Raw Transcript of Video-game Nirvana Interview

Bill Loguidice's picture

As promised, I am posting the raw transcript from my interview in last week's Suburban Newspaper, which I talked about here. As is often the case, we talked about much more than would fit in a regular newspaper feature, so I thought it might be nice to see the full spectrum of questions and my responses. As is usual for these things, it's me-centric, so the mileage of your enjoyment may vary, but if you stick with it you may gain some additional insight into how I think, where I come from, and what my influence on the Armchair Arcade philosophy is. The QandA:

1. What is your first memory of playing a video game? Which was it and on what system?
 
Since I was born in 1972, the same year that the first successful arcade videogame, Atari's Pong, and first home videogame system, the Magnavox Odyssey, were released, I was able to pretty much grow up along with the industry. My earliest memory was playing my parents' Sears-branded version of home Pong in the late 70's. They didn't hook it up to the TV often, but when they did it was always a special treat. It wasn't until I was around age 7 that I used my Communion money to purchase my own Atari 2600. My mom thought I would soon grow bored with it like my other toys, but that obviously never happened. I was forever hooked. A few years later we got our first computer, a Commodore Vic-20.
 
2. How did your video game taste change over the years, or did it not?
 
My earliest tastes were influenced by the games that were common in the late 70's and early 80's, which were mostly simple action games that required little more than a joystick and single button and could be enjoyed in short bursts. As the industry matured, so too did the games, becoming increasingly complex, which in turn broadened my own interests. Playing games on computers, with their wider range of input options and storage capabilities opened up even more possibilities, particularly for complex strategy and role-playing games, placing far less emphasis on pure reflex to win. With that said, outside of very specific genres, I tend to enjoy just about any type of quality game, old or new, as they all have their own special something to offer.
 
3. What was the impetus for writing your first book?
 
I always had an interest in the videogame and computer industry's history and followed it closely as I grew up. I also got into collecting videogame and computer systems early on even before I realized I was doing it. So, being passionate about the subject and having an equal passion for writing, it was natural that eventually the two interests would merge. I had briefly written a videogame column for my college newspaper in the 90's and published articles here and there after graduating, but it really wasn't before co-founding the Armchair Arcade Website in late 2003 that things began to really take off for me. Even though Armchair Arcade was something we did in our spare time, we always approached it professionally and took what we created seriously. Armchair Arcade, which covers all facets of videogames and computers, started out as a Webzine, but we eventually morphed it into a blog format with additional audio and video content, so this way we could release whatever we created as soon as it was ready instead of waiting for the next online issue to come out. The response to Armchair Arcade was immediately positive and it gave us the professional credibility to branch out into other projects, such as our books and now a feature film documentary. Not bad for something we do with no funding and in our limited spare time.
 
4. How long did it take to write your first book?
 
It turns out that in most cases once a book receives the green light from a publisher, there's very little time to actually write it. Vintage Games was no different. My co-author, Matt Barton and I only had about 3 months and we were responsible for not only all of the research and writing, but for creating all of the screenshots and scans as well. We finished on time, which still amazes me, because there had been a miscalculation in the number of pages we actually had to deliver, so we ended up creating nine additional chapters that didn't fit in the book. We eventually published those as free bonus chapters on the Website Gamasutra, which I think a lot of people appreciated.
 
5. Name your top 5 video games from any system?
 
Gun to my head and in no particular order, I'd grudgingly pick: Pooyan (Konami, 1982 for the arcade), Satan's Hollow (Bally Midway, 1982 for the arcade), Phantasie (SSI, 1985 for the Commodore 64), Civilization (Microprose, 1991 for the PC), and Super Mario Kart (Nintendo, 1992 for the Super NES).
 
6. Do you have a favorite system?
 
To date, I have collected over 380 videogame, computer, and handheld systems from all eras and territories, so I'm a bit of a platform agnostic. I can find something to love about even the most modest systems. With that said, particular favorites include the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Sega Genesis, and the Xbox 360.
 
7. What do you think makes vintage video games important to today's gamers, both adult and child? Do they mean different things to different people?
 
I think vintage videogames are important to today's gamers for several reasons. For one, many of today's games are inspired by or copy features from the classics that came before, so if a gamer has any interest in their hobby, it would serve them well to check out some of the oldies. For another, a good game is a good game regardless of age and that means that they'll be worth playing forever. Some of the best games of yesteryear made do with relatively limited technology, so they had to rely more on pure gameplay to hook players than many of the games today that can use things like realistic high definition graphics and digital surround sound as a cover for mediocre designs. Finally, nostalgia is always a powerful motivator and with many of us having played games for going on greater than 30 years now, there's nothing quite like re-living some of your fondest memories now and again.
 
8. If you could see one video game remade with today's graphics and technological standards, what would it be and why?
 
It's really not so much a specific game I'd like to see as it is a concept. Just like the vast majority of today's major animated films are created with computer generated 3D models, so to are the vast majority of today's major videogames. What I'd like to see is more large scale games that make use of 2D, hand drawn visuals. It's not very likely though as it's far more cost effective to render high quality 3D models than it is to draw lots of high quality 2D images.
 
9. Why did you decide to write your second book?
 
Beyond my aforementioned passion for videogames, computers and writing, fitness was also always an important part of my life. I've been working out, with a particular focus on bodybuilding, for the better part of 20 years now, and am an AFTA-certified personal trainer. With the extraordinary popularity of fitness-oriented videogames like Wii Fit, it seemed like a natural fit to leverage the full scope of my background. This eventually evolved into what became Wii Fitness for Dummies, which covers three of the top Wii fitness games, and which I had the distinct pleasure to write with my wife, who is herself a talented writer and fitness enthusiast.
 
10. How long did it take?
 
Interestingly, the book was originally supposed to be Wii Fit for Dummies, but just as we were finishing up after just over three months of work, Nintendo officially announced an upgrade called Wii Fit Plus. The publisher decided that we'd be better off targeting the new version of the game as well as a few other key Wii fitness titles, so we scrapped most of the work we did and started fresh with what became Wii Fitness for Dummies. That took roughly another three months of work, which included the research, writing, photography, and screenshots. Just like with Vintage Games, getting all of this done in addition to holding full-time jobs and taking care of our children was no easy feat, but I'm certainly proud of the end result.
 
11. As a vintage gamer, how do you feel about the lightspeed at which games have evolved in the last 5 years or so?
 
Well, technology has always moved at a rapid rate, so what's become most interesting in the last five years or so to me is the industry's intense focus on expanding the videogame market beyond just the traditional types of gamers, led by non-traditional systems like the Nintendo Wii and Apple iPhone. There has really been a move towards balancing out the traditional videogame experience that is primarily targeted to hardcore gamers who relish complicated controls and lengthy games with videogame experiences that are easy to learn and can be enjoyed in short play sessions. In many ways this goes back to the industry's roots in the arcades of the 70's and early 80's where game makers had to hook players within seconds and then keep them coming back for more.
 
12. Where do you see video games going?
 
Videogames have taken their rightful place as a normal part of life throughout the world and will continue to become more and more integrated into our daily existences. It seems like if a device is even remotely capable, someone will create some type of videogame for it. Further, as more and more people game, more and more different types of videogame experiences will be created to cater to the wildly different tastes and preferences out there. From a more specific technological standpoint, I see continued expansion into alternative controls, like with Microsoft's upcoming Kinect for the Xbox 360, which uses a camera array to track a person's movements, essentially making them the controller, which is naturally just about the most intuitive control method possible. Beyond that, I think within 5 years, we'll start to see large screen 3D TV's that don't require glasses, which, when combined with Nintendo's upcoming 3DS handheld, which also does 3D without glasses, we'll start to see a more aggressive technological push into true 3D videogames that can work beyond the normal constraints of today's 2D displays. Of course you'll see some of that stuff going on to a limited degree with 3D TVs and videogames that take advantage of that, but I think requiring glasses is a big barrier at present for a lot of people. So I expect once that barrier is removed, true 3D will be the next area of innovation in videogames, albeit a bit further out.
 
13. People say video games rot your brain, what do you think of this statement?
 
The idea that videogames rot your brain comes from a position of ignorance. Unlike passive forms of entertainment, say like movies or books, videogames are interactive, requiring active mental and physical involvement from the player to advance the "story". Studies have shown that videogames increase both reflexes and mental agility, which makes sense given the seemingly infinite variety of options available, from pure puzzle games, to mysteries, to role-playing games, to games controlled with the whole body, and everything in-between. It's counter-intuitive for some because videogames are often thought of as a juvenile or even deviant pursuit, but having such a profound ability to engage both the mind and body in the way that they do actually makes videogames among the healthiest entertainment and educational options, particularly when you also factor in many of the social aspects.
 
14. What is your favorite genre of video game and why?
 
I don't really have a strong genre bias, but I do play more than my fair share of racing games. Besides lots of clever ways to implement a racing game, from pure racing to racing with combat, there's a special type of adrenaline rush that is often missing in other genres that you get from simply jockeying for position against a large number of opponents with a clear short term goal--to be the first to cross the finish line.
 
15. If you could banish one video game into non-existence---living as if it never existed--what would it be and why?
 
Actually, I'd like to banish most of the licensed videogames, particularly the ones that are tied to a movie. This rarely results in a good game because the developers are typically both rushed to meet a particular release date and creatively constrained by whatever "rules" are set in the movie. A classic example of this is of course 1982's E.T. for the Atari 2600, but the recently released Clash of the Titans game shows that even when a game gets released long after the film is out of theaters it can still turn out dreadful. It's far better to be original, though from a sales standpoint it's certainly understandable because people tend to gravitate to the familiar over the unfamiliar.
 
16.  You have a documentary coming out soon, when will it premiere?

We've been working on "Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution" since 2009, and it's scheduled to finish production by the end of this year for a release date to be determined in 2011.
 
17. Could you talk a little bit about the process of making the documentary? Is this your first attempt at making one?
 
I'm co-writing and producing the film along with Matt Barton. We're responsible for creating the script and capturing most of the gameplay footage. We also conducted a series of interviews with industry legends that will be incorporated throughout the film. It's naturally a highly collaborative process, so we rely on talented Directors of Photography to do the actual filming when we interview people, and a professional editor/director to pull the pieces together based off of the details in our script and the footage we provide.
 
This is the first film we're working on. We were first approached by the production company based off of what they said was the highly entertaining and visual manner in which we wrote the book, Vintage Games. They felt that bringing that same style to a film would work well.
 
18.  What will be at the heart of the documentary?
 
Gameplay covers the complete history of videogames, from the foundational work done in the 1950's through to the present day and beyond. I believe it will be one of the first works of its kind to provide such a comprehensive overview.
 
19. Do you feel there will be a challenge in attracting an audience? I know for myself I hated only watching video games as a kid (back in the days of only two controllers).
 
We're targeting both gamers and non-gamers alike, so while the basic concept may turn some people off, if they give the film a chance I think they'll be pleasantly surprised. Fans of history, business, technology and yes, videogames, should all get equal enjoyment out of the film. Even without any of the flourishes we're adding, I think the history of the videogame industry itself has enough ups and downs and twists and turns to surprise and delight just about anyone. Watching how the audio-visuals have evolved over the years before your eyes and hearing from the actual people responsible for the magic is the proverbial icing on the cake.
 
20. What is currently satisfying your video game fix?
 
I devote just about equal time to both old and new videogames. Beyond my collection of vintage systems, I have all the latest consoles and handhelds, including the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Nintendo DSi and iPhone, so there's a lot to keep me busy in my limited free time. Lately, I've been enjoying the PS3's Move controller and games like the EyePet with my daughters, who are 4 and 5. It's a true pleasure watching them interact with and enjoy the technology so effortlessly, much like I did when I was little. With the right videogame, there really is no barrier to entry for anyone, young or old, and it can really be a wonderful group experience. Of course, like a lot of gamers, I'm also putting in my fair share of time with what are considered the latest hardcore games, like Halo Reach for the Xbox 360.
 
21. How do you feel about the leaps and bounds in online gaming that have been made? Did you ever expect to be able to blast someone's head off who was currently living in Germany or China, etc.?
 
Online gaming has been available to some degree for decades, but it used to be where you had to tie up the phone line or pay by the hour or even the minute, and the available population of opponents was relatively limited. Naturally, with the rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web in the mid-90s and their eventual ubiquity, all kinds of new social possibilities began to open up. This was great for gaming, because it increased the number of possible opponents interested in the same game as you, and the increased network speeds meant the play experience could be nearly as good as if the person was sitting next to you at the same TV or monitor, even if they were actually thousands of miles away. So no, I don't think any of us really envisioned how amazingly connected we'd eventually become, because even with all the old Pollyannaish visions of the future, it was always hardest to believe that nearly everyone would end up participating.
 
22. What do you think the general opinion of vintage gamers is of the current video game tradition? (Games have moved from the arcade to primitive home systems to all encompassing boxes of fun and pleasure...)
 
There will always be those who begrudge technical progress at the expense of substance, but the reality is we live in a videogame nirvana unlike at any other time, even if there's more fluff to wade through to get to the good stuff than ever before. Not only do we have all the latest and greatest games, but through a variety of methods and means we have access to nearly all the games that came before, regardless of platform. How could you not love having access to tens of thousands of videogames and tons of different ways to play them?
 
23.  What role do you think vintage games play in society?
 
Again, I come back to the idea of nostalgia. As humans, we have a predilection for remembering only the good parts of the past. Certainly particular videogames, like a particular song, can elicit strong positive memories of the good old days, even if they really weren't as great as we might remember them. As such, vintage games are an important part of our culture and history as they help frame the events that were going on at the height of their popularity.
 
24. Do you have any last general comments about games or gaming?
 
I think videogames are past the point of ever going away. They're an inseparable part of our past, present and future. I highly recommend for those who don't game or think the activity somehow beneath them to check a videogame or two or three out. They might be surprised at the ways it could change their outlook on life, be it as a healthy way to relieve stress, a fun way to workout, a mental challenge, a social experience, or simply another way to have some easy and safe fun.

Comments

Troy Wilkins
Troy Wilkins's picture
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Joined: 06/19/2010
Interesting!

Thanks for sharing that with us all.

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Chip Hageman
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Joined: 10/06/2010
Thanks Bill

Thanks Bill

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