Read Only Memory

Read Only Memory (ROM) is a new kind of book publishing company. Focusing on gaming they mix carefully curated content from icons of the games industry with a beautiful design philosophy, these are books that promise to be the definitive record of their subject matter. The first volume is to be Sensible Software 1986-1999, and will offer a look behind the scenes of one of the UK’s most influential software houses.

Told you it would look good.

Why am I talking about ROM? Well, I have been following it for a long time now, perhaps even from its inception. It’s designer and creator is Darren Wall, a close friend, co-presenter to the old DoFuss Podcast and designer of the site’s logo. Since he first started talking about the book, his passion for the project has been clear. Back then it was conceptual, but the ethos of it was simple and held true, to create the book that he would want own and share.

Since he began his career in design he has been heavily influenced by games and his love of Japan. Frequently when he visited me in Osaka his first stop was to the electronics district to look at the various ‘mooks’ they had on sale. These ‘m’agazine b’ooks’ ascribed some similar values to those he is bringing to ROM, but their cheaper production values and their focus on the end product was something he wanted to develop. His goal was to design a book to include the entirety of a game and company’s life, from conception to final product.

While in its early stages a number of topics were thrown around for the first book, but it was a chance meeting with John Hare that really gave Darren the opportunity to make the first ROM, the book HE really wanted.

Sensible Soccer, Norwich vs. Ipswich (because Norwich is Jon Hare’s team).

I can with some certainty assume that if you are on this site you have probably been playing games for a good chunk of your life. As such there will no doubt be a few titles that have a fond place in your memory, that stand above others for more than just the quality of the game, but because of the emotions attached to it. For me it would be the Star Wars arcade game because it was one of the few games I played where, because it was in an arcade and something of a spectacle, my dad was there watching me play.

Sensible Soccer occupies a similar position in Darren’s life. While we both loved Sensible Software’s games, with their fantastic game mechanics and distinct style, it meant more to him. Partially this was due to his already focused direction in his life: even at twelve Darren was angling his interests towards his future career with a keen sense of design. But similar to me, part of his love of Sensible Soccer came from what it meant to him and his dad.

It is uncommon at the age of twelve to find yourself sitting with your best friend and his dad in front of an Amiga. Two joysticks being passed between you as you take it in turns control the tiny sprites of a Sensible game as they run around the massive pitch. Sensible Soccer was the only game this happened with, and the time the father and son duo had spent playing it together was clear. Whichever of the two I played I was easily out-classed, but that was okay, because the clear joy both expressed as they played each other was clear.

The beautiful Sensible Soccer sprites, worth the price of admission alone.

Now, nearly 20 years on, ROM once again brings Darren and his dad together. Graphic design can be a difficult career for some to understand (like that of a game journalist) – hell, sometimes even I am not 100% sure on every aspect of Darren’s job. ROM however is a tangible example of not only what he does but also where it comes from. Sensible Software 1986–1999, is a book that Darren not only wanted for himself but also, perhaps unknowingly, for his dad.

I can’t wait for my Kickstart pledge to turn into a copy of the first ROM publication, and I am excited to see what piece of gaming history Darren will choose to distil into book form next. While a must for all fans of Sensible Software this first ROM publication’s stunning graphic design is sure to extend the book’s appeal to a broader audience. For Darren though it is far more than that, it is the book he wanted to make, the way he wanted to make it, for himself and his dad.


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