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published Tuesday, Oct 06th

The Video Gaming Manual Review

Despite a long and interesting life, there are very few books dedicated to recounting the history of the humble video game, unlike other media. If you take motion pictures for example, there are thousands of books offering in-depth details of filmic techniques, the birth and life of individual studios and biographies of some of the biggest and most influential figures in the industry. Video games haven’t been half as lucky; there’s nothing to chronicle the works of Miyamoto-San, or examine the media’s influence on pop-culture in detail. Though while it’s easy to bemoan the lack of coverage in your local book store there are a few great examples already on the shelves that offer deep and fascinating insights into this past time we love and cherish. Two of the better known books we would recommend are the excellent Game Over by David Sheff, which delves into the illustrious history of the Japanese giant, Nintendo and Trigger Happy, a look at how the design of aesthetics and interaction in games has evolved since its inception, by EDGE columnist Steven Poole. Another member of the EDGE alumni, former editor Joao Diniz Sanches, will be hoping his new guide to the world of gaming will be just as essential.

The Video Gaming Manual is Joao’s second video gaming reference guide, the first being the comprehensive Driving Games Manual, which looks at the evolution of that genre over the years. Both have been published by Haynes, who are probably better known as purveyors of car maintenance books. They have a deserved reputation for providing highly detailed and easy to use car guides, and this experience has been applied to good effect in this book; alongside the clear, concise writing style you’d expect from an EDGE editor this is a match made in heaven. The influence from Joao’s work in magazines is very apparent in the book’s layout; most publications have to finely gauge the copy-to-pictures ratio to fit in with the intended audience for example, something EDGE and this book balance particularly well.

The subtitle, ‘the essential guide to modern and retro gaming platforms’ alludes to the main content of the book, but this isn’t intended to be just a breezy flick through every platform ever made. There are two sections dedicated to the history of the gaming scene and some of the terminology used in gaming. The first introduces some of the history of the gaming scene. Given that this could fill an entire publication of its own this is kept fairly brief. There is a look into the birth of the modern video game, plus an overview of the main advancements and events in each of the subsequent four decades. Strangely, most of the images used in this section a from new, or upcoming releases, rather than some of the iconic titles of yesteryear. The section ends with a look at modern games and the roles of the people involved in their creation, which is quite insightful for people looking for a career in the creation of games, or who want a better understanding of how they come to be. Section two delves into the elements that come together to make up what we call ‘gaming’. There are chapters about the technology involved (peripherals, game media, A/V solutions etc.) and the culture (online gaming, retro collections, the import scene), which rounds off the introduction nicely and gives some context to the consoles and games described in the following section.

On to the meat of the book – the look at gaming platforms through the ages. Nearly every major console or format has its own section, from the Atari VCS/2600 all the way up to the Playstation 3. Each section includes a look at the consoles history, technical specs, games released for it, and twelve key exclusive titles that provide the best gaming experiences the console had/has to offer. After every generation (8-Bit, 16-Bit etc.) there is a further look at noteworthy multi-format titles released in that era. The ‘key titles’ included may be quite contentious – as with any ‘best of’ list, which are usually very personal – but on the whole they represent some of the finest games on their respective consoles. Far be it for us to pick apart Joao’s choices but the addition of FIFA 2010 to the current-gen multi-format list is a bit odd, seeing as at the time of publication it hadn’t actually been released.

The section on individual formats is not as comprehensive as we’d hoped; obviously to include every single format would have been practically impossible without running up hundreds of pages and causing the book to weigh as much as your average stereo-typical World of Warcraft player, so wisely there are some formats snipped from the list (don’t expect to read anything about the Intellivision, Neo-Geo or Amstrad 464 here). But there are some note-worthy home consoles that don’t get any mention at all. The entire handheld scene is completely ignored for example, so there are no sections about the Game Boy or its subsequent dominance of the market, and zip about its early rivals (Game Gear, Lynx, Neo-Geo pocket) or later siblings (GB Color, GBA, DS). Likewise, PC gaming is forgotten, as a gaming format it has been around for as long as the VCS so maybe whittling down twenty-five years into six pages may have been a bit of a tall order.

The introduction acknowledges the lack of coverage, but in doing so this book misses out on the key titles, and advancements in technology and design that the PC and handheld formats have brought to the industry. It is disappointing games that gave birth to or standardised entire genres such as Doom, Command & Conquer and World of Warcraft are not included, and the popularity of handheld games like Tetris, Brain Training or Pokemon were surely essential inclusions given their impact in transcending gaming stereotypes. Perhaps these will be covered in a later edition, or given an entire book of their own – judging by the quality of this guide, we’d be very happy to see Joao tackle these formats some day.

On the whole, this is an excellent source of knowledge and really is a great read for anyone looking to further their knowledge of video game culture and its history. The writing throughout is very accessible regardless of your knowledge of the subject, and Joao doesn’t overuse techno-babble without giving a clear explanation first, so if you wanted your parents or partner to get a better understanding of your hobby, this is the book to give them. The small and exclusive group of essential video gaming guides has just got a new member.

published Friday, Sep 11th

Industry Insight – Interview with Joao Diniz Sanches

Joao Diniz Sanches

Joao Diniz Sanches

Having been a gaming journalist for over a decade, Joao Diniz Sanches has seen pretty much everything the game industry has to offer. He once barely escaped being run over by Kazunori Yamauchi, and his likeness can be found, and shot, in Perfect Dark. His career has included being the editor of one of the most respected magazines in the industry, EDGE, and now his knowledge and passion has culminated in the release of his second guide to the video gaming world, which you can win, The Video Gaming Manual is a guide to both modern consoles and the machines of yesteryear. We got a chance to volley some questions in his direction which he dutifully returned.

GameBrit – How did you first get started in the gaming industry?

Joao Diniz Sanches – I was lucky, really. I did a post-graduate magazine journalism course with the intention of getting to work on Edge. When it came to the work placement period, I managed to persuade then editor Jason Brookes to give me a two-week stint on his mag (only took around ten or 15 phone calls, as I recall). A week after the placement they called me back in for an interview and another week later I was on the team. A case of being in the right place at the right time.

GB – What is your first memory of gaming?

JDS – The bio in the book states a 1978 encounter with my cousins’ Philips Videopac G7000 console. This is true and the impact on me was massive but there is also a certain artistic license to this as I distinctly remember playing on a Pong-style clone at home a year or two earlier, but that sounds a little dull so I stuck with the G7000 incident.

GB – What’s your fondest memory from your time at Edge?

– There were too many memorable gaming-related moments to list but with regards to the team dynamic, there was a spontaneous, monumental rubber band fight (which rapidly involved the neighboring Official PlayStation Magazine team) in the early days that will stay with me forever. That and the image of our security guard sat asleep in the games room still holding a GunCon light gun pointed at the screen (Point Blank 2, if memory serves) during one of our all-night deadline stints. You kind of had to be there for both of those.

GB – Are there any games reviewed under your tenure that with hindsight you wish had been scored differently?

JDS – I can’t imagine there is a reviewer who, if they are honest with themselves, would be able to answer ‘no’ to this. Reviews are subjective, and while you try to be as fair and balanced as you can, now and again you have to admit that you didn’t get it quite ‘right’. To give you a specific example, and this ties in with your next question, soon after reviewing GoldenEye 007 I realised there was an almost irrefutable argument for a 10, rather than the 9 it got. That’s the difference between having a week or one/two months to review a game. Sure, the latter is an unrealistic scenario for gaming publications and some games also reveal their worth in a matter of hours, but as a reviewer you’ll often want more time to reflect on a game than the what you’re given.

GB – Were Goldeneye and Metroid Prime strong candidates for a 10?

JDS – Definitely in the case of GoldenEye, as mentioned above (this has also previously been revealed in the mag, in a Top 100 for issue E100). Metroid Prime was exceptional when it appeared, but I can think of a number of arguments against it being 10 material.

GB – Looking back, before EDGE, which games would you have given a 10?

JDS – It’s very difficult to review games retrospectively and do it accurately so I’m going to wimp out of answering this one. Sorry. Certainly, I can think of games that to me were very, very special, and those have been included in the book, but there are too many factors threatening to cloud my judgement with regards to assigning specific scores.

GB – Who has been the most interesting gaming personality you’ve met?

JDS -I could listen to obvious candidates like Miyamoto, Warren Spector, Gabe Newell, Tetsuya Mizuguchi all day long but two of my all-time favourite industry personalities are Jonathan Smith (Traveller’s Tales) and Charles Cecil (Revolution).

GB – Which are your favourite game series/franchises?

JDS – Limiting this to three: Zelda, Metroid, Mario.

GB – What games are you looking forward to playing?

JDS – No massive surprises here, really. Batman Arkham Asylum (haven’t got round to it yet), Modern Warfare 2 (although mainly for single-player), Uncharted 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Zelda: Spirit Tracks, The Last Guardian, Metroid Prime: Other M and Forza Motorsport 3 (my quest to experience this game in a three-screen set-up continues). There are others, like Brutal Legend, New Super Mario Bros, Crackdown 2, RUSE and Assassin’s Creed II which I’m hoping will deliver.

GB – Which is your favourite format?

JDS – A boring response, for which I apologise, but I don’t have a favourite system. I have fond memories of gaming experiences and I guess you associate those with the hardware they played on. If I had to pick the systems with the highest number of those memories then the list would probably read something like the Spectrum, SNES, N64, PS, Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox 360. I’ve had the opportunity to own the leading systems since the MD/SNES days and while as a youngster I would fervently defend my Speccy when in the presence of C64 owners, I’ve thankfully since grown up and no longer have a loyalty to hardware – my focus is on the games. Which, I know, does sound terribly cliche.

GB – Do you think games qualify as art? (Do they need to?)

JDS – I think games are arguably the most exciting form of entertainment around at the moment. I’d say that, for now at least, that’s all they need to be.

GB- Do you think gaming will be seen differently by the wider media in the next ten years?

JDS – Undoubtedly. Already things are considerably better than ten years ago. New generations grow up with gaming as part of their lives, so that regardless of whether they keep with the pastime as they grow up or not, they have the kind of knowledge of the medium that too many mainstream journalists have lacked to date. Also, as the popularity of gaming continues to increase, there will be continued pressure on publications to cover the medium professionally, in many quarters that’s already the case.

GB – You talk about the various gaming formats in your new book, but do you think gaming should ever move towards a single-format model, like DVD & Blu-Ray (with standardised tech licensed and produced by various technology companies)?

JDS – I think it’s entirely possible we’ll get there but we’re a long way off still. And it’s not entirely without its issues, either, because without competition between hardware manufacturers gamers can end up losing (think of the way PSN and Live are pushing each other to evolve at a faster rate than if Sony or Microsoft had the market all to themselves). That said, I think the reality is that years from now you won’t have the hardware at home anyway, you’ll play games by streaming them online, Gaikai style, but in a considerably more advanced form. In that scenario the platform behind the games becomes invisible.

GB – What advice can you give to anyone wanting to work in game journalism?

JDS – Write and write and write. If you’re just starting out in terms of writing, check out the leading sites and magazines, and their best writers with regards to the elements you’ll find in their reviews. There are fundamentals to reviews that should come through as constants, regardless of a writer’s style. Of course, the idea is to analyse their work and then incorporate that into your own style, there’s little point in regurgitating someone else’s voice.

The internet makes it so easy to publish your own work these days that once you have developed your own voice you can point any potential employer to your blog. These days editors are used to being approached by would-be game journalists and are quick to spot those with potential. If you’re passionate about your medium and game journalism, maintaining a blog should be a pleasure, and there’s no better calling card.

The next step is to get commissioned. Many online writers offer initial work free of charge in order to get experience and exposure. I think this can be worth it but don’t go overboard. Target two or three sites first, get published and then use that to work your way up towards the bigger publications. A less popular but still invaluable step would be to secure an internship on a magazine to get some experience. Often, if you’re up to scratch, you can go on to obtain more work with the same publication on a freelance basis and then things can snowball from there.

The competition is considerable and you have to be honest about your ability as a writer and reviewer. If you’re good, then keep hassling the sites and magazines, there are plenty of publications out there looking for good people.



We’d like to thank Joao for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him all the best in the future.