πŸ“– The King of Fighters : The Ultimate History | Bitmap Books πŸ“– @bitmap_books

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Another Bitmap Books offering means another deep dive into some aspect of video game history. I own Go Straight, the publisher's love letter to side-scrolling beat 'em ups and it's a thing of coffee table-straining beauty.

This 540-page monster delves into what is probably the second most famous one-on-one fighter franchise, SNK's venerable king of Fighters series. This book represents the latest in Bitmap Books' ongoing relationship with the company, following in-depth looks at the Metal Slug series and a visual history of the Neo Geo. This relationship gives the publisher what looks like full access to SNK's archives, as well as the ability to interview what must be most of the past and present contributors to the series.
The book kicks off with a huge, eye-opening interview with the people responsible for 
King of Fighters '94, and is replete with fascinating anecdotes and historical titbits. For example, we discover that despite Fatal Fury: King of Fighters being criticised for copying Street Fighter 2, two of the senior FF developers were ex-Capcom and had actually worked on the original Street Fighter game from 1988. And in an aside from lead planner Toyoshi Tanabe, we learn that King of Fighters was originally intended to be a Final Fight-Esque side scroller called Dirty Knuckle. The pages of this section are interspersed with artwork - screenshots, as well as original concept art not just of the characters, but the screen layout including health bars, storyboards for the victory animations and technical documents such as skill scores for each character.
The next section is where Bitmap Books really comes into its own, and why they charge what they do for these books. Pages upon pages of screenshots and pixel art from every game in the series. The book is A4 sized, so the detail, as well as the paper quality, is brilliant. Even if you're not an aficionado, you can't help but be pulled in by the visuals. Each page is well captioned, so as well as salivating over the pictures you learn everything you need to know about the games, from KoF '94 all the way through to KoF XV from February 2022.
Then we get onto the characters. Every character from every game is represented by a mix of sketches, close-up detail and biography, which just shows you how much thought went into the creation of the series. In fact, one thing you pick up from the early interview, as well as the one-on-one interviews at the end of the book, is that the developers of KoF '94 were really focused on backstory, almost as much as the gameplay itself. The artwork section finishes with 'key art', consisting of box art, promotional material and character studies, which allows the artists to flex their muscles and create some really eye-catching stuff.

All in all, even a passing glance at this book shows you how much effort has been expended to make another doorstop of beauty. Even if you've only played the games once or twice, this is the sort of thing to make you look on the Xbox store to see how much it would cost to get kicked to death by Rugal again, just like the old days. I know I did.


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