... Jaro Gielens

By Roloff de Jeu



One of my favorite books I have is “Ticket to Paradise”. The big, lush coffee table book holds stories of the movie-going experience of the first half of the 20th century, and is illustrated with beautiful photographs and postcards. I like it so much because it illustrates an era of craftsmanship and passion (for theatre exhibition and movie presentation) that is now almost gone. It instantly creates a nostalgic desire for that era.
Many classic videogame fans recently got the same experience from our own DP Guide Vol. 6. Through the lists, images and Lore stories, many readers’ brains get stirred and come up with fond forgotten memories of the good old days. However, the guide is not a coffee table book (nor should it be). Friends that are not the freaks we are, can hardly be convinced of the beauty of the classic video game era we love, by letting them flip through the DPG. Luckily for those of us that do like to show some of our passion in a non-geeky way, there is a book available soon that will make anyone’s eyes twinkle.

Jaro Gielens’ Electronic Plastic is a fuller than full-color 176-page heavy big book, dedicated to the wonderful world of handhelds, VFDs, tabletops and other electronic games of the Seventies and early Eighties. The book starts off with an extensive foreword that summarizes the history of video gaming, focussing on handhelds. Then the highlights of Jaro’s collection (a pretty complete one) are laid out on richly illustrated pages, categorized in neat chapters like Multi-screens, games with detachable controllers, licensed games, 3D games, etc. If that isn’t enough, the book ends with an overview of all the featured games, as well as all the games that were released in the same series, in total close to 400 games!

Among the games from America, Europe and Japan, highlights of collection are obvious classics like the Tomytronic 3-D, Nintendo G&W Panorama screens, but also less obvious and more exotic and obscure releases as the Ludotronic (with a built in beamer), the Computer Truck, and a Raise the Devil Pinball game. The huge photos and scans accompanied by 2D artwork taken from the packaging and games. In all an awesome and impressive book that captures the special graphic feel these games had very well. It’s just one of those rare books you keep picking up and browsing and reading through, just staring at the great pictures. So far 6,000 copies have been printed, and it has gotten great support, reviews and sale results. By now it should be available in the US.

For this review, I had the opportunity to talk to Jaro Gielens. We found out that we do not only share the same nationality and passion for classic gaming, but studied at the same faculty. One of the things that got him back into classic gaming were the sight of my “WANTED: ATARI 2600 GAMES” posters that I had spread around the cantina! After having finished the Interaction Design course at the Utrecht School of Arts, he moved to Germany and worked for an ad agency. He now works as a web designer and programmer.

His collecting started a couple of years ago, with classic consoles and 8-bit systems. Then a friend offered him a Bambino Safari. Jaro was totally hooked, and from then on collected “electronic plastic” like crazy. Remarkably, almost all of these games from his collection and featured in the book were purchased or traded via emails and auction sites! Now on to some in-depth questions:



DP: How did you come up with the book?


Jaro Gielens: Well, my collection was almost completed, and I figured this was a decent way to finish it off.


DP: How long did it take you to compile it and who helped you out?


Jaro Gielens: Well, I had the best team on Earth! I was very lucky to have found such a good publisher. Die Gestalten Verlag has a good reputation worldwide, and they organized everything!. Production took about four months, and happened in four different cities (Bern, Berlin, Dusseldorf and London). I took 200 games to a photo studio in Berlin. In Bern we put together the big pieces in two sessions. The rest of it all occurred through emails and ICQ. Then the best part was the graphic designer they found for me. Lopetz of Buro Destruct, is a true artisan, and a true player! He has a Dreamcast, PS2 and a big projection screen and videobeamer.


DP: Who is Uwe Schutte who wrote the introduction?


Jaro Gielens: He's a German professor working at a University in the UK. He has roots going back to the early gaming scene here in Germany. Rumor has it that he was involved in copying and distributing C64 games on a voluntary basis


DP: Germany has always had it's own unique oddities and items game-wise. What exotic things does Germany have to offer the hand-held fanatics (other than label variations)?


Jaro Gielens: Not only in Germany but also in France and Italy, many games were released with different names and logos. And sometimes there’s even a European-only release, like Grandstand’s Thomas the Tank Engine. It's from a very nice line of Tomy's back-lit color LCD screen games, but has a completely British theme to it, which is rare. Most games feature popular Japanese and American characters and arcade licenses. And some Nintendo’s Game & Watches (the New Wide and Crystal ones) weren’t sold in Japan. Japanese collectors pay big bucks for them.


DP: This (DP) issue's theme is “prototypes and one-of-a-kinds”. Did any proto handhelds and tabletops ever surface? Do you know of games that never hit the shelves? Have you seen any?


Jaro Gielens: Bandai was very productive throughout a long period, and I feel they weren't really finished with their developments, when in 1985 the last significant games hit the shelves. After that time only 'inferior' games were made like Tiger's mass productions and no-name "made in Hong Kong" stuff.

Take Bandai’s last VFD games. I have one, a flat panel VFD game, not much larger than a Game & Watch. The other one, Space Hurricane, is a classic tabletop but with a highly detailed and fast display, and it was definitely the last VFD made.

I also have pictures of 2 Bambino games that haven't shown up yet, Black Jack and Baseball. Another game, Horse Racing is only listed in a dealer’s pricelist. Especially Baseball isn't likely to be found, the drawing of the game isn't very precise, and it was supposed to have a large LCD display, at a time when nobody had even made LCD games... Then there's 2 games by Mattel, that didn't make it: Look Alive! Basketball and Baseball, shaped exactly like their Look Alive! (Long Bomb) Football game. The only piece of evidence is a picture in the 1981 catalog. And besides Atari’s Cosmos, there's another Atari prototype of which only the box has remained: Space Invaders.

DP: Handhelds are still released every now and then, and apart from the casing and sound chips, aren't really that different from the original ones. VFDs and Color LCD games however, don't seem to have survived at all. How come?


Jaro Gielens: Today’s games are different in many aspects I think, but more importantly, the videogame culture has changed as well. Kids no longer go to the arcades to play revolutionary games. Now everything has been done before and people play at home, or with others online. So for handhelds and tabletops there is no more "the real thing", as what it should look and feel like.

Many games in the Eighties were made for the non-gaming type of people. For those that didn't have experience with computers, but still wanted to be ahead of the rest. And also consumers that didn't want a machine to invade their living room, with cartridges and cables. Just futuristic but simple, and portable electronic games. Pretty big market, only not for long.

Also several cartridge based systems have tried to find a market, after the Gameboy was such a success. But as in other technological areas, quality isn't the deciding factor for survival. Above all, the production costs of VFD displays is far from economical, compared to those of LCD displays.

DP: Final question. Now you clearly haven't covered all the handhelds and VFDs available, and the book stops around 1986, but then it’s more of a coffee table book than a guide, that shows the beauty and wide variety of the games. Are there any plans still for a follow-up?


Jaro Gielens: At the moment I'm working on getting my games on the road. Some 50 games will be part of the “Global Tools Exhibition” in Vienna (Austria) this summer. And after that we will set up a portable exhibit of all games. For that occasion a catalog with 450 games will have to be made as well!


You can order the book at your local bookseller, or buy it online at www.amazon.com. “Electronic Plastic”, Jaro Gielens - Die Gestalten Verlag; ISBN: 3-931126-44-7. Price is $35-44 depending on where you get it.

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