Sunday, April 9, 2023

Book Review: Creating Q*bert and Other Classic Video Arcade Games

Creating Q*bert and Other Classic Video Arcade Games takes you inside the video arcade game industry during the pivotal decades of the 1980s and 1990s. Warren Davis, the creator of the groundbreaking Q*bert, worked as a member of the creative teams who developed some of the most popular video games of all time, including Joust 2, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and Revolution X.

In a witty and entertaining narrative, Davis shares insightful stories that offer a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to work as a designer and programmer at the most influential and dominant video arcade game manufacturers of the era, including Gottlieb, Williams/Bally/Midway, and Premiere.

This autobiography was released on January 11, 2022. Santa Monica Press provided a galley for review.

In the early 1980's, I was all about hanging out in the arcades on the weekends with my high school buddies - unloading quarters into those bright and colorful consoles to have some fun. Q*bert was one of my go-to games, even though I was not super good at it. For this reason, I was instantly attracted to Warren Davis' story.

Right from the start of his narrative, I totally connected with Davis. In the introduction, he talks about why he got into programming and his reasons very much mirrored my own in the early 80's when I decided to go to college to study computer science. I remember the wild enthusiasm that programming used to bring me. When that fire is there, designing and coding is a creative release, a joy. When that spark burns out, it becomes drudgery.

Having spent several decades in the software business myself, I found the details of the development, testing and release of Q*bert to be very engaging. It took me back. For those familiar with the field, this will resonate. However, I can also see it appealing to those completely unfamiliar with the process. Davis' delivery is entertaining and approachable, making sure to breakdown the technical details in easy to follow terms.

The rest of his career, bouncing from company to company and project to project, was relatable as well. Not every idea becomes a cultural icon but, as noted, even some of the lesser hits are still fondly remembered by those that enjoyed them. I also appreciated that he kept pursuing his passions wherever they took him.

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