One of the things we love to collect in our old age is books. Books about games. Which is ironic seeing as a lot of us played games back in the day to get away from books! Greyfox and Fusion Retro Books both deserve an honourable mention but today we’re pleased to welcome Sam Dyer from the amazing Bitmap Books!
Our Adrian and Anthony caught up with Sam to quiz him as to how it all got started and what exciting projects they have on the horizon…
From being a graphic designer, working with computers, what sparked your interest to publish books?
As a graphic designer, I’ve always been interested in printed media. Sadly, the opportunity to design books in commercial graphic design is incredibly rare, and if one did arise, it tended to be on a subject I wasn’t massively into. Bitmap Books is the perfect hybrid of my two biggest passions, graphic design and retro gaming. Getting to design books on a subject you’re very passionate about is a dream come true and I often have to pinch myself. I wouldn’t say I was a book worm when growing up as I was always playing on my Commodore 64 and Amiga every spare minute I had!
How did you first get the inspiration to start Bitmap Books and how do you reflect back on the success of the company?
Around 2012, I started to get back into retro gaming and had seen a few books on the subject. I liked them but felt I could bring something fresh to the market. Bitmap Books started off as an outlet for my geeky hobby and was a fun side project. Over the years, it’s grown into a successful independent publishing house and something I spend the majority of my time on.
The inspiration for Bitmap Books is rooted in my love of pixel art. Back in the late 80’s when it would take 10 minutes for a Commodore 64 game to load, you’d be sat there, staring at a loading screen. 9 times out of 10 you’d get a loading screen image – a static 320 x 200 pixel picture, made from 16 colours. By today’s standards, these are incredibly crude. But back then, I was mesmerised by these creations and was in awe of how they were created. This is where my love for pixels and video game art started and Bitmap Books is simply a vehicle to showcase and preserve this beautiful art.
Can you run through the process of creating a book from start to finish?
The first stage is always the concept. I ask myself important questions such as ‘will the book have a wide enough appeal’ and ‘is it an original enough idea?’ Once an idea is settled on, I would start designing some test pages, doing research and most fun – playing games! I really enjoy this stage where the book is evolving and the scope is wide open to what it could turn into.
A huge part is then generating the actual content. This varies book-to-book, but normally, this would start with mapping out a page plan (pagination). We would then start taking game screenshots, arranging interviews and recruiting contributors. This process can often take months and is the real ‘meat’ of the book.
Once the book content is fixed in draft form, it would then be a case of reviewing everything, maybe tweaking the design here and there. The text would be run past an editor. Once everyone is happy, the final stages are preparing the design files for print and getting a proofreader to do final checks on the copy.
Once ready for print, the whole production process takes around 2 months, and then 1 month for the books to arrive back to the UK. During this phase, we would see and approve various proofs and samples.
You have interviewed so many true gaming legends. Which people were you most proud to feature within your pages and is there anyone you would love to interview in the future?
The biggest shock was when Tim Stampter agreed to appear in our ZX Spectrum book and comment on his iconic Ultimate games. That was a real coup and came completely out of the blue. A personal favourite was interviewing Tim Girvin – the guy behind the agency that designed the NES, SNES and Game Boy retail packaging for North America. I’m equally proud of all the contributors that have appeared in our books.
Since the founding of Bitmap Books. How many works have been published so far and do you have a personal favourite book?
At the time of writing, we have published 15 books. My favourite, from a nostalgia point of view is Commodore 64: a visual Commpendium. From an objective point of view, it would have to be our most recent title – Metal Slug: The Ultimate History. It feels like the culmination of all our experience and learning over the last 5 years. In my opinion, that book is pretty near perfection.
The art within your books is incredible. How do you go about selecting and sourcing all these amazing images?
Game artworks and concept artworks tend to come from the companies that made the games or the individual developers – who thankfully kept it safe after all these years! Screenshots are taken using emulators with a nice crisp ‘nearest neighbour’ filter. We tend to take around 100 screenshots of a single game to enable us to have a nice selection to choose from. It’s always been my belief that pixels are best viewed ‘clean’ without any CRT scanlines. The purists will firmly disagree with this, but I love seeing exactly how the images are constructed with these tiny coloured blocks.
Which of your books was the most successful and are there any books that exceeded your expectations?
I’d say our most popular from sales has been Super Famicom: The Box Art Collection, closely followed by The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games. It’s always really hard to tell how well a book will sell and we’re often surprised when sales start as some do better than anticipated and some underperform. The joys of publishing!
How long does it take to create a book from start to finish?
The whole process can take up to one year on some books. Some may be less as it all depends on the concept and scope of the content.
Are there any other options available for those that like to view your content?
On most books, where licensing allows, you also get a free digital PDF with each physical book purchase. As our books are pretty visual, audio books wouldn’t be best suited but we may investigate Kindle one day.
Metal Slug: The Ultimate History looks like another top title. When will this book be released to the public and what can they expect to see within its pages?
It’s the first book to tell the official story of Metal Slug. It starts by covering games such as In The Hunt and GunForce 2. Both developed by Irem. These two titles really are the birthplace of many ideas and graphical styles that would make it into Metal Slug. After the closure of Irem’s game division, many key developers set-up a new studio called Nazca, which was part funded by SNK. The book tells to story of this transition and the genesis of Metal Slug, through a huge history feature and also a series of extensive interviews with the original team members.
The Metal Slug story has been shrouded with mystery for years and this is the first time that many of the developers have spoken and now the truth is told. As well as the written features and interviews, the book also includes lots of concept art, key art and screenshots from the whole series of Metal Slug games. Being an official publication has meant unprecedented access to SNK’s archive of assets. Spread over 452 pages, the book is hardback, A4 in size and uses many special printing techniques for a high-quality and distinctive feel.
It’s available here.
Do you have any series you would love to cover in the future?
Absolutely! If the game series has enough content for a book then we would consider it. We’d like to do another SNK franchise in the future.
What are your future plans that you have for Bitmap Books and do you have any exciting books in the pipelines?
Always! The next visual compendium, due for release in early 2020 is on the Atari 2600/7800. We’ve worked directly with Atari to produce an official publication. After this, we have a very cool book on unreleased games due mid-2020. Plenty of others that we can’t reveal just yet.
Where is the best place for our readers to keep up to date with your latest books and projects?
What advice would you give to anyone looking to publish their own books?
Be prepared for some seriously hard work! Be brave, stick to your guns and be confident.
Which are your personal favourite video games and consoles of all time?
It would be a toss up between the Commodore 64 and Commodore Amiga. The C64 would edge it, purely because of nostalgia and the impact it’s had on my life. However, the Amiga had some of my favourite games on and it’s the system I go back to most often.
Away from video game books, which other types of literature are you a fan of?
I’m a fan of science fiction and also enjoy reading a good autobiography. This could be a sportsperson, or musician, I’m not fussy as long as they’ve had an interesting life. I tend to listen to a lot of audio books as spend a lot of time commuting to work so it’s the ideal way to consume books.
Anthony and Adrian
Now go check out Anthony’s Official Neo-Geo thread on Atariage!