The Evolution of Hagen’s Alley Books – A Retrospective

For the past 20 or so years I have been writing about video games as a passionate hobby. A couple years back my hobby book project, to have a really cool coffee table collector’s book with quick minimalist write-ups for each game, caught steam and was supported by thousands of people all over the world. I went from print-on-demand to self-publishing with a local printing company overnight and thus my learning process had begun. Here are a few of the trials and tribulations that I’ve went through. Definitely feel free to chime in and comment on whatever you’d like, as I’m always looking to better myself as a creator.

First off, I want to state that I support everyone doing any type of content creation. It doesn’t matter if you have released books or do a channel on YouTube, I really respect the passion and drive that everyone has when creating things that they love. So when people ask me at conventions if I’m “upset about a certain NES guide book?”, I always respond with, “Of course not!”. Every project requires tons and tons of hours and the passion and coordination, that is needed to do something like that, I feel cannot be understated. To me everything is all a part of history and that’s the overall goal for me now; to contribute my piece to document our history with video games in a physical form.

Now keep in mind, my books will always be a niche thing. I’m 100% not going to do what others have already done. This is why I do minimalist write-ups on games and try to streamline everything. I know there will always be people who get my books with the expectation of something else, however for those of you who know what I’m all about, you realize right from the get go that I’m going to always tread my own path. That being said, I’m always looking to evolve what I’m doing to make things even better!

Progression of Content

My first book, Hidden Treasures (not my idea for a great title but that’s a story for another time), was a way for me to save a lot of the content from the now-defunct vgMastersClub website, which was lost when that website went away, and also write thoroughly about some of the games that I thought were hidden gaming gems. I formatted things in an old school style, which I really enjoyed doing.

The Complete NES, however, was simply created because I hated using my phone to try to keep track of my collection when looking at games in the wild. So I wanted not only a cool coffee table book with full color to show off the boxes and screenshots, but I also wanted a pocket guide to take around to conventions to check off games on the fly. This was always to only be Licensed NES games, as that is what I was collecting at the time, but I did have the idea to do more eventually. However this project exploded!

When everyone wanted me to do a SNES book for my next project, I wanted to also cover things that I had planned to expand to my original NES book to in the future; including things like PAL Exclusives, Homebrew, etc. Also, as I worked on the Culture Chronicles series of books, I realized that a lot of you had awesome personal stories to share, so I began doing a second style of books focusing on artistic layouts and those stories. So my books have two distinct styles now, and as I have more books released I hope it will be easier to keep track of for everyone.

As time goes on, I plan on expanding my older releases with added content to make “Definitive Editions” of the books. I will cover this in the Progression of Quality section, as to why the updated editions are necessary, but I want to state here that anyone who has previously supported a book will get the opportunity to buy the “Definitive Edition” at a decent discount. I am trying to figure out the best way to be able to do it within the limitations that Kickstarter has, but for now it looks like either doing a manual refund of the discount post-campaign is the most secure way.

The first “Definitive Edition” will be The Complete SNES, which I plan to take to Kickstarter late this year after all the current books have been shipped out to everyone. I am not only upgrading the quality, but also adding in Super Famicom games; meaning this will be over 600 pages when all is said and done. The Complete Genesis, which is slated for a campaign next year, will then be the first book that I hit with all of these comprehensive aspects right from the get go!

My Writing / Formatting Style

My minimalist writing style, in the collector books, has been something that a couple people have critiqued in reviews. It seems like they are the ones the most passionate about wanting comprehensive content as they take the time to post the critiques, however there has been an overflow of positive responses that greatly counteract any negativity. I definitely take every review and comment that I read as a way to grow my books. I like to turn everything into a learning experience. Of course I don’t like when people are attacking me personally, which some reviews have done, but I also don’t expect everyone to enjoy everything I do as we all have different tastes. I’ll do my best to ignore the blatant negativity for sure, but I’m only human like everyone else. Again, my books are niche and even I need to remember this!

(On a side note: If you would please also take a few seconds and post reviews on my books on Amazon, that would be a huge help! 5-Star Ratings drive the search engines there and could even get my books in physical Amazon stores, however any and all feedback is appreciated regardless.)

Now that being said, with The Complete NES I did steer a lot of the more popular game write-ups to be a “back of the box” style that was mostly pulled from the actual NES boxes themselves. That is something that a lot of people didn’t like and I avoided that going forward with The Complete SNES. However, what I’d like to touch upon is the mentality of a minimalist style; which I shoot for with my collector’s books.

The idea behind writing a very short synopsis on each game was to not only allow me to keep the page count from reaching the thousands, or sacrificing readability by having tiny text sizes, but also allow me to keep everything streamlined and geared towards collecting; and most importantly nostalgia. As anyone who has contributed to my collector’s books can tell you, it is also not easy to write 3-4 sentences to cover a game. I enjoy that challenging aspect of the format, but that also means that not every game is going to get the comprehensive focus that it deserves due to its impact on history. Fortunately that can be easily covered in the Compendium series of books.

With the collector’s books I’m looking for comprehensiveness, not having some kind of unique formatting with each and every page; as that’s what the other series are for! What I’m looking to do is give everything an old school feel, focusing on the game boxes, screenshots and write-ups. That way not only are these books a place for you to track your collection, but there is also space on each page for you to jot down any notes you’d like as well. To me writing in manuals was a classic thing and these books can be completely customized to the reader’s liking, which allows anyone to create a brand new kind of nostalgia. I also have options for those of you who don’t like writing in your books as well!

Progression of Quality

The quality aspect is an very minor issue that I’ve had since my first books, as the printing company that I went with slightly messed up the spine alignment with the original Complete NES books. They fixed the issue, but with future book releases I would continually have issues with the company; including tons of inconsistencies and not offering other standard options to add a little extra to my books. The final straw was with both SNES books I paid to make sure the book pages were “high gloss”. As anyone who has seen those books can attest, not only are they not glossy, but they also have a very strong ink smell to them. Sending these to the bindery for the leather-bound tomes, that company, which has been around since the late 1800’s, also told me how their binding was also substandard. Thus I had to make a decision. Now these books are still amazing, but they are just not up to my own personal quality standard; thus I made a change!

Starting with the NES Oddities books, I am now using a new printing company. And while the turnaround time is a little bit longer when a book is finished, the quality is 1000% better! I think everyone will see a noticeable upgrade on every front. Not only is the binding excellent, with high glossy pages, but there are also little extra options that they allowed me to add; such as bookmark ribbons and having images on the end sheets. Whatever extra options are available, I will always go with them as I want things to be the best quality possible! This is something where I wish I knew what I do now with my first project, but alas I am always continually evolving what I do.

On the other side of things, image quality of game art is a really tough one for me as it requires hard decisions to be made. Do I have the books be comprehensive or remove games to avoid slightly blurry imagery? I have seen a few critics complain about “lots of blurry images”. While these comments do have some merit to them, I know for a fact that there are only a select few images that were unavoidable. To me they are blowing way out of proportion in the grand scheme of 500 page books and if they really understood collecting they would realize that some of the rarer games don’t have images at all! Maybe some critics are missing the point of the books entirely, or they are just looking for faults, however let me explain.

I’m covering EVERYTHING released for whatever the topic system of the book may be. So if something is very rare, and it isn’t something where I can locate someone who owns a copy, there may be only one single image in existence. In a few cases that image isn’t up to the quality standards of the rest in the book. However instead of not including it because it’s slightly blurry, I instead made the decision to have a more comprehensive offering and just obtain the best possible image I can, through whatever means necessary. That being said, with subsequent releases, I will attempt to mitigate or fix any blurry images that I can, but I also won’t be removing any content. It’s definitely a tough decision to make, but my OCD nature always wins out in the end. Fortunately with subsequent releases, the glossy pages bring about a much better image quality increase as well, so hopefully people’s critiques are mitigated with future releases. The bottom line is that I will 100% lean towards covering as much as possible instead of just “what can be found”.

Final Thoughts

First and foremost, these books have and always will be a passion project of mine. When I say these books are a community project for everyone supporting it, I mean it. It’s why I take all criticism to heart. On the other side of things, I truly appreciate all the positive feedback and suggestions that everyone has given me. I urge each and every one of you to let me know your thoughts, regardless as I’m always looking to improve things.

My goal is to keep raising the bar each and every time I release anything. My goal is to improve every aspect of the process as things go along. I seriously appreciate each and every one of you that has supported me throughout the years and I will continue to strive to create and release the best books possible!

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