VGBlogger Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Art Books, Novels, Movie Tie-ins & More

GiftGuidesForGeeksAndGamers-Books

For our holiday guides this year, we’re not going to do the usual round-up of top video games and flashy new tech gadgets. Instead we’re going to focus our attention on video game and pop culture themed gift ideas that aren’t actual games. For part one, we’ll walk you through various bound paper things filled with pages that have words and sometimes pictures printed on them. You may also know them as books. From novel adaptations of video games and art books of all kinds to movie companions and strategy guides, we’ve got recommendations here for around 20 books to consider for your own personal wishlist or a gamer geek loved one you’re shopping for this holiday season.

The Art of Journey – MSRP: $60 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Bluecanvas
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If you ask me, no video game in recent memory has been more deserving of a premium art book than Journey. Instead of text or dialogue, Thatgamecompany’s latest art-gaming production uses striking visuals and nuanced symbolism to deliver its narrative message, which means clear, distinct art direction was of utmost importance to the game’s success as an interactive storytelling vehicle. Art Director Matthew Nava is responsible for establishing the artistic vision for this PS3-exclusive adventure, a challenging task that took more than three years to accomplish. All that hard work clearly paid off. Since releasing earlier this year via PSN digital download, Journey has blossomed into a console indie sensation, doing so well that it has since spawned a Collector’s Edition retail release and this very art book. (It was even named Game of the Year in the Guinness World Records 2013: Gamer’s Edition book you’ll also find listed in this guide.) Each page explodes with images of the game’s iconic cloaked avatar, ancient architecture, and sprawling landscapes, proving how powerful minimalism can be when balanced with just the right amount of detail to convey the creator’s vision. As an added bonus, every copy ships with a PSN voucher to download the original soundtrack, and certain pages marked with a special icon have a ‘4D’ augmented reality surprise to uncover using the camera on your favorite iOS/Android device. This book is an absolute masterpiece, just like the game.

Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 – MSRP: $34.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Titan Books

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Halo 4 marks the rebirth of Master Chief and opens a new chapter in the franchise under the guidance of a new developer for the first time. For this reason, Awakening is a significant addition to the Halo entertainment family. As you can imagine, the creative team at 343 Industries found itself stuck in a tough spot, needing to leave their own stylistic imprint on the Halo formula without wrecking the familiarity of Bungie’s baby. I’d say they accomplished that goal remarkably well. Halo 4 maintains that distinct Haloy sci-fi aesthetic, yet to my eye 343 has infused the universe with a darker, more realistic vibe. Awakening gives the developers the opportunity to explain their creative vision that will define the Halo series for at least another trilogy. Halo junkies will no doubt squeal with delight as they gaze upon ethereal Requiem cloudscapes, design illustrations of Promethean technology and weaponry, concept artwork for War Games multiplayer maps, and, as expected, more than a few shots of Master Chief looking all bad ass and stuff.

Halo: Primordium ($10.87 – Buy From: Amazon.com) & Halo: The Thursday War ($10.87 – Buy From: Amazon.com)
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Tor Books continues its novelized exploration of the Halo universe with this year’s second installments in two trilogies. The Thursday War, part two of the Kilo-Five series from author Karen Traviss, continues from Glasslands (reviewed here), while the second act of Greg Bear’s Forerunner Saga, Primordium, builds upon events that began in Cryptum. The Halo games have never been particularly strong when it comes to narrative depth, but both of these series, along with the many others that came before them, allow fans to develop a deeper connection with the characters and worlds they would otherwise be missing. Package any of these novels up with a copy of Halo 4, and I bet you’ll wake up to one happy Halo fan come Christmas morning.

The Art of Assassin’s Creed III – MSRP: $29.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Titan Books
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Historical authenticity combined with memorable character designs and iconic costuming has made Assassin’s Creed one of the coolest-looking franchises in gaming today. Even if the games themselves don’t always deliver in terms of polished mechanics, as is the unfortunate case with Assassin’s Creed III this year, something about the look of Desmond’s assassin ancestors as they flowingly parkour through settings of the past always manages to suck players into the sandbox game worlds crafted by Ubisoft’s talented team of artists and designers. Titan Books captures this style and artistry to glorious results in The Art of Assassin’s Creed III, a book bursting with character portraits of American Revolution figures like George Washington and Ben Franklin, breathtaking wilderness vistas, and intricately detailed paintings of colonial towns and homes. Of course, the main attractions are the numerous full-page action shots of new assassin Connor leaping to sink his hidden blade into the neck of an unsuspecting Red Coat or staring out across war torn battlefields wafting with clouds of gunsmoke. 18th century America has never looked so beautiful (or deadly).

Assassin’s Creed Graphic Novels – MSRP: $9.99 Each – Part 1: Desmond (Buy From: Amazon.com or Titan Books), Part 2: Aquilus (Buy From: Amazon.com or Titan Books), Part 3: Accipiter (Buy From: Amazon.com or Titan Books)
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Also accompanying this holiday season’s launch of Assassin’s Creed III, is a series of three hardbound graphic novels from Titan Books. Written by Eric Corbeyran, with art from Djillali Defali, these comics explore the conflict between the Templars and the Assassins beyond the narrative confines of the video games. The first book basically recaps the major happenings of the first Assassin’s Creed, with Desmond being abducted by Abstergo to be used as a test subject before later being set free by Lucy–after first taking out Al Mualim as Altaïr from inside the Animus of course. From there, Desmond assumes the role of Roman ancestor, Aquilus, as he searches the past for the location of a powerful artifact known as the Ankh and encounters ancestral cousin and member of the Liberalis Circulum, Accipiter. The only mild disappointment comes at the close of the third book, which ends with a cliffhanger that teases events that will obviously be continued in future installments (apparently there is a fourth book on the way). Even though you’ll be left dangling in suspense without complete closure, the original storyline up to this point serves as an engaging extension to the main series.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Tie-in Books
Official Movie Guide – MSRP: $14.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Visual Companion – MSRP: $19.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Movie Storybook – MSRP: $9.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The World of Hobbits – MSRP: $9.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Activity Book – MSRP: $12.00 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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The movie event of the holiday season, particularly for fantasy geeks, is, of course, the long-awaited theatrical debut of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. In accompaniment to the film, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has published a collection of five companion books to get moviegoers ready for the big day. Three are aimed at the movie/book’s younger crowd, including The Movie Storybook, which condenses the first film’s entire plot into the format of a fairytale storybook you might read to a child at bedtime, and The World of Hobbits, which serves as an introductory guide to the home and lifestyle of Middle-earth’s race of furry-footed halflings and previews the companions and enemies Bilbo Baggins meets on his grand adventure. There’s also the Activity Book, a hard-bound collection of spot-the-difference pictures, trivia questions, word searches, mazes, riddles and other various types of puzzles and games that present the movie material in a fun and accessible way. More for adult fans and movie buffs, the Visual Companion pairs over 100 stunning photos from the film with detailed bios for all of the main characters. And then there is the Official Movie Guide, which provides an in-depth look behind the scenes at the making of the movie, complete with insight from director Peter Jackson and the cast and crew that helped him bring Tolkien’s novel to the big screen. Any one looking forward to seeing The Hobbit would be thrilled to receive even one of these great companion works, but I say go for it, buy the whole set!

The Hobbit – $11.16 – Buy From: Amazon.com

TheHobbit

With the movie coming out and all, now’s the perfect time to re-read The Hobbit or, if you’re a parent, introduce your child to the wonderful world of Middle-earth and have him or her carry on the tradition of a proud fantasy geek. J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale of a hobbit, wizard, thirteen dwarves and a dragon is as an enchanting fantasy epic for readers of all ages. It’s a great beginner’s novel to get kids, probably starting around 8 years old or so, interested in reading, and for adults it’s a fun, quick read that’ll keep your eyes glued to the pages with plenty of lighthearted humor, memorable characters, and just the right amount of action and drama to keep the pace moving. No book collection is complete without a copy of The Hobbit. (And of course you better have The Lord of the Rings to go with it.)

Tolkien’s World – MSRP: $24.99 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Insight Editions

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Packed with page after page of beautiful storybook artwork, Tolkien’s World is a kid-friendly guide to the peoples, places, and lore of Middle-earth. Young readers will learn the back story behind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, about Sauron’s great treachery, and about Isildur and The One Ring. Colorful, full-page illustrations compliment the accessible reading material perfectly, presenting the mythical wonder of Tolkien’s legendary fantasy universe in a way that is sure to capture any child’s imagination. By no means is this a book for studied Middle-earth historians. Collectors may want a copy just for the art, but a stamp on the cover makes it clear that this is an unofficial and unauthorized guide. That doesn’t mean its history and characterizations are inaccurate, but clearly the content has been simplified for its target audience. A target audience it most definitely hits square on the head.

Guinness World Records 2013: Gamer’s Edition – MSRP: $14.99 – Buy From: Amazon.com

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Largest gaming lawsuit. Most audio logs in a game. First game to use rag doll physics. Most incorrect 3DS game boxes distributed. Largest bead sprite replica. Most dancing minutes logged. Biggest petition against a social game developer. Game with the most Facebook likes. Oddball tidbits of information like this, in addition to plenty of record-breaking speed run times and high scores from games both modern and retro, can only come from one place, the 2013 Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition. But this book is more than just a random collection of goofy records, it’s also got an awards round-up from the year’s big gaming events, system updates for all the major gaming platforms (including mobile, browser, and indie) and top 50 lists for best video game graphics and best gaming villains. There’s even a running quiz throughout the book’s pages, with an answer key and score chart in the back that ranks your gaming knowledge. Clearly this is the book to get the stat geek gamer obsessed with high scores and fun but entirely meaningless trivia. Unfortunately the 2013 edition doesn’t publish until December 18th, so it’ll have to be a last-minute gift pick-up.

The Dark Knight Manual – MSRP: $40 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Insight Editions

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The Dark Knight Manual, based on Christopher Nolan’s modern movie trilogy, is hands down the coolest book I’ve come across in a long time. Through post-it note memos, pull-out blueprints for key locations like the Batcave and Arkham Asylum, design documents for the Batsuit and other tools, Bat-signal sticker sheets, and confidential case files on Gotham’s heroes and villains, Bruce Wayne himself (yes, it’s written from his perspective) journalizes the secrets behind his super hero persona as the Caped Crusader. What makes this manual so neat is how many of the top-secret files, sketches and photographs contained within can be individually removed and examined, kinda like a sophisticated pop-up book for grown-ups. It’s the type of book you really have to see and hold in person to be able to fully appreciate how unbelievably awesome it is. The only thing that could possibly make a Batman fan any happier would be to bundle this with a copy of The Dark Knight Rises Blu-ray combo pack. Talk about a Merry Christmas in Gotham City.

Batmobile: The Complete History – MSRP: $35 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Insight Editions

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Any one who grew up with Batman as a childhood super hero idol has at one time or another fantasized about what it would be like to cruise around in the Batmobile. That’s the type of person this book is meant for. From the red sedan of the early Detective Comics books and the 1955 Lincoln Futura Adam West and Burt Ward drove in the 1960s TV series through all four eras of Batman’s Hollywood film career, writer Mark Cotta Vaz chronicles the evolution of the Caped Crusader’s iconic ride in stunning fashion. While old-school purists may be a bit disappointed that the militaristic Tumbler of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy hogs the spotlight, leaving the early chapters about the comic book and TV series models feeling a little thin by comparison, I think most Bat-fans will be thrilled by the Batmobile history lesson this book has to teach. An abundance of diagrams, comic panels, sketches and pictures, including one particularly Bat-tastic fold-out showing photos of all five live-action models lined up side by side, only sweetens the deal.

BradyGames Strategy Guides – MSRP: $13.99 & Up – Buy From: BradyGames
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While I’m the type of gamer who likes to complete a game on my own the first time through whenever possible, it’s still nice to have walkthroughs on hand, especially for repeat runs in games with lots of hidden secrets or multiple outcomes. As usual, BradyGames has many of this year’s big holiday blockbusters covered with strategy guides. Dishonored, Borderlands 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Resident Evil 6, Batman Arkham City Armored Edition, and Skylanders Giants, just to throw out a few examples. Some are even available in dual formats, either standard soft cover or, for collectors, slightly more expensive limited editions with hard covers and pack-in bonus gifts (Resident Evil 6’s comes with a set of three embroidered patches, Black Ops II’s has a journal for note taking). The guide for Dishonored is particularly useful, thanks to its detailed maps, which make up for the actual game’s lack of a functional map system, and tips for completing the multi-pathed campaign in different ways. You can’t go wrong with the Borderlands 2 guide either. It’s a mammoth 400-page archive of skill tree overviews, complete walkthroughs for all 109 optional quests, gun catalogs, a detailed bestiary with info on Pandora’s creatures and so much more. Strategy guides like this are always a worthwhile supplement to consider partnering up with a copy of that shiny new shrink-wrapped game you just bought.

EXPOSÉ 10 – MSRP: $69.99 & Up – Buy From: Ballistic Publishing
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The “finest digital art in the known universe.” Ballistic Publishing couldn’t have come up with a more appropriate tag line for its EXPOSÉ series of art books. 2012 marks the release of the 10th edition, and Ballistic has spared no expense in amassing the largest collection of art its ever assembled between two covers. EXPOSÉ 10’s 288 pages showcase a whopping 548 images from nearly 400 different artists from around the globe. This book is all about diversity and inclusion, featuring submissions from 65 countries, each piece of art placed into one of 20 different categories (storytelling, whimsical, steampunk, concept art, comic/manga, science fiction, architecture, portraits, etc.) which are individually judged by an advisory board of 15 industry luminaries. This elite panel of judges has selected a single Master Award Winner to headline each category’s gallery, and these artistic masters all get a chance to tell their personal stories. EXPOSÉ 10 is the ultimate celebration of art and the artists who pour their heart and soul into every piece they create. No digital artist’s library is complete without a copy.

Massive Black Volume Two – MSRP: $65 & Up – Buy From: Ballistic Publishing
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Massive Black, a concept art and intellectual property development studio, has had its hand in conceptualizing many of the games and movies entertainment consumers play and watch every year, but often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. That’s where Ballistic Publishing comes in. After collaborating once before, Ballistic and Massive Black have reunited to compile a second volume of the studio’s impressive portfolio of art created between 2008 and 2012, its ivory-white cover and slipcase providing a stark contrast to the company’s name. Character/vehicle concepts from high profile games like Starhawk, inFamous (both games), Dust 514, League of Legends, Red Faction: Armageddon and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon grace the book’s ~200 gloss-kissed pages, in addition to top secret works that were created for IPs from companies like Sega and Konami but never saw the light of day as well as a few titles that are being developed in house, including the Kickstarter-funded Zombie Playground. Massive Black’s talents aren’t limited to video games either. The studio has also worked on many Hollywood blockbusters, such as Thor, Transformers (parts 2 and 3), G.I. Joe and Battleship, not to mention advertising campaigns for Dancing with the Stars, Coca-Cola, V-Energy Drink and more. Massive Black too quietly supplies the entertainment industry with phenomenal artwork and animation while the studios they’re contracted to often get all the credit. This book pays proper tribute to their contributions to the industry for all to see.

The Art of the Game Series – MSRP: $65 & Up – Buy From: Ballistic Publishing
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If neither of Ballistic Publishing’s other new books strike your fancy, there’s always the fantastic Art of the Game series to turn to for that extra someone special in your life. A glossy art book for Uncharted 2, God of War III, or Gears of War 3 is sure to put a big Christmas smile on the face of any fan of those particular franchises. Or you can go the oddball route and snatch up a copy of the older Oddworld Inhabitants tome of fine art (although the cheapest soft cover edition is sold out). For further impressions, go read our earlier reviews for The Art of God of War III and The Art of Gears of War 3.

Ico: Castle in the Mist – MSRP: $15.99 – Buy From: Amazon.com

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The story of cult-classic PlayStation 2 action-adventure game Ico receives a worthy novelization in Castle in the Mist. Given free reign by the developers to explore her own path through the game’s storyline, author Miyuki Miyabe does a wonderful job crafting the game world’s untold history in such a way that pulls you deeper into the narrative. Who is Ico? Why are children born with horns sacrificed to an old castle? What is the castle’s history? Who is Yorda and why is she being held captive? This book answers such questions that, while playing the game, are left up to the player’s imagination. While Miyabe’s version of events may not represent the official back story Fumito Ueda and his crew at Team Ico wrote when designing the game, players will recognize many locations depicted in the book and certain events, such as Ico’s escape from his sarcophagus prison cell and subsequent rescue of Yorda from her birdcage as well as the final conflict with the castle’s queen, remain true to what occurred in the game. As someone who’s played through Ico at least a dozen times (yes, it’s one of my favorite games ever made) I think she filled in the blanks believably and beautifully captures (and even explains) the deep emotion and unbreakable bond between Ico and Yorda. An absolute must-read for Ico fans and any one with an interest in the fantasy fiction genre.

The Art of Wreck-It Ralph – MSRP: $40 – Buy From: Chronicle Books

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While not an instant classic on par with Disney’s greatest productions, Wreck-It Ralph is a rare animated work that scores huge points across all audiences: kids and parents looking for a fun family movie experience, older movie buffs craving a punch of 8-bit nostalgia, or members of the main 18-35 demographic who will ‘get’ the flick’s video game themes, cameos and references. Similarly, this art book should have broad appeal for any one interested in the process that goes into conceptualizing and creating such a visually splendid animated universe. 160 pages of sketches, renders and storyboards introduce the movie’s main characters and take readers on a journey through the diverse arcade game landscapes Ralph explores in his quest to become more than just a video game villain. My favorite part is the chapter covering the Sugar Rush world, where the artists reveal how, like a gingerbread house, they built a real-life model of the town square and racetrack out of actual confectionery treats, consulted food stylists, and crashed toy vehicles in blobs of icing to help inspire their choices when applying texture and lighting to the world’s animated counterpart. There’s even a ‘Bonus Level’ section detailing characters and worlds that didn’t make it into the film. Clearly mashing up themes of Grand Theft Auto, The Sims and Extreme Volleyball into one world was stretching things a bit too far, so it’s not wonder such an idea was cut.

The Art of Rise of the Guardians – MSRP: $40 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Insight Editions
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The other prominent animated feature film of the holiday season this year is Rise of the Guardians, DreamWorks Animation’s adaptation of the William Joyce book series in which mythological childhood figures like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman take on larger-than-life roles as Avengers-style action heroes out to defend the children of Earth from the fear mongering Bogeyman. This art book presents a thorough and visually arresting tour behind the scenes at DreamWorks, showing in vivid detail how the studio’s incredible creative team brought such memorable characters to life with a recognizable yet completely stylized dramatic flair fit for the Hollywood big screen. You’ll read about the creative process behind the color and shape language used to give each Guardian and his/her home world a distinct appearance, and how the seemingly clashing styles were blended together to achieve the super-team harmony captured in the final production. A unique touch special to this book is a chapter called The Life of a Sequence, a center spread which folds out to the size of about four full pages and shows a flow chart of sorts outlining the individual duties and extensive collective work that goes into creating a single scene. Stuff like this should give moviegoers a newfound respect for the amount of tireless attention to detail it takes to make a modern animated movie of this magnitude and visual complexity.

The History of Sonic the Hedgehog – MSRP: $49.99 – Buy From: eStarland.com or Amazon.com

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While this gem (or should I say chaos emerald?) of a book currently isn’t scheduled to ship until some time between mid/late December and the start of the New Year, publisher UDON Entertainment was kind enough to provide us with a digital sample copy for an early gift-recommendation perusal. I may not know what it feels like to hold this book in my hands, or what the pages look and smell like (yes, I am addicted to new book smell!) mere feet from my nose and eyeballs, but I can safely say that if you’re a Sonic the Hedgehog fan or know someone who is, you just gotta throw down for a pre-order right this second. Spanning 300 pages, The History of Sonic the Hedgehog is just that, a historical encyclopedia of facts, interviews, and game profiles chronicling the Blue Dude with ‘Tude’s rise to gaming mascot superstardom. The first 100 or so pages serve as a Sonic the Hedgehog history lesson, with the remaining two-thirds of the book dedicated to recognizing literally every single Sonic game (save for the recently shipped Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed) — from 2D to 3D to handheld appearances to spin-offs, revered and obscure alike — and profiling the many characters that have made the franchise an industry mainstay, despite its turbulent 3D years. Capping things off in a fun way, there’s even a timeline of Sonic’s numerous cameo appearances in other games. Whether it’ll publish in time to make it under the tree as a last-minute gift or slow poke its way to a post-Christmas release (save those gift cards!) is still to be seen. Uncertainty aside, this is one book Sega geeks do not want to miss.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!