CGE '99 ROMpage
by Sean Kelly
Allow me to introduce myself as this issue of Digital Press will be seen by a number of non-subscribers. My name is Sean Kelly. I write this "ROMPage" column each issue and basically my job is to bitch and moan about things. Things that are right, things that are wrong and things that just piss me off in general. I also happen to be one of the organizers of Classic Gaming Expo which, incidentally, is NOT one of those things that piss me off.
We try to have a theme for each issue of Digital Press and this issue's them is the celebrities that are in attendace here at the show. As a general rule, my column need not adhere to the theme but this issue it will as I'd like to talk a bit about what makes a celebrity.
My handy-dandy desktop dictionary defines the word celebrity as a "famous or highly publicized individual" and in reading that definition, I'm sitting here trying to figure out just who here at the show would qualify as a celebrity? I mean I would be willing to bet that almost none of the people reading this would have the slightest idea who Bob Polaro is but he'd gain instant "celebrity status" if his name was mentioned in conjunction with his smash Atari 2600 title Defender. On the other hand, the vast majority of everyone reading this would know exactly who David Crane or Garry Kitchen was.
Atari never wanted celebrities working for them because celebrities could command more cash. While cash was most certainly a part of what programmers were looking for, I don't believe it's all they wanted from Atari. Imagine, if you will, Al Pacino starring in his next movie with a paper bag over his head throughout the entire film and his name not listed anywhere in the credits. He'd still get his standard ten million bucks for starring in the movie, but nobody would know it was him. In a sense, Atari was making it's programmers do just that. The game they wrote might sell a million copies and everyone between eight and thirty years old would know the game's main character on sight, but none of them would have the slightest idea who wrote the game.
This was one of the deciding factors in forming Activision. On every game, the programmer's name, and in most cases even their picture, is displayed prominently several places on the packaging and within the game itself. Their names were even mentioned in TV commercials for their games. This wasn't done because the person that wrote the game wanted to double their salary the next time around, they just wanted everyone to know who spent several months creating the game they're playing. That's not such an unreasonable expectaction if you ask me.
Most anyone that has or had an Atari 2600 knows about the "microscopic dot" in adventure - it was one of the first "easter eggs" ever. The sad part about the dot is that the reason it was put in there in the first place was so that the poor sap that wrote the game could put his name in the game in such a way that the powers that be at Atari couldn't find it. If they had found it, they would have inisited it be removed. So the programmer puts this dot in the game and it allows the player to access a secret room in which the programmer's name is displayed. I'm curious though as to how many of you can remember the name displayed in that secret room? Just as I suspected. The damn DOT is more of a celebrity than the programmer!
The definition of celebrity is lacking something extremely important in my book - class. As I see it, you don't just get to write a videogame, star in a movie, or play a professional sport and instantly become a celebrity - you need to have class. As I watched the guests at last year's show standing around shooting the shit with the attendees, admiring the stuff that was on display, and generally just having a good time, I thought to myself..."these guys have class!" Ever hang around the ballpark as a kid waiting to get an autograph from one of the players? Remember how many of them would act as if you didn't even exist? There was always one or two players willing to spend some time with the folks that laid-out the cash to come and watch THEM play - those are the true celebrities! Although this line of thinking may not hold true these days because the athletes probably know that 75% of the autographs they sign now will be up on eBay the next day but you get the idea.
So here we are in 1999 and things have changed in the videogame industry quite a bit since Atari was on top. Credits are listed somewhere within each and every game but it's not quite the same. Games are written by teams of designers, artists, musicians, etc. so there's no simple answer to the question of "who wrote Doom?" or the like. Even so, do we know who did the music for Doom? What about the person that "drew" all the characters? I guess without one person that can legitimately claim a game as their own, it doesn't really matter all that much. Even back then though, did you really care who wrote Pitfall? Probably not, but if you heard that David Crane was going to make a public appearance someplace in your neighborhood, at least you'd know who the hell he was and maybe you'd even like to meet the guy and shake his hand.
That's what Classic Gaming Expo is all about. It's a chance to meet some of the people that were responsible for all those broken joysticks way back when and finally get the chance to give them the bill! When you meet some of the celebrities at the show, odds are pretty good that when Howard Scott Warshaw tells you he wrote Yar's Revenge, he really wrote it - ALL of it! When you smack him upside his head for making it so damn hard, you can walk away comfortable with the fact that he alone deserved it and you need not seek anyone else out.
Two final questions. Any idea who wrote the arcade version of Pac-Man? Do you know what a Pac-Man looks like? I rest my case....
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Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 04:12 PM