Videogames in the Beginning Book Review

Chances are you don't know who Ralph Baer is. It might help if you knew that he started a multi-billion dollar industry, but if that's not enough to jog your memory, nothing will. What he's credited with is creating the home video game, working alongside Magnavox to create the first home console, the Odyssey. He would of course go on to create much more, setting standards and creating ideas still in use. "Videogames in the Beginning" tells his side of the story from the start back in the early 1960s up until the early 1980s.

This is story that has never really been told. Numerous other names have been thrown around as the real creator of the video game (Baer spells this with one word, others with two; seems to be a personal choice) and he denounces all of them. That's one of the points that may turn you off from the book right from the start. He's extremely agitated (even hostile) at anyone who doesn't consider him the original inventor. He makes some excellent points and there's no question in any ones mind that he started the home video game. As far as actually creating the initial idea of the video game, well, that's always going to be up for debate.

It's also obvious there's not much love loss between himself and Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari. There's a section near the middle of the book where he discusses how Bushnell 'stole' "Pong" from him. He has a valid point, but the way he discusses the issue is a little over the edge at times. There's no question he deserves all the credit in the world, it's just a shame he handles it all with such an attitude.

Of course, that's not the focus of the book. This is his story, and the story he tells is an excellent one. Baer is a packrat and he saved everything. He has original schematics, memos, surveys, internal documents, electronics, and videos from all the way to back to when he first started with his ideas. He even has evidence that Bushnell really did take "Pong" from him. It's all here in pictures so you can see it for yourself. Sometimes these didn't come out very well in print, but it's manageable enough to read if you want. This is all easily worth the cover price alone if you're a fan of gaming history since this is all fascinating.

Through the 170 pages (there are four appendices after his story ends), Bear writes with a style that's informative and entertaining. It makes getting through the book a pleasure. He does end up being quite technical at a few points without actually giving an adequate explanation. It's not exactly important to the story though and you can skim these sections if you're not technically inclined.

The pages are laid out with a large text that's easy on the eyes. It's bound in a well-designed glossy paperback cover. All the layout designs were done by Rusel DeMaria who produced the excellent "High Score." For an additional $10, you can get an extra CD-ROM complete with videos of the working Brown Box (the prototype Odyssey if you will), schematics to build your own, and news stories done on Baer.

Even though numerous books have been printed on this same topic, none do it from this perspective. They can't. "Videogames in the Beginning" makes an excellent companion to books like "Phoenix" and "The Ultimate History of Video Games." If you're unfamiliar with the history of the industry, it's probably better that you read either of those first before reading through this. If you know your history already, then this is necessary read. When Ralph Baer speaks, we should all listen. It's just a shame he's not civil about the topic.

Note: You can buy the book from Rolenta Press.

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