Thursday, October 19, 2006

Leopold McGinnis: Game Quest

Reviewed by Tom Hendricks, Musea Review Service

As noted above, Tom and Leopold are both ULA members. Tom prides himself on honest reviews, no matter whether he knows the writer or not. I know Leopold, but don't know Tom--do you care? However, I have read Game Quest and thought it an insightful, funny and penetrating look into a critical point in computer gaming--no one else has written a novel about this subject. Buy it!

What is it? 500 Page Novel on a Computer Game Company. Technical Quality: Above average. The oversized paperback book is well made and well designed. Innovative Quality: Above average. Its subject matter, a computer game company, will be new to most readers. McGinnis seems to know the industry well and gives a wide coverage of most aspects of a start up computer company, named Madre, that becomes almost too successful.

Note the computer style extras: fake logo's for Madre and Che's Coffee revolution, and illustrations in that digital pixel style for both the cover , showing the Madre founder's family, and the illustrations at the end of each chapter.

Review: First novel by Canadian author Leopold McGinnis shows insight and scope in all things related to computer gaming. Main characters Will and Kendra Roberts have started Madre, a computer games company that has helped pioneer the field and made some of the best games anywhere. Their success leads to expansion and unwanted notice by big business corporate raiders, Melfina Enterprises, who just might upset all the good work the Madre team has done.

McGinnis shows us all aspects of a computer game start up company from the annual bar-be-que to the company cappuccino machine, and this reader felt that he must have both worked in the industry, and studied it on his off hours to know all these details.

We see the company from not only the point of view of the bosses, the couple that started it, Will and Kendra, but from Bill, Art, Geof , Tim, and Henry , long time employees; plus new hires, Kathy, and Tom Newman; and even the comical 'cool advisor', Tray Cool. Then too outside the business there's a subplot of charcters that includes the Robert's teen daughter Heather and her online friend Carol.

McGinnis seems to get into the heart of all his characters that range from teen girls to company presidents. The reader sees real insight and personality in the characters here. I had some quibbles with the lack of descriptions of some of the characters. For instance the middle aged Kendra is a main character but I still don't know if she was fat or thin, the color of her hair, tall or short, etc. I would have liked to have had more visual clues here.

The story is vast, and takes time for some side track events and sidetrack issues, that I enjoyed reading about. This kind of thing gives depth and breadth to a story and makes or breaks a novel.

There is the indie coffee shop Naughte Latte that fights takeover by the pushy conglomerate Che's Coffee Revolution. There is the attack on using interns as a way to get cheap labor. There is stock manipulation, and corporate raiders that see dollar signs in their eyes and nothing else.

There is the online world of game players with its own sense of community. There's a computer convention in Las Vegas, and a Hawaiian vacation. And there's the day to day running of a small California company. The story is engaging, and very readable. McGinnis easily switches from character group to character group. It is a well drawn world that any reader can relate to, with contemporary concerns and present day issues.

It's a David versus Goliath business struggle in computer gaming. McGinnis covers the small company side well, but only hints at the motivations of the behemoth on the other side - most clearly in an after the fact interview of Newman. Yet I wonder what motivated that side too. I can't fathom how they could be so cold and calculating. But to do that justice he'd probably have to write a second volume! As it is, McGinnis leaves us wondering, and concerned about corporate abuse of power and how it upsets lives.

Overall it's a fine achievement and a vast coverage of places ideas and people seldom seen in a first novel or for that matter most novelists' mature work.

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