Bitmap Books are known for their stunning books that not only celebrate video games, but act as a form of preservation for fans.
The Mirror sat down with Bitmap Books founder Sam Dyer to discuss everything from the creation of the publisher to what’s on the horizon.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself and the creation of Bitmap Books?
Sam: “I had been doing commercial graphic design for 15 years, and I was a little bored designing brochures or logos for companies that didn’t really interest me. In my spare time, I was a big fan of retro games, and as the hobby grew in popularity, a few books started to appear of varying quality.
“I thought, ‘I could do something like this, and chose to focus on my very first computer, the mighty Commodore 64! The idea of designing a book about something I was massively passionate about was a win-win for me – it was a way to merge my two biggest passions in design and gaming.
“When Bitmap Books started, I was actually still in a full-time job. It started as a hobby; an outlet for my creativity on evenings and weekends and a vehicle that allowed me to have a little fun with the things I liked.
“He organically became what he is today; I wouldn’t say it was accidental, as I purposely worked extremely hard to achieve my goals, but initially I never wanted to be a boutique editor.
“I had no experience in book publishing and had to learn on the job, but I think my background in business marketing and design really gave me a good foundation for running a business and knowing how to promote it successfully.
“Our first title was Commodore 64: A Visual Compendium. Because we didn’t have a ready made audience we opted to use crowdfunding, it had raised nearly £36,000 from just under 1,000 backers. This incredible initial success came as a surprise, and I had to quickly learn the dark arts of doing crowdfunding and managing backers!
Are there any gaming magazines that have influenced you and your work?
Sam: “I would say Commodore format. I was a bit late getting my Commodore 64 (1989), and at that time the legendary Zzap! 64 magazine was in decline. The perception was that the Commodore 64 was also on its way out, with 16-bit systems such as the Amiga and Mega Drive on the scene.
“Future Publishing and Steve Jarratt took a calculated risk by launching an all-new Commodore 64 magazine in 1992 – a truly brave move, considering the C64 was 10 years old at the time. As an 11-year-old child, I loved that there was a magazine dedicated to my computer – its design was a bit garish, but it was cool and fun and even came with a cover strip of games every month!
“I would say it was my first experience with graphic design, and that, coupled with my love of pixel art, set me on the path to creative arts.”
What are some of your favorite video game books?
Sam: “Because of my childhood obsession with Sensible Soccer, I would say Sensible Software 1986–1999.
“Not only are the various interviews and visual treatments excellent, but this was the first video game book I ever bought, and the moment I decided to make my own.”
What is the process of creating one of your books and how long does it take?
Sam: “I would say on average 12 to 18 months between the initial idea and the realization. Typically, once the idea is agreed upon, the next step is to play around with the look and feel and come up with designs for how everything might look.
“Once a set of design templates are in place, it would be a matter of bringing content together – the two main aspects here would be words and images. Images in our books are usually screenshots captured at using emulators.
“It can take time, as some games require long games to get the required variety. Fortunately, we work with a fantastic team that helps with screenshots (thanks Gonçalo!).
“Words usually come from one author, but books such as our visual compendium series are a selection of many small interviews and sound bites, so we would work with our trusted journalists to bring this content together.
“Once the words and images are ready, the book would then move into the design and illustration phase. This can take between 3 and 5 months, depending on the type of content. Once the design is in draft form, the entire book would go through an editor and then a proofreader.
“The final phase is getting everything ready for printing, making sure all the images have sufficient resolution and the colors are set to CMYK.
“Once this is complete, the book would leave for the printers, which would take approximately 3 months for the finished items to be delivered to our warehouse.”
What was your first book and how much did the process change as you became much more established?
Sam: “Our first book was called Commodore 64: Visual Compendium. Although in terms of size it was much smaller than our recent books, the process is largely the same.
“That’s where my graphic design career came in handy with Bitmap Books.
“The discipline of completing a project on time was something I was very used to.”
What has been the overall reception of your books and how do you feel?
Sam: “We are incredibly lucky to have such loyal and passionate customers. We regularly receive incredible feedback, which makes me incredibly proud. I make a conscious effort to read every review we receive.
How do you find third-party contributors such as writers, industry professionals, and illustrators to help bring the books together?
Sam: “The retro gaming community is a tight bunch and full of talented people. From writers to artists, over the years we have built great relationships with our contributors, with whom we continue to work again and again.
“We are also very fortunate to be approached regularly by potential contributors, which helps to renew our talent pool.”
Who is the most unique/famous contributor you have worked with and why?
Sam: “One of the biggest moments was when Tim Stamper of Ultimate/Rare fame agreed to contribute to our ZX Spectrum book.
“Tim is notorious for not being involved in projects like this, so it was incredible validation for what we were doing that he was willing to put his name behind some of the words in the book. It taught me a valuable lesson – “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Which classic video game has had the most profound effect on you and do you think any modern games have been as iconic?
Sam Dyer: “I wouldn’t say deep effect, but The Secret of Monkey Island is, and always will be, my favorite game. The storytelling, puzzle solving, humor and presentation are top notch and totally changed my perception of what a video game could be.
“I’m not alone, because Monkey Island games have touched many gamers. It’s hard to say if any modern games have had a similar effect – I guess we could answer that 30 years from now.
Since you spend a lot of time watching older games, do you think there is something that classic games have that the modern industry has lost?
Sam: “The main problem I see is that all modern games pretty much look the same. There are smaller differences in graphics and performance, but overall most modern systems all look the same.
“At the time, that wasn’t the case, and games were very different from system to system. This variation adds extra interest, because kids, it was always fun to play the same game at a friend’s house on a different system and see how it went.
You are clearly a fan of games, what game/genre would you personally like to do a book on and why?
Sam: “I would love to cover football video games in detail. Maybe one for the future…”
How involved are you in your community, suggesting/requesting book ideas?
Sam: “Yeah, all the time. I am an active member of the community and often receive book proposals. We can’t do them all, but I love hearing people’s ideas.
Are there any recent games from the past few years that you think would make a great book and why?
Sam: “I’m a big fan of Luigi’s Mansion. My son and I have played Luigi’s Mansion 3 several times and we love it. A book full of concept art and developer interviews should be amazing.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Sam: “Just to say thank you to all of our customers for their continued support over the years.”
You can buy the amazing books from the Bitmap Books website.