I had the pleasure of meeting Darren Doyle, the author of this book and founder of Greyfox Books, at retro events and what came across was his enthusiasm – for retro gaming (particularly on the Atari 8-bit computer) and good design. He has been able to put both of these into a new book with over 150 Atari 8-bit game reviews, first released in 2019 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. The book is now on general sale but availability is limited.
Darren grew up with the Atari 8-bit computers, and is lucky enough to have several equally enthusiastic contributors to help him. Sean Townsend (an Atari programmer himself) and Ian Evenden helped edit and proofread the book into shape. Roberto Rogel contributed excellent photos of the Atari hardware, while Frank Palusci assisted with some rare box artwork. There are also several other reviewers involved.
The majority of the book is made up of the game reviews, covering well-known commercial games, homebrew titles and some lesser-known Polish games. For each two-page review, the cover artwork appears on the left page, the review and a large screenshot on the right. The name and year of release appears at the top right, with the review text below (about 200 words) over another screenshot that acts as the background to the spread. Each review contains trivia about the creation and release, and the writer’s opinions of the game. Most intriguing are the reviews done by the programmers themselves – with Sean Townsend talking about his Chuckie Egg port and Jon Williams discussing Jet Boot Jack, as two examples. One nice touch is how the main screenshot is contained in a monitor surround, with the page numbers adopting a little rainbow effect.
Eight interviews are included, with some interesting subjects. Noah Falstein of Lucasfilm, Steve Englehart from Atari’s short-lived Advanced Games Group and Jon Williams really stand out. Profiles of Brøderbund and Synapse Software include some fascinating anecdotes, particularly the story of how Brøderbund became distributors for the Japanese firm Starcraft. Descriptions of the main hardware variants – the 800, 800XL and 130XE – and the peripherals are accompanied by the aforementioned well-taken photographs. Two gallery sections feature adverts (hardware and software) and a selection of loading screens. The book finishes with an interview with the Antic podcast team (as well as recommending other Atari-based podcasts) and a useful section on emulating the Atari 8-bit.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, not only for the great game reviews but also the insights found in the features and interviews. The tone of the book works well, the text being very conversational and not getting too heavy. Visually it looks very good with a consistent style, but there are a couple of minor complaints. Where screenshots are used behind text, it can look a little busy. And on some spreads, the choice of colour combination – purple text on black background as one example – is a little hard on the eyes. Personally I felt that the loading screen images could have been slightly larger. These small issues do not detract from the book too much, and I found it a real page-turner that had me hooked. I look forward to dipping back in as I try out some of the games featured. It’s also good to see an Atari book with a European perspective, as much of the literature and commentary out there has been from the American point of view. If you are a big Atari fan like Darren, or just interested in learning more about this 8-bit format, then it is definitely worth reading.
You can get your copy HERE.
If you are a big Atari fan like Darren, or just interested in learning more about this 8-bit format, then it is definitely worth reading.