Thursday, August 02, 2007

I just finished Dungeons and Dreamers by Brad King and John Borland, an interesting take on the what happened in the computer game culture over the last ~20 years. The book really focuses on a just a few parts of that culture and uses those to try to make larger points. The first half of the book uses Richard Garriott, creater of Ultima and sequels, as its central character to highlight the connection between paper based games (like Dungeons and Dragons) and early computer games but he disappears for most of the second half of the book since he was a much less central figure once PC games took over from the Apple II as the dominant game platform.

The second half of the book jumps around a lot, starting out with chapters about the rise of id software and their "first person shooters": Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, but eventually returning to Garriott's story to talk about the early MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) like Ultima Online and Everquest.

One odd point is that even though they start out with the connection between paper wargames/RPGs, they don't really discuss the part of the industry that is most closely related - real time strategy games. A section chronicling the rise of Blizzard, the most successful RTS game company, would have been a good addition, particularly since they only missed by a year the release of the most successful of all of the MMORPGs, Blizzard's World of Warcraft.

Amazon Link: Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture from Geek to Chic

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Last night I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, the final book in the Harry Potter series. I'll try to avoid any spoilers in this post but if you haven't read the book and intend to, you might want to come back later in case I let anything slip that you didn't want to know.

Since this book serves as a third act for the entire series and I've written before about the difficulty of writing third acts, I was a little wary when I started it. On the other hand, I had just finished re-reading the 6th book so I was also raring to find out what happened next and to have some of the mysteries that have built up over the series resolved. And Rowling didn't disappoint. She pulls off one of the better books of the series as well as a great third act for the series as a whole.

Deathly Hallows not only wraps up most of the outstanding questions from the previous book, it also explains a number of things from earlier books that seemed odd at the time but most readers probably just brushed off as mistakes or oversights. This is not to say that the book is just a huge lump of exposition filling in all the holes that have opened over a seven book series. All the explanations actually come in the context of a story that stands on its own with the other books and even introduces a lot of new background on old characters and the wizarding world.

I got into Harry Potter back in 2000 when my girlfriend brought back the first three books from a trip to London and we have been big fans ever since. I'm a little sad to know that I won't be able to look forward to the next Harry Potter book coming out but I will definitely take a look at whatever J.K. Rowling comes out with next.

Amazon Link: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Monday, July 30, 2007

It was a very Harry Potter weekend at my house this weekend. My girlfriend was away on a river rafting trip so I spent a good chunk of the weekend re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince and starting on the latest one. Then after she got home, we decided to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I remembered liking the penultimate book quite a lot when I read it two years ago and re-reading it was also a pleasant experience. The previous book, Order of the Phoenix, is the weakest of the set and I was happy at the time to see that Rowling had recovered from it nicely. In particular, it seemed that she had recovered from one syndrome that many very successful authors fall into - excessive length. Half-blood Prince is a much tighter edited book than Order of the Phoenix, coming in at around two thirds the word count.

I think that Order of the Phoenix also suffered due to Harry spending a good portion of the book out of the loop of what is really going on, simply an outsider trying to figure out what is happening and going through internal turmoil at the same time. Page after page of Harry struggling with his anger and angst while being treated as a pariah made for some hard reading. One of the few bright parts were the sections about Dumbledore's Army where Harry gets to take an active role again.

Some of these problems are minimized in the new movie version, since Harry's internal struggles don't take up as much screen time they don't seem so burdensome. The new movie is quite good but like the movie version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it does struggle with trying to pack the action of a huge book (nearly 260 thousand words) into a reasonable length movie. And since a lot of the later books/movies build on earlier events, very little can be cut out whole sale. The result is that many of the beats in the new movie feel under-developed or short changed and the overall film feels quite jumpy.

I'm about 100 pages from finishing the latest book so a post about it should appear here tomorrow.

Amazon Links:

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - DVD