Gamers of a certain vintage will look back on the golden age of the bedroom coder with great fondness. The heady days of the britsoft boom were a wonderful time of experimentation, creativity without limits and with more software to rejoice in than the pocket money of even your most privileged mates could possibly keep up with.
Review by Article by Andy Pryer
Follow Andy on Twitter as @clammylizard
There are many success stories with their origins in this era, sadly most such companies have now been absorbed by glutenous corporations or have disappeared all together. Gremlin Graphics was amongst the most successful of them all and is still recognisable to this day. The cinderella story contained in this two volume package makes for some truly fascinating reading, told as it was in the words of those who were living it.
With this generous compilation the reader is granted the rare luxury of closely examining the journey of one of Britain’s best loved developers from 8-bit micro startup, through the 16-bit consoles right up to the present day. The very first impression on hefting the weighty tome is one of quality. The robust slipcase has been very well constructed and should stand up to repeated readings extremely well. The wise decision to split the book into two volumes makes it much more manageable and comfortable to read than if it were a one huge book.
Both books are arranged in chronological order with the key points and highlight games listed in contents page.
On first thumbing through, we weren’t sure about the fact that its text is composed almost entirely of transcribed interviews, but in practice the conversational style makes this a very welcoming book indeed: particularly when the topic of conversation is some of our most cherished childhood memories. The conversational style is absolutely ideal to tell the Gremlin story, involving as it does so many people. It allows the reader to understand the personalities and thought processes far better than a narrative ever could. If the purpose of this book is to give the most complete and accurate account of Gremlin Graphics and the challenges which it overcame, then this is absolutely the right way to do it. It’s this relaxed approach which draws you in while at the same time giving you the benefit of the detail and personality only found in first hand accounts. The interviews don’t just include a couple the bosses either; designers, game and cover artists all get their say and share their memories. The impression given by all is that they were having the time of their life. Before long you start to feel like you’re chatting with mates about the good ol’ days. This style of presentation also makes it perfect for the coffee table as it makes it easy to dip in and out of.
Reading this book for us was the literary equivalent of sitting on a beanbag, drinking Quatro and eating Space Raiders while a ZX Spectrum squeals in agony as it loads.
Revisiting favourite games from the past is always a joyous experience. Some of which I knew as Gremlin titles, others I was more surprised by and still others I had forgotten all together. It was a joy to be reunited with these long lost treasures form me youth. As a kid I was big into MASK, I took the comic and I had all the toys, I even dragged myself out of my pit at an ungodly hour to watch the cartoon, but the had nearly forgotten about the game until reading this book. I can even remember the shop from which I bought it, it was such a momentous occasion (this was in the days when almost every shop has a carousel or gaming cassettes).
Gremlin Graphics was an omnipresent name in gaming as a youngster and used to appear on many a loading screen. Their finest hour for us must be the undisputed king of Amiga racing: Lotus Turbo Challenge II. Known amongst my schoolers friends for its slick graphics and smooth high speed graphics, it was great to learn more about this title from an inside perspective.
With the focus so squarely on one software house rather than the usual scatter gun approach to devs in general, this is so much more than just another amble down memory lane. It offers genuine insight into what the scene was like at the time, the thinking behind decisions and how the industry worked. Gremlin Graphics makes the ideal candidate for such a case study because of it’s humble roots and staying power it’s seen many changes throughout the years, it’s fascinating to see this fresh perspective on things and precisely how they have met the challenges to survive.
As you'd expect from this publisher, Bitmap books, the layout throughout is well thought out. The chunks of text are well interspersed with lavish, loughtfuk and nostalgia tweaking illustrations. The airy spacing helps keep the conversation flow: the reader never feels like they're wading through a dense block and even on the more text heavy pages it's comfortable to put down because it's easy to pick up again and there's always the promise of a gloriously graphical layout overleaf.
Archives of Gremlin towers have well and truly ransacked to present some real treasures in the form of original artworks and concepts for some of their well know titles (such treasures are always a treat to see - they’re like the gamers equivalent of the Turin shroud). These are fabulous to pour over as one contemplates the origins of some beloved titles and what they actually became. Interesting and equally fascinating too is the original correspondence from publishers, presented in uncensored detail complete with breakdowns of fees. It's details like this that reveal the wizard behind the curtain: for us the consumer it was a window into a magical realm, but there was some serious business going on at Gremlin. However, their passion for creating groundbreaking software is never too buried.
So much research and effort has has gone into this work that this has clearly been a labour of love for the author, Mark Hardisty.
To support this still further there is very generously an expansion pack program whereby there are periodically PDF addendums issued by email as still more content is collected.
As if this wasn't enough, there is still more content that didn't make it into the edit at http://www.gremlinarchive.com/ The shear wealth of information and breadth of the content represents outstanding value by anyones standards - it's highly unusual to find the level of after sales support in a book!
You'll be forgiven for thinking that this is a book exclusively for Gremlin fanboys - it most certainly isn't, although it must be said that anyone with a passing interest in Gremlin should delve in without delay. Absolutely anyone with an interest in video games or the games industry will most assuredly find this fascinating stuff.
You can buy the book along with many others in the Bitmap Books range here: www.bitmapbooks.co.uk
Article by Andy Pryer
Follow Andy on Twitter here: twitter.com/Clammylizard