You may remember Bill Kunkel from his gig with Electronic Games Magazine in the 80's, Sega Visions in the 90's, or his work with dozens of computer games over the past 20 years. He's an insider through and through but one who enjoys sharing his experiences and insights. "The Kunkel Report" will re-live some truly memorable experiences through the eyes of one of gaming's most prolific personalities.
In the unlikely event that any of you have been wondering where I disappeared to over the past six months or so, let's just say I was working on the most ambitious Kunkel Report ever.
This, of course, is not it.
About six months ago, legendary retro-game fan/publisher Chris "Cav" Cavanaugh suggested I write a book that collected the kind of memoir material with which I fill most of these columns. In fact, I had been interested in just such a project for some time, but didn't have a clear idea of where to take it.
Cav suggested Lenny Herman and Rolenta Press, which has not only turned out "Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames" (by Lenny himself) and other classics of videogame lore but had just published Ralph Baer's long-anticipated memoirs, "Videogames: In the Beginning." I contacted Lenny and he was interested enough to put up with me through the entire process.
The book is called "Confessions of the Game Doctor" and it's scheduled to arrive in November in time for the Philly Classic. A few of the pieces are extended re-writes of columns I've written on this site as well as on gooddealgames.com, but the bulk of the 200 pages is filled with entirely original content.
We've got a chapter called "Sex, Drugs & Coin-Ops" in which all the degrading secrets of my dissolute lifestyle are revealed in all their tempestuous pagan glory (we had a messenger service, for example, that delivered drugs to the office every Friday).
There's a chapter that details the heretofore untold tale in which Arnie Katz stood up – in the middle of an early 80s CES dinner in which Electronic Games magazine was honoring Activision president Jim Levy with a special award for service to the industry – and shot him the finger.
Then there are tales of how a great stone gargoyle crushed several workers to death right outside my office window; our reaction to the failure of "Tron"; memories of the first graphic online world (Lucasart's Habitat project); the actual Origin Story of both incarnations of EG; the day Arnie was fired; the truth about Easter Eggs and, among many other things, a tribute to three industry pioneers who've passed on.
In all, there are 19 chapters, plus an introduction and forwards by Lenny Herman and Arnie Katz. Also lots of pictures, most of which I guarantee you've never seen before, unless YOU have a picture of Al Miller wearing a macro-Styrofoam cowboy hat at the famous CES Activision Stampede Party? I didn't think so.
For those of you who will be attending this year's Classic Gaming Expo, I'll be reading at least one chapter of the book to anyone who'd like to hear it on Saturday.
SEQUELS? DON'T GET ME STARTED
Last column out I pulled a kind of swerve and instead of writing about my adventures through almost three decades of gaming, I kind of went off on a rant with regard to the way in which sequelitis is strangling the creativity of the game business, especially with regard to sports titles. If you didn't read it, save yourself some confusion and either do so or move directly to the last paragraph.
It's a long time since Scott Orr departed the halls of EA, but ever since he left, the company's mad compulsion to sell people a new iteration of every franchised sports game every year has long surpassed the need (in the cartridge days, stats and players couldn't be updated, whereas in CD format they obviously can) or the reason to do so.
On August 8, the same questions were asked by a somewhat louder voice: The New York Times, which printed, among other things, the following observations by Matt Richtel:
Increasingly, industry analysts and game reviewers are wondering if [Electronic Arts'] dependence on sequels is a sign that it is losing its creative edge.
By year's end, Electronic Arts plans to release 26 new games, all but one of them a sequel, including the 16th version of N.H.L. Hockey, the 11th of the racing game Need for Speed and the 13th of the P.G.A. Tour golf game. The company also relies heavily on creating games based on movies like the James Bond and Lord of the Rings series, rather than developing original brands.
"There's a feeling of franchise fatigue. Gamers are wondering, 'Do I need to buy this game again this year? I just bought it last year,' "said Mike Hickey, an analyst with Janco Partners, an investment firm in Denver, who has a sell rating on the company's stock.
The reliance on sequels and licensed media properties, he said, is "dampening the creative spirit."
Lawrence F. Probst III, chairman and chief executive of Electronic Arts, dismisses that view. "The teams that work on the franchise properties have a great deal of pride in constantly looking to improve the product," Mr. Probst said. Besides, he said, sequels, because they have a steady following among consumers, appeal to Wall Street investors.
Yeah, right; that's why they issue "sell" recommendations, Larry.
Okay, EA, now even the NY Times knows you're so desperate that you're producing the 16th version of NHL Hockey – the never-to-be-lived-down NHL Hockey 2005 – following a season during which the NHL played no games. But that's okay, as the EA site's own hype assures us: "Forget about the lockout! Find out which team wins it all in our own Virtual Season, including standings, playoff results and award winners!"
Apparently nobody ever told those prideful teams at EA that they're ALL Virtual Seasons when they're played on a videogame system in your living room.
But old Lawrence F. Probst III, well, he thinks it's swell. Having just hogged the electronic rights to any use of the NFL or its players, logos, etc., EA is building the kind of karma that the Tramiels created after they purchased Atari and then vowed to dump the entire videogame line in a rush-to-gloat press conference, only to run short on cash and find themselves peddling those self-same systems down the road.
Which reminds me, you can read more about that press conference and lots of other amazing crap that happened in the first decades of electronic gaming in my book, "Confession of The Game Doctor."
Once you write a book about yourself, nothing embarrasses you.
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