... Leonard Herman
By Joe Santulli
Leonard Herman is the author of the book, Phoenix:
The Fall & Rise of Videogames. The book is a marvelous and detailed account
of the electronic gaming industry from its birth to present. Now in its third
edition, Leonard has increased the size of the book, added new chapters to
reflect the industry since 1996, and added loads of pictures and appendices (we
especially like the publication appendix, with pictures and timelines for all of
the electronic gaming publications).
Every hobby should have its own history book. This is ours.
DP: Wow Leonard. The book just seems so much bigger than previous editions, and the new chapters are dead on! The first Phoenix covered up to 1993, Phoenix II up to 1996, and Phoenix III up to 2000. What's involved with each new edition of your book and how do you decide when to update it?
Leonard Herman: Throughout the year I compile notes regarding the news-worthy stuff that's happening in the videogame world. Then it all goes into an envelope. When I'm ready to write the chapter, I sort through all the information that I have and try to form a literal interpretation of it all. The hardest part is seguing together two totally unrelated topics.
specifically do you get your information? What kinds of problems do you
encounter while gathering all of this information?
Leonard Herman: Most of the information comes from the various magazines that I get each month. Other info derives from visits to shows like E3. Problems arise when I come across conflicting information. Usually that means going to the source or trying to logically figure out which information is correct.
DP: I hear
you're into Monopoly. What's up with that?
Leonard Herman: In 1988 I went to England and came home with a British Monopoly set. In 1989, a catalog company offered the Russian edition so I said what the hell. Later that year FAO Schwarz was selling the Italian, German, Israeli, French, and Spanish (Spain) editions. After that I was hooked! It eventually became an obsession! I even went out an bought a Sega Master System that year because Monopoly was offered for it. I've slowed down in the past several years, however, because the industry is out of control. USAopoly makes sets for anything they could think of. But my favorite set is the one that PSE2 Senior Editor Mark Androvich gave me. Mark took a "Make Your Own Monopoly" set and transformed it into Pongopoly. Each property is a different system. For anyone who might be interested, a list of my collection can be found on my website at: http://www.rolentapress.com/rolenta/monopoly.htm
DP: Phoenix III changes direction in format, giving us an 8 1/2 by 11 page instead of the usual booklet-size. Why the change? What will future editions of Phoenix look like?
The photos in the second edition were too small, and thus, unclear. And
since some of the pages have multiple photos, the only way I could make the
photos larger, was by making the page and font larger. Personally though, I like
the smaller size better because it's easier to carry around. Hopefully, the next
edition will have color photos.
DP: We really
liked all of the pictures in this edition, thanks! OK, so of all the
personalities you interacted with to put Phoenix together, who made the
most lasting impression on you, and why?
Leonard Herman: Ralph Baer. Ralph has invited me to his house several times and we've built up a wonderful friendship. I've also met his entire family. The funny thing was, I thought he was very pompous the first time I met him. I was 23 and at my first CES (January 1982. I was wearing a retailer badge so I could get into the show. I immediately recognized Ralph and went over to him and said "You're Ralph Baer!" He looked at me with and said "Yeah, so?" I then babbled how I loved videogames and eventually ran away with my head buried between my legs in shame for acting so stupid.
DP: Was there anyone that you would have liked to have met while writing this book, living or deceased, but could not?
Leonard Herman: I have been fortunate to meet many videogame legends. (Plug time - check out: http://www.rolentapress.com/rolenta/celebrities/celebrities.html) I would like to meet Warren Robinett. We've chatted by e-mail but never met in person. I would also like to meet Shigeru Miyamoto. I've never met any of the Japanese developers. Shigeru Miyamoto is considered the greatest designer of all time so it's just natural for any gamer to want to meet him. And the collector in me wants to add him to my collection of celebrity photos that appears on my website. The same with Warren Robinett. Both were innovators and contributed much to videogame history.
DP: What are some of your favorite games and why?
My favorite system is of course the Atari 2600. It's hard to pinpoint
what my favorite game for that system is. There are so many amazingly good
games. I'm a fan of puzzle games. Some of my favorites on the 2600 are the games
that you have to think, such as Escape from the Mindmaster and Secret
Quest. One of my favorite games now is Thomas Jentzsch's Jammed. i'm
a big fan of the Rush Hour puzzles and Jammed is an excellent video adaptation.
I also play my Gameboy, which I think is best suited for puzzle games,
frequently. Among my favorites are Boxxle, Quarth, Mario's
Picross, and Pokémon Puzzle Challenge, Oddly enough, the first time I
saw Pokemon at E3, I fell in love with it because it reminded me of
for the 2600. To date, I still haven't played any of the Pokemon games even
though I own all of them except for Crystal.
considered one of the big-time Atari 2600 collectors. Tell us about your
I purchased my first VCS in 1979 and quickly bought every game out. In
1982 I began writing my book ABC To The VCS and that got me the mailing
lists of many 2600 companies, including Commavid, Activision, Data-Age, Coleco,
M-Network, US Games and Telesys. Also, since I collected the games back then, I
was also aware of the games that I needed such as Magicard, Video Life,
and River Patrol and I was able to find them and buy them.
DP: If someone
put out a set of Leonard Herman action figures, what kinds of accessories could
we expect to see?
It would be pretty dull - just a computer and books.
DP: So what’s
next for you?
Leonard Herman: Well I hope to update ABC To The VCS to include all of the homebrews and the prototypes that have been found since 1994. Then I hope to write another book. In the meantime I need to get a job!
Thank you for your time, Leonard! I'm sure at this point anyone who doesn't own this book already will want to head over to http://www.rolentapress.com and grab themselves a copy of your book. No serious gamer would ever allow themselves to be without it.
Return to Digital Press Home