Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stay Awhile and Listen: Book 1 - Review

David Craddock is a gamer: inquisitive, tenacious, and uncomfortable leaving a game unfinished. A lack of closure has a profound effect on the gaming breed of cat, which is what drives us to keep making corpse runs, and playing until all hours of the morning -- just for a chance at slaying a demon. To our benefit, Craddock has channeled this gamer mentality into a new series of books titled Stay Awhile and Listen, chronicling the mysteries behind one of the greatest computer games of all time, Diablo. I recently got the opportunity to dive into Book 1 in the series, and discovered it to be as addictive as the seminal subject matter on which it was written.

A wizard battles the dark lord Diablo,
released to the gaming public in 1997
by Blizzard Entertainment
This genre of techno biography continues to grow in popularity as many of us in our late thirties and early forties, who grew up with a tangled mess of Sega Genesis controllers and a 486 DX2 (with math co-processor), wax nostalgic for the games we grew up on. As a gamer and a programmer, the stories behind my most beloved games is something I've always been curious about. I'm happy to report that, after having read Book 1, Craddock has delivered a heavily researched, well-documented account from both sides of the fence. In this first book, the stories of Condor, Inc. and Silicon and Synapse begin to unfold before us like a freshly opened quest log, detailing the early years of two companies that are passionate about making video games. Extensive interviews and quotes from members of various companies tell the tale that will eventually transform them into Blizzard North and Blizzard Entertainment (respectively). It is a melding of gaming minds that goes on to unleash Diablo on to the unsuspecting public, giving gamers a new reason to live and increasing cases of carpal tunnel syndrome around the globe.

Readers that pick up a copy of this book will be treated to a unique perspective in storytelling. The book itself contains a literal set of 'side quests': fun side-bars that allow the reader to jump away temporarily in a style reminiscent to Choose Your Own Adventure books. These side quests offer up additional juicy nuggets of information. Some topics include the creation of Kali (one of the first and only tools enabling online play in those days), alternate sides to gaming history from names like Brian Fargo and Feargus Urquhart (of Interplay fame), and even an inside look into the creation of WarCraft. Ultimately, however, the book's core remains focused primarily on Condor, Inc., founded by Dave Brevik, and Max and Erich Schaefer. Readers follow this team in their quest to go from piddly side-projects and contract work, to ultimately delivering a game that is entirely their own creation. For gamers that also possess a love of technology and a passion for computers and programming, the book works double-duty -- not only recounting the stories of inspiring late-night gaming sessions, but of the struggles of day-to-day developments tasks. For the professional software developer, it reinforces what we experience daily and can relate to; for others, it provides insight and perspective into an industry that can be as mysterious as the catacombs below Tristram.

Among the Damned: Author David L. Craddock
(2nd from left) poses with David Brevik (left), Erich
Schaefer (2nd from right), and Max Schaefer
In one of the 'side quests' lurks a quotation left by an interviewee. He summarizes the differences in multiplayer architecture between WarCarft and Diablo, stating, "So there are two versions of the truth"; this quote speaks to much more than just network topology. As is the case even with corporations outside the realm of the game industry, heads bonk, tempers flare, and accounts vary as to how stories truly unfolded. Craddock shows both sides of these stories whenever possible, delivering a fair, objective and honest retelling. It's a refreshing perspective to be given, especially amid an industry surrounded by fan-boys and trolls alike. Book 1 helps bring clarity around events the public can only speculate on.

Stay Awhile and Listen: Book 1 was an absolute blast to read, and I am thankful for the great pains the author went to in delivering this first text in his series. If you spent any more than five minutes of your life clicking on demons and watching them explode into a mess of bloody guts, pick up a copy of this book when it is released on October 31st, and then drop what you are doing and consume it.

The carpal tunnel can wait.

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You can purchase the book directly from these links: Kindle | iBook | Nook | Google Play

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