Monday 29 November 2021

A Gremlin in the Work Review

Recently, we looked at The Secret History of Mac Gaming which was a passion project dedicated to an often overlooked section of gaming history. A Gremlin in the Works follows hot on its heels and again falls very much into the passion project category. This time Mark James Hardisty has untaken the mammoth task of compiling over five hundred pages on one of the corner stones of the British gaming scene – Gremlin Graphics.

As always with Bitmap productions great attention is always spent on the covers. This one comes with a bright green cover adorned with the Gremlin logo that will be familiar to gamers of a certain age. It’s another example of a well-judged design intended to fire up nostalgic memories.

The content of the book is almost exclusively interviews with the key figures of the company and games. As a result it can be a little hard to get into. We would have ideally liked more of a mix of commentary on the games, historical writing and interviews but at least you know everything you are reading is coming first hand from the source. Think of it as a massively extended section of the team interviews you used to get in gaming mags of the time. It is a bit of a shame though when it comes to the games themselves as we would have loved even more screenshots and more context with regards to how the games have aged and the influence they have had – outside of the interviews about them.

But there’s no arguing that the interviews here are extensive, insightful and entertaining. The book presents first-hand accounts right from the start of the company as a computer shop all the way up to the much later Sumo Digital days. All of the major game releases are also well covered with insightful and interesting input from developers and programmers who worked on them. If you’ve ever wanted the inside scoop on ‘Thing on a Spring’ or even ‘Actua Soccer’ then look no further.

The other thing that really stands out is the connection Gremlin had to other historical events that where happening at the time. As the shop and company where based in Sheffield there’s some interesting commentary on the environment around the place during touchstone moments such as the miners strikes and the fact that this turn of events led to Monty Mole becoming a miner himself and Scargill being set up as the last boss of the game.

Overall, A Gremlin in the Works is a well-researched and detailed account of one of the most iconic companies in the micro-computer era told by those who were there. While it may not be as instantly accessible as the visual compendiums and box art table books it will be of interest to those who want to dig into the fine detail of gaming history. It’s commendable that someone has put this much effort into recording such an important time in the industry and as such it should be respected and recognised as the important document it is.

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*picture from Bitmap Books.

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