THE ROAD TO VIDEOGAME HISTORY – Part 5

I don’t know exactly when I decided to begin a third edition of Phoenix. The second edition had three more chapters than the first and perhaps I wanted to do the same for the third. So I researched and wrote three new chapters, 1997-1999. The year 2000 was probably over by the time I completed the other three, so it would only have been natural for me to write a chapter on that year as well to make the book as current as possible.

Once the writing was completed, I needed to take the photos of the stuff in the new chapters. And I also had newly acquired hardware of some of the stuff from the older chapters so I wanted to update those photos as well. But while the Grabit unit had done its job and allowed me to get photos into the second edition of the book, I wanted to take real pictures for the new one instead of using slices of video. The prices of digital cameras had fallen but they were still too expensive for me. And then my friend Keita Iida suggested an inexpensive digital camera that was available. Sony had originally released its Mavica MVC-FD5, the first digital camera to use a floppy disk for storage, in 1997. At that time the camera retailed for $600. However, by 2000 Sony had released better models and the price of the original one had plummeted to about $100. And although the picture quality wasn’t much better than what I had from the Grabit unit, it was a lot easier to work with. Besides, I knew very little about picture resolution.

Sony Mavica MVC-FD5

I would have liked the photos to have been in color but that just wasn’t possible at the time. However, since covers can be in color, I decided to put five photos on it. I admit, visually it wasn’t the most stimulating cover, but it was a step up from the first edition’s.

But I had a brilliant idea to make the interior black & white photos clearer. I decided to release the book with the dimensions of 8.5” x 11” instead of the 5.5” x 8.5” size that the two prior editions came in. I reasoned that with the larger size, the book would have larger, more vibrant photos. Or so I thought.

I had an ongoing friendship with Ralph Baer, the inventor of the videogame console, for about for over a year. And Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) had published my article about him at the end of 2000, which he especially enjoyed. So I decided to ask him to write a Foreword and he eagerly agreed.

I decided once again to have my company, Rolenta Press, publish this book because I enjoyed having full control. I knew it wouldn’t get into bookstores but the prior two editions had done well on their own so I figured this one would do just as well. And at $25 it was only $5 more than the second edition which wasn’t bad for a book that had four additional chapters and a jumbo size.

I used a company called Wordpro to produce the books. I suppose I hadn’t gone with Morris Publishing a third time because they probably didn’t make books in the dimensions that I wanted. But when the thousand books arrived in July, 2001, they looked good. Between July 3 and July 5, 2001, I shipped 131 preorders.

It didn’t take long for me to discover the problems with this new edition. It was such an awkward size to carry around. And when I went to shows such as Classic Gaming Expo (CGE), they took up a lot of room and were expensive to ship. But even worst was the quality of its cover which I’m pretty sure Wordpro used tissue paper. The covers began curling. Regardless of these problems, I sold out of this edition sometime in 2005. At that time I began planning a fourth edition.

I was busy in 2005. I published three books: Ralph Baer’s Videogames: In the Beginning, Bill Kunkel’s Confessions of the Game Doctor, and the second edition of my own ABC to the VCS, which had become a true soft cover book with screen shots of nearly every game available for the Atari 2600. All three books sported covers by Michael Thomasson, who I had become acquainted with at CGE in 2001. I was so sure that I was going to get the new edition of Phoenix out that year that the back pages of Ralph’s and Bill’s books featured ads saying that itwas “coming soon”. But getting those three books out took up a lot of my time and I never even started researching the new chapters beginning with 2001.

Michael Thomasson, in addition to being a graphic designer and online videogame retailer, was also an adjunct professor at Canisius College in Buffalo, and one of the courses that he taught was a history of videogames. My book was the textbook for his class. So in December, 2005 he notified me that the new semester was going to begin and he needed copies for his class to purchase. The problem was that I didn’t have any copies to sell him. Wordpro, who I had used for the first printing, probably had a large minimum quantity and since I was expecting to publish a fourth edition momentarily, it didn’t make sense for me to reprint copies through them. And besides, I didn’t like how the books had come out anyway.

Ad from the back of Confessions of the Game Doctor

For Ralph’s and Bill’s books, I had published galleys. A galley is a preliminary version of a book that’s used by authors and publishers to proofread the final formatted text before it goes to the final print. I found a company called Sterling-Piece that printed books in any quantity and I used them for the galleys. I was so happy with their work that the final versions of Confessions of the Game Doctor and ABC to the VCS were also printed by them. So what I did was have Sterling-Pierce print thirty copies of the third edition of Phoenix and I sent them to Michael. For some reason lost to the ages, these books had a generic text-only cover and not the fancy masterpiece of artwork that I had produced for the first printing. On the other hand the cover was a lot sturdier.

Michael requested more copies for his winter 2007 and winter 2008 classes so I provided him with the third and fourth printings of the book.

By this time I had begun working on my fourth edition but I realized in the fall of 2009 that the new edition wouldn’t be imminent. So in October, 2009 I had Sterling-Pierce produce a fifth printing consisting of sixty copies, which were exact reproductions of the first printing, including the original cover, but in a smaller 6” x 9” size. Four more printings were produced through March, 2012.

Sometime in 2009 I envisioned a cover featuring a large phoenix bird emerging from a pyre of old game systems and asked Michael if he could create that for the fourth edition. He did so with the assistance of Cory Golabek. However, in 2013 after it was decided that the illustration wouldn’t be used for the cover of the fourth edition, Michael asked me if it could grace the cover of the third edition if I went with another printing. I agreed and both the tenth and eleventh printings of the book featured this cover. The final printing of the third edition was printed in November, 2014, more than thirteen years after that edition was originally published. A note to collector’s: only 57 copies were printed in total for the final two printings, making it the rarest of any published edition or printing of Phoenix.

Four versions of Phoenix 3

By that time I was concentrating solely on the fourth edition. And I even had a contract with a “real” publishing company to get it out to the world.

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