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Revisiting Games of the 90s, Finding Indies Today

The 90s were an exciting time for video games. Like a new music genre starting to emerge from garages, bedrooms, and basements to enter the wider consciousness, games were in that golden period where they’d gone just mainstream enough to become more widely-accessible but not so mainstream that the professionals had taken over and polished everything to death. Also like the early days of a genre’s emergence, it was a time when tiny groups could do huge things: the 90s were an era of two-pizza teams quickly churning out big hits that would be influential for decades to come. The small scale and fast pace make for gripping history.

There’s probably no better story in early games than id Software’s, and no better telling of that story than David Kushner’s “Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture”. Having read it for the first time only a few years ago, I can confirm both that it passes the test of time and that it still added a lot to the company’s story, even for an obsessive who had already owned the id Anthology and read every .plan file. (If you want the gory technical details—still gripping but mostly without human drama—Fabien Sanglard’s Game Engine Black Books on Doom and Wolfenstein 3D are also must-reads.)

What makes id’s story so compelling is the clashing of strong personalities against the backdrop of their incredible technical achievements. But the story of a solo effort can be just as dramatic: Jordan Mechner’s “The Making of Prince of Persia” follows him as he single-handedly creates one of the defining games of the decade.

For yet another angle, check out The Digital Antiquarian, which focuses a bit more on covering the early video game industry as an industry, which was full of the kinds of colorful personalities who show up as, or just before, a creative medium starts to really take off.

And if you want something to look forward to: Read-Only Memory’s “Sega Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works” is rumored to be having a re-release in the near future.

Of course, the small players haven’t disappeared; they’re just no longer on the center stage. Buried Treasure gives you the best of the indies you might’ve missed. To pick just one of their recent recommendations: check out Mimic.