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
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
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
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
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
JR: I guess I wasn't one of those cases,
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?
JR: The designers tried to merge 2D
sprites with 3D backgrounds, resulting in an instant headache for
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
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
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
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
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
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
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