The book covers the Sega VS Nintendo battle of the early-90s, and ends at the point Sony enter the market with the PlayStation. It's a period in the games industry that is of obvious interest to me, because that was when I was first douching my duffel as a games journalist.
As I've written elsewhere, I never wanted to become a games journalist - or, indeed, any sort of journalist. My thing had always been drawing pictures - that's how I thought my career would continue - and I ended up with Mr Biffo and Digitiser quite by accident.
Obviously, it was The Best Job, and I went from being somebody who played games for fun, to somebody who played them for a money, like a "brass" - and found myself having to cultivate relationships with the people who made them.
Digitiser always had a volatile love/hate thing with Sega. We were hard on them in a way we never were on Nintendo, and in return they seemed to deal with us with a sense of heavy resignation and/or unhinged rage.
One of their PR guys hated us and wouldn't give us the time of day - most memorably, on one occasion we arrived for a pre-arranged meeting, only to have him storm into the reception of Sega Europe HQ - red-faced and fuming as if we'd turned up unexpectedly and done a poo on his cat - to tell us that we'd dragged him away from a meeting with the guys from Mean Machines, just so that he could tell us that the Mean Machines guys were more important and we were plankton and that we shouldn't have pooed on his cat.
"We didn't poo on your cat though..."
"I HATE YOU!!!!"
His replacement was a lovely bloke, who despaired when we refused to pull our punches, or when we drew penises in the notebook on his desk, and he did his best to get us on side. We slightly loved him... the company he worked for not so much.
Nintendo, on the other hand, we had very little to do with. We'd always receive review copies on time. We'd get invited to their press events. But in terms of anything more personal... their PR team was always remote and unknowable. Indeed, I found it interesting how my own experience of Sega and Nintendo are reflected in Console Wars.
I remember many of the events depicted in Console Wars - albeit from a UK perspective.
Sonic 2sDay - the first global launch of a video game ever - was my first press event. I remember well the unexpected early release of the Saturn, and the Game Over klaxon that followed the announcement of the PlayStation's price, undercutting the Saturn by $100. And I recall vividly the impact of Donkey Kong Country, and playing it for the first time and thinking "This looks amazing, but the gameplay is so-so"...
Unfortunately, Console Wars barely mentions the European games industry. Indeed, I think there might be just one reference to it. It's irrelevant to the story Harris wants to tell, and instead he keeps his focus primarily on the US, and how Sega of America rose from a nothing player to beating Nintendo's market share (albeit briefly).
What I did find interesting is how Sega of America boss Tom Kalinske is sort of depicted as the hero. I remember how we used to mock Kalinske on Digitiser. He was a slightly ridiculous, hyperbolic figure, but here - whether it's because Harris had Kalinske as a primary source for many of the tales he tells (and, indeed, that's how it reads) or because Kalinske really was as warm and prescient as he's portrayed - he's the David to Nintendo's Goliath.
Indeed, according to the book, every bad decision we ever took Sega to task for on Digitiser, Kalinske was already way ahead of us - predicting that the 32X would flop, bemoaning that the Saturn was underpowered, knowing that it could never compete with the PlayStation...
It makes for an oddly-skewed story whereby Sega of Japan and Nintendo are the antagonists, and Sega of America - led by Kalinske - are the scrappy underdogs. Which, yeah, they were.
But also... then they weren't.
Although I remain sceptical about the way some of the events are skewed, I nevertheless came away from Console Wars with a new appreciation of Tom Kalinske.
Before Sega he HAD worked for Mattel, where he'd revived the Barbie brand, thanks to the same sort of insight and aggressive marketing which he later brought to bear with the Mega Drive/Genesis. He fought hard to keep Yuji Naka at Sega, and was instrumental in ensuring Sonic The Hedgehog wasn't a disaster.
Indeed, one of the chapters I found most interesting was the tussle between Sega of America and Sega of Japan over the name of Sonic's co-star Tails - the latter insisting he be called the pun-awful "Miles Prower". SOA managed to convince them otherwise by writing a heartfelt backstory for the sidekick which reduced several SOJ employees to tears - and thus secured the compromise that his original name was Miles Prower, but had been given the nickname Tails by Sonic himself.
I also hadn't realised that the rivalry between Sega and Nintendo ran quite as deep as it did, nor that it got as personal. Kalinske and Nintendo of America Vice President Peter Main at one point almost came to physical blows as years of resentment boil over. Nintendo and Sega quite literally hated one another, which added an extra layer of texture when I saw Sonic in the trailer for that new Smash Bros. game.
One other takeaway from the book is that despite having always been Team Nintendo, I've gained a new respect for Sega. That loyalty was based upon nothing more than the games, and - if you asked Nintendo - the way they ran (and, indeed, run) their business is all about maintaining quality.
I never had any personal stake in Nintendo other than feeling that they released the better stuff, and that Sega favoured a quantity over quality approach (which Kalinske more or less admits to in the book, albeit dressed up as giving the player the choice of deciding which games are good; another example of how I felt the tale was somewhat overly Sega-skewed).
And yet here it's clear that Sega - or, at least, Sega of America - was passionate about what it was doing. Yes, they set out with the intention of taking down Nintendo by any means necessary, and were ultimately undermined by an internal power struggle with Sega of Japan, but it's hard not to admire what Kalinske and his team achieved in relatively short time. Helped, in no small measure, by Nintendo failing to take serious the threat to its market dominance until it was too late.
Well worth a read. Especially if you're Tom Kalinske.