Index  Comments

This recommendation covers books in a wide series, the MIT Press Platform Studies series, but only those I've read. I will cover more as I read them and, as all those I've read so far are pleasant, expect to ultimately recommend them all. The books of this I've read so far are Racing the Beam by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost (ISBN 9780262012577); and I Am Error by Nathan Altice (ISBN 9780262028776).

As an introduction to the series, the Platform Studies series details how hardware affects software intimately, with each book detailing a single platform, the influences on its design, how it is perceived, and how it influenced the games developed for it. As noted, this is commonly disregarded and I find the approach fascinating for anyone wondering how and why games behave the way they do, as platform clearly influences all higher layers.

Starting with the first, which also began the series, ``Racing the Beam'' concerns the Atari VCS and its rather uniquely memory-starved hardware. It covers six well-known games that exemplify how the hardware was intended to be used, how limitations were surpassed, those that are infamous, and swan song games. The first chapter not only continues an introduction to the series, but examines the Atari VCS hardware and the factors that influenced its design, including cost, current hardware, and the intended games, which in turn influenced what was possible with it. The second chapter details the first game, ``Combat'', and goes into good detail on the particulars of the special VCS hardware and how these two products influenced design in the other. The third chapter details advanced usage of the VCS in ``Adventure'' and how the limitations were overcome in order to translate a textual game to the platform. The fourth chapter covers ``Pac-Man'' and how limitations grossly hindered it along with the impending video game crash. Later chapters cover yet more games, their methods of implementation, and their coming about in much the same way, introducing ever more of interest. The conclusion sets the stage for later books in the series and I can recommend this work if only due to giving context to those later books.

Following with the second, ``I Am Error'' continues in the same vein as the first and details the hardware of the Famicom/NES platform and I find it a rather nice contrast with the first. There is much more detail in this book, compared to the first, and it is also much longer. Extending onwards this book mentions matters of translation and how it is affected by platform, given this covers a Japanese system. The first chapter details the peculiarities of the Famicom/NES hardware, how its design was influenced by economics, business relations, ``Donkey Kong'', other specific games, and in some detail how this influences the types of games it could easily support. The second chapter largely continues explaining ``Donkey Kong'' and its extreme influence on the design of the Famicom/NES and related matters. The third chapter is concerned primarily with matters of the NES including export, its lockout chip, and redesign to appeal to a skeptical US market. The fourth chapter details the premiere genre for the platform, platformers. Later chapters discuss the limitations and surpassing thereof through expansion hardware, the specialized sound hardware, and matters of emulation. This is, as of writing, my favorite entry in the series, not only for covering hardware I'm fond of, but for the rather great detail it provides; this is a valuable introduction to the minutiae of the Famicom/NES hardware and development methodologies. If you only read one book from this series, this is the one to read.

Concluding, I've enjoyed the MIT Press Platform Studies series, primarily because it appeals to my interest in low-level matters and due to the startling dearth of similar works. If one is privy to software that is intimately tied to the hardware it runs on, this is a fascinating series I believe such a one would enjoy.