THE ON-LINE FANZINE ARCHIVE AND MUSEUM

A VERY
BIENIEK
INTERVIEW
by Jess Ragan
& Chris Bieniek


Didja ever wonder what made the great Video Games and Computer Entertainment tick? Or why Arnie Katz and company left the magazine shortly before it went under? Perhaps the decision to transform it into the tragically hip VideoGames still boggles your mind, or you can't help but wonder how its descendant, Tips & Tricks, managed to rise from the ashes of its failed predecessor to become the most popular strategy guide magazine on newsstands today. One man was there through the evolution of LFP's video game publications... I had the chance to ask him all of these questions, plus a few you may not have considered. Special thanks go to Chris Bieniek for editing the interview a bit to give it a more personal feel.

Jess Ragan: Please introduce yourself for the benefit of my less enlightened readers.

Chris Bieniek: Hello, Jess' less enlightened readers. I'm the Editor in Chief of Tips & Tricks, a monthly video-game tip and strategy magazine.

JR: Could you maybe mention what you were doing before editing T&T?

CB: Okay...uh, before that, I was Executive Editor of VideoGames magazine, Senior Editor of VG, before that, Associate Editor of VideoGames & Computer Entertainment, a Contributing Editor to VG&CE, and for a while I was Senior Editor of TurboPlay magazine.

JR: This question's pretty obvious: How'd you first get involved with video games? Was there any game in particular which first captured your imagination?

CB: I'm not gonna lie and say that I started with Pong; I think the first video game that I ever played was Gunfight or Outlaw or something, where you had two cowboys on the screen shooting at each other. That REALLY freaked me out. I was sitting in a restaurant with my parents, completely turned around in my chair, facing away from the table so I could watch people playing the game. I remember thinking, "You mean, you can actually CONTROL those guys on the TV?" The first home video game I ever played was the original Odyssey from Magnavox, which my dad borrowed from a friend for a couple of weeks. Later on, we got an Astrocade system, and I won an Atari VCS from a Cap'n Crunch contest, if you can believe that! I was totally obsessed with arcade games and Atari stuff, but I didn't have a lot of money at the time to support my hobby, so I kept tabs on the industry by picking up every video-game magazine I could get my hands on: Electronic Games, Electronic Fun, Video Games, Videogaming Illustrated, Joystik, and so on. Also, my dad worked in the audio-visual department of the University of Illinois, so he went to the Consumer Electronics Show every summer. He would go on the first day of the show, then he would let me take his badge so I could sneak in on the second day and check out all of the new video game stuff. I couldn't really talk to anybody because I was there under false pretenses; I think the badge identified me as an "Institutional Buyer." But I still got to play all the new games and grab a bunch of free magazines and literature; man, those shows were great back then. And I remember at some point, probably around 1983, it occurred to me that I was actually spending more money on video-game magazines than on the games themselves. That was probably some kind of omen, but I didn't recognize it as such until years later.

JR: Your most celebrated accomplishment was contributing to the profes- sional game magazine VideoGames & Computer Entertainment I assume you were quite young when the first issue was published...how were you able to convince editor Andy Eddy to print your reviews in what was essentially a maGazine intended for mature readers?

CB: Hmmm... I dunno what you mean by "quite young;" I think I was 24 when I wrote my first review for VG&CE. And I don't believe that the founders of VG&CE were targeting a specific age group; I think they were just trying to be mature and responsible in the way that they covered the industry, and because of the low-grade mentality of the competitors that cropped up around it, it just SEEMED like it was aimed at an older readership. I don't know if you're familiar with A.N.A.L.O.G. Computing magazine, which was an Atari computer magazine LFP published in the late '80s.  Video Games and Computer Entertainment was sort of a spin-off from that magazine; a lot of the people who worked on VG&CE -like Andy and Clayton Walnum -came from A.N.A.L,O.G., which had a pretty sophisticated readership. So I guess it was just natural that those guys would bring a little bit of that mentality to VG&CE when it started up. Anyway... there was a magazine called Computer Play that did some coverage of the NES, and they ran an ad that said they were looking for freelance contributors; they were soliciting reviews and articles. So I wrote up reviews of a couple of NES games and sent them in, thinking that I could make a little money, which I could use to buy more games, and the whole thing would kind of perpetuate itself, you know. I had no idea how these things were done...I never thought it would turn into a career! They eventually called me up and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing PC games, and I said that I was, but the truth was that I didn't have access to a decent PC; I was really only interested in console games, And while I was trying to figure out how to explain this to them, the first issue of VG&CE appeared at my local 7-11. I looked at the masthead, found Andy's name and wrote him a very polite letter explaining how I noticed that he had singlehandedly written most of the NES coverage in that first issue. I sent along one of the reviews that I had sent to Computer Play; but I also wanted to do something fresh, so I borrowed a fairly new game from a friend and wrote a review of that one as well. The next thing I knew, Andy sent me a contract to sign and said that VG&CE was going to print one of the reviews; he bought it right on the spot!

Years later, he did mention to me that the reason why he paid attention to my letter was because I had taken the time to format the reviews so carefully; I wrote them out to match the exact format of the reviews that I had seen in that first issue, and even included a floppy disk so they didn't even have to be typed in. You know, if anybody is reading this interview hoping to get some advice on how to get a job working for a video-game magazine, I should point out that there's NO WAY a scenario like this could ever happen again, I was totally in the right place at the right time; I mean, I'm sure it helped that I had a thorough knowledge of the game industry, and that I was able to construct coherent sentences. But I consider myself extremely lucky to have been given a chance to do this. I mean, look at it this way: I submitted those reviews in January of '89 and Andy contacted me about two weeks later. I waited and waited to see my name in print, and after a couple of months I was starting to wonder if maybe I had imagined the whole thing. I think it was...like, the June issue when it finally got printed. That game came out in December; it was called Anticipation. Now, when was the last time that you opened up a video-game magazine and read a review of a game that had already been on the shelves for about seven months? I guess they must have liked something about my writing; I really can't tell you why both Computer Play and VG&CE were interested in me right off the bat.

JR: I noticed that about VG&CE... even its other reviews were never especially current.  It's a wonder Joyce Worley even bothered with that news column of hers- it must have been seriously dated by the time each issue came out.

CB: Ahh, every print magazine has to deal with lead time.  At least we were giving our guys some time to actually play the games before they wrote about them.  I don't think it was too bad.  And the news section was kind of a necessary evil; nowadays I find myself referring to the news sections in those older issues if I'm doing research.

JR: Name some memorable moments you had as a contributor to VG&CE.

CB: Wow... that's kind of a general question.  I had a memorable moment practically every month when I got games sent to me for review.  Before I moved to L.A. in '92, I was doing reviews as a freelancer living in Chicago; they would send me a game or two every month, and I would write about 'em.  And of course, there were some REALLY AMAZING games that the FedEx guy dropped off at my house, pre-release copies of incredible stuff like Battletoads and Sonic the Hedgehog. That's still the coolest thing about this job: the fact that you get to play the games before the rest of the world sees 'em. I practically fuckin' jumped out of my skin the day I got Ninja Gaiden II, man; I couldn't believe how lucky I was.

But if I had to point to one really special moment, it would actually be something that happened during the VideoGames era, not during the VG&CE period. I had written this feature article about Spider-Man, where I talked about all of the video games that Spider-Man has appeared in, and I did tons of research; it turned out pretty good. Anyway, in the article I mentioned the fact that the original Spider-Man game for the Game Boy played some music that was obviously a thinly-disguised version of the theme from the original Spider-Man TV show, the cartoon from the '60s. So a few months later, I got a phone call from an old guy who introduced himself as Bob Harris, the guy who WROTE the Spider-Man theme. I guess somebody showed him my article, and he wanted some information on the game and who the publisher was so he could sue them! And in the course of the conversation, he's trying to find out if I'm sure of what I wrote, so he says, "How do you know it was my theme? I mean, does it go, 'Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can, spins a web, any size...'" etc. And I totally had one of those transcendental moments, you know; I was outside of myself, looking down and thinking, "I'm in my office in Beverly Hills...I play video games for a living...I work for Larry Flynt...the guy who wrote the Spider-Man theme is on the phone...and he's SINGING it to me!" That's when it really dawned on me that my life had totally changed, that I had a pretty unusual career.

JR: Were you worried about the future of VG&CE when Arnie Katz, Joyce Worley and Bill Kunkel left the magazine to resurrect Electronic Games? It seems like more than a coincidence that Katz and company left VideoGames & Computer Entetainment a year before it became VideoGames.

CB: Not at all; in fact, I'm glad you asked that question because I'd like to clear up a VERY common misconception about the way VG&CE was produced. With all due respect- and I do have tons of respect for them, because they INVENTED the job that I have today- Arnie, Joyce and Bill were freelance contributors who had very little to do with the editorial direction of VG&CE. They lived in Las Vegas and simply sent in their articles each month, just as I had done when I was living in Chicago. To give you an idea of how detached they were from the magazine's day-to-day activity: During their tenure with VG&CE, I attended two different Consumer Electronics Shows as a representative of the magazine. I walked the show floor with Andy and Mike Davila the entire time, and I never even SAW Arnie, Joyce or Bill; they seemed to be running a completely independent operation. In fact, I didn't even get to meet Arnie or Joyce in person until August of 1998.

JR: That surprises me. Joyce was nothing if not consistent with her news column. I can't think of an issue of VG&CE that didn't have one. Now, Arnie and Bill on the other hand...it's not too hard to believe that they were just contributors. The Arnster did a lot of computer reviews and a monthly editorial but never anything that was bolted into the framework of the magazine. And Bill...well, he was just there.

CB: Well, let me back up a little. I don't mean to trivialize their contributions to VG&CE, because they brought instant credibility to the magazine at launch. I mean, Bill's the Game Doctor, for crying out loud...everybody read that column! And the "Inside Gaming" column did suck after Arnie stopped doing it; that was one of the biggest differences that resulted from their departure. It's just that over the years I've talked to SO many people who always thought that they were running the show, and that just wasn't the case. Anyway, not long after I came on board, there was talk of replacing them by hiring a full-time computer entertainment editor. I guess the powers-that-be wanted more control over the parts of the magazine that they were responsible for, and plans were being drawn up to bring all of the computer game coverage back in-house. So when the three of them announced that they were going to re-launch Electronic Games...well, it was a perfectly amicable split, and I personally believed that VG&CE could be stronger because we would have all of the editors in the same office. I guess that was around the time that the sales started to drop off...but the short answer to your original question is "no," because I didn't believe that there was going to be any change in the quality of the magazine.

JR: When LFP attempted to revive VG&CE by turning it into a more mainstream, "hip" publication, many of the magazine's editors were re- placed with relatively inexperienced writers like Chris Gore and Betty Hallock. Did you resent that Chris Gore was chosen as the head editor of VideoGames when Clayton Walnum, Howard H. Wen and yourself had been with the publication since its inception in 1988?

CB: No, but if anybody had anything to complain about, it would have been Mike Davila, because he was second-in-command when Andy left. I guess you're not aware of the fact that there were only three of us on the in-house editorial staff at the time. The rest of those guys were all freelancers: Howard and Brent Walker lived in Texas, Josh Mandel lived in Northern California and Clay lived in Connecticut.

JR: Do you keep in touch with any of your old acquaintances from VG&CE or VideoGames?

CB: Unfortunately, a lot of the VG&CE guys were shut out when the magazine became VG; Josh, in particular, was really offended by the changes in the magazine. In fact, he wrote a very long, pointed letter explaining how misguided he thought the "new" VideoGames was, and backed up his opinions with all kinds of marketing research data and case histories. I wish I had a copy of that somewhere, because it was brilliant; he basically predicted the downfall of VideoGames back in 1993! I still talk to Mike Davila all the time; in fact, both he and Andy are now working at a trade magazine called GameWeek. And I run into Donn Nauert every once in a great while; he's a producer over at THQ.

JR: Here's a sensitive one. There's a rumor that Chris Gore burst into Betty Hallock's office and demanded that she revise a negative review of a game for the Atari Jaguar. At the time, the Jaguar was heavily advertised in VideoGames. Is there any truth to this bit of folklore, and were there other, similar incidents that occurred while you were assistant editor at the magazine?

CB: (sigh)...That sounds somewhat inaccurate, if only because there was no reason for anyone to "burst into" anyone else's office when one could just as easily open up a layout document and change the text, or have the art director change the ratings behind everybody else's back. I do remember at least one incident where a number was changed; in fact, at one point Betty and I started to use pseudonyms for a couple of reviews because we were being forced to crap them out so quickly that there was no way the games were getting fair treatment. There was a lot of horrible shit going on at VideoGames during its last few years; I'll say that.

JR: Sorry if I opened up any old wounds! I don't remember your using any pseudonyms. Of course, that was probably the point.

CB: Yeah, I hope it wasn't real obvious! The one I remember most vividly was a game called Golf Magazine Presents 36 Great Holes Starring Fred Couples for the 32X; I was forced to pull that review out of my butt in about 45 minutes. I played the game for maybe 15 minutes, then I just sat down at the keyboard and started going on and on about "Gee, isn't that the longest game title you've ever heard in your life?" and how every game system has to have a golf game, blah blah blah, until I filled up enough space. And I didn't want my name on any of that shit; it was bad enough that my name was up there on the masthead as "Executive Editor" when I was practically powerless.

You know, I'm not the last great bastion of journalistic integrity or anything, but I do try to be fair, to be entertaining and informative...it's like, if your magazine costs five bucks, it had better be WORTH five bucks. Now, Tips & Tricks ain't perfect, but I believe there's more than five bucks worth of stuff in every issue; we try to make sure of that. But some of those issues of VideoGames, I wouldn't wipe my ass with 'em.

JR: You'd left VideoGames shortly before it was acquired and shut down by Ziff-Davis to work on Tips & Tricks. How were you able to turn this niche publication into such a remarkable success? After all, previous attempts at tips magazines didn't exactly fly off newsstand shelves...

CB: Well, I had been doing the tips sections in VideoGames since Donn left the magazine in 1992, and I found that I had a knack for it. I'm pretty good at finding secrets in games, but what's more important is that I'm very good at EXPLAINING how to do the tricks and codes. The information in Tips & Tricks is extremely reliable, due to a number of factors that I'd rather not go into here. And I think that there's a need for a video-game tips magazine.

I'm not sure which "previous attempts" you're referring to, because the only other one I know of was S.W.A.T. Pro, which probably failed because it consisted almost entirely of information that had already appeared (or was appearing concurrently) in GamePro.

JR: Former contributor Betty Hallock became something of a sex symbol among hopeful Tips & Tricks readers before she left the magazine to pursue a career in the news media. Did Ms. Hallock's unexpected fame ever make you or her nervous? Remember, T&T is a Larry Flynt publication, and the man does get ideas...

CB: Ehhh...I don't think we ever got to the point where we were really trying to position Betty as a "sex symbol." Some of the readers may have chosen to think of her that way, but it only manifested itself in the form of a few wacko letters every month. Don't get me wrong; she did get a lot of really nice, normal mail from a lot of people who admired her -which in itself is unusual, because most of the people in this business get very little feedback unless they get up on the Internet or something and toot their own horns. But the lunatics who wrote in asking for nude centerfolds and stuff seemed to be really hung up on nothing more than the idea of a GIRL who likes to play video games, as if that was the idea of their perfect mate. And I hate to burst bubbles, but Betty wasn't really a video-game player!

I remember one promotion where we tossed around the idea of making up some 8x10" glossy photos and having her autograph them, but it wasn't something she was comfortable with, so it never happened. And when she started that monthly column in the back of the magazine, we were obviously thinking of calling it "The Betty Page," but she didn't like that idea, either. You know, for somebody who walked around the office in platform shoes with retractable roller skates built into them, she was pretty low-key.

I'll tell you about another "female video-game player," since you're interested in VG&CE trivia: If you look at some older issues of the mag, you'll find a bunch of reviews that were written by somebody named "Christie Hewlett." Well, I found out years later that this was a pseudonym used by one of the regular VG&CE reviewers; I guess he wanted to try reviewing games in a "feminine voice." No, I'm not making this up!

JR: Tips & Tricks has hired more video game fanzine editors than any other oublication. What do fan-eds bring to T&T?

CB: Lots of things. Intelligence...common sense...industry knowledge...When I was doing fanzine reviews for VideoGames, I would sit there every month and marvel over the fact that many of the fanzine editors were doing better work than a lot of the people who worked for "professional" video-game magazines. In a lot of cases, they were better writers, they had a better sense of the history of the industry, they just had a better grasp of what people want to read about. Plus, I think the nature of the term "fan" suggests someone who really has a hell of lot of enthusiasm for the subject matter, you know? That's something you gotta have. We had a couple of ex-fanzine editors freelancing for VideoGames who were among our best writers, so Tips & Tricks naturally tapped into that talent pool as well.

JR: I guess I wasn't one of those cases, huh?

CB: Well, Jess, you've got this funny habit of pissing off people who I happen to have a lot of respect for! Tommy Tallarico, Tyrone Rodriguez, Joe Santulli...I mean, who's next?

JR: Got any suggestions? Heh, heh... Seriously, though, I guess it doesn't really matter. The fanzine I was editing at the time was pretty crappy, so it's understandable that VideoGames wasn't interested in me. Still, though, whose idea was it to hire DAVID HUNT as a contributor to Tips & Tricks!? His fanzine was one of the few that was actually WORSE than Project: Ignition! Not that I'm bitter.

CB: He was a friend of Tyrone's. We gave him a shot because he was local; he was able to physically come into the office and work on our Neo-Geo machine, for example.

JR: What direction do you think video games are taking? Is the trend toward 3-D graphics and gameplay a positive one, or have companies turned the concept of full-immersion gaming into a cheap gimmick?

CB: Well, I can understand the interest in game environments that exist in 3-D space, but...ahh...I can't say that the trend is a positive one because -with the exception of the Virtual Boy and a couple of weird experiments- it's still a two-dimensional medium. I love the exploration aspects of games like Banjo-Kazooie and Mega Man Legends, but when it comes time for my character to jump on a platform, I have to look at the damn shadow to figure out where the hell he really is. You can perceive depth in a lot of different ways; I mean, there are a lot of visual cues that kind of roughly suggest the relative distances of certain objects. But unless your eyes are receiving two separate images, the way they do in everyday life, your brain just isn't getting enough information to really pinpoint the location of an object or surface in 3D space.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's something fundamentally flawed about a lot of polygonal video games. I think it takes a lot of time and effort to try to correct some of the inherent problems; like, camera positioning being the really obvious one. I honestly don't know if it's possible to do a better job with camera placement than Nintendo did with Mario 64, yet I hear people complain about the camera in that game all the time. And no, I wouldn't call 3D gaming a "cheap gimmick," but I do think it's unfortunate that companies like Sony seem to frown on 2D games.

JR: Never thought of it that way. Actually, I always felt that polygons do a much better job of portraying 3D than other methods. Have you seen the Dragonball Z Legends game for the Saturn?

CB: No.

JR: The designers tried to merge 2D sprites with 3D backgrounds, resulting in an instant headache for the player.

CB: Hmmm...I've seen some games where that works, but I guess it's kind of significant that I can't think of one off the top of my head.

JR: The Sega Saturn's failure came as a surprise to many gamers. Do you feel that the professional game magazine circuit should bear some responsibility for the Saturn's demise, and is Dreamcast's future any brighter than its predecessor's?

CB: In my personal opinion, no, and no.

JR: You're entitled to that opinion, but I disagree with the first answer. Come on, VideoGames published an article entitled "Ten Reasons Why the PlayStation Is the System To Beat", and that's not sinking a knife into the Saturn's heart before it was even released!?

CB: Oh, no...not that thing, that piece of crap! Let me tell you about that so-called "article." It appeared in the very last issue of VideoGames that I worked on as Executive Editor, and one of my last official acts in that position was to do a final edit on all of the finished pages that were being shipped out. So this THING, this total propaganda piece, comes across my desk, and as usual, I had about a half-hour to do surgery on it, to rewrite it into something legible. I opened up the document on my Mac, and it was already totally laid out; all of the pictures were on the page and everything, supposedly ready to go. Ohhh, man...I wish I had a copy of the original document; it was filled with bold-faced statements about how the PlayStation was gonna destroy the competition, just totally throwing the idea of unbiased journalism out the window. And it was way too late for me to write the whole thing over again from scratch, so I was forced to trim it up quickly and patch in some text here and there. Like, there was a headline that proclaimed, "THE BEST 32-BIT SYSTEM," or something similar, so I threw a question mark at the end of it; shit like that. I had written an article on the Neo-Geo CD for that same issue, and I tried to keep everything in context; you know, it was obvious that it wasn't going to be a mass-market item like the PlayStation or Saturn, but I presented the information appropriately. I thought it was pretty fair. But that PlayStation feature was a perfect example of everything that went wrong with VideoGames.

Anyway, to get back to your original question: A lot of people like to jump to conclusions about certain magazines showing bias toward one system or another. And while I do believe that does happen, there are times when trying to be comprehensive can make it seem like you're favoring certain systems. You know, Tips & Tricks doesn't do reviews, so we don't get criticized for our opinions. But if we devote 40 pages to the PlayStation and only 10 to the Saturn, certain Saturn fanatics go nuts and accuse us of bias- never mind the fact that there were only two new games for the Saturn that month (versus 25 for the PlayStation) and that less than a fourth of our readers own a Saturn (versus more than half owning a PlayStation).

It's just a reflection of what's currently going on in the marketplace. I personally don't believe that the magazines are powerful enough to make or break a game system, anyway. I mean, how many people play video games in the U.S.? Isn't it, like, 50 million? 100 million? Yet no American game magazine has been able to reach more than a half-million or so of those people, many of whom have been burned by magazine reviews so frequently that they take ALL of the information they read with a grain of salt. Oh, and don't forget that the Saturn did come out before the Playstation here; in fact, it was already on sale for a few months before that fucked-up PlayStation article was printed.

JR: All true, but you forget the ripple effect that video game magazines have. Little Johnny buys a copy of EGM, then tells his friends about all the "great new stuff' that's coming out, and his friends do the same. I tend to think that the game magazines drive the industry... let's face it, Lara Croft is a pretty generic, and not especially sexy, character. I honestly don't think that Tomb Raider would have been a success if the professional magazine circuit hadn't made such a big deal out of Lara's, er, silicone warriors. It was a fine game that could have stood on its own merit, but merit alone didn't sell many copies of Gunstar Heroes.

CB: I disagree. I'll admit that it helps sales when a game gets exposure; that's obvious. But no American game magazine has the ability to change your opinion about a product, especially when there are so many different ways for you to go and check out the product for yourself and draw your own conclusions about it. And I think you're in the minority on the Lara Croft issue; I think most of the people who played Tomb Raider found her to be much more than a "pretty generic...not especially sexy character." Plus, she showed up on a lot more than just game magazine covers, so the character was seen by a lot of people who aren't hardcore video game players...and that's ALWAYS gonna help sales.

I'm with you on the subject of Gunstar Heroes; incredible game, probably would have sold more copies if the magazines had given it more exposure... and as you may know, Sega decided not to put any kind of promotional effort behind that game, so none of the magazines even got a review copy of it. But that's kind of a different topic; your original question was about the Saturn, which WAS promoted by Sega and DID get its share of exposure from the various game magazines. Blechh...you've really got me up on a soapbox, here. Quick, change the subject!

JR: OK...A military experiment goes horribly awry, flooding the country with radiation. Men everywhere are robbed of their sex drives and the nation's supply of Viagra is quickly exhausted. Desperate to stay financially solvent, Larry Flynt begs you to create the "ultimate video game magazine," and this time, he really means it! What would you do to make this perfect game magazine a reality?

CB: Heh...well, as ridiculous as that hypothetical scenario may sound, the most absurd part is the idea that he would start up yet another video game magazine to make up for that lost income.

I don't even know if I could answer this question; the business of publishing a video game magazine is a pretty screwed-up one. The video-game industry may be huge in terms of dollars and cents, but it's a lot younger than the movie industry or the record industry, for example. And because of the inexperience of a lot of important people- at the magazines and at the game companies- there have been a lot of bad precedents set that are going to take a long time to straighten out. I honestly don't have any interest in doing anything but Tips & Tricks right now, anyway; there are a lot of things I'd like to see happen with T&T that will keep it on a growth pattern for a couple more years, easy. Plus, there are too many magazines on the market already... another one isn't going to have much impact no matter who you get to do it or how much money you put into it.

JR: What the heck happened to Tips & Tricks' Arcade Brigade comic? Nikos Constant was building to an important plot point, and all of a sudden, the comic (and Nikos) disappears! Was there any particular reason why?

CB: Nikos had a lot of freelance projects going on at the time, and I guess Tips & Tricks just fell too far from the top of his priority list. And we really had no feedback that would have led us to believe that the comic was something that people would miss, so we just dropped it.

JR: I thought it would be cool if, after defeating Jim, Chris and Tyrone somehow met up with the characters from VideoGames & Comouter Entertainment's comic Crash and Boom.

CB: <Gaak!> Now THAT'S something that would not have registered with too many readers; I can't believe you remember that awful thing. I do think a recurring comic strip is a good idea, and it's something I'd like to bring back some day, but the guy who was my first choice to do it was not willing to get involved.

Before we started up the Arcade Brigade strip, I called up John Holmstrom and asked him if he'd be interested in doing a comic strip for us. I don't know if you ever heard of him; he's sort of a legendary underground comic artist/magazine editor. He worked on the original Video Games magazine from the early '80s, and he had this fantastic video-game review column/cartoon thing in Heavy Metal back in '82 or so. He would review arcade games, and he also did these real-Iife strips in which he would sit down and play video games with people like Joey Ramone or Lemmy from Motorhead and show how they reacted to games like Demon Attack. It took me about a month and a half to track down his phone number; I think he's the editor of High Times or something now. Anyway, he seemed pleased that someone remembered his connection to the video game industry, but he said that he doesn't do comic stuff anymore, which was kind of sad for me to hear. He was an influence on my career in a way; he was known for his drawing style, but his game reviews had a lot of weird insight. Like, he once did a review of Robotron: 2084 in which he noted that the game has no real ending, so the "last human family" always dies... but, he said, that was a good thing, because if they survived, the inbreeding that would be necessary to repopulate the Earth would probably result in a race of "morons, cretins and imbeciles." It was super-funny shit. Sorry, I went off on another tangent there.

JR: You don't get this opportunity in Tips & Tricks, so I thought I'd give you the chance to smash, trash and totally ravage the games you've hated most in the last two years.

CB: Oh, you're not gonna get me with that one! Actually... uh, this might sound like a cop-out, but I can usually find some merit in just about any video game. Even Fantastic Four; which a lot of people single out as THE worst PlayStation game...well, I had fun playing that game, it was interesting. Or Bubsy 3-D; same thing. You know, I don't write reviews any more, but I figure it's important for me as a video-game magazine editor to take a fresh look at every piece of software that comes into the office...to give 'em a fair shake and not be jaded 'cause I'm surrounded by video games all day long. Like, if I was a kid who got Fantastic Four for my birthday, and if Fantastic Four was the only game I owned...man, I'd be playing the living shit out of that game, I'd be stoked on Fantastic Four; you know what I mean? I'd be telling my friends all about it at school and sitting up all night thinking about how to beat the Mole Man. And I think that kid's opinion is just as valid as the opinions of the "journalists" who get a bunch of games sent to them every day for free. Maybe even more so. Maybe that kid has been delivering newspapers for a year just to save up the money to buy Bubsy 3-D...I figure that gives him the right to say, "I like this game; I enjoy playing this game." 'Cause he earned that right. Who am I to take that away from him? You know, I've been working in this business for a pretty long time; ten years since I wrote that Anticipation review. So maybe I do have the right to say, 'This game sucks," or "Don't buy that game." But I don't do that; I never really did.

There's a really interesting trend going on in Japan right now; there are a lot of video-game players who enjoy collecting bad video games, especially on CD systems like the PlayStation and Saturn. They call them "Kusoge," which basically means "shit games." Now that's a fad that I can get into. I mean, how cool is that? For me, it's fun to sit down with a game like that and look for redeeming features; it's like an additional challenge on top of the challenge of beating the game or getting a high score or whatever.

JR: Is there anything you would have done differently as a contributor to Video Games & Computer Entertainment, or as the editor of VideoGames and Tips & Tricks?

CB: That's an interesting question...no, not really. There are some things I probably should have done sooner, but I'm a patient person. And there are a lot of things I would LIKE to have done, especially during that horrible VideoGames period- like killing that butt-kissing PlayStation article! Unfortunately, it was not really within my power to do them. But I'm comfortable with that. History will vindicate me.



 

 

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