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Game On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More

Game On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More

by Dustin Hansen
Game On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More

Game On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More

by Dustin Hansen


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Veteran video game designer Dustin Hansen takes YA readers on a fun and fascinating trip through the brief but intensely innovative history of video games.

Find out about the fast and furious growth and evolution of video games (including how they are quickly taking over the world!) by looking at some of the most popular, innovative, and influential games ever, from Pong, the very first arcade game ever, to modern hits like Uncharted.

Learn about the creators and inspiration (Mario was named after Nintendo’s landlord after he barged into a staff meeting demanding rent), discover historical trivia and Easter eggs (The developers of Halo 2 drank over 24,000 gallons of soda while making the game), and explore the innovations that make each game special (The ghosts in Pac-Man are the first example of AI in a video game).

Finally, here's a young adult nonfiction book about video games. Whether you consider yourself a hard-core gamer or are just curious to see what everyone is talking about, Game On! is the book for you!

Praise for Game On!:

"This zippy primer on video game development takes readers from the arcades of the 1970s to Minecraft and the future of gaming. . . . The well-told origin tales are a fantastic mash-up of pop and gaming culture. . . " —School Library Journal

"This lengthy love letter comes from a self-professed video game addict. Thirty-nine breezy, irreverent chapters celebrate individual games . . . Unabashedly enthusiastic, author Hansen also provides tips on how to evaluate games for personal enjoyment. . . . true gamers will be delighted." —Booklist

"This zippy, funny, enthusiastic volume offers snapshot looks at the key moments in video game history." —The Bulletin

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250294456
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 73,327
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Dustin Hansen, author of Game On! and the Microsaurs series, was raised in rural Utah, surrounded by the great outdoors. But even the beautiful mountains couldn’t keep him away from his passion, video games. His love of pixels and controllers led him into a career in video games. He has made titles for everything from a 386 PC to the iPhone, and from the PlayStation One to the Xbox One. Now he’s working on the future, creating Virtual Reality experiences that blend real life with the digital world. Dustin and his family live in rural Utah once again, where he is the current king of the family Mario Kart circuit.

Read an Excerpt

Game On! Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More

By Dustin Hansen

Feiwel and Friends

Copyright © 2016 Dustin Hansen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-08096-7



One of the most interesting things about writing a book about the history of video games is that when it comes to history in general, video games are super young.

I mean, how many other history books can you think of where the original people involved with the topic are still alive? Not to mention, most of them are still innovating and doing new things in the game industry today.

It's cool, when you think about it. Everything is really new. Even Pong is still new enough that if you looked around, you could find a copy, in some format, and check it out today. The game industry is alive and growing, and that is very exciting.

I remember my grandpa John telling me that he loved his career because he was always learning. He was a veterinarian, and new advancements in medicine happened all the time. He had to study to keep up on things. When I was lucky enough to enter the game industry, I discovered the same joy my grandfather had known. Minus the puppies but with way more Left 4 Dead office LAN party breaks, of course.

I started making games in 1997, painting digital football players for a game by Accolade Software called Legends Football 98. I had to paint each frame of the animation by hand, because 3D graphics weren't advanced enough at that point to be of any help. It was pretty cutting-edge stuff at the time, but a short six years later I was making complex 3D digital sculptures of those same football players for Electric Arts' NFL Street. Three years later I was messing around with controllerless systems like the Xbox Kinect, and creating 3D graphics for games on the Nintendo 3DS that actually displayed things in 3D without needing fancy glasses.

And now I'm working with a group of crazy smart innovators at a company called The Void, where we are marrying VR (virtual reality) with real-world locations. The best way I can describe it is that we are building a digital theme park where you not only play a game, you get to be in the game. It's mind-blowingly cool if I do say so myself, and something I never dreamed about when I was touching up 2D sprites of Jerry Rice on my 386 PC in 1997.

The video game industry goes through big changes every year, but even the most advanced, high-tech, innovative ideas stand on the shoulders of games that have come before.

There'd be no Madden NFL if Pong hadn't put the first sports game on a gaming console.

Would we have Grand Theft Auto V without The Legend of Zelda showing us what an open world looked like back in 1986 on the Nintendo Entertainment System?

And Forza Motorsport 6 owes a lot to the racing games of the past. In fact, they paid homage in their promotional commercial in 2015, where they showed their realistic-looking Ford GT zipping through pixelated versions of older games like Gran Trak 10, R.C. Pro-Am, Pole Position, and Ridge Racer, just to name a few. A tagline on the Forza Motorsport website claimed, "Every pixel and line of code ever written has been leading up to this moment."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

The games we play today, as well as the games we will fall in love with tomorrow, promise us hours of enjoyment. Days, weeks, years of fun lie just around the corner, but it is important to take a look back from time to time, to get a better understanding of those that came before.

So, gamer, put on the old time-traveling helmet. Crank the dial back on the Wayback Machine to a time before the Internet. To a time before cell phones and color TVs. Way back to a time before controllers, handheld gaming devices, social media, and even microwave pizza.

Let's go back to the beginning. After all, these are not just the games that influenced the game designers of today and tomorrow. These are the games that shaped us all.



It wasn't the first game. Not by a long shot.

In fact, Pong wasn't even the first digital tennis game. Some say it wasn't even the most complicated or most advanced, or even the most innovative game of its day.

So why do so many people consider Pong the godfather of video games?

It might be because Pong is just a fun word to say. Go ahead. Say it out loud. You know you want to. I'll wait. Heck, I'll even join you.

Pong. POOOOONG! Pingity-Pong Pongity-Pong.

See, it's fun! And in the end, the game was just as simple as rattling off a bunch of pong nonsense, and that is what made Pong so great. It was easy. The games before Pong were interesting, and innovative, and difficult, and usually could only be played by other computer and software engineers. But Pong didn't need instructions, only cost a quarter to play, and instead of sitting inside a computer lab, the first Pong machine stood in a busy tavern. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For now, let's rewind a bit and see how Pong came to life.

In the early days of computer games, there was a ton of confusion about who created what first. Part of the problem was that creating games at that time required hardware that cost mountains of cash, and part of it was that people didn't really understand what games were back then.

Although there were a lot of inventions that could make a pretty good claim to being the first video game, there's no doubt who made the first successful game. It was video game pioneer Nolan Bushnell.

While attending the University of Utah in 1962, Bushnell spent most of his time studying in the computer engineering lab. While he was there, he got the chance to play a game called Spacewar! and he was hooked. The game was played on a living room–sized computer called a PDP-10, and it was complex, challenging, and most of all, addicting.

Up until that point, the closest thing people had ever seen to a video game was probably pinball. If you haven't seen a pinball machine, you really should try to find one. Basically, you shoot a one-inch metal ball up through a slot and it bounces around, knocking over "pins" and bouncing off lights and rubber-coated bumpers. Sounds like fun, right? Well, it was, and still is, a popular form of gaming, but what Bushnell saw on the PDP-10 changed everything.

Attending college was expensive back then — still is, actually — and to pay for school Nolan worked in the arcade of a local amusement park called Lagoon.

The arcades in the 1960s didn't look at all like the arcades of today. They were filled with pinball machines, photo booths, and mechanical fortune-tellers. While Nolan Bushnell loved the arcade's shiny lights and loud sounds, he could see an even brighter future just out of reach. Bushnell had a vision of people dropping quarter after quarter into digital machines to play games like Spacewar! But the technology needed to make that happen didn't quite match Bushnell's vision. It took nearly a decade to put his dream into motion, but in 1972, the planets aligned and Bushnell started Atari.

Nolan Bushnell was a pretty good engineer himself, but he was also smart enough to hire Al Alcorn, who Nolan recognized at once to be a better engineer than he ever dreamed of becoming. Under Bushnell's direction and with Alcorn's impressive engineering abilities, Atari was ready to test their invention in a few short months.

On November 29, 1972, the modern video game industry was born when Bushnell installed his Pong arcade machine in a local bar, crossed his fingers, and hoped that the game would be a hit. Word traveled fast in Sunnyvale, California, and people flocked to Andy Capp's Tavern for a chance to give Bushnell's electronic tennis game a try.


Well, because:

1. It was cheap. Only twenty-five cents.

2. You played it against your friends, and what's more fun than humiliating your friends in a game of digital Ping-Pong?

3. Pong was just plain fun to say. PONG! PONG! PONGITY-PONGITY-PING-PONG! PONNNNG!

4. Pong was EASY. All you had to do was hit the ball back to your opponent, and the game took care of the rest. Even the score! Told you we'd get back to Pong being EASY.

Back and forth, back and forth, until someone earns eleven points. Drop in another quarter and play again. And again.


The play again pattern happened so many times that first night at Andy Capp's Tavern, that by the next day Al Alcorn received a call telling him Pong was busted. Frustrated and a little worried, Alcorn rushed over with a bag of tools. Turns out it didn't take an engineer to see what was wrong.

Inside the homebuilt cabinet, Alcorn had rigged a milk carton to catch quarters. There were so many quarters jammed inside that Pong had stopped working. Alcorn emptied the quarters into his tool bag, turned Pong back on, and walked out with a huge grin on his face.

Everybody loved Pong, and soon people were lining up at Andy Capp's Tavern before it even opened, waiting outside to ambush Pong and give it another go.

Bushnell had struck gold, and he did everything he could to grow Atari as fast as possible. He leased out a huge abandoned roller-skating rink and started production of Pong arcade cabinets right away. There were obstacles in the way, the first being that he had to hire people who had no knowledge of how to build an arcade game, but the setbacks did little to slow Bushnell's vision. His dream of a video arcade was on the horizon, and he was determined to make it a reality.



Another thing that Atari pioneered was the idea that in order to make creative games, you needed a creative space to work in. Back in the early days of Atari, the company was housed inside an old warehouse. There were very few walls, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was blasting from boom boxes spread around the office, and the place was rife with hippie culture, man.

Atari employees were encouraged to celebrate victories by partying at the office. The hours were long, but why go home when there is a hot tub in the office, drinks of all kinds in the fridge, music jamming in the air, and everywhere you looked there was a nerd just like you, giving up their personal time to make great games? I can't help but imagine them as the modern-day Robin Hood's Merry Men, but with fewer green tights and more flip-flops and cutoff Levi's shorts.

It was a creative place and a creative time, and it worked. It led to what would come to be known as the golden age of video games. And in the video game biz, when someone finds that something works, others follow.

Creative and crazy offices are still part of the appeal of working in the game industry. EA in Redwood Shores, California, boasts its own Starbucks, multiple arcades, a theater, a soccer field, a sand volleyball court, a full gym complete with a full-sized hardwood basketball court, a day care for parents who work and want to be close to their young children, an amazing restaurant that serves everything from sushi to hamburgers, and that's just the beginning.

Video game companies around the world love to let their creativity inspire their offices, and their offices inspire their creativity. It's actually really helpful, and if you don't believe me, you can try it out yourself. Try hanging a couple of cool posters in your room, put a handful of amiibos posing on a shelf, stack a few books from your favorite author on your bookshelf (hint, hint).

If you do, I'll bet you'll start to imagine new and cool creative ideas. But do me a favor. When you get a good idea, write it down! Because I'm telling you from experience, if you don't write them down, they will float right out your door and move on to the next guy or gal.

Ideas are funny like that.



At first it was all about beating your friends in digital tennis. Head-to-head battles that usually involved lots of shouting and bragging. And probably a bit of crying, too.

But it wasn't long before the single-player craze hit the arcades.

It started with thirty-six invaders, three defensive bunkers, and a laser-firing tank with enough gusto to defend planet Earth.

The game was built to impress. The refrigerator-sized arcade machine was covered top to bottom in artwork to set the mood, and it featured two white buttons, one to move left AND one to move right! Next to the twin direction buttons, you'd find a superslick firing button the color of danger itself, red. But what you couldn't see was the massive speaker hidden inside the beast, which pumped out a sound track some say inspired Jaws when it hit the big screen five years later.

For only one quarter you got three lives, and with a little practice — okay, with a LOT of practice — you could last for hours.

It was the summer of 1978, the game was called Space Invaders, and it invaded the allowance of every kid tall enough to see the screen. Not to mention their older brothers and sisters and half their fathers.

Space Invaders went on to set record after record after it invaded the planet. More than four hundred thousand arcade cabinets were made, and the game pulled in more than 3.8 billion dollars by 1982. If you factor in inflation, that would be THIRTEEN BILLION DOLLARS today, making it one of the highest-grossing video games of all time.

Yeah. Billion. With a B!

That was just the beginning. The 3.8 billion dollars doesn't include the twelve spin-offs that rolled out over the next thirteen years. This house-sized wad of cash also doesn't include the merchandising: everything from candy to T-shirts, which are just as cool now as they were back in the 1980s. And today there are almost as many Space Invaders clones on the Internet as there are dancing cats in sombreros.

Looking back, one of the most amazing things about Space Invaders is that it was created by one man, Tomohiro Nishikado. Not only did Nishikado create the art and game design for Space Invaders, he spent a year developing the necessary hardware for the game to run, putting together a computer from scratch.

Nishikado was a one-man wrecking crew. He was as comfortable sketching spaceships and aliens on graph paper as he was soldering circuits on a breadboard.

But wait, there's more! Nishikado's desire to innovate led him to a long list of firsts. Firsts that are part of every gamer's vocabulary today.

1. Space Invaders made the concept of "high score" popular. Can you imagine a game without a high score nowadays?

2. Space Invaders was the first game to actually save the player's score. Before this, you'd have to convince your friends about the amazing game you had while they were outside playing baseball. Now you could just drag them back to the arcade and show them you were the Space Invaders king right there on the screen. That is, unless some bully like Charley Schultzwazer unplugged the machine just after you typed in your initials. Yeah, I'm still bitter about that one, Schultzy.

3. Nishikado introduced the never-ending horde. There was no way to actually win Space Invaders — the game just got faster and more difficult the longer you played.

4. Before Nishikado's masterpiece, players never had to dodge a bullet. Nishikado changed all of this by allowing the player to avoid lasers and hide behind barriers. In other words, Space Invaders was the first shooter game — Halo's great-great-great-grandfather.

And last but not least ...

5. Perhaps the most overlooked and underrated invention that Nishikado shared with us was his concept of a continuous background sound track. If you've played the game (and if you haven't, you really owe it to yourself to check it out), you'll recall the four descending bass notes repeating in a loop. This on its own would have been a step up from the rest of the pack, but Nishikado wasn't happy with "good enough." He wanted awesome, and he got it by changing the speed of the music as the game got harder. It was awesome! It made your heart pound and hands sweat as you gripped the joystick tighter with every move. Add in a layer of sound effects, a technique that had also never been used before, and any kid with a quarter in his pocket would come running like a rat to the Pied Piper.

If I were picking teams for anything from antigravity combat karaoke to underwater car repair, I'd pick Tomohiro Nishikado first. Seriously, this guy does it all.

Simply put, Space Invaders was, and perhaps always will be, the champ.


Excerpted from Game On! Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More by Dustin Hansen. Copyright © 2016 Dustin Hansen. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
A Living History: To Those That Came Before,
Pong 1972: Game, Set, Match,
Space Invaders 1978: A First Invasion,
Pac-Man 1980: Thank You, Pizza,
Zork 1980: You Are Likely To Be Eaten By A Grue,
Donkey Kong 1981: It's On Like Donkey Kong!,
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial 1982: Don't Phone Home,
Super Mario Bros. 1985: The Plan, The People, And The Plumber,
The Legend Of Zelda 1986: It's Dangerous To Go Alone! Take This.,
John Madden Football 1988: It's In The Game,
Tetris 1989: Line 'Em All Up,
Sonic The Hedgehog 1991: So Fast, You'll Need A Barf Bag,
Street Fighter II 1991: Hadouken!,
Mortal Kombat 1992: Fatality!: Violence And The Esrb,
Super Mario Kart 1992: An All-Star Cast,
Myst 1993: Get Lost In A Book. Literally.,
Doom 1993: A Planet Full Of Guns,
Tomb Raider 1996: A New Face, A New System, A New Era,
Gran Turismo 1997: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines,
Final Fantasy VII 1997: Not As Final As You Thought,
Half-Life 1998: Welcome To Black Mesa,
Dance Dance Revolution 1999: Step In A New Direction,
Pokémon Yellow 1999: Gotta Catch 'Em All,
The Sims 2000: Plenty Of Room To Expand,
Grand Theft Auto III 2001: Hijacked!,
World Of Warcraft 2004: Wowzers!,
Halo 2 2004: One Down, Fifty Billion To Go,
Guitar Hero 2005: Bring On The Plastic!,
Wii Sports 2006: Tighten Your Shoelaces And Your Wrist Strap,
Portal 2007: The Cake Is A Lie,
Little Big Planet 2008: I'll Play Yours, You Play Mine,
Farmville 2009: E-I-E-I-Oooo,
Angry Birds 2009: Who You Callin' Angry?,
Minecraft 2009: Kick It Up Another Notch!,
Uncharted 2 2009: Armor? I Don't Need No Stinkin' Armor!,
League Of Legends 2009: Ten Million And Counting,
Skylanders 2011: Greetings, Portal Master!,
The Walking Dead 2011: Tell Me A Story?,
Overwatch 2016: On The Shoulders Of Heroes,
The Future: Tomorrow And Beyond,
For Further Information,
About the Author,

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