Sunday, April 23, 2023

ABC To The VCS: A Directory of Software For the Atari 2600 by Leonard Herman - New Foreword By Brett Weiss


Introduction (a foreword to the foreword, if you will)

The Atari 2600, originally released as the Atari VCS, is one of the most important video game consoles of all time. Not only did it popularize home gaming, and not only did it make “Atari” synonymous with the word “videogame” for a decade (among countless other accolades), it was the first console to inspire a complete reference book for its library of games. Said book—ABC To The VCS: A Directory of Software for the Atari 2600—was written by my good friend and colleague Leonard Herman.

Herman’s titanic tome was a huge inspiration for me, and it was an historical first in an industry I love, so imagine my delight when he asked me to write the foreword for the new edition. It was a huge honor and one I’m extremely grateful for.

ABC to the VCS was out-of-print for years (too long, if you ask me), but now it’s available on Amazon for anyone who wants to grab a copy. If you want to read my foreword to the book, you can do so as I’ve reprinted it in its entirety below.

As always, thanks for reading! And thanks to Leonard Herman for the honor! 


ABC To The VCS: A Directory of Software for the Atari 2600

The reference volume you are holding in your hands is nothing less than historic.

When the groundbreaking first edition of ABC to the VCS was originally published way back in 1996, it was the first book of its type: a complete guide to a videogame console—the Atari 2600, of course—with a write-up for every game for the system. To my knowledge, no one had attempted such a herculean task up until that point, and certainly no one had followed through.

The book is also historic in nature because it was written by Leonard Herman, rightly dubbed The Father of Videogame History. “Lenny” earned this moniker with the 1994 publication of Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames, the first lengthy and serious history on the topic. (I was the fourth person to purchase a copy of the original Phoenix from Lenny, but that’s a story for another day.)

During this same time period—the mid-1990s—I was working on a book of reviews of Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games, but I couldn’t find a publisher. That’s because retro videogame books—and videogame books in general—were barely a thing during this era (with the notable exception of tips/tricks books and strategy guides). Sure, there were a few titles here and there, but nothing like today, where several publishers, including McFarland and Schiffer, have entire lines devoted to retro gaming books. There are even publishers, such as Bitmap Books, who publish almost nothing but books in this category.

Lenny couldn’t find a publisher for his books either, but, to his credit, he forged ahead and self-published them, which was a much harder, much more complex task back in the ’90s before the days of such convenient services as Lulu and Amazon Createspace. Further, before the internet really took off during the late ’90s, it was much more difficult to do research. Remember the days of calling up the local library’s reference desk to get information about various topics? Remember studying old magazines and newspapers via clunky microfiche machines? I’m sure Lenny remembers!

 Regarding ABC to the VCS specifically, Lenny wrote it years before you could hop online and find instruction manuals (HTML and PDF) for every Atari 2600 game. It’s true that many games for the console are of the pick-up-and-play variety, but some are basically incoherent without the manual, and many are more fun, more playable, and easier to write about when you know all the intricacies detailed in the manuals, such as the storylines, gameplay variations, and the like. Lenny also wrote the book before you could play the games emulated on other devices. In short, it was much more difficult to research for and write such a book back then than it is now.

Without ABC to the VCS and Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames (which is now in its fourth edition as Phoenix IV: The History of the Videogame Industry), my own Classic Home Video Games books series might not exist.

During the late ’90s and early 2000s, I wrote for the All Game Guide, a late, lamented website devoted to cataloging, describing, and reviewing every game for every console and computer. The company was working on a book series as well, which I was up to my elbows in cartridges helping write. When the books were cancelled, it gave me the idea to do the project on my own, and ABC to the VCS gave me the confidence to tackle entire console libraries by myself. “If Lenny could do it, then maybe I could do it,” I surmised. Thus, in 2007, my first book, Classic Home Video Games: 1972-1984, was published.

In ABC to the VCS, which I had been badgering Lenny to reprint for years (thank you for finally doing so, Lenny!), you’ll find objective, no-nonsense summaries of more than 700 games. Lenny writes clearly, concisely, and without pretension, which betrays his former vocation as a technical writer. This isn’t a book of reviews. Lenny has said something to the effect of, “Who am I to say if these games are any good or not—why should my opinion matter more than anyone else’s?” He wants people to explore the games and form their own opinions, and ABC to the VCS is an excellent reference guide pointing players to the Atari 2600 titles they may find interesting or entertaining. It’s also a useful book for tracking your collection and keeping the memories of these games alive.

I’ve known Leonard Herman for 20 years. I met him back in 2003 at the first Classic Gaming Expo I attended, and I made it a point to shake his hand. We’ve been friends ever since, sharing a booth and panel at Too Many Games, traveling together, hanging out at Corgs, PRGE, and other gaming expos, corresponding online, and in general having a good time. He even wrote the foreword to my third Classic Home Video Games book!

 There are several authors today writing complete guides to various videogame consoles, but Lenny beat us all to the punch and did something historic in the process.

 There’s that word again. “Historic.”

 There’s a reason Leonard Herman is called The Father of Videogame History.

 And I’m proud to call him a friend and colleague.

 ~ Brett Weiss


Brett Weiss has been a gamer since 1975 and a professional gaming writer since 1997. He’s the author of 13 books, including The NES Omnibus Vol. 1-2, The SNES Omnibus Vol. 1-2, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987, and his latest, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988-1998. With his Classic Home Video Games series, he wrote the world’s first complete guides to numerous video game consoles, including the Atari 5200, Atari 7800, ColecoVision, Intellivision, Vectrex, Odyssey2, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, Neo Geo, TurboGrafx-16, and Sega Genesis. He also wrote the world’s first and only encyclopedia about the rock band KISS. He’s had articles published in countless magazines and newspapers, including Game Informer, Old School Gamer, Filmfax, Fangoria, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, to name just a few. When not writing, he uploads videos to YouTube for his Tales from a Retro Gamer show.

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