Matt Chat 44: Ralph Baer Interview

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This week, I interview the father of videogames, Ralph Baer. I'm sure most of you are familiar with his work already, but in short he invented the "brown box" prototype that would become the Magnavox Odyssey, saved Coleco, and created the SIMON musical toy and hundreds of other cool toys and gadgets. I had a great time interviewing him. Enjoy the show! By the way, here's a link to his book page.

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Rowdy Rob
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Matt, you ROCK!!!!

Matt, I know you've complained about your "haters" and naysayers in the past, but if there was ever an episode to shut them up, it was this one!!! If anyone says "lame" or "you suck" or something like that, they deserve to be banished to a place where they can never play a videogame again, because they don't deserve the privilege of playing them.

First of all, everything you've been tweaking and working toward came together this episode: the great commentary from you, the cutaways, the historical clips, the video inserts, the rostrums, and your hard-won connections within the game industry. In other words, everything about "production values" that you've learned along the way. And, on top of that... it's Ralph Baer, man!!! How much can you possibly "suck" if you have an interview with Ralph Baer in your show???!?!?!

I'm not saying that anything was significantly better, production-wise, over your recent videos. You've been achieving great production values for quite a while, with great commentary and presence. But having the actual father of videogames himself, Ralph Baer, is an historical achievement that no ordinary man could have pulled off.

Internet loser: "Matt, you're lame, you suck, hang it up...."

Matt: "Oh yeah? Matt Chat 44: Ralph Baer.... Eat on that, idiot. "

Yeah, this episode should expose the haters (to YOU, Matt, not to the rest of us... we already knew) as a bunch of immature, toothless four-year-olds.

This doesn't mean I don't have a whole litany of criticisms about this episode of Matt Chat. Here they are:

....... uh,
.... um,
.... yeah, um...
well, uh....
hmm...
oh yeah, um...

.... never mind.

I've been saying it all along, as documented on this very website, even if you didn't believe it! "Matt Chat" is a great show! With this episode, I hope EVEN YOU can see that. I knew greatness when I saw it in the beginning. Man, I'm proud of myself right now!

(P.S. one criticism: the show was too short!!!!)

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Mark Vergeer
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Matt Rocks!!!!
Rowdy Rob wrote:

I've been saying it all along, as documented on this very website, even if you didn't believe it! "Matt Chat" is a great show! With this episode, I hope EVEN YOU can see that. I knew greatness when I saw it in the beginning. Man, I'm proud of myself right now!

(P.S. one criticism: the show was too short!!!!)
qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Excellent Remarks Rob can't top that but every word of it I will have to agree with!
Matt excellent stuff 25/5!!!

One remark.... Arrrrgghhh way too short d**n youtube! Would love to see a second part if you got enough material....

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Realms of Quest (not verified)
I always liked Matt Chat

... and this episode was quite a coup, getting the INVENTOR OF THE VIDEO GAME to appear on it.

As for the true 'father' of the video game (ie: Baer vs Bushnell), it's probably safe to say that Nolan made the industry grow by introducing the arcade machine to the public in order for there to be a mass market for home consoles that would follow (Fairchild, Atari 2600, Odyssey 2, Intellivision, etc).

Bill Loguidice
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Engineering Genius versus the Business Genius
Realms of Quest wrote:

... and this episode was quite a coup, getting the INVENTOR OF THE VIDEO GAME to appear on it.

As for the true 'father' of the video game (ie: Baer vs Bushnell), it's probably safe to say that Nolan made the industry grow by introducing the arcade machine to the public in order for there to be a mass market for home consoles that would follow (Fairchild, Atari 2600, Odyssey 2, Intellivision, etc).

It's quite simple really, in my opinion. For every technical/engineering genius, there needs to be a great businessman to make magic with what that genius comes up with. Sometimes that genius is one in the same, like an Edison, but often-times, they need to be at least two different people. Baer never had the fortune of being paired with that business genius. Woz had Jobs, and people like Gates, Tramiel and Bushnell had a whole cadre of genius engineers that they could work their business magic on. It's a fact that Bushnell's idea for Pong came straight from Baer, but it was Bushnell - in conjunction with Alcorn - who pared the game concept down to its essentials and made it the first hit arcade videogame.

Baer had Magnavox in his corner and while they were pretty good at litigation, they were not particularly adept at things like marketing and R&D, which more nimble and less risk averse companies like Atari, Commodore and Apple weren't. It's foolish to say that Baer's career was in any way a failure because of his lack of pairing with a business genius - after all, he had tons of hit toys, including the iconic Simon - but it's probably fair to say that there's no telling what could have been accomplished if he had been.

Books!
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[About Me]

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Matt Barton
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Thanks, everyone, for the

Thanks, everyone, for the comments and compliments. Glad you enjoyed the show!

When I first started the show I had the idea that Youtube would be allowing unlimited (or at least much extended) videos in the near future. Sadly, that hasn't happened yet, though I still expect it is only a matter of time. Still, you need to realize that it takes me pretty much all day to make one 10-minute video, so something longer (say, 25 minutes with some type of commercials) would take most of a week. That'd mean I could make 2 episodes a month, tops (probably one episode per month) without compromising on editing and such, which I'm unwilling to do. That said, I am of course saving the unused interview content and will hopefully work it in later, perhaps as a special "outtakes" episode somewhere along the line (or on a DVD if it ever comes to that).

So, unless I miraculously find myself with a budget, I'm operating at full capacity here. :P I would love more than anything to do something like this full-time, professionally, but that's frankly impossible without being hosted by a corporation or some such. I suppose I could also talk to the local TV stations (are there any of those left, anymore??) and see if there's any possibility of a real show. I've heard of people contracting out to do short segments (about Matt Chat length, actually) for filling out certain variety/news show type content. I'm thinking of the video equivalent of "Future Tense," if you're into that from NPR (highly recommended, by the way).

Still, my guess is that any type of "real show" would want to start by replacing me as host (perhaps preserving me as a writer/consultant). That's okay, I guess, though not as fun, frankly. :)

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Matt Barton
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I've been thinking about

I've been thinking about this for awhile now and have some ideas.

First, I was looking at the PBS proposal process. Sure, it's a long shot, but perhaps something Bill and I (and Mark?) could make a serious effort to get done. Obviously, this wouldn't be "Matt Chat," but some type of mini-series, another full length documentary (perhaps focusing on the personalities), or a regular show. Obviously a lot of brainstorming to do here, but this could have potential if the proposal could get through the first phalanx.

Another idea would be to try to get on one of the existing shows of a city TV station. There are several in Minneapolis/St. Paul, for instance. I could try contacting them to discuss some type of videogame segment in one of their shows. They'd likely only be interested in modern stuff, though.

Another idea is perhaps the most involved, but it's feasible. Basically, I get a grant of some sort to cover production costs. This could mean getting studio time here at the college TV studio or something like production services at a local TV studio. Then, put out a DVD or mini-series and try to sell the rights to PBS or perhaps just on my own. Only part I'm hazy about is how to market the DVD and to what extent I'd be indebted (have to release it for free? what?) going the grant route. By coincidence, I've got an appointment with the grants office on Tuesday, so I could raise the possibility and see what sort of stuff is available.

In any case, of course the thing now is to focus on the current documentary project and making sure it's as good as it can possibly be. If it's successful, that will open all kinds of doors for new projects.

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Bill Loguidice
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Not to rain on the ideas, but...

As you know, I explored two things very seriously after Armchair Arcade's inception. Getting either a magazine deal done or a TV/radio deal. I learned a great deal about how both those things work along the way. The magazine thing is pretty obvious why that was a difficult proposition considering the state of the print industry today. The closest we came was with a California publisher, but they wanted us to bring our own sales team to the table at minimum.

As for TV, getting PBS funding is almost impossible these days, though some affiliates still allow a few hours a week for low budget community-provided programming. But if you're looking for some type of income with the latter, it's just not there. The other option is ally yourself with an experienced (and small-time) production company, but typically the best deals are that they'll fund half and you'll fund half, assuming that they're interested in your idea in the first place. So unless you have a spare $10,000 to help fund half of a pilot episode, with little hope of getting that back and no guarantee anyone will even see it, that's not a viable option. Also, as you say, the odds are high that they'll want to move forward with a slicker/younger/hipper host, quite possibly an attractive female.

So what does that leave? To my mind, we finish this darn documentary and make sure it's the best damn film it can possibly be. I think this will be another three months+ of work for us, given the latest setbacks we've had. Once that happens, we (or you) may be able to pitch something to Lux in regards to a regular series of some type, be it on the Web (which is a viable option these days) or something more traditional. Barring that, there will be additional leverage to go elsewhere with ideas, though we'd probably have to form some type of entity (production company) in order to be taken seriously. Sadly, that requires budgets and funding, something we may have if we reinvest any earnings from the documentary. In short, lots of options, but none of it is easy and most of it requires self-funding.

Making money at any of it, even the documentary, is an outside proposition at best. Once we cross the threshold of low risk work (Armchair Arcade, books, the documentary, etc.), the more we become personally in debt, and that's not something that's a path I'm not sure I'm willing to go down without a reasonable chance of return.

With all the above said, we've come a long way, and I don't think there are necessarily any limits as long as we keep on keeping on. It's just a matter of timing and a little bit of luck (both of which applied to us getting the documentary deal).

Books!
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[About Me]

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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
Thanks for another great

Thanks for another great video.

Matt Barton
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There's clearly money to be

There's clearly money to be made, but as you say, there's a great deal of risk involved. We've all seen how risky it is even if you're making tangible stuff (i.e., the pandora), which there is proven high demand for and people even willing to pay up front via "pre order." Now, scale that down to something like a professionally-produced "Armchair Arcade" DVD about videogames, which I imagine would only sell 30 or so copies at best. Heck, I'd be shocked if we sold a dozen.

The "cold dunk" reality here is that it's hard enough just getting people to click and read or watch something great for FREE. Trying to get them to pay for something mediocre is like taking a bath in warm chocolate sauce and then rushing out naked in the cold night air to buy a Hershey bar.

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Chris Kennedy
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My thoughts

Another great Matt Chat, Matt. The youtube time limit allowed for only a threshold of information.

This particular discussion seems like my best place to drop some thoughts on you guys.

I found something that I want to quote. It is something I already knew, but having a quote well help get me started. "Our ongoing mission is to chronicle the complete history of videogames and computers." - Armchair Arcade

This is, along with the professional attitude, great ideas, down home discussion, and ...proper grammar, the reason I started following and eventually joining Armchair Arcade. I believe we, as society, have reached a point where the history of videogames has suddenly become relevant. It has always been important, but it takes people recognizing that this history is important to find interest to fuel its documentation. If you look on amazon.com, you'll notice that there are some historical books on videogames. Vintage Games is obviously among them. My short research shows that most of these books were published within the last few years. It appears that one is more likely to find a book on the history of videogames that was published between 2003-2009 than he would be to find one that was published prior to 2001. There are certainly a few, but the majority appear to be first published in more recent years.

So I would like to say that one problem you guys are most likely experiencing is the fact you are ahead of your time. We certainly can't force people to have an interest in the history of videogames. There are plenty that have interest already, but it takes awhile for most people to start caring about this particular history. I think the work you guys do right now will be better appreciated (and more often and likely cited) years down the road.

Despite the fact we know that videogames cover a large span of ages, our culture still finds a need to make sure all videogame material gets a hip presentation. Choose the television stations on which you are most likely to find shows about videogames: PBS, MTV, G4TV, Spike, A&E, and The History Channel. Many of the features on something like the History Channel are going to focus on the business side of it all. How big is the industry today compared to the early eighties? Most journalists that comment on a video game on TV (Say 60 minutes for instance), are going to focus on the violence. This example is more of a news side of videogames rather than a history side, but my main point is to say that the industry seems to still be cementing itself into our culture. It isn't quite the same as studying the history of architecture. Architecture has an obviously long history. What about something with a relatively short history? Movies? How many people were interested in movie history in say... the 1930s compared to now?

I have probably used too many words to make a simple point, but I just felt the need to write some of my thoughts about it. Returning to you guys, I certainly believe what you do is important. I believe you should do your best to chronicle and preserve the history of videogames no matter what the medium. It may take a breakout item in order to get more exposure. It may also take references in order to gain an audience. Even citing Vintage Games or Matt Chat on wikipedia might help.

Just to toss something into the fire, I really would like to think that Super Mario Bros is key. If you google the history of super mario bros, you'll find numerous writeups on fansites, IGN, nfggames, etc. Where is the documentary video? Where is that? You guys are working on a documentary right now. Bill is right - make it your best. See where that goes. With Mario comes an audience. This is just me shooting the breeze with my palms turned up, but I think you guys could have a hit if you did a well-produced video documentary on Super Mario Bros. Not a three webpage write-up. Not a 5 minute youtube video. A full-fledged, footage-heavy, interview-laced, nostalgia-filled, A&E worthy, well-produced documentary on the history of Super Mario Bros.

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