, a guide to videogaming would have been inconceivable. Back then, gaming was a relatively small and exclusive club whose members were overwhelmingly male and mainly adolescent. Now, however, videogaming has emerged from the teenage bedroom to join the TV and VCR in millions of living rooms, and its audience is expanding at such a rate that the games industry often presents itself as a bigger economic sector than the movies. But, as youll know if youve ever set foot in a games store, buying a game isnt at all like buying a movie, where chances are you know which actors or directors you like youd need to be thoroughly immersed in gaming history and culture to be able to choose a game by its designer, who generally doesnt even get a credit on the box. Whats more, with a flurry of hyped games released on a monthly basis, if youre a typical gamer who buys a handful of new titles each year, its hit and miss as to whether youll get value for money. While for those who are new to gaming, it can be a daunting task even to choose a console, especially since much of the specialist media restricts itself to covering a single platform, while denigrating the others.
In fact, all the games platforms Mac, PC, Dreamcast, PlayStation, Playstation 2 or Nintendo 64 are worthwhile in their own right, and they all have quality games to play on them. This is where the Rough Guide to Videogaming comes in: an informed, independent handbook, it picks out the best releases across all formats and genres, and identifies the platforms that suit your gaming tastes and budget. With the industry in constant flux, this book isnt influenced by shortlived hype, concentrating instead on the tried and tested platforms; as new ones such as Xbox and GameCube establish themselves in the market, well be judging them on their own terms in future editions. Each platform gets its own section starting on p.3, including a summary of its past and future, along with a subjective checklist of our own favourite titles. Technical jargon has been kept to a minimum, though weve provided a handy glossary (p.372) for useful and/or unavoidable terms.
As for the games themselves, which make up the bulk of this guide, were not forced as many magazines are to concentrate on the latest releases, good or otherwise, but take a broader outlook to bring you those that have justified their initial hype. These are organized according to genre rather than platform, so that you can easily identify other titles you might enjoy, and each is accompanied by hints, tips and addresses of useful websites. There are no bad reviews in these pages; every game weve included is a personal recommendation, though thats not to say youll always agree with our opinions.
Its widely accepted that videogames mass-market acceptance received a huge boost in the mid-1990s with the home console that nearly everyone has heard of the Sony PlayStation. While this is undoubtedly true figures vary, but at the turn of the new millennium something like 74 million had been sold worldwide videogames as home entertainment have been with us for far longer, and the widely reported peaks and troughs experienced by hardware and software manufacturers today are nothing new. What has changed, however, is that many of the game-savvy kids from the earliest years were drawn into the business in the 1980s, starting a process that is constantly increasing the industrys sophistication. And its exactly the same for the audience: as theyve matured, so games have come to be seen not merely as toys for kids but as lifestyle components for salaried twenty- to thirty-something professionals. The average age of the videogamer now hovers around the 28-year-old mark, while its been reported that 60 percent of US citizens over the age of 6 play videogames.
The very first interactive computer game, Spacewar, was coded in 1961 on a computer the size of several pick-up trucks, but it took another ten years before manufacturers slimmed the hardware down enough to move it into the games arcades alongside the pinball tables and the slot machines. In 1972, hot on the heels of the first coin-operated videogame (Computer Space), the first home console Magnavoxs Odyssey arrived in peoples living rooms, offering the classic Pong, a basic bat-and-ball game played in black and white. This was followed throughout the 1970s and 1980s by a swathe of other games consoles, introducing some of the industrys earliest big names, including Atari and Nintendo, as well as familiar titles such as Space Invaders and Asteroids. It was also a boom time for the developing home computer market, and the first games written specifically for these were being marketed.
There was now fierce competition between companies to establish brand loyalty, though even the victors could prove vulnerable. In one notorious instance Atari decided to cash in on the success of Spielbergs ET with a franchised game of which they manufactured thousands more copies than the number of consoles theyd sold, trusting that a new audience would go and buy the console. They didnt, because the game was universally panned, and Atari ended up with a surplus of stock so huge they had to bury it in a landfill site. Of course, with hindsight, it might have made sense to invest more than six weeks development in the games coding and design, yet while many of todays games can take years to produce, this didnt prevent Sony from giving programmers access to the new PlayStation 2 hardware a matter of months before they were due to deliver finished games to meet the systems launch date.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the rise of Sega and Nintendo as the two videogame giants to contend with. As they rolled out a series of seminal games some of whose franchises are still going strong today consoles began increasingly to appear in retail outlets other than toy and electronics shops. Music stores, for example, helped them attract a wider audience, demonstrating to unsuspecting music customers that videogames had been transformed from the Space Invaders of their youths into something far more exciting. Video stores, too, noting the obvious link between the two products (ie you needed a TV to see both) started renting out consoles and software. The battle to release ever more powerful consoles again hotted up, but lessons about how to stay at the forefront of the market were still unlearned. Sega overestimated their brand appeal and neglected to support owners of their previous consoles, putting all their efforts into their latest Saturn model which couldnt keep up with the newest kid on the block, the Sony PlayStation, a machine that had won an unprecedented amount of support from independent games publishers. Meanwhile, Nintendo missed the boat entirely, launching its N64 a year after the PlayStation, by which time Sony had made huge inroads into the growing market. More recently, Segas brave attempt to snatch gamers back with the Dreamcast was doomed to ultimate failure, thanks in part to worldwide anticipation of Sonys second console, the PlayStation 2.