Tis the season to be well-read, fa la la la la, videogames. What nourishing reading matter will best suit the nerd in your life? Allow Kotaku UK to take you through the finest game-related options in the 2016 dead tree genre.
The Bitmap Brothers: Universe
By Duncan Harris
One of the greatest productions our industry has ever seen, writer Duncan Harris tells the story of the Bitmap Brothers - a top-class team of coders that raised the bar for everyone, and kept on raising it with games like the Chaos Engine and Speedball 2. This would be fantastic enough but the production is off the charts, with much space given over to faithfully-reproduced game shots, sprites, and concept sketches.
This is an absolutely beauty. It’s a little pricier than some other options here, admittedly, but worth every penny.
Perfect for: Folk in their 30s and 40s who were playing games in the early 90s, and remember when the Bitmaps were kings.
Art of Atari
By Tim Lapetino
The Atari hardware was never what one would call visually incredible - and so, in this early era of mainstream success, selling the games often fell on the shoulder of the artists. From box art to arcade panelling to advertisements and posters, the games were brought to life as they were imagined to be - the pure concept - rather than the coloured blocks and low-resolution sprites players would see. This beautifully-produced book, which is laid out with care and not a little flair throughout, benefits from informative context, an author that knows the subject inside-out, and the sheer artistic talent behind its subjects.
Perfect for: anyone who doesn’t think Atari is a t-shirt brand.
Masters of Doom
By David Kushner
The book is old but this year’s triumphant return of Doom put the FPS classic bank on the map - and in some ways was a reminder of what iD is now as against what it was then. Masters of Doom is an anarchic and often first-hand account of the early days at one of gaming’s most important and influential studios, exploring its key figures, telling the stories behind its key games, and serving up juicy detail after juicy detail. If you’ve ever wondered why John Romero’s head is hidden behind the last boss of Doom II, this is where you’ll find out.
Perfect for: people who are into shooters, or enjoyed Doom earlier in the year / asked for it for Christmas.
You Died: The Dark Souls Companion
By Keza Macdonald and Jason Killingsworth
Games like Dark Souls are few and far between - the players who fall for these worlds find them an endlessly compelling source of speculation, and love sharing the experience with others. Both Keza MacDonald and Jason Killingsworth are Souls experts but this book aims to encapsulate that sense of community and, as the title suggests, act as something of a companion to the hardy travellers of Lordran.
Perfect for: Does your teenage son spend inordinate amounts of time talking about the Great Grey Wolf Sif? This is what you’re looking for.
The definitive document of the nascent British software scene, Bristoft lets the subjects tell their own stories and merely adds context. Triumphs and failures are told by those who were there, analysed by those who were there, and at this kind of distance people feel able to speak more freely. The material collected is done ample justice by ROM’s layouts, paper quality, and overall attention to the reading experience - this book is not just a superb document, but a beautiful object.
Perfect for: Anyone who appreciates the finer things in life.
Empires of EVE
By Andrew Groen
I’ll be honest, this is one that you’ll have to get via eBook to have in time for Christmas - the books ship from the states. But as one of the year’s most conceptually brilliant undertakings it’s a must read, following the player-authored story of the player-run MMOG EVE Online. A space game where players can find their lives crossing over into galactic intrigue, this beautifully-written book shows where the human passion for videogames can lead - and the great stories it produces.
Perfect for: the kind of person who’s fascinated by human drama in unexpected places, loves the idea of space, and would never have time to play something like EVE.
By Tristan Donovan
OK it wasn’t published this year but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better introduction to the history of videogames. Donovan weaves a compelling story out of pioneers in the early decades, before the industry switches focus and starts becoming the entertainment behemoth we all know and love.
Perfect for: Anyone with an interest in videogames that doesn’t know much about where they came from.
The Ultimate History of Videogames
By Steven L. Kent
OK OK, give me two golden oldies and I’ll stop. Thing is that this book might be a little old now, but if you’re thinking of someone who’s been around the block a little then this is the ultimate oral history of the early industry. Someone who used to be a gamer when it was all arcades and Nintendo? This is the one. Where Donovan’s book builds a narrative around his interviewees, Kent is much less of a presence - preferring to let the talking heads tell their own stories, largely uninterrupted. Neither method is superior, but Kent’s book remains an absolutely treasure-trove of first-hand testimony from those who were there.
Perfect for: The person who’s really interested in videogames and already has a few books (hopefully not this one).
A Boy Made of Blocks
By Keith Stuart
Not everyone’s into reading about the history of games, great space empires or even beautiful old art. Maybe you have a relative who groans about Minecraft, doesn’t understand why kids are so obsessed with them, and might enjoy a less direct approach. A Boy Made of Blocks is the debut novel by the Guardian’s games editor Keith Stuart, and tells the story of a man and his relationship with his son, who has been diagnosed as autistic but finds a fascination in the pixelated universe of Minecraft.
Perfect for: People who might not be that interested in reading a book about videogames, but are interested in the topic - and prefer novels to non-fiction.