Shot by photographer and lifelong gamer Evan Amos, The Game Console: A Photographic History from Atari to Xbox does exactly that, as a visual history of video game hardware released by San Francisco-based publishing company No Starch Press.
Amos didn’t initially set out to make a book peeking inside video game consoles. In fact, he first started out valiantly documenting video game hardware for Wikipedia, because if you’ve ever tried to look for high-quality, public domain images of consoles on there, it ain’t pretty.
After updating as many Wikipedia photos as he could with his Nikon D7000 and a D7100 DSLR and a homemade studio table, Amos shifted focus in 2014 to his own ambitious project: a high-resolution photo archive of video game consoles for the public domain called the Vanamo Online Game Museum.
Funding the project on Kickstarter with a cool $17,000, Amos started acquiring quite the large collection of consoles, through his own money and that supplied by crowdfunding.
“When I first started the project of documenting video game hardware for Wikipedia, I only had a few systems myself, and turned to collectors for help with the rest,” he told Mashable. “After a while I raised money through Kickstarter to buy my own systems, so I could create more in-depth galleries for different consoles that included breakdowns and motherboard shots.”
After successfully funding his Kickstarter project, Amos was approached by San Francisco publisher No Starch Press to create a book based on his photos. According to Amos, “it didn’t take me long to accept the offer.”
What took much longer was deciding on exactly what book to create. “My first idea for the book was dense and encyclopedia-ish, but after a while it was apparent that it was simply too much work for one person to create, and so the book was rebooted into its current form, which is picture-heavy with minimal write-ups,” said Amos.
“I’m pretty happy with the final product, and I like to imagine the book as if you were walking into a museum, and you’d be seeing all of these systems in displays with the short write-up talking about their history.”
“I like to imagine the book as if you were walking into a museum.”
Amos spent a significant amount of time and money tracking down rare, older consoles, like the Commodore CDTV launched in 1991, and Tandy’s Memorex Video Information System launched in 1992.
“Most of what you see in the book is what I actually have in my apartment, except for the case of super rare consoles or prototypes. Stuff that’s missing from the book, like the Apple II and ZX Spectrum, are example of things that I don’t have, so I wasn’t able to include them.
“It can be very difficult for me to get older consoles, because I’m looking for something that’s both in really good physical condition and a price I can pay, so sometimes I wait literal years to pick them up. A couple of systems were very late additions to the book, such as the Memorex VIS and Commodore CDTV, because I only acquired right before the book’s deadline.”
So, having sifted through the last few decades of console history, what’s been the most significant change in design, in Amos’ experience?
“When you look through the book, it’s a lot easier to see the various phases that consoles have gone through over the decades,” he said. “The second-gen systems such as the Atari 2600 and Intellivision have lots of fake woodgrain and take some inspiration from home stereo equipment.
“Later Japanese consoles emphasize ‘fun’ designs, then make their way to ‘cool’ designs, and now everything is mostly minimalist black boxes.”
With so many different (and many legendary) consoles featured in the book, it’s hard for Amos to pick a favorite — but he gave it a try.
“As far as my current favorite, I really love the Xbox One X right now since it’s such a powerhouse, but in terms of a legacy system, I would say the Super Nintendo,” he said. “I was ten when it came out and I got really into games such as Earthbound, Soul Blazer, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger growing up. So many games from that system are ones that I still try to revisit every few years, or keep their soundtracks on my phone.”
The Game Console: A Photographic History from Atari to Xbox is out now via No Starch Press.