Plane Reading

I took a trip out and back to California last week and spent more time than usual reading words off paper as opposed to in their more pixelated form. Smartbomb

This is a book about the history of the game industry. The book covers a lot of standard ground from Spacewar to Atari to DOOM to the Xbox with a strange detour through the U.S. military. Along the way there are profiles of game designers and other industry characters. The general point of view is an examination of gaming as it reaches the cusp of the big time in the mainstream American entertainment industry. But, the book is not a comprehensive treatment. I found it odd that a book that is ostensibly about how gaming is so mainstream completely ignores some of the huge forces that pushed the industry in that direction. For example, in the almost 400 pages of text, Sony and Sega are barely mentioned. In fact, except for Nintendo, the book paints a picture of the industry that is nearly devoid of the Japanese influence.

Overall, the book is an entertaining read about some entertaining characters in an entertaining industry. But, I couldn’t get past the feeling that the whole thing was just a little bit too shallow. Also, I couldn’t shake the feeling that while all of these people had created interesting products, they just were not all that interesting as people. In particular, the book spends what seems like endless pages talking about “rockstar” game designer CliffyB. Apparently, this person had something to do with the Unreal games. But, I have never heard of him, and he doesn’t sound particularly interesting either as a person or a game designer. Surely some of these pages could have been sacrificed to cover something more interesting, like how a game like Rez gets built.

American Record Guide

From my new hobby to my “classic” hobby. American Record Guide is a magazine that reviews Classical recordings and Classical music performance. If you have any level of interest in this music, I would recommend picking up a copy. Not only do they review a staggering number of records in every issue, but they do large compilation reviews that cover various well known parts of the repertoire. These show up in an “overview” every issue. For example, in the Jan/Feb issue, the subject of the overview is the Shostakovich symphonies. In about 20 pages of text, they break down a couple dozen of the literally dozens of available recordings, and give you a good start as to where to start looking. The value of an overview like this can’t be overstated. This is because the market in classical recordings is paradoxical in that even though it is tiny compared to almost all of the other musical genres, the number of available recordings for popular pieces is ludicrously large. This puts the potential buyer in something of a quandary. On the one hand, you can dig through decades of archival reviews of every record that has ever been made. On the other hand, you can buy something like The Penguin Guide and get a couple of pages of text for the major work you might be interested in. Neither situation is ideal. This is why ARG is so great. They manage to be in-depth without being overwhelming.

This character extends to the rest of their reviews too. You will not find any pseudo-academic ramblings taken from the reviewer’s Master’s thesis on string performance practices in the early Classical period here. Rather than trying to show you how much they know about the music, they mostly just tell you if they liked the record and they do it in a way that makes it easy for you to figure out if you’d like it. I credit the editor, Don Vroon, for this straightforward style. Mr. Vroon is nothing if not a straightforward, almost blunt, personality. He begins every issue with editorial rantings on various subjects, and if you think I hate the world, you should read what he thinks of it.

I stopped getting ARG for a few years while my Classical music buying tapered off for various reasons. But, after enjoying this latest issue, I think I might pick it up again. After all, I have this issue to thank for both the Shostakovich overview and the valuable information that SACD is big in the Classical world. New justifications for purchasing hardware toys are always appreciated.