Feast your Eyes on This: Commodore 64: A Visual Commpendium [Book Review]

C64 book

Ahhh… so many memories

They (whoever “they” are) say a picture speaks a thousand words. If that’s the case then the Commodore 64: A Visual Commpendium says enough to make War and Peace look like a pamphlet. It’s so good I’ll even forgive the author’s “spelling mistake” (i.e. bad pun) in the title!

This celebration of the artwork of Commodore 64 games is written by graphic designer Sam Dyer and former Zzap!64 Assistant Editor (and long time games journo), Steve Jarratt and is a real treat for anyone who has ever owned a C64. The pixel art of the machine might look primitive by today’s standards, it’s still remembered with great fondness by those of us who grew up with it.

Arranged chronologically by year of release, the book focuses on around 100 or so games, each of which gets its own two pages showing off some aspect of the artwork. This might be the loading screen, a screen shot or the cover artwork for the cassette (as well as some iconic Oli Frey artwork from Zzap!64 covers). Whatever it is, the images look great with crisp, faithful colour reproduction that shows off the blocky (but effective) graphics to their full potential. Every time you turn a page, it’s a feast for the eyes and you are hit by a wave of nostalgia.

There doesn’t appear to be any particular criteria behind the games featured, but it’s a good mix. Some are classics, others a little more obscure and some are titles which got far better graphics than the actual games deserved! Whether you read this book from cover to cover or just flick through it randomly, every page will bring memories flooding back and, if you’re anything like me, send you scurrying off to fire up your computer and play some of these titles again!

Accompanying each image is a very brief piece of text (usually around 100-150 words); a mix of mini reviews, comments from industry experts or even observations from the programmers themselves. These might not be very long but they are interesting and add another dimension to the title, preventing accusations that it’s just a “picture book” (not that there would be anything wrong with that when the images are this good!)

There are a few people who have missed the point of this book, bemoaning the brevity of the writing and the lack of information on the games. That’s not what this book is trying to do: It’s a celebration of the artwork of the C64 and the authors are right to let the images speak for themselves. Yes, you can read this book from cover to cover in less than half an hour, but that’s missing the point. Most readers will want to pore over every page, taking in the gorgeous sprites and colourful backgrounds, marvelling at the talented artists who managed to do much with such restrictions. More words would have spoiled it, obscuring the images or reducing the picture size. If you want details of the games, there’s plenty of webpages you can turn to.

If I’m being hyper-critical, I was slightly disappointed that whilst each entry carried basic details of the game (publisher, developer etc.) there was no mention of the specific programmer or artist. Given that this is a celebration of the C64’s artwork it would have been nice to see specific credit given.

The book was quite a lot smaller than I expected. For some reason I anticipated it being A4 size, whereas it is just slightly bigger than A5. In fact, this is a good design decision. From a practical point of view it makes the book easier to hold and read; whilst from a visual point of view, I suspect the images might have looked a little stretched on an A4 page. It’s a shame it’s only available in paperback as there were times when I felt at risk of damaging the spine when trying to see what was hidden in the crease between pages.

On the face of it, this is a pretty expensive purchase – £25 for a book with just a couple of thousand words in it? It is, though, one that will be treasured by anyone who grew up in the 80s and appreciates the stunning pixel artwork that developers produced on those early home computers. It’s a book that you will pick up and look at time and time again to admire the stunning visuals and remember those halcyon days of gaming. If you leave it lying around, I guarantee your friends will be unable to resist picking it up and having a flick through, even if they have no interest in gaming.

So yes, on the face of it it’s expensive; but for those of us with fond memories of Commodore’s beige bread bin, it’s worth every penny. The fact that Bitmap Books’ planned follow up: Commodore Amiga: a Visual Commpendium (due out later this year) met its Kickstarter funding target in less than 24 hours shows that I’m not alone in this opinion. If (like me) you were a complete idiot and missed backing this C64 book on Kickstarter, get along to Funstock Games and order yourself a copy before they sell out.

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2 thoughts on “Feast your Eyes on This: Commodore 64: A Visual Commpendium [Book Review]

  1. Will definitely get the one about the Amiga. There is something special about books and I still prefer “the real thing” compared to e-books and text-files. Some might think £25 is expensive, but considered what you get for the same amount of cash I think it is fair enough. 🙂

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  2. Pingback: Who says books are dead? | RetroReactiv8

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