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I Am Error: The Nintendo Family Computer / Entertainment System Platform

(Platform Studies)

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  144 ratings  ·  23 reviews
The complex material histories of the Nintendo Entertainment System platform, from code to silicon, focusing on its technical constraints and its expressive affordances. In the 1987 Nintendo Entertainment System videogame Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, a character famously declared: I AM ERROR. Puzzled players assumed that this cryptic mesage was a programming flaw, but ...more
Hardcover, 440 pages
Published May 1st 2015 by MIT Press
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Bob Mackey
Jul 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Most books on video games end up disappointing me. Outside of small and vanity press labors of love, too many of them simply regurgitate well-known facts for the sake of a breezy, accessible history. Of course, coming from MIT Press, my hopes were much higher for I Am Error, and Nathan Alice's work definitely left me impressed. Its biggest value can be found in its specificity; these 300 pages are slavishly devoted to explaining the inner workings of the NES/Famicom, and no single electron is le ...more
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very in-depth breakdown of the Famicom and Nintento Entertainment System (NES), covering hardware, software, and the development process. Chapters on the music chip (2A03) and emulation were particularly interesting. This book feels more like a series of essays than one narrative.

Chapters focus on particular topics, and often dig into a particular game to go along with the discussion. The back history and design differences between Famicom and NES were a welcome addition, as most of the Nintendo
Justin Liew
Mar 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you grew up playing NES games, and are a software developer, this is the book for you. I Am Error is a comprehensive history of the Famicom/NES platform, with a bent towards the platform and its place in popular culture. Japan's influence on the Famicom and how they brought the console to the USA is especially relevant given the recent controversy around Alison Rapp.

The technical explanations are in depth and clear, and for those with a technical bent there are some really interesting creativ
Jul 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic-topic
Great technical depth and cultural context, perhaps the second book (after The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga) to fully live up to the premise of the "Platform Studies" series. Nonetheless it's very very dry. It's a good read if you're technically oriented and interested in the subject matter, but not really otherwise (whereas I would recommend the Amiga book to literally everyone).

Best chapters are on the FDS and the 2A03. The 2A03 chapter might be a good standalone read for those interes
Jul 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
This isn't your standard book and at times reads almost like a manual. If you ever wanted to know how the NES actually worked this is the book for you, with in-depth detail. I'm surprised there is a market for a book like this but I'm glad there is. This book isn't for everyone. However those who it is for will really enjoy it. ...more
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A dense, meticulously-researched history of Nintendo's early years in the video game market, starting with Donkey Kong and ending with the retirement (and beyond, via emulators) of the NES and its Japanese cousin, the Famicom. This book is part of the MIT press "Platform Studies" series, which began in 2009 with the Atari study, "Racing the Beam." Unlike "Racing the Beam," which used six individual Atari games to explore six different mini-epochs in the technical and sociological history of that ...more
Nathan Davis
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really adored this book. This is finally the one book that was every bit as technical as I wanted it to be. The book both analyzed the 8-bit Nintendo console as a technical platform and as an institution. Starting with how the hardware was designed and what games it was intended to implement. Then, what limitations did the hardware impose, how did that affect the games, and how did the designers work around those limitations?

It made me look the NES games differently then I had before and inspi
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Nintendo designed the Famicom as a system that could accurately replicate the arcade experience of Donkey Kong (explaining why the system was so well-suited to platformers in general), but they had to remove the pie factory level from the system’s DK port because the horizontal-scrolling conveyor belts were likely to exceed the hard 8-sprites-per-scanline limit and necessitate excessive flickering.

If this fact isn’t interesting to you, then this probably isn’t the book for you. If, however, you’
Apr 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computers
I read this after going through online tutorials and instructional documents about the NES, mostly on, and creating a small example project using c with cc65 ( ) that runs at least in the fceux emulator. It's likely I won't go much further than what is currently there: moving player and enemy sprites around the screen over a scrolling background with a couple of sound effects, or go as far as to invest in flash cartridge to play it on a real Nin ...more
Kevin Mccormick
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Excellent book, highly recommended for anyone with a technical background and nostalgia for the NES. Really thoroughly and accurately researched, and covers a good range of topics.

I did feel that some of the themes of the book, specifically the philosophical claims and musings, etc., were a bit over-the-top. These might have been attempts to make the book a bit less dry, but they were unnecessary, and the book still felt dry anyway. I also felt that the sections on emulation and speedrunning, wh
Nathan D. Riggs
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I Am Error is by far the best book you'll find on the Nintendo Entertainment System as a Platform. There are books out there that off a better history of its development, the culture surrounding it, and so on, but if you really want to know exactly how ingenious some of the hardware choices were, as well as how the NES was able to start a side-scrolling revolution with extremely limited memory (spoiler alert: clever programming, at least in the beginning, wins the day), you definitely don't want ...more
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Nostalgia meets tech specs. I've used this as accompanying reading while developing own NES emulator.

The book covers:
- nes/famicon platform history and culture around it
- platforms hardware specs
- big hit games: their creation background and quirks of the design

It's a fun read for those who really love the platform and willing to struggle through PPU or APU specs.
If you ever wondered why is there so much flickering in games like Contra Force or why do games fade to black before introducing lar
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
This book sits in a strange intermediary place. I guess I was hoping for more technical detail, and others might hope for more history and narrative context, but one gets a weird mix of both. I suppose it achieves what MIT's platform series sets out to do, although I'm not sure if I can recommend it even to those passionately interested in the NES (you probably know most of what's in this book already). It's good that it exists, though, since I feel like a lot of the details are things that have ...more
Nick Massa
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Extremely interesting hardware history of the NES. Approachable but complex writing style with detailed explanations that get very in the weeds. Didn't understand everything but will likely read this one again. ...more
David Dinaburg
Jul 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I wrote a long preamble that covered much of my personal history with the NES before segueing into I AM ERROR’s laudable dearth of anecdote. I thought the juxtaposition clever, but while editing it seemed both trite and self-indulgent; satirizing tedium with tedium is still tedious to experience, no matter how amusing.

I AM ERROR elucidates the functional, physical aspects of the Famicom and applies that knowledge onto the end product; it is why Mario looks the way he looks, or moves the way he m
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library
Fine, but not as compelling a read as the first book in the series.
William Anderson
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Delving into not just the technical affordances, inspirations and quirks of the NES, but also looking at its predecessors (arcade cabinets), aspirational software and more, "I Am Error" is a tome of knowledge.

Enlightening in many ways, this book covers, the language of the NES (6502 asm) in brief to give better context of the inner working of the machine.Business decisions on production (hardware/software) are also covered at a distance to which does not obscure other aspects.

Masterfully writte
Koen Crolla
Sep 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Decent effort. The Famicom and NES have been taken apart and obsessively studied in ways that the other subjects of the Platform Studies series haven't, over the years, but even if he doesn't bring anything particularly new to the table, Altice at least manages to put everything together. He indulges in the series' usual habit of occasionally vomiting near-meaningless humanities buzzwords onto the page, but it's honestly not as bad some of the others in that respect. ...more
Jonathan Chan
Jan 01, 2017 rated it liked it
It's a pretty quick read when you're able to skip over the low level details on how the Nintendo works. The bits of information as to why developers did x, y, and z and how various machines came to market was super interesting. ...more
Jun 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you're at all interested in the workings and impact of the NES, this book makes it fascinating and accessible. Altice manages to straddle the line between impenetrable technical detail and hand-waving half-explanation. ...more
Bret Lowe
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book about the NES and all things surrounding it. It sure have a lot of technical details for those interested.
Manuel Sanchez
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Dont expect a light reading, this book comes with a lot of technical aspects, you got plenty of programming explanations but also a good description of the era of the NES console
Zach Lee
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I got lost in the technical speak for a while, but when I got it I loved it.
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