In his new book The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers, investigative journalist/author/professor/wrestling aficionado/gamer Patrick Hickey Jr. delves deep into the history of numerous treasured titles – from famous and infamous to cult and obscure – and finds the stories of the men and women behind them. These developers often risked their careers and sacrificed sleep, money, peace of mind (and maybe a bit of sanity) to bring you some of the most iconic and beloved games known. Their struggles, mixed with a passion for their industry, show just how much of a labor of love their projects could be and how much of themselves they would pour into their work.
With its release date coming up fast, I had a few minutes to pose some questions to the mind behind the book…
The book came from the notion that I could do it. I just finished Brett Weiss’ latest book, The 100 Great Console Games 1977-1987 and I really dug it. I ended up buying about 20 of the games in the book and loved the little tidbits. Brett’s style is down to earth and mega geeky- I loved it, but I knew that my feature-style was different. I felt like if I had my way, I’d write a book that had a lot of direct quotation and that would mean me going on wild goose chases to find the right developers. So after a conversation with a colleague at Kingsborough Community College, where I am the Assistant Director of the Journalism program, I decided it was time to write a book, to take my love of the medium to the next level. I’ve spent over a decade covering the industry, but this would be the culmination of it all. Something I could be really proud of. With my wife pregnant, I felt it was the perfect time to crank out a book and ensure my daughter-to-be had an author for a daddy. I then started sending out pitches to the developers I wanted to speak to and began to replay the games I felt belonged. The rest, as they say, is history.
The biggest reason is that many of these creators were never asked about their games. Video game journalism is more obsessed with defining the quality of the art than the inspiration and creative process behind it. I feel like there’s more room to tell better stories and intrigue readers more inside the minds of developers than just to focus on the finished product. Another reason is that some of the games featured were good, but weren’t great enough to become legendary. Games like Night Trap, Voodoo Vince, Super Battletank and Boy and His Blob have a much-deserved place in gaming history, but there are so many factors that led many of them to become what they did. Many gamers label these titles due to popular opinion but don’t know the context behind them, the “why” these games ended up with the reputations they have. That’s what this book is all about. Letting you know why E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Night Trap aren’t the worst games of all-time and why the Wonder Boy series is one of the most important and unique franchises in video game history, among many other cool stories and statements. Every chapter gives the developers an opportunity to defend their art and tell the true story. That’s something game critics don’t care about and as a result many readers are left with only a small amount of information on a game. I wanted to go past the “this game is good or bad” nonsense. I wanted readers to understand as much as they could behind the creation process and reception of the game and how that affected the creator and the industry.
It started with e-mails and then went to texts and phone calls. Facebook, Gamesutra and MobyGames all played a huge role. It was an amazing experience. Interplay founder Brian Fargo messaged me on Christmas Eve on Facebook and told me he was Christmas shopping but saw my message and had to respond. Bully creative lead Mike Skupa congratulated me while my wife was in labor and Mark Turmell and I discussed parenting techniques. Simply put, these people were all amazing. I must admit, that as a journalist, I can be a massive pain in the ass. I needed answers and I busted a tremendous amount of balls. At one point, I texted Dane Bigham, one of the creators of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and called his job. TowerFall’s Matt Thorson was messaged on every social media account he had so I could get him to sign the waiver so he could be a part of the book.
David A. Palmer, the developer for Doom on the GBA, informed me that he was battling cancer and after a few months of not hearing from him, I gave up. Two days before my deadline, I let him know that I had about 3,000 words left in the book if he wanted them. Having a mother battling cancer, I felt he deserved me reaching out again. The guy was a workhorse during the 16-bit era and I wanted him to share the development story of the GBA version of Doom because it’s awesome. He answered me the next day with everything I needed and I didn’t sleep that night and gave it the attention it deserved.
Road Rash and Desert Strike, two of the greatest Sega Genesis/Mega Drive games of all-time, were both in serious danger of being canceled at several points in their development cycle.
I think developers are artists, so yes, their work and the trials and tribulations they endure during their work definitely have an effect on their work. For example, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction developer Eric Holmes created an amazing game with a shoestring budget. It’s no surprise the Batman Arkham games are so damn good now.
Every game in the book has been released, but it was interesting to find out that games like Deus Ex and The Suffering, for example, all started out much differently. Like I said, every chapter is chock full of information like this. Electronic Arts had a hard time understanding the Mutant League Football series and eventually killed the chance of a sequel because they wanted to focus on games with league and player licenses. This was, in spite of the fact that MLF outsold many of the early Madden games.
There are so many games out there that I feel are overrated. I love Call of Duty, but how much can you reinvent the same wheel? When do they take that game back to formula and make something that redefines the genre? The same thing in the NBA 2K series. It’s the best basketball game in the world, but what has it done in terms of industry-changing innovation in the last three or so years? In terms of underrated, I’d have to say the AKI wrestling games on the Nintendo 64 are still the best wrestling games ever. 2K Sports has done an admirable job with the WWE license and releases games chock full of content every year, but they’ll never be as fun to play as WCW/nWo Revenge and WWF No Mercy.
I thought I knew a lot about the industry and I thought I loved it before. Now I can say that I know a lot more and still don’t know enough. In terms of love, I have an appreciation for the medium now that I never thought was possible. Video games, simply put, are magic.
I’d love to write a sequel, but I’m going to start a professional wrestling book project this August first. I’ll be working on the second book of this series on the side, but I think a book on the emotional and physical ramifications of being a pro wrestler is far overdue. Just like this book, it’ll be full of great interviews with interesting people. In the end, I’m not a novelist. I’m a journalist. I have to allow other people to tell me their stories. I have some great access to the indie wrestling scene thanks to my buddies at the Bronx-based Battle Club Pro promotion. They have amazing performers there, many that you’ve seen on TV and some that you will see eventually. It’s a great start.
The book is already available for pre-order on MacFarlandBooks.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. I’ll also be speaking at the Coleco Retro Games Expo on August 5 and the Long Island Retro Gaming Expo on August 13. I have a few other events in the works as well to spread awareness.
Michael A. Jones firstname.lastname@example.org www.nerdsintheburbs.com
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