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Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood

review by Kurt Kalata - May 19, 2012

The title of this book is slightly misleading - Generation Xbox is author Jamie Russell's catch-all term for gamers aged 18-34, who grew up with games as a valid storytelling medium. Other than the "Generation X" pun, it references Microsoft's console as being the first to be powerful enough to tell a story on the level of a Hollywood movie. This isn't entirely true, and the whole term ends up as something of a vaguery, but the subtitle, How Video Games Invaded Hollywood, does a better job of stating what the book's all about. It's not a criticism or analysis of storytelling in video games, but rather a history about how the two industries have intertwined, beginning with licensed games, working up through full motion video games and movies based on games, and finally ending up on motion capture.

The thesis of the book may as well be about the gigantic gaps between the movie and the game industry. As one of the interviewees puts it: "Hollywood is a culture of personality where people with strong personalitys can convince you even if they don't know what the fuck they're talking about...The game industry sells systems. We don't trust those types of personalities. It's an engineering culture where you have to know what you're talkibg about. You can't be a bullshitter." Players on both sides on are in conflict - those on the gaming side are drawn to the fantasy life styles afforded by the movie industry, while Hollywood is largely scared of the profits that the game industry was raking it, as they try to corner and exploit it for their own gain.

Some of the stories have been featured elsewhere - the book opens with the famously distastrous E.T. for the Atari 2600, along the way telling the story of the Raiders of the Lost Ark game for the same system (which was also by the same programmer, then moves onto Don Bluth, Dragon's Lair, and the advent of the laserdisc arcade games. This segues into the tale of the NEMO, Digital Pictures, and Night Trap, before moving onto the disastrous production of the Super Mario Bros. movie, the most amusing bit being how Shigeru Miyamoto seemed to respond to the film with little more than indifference. They are still excellent stories, however, and are more accessible here than in the Retro Gamer or Game Informer magazines that previous stories were published in.

Even for those with near encyclopedic knowledge of thse subjects will find plenty of new material and fascinating stories. It discusses the beginning of Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts), established by George Lucas despite him having little interest in gaming itself, while telling stories of how fascinated Steven Spielberg was with the medium, to the point where he would call up the developers to get walkthroughs over the phone. Adventure game fans will find tidbits about Spielberg's involvement with The Dig(which most are probably familiar with) as well as the inception of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (which is brief but fascinating.) It also tells of Spielberg's own studio, Dreamworks Interactive, talks of ambitious but cancelled projects, like filmmaker's Nora Ephron's game, which sounds remarkably like a prototype for The Sims, as well as the origin of the Medal of Honor series and how it connects to Saving Private Ryan. It also recounts the failure of the Halo movie in great detail. (Republished at Wired. Short story: Microsoft was entirely too demanding.) The book finishes up with the modern era, discussing the movie-making ambitions of Quantic Dream and their games The Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, before revealing how Acclaim's motion capture studio helped spark a revolution in motion capture, leading to the development of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, as well as Avatar.

With 330 pages, it's fairly detailed and all well written, despite an occasionally jarring odd criticisms sprinkled through the otherwise objective fact reporting. As with any subject, the well goes quite deep, and some topics beg for further elaboration. It makes no mention of Sierra's The Dark Crystal, largely believed to be the first licensed game ever made. It also misses the opportunity to discuss the company's The Black Cauldron adventure game as an early example of a licensed game that wasn't just a cynical cash-in. Early gaming-themed movies like WarGames, The Last Starfighter and Cloak & Dagger are mentioned only in passing. There are short pieces about the development of the Mortal Kombat and Tomb Raider movies, but the story of the fundamentally ridiculous Street Fighter film still begs to be told. Cinemaware, the developer of such film-inspired titles as It Came from the Desert and Defender of the Crown, is only discussed for a few pages as part of the larger story of Tom Zito and Digital Pictures. Nonetheless, the topics covered are thoroughly researched and well presented, making it an essential read to video game history buffs.

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Quick Info:


  • Jamie Russell


  • Yellow Ant


  • April 10, 2012


  • 330


  • 0956507247


  • 978-0956507242

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