MY FIRST INTERVIEW
Back in early 1986, the video game market was undergoing a revival led by Nintendo in the wake of the infamous Crash of ’84. A few of the ex-Activision programmers formed a new company called Absolute Entertainment not in California, for a change, but in New Jersey. Oddly enough, their offices were at 251 Rock Rd. and my house was at 253 Rock Rd. We were not next-door neighbors, even though it was the same street. I was in Ridgewood and they were within walking distance in the next town of Glen Rock. Absolute began releasing new games for the venerable Atari 2600 such as Skateboardin’, Title Match Pro Wrestling, F-14 Tomcat and Pete Rose Baseball.
It was in early 1991 when I finally summoned up the courage to ask them for an interview. I met Dan Kitchen and gave him a few sample copies of the 2600 Connection and left. They got back to me and we set up an appointment. I had hoped to do an interview with Dan, but something came up and he was unavailable. Alex Demeo offered to give me an interview instead. Alex was the author of Pete Rose Baseball and was a team member on a number of others. To make a long story short, the interview with Alex went well and was published in the 2600 Connection (Summer 1991 No. 5). He even gave me a line on some unfinished games that they sold overseas such as My Golf. The interview was a big deal for me at the time. As far as I know this was the first time a classic game programmer had granted an interview to anybody that did not represent a major publication……the first for a fanzine anyway. This was before there was a “Digital Press” or the wide spread use of the Internet and World Wide Web. Over the years, I went on to land a few more exclusive interviews. Being that I was a mainframe programmer who wrote business applications, I secretly yearned to write video games instead because it seemed like it would be more fun. - Al Backiel
ON LINE FOR KUNG FU MASTER
When I was very young back in 1984, my family and I made frequent trips to the Presidio of San Francisco’s PX, where an amusement center was situated in a mini mall, along with pizza and hot dog stands, barber and beauty shops, a dry cleaners, and other such businesses. It was a nice little place which sadly closed back in spring of 2002. This was the place where I first played many arcade classics for the first time, but the one that stands out the most is Kung-Fu Master.
We waited in line to play this one, probably much to the chagrin of the other players trying to play Bump ‘N Jump, Front Line, Star Rider, and the others. There was always a crowd around this one, and we’d look on with awe and admiration to anyone who could actually save the girl and flip the game. Arcade mastery amongst crowds really gave me the feeling accomplishment, something I probably wouldn’t have had in other areas growing up, as I was never a part of any winning sports teams, never a great academic achiever, and never involved with any extracurricular activities. - Tony Bueno
MY PROUDEST MOMENT IN GAMING
I was lucky enough to win the complete Starpath library from Electronic Fun magazine a long time back, and my goodness was it cool... But years later I’m wondering how long those tapes were going to hold out... I began giving serious thought to getting them burned onto CD to preserve them, but knowing how many copies I’d have to make to get a reasonable price, I figured that it would have to be done legitimately. After some research I actually got ahold of somebody who could grant me permission to do this, and for only a small licensing fee. The problem was, I still couldn’t afford to get all the CDs made, and so the project went on the back- burner for a couple years. But then I got back on the net, and in the newsgroups I found some other people who were interested in doing the same thing, and doing a professional job of it. So, I joined up with Glenn Saunders, Dan Skelton and Jim Nitchals (sadly now deceased), and though it took a while longer than we’d initially expected it to take, there came a day when I held the finished product in my hand, and it was glorious. I felt quite happy to have had a hand in its production, and see my name in the credits. - Russ Perry
THE SEGA DREAMCAST
I can’t remember when a system made me as giddy as the ColecoVision or the 2600. Sure, I loved the NES, the Genesis, the PlayStation… but there’s just something about that Dreamcast that makes it an instant classic game machine. With an extensive library of top quality games, the Dreamcast covers an equally extensive variety of game genres. Fighters, Shoot-em-ups, 3D, 2D, Light Gun, Sports and just plain Wacky games are all well represented. Anyone and everyone can find something to love on the Dreamcast. And it’s a platform that, like the classics of yesteryear, always keeps me coming back for more. - Dave G
My friend Larry and I were partying at my apartment in Dallas. I guess it must’ve been payback for all the times I schooled him at Street Fighter or something. Midway Collection 2 just came out, and we started a 2-player Gauntlet game. I should have known to pick the elf. This was the dirtiest 2-player “cooperative” play I’ve seen in my life. At every opportunity, the swift and crafty elf deftly stole food, potions, treasure, and keys from the hapless wizard. Worst of all, I was the one who fought all the enemies on the frontline, with the elf pushing the wizard into the ghosts at one point. In disgust and frustration, probably augmented by the fact that we had been partying earlier, I turned to my “friend” and said with a completely straight face, “You’re nothing but a little bitch, Larry, that’s what you are!” He was laughing his ass off, and I sat there shaking my head. - Tony Bueno
A BRUSH WITH GREATNESS
One of my favorite games was Adventure. My siblings and I played it a lot, and eventually mapped the game including the secret dot we’d read about (in fact, if we’d only gotten to mapping it sooner, I’m sure we’d have found it ourselves). Years later, I began to track down old game designers, and I was actually able to reach the game’s creator, Warren Robinett. And moreso, he was willing to let me interview him. It was cool just sitting there, hearing the stories, and despite some difficulties with the tape recorder making it difficult to transcribe the interview, I think it turned out pretty well. It’s funny reading more recent interviews and seeing the information that I heard so many years ago coming up again. I’m pleased that Warren was kind enough to talk to me, and continues to talk to others who are also fans of that game. - Russ Perry
Why do I have the internet in an article about DP gaming memories? Simple: the internet is a powerful tool, and has really helped advance the knowledgebase of videogame lore, facts, and research. Ever heard of M.A.M.E.? Where would we have learned of it without the internet? Would that project ever have been started without the advent of cyberspace?
The internet has helped bring together a pool of extremely talented designers, programmers, historians, authors, and a countless list of people who helped to shape, preserve and continue the hobby of videogaming. It’s hard to imagine life as a gamer without the ‘net. - Dave G
OBSCURITY LOVES COMPANY
Gods, I love obscurity... No matter how much I love my Atari 2600 and other popular systems, it’s the obscure stuff that has a special place in my heart. I love coming across something from the fringe of the videogame industry that most people don’t know about. Some of the fun is because the thing is so cool that it’s surprising that it never caught on, some of it because it’s just so ill-advised or awful that you can’t believe they even tried, and some of it is just funny. As such, I grant the most mystifying but awesome name to the Mega Duck. Sure, most people have never heard of it, and it’s just some stupid Gameboy clone with games that don’t play any better than Supervision games, but how can you deny a system named after an aquatic fowl? - Russ Perry
MORTAL STREET KOMBAT
Back in 1992, when there were four Street Fighter II machines and two Mortal Kombats at the local arcade, a group of kids were playing, with one being a beginner, the other mentoring. Somebody had gotten Sonya down to about 5% health when the other player gets desperate and wins using four leg grabs in a row. I guess the other guy hadn’t learned to block that particular move, or just got too cocky. Either way, it was an absolutely amazing comeback, and the loser shouted “FUCK YOU!” so loud that the arcade attendant asked him to refrain from using such language. Absolutely hysterical. - Tony Bueno
THE CGE EXPERIENCE
If you’re even remotely like us, then you know what an awesome spectacle the Classic Gaming Expo is. If you’ve never attended the premiere classic gaming show, then you’re really missing out. New classic game releases. Exclusive games. A museum of classic gaming items the likes of which has never been matched. Classic arcade games as far as the eye can see, all set on free play. Classic game designers from around the world. Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this show.
To say that it’s a bit overwhelming is an understatement. Ask anybody who’s been there each year and they’ll all invariably come back with the same response: “It feels like I was just here yesterday.” Wow.
For me, it’s as much about the people as it is about the games. CGE is a great time to catch up with friends from all over the globe, people with whom you may “speak” to almost every day through e-mail, the web, or the telephone, but who you rarely have the pleasure of hanging out with. You might virtually “talk” to all these guys and gals every day, but when else do you have the pleasure of matching your Robotron skills against theirs (on an actual, dedicated machine no less) all the while talking trash? Not often. Not often enough for sure.
I’ll be there each and every year. It’s just that damn good. - Dave G
My vacations to Harvey’s Lake Tahoe back in the mid-1980’s. This place had the best overall arcade back in the day, complete with a light gun gallery and ice cream parlor right outside. While my parents were upstairs gambling, I spent roll after roll of quarters on Karate Champ, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Dragon’s Lair, Afterburner, and Marble Madness to name just a few. - Tony Bueno
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD, BUT FOR WHOM?
There was a time when newsletters were in great abundance, and I was known in both the classic and current systems fandoms, mostly due in part to doing a lot of writing -- not articles or reviews, but rather letters. In fact, it eventually prompted Chris Bieniek, editor of Tips & Tricks, to call me “ubiquitous” in the pages of that magazine. I had actually managed to get letters in a bunch of magazines (even got one in Videogaming Illustrated back in the Atari era), but I could never crack Electronic Gaming Monthly. Perhaps it was because my letters were usually negative -- correcting some inaccuracy they’d printed the month before. I didn’t mean any disservice, since I recognized that Steve Harris had grown the magazine from a much smaller newsletter he’d started out of nothing to a big glossy impressive pile of pages; but still, I thought I deserved to get in its pages. At some point another fan-ed got Steve Harris to do an interview with him, and upon mentioning something controversial to Steve, the fan-ed could only think that he’d heard me say that, and when Steve asked “who says that?”, gave my name. This led Steve to say -- and be quoted -- that it wasn’t true, and “don’t listen to Russ Perry Jr!”. So, I never did get a letter published in EGM, but at least I got Steve Harris to say my name, and on record too. - Russ Perry
I had gone to my parents’ house during one of my off periods at college. My old room was set up pretty much the same way it was back in high school, minus the SNES and other favorite things I brought along with me to the dorm. Back at the house, I still had all the classic systems, and the Atari 2600 had been set up on the ancient large TV in my room. My sister and I sit down to a game of Combat. Neither has played this title since 1983 or something. The end result was a total embarrassment, like 8 to 1 points in the “ping pong” tank variations. It absolutely boggles my mind to think that after playing so many games for so many years that I still cannot hold my own in a simple game like Combat. - Tony Bueno
Simply put, Robotron:2084 really is the best game of all time. It’s a fact.
Okay, so maybe it’s really just my opinion, but dammit, I’d be willing to wager that if you took an old fashioned straw poll, you’d find that more people than not agree with me.
Eugene Jarvis is the ultimate game designer. I remember reading a quote of his somewhere along the way:
“The only legitimate use of a computer is to make videogames.”
Those might not be his exact words, but they’re close enough to give you the drift at least. And a guy that’s THAT passionate about game design is a hero in the world of videogames. One need only look at his game resume to see the list of hits, and realize that he’s something special. And that we’re lucky that he didn’t become a boring old scientist. - Dave G
MR. DO! CLOSURE
Sometime in Spring 2002, after 20 freaking years of playing this game lousily despite all the research and effort I put into this series, I actually reached the final martini/cocktail treat on level 22 in Mr. Do! I mean, I’ve seen other guys reach level… Christ… 60 something. They do this weird trick where they stop at precisely the right moment while digging to make their pursuer pause and mutate while they calmly walk away. I can almost never get that technique right, so with the few semi-advanced apple trap maneuvers and old-fashioned playing skills, I reached the final treat at last. If anybody deserved to reach that goal, it was me. Not to put myself on a pedestal or anything… - Tony Bueno
What else can you say? For years, Atari was SYNONYMOUS with “videogame.” “Wanna play some Atari,” friends would ask, referring to any videogame within a ten mile radius. It might have been Odyssey, Intellivision, or plain old vanilla Pong, but you knew what they meant. Because Atari, like Kleenex, became the product instead of the brand name. And despite all the advancements in technology, it hasn’t ever happened since then. Wow. - Dave G
LONGEST RUNNING GAME ZINE
Back in 1988 or so I was looking for fellow videogame enthusiasts, and one I ran into was Tim Duarte. At the time I mentioned that I had a list of 2600 games, but it wasn’t in a nice format or anything. Since I had access to computers though, I promised that I’d let him know when I had it in a nicer form. It took a little while, but I finally gathered it together and sent him a copy. At that pointed, he mentioned that he’d been thinking of doing a newsletter. We swapped some ideas, and I wrote some articles to get him going. The first issue came out in the summer of 1990, and has been going on ever since (Tim ran it for a wonderful 50 issues, and I for a further “always late” 23). I haven’t decided if I should retire after doing another 50 and pass it on to someone else, but I certainly hope it lasts at least that long. - Russ Perry
WARNING! CLASSIC GAME SPOILERS BELOW! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Many cool or unexpected game endings have provided me with some of gaming’s most memorable moments. I will never forget the end of Super Mario Bros. 2 for some reason. The largely animated Mario snoring in bed was something I’d never conceived I’d see on the old 8-bit machine. The ending of Contra III on the hard setting really makes the player feel like a winner. Sagat in Street Fighter Alpha had one of the neatest prequel storylines I’ve seen. In a nutshell, I remember him getting revenge on Ryu, at which point Mike Bison confronts him and tells him about “psycho power” while a helicopter in the background contains Balrog and Vega, who have also recently been recruited. Who could forget the revelation of Samus’ gender from the original Metroid? But my favorite ending of all time is the bad karma ending for Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. Kill as many of your friends and/or leave them imprisoned until you reach the ending. The ones you didn’t save, now shaved, scarred, abused, and experimented on, exact their own measure of justice. Now that I think about it, it reminds me a little of that classic B-movie Freaks from the thirties. You have to see this one to believe it! - Tony Bueno
VIDEO GAME CEREAL
So, right. Video game cereal. From Donkey Kong to Nintendo Cereal System, there were quite a few game related cereals out there over the years. There was even a Kaboom! cereal, but we were angered when we discovered that it had been around prior to, and subsequently was not based on, the Activision game of the same name.
Perhaps ironically, the one cereal I think of most often as being a true video game cereal was the General Mills favorite, Lucky Charms. Back in the 80s, Lucky Charms was offering a deal where you’d send in 4 proofs of purchase (or something like that) from boxes of Lucky Charms and in return, you’d receive one of four Parker Brothers 2600 carts. The choices were Empire Strikes Back, Reactor, Sky Skipper and something else - possibly Jedi Arena. I mainly remember that we ate enough cereal to order the three games we needed, and spent many sugar sweetened cereal mornings in front of the TV with Reactor. Must have been a combo of the sugar and that rockin’ soundtrack. - Dave G
Speaking of those mail-away for free video games... As kids, soda was not a mainstay at our house (an inequity not rectified until we entered adulthood). Instead, perhaps based on a tip from the Kool-Aid Advisory Board, we had Kool-Aid on hand to quench our thirst on those hot summer days. And for once, it seemed that fate was smiling upon us. For when Kool-Aid announced that a new video game was available “for free” by simply mailing in “Kool-Aid points,” we thought that we could certainly put away enough Kool-Aid to satisfy the requirements.
And then we found out just what the requirements were. It was like, 600 some odd points or something. Now, for those households that used the larger, pre-sweetened packs or cannisters of Kool-Aid, it would have taken about three or four purchases to collect the required number of points. Our household, however, only bought the small, unsweetened packs (you had to add your own mountain of sugar) of Kool-Aid. And those packs had only ONE POINT each. There was simply no way we’d ever amass enough points at the rate we were going. Or was there?
For once, mom’s habit of saving bar codes and the like was helpful. For she had already saved up almost all the points we needed. We still had to waste an entire afternoon cutting them out, and it was another week before the dye would wash off our hands, but in the end, we got our game.
And was it worth it? We ordered the 2600 version, but if only for the opening wall-smashing sequence, it WAS worth it. “Hey Kool-Aid!” - Dave G
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