Sunday, 4 August 2013

A quick look at the Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games (Published 1982)

"Computers are fun." reads the blurb. I think it's safe to say that statement still holds true today.

"The Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games - How They Work and How To Win" was an invaluable font of information in a time when most people's knowledge of the inner workings of computers didn't extend past 'magic'.

This concise and colourful little book is surprisingly informative given it's size. While it doesn't go particularly in depth to any subject,  it does cover everything from tabletop electronic games, arcade games and chess computers, to guides to micro processors, a little coding tuition for the ZX81 computer and a quite entertaining look at 'the future of games' (I'll come back to that in a bit). 

It manages to keep from being boring by, for instance, rather than looking at the inner workings of a word processing unit, using diagrams and descriptions of some popular arcade games, handhelds, micro computers and toys of the time. Astro Wars, Gakken Galaxy Invader 1000 (of which I have a short review here), Missile Command, Battlezone, the ZX81 and many more are depicted, making this book quite accessible, given that the average reader would be likely to have had one of those machines at home, or at least played one in an arcade.

'How to win at Pac-Man'.... Eat them up yum, yum?

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book is the 'How to win at...' columns on most of the video game related pages. While most of them are useful, telling you how to get bonus points, when to use your attacks for the most impact, etc. I really like the 'How to win at Frogger' column, which pretty much (albeit in quite a few more words) just says 'get to the other side, don't die'. Very useful, Usborne, very useful indeed.

As much as I like to take the piss, this book is genuinely useful. There's some stuff in it that I didn't know, like exactly how computer chips were made, and there were even a few games mentioned that I had never heard of! (Stratos and Swarm).

The sections about toys are also interesting for me. Toys like Bigtrak, Merlin and Simon are covered and while the last two are definitely games of some sort, it's easy to forget how closely games/toys of this type are related to the video games we know and love. Just because there isn't a graphical output, doesn't mean that it isn't a fun game.

Probably the most historically interesting part of the book is the very 80's view of the 2000's in the 'future gaming' pages. Unfortunately, no hoverboards or robot servants, but the premonition that by the year 2000, we will be able to play chess with someone hundreds of miles away seems a little off the mark. They also predicted that rather than the single player or 2 player games of the 80's, we might be able to have up to 8 player games! I wonder how the writers would react to seeing some of the circa year 2000 MMORPGs like Neverwinter Nights, Ultima Online or Everquest.

Online Chess, the precursor to Xbox Live. 'Check mate, n00bfag!'

 The Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games is, of course, completely irrelevant now. However, that doesn't mean that it's pointless. What I get from reading this book is a strange rush of nostalgia for a time before I was even born. I guess that's why I enjoy collecting games from this era too. The excitement surrounding what was still a fairly new technology (for consumers, anyway) is portrayed in this book in a way that modern reviewers and writers like me can't convey. A real blast from the past.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and play some long range chess.

Cheers for reading,
Dusty Old Games.


  1. I found it interesting how your notes only focus on website..

  2. I had this book as a kid. Pretty sure "The ultimate game", a hyper-realistic 3D space simulator, has long since been done...