Now on Kickstarter is Video Games: The People, Games, and Companies, and according to Andrea Contato, he wants to deliver the most comprehensive work to date regarding the history of video games. While the Italian five-book project is a go, the financial assistance through crowdfunding is needed to help translate this book to an English reading audience. The first chapter has been translated, annotated and can be read here.
In this book, there will be a lot of personal accounts detailing more than just the motivation and creation behind a lot of what today considers the retro scene. This author believes his book will cover a whole lot more than what we normally learn in documentaries offered so far. And I have huge respect for those who want to delve deep into the subject. In this work, we have a look at what really started it all, and I had a chance to interview him about what that is.
For people who haven’t read your last work, the comprehensive Through the Moongate about the classic Ultima RPG series, can you please introduce yourself?
I am a history, computer, and video game enthusiast from Italy. In 2015, I ventured into researching the history of Richard Garriott and his company Origin Systems Inc and after three years of hard work, I launched two crowdfunding campaigns to translate my draft into English. My book, Through the Moongate, (as pictured) was well received, and the enthusiasm with which my project was supported encouraged me to continue.
What have you been doing since publishing Through the Moongate?
Completing the second crowdfunding campaign for the second and final part of Through the Moongate has kept me busy for over a year. The pandemic did not help. In fact, it made the printing and distribution of the book and some rewards much more complicated–particularly the Akalabeth cartridge for Vectrex. It was the most important and expensive prize available to only a handful of backers.
But during the months of lockdown I could pick up an old project, predating Through the Moongate. It was a comprehensive work on the history of video games, whether it was made only for one device–a computer, arcade, or console–or not.
I started in 2020, and by October 2021 I published the first volume in Italian. Last month was the second one, also written in Italian. Having delivered the rewards of Through the Moongate almost a year ago, I got this book translated too.
What makes Video Games: The People, Games, and Companies different from other works about the history of video gaming?
There are many excellent books on this subject, but I believe my work differs from others because it gives the same attention to all four major categories of games: computer, console (handheld or home), and arcade.
In many other books consoles have the main part, and computer games became important after the 1990s because of the Internet and the decline of arcades. Actually, all these aspects of the video game industry must be considered because developers, engineers, and programmers often switched from one platform to another.
One critical aspect is that I care more about the human factor and the creative challenge that game developers face. In my books, including Through the Moongate, these people’s personal history with the project is very significant. Their experiences, interests, and difficulties end up radically influencing the way games are created, and it is most interesting to understand why each developer brought their own experience into their work.
The examples are countless. If I had to name one, Silas Warner (one of the most captivating and underrated pioneers) was into Robotron and you can see the influence in Castle Wolfenstein. And we all well know how influential this game is.
This is really what makes my work different from others. And then also by the number of pages I used to tell the story of video games ;)
Why is a multi-volume look at the history of video game development better than one?
It was not a simple choice, but it was also a forced choice. To tell the story of video games with the care, detail and attention I want takes a lot of space. That is, I want to go slowly, explain the connections between companies, the evolution of technology, the challenges that developers face, and so on.
It takes a lot of space, and no one wants to read a 2,000-page book, right?
Were there any challenges because of where you geographically live?
Sometimes, but fortunately these are difficulties that can be overcome. Today everything is much easier with the Internet, e-mail and some willing friends who travelled in person to view textbooks or material that I could not access online.
In countries that aren’t thought of as meccas for the latest innovations, what’s the state of gaming like there?
We have a very weak video game industry in Italy, but in recent years there is progress. The ease with which small independent teams can create interesting games has put even a country like Italy, which certainly does not have a dazzling past for video games, back on track.
We are great consumers of games, though, and the new generations have so much enthusiasm. I hope that in the future there will also be room for games made in my home country. For now, I am doing my part to spread books about video games made in Italy.
Is there a reason why you are using Kickstarter instead of approaching a North American publisher?
Doing a Kickstarter is very tiring, but the experience is thrilling. Also, a five-volume work on video games is not an easy publishing product to sell. Even Through the Moongate (two volumes translated with two successful kickstarters) attracted little attention, I sold the rights to a Russian publisher. Unfortunately, there’s this current war and the project slowed down.
I then thought that an indie product would work and, more importantly, would give me creative freedom, with no constraints on the number of pages, books, and so on.
Any closing remarks?
The chapter I like best and am most proud of is devoted to city-building/management games, beginning with the Sumerian Game and ending with Santa Paravia en Fiumaccio. These are little-known games, and with the Sumerian Game, even lost forever. I found out who the key players and the heirs were (after all it’s a computer game from 1963), and not only reconstructed the history of the Sumerian Game, but rebuilt it and made it playable again.
The Sumerian Game for Apple II and Commodore 64 now has all new artwork by Paul Stinson (artist of Ultima II and Wizard and the Princess artworks), and it will be one of the rewards for high-tier backers.