Review: The Encyclopedia of Game Machines: Consoles, Handhelds and Home Computers 1972-2005

We don’t have any German readers here at RGA, but you can rest assured that if we did they would immediately recognise the name Winnie Forster. As the co-founder and editor of PowerPlay, VideoGames and Man!ac, Forster is a major force in the German industry, which makes him the right man to write a reference book on video game hardware.

The Encyclopedia of Game Machines: Consoles, Handhelds and Home Computers 1972-2005 (ISBN: 3000153594) does exactly what it says on the tin, providing a (mostly) detailed analysis of gaming equipment from the Magnavox Odyssey through to the PlayStation Portable, with brief stops along the way to explain things such as arcade machines, storage media, major events in video game history and other gaming related paraphenalia.

The book is presented in full colour and is filled with pictures of each machine and its associated peripherals and removable media (where relevant). Forster also provides some basic details on when the system was released, how well it sold and his general impression of the machine using a basic 5 star scale. Each article discusses the history of the machine, focusing on market conditions when the machine was released, the best-selling and most acclaimed software available on the format, and the challenges it faced and/or the factors leading to its success. Some of this information is subjective, so you may find yourself questioning his choices of games or position on historical events. Information on variant systems is also present where relevant.

Due to the book’s European origin, the microcomputers of the 1980s get a much better representation than they would had the book been authored by an American. The more popular computers like the C64, Spectrum and Atari ST get just as many pages as the major console formats. This is a very refreshing change from the usual NES directed worship that comes from books written about 1980s gaming. The book goes into particularly good detail about some of the Eastern computer formats and pre-Game Boy handhelds which are so often overlooked by retro-focused publications.

Most of the book’s weaknesses stem from limitations of the printed word. There is a whole lot of information in the book, but the confines of space mean that things have to be left out. That makes the book a good starting point or general reference for game machines, but ultimately one will have to search for other resources to find more. Some systems one might expect to have seen full articles (CDTV and GX4000) are reduced to mere bullet points on a variant list.

There are a number of minor mistakes in the book – the number of games on some formats is overstated, sales of the format are understated and so on. Some major formats feel like they’ve been shortchanged in coverage, particularly the Master System and Game Gear. Portions of the book might be a little too pro-Spectrum for most.

The Encyclopedia of Game Machines: Consoles, Handhelds and Home Computers 1972-2005 achieves what it sets out to do, and does it reasonably well. It is a good general reference, and is useful as a starting point when researching information on more obscure formats. The book is a little out of date now as it was originally published in March 2005 (but anything released after 2005 is beyond the scope of this site), but your major concern in getting a copy of the book is the fact that it is now out of print, and some second hand dealers are charging a small fortune for a copy. Forster has written an updated version of the book which covers up to 2009, but it is not yet available in English.