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16/11/2023

FROM ANTS TO ZOMBIES: SIX DECADES OF VIDEO GAME HORROR Book Review "The Gaming Necronomicon" 🧛‍♂️ @BitmapBooks #Retrogaming

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Sam Dyer – the brain behind Bitmap Books – is someone that I imagine laughing wildly in a vast, ever-growing library somewhere, surrounded by mad monks engrossed in ever-more-perfect drafts of upcoming books through which they will eventually devour the gaming world. Each time I read a book by the publisher, it always feel definitive and individually voiced. I’ve commented before on how each release doesn’t feel like a run-through of the topic at hand, moving from genre-to-genre with a  vanilla, ‘one-size-fits-all’ sensibility. From the all-encompassing JRPG book to the laser-focused CRPG tome – and the surprisingly moving release on Gremlin Graphics – these books really do each have their own approach and style. 

From the moment that I caught wind of From Ants to Zombies, the fact that it was covering video game horror – a genre incredibly dear to me – I was desperate to discover what approach this book would take - and as it turns out, it’s possibly the boldest move by Bitmap Books yet, and one that absolutely lives up to the lofty heights that author Alexander Chatziioannou sets out in the first few pages.

Before we delve into those opening words, lets take a look at the cover and artwork, similar in size to The Games That Weren’t, From Ants to Zombies features disembodied, gloved hands throttling a blood-red, PS-style controller as various gaming horror characters and icons flock towards our intrepid gamer. From Dracula, and Resident Evil’s ‘lickers’ through dinosaurs, zombies and murderers,  the cover is like a character selection screen from hell – and in a cool twist, the title of the book glows in the dark! Flipping over to the back of the book, the deep black background continues, and what we have here is a synopsis that lays out the knowledge that the books intends to impart to you, dear reader – over six decades of video game horror. Good.


As mentioned above, Alexander Chatziioannou’s opening words almost had me concerned in terms of how the introduction was worded. This wasn’t a ‘deep dive into a video game genre’, Chatziioannou writes about the fundamentals of horror itself, in bold and almost ostentatious lines, he talks of the interpretations of, and the rich history of horror. It was goosebump-raising stuff, but I genuinely became concerned that the rest of the book wouldn’t be able to hold up to this incredibly rousing opening chapter. Luckily – and wonderfully – my concerns were unwarranted. What followed throughout the next 650+ pages were the musings and incredibly well-verbalised, and well-researched statements of a man who really knows his stuff. 

From Ants to Zombies is laid out through several chapters, each covering a sub genre of horror, beginning with space horror and haunted mansions, you’ll soon be diving into chapters covering dark forests and wayward children, via universal monsters and relentless pursuers - to name but a few!


The layout throughout remains familiar, but I felt there was enough variety to keep things feeling fresh. Whilst there’s naturally a dark / black background to most of the pages, I enjoyed how more visual titles received larger illustrations, whereas games with more complexity / depth to them instead focused more on descriptive text as the visuals took a backstep.


It was a nice touch to have that flexibility to hone in on the key aspects of the game in question– be it the audio or the visuals – that kept the pages from feeling staid and uniform.

What really grabbed me though, was how the author managed to make me re-assess my own thoughts and interpretations of certain franchises and games, as well as continually writing in a way that had me reaching for my phone, keen to get on YouTube and see said game in action, so as to have a fuller understanding for the reasons as to its inclusion here, in the gaming Necronomicon.


So rich and exciting is the text that at one point I read out loud a certain passage to my fiancée (herself a keen collector of video games, as well as being a lover of horror) and, after her exclamations of “Wow, that game sounds really cool, we have to play that!”, I unveiled that the passage in question related to Octopus…

A NINTENDO GAME AND WATCH TITLE! 

SUMMARY

This is a beautifully presented book that had me coming back with every spare moment I had, reading it at night with a glass of wine, as my child slept and the wind and rain whipped outside, I genuinely had some of the most perfect evenings of the year.


This is a book that begs to be inhaled, and won’t just have you nostalgically sighing at the games you played, it’ll make you scour the internet – and YouTube Long-plays – for those games that are brought so vividly to life within the pages.

PURCHASE LINK:

From Ants to Zombies: Six Decades of Video Game Horror | Bitmap Books


From the Bitmap Books website:


Scary games may have entered the mainstream with the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill in the PlayStation era but interactive entertainment has always been drawn to its darker side. From Ants to Zombies is a showcase for the remarkable range horror gaming has achieved, across six decades, from the 1970s to the 2020s, and over 70 hardware platforms, from the ZX Spectrum to the Xbox Series X.


More than 130 horror titles are analysed and contextualised across thirteen thematically-divided chapters, covering a variety of genres (from rail shooters to open-world RPGs), settings (from haunted mansions to infested space stations) and shades of fear (from creeping existential dread to stomach-churning outbursts of violence). The discussion is enlivened by exclusive commentary from pioneering horror developers such as Keiichiro Toyama (Silent Hill), Jane Jensen (Gabriel Knight), Ken Levine (System Shock 2), Sandy White (Ant Attack), David Riordan (It Came from the Desert), Paul Norman (Forbidden Forest), Graeme Devine (The 7th Guest), and many more.


Spanning 600+ beautifully-illustrated pages, From Ants to Zombies offers an opportunity to revisit venerated classics and discover unfairly overlooked gems, tapping into the inexhaustible riches of six decades of video game horror.


From Ants to Zombies comes as a hardback, with a unique glow-in-the-dark logo and text. As with all our publications, we print lithographically on high-quality paper to showcase the gorgeous visuals as the games deserve. We also use thread sewn binding for extra durability and the ability to lay the book open flat. The cover features a specially created artwork by artist Vasilis Zikos.


Includes contributions from:

Adam Birch, Airdorf, Anna Anne Anthropy, Ben Cocuzza, Bob Johnson, Bryan Eggers, Charlie Cleveland, Clem Chambers, Danielle Dorsey, Dave Lebling, Dave Lloyd, David Riordan, DontFightDucks, F.J. Lennon, Graeme Devine, Graham Reznick, Ivan Zanotti, Jane Jensen, Jasper Byrne, Jeff Tunnell, Julien Névo, Keiichiro Toyama, Ken Levine, Kitty Horrorshow, Larry Fessenden, Laura Hunt, Lode Coen, Lynda Cowles, László Szenttornyai, Malcolm Evans, Michael Lutz, Mike Richardson, Octavi Navarro, Paul Norman, Robb Sherwin, Sandy White, Scott Adams, Ted Hentschke, Thomas Möhring, Tim Cowles, Tim Keenan, Trevor Storey, William McDonald and Wright Bagwell.

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