The Landmark series comprises four books that cover four series of games. These books were published by the University of Michigan and were part of the Digital Culture Books series. They were published from 2013-2015, with several reprintings since then. In theory, this is an excellent idea! Take a few games and write about their impact on culture or how they were influenced by the culture of the time. I think this could have been a good to excellent book series.
Video game literature wasn’t as prominent as it is now, and even now, it is overlooked. You have a lot of academic books that aren’t reader-friendly, history books that usually get things right, Boss Fight Books with their retrospectives and unique looks at different games, and some culture books that aren’t very good.
This series of books fall in a weird time frame. They were written from an academic standpoint, and they don’t seem to know what they want to be. Some of the books seem more personal, and one seems to spend most of its time justifying its existence. Let’s look at each of them and see what I like and dislike about them.
TLDR: I wouldn’t say I liked the Tempest book, and I thought the others were okay.
The first book I read in the series that I read was Tempest by Judd Ruggill and Ken Mcallister. This is the book I didn’t like at all. They start with the idea that Tempest shouldn’t be forgotten; I countered this with was it forgotten. It’s a strange game to base a book on, and it was an odd entry in a series covering landmark games. It’s not even the David Theurer game that should be included.
My major problem with the book is the subject being Tempest. It just doesn’t make any sense for this. I would have chosen Missile Command. It speaks more to the early 80s and the cold war. Missile Command speaks more to the fear of the period. On the other hand, Tempest is more about shapes crawling up a space tube to destroy your ship.
They do go through the history of the sequels of Tempest. There isn’t much to say about them either. They are all fun to play, but there isn’t a story for Tempest as far as I know. It isn’t tied to a cultural event.
The authors do explain the game very well. I like their description of it and how they explain how the enemies move. That’s part of the problem, though. That only takes a few pages to explain. There isn’t much else to say about the game. It’s a simple arcade game meant to keep people putting in quarters. Most of the book seems to try to justify their choice and brings up examples that apply to Missile Command.
Most of the time is spent talking about Missile Command or bringing up themes better associated with Missile Command. This is the shortest book in the series. A lot of that has to do with the game they chose. It’s an entertaining game, and the cabinet is a work of art. However, there isn’t much to say about it.
I wouldn’t say I liked this book at all. It was a weird choice for this series, and I think they should have gone with Missile Command instead. Tempest doesn’t speak to what they were talking about. I don’t think of the cold war when I think about Tempest. It all boils down to the fact that I don’t believe Tempest should have been included in this shortlist.
Silent Hill was the second book I read from this series. This is a game series I believe belongs in a Landmark Video Game series. You can make the argument that Resident Evil was more important, but for me, I think either one could go here. Both helped to elevate the Survival Horror genre. Unfortunately, this is more of an academic book than I would have liked.
I should mention these are cultural studies books. They aren’t that friendly to the casual reader. This causes some problems for me when I try to recommend them. I think Silent Hill is a good book, but it isn’t something I would want to read repeatedly.
Now let’s get back to the book! This covers the Silent Hill series up to Downpour. Most of the book is focused on how the games took a cinematic approach instead of being more action-based. This did change as the series went on, but they were like playing a movie instead of watching one. Bernard uses this to talk about horror movies a bit.
I really liked this! For the most part, I feel like horror games would translate to movies better than some other games. This isn’t always true, and just because it feels like they would make good movies doesn’t mean they will. This is one of the parts which made this book feel more personal and less academic than the Tempest book.
I also liked how he talks about the fanbase looking for deeper meaning in the games. This is an area I wish was expanded on as long as Bernard didn’t look at some of the more bizarre theories. I wish the book had been centered around this and the movies. It would have been different, but I think it would have been better.
This is still an academic book, though. We aren’t going to get the same thing from it that we could get from something from the Boss Fight Books series. He does go over the games in the mainline series but doesn’t spend too much time on them. Silent Hill: Origins, Silent Hill, Silent Hill 3, and Shattered Memories are covered as they’re connected. Silent Hill 2 gets an extensive section. Silent Hill 4 gets a brief mention. I feel like the author could have written more about the games.
After the games, he talks about the other media in the Silent Hill series. The movies are talked about as well as some of the books. This is a strange inclusion, mainly because there isn’t enough time spent on them. The book is just too short for me.
The third book I read was Myst and Riven. I like this one more than the other two. This, like the Silent Hill Book, feels like it belongs in a series like this, unlike Tempest. The only weird thing is how Mark doesn’t cover the entire series. We look at the first two. I’m not sure why, but it might have had to do with book-length. It feels like there was a page limit.
This book starts like something from Boss Fight Books. It’s more personal, which might be why I enjoyed it more than the other two. It doesn’t stay that way for long, though. This is still an academic book and can be boring at times. I wish Mark had done more reflecting on the games instead of analyzing the games.
One thing I appreciated was the history of the developer, Cyan. I didn’t know much about them before Myst, and he does an excellent job of explaining their history. Hearing about the games that influenced the decisions in Myst was great. He also goes into the game’s atmosphere, and there are moments in the book where I felt that he put me in the games.
It’s hard to explain how influential these games were. Myst helped to move point and click adventure games forward. It was also one of the games I remember being on CDs before it was commonplace. The visuals in the game were excellent for the time. Even though I wouldn’t say I like the game, I never really got into the series; they were still significant in the history of video games.
I liked this book more than Tempest and Silent Hill. I understand why they are written like academic papers, but it doesn’t work for me. This one did a better job of hooking me initially, but it was still a little boring at times.
This is my favorite of the series. I might be a bit bias though, because I love Doom. I have a lot of nostalgia for the game. It was one of those games you would hear about on the playground. That was my Nintendo Power at the time. Of course, we would play games and talk about them at recess if we liked them. I don’t remember talking about bad games back then. Anyway, back to the book!
The whole series isn’t covered here as the book was written before Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal. Regardless of that, you can tell how Dan feels about the games. At least I got that impression from reading this. This book seems to have more personality in it than the other books in the series. It’s still an academic book so keep that in mind if you’re going to read this one.
Dan goes through the history of the first-person shooter genre. I didn’t know that I wanted from a book about Doom. We also get the history of id Software. I like this part as it shows how id was pushing the technology at the time. We also hear more about Tom Hall’s Doom Bible and how it influenced the game. However, I feel the history of id Software is better told in the book Masters of Doom.
The exciting part is when Dan goes over the level design of Doom and its episodes. I should mention that Doom was released in episodes and through a shareware model. You got the first episode for free and had to pay for the other episodes. I’m sure most fans of Doom know this already, but I wanted to put it in here.
It was fascinating to read about the different ideas of the level designers. They had other ideas on what they wanted from their levels. John Romero was more about Multiplayer, and Sandy Peterson was more about tension and terror. Romero’s levels were all about fast action, and Peterson’s were about building up to a scare and a firefight.
The level design talk was my favorite part of the book, and my least favorite part was the breakdown of the weapons and monsters. This didn’t matter to me at all. I’m sure someone would like this, but it feels like it would have been better communicated to the reader through some pictures. I remember a book for Ultimate Doom I had that did this. It was a boring part of this book.
I do like the reflection on the legacy of Doom. It had a significant impact on the FPS genre. While the Quake games probably had more impact due to their engines, Doom made the genre much more popular. In the 90s, Doom defined the genre. There were a lot of Doom-clones made. However, it didn’t have the same staying power. It’s why you don’t call the FPS games Doom-likes. Even id didn’t stick with the franchise. The game pushed the genre forward, but id Software didn’t stay with the times, and other games took the genre away from the fast arcade-style id Software made.
Doom was a big part of my childhood, which might have affected why I liked this book. There is just something about the game that makes me go back and play it. I think Dan did a good job of telling the story of Doom. If you can only read one of these four books, read this one!
This series of books, as a whole, is okay. I think the book on Doom and the book on Myst and Riven are the best. The Silent Hill book is okay. The Tempest book isn’t good at all. I don’t want to keep talking about why, but I can’t recommend the book on Tempest. Doom is the book I would recommend from these four.
I’m glad that these four books were made! In the last ten years or so, Video Games are only being looked at for their cultural significance. Other authors do a better job of talking about them, though. These are too academic for me, and I’m guessing for a lot of people.
I keep finding more books I didn’t know existed. When I first started reviewing books on video games, I didn’t know how many there were. I’m glad that more books have been written on the subject in the last 5-10 years.