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10 defining moments from 10 years of Bitmap Books

10 defining moments from 10 years of Bitmap Books

It’s been ten remarkable years since the founding of Bitmap Books. To say it’s been an amazing decade feels every part an understatement.

We’ve published almost 30 books (not including things like Collector’s Edition variants), built an amazing global reader community, met and worked with game making legends and many of the world's best retro writers, won awards, and been lucky enough to be showered with praise from critics. We don’t like to blow our own trumpets too often, but as it’s our birthday, we thought we should celebrate our success with you.

Because it really is true that we couldn’t have done it without you, our readers. And yes, it is hard not to tumble into cliches like that when looking back. We’re also wondering where all the time has gone, coming over a little misty eyed, and feeling nostalgic; all the true cliches.

While we go and gather our emotions away in a quiet corner, we thought we’d leave you with 10 defining moments from Bitmap’s history, hand picked by our founder Sam Dyer, who‘s love of classic games, obsession with high-end book design, and hard working ethic founded everything the company has become.

In no particular order (apart from the first one, because that came first):

1. The Kickstarter that started it all

Bitmap Books all started with a crowdfunding campaign. Launching on April 1st (we know!) 2014, Sam’s first Kickstarter proposed much of what would become Bitmap’s publishing DNA. The campaign proposed a new look at a well covered machine: the Commodore 64. But the focus of Commodore 64: a visual Commpendium was to be visual, with meticulously reproduced art, cutting edge printing and production methods, and ornate design – all backed up, of course, by informed writing and expert interviews. The concept struck a chord with retro gamers, who eagerly pledged a total of £35,594, soaring past the £20,000 goal. This wasn’t only the start of Bitmap Books; our community was also born at that moment, validating Sam's idea for a new kind of retro game book.

2. Working with SNK

Few classic gaming companies court a reputation like that of SNK. The Japanese outfit is behind some of the most impressive retro hardware and software, with icons like Metal Slug and THE KING OF FIGHTERS, and the Bitmap team are huge fans. But we managed to hold it together when SNK granted us the licence to create NEOGEO: A Visual History, and then Metal Slug: The Ultimate History and THE KING OF FIGHTERS: The Ultimate History. SNK gave us access to their incredible materials vault, and let us interview some of their most talented staff. We love the resultant books, and working with SNK was profoundly rewarding.

3. Creating The Art Of The Box

The idea for The Art Of The Box had rattled around in Sam’s mind for years. A visually-led volume gathering the best game box art and interviews with the most influential cover artists was about as ‘Bitmap’ as a book could get. And yet it would be a tremendously ambitious process. Something of a personal project for Sam, The Art Of The Box eventually saw release in the summer of 2023. After so much hard work, the response from readers and press made it beyond worthwhile. There’s a lesson in The Art Of The Box’s creation too; if you’ve got an idea you can’t quite stop thinking about, have a go at making it a reality. We can’t tell you how good the results can feel.

4. Interviewing adventure game heroes

For the production of our book The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games, Sam himself got involved in the 50-plus interviews included, curating the list of expert contributors, and doing initial introductions that connected our writers with various genre luminaries. An adventure game fan from the early days, Sam spoke to game making icons including Dave Grossman, Charles Cecil, Jane Jensen, Éric Chahi, and Ron Gilbert. 'Meeting' your heroes in that way never gets tiresome, and was a true highlight of Bitmap's first decade. Want to learn more? Head over to the book’s store page to check all the adventure game icons we spoke to for the book.

5. 48 hours selling a JRPG guide

A book selling out is always a double-edged sword for a publisher. It’s great to see the popularity – and a shame not to see everybody get a copy. Still, when our book A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games sold out within 48 hours of release, it was a very special moment for Bitmap Books. It didn’t only validate the work and passion that went into that title; it gave us a chance to see how far we’ve come, and the reputation and trust we’ve built with our readers.

6. A generation on from visual compendiums

The visual compendiums series has been a backbone of Bitmap Books since that first Kickstarter. But that made it all the more exciting when we released not only our first title that was not part of the visual compendiums line, but also an English language edition of an international book. The title was Generation 64, and it told the fascinating story of the role of the Commodore 64 in inspiring a group of Swedish computing fans who would go on to become some of the most influential, important figures in the global game industry.

7. Pushing publishing creativity

At Bitmap we love going that little bit further, whether we’re creating lenticular slip cases, matching bookmark ribbons with game platform colour schemes, or even releasing a special edition of Metal Slug: The Ultimate History that came with a cover that let rip with sound effects from the games (sorry; that edition sold out long ago). Creating those things happens behind the scenes, with little fanfare in the moment. But pushing creativity in books is what Bitmap is about – and has spawned some of the most treasured moments in our ten-year history.

8. Commissioning the Stampers

Brothers Chris and Tim Stamper are some of the most influential figures in game development – especially in the UK. They founded Ultimate Play the Game in 1982, and then the mighty Rare three years later. Their contribution to gaming – and particularly an era now framed as a golden time for retro – is immense. So imagine our delight when they agreed to contribute to our book Sinclair ZX Spectrum: a visual compendium. To get the elusive Stampers on board? That was a really special moment for everyone involved in Bitmap Books.

9. Releasing an abandoned Amiga game – on floppy!

Putty Squad’s Amiga ‘release’ is rather infamous. In 1994 demo disks made it to players via magazine covermounts. The press raved about the game in numerous glowing reviews. The hype was real. The Putty sequel was done, and ready – and then never saw release on Amigas. Only SNES fans got a retail version, with MS-DOS and Mega Drive ports also canned. Then, as a Kickstarter perk for our 2014 campaign for Commodore Amiga: a visual compendium, we worked with original Putty Squad developers System 3 to finally release the game on floppy. Sam got to design the disk art, box art and more, sewing up a famed piece of game history, and tasting the thrill of 1990s game publishing.

10. Winning a D&AD award for co-designing official Royal Mail stamps

To be honest, just getting to be involved in designing Royal Mail stamps that celebrated UK video games would have made this list. Our work was eagerly collected by stamp fans and retro gamers alike, but also placed on letters and parcels across the UK. To become part of the fabric of everyday British cultural life like that was a true privilege. But then to win a DA&D award for the effort? The D&ADs are one of the world’s most recognised awards for design and advertising excellence. And we received one for our work. Experiences like that will stay with us forever.

So there they are. The moments we made, that made Bitmap Books what it is. We also got contributors, designers, photographers and retro game legends together for a celebratory party, which you can get a taste of here.

Thank you sincerely for being part of our journey, and we look forward to making many more decades of memories with you. 

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