Friday, July 10, 2015

BEER PARTY FOR TWO



During the summer of 1988, on the cusp of my senior year of high school, I decided I needed throw a no-hitter and/or perfect game in the Commodore 64 baseball game, Hardball! Essentially, I wanted to do this because I was rather lonely and awkward in high school after being very popular in grade school, and I needed something positive and/or winning to occupy my summer months.

I’ll be sharing excerpts on this blog from the journal I kept for each game I played. These entries have been edited and/or re-written a bit with some “adult” perspective and clarity. A few names have been changed here and there as well.


GAME 35 – AUGUST 18, 1988

What would a summer be with underage drinking shenanigans? It wouldn’t be much of a summer, truth be told…especially if you grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and attended  one of the many Catholic high schools in the area. Weekend keggers were a way of life all throughout the school year, but it was a way of life that I (mostly) had zero to do with. It just wasn’t my bag. I never understood the appeal of standing in the woods in the freezing cold just to drink shitty beer out of a plastic cup. And besides, I was rarely ever invited.

I had an on-again-off-again friend who lived just around the corner by the name of Mark Greenberg. Mark was a year older then me and could be a bit of a loner and loose cannon, hence why we were "on-again-off-again" friends. His parents and sister were down the shore for the week (in Wildwood, New Jersey…that hive of scum and villainy where most of NE Philly absconded to during the summer months), so he decided, in true “Risky Business” fashion, to throw a party.

If only it turned out like the infamous party Joel Goodsen threw in that classic, 80s flick. All teenage boys of that era dreamed about hosting a balls-to-the-wall bash of that magnitude. I mean, who wouldn’t want to party with the stunningly gorgeous Rebecca De Mornay and her hooker friends? As long as Guido the Killer Pimp didn’t make an appearance all would be well.

This “party” wasn’t that. At all. In fact, being chased by an irate pimp would have been more exciting on many levels. Since I had to work that night and ended up walking home, I didn’t make it to Mark’s house until a little after 10 PM…just when any good party should be morphing into the “baddest jam in the land” as Prince’s “Housequake” so aptly stated.

But, alas, Mark’s house was deader than Dillinger. The basement door was open and the faint sounds of a baseball game wafted out towards the street. As I glided closer to the door, the distinctive, familial banter of Harry Kalas and “Whitey” Ashburn was a welcome sound to my ears, as it typically was to all Phillies fans throughout the Delaware Valley.

"Hard to believe no one's here, Harry..."
The sounds of the game drew me through the door, down the narrow laundry room hallway and into the basement proper. There Mark sat all by his lonesome. The aforementioned Phillies game was playing on a small, 13” color TV against the far wall. There was an open cooler with a case of Budwiser cans (No keg?? Sacrilege!) bobbing about in the half melted ice. About five or six empty cans were littered about Mark on the couch.

“Hey man...join the party,” he slurred, waving towards the empty room.

I grabbed a beer out of the cooler and sat down on a chair adjacent to the couch.  “Who’s winning,” I asked. I cared about the game, even though the scuffling Phils were waaaaay out of contention by this point of the season, but this was more small talk until I could get to the bigger question of WHY THE FLYING FUCK WAS NO ONE ELSE HERE???

“Phillies are up one-nothing, but it’s only the second inning out in LA,” Mark said while polishing off another can.

He heaved the can across the room and it struck the far wall with weirdly muted metallic sound. I could tell he was super pissed that I was the only person who bothered to show up. I would have to pick my words carefully here. Mark could be volatile; this guy was well-known for pummeling dudes out on the ice during pick-up hockey games just for breathing on him wrong.

“So,” I began as I cracked my beer and took a healthy swig as if I did this every damn day of my life. It went down easy. Too easy. This could be the beginning of an interesting evening.

“Noah couldn’t make it?”

Noah was Mark’s best friend and a bit of a strange ranger in my books. I didn’t think there could be a guy more awkward and gawky than myself at age 17, but Noah was definitely that guy. At least I was coordinated and good at sports. I’ve always maintained that being sporty saved me from a good deal of ridicule and bullying growing up. Oh, you think it’s fucking stupid that I dig Dungeons & Dragons, video games and comic books? Well, let’s see what you think about that when I school your ass out on the court/field of your choice, motherfucker. I just rolled a natural 20. Kiss my ass. Twice, bitch.

Unfortunately, Noah was neither graceful nor athletically inclined. On top of that, he was just socially inept…constantly telling awkward, unfunny jokes and then laughing like a fool at said jokes. But I mean, realistically, who doesn’t want to party with a guy named Noah out of sheer curiosity? There could be full-blown ark shenanigans involved after all.

“He called,” Mark spat while fishing another can out of the cooler. “Said he wasn’t feeling well or some shit. I don’t know.”

“Well, looks like it’s just you and me then,” was my winning response.

Mark glared at me for a moment. I wasn’t real sure what was going to happen in that bone-chilling moment. I steeled myself for the worst…but then he raised his can in toast fashion, exclaiming: “Here’s to that then!”

We clinked cans and continued to watch a ballgame that was indicative of the Fightin’ Phils ‘88 campaign: Kevin Gross threw a complete game, striking out five Dodger assholes, but the Phils still managed to lose 2-1 basically because Ramon Martinez (older brother of Pedro) was the better hurler that night. And, oh yeah, the Phillies sucked. Real hard.

This line-up struck fear in to the hearts...of no one.
As the game ended, Mark flipped off the TV then staggered up the stairs with nary a word of goodbye. He had consumed a good 12 beers by the end of the game to my six, so I wasn’t all that offended by his lapse in end-of-evening etiquette. The time had come to go home and continue on my quest to beat that damn game into submission.

Luckily, my house was almost literally right in front of Mark’s on the neighboring street, so all I had to do was hop a couple fences and I was home. This return trip almost went off without a hitch, but my Jedi- like reflexes had to be brought to bear as I hopped the final fence which put me on the deck of the above ground pool in my yard. When I hit the deck after flipping over the rickety, wooden fence, I teetered a bit being somewhat drunk. My stumble-bum momentum would have carried me right into the pool, but I was able to reach out and steady myself on the pool’s ladder before I took the “Nestea Plunge.”

I quickly laughed this off and within moments I was back in the cool stillness of my basement lair – my inner sanctum. And with two quick motions, my C64 and disc drive were ready to rock. I typed LOAD “*”, 8, 1 without even looking down at the keyboard. Drunk or not, I could type in this command line with my eyes glued shut.

Soon the Hardball! load screen was in front of my face, mocking me once again. I cursed the names of the programmers and designers: Bob Whitehead…what a tool! Ed Bogas…he molests collies! Mimi Doggett…she’s a dirty ho and so is her momma!

I stared at this damn screen quite in a bit during my teenage years.
I cackled to myself as these silly insults ran through my mind, and in that moment I really wished I had the foresight to snag a road beer from the cooler before I left Mark’s house. Such is life…

As the torturously slow C64 loading process continued I wondered if Cara was home yet. I snuck a peek at the house neighboring mine out of the row of small windows above my computer desk. The light was still on above the Campozzi’s side door. That meant she was still out and about with whatever asshole that currently wasn’t me. And here it is past 1:30 AM on a Thursday night. What a naughty, naughty minx Cara was this evening. Again, not with me.

Finally, the game booted up and I got down to the brass tacks. I chose my red and white clad All-Stars, set my line-up the way I liked it and thus began the thirty-fifth game of my summer series.

Things were going very well right out of the gate. I crushed a three-run homer in the bottom of the first and was pitching lights out baseball. I was calling all the shots tonight, like a loaded gun…to paraphrase lyrics from Aerosmith’s awesome “Back in the Saddle.”  

But in the top of the sixth inning, the game cheated and that dickhead Hank Contos ruined the perfect game I had going with the dreaded “glitch” hit where the game suddenly sped up then slowed down, making the ball nigh impossible to get to before it dropped in for a hit.

I sat in muted silence for a moment with the joystick resting limply in my hands. “Fuck,” I exclaimed while reaching for the computer’s power switch.

“…you,” I finished as I clicked the switch off as forcefully as I could without busting the machine itself.

I went to bed. There was nothing else to do at that point. The damn game had bested me yet again.

I went to sleep that night with flights of Anheuser Busch angels singing me to my rest. I dreamt that Clydesdale horses were dressed in Phillies pinstripes, taking the places of Juan Samuel, Chris James and Darren Daulton out on the diamond.

Don't drink this. Ever. Just say no, kids.
I didn’t know horses could play baseball, but they looked like goddamn equine all-stars in my dream. It was like something out of an old-school, Merrie Melodies cartoon come to life in my alcohol addled brain. It was funny, sure, but oddly off-putting all the same.

I awoke the next morning with a very dry mouth, a throbbing skull and the distinct thought that the vile swill that flows in vast rivers from the factories in St. Louis, Missouri was the piss of Satan himself…

…and I never wanted to partake in it again.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

OKLAHOMA LILY and the T-VIRUS


About 14 years ago, a long forgotten screenplay I wrote won an award at some podunk film festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so I got a free trip to the Sooner State.  Yee-fucking-ha.
I forget the name of the award even. Doesn’t really matter at this stage of the game, does it? What does matter is the story I’m about to tell you, the girl (and the game) this story is about.
The film festival itself was a sham…a goddamn joke, really. That’s how I wound up in a Pizza Hut, nursing a crippling hangover the day after I arrived. The night of my arrival in Tulsa, I drank myself into near oblivion while playing “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” in my hotel room because I realized (straight away at the opening “reception”) that attending this festival was going to be an utter waste of my time. But in this run-of-the-mill Tulsa Pizza Hut was where I met her: Oklahoma Lily.
I’ve had two “traditional” one-night-stands in my life. As I see it, there are four reasons for this: 
1. It’s just not my bag. Call me kooky, but I honestly prefer relationships to random, sport sex.
2. I have no pick-up game and/or strategy when it comes to meeting ladies. My philosophy has always been: If it happens, it happens. I refuse to bother a woman with some bullshit line or whatever. That kind of approach always seemed annoying and idiotically obvious to me.
3. The women who typically dig me aren’t really the one-night-stand-type. They are the cute, smart ones who wear no makeup, trendy eyeglasses, and work at Barnes and Noble while getting their Master’s degree in 12thcentury literature written by roving bands of Germanic skull-fuckers. 
4. I’m not very lucky, and luck seems to play a large part in the whole one-night-stand racket.
But…I was rather lucky on this day, to be sitting in this particular Pizza Hut that was tucked away in dusty corner of “T-Town” because Oklahoma Lily was there. Lily was a waitress, and to borrow a line from a really fantastic Prince song about a waitress: she was a dishwater blonde, tall and fine…she got a lot of tips.

This song rules. Period.
I don’t recall what I ate (I’ll go out on a limb and assume it was pizza of some sort), nor do I recall being particularly flirty or chatty with Lily as she took my order and served me. I was licking my wounds and cursing the gods on high for leading me to Tulsa in pursuit of my writing/filmmaking dreams, so I wasn’t really in the mood to play Prince Charming. What I do remember is when I went to the register to pay she asked me what I was doing in Tulsa. I told her that was a guest at a film festival that was being held at the community college, and I offhandedly added that she should stop by later if she was interested.  I said this as more of a courtesy than anything else. Lily handed me my receipt while nodding in the affirmative.
“Maybe…maybe I will,” she said with a charming Southern drawl accenting her words.
With that, I beat a hasty retreat back to the community college to pretend like I was having something akin to a good time. I thought nothing more of Lily…until she appeared at the festival 45 minutes later looking absolutely adorable.
I’m still not sure how she did it. She must have been a long lost cousin of Superman or The Flash because they’re the only people I’ve even seen do a more thorough quick-change in a that short a time span. Yes, I know that Superman and The Flash aren’t real, but characters in comics and films count, goddamn it. Regardless, Lily went home, got a shower, threw on some make-up, changed into a flowery, form-fitting sundress, and drove back to the campus in approximately 45 minutes. It seems implausible, but she did it.
My eyes fell on her immediately as I was coming out of an inane interview I got roped into for a local TV station. She shyly waved to me in that awkward way that told me she really wasn’t sure what the hell she was doing here. As soon as I saw her do that, I knew it was GAME ON.  
“Wow…don’t you clean up nice,” I idiotically uttered; almost cringing as the words tumbled out of my idiot mouth which should have been sewn shut at birth to avoid verbal atrocities such as these. Cassa-fucking-nova himself has nothing on my silky smooth moves, I tell ya.
To Lily’s credit she didn’t laugh, or run away in terror or anything like that. She just smiled back at me readily as if to say, “Yep. Have at it, big boy.” Game on indeed…
We decided to take in a couple of the films at the festival then she would show me around town. One of the films we watched, directed by a squirrely dude out of Vegas, was very good. The other, directed by a douchey stiff from Chicago, was a piece of shit. So it goes.
We tooled around Tulsa in Lily’s white Pontiac Grand Prix, talking all the while. Unabashedly, she had god-awful country music on the radio; a fact that I, unabashedly, ridiculed her for. She took my jibes in stride, asking where I was from. “The great, fighting city of Philadelphia,” I bellowed like the over-blown, mustachioed ring announcer I am in my mind. She just rolled her blue-grey eyes at me, and took to calling me “Philly” for the rest of the time we were together. I didn’t mind one little bit…this fascinating creature could call me whatever the hell she pleased.

Should have been better...
My first taste of true Southern BBQ was a bit of letdown, truth be told. Lily and I stopped at place called Mahylon’s for a bite to eat on our trek through the rather cool little burg. Mahylon’s was highly recommended to me by a woman I met on the flight down to Tulsa. She raved about the place, and I’m not sure why really; the food was OK, but nothing to rave about. I didn’t care all that much at the time because I was learning more about Lily. She was 24, going to school part-time, and was a divorcee. She was married at the tender age of 16 which blew my mind. I couldn’t fathom going to the fucking prom with your husband, or discussing asinine homework issues with your wife. Upon sharing my thoughts on her teenage marriage, Lily gave me an “aww shucks” shrug of her shoulders and said: “Yeah, it kinda sucked. The sex was fun for a while though.”  
The next stop on the Magical Mystery Tour of Tulsa was, unsurprisingly, a pool hall. It wasn’t something out of the movie “Roadhouse,” but it wasn’t all that far from that beer-and-blood stained cliché either. As we were entering the establishment the bouncer at the door checked our ID’s. I stole a quick glance at her Oklahoma driver’s license as she handed it to the behemoth guarding the entryway to this billiards palace, noticing that lovely Lily lied to me about her age. She was 19…and only just; about nine years my junior.
While we played, this new knowledge of Lily being a little too close to jailbait age for my comfort weighed heavily on my mind. Nothing untoward had happened yet. We drove around, shared a meal, and had a few laughs. It could certainly end there if I wanted it to. But did I want it to end? I was pretty damn sure that she didn’t. The story about her teenage marriage during dinner made more sense to me now. I surmised that she was freshly divorced from the high school husband, and this whole evening with me was her cutting loose and letting her freak flag fly a bit. Who was I to rain on that parade?
As that though crossed my addled mind, Lily leaned over directly in front of me to line up a long, across-the-table shot. Her already criminally short sundress rode up a bit, revealing the cutest ass I had ever seen…which was only held in check by a silky, red thong. One of the quasi-redneck guys playing on the table next to us noticed this sexy, little maneuver as well. He nodded then gave me a robust thumbs up.

No, this night was definitely not ending here.

Later, back in my shitbox of a hotel room, I sat on the edge of the bed, sipping a beer that I didn’t manage to consume in my perturbed state the night before.  Lily was standing in front of the TV, kind of playfully swaying back and forth. She pointed at the Sega Dreamcast that made the trip with me to Tusla because that’s how I roll, mofo.

“What’s that,” Lily queried.

“It’s a Dreamcast. It’s a video game system.”

“Why does it have that squiggle on it?”

“Because some guy was paid lots of money to come up with it and put it there,” I replied matter-of-factly.

“Maybe a woman came up with it? It looks like something a woman would come up with,” she insightfully remarked as she ran her index finger over the Dreamcast’s iconic red “squiggle.”

“Maybe…I’m not really sure…”

“Can we play something on it?”

“Sure,” I quickly said as I stood up, now directly in front of her, I partook of her honeyed aroma. The scent was glorious…I wanted more. I wanted anything and everything this girl had to offer.
I placed my beer on top of the TV. I asked if I could kiss her. She responded without any words; her reply was to place her delicate lips over mine. The saccharine taste of those lips bested her scent by the power of ten.
Our kiss lingered and our tongues danced for a few, blistering moments before she coyly pulled away, nodding toward the Dreamcast.

“Let’s play for a bit,” she cooed.

“Sure thing,” I whispered while hitting the POWER button the Dreamcast. It fired up, and quickly loaded the “Resident Evil” game I was playing the night before.

“Oooh, what’s this about?”

“Killing asshole zombies mostly.”

“Sounds pretty cool.”

“It is,” I said while handing her a controller.

So we played for next couple hours, taking turns controlling S.T.A.R.S. agents Claire and Chris Redfield, killing asshole zombies, laughing, talking, and playfully touching the whole while. We called it quits after the Leonardo DiCaprio wannabe, Steve Burnside, becomes a crazy, ax-wielding lizard man after getting injected with the T-virus. The gaming portion of our evening had officially ended. The making out portion had re-commenced with a frenzied, full-bodied passion…and that was damn good.

Hi...my name is Steve. I like long walks on the beach and ingesting small rodents.
 It is in no way my style to kiss-and-tell. I’m not getting into the garish details of who did what to whom and all that. Quite frankly, there’s not that much to tell in that department. The sex was just OK. It was two people (and one, from what I can surmise, was relatively inexperienced) who really knew little about each other and each other’s bodies. There was an awkward eagerness to that whole affair that was white-fucking-hot, but yeah, as far as the mechanics went it could have been better. We both get an “A” for effort, but a “C” for execution. Maybe a “D” from that shitty, Russian judge.
                The next day at the festival went much better. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a massive waste of my time, but my mood was much improved. Go figure. As she was leaving in the morning, Lily said she would swing by after work that day. Obviously, I looked forward to seeing her again…but the festival ended and she never showed. So it goes.
                As I ambled back to my hotel room which was across the road from the community college, I was startled by a shrill car horn from what sounded like right behind me. Pivoting quickly, I saw Lily’s Grand Prix gliding across the vast parking lot. She stopped next me, beaming as she rolled down her window.

“Didn’t think I was coming, didja,” she playfully asked.

“I must admit, I did not.”

“Well, here I am…”
               
Indeed. Here she was. And now that she was here, I wasn’t sure what to do with her. I had grand plans of another spirited romp through Orgasms-R-Us, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Was ours a love that was more than love, I and my Oklahoma Lily? Or were we just two people who offered each other a friendly port in the rather boring storm that is life in Tulsa, and wound up playing video games and boning a couple times in a run-down motel room? It sure seemed more like the latter now that she was here with me again, so I stalled and made small talk for few, dragging minutes.
Finally, Lily leaned out of her driver’s side window. We shared a brief kiss, and she muttered as I was pulling away: “What was the name of that game again?”

“Resident Evil: Code Veronica,” I answered, wondering where this was heading.

“I think I’m gonna hafta pick that up sometime. Can’t let that damn T-virus spread any further, ya know.”

“No, you can’t,” I laughed.

“See you around sometime, Philly.”

She hit the gas, driving off into the burnt orange, red, and yellow kaleidoscope that illuminated the Oklahoma sky on that late March evening.

I never saw Lily again.

But I’ve thought of her.


Often.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Picture on the Wall


There is a picture hanging on our wall that is frozen in time…

…and I don’t know what to do with it. It hangs there dutifully, year in year out, collecting dust motes and the like, outwardly showing signs of the passage of time, but the actual picture contained within the frame does not age. The other pictures have changed over the years: features have matured, skin has cleared up, hair has gotten longer and darker, but this one, THIS ONE has not. I would take the picture down but I find that I do not have the strength to do that. And if you think I mean physical strength there…then you should probably stop reading this right now.

There is a picture hanging on our wall that is frozen in time.

The same picture sits on my desk. It stares at me, grinning its benign grin while I pound out my witty sentences, pithy phrases and (somewhat) coherent paragraphs. Sometimes that picture talks to me. It says things to me that only I can understand, like we have an unspoken language this picture and I. Sometimes this discourse is comforting. Sometimes it is disturbing. Sometimes I want that goddamn picture to go away; to stop staring at me, accusing me, telling me that I failed it and how the hell could I have let what happened happen?? Sometimes I think I am losing my mind.

There is a picture hanging on our wall that is frozen in time.

I’ve been told that there are different stages of grief that everyone goes through. I think that’s a crock of shit. The only “stage” I can tell you about is the constant ache I feel in my heart. Sometimes it is worse than others, sure, but it is always there, regardless. It’s been four years and it hasn’t gone away yet. If it hasn’t yet, I’m not sure that it ever will. And if it does, what does that mean? That I am forgiven? That I can move on? That all is well…whatever the hell that means…because I honestly have no idea anymore.

There is a picture hanging on our wall that is frozen in time.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” And, sure, it’s a nice, succinct quote that people like to bandy about on Facebook and Twitter and the like and if it’s helped you find strength in a dark moment, bully for you. But my question is this: what happens when the broken places feel like they are everywhere and you’ve been wounded to the very core of your being? If someone has the answer to this query I’d really like to know because…

…there is a picture hanging on our wall that is frozen in time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

TWIN GALAXIES SCOREBOARD CELEBRATES ITS 30TH ANNIVERSARY

The following article is published in the upcoming super-mega-awesomely-important 100th issue of Retro Gamer (UK) Magazine. All kidding aside, it is quite the honor to be included in this milestone issue of one of the best video game magazines (still) published today.

February 8th, 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Twin Galaxies Scoreboard which has been the official scorekeeper of video gaming since 1982. Through a partnership with Guinness and their famous Book of World Records, Twin Galaxies is still going strong today as they are the official supplier of verified records for their annual gaming edition. Most people, however, will associate Twin Galaxies with the 2007 documentary film, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which chronicled the battle for Donkey Kong supremacy between Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe. The film casts the organization in a (somewhat) unfair light, depicting a bunch of overzealous, even Machiavellian, classic video gaming nerds out to break the spirit of the upstart new kid on the block. Walking away from the film with just that portrayal of Twin Galaxies lingering on the brain would be doing the organization, and all those who are intimately involved with it on a day-to-day basis, a massive disservice.


Twin Galaxies humble beginnings can be traced back to a simple arcade in, of all places, the quintessential American small town of Ottumwa, Iowa. The gaming palace originally opened its doors on November 10th 1981 and a scant three months later “The Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard” was born. The Scoreboard laid down the official rules for competitive video game playing and crowned the champions on a multitude of video games. Twin Galaxies activities inspired Mayor Jerry Parker to decree that Ottumwa was the “Video Game Capital of the World” on November 30th 1982. On top of that distinguished honor, both LIFE magazine and popular American TV show “That’s Incredible!” came to Twin Galaxies to create celebrated events that are now etched in memories of all gamers.

Walter Day, the iconic face and Head Scorekeeper of Twin Galaxies for almost 27 years, had a few thoughts on some of the touchstone moments in the organization’s history.


On being Head Scorekeeper of Twin Galaxies for 27 years:

“People like to rib me about my referee’s jersey and I even called myself ‘The Man’ in King of Kong, but being the Head Scorekeeper for Twin Galaxies for over 27 years has been the most wonderful experience – like a beautiful dream. I was honored to be a part of the ‘birth of organized video game playing.’ However, destiny was knocking and if I had not started Twin Galaxies and made Ottumwa the ‘birthplace’ of the gaming age, it would have happened somewhere else, with other people inspired to take on the task of turning video game playing into a sport."

On the LIFE Photograph:

“Interestingly, the 1982 LIFE Magazine photo that shows the top gamers of that early time gathered in Ottumwa has become one of the most recognizable images in the history of the video game age. Possibly, the industry's most famous photograph as many people who are not connected to the gaming field recognize that photo.”

On the “That's Incredible!” Video Game Invitational:

“Considered by many to be history's first ‘video game world championship,’ the tournament co-created by Twin Galaxies and ‘That's Incredible!’ and filmed in Ottumwa January 8-9, 1983, is revered as the ‘birth cradle’ of competitive gaming.”

On Ottumwa:

“Ottumwa, Iowa is now recognized as the ‘birthplace of organized video game playing’ and the cultural crossroads of the video game age. It’s not surprising that the Ottumwa City Fathers are working to create the official International Video Game Hall of Fame & Museum in their city.”

On the future of competitive gaming:

“What’s going on these days with the professional gaming leagues is very exciting. Twin Galaxies formed one of the first gaming teams in 1983 but the spirit of it all seems much, much different now. And, in saying that, I don’t mean to disparage any particular group or entity. Overall, I think the future bodes well for competitive gaming; it will become an even bigger deal to hold a world record score on a legendary classic game. And that will include all high-score-based games from the 1970s up to the great titles being produced today. And, at the same time, head-to-head elimination will reach new levels of professionalism, with the top stars being revered as genuine athletes.”


THE TWIN GALAXIES TIMELINE

Nov. 10th 1981 – The Twin Galaxies arcade opens its doors for business in Ottumwa, Iowa. Walter Aldro Day and Jonathan Bloch are the proprietors.

Feb. 8th 1982 – Walter Day’s database of video game high scores is released to the public for the first time as “The Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard.”

Nov. 7th 1982 – Gamers from around the world descend on the sleepy Iowa burgh for a chance to have their picture taken for LIFE magazine. Among those in attendance are Billy Mitchell, Steve Harris (founder/publisher of Electronic Gaming Monthly), Steve Sanders and Ben Gold.

Nov. 30th 1982 – Jerry Parker, Mayor of Ottumwa, declares that his fine city is “The Videogame Capital of the World.” The Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, ratifies this bold declaration.

Feb. 21st 1983 – The popular U.S. TV show “That’s Incredible!” broadcasts The Videogame Invitational from the Twin Galaxies arcade. The event is ultimately won by Ben Gold.

July 25th 1983 – The U.S. National Video Game team is formed by the Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard. Walter Day is named team captain and the first six members of the tem are: Billy Mitchell, Ben Gold, Steve Harris, Jay Kim, Cat Cabrera and Tim McVey.

Feb. 8th 1998 – The Twin Galaxies’ Official Video Game and Pinball Book of World Records is published. The 984 page tome contains records dating all the way back to 1981.

Aug. 24th 2007 – The documentary film, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, is released in theaters. Another film dealing with Twin Galaxies history, Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, is screened at the Sundance Film Festival a few months before Kong’s release.

May 5th 2009 – Ottumwa reclaims its title as “Videogame Capital of the World” and plans are set in motion to establish the International Video Game Hall of Fame in downtown Ottumwa; a few short blocks from where the original Twin Galaxies arcade stood.

Dec. 16th 2009 – Walter Day officially hangs up his zebra striped referee jersey and retires from Twin Galaxies to pursue a career in music.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Addendum/Retraction

A little over a year ago I posted a blog on this very site that made a few bold accusations in regard to Marvel Comics "borrowing" a few ideas from me. Through the magic of the interwebs and the great Jim Shooter's blog, I came in contact with Tom Brevoort, the Senior Vice President of Publishing at Marvel Comics. While Tom and Jim seem to have some "issues" to work through, Tom's posts on Jim's blog were reasonable and thoughtful, so I thought that it couldn't hurt to reach out to him to see what he had to say in regard to my contentions.
Yes, I will take the first appearance of The Punisher off your hands, Mr. Brevoort.
I fully expected to be ignored and/or swept under the rug but, amazingly, Tom took the time to respond to my accusations in a considerate, 2000+ word email that I took to heart. I believe the guy. Here are some notable excerpts from that email:

"...I can tell you absolutely, without any reservation or hesitation, that nothing entered into it outside of the ideas, conceptions and brainstorming of the creators involved." 

"Our creators are perfectly capable of coming up with the storylines themselves—they don’t need to steal ideas from other people. And if somebody walked in the door with ideas that good and the ability to execute them, we’d hire them—we’re in the business of cultivating talent, not swiping from them." 

"This all sounds very cold and clinical and down-putting I’m sure, but let me assure you, seriously, legitimately, and properly, there is no way that anybody involved in HOUSE OF M or CIVIL WAR lifted the concepts for those stories from you or what you proposed. I’m sure that this will be a difficult thing for you to accept, having lived for so long with an anger towards Marvel and these people, but it is absolutely and unequivocally the truth."

Now, I'm sure some of you out there will say, "He's just handling you, you fool! They'll do anything to avoid a messy lawsuit!" and I thought that myself at first...

...BUT...

...He didn't have to say anything at all to me. Not one single, syllable. He could have just sat back, watched his Disney stock options climb through the roof and said, "I'm not touching that mess with a 10 foot pole!" I already made it abundantly clear that I no intention of suing anyone. Even if I wanted to sue, I just don't have the resources (i.e. money) to take on the Marvel/Disney corporate giant. That's a fucking windmill I just cannot tilt. So, he could have just avoided me and my potential, legal morass altogether, added my email to the crank pile and that would have been that. In fact, I would have been more suspicious if he did do that. I would have thought he had something to hide, was afraid to say anything to me and would err on the side of caution. But I got just the opposite: 2000 or so words of truth and common sense. And I, for one, completely appreciate that time and effort. 

There's a saying that goes, "It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong." Now, I'm not saying I'm a "big man" or anything like that but I was wrong here and I can cop to that. And honestly, I'm kind of glad that I am wrong because being wrong here restores my faith in humanity...just a teeny, tiny bit.

And that's kinda cool, I think.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Interview with Rawson Stovall

You can find the printed version of this interview in this month's Retro Gamer (UK) Magazine (issue #97). The interview was edited extensively for space...but I think what the man had to say deserves a little more room. Many thanks once again to Rawson for agreeing to do this; you inspired me, as an 11-year-old lad growing up in Philadelphia, PA, to do what I do today.


Rawson Stovall was the kid friendly face of video game journalism in the 80’s. At its zenith, his pioneering “Video Beat” column was syndicated in newspapers all across the United States. Today, Rawson is a producer for Electronic Arts, working on titles such as “The Godfather” and “The Sims.”


Do many people remember you as the "Vid Kid?"


Sometimes people do, especially people who are still in the game industry. I ran into the legendary David Crane at an event at Stanford University and when he remembered me it just made my day.

When I first started on The Godfather I met with Wilfredo Aguilar, who was the Art Director on the game. I had actually met him years earlier when I was a kid when he was an artist at Imagic, which I was lucky to visit because it had been onbe of my favorite companies. In Willy's office at EA is perhaps the only full-sized Demon Attack poster left in existence. I was just staring at it and I mentioned visiting Imagic years earlier and he exclaimed, "I know you -- you're the Vid Kid!" He had remembered the suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying 11-year old version of me.


If/when they do remember you from those days, do they cite you as an inspiration for wanting to become a video game reviewer/journalist?


I mainly meet people who are working in production. Usually they don't know and I usually don't bring it up. At some point, though, it eventually comes out, including the old pictures. If someone does remember me they often tell me that what inspired them was seeing a kid go out and do something -- which meant that, really, they could go out and accomplish something as a kid as well, that age alone shouldn't be a barrier to entry. That means a lot to me, because when I was young and writing my column I was extremely motivated by proving that I could accomplish anything that adults could.

For the first couple years I sold my column to newspapers myself. If editors or publishers seemed like they were going to be naysayers about a kid writing video game reviews I would point out that, at the time, people were paying 7-8 times as much for a video game than for a movie and that there was no shortage of movie reviews in their papers. And, so, if only from a consumer protection standpoint they should offer some reviews. I would also ask them who would know better about video games than a kid? In those days kids were the primary target audience for video games. This helped sell them on the column and on me.

What was like to be a guest on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson?"


It was awesome, but it was filmed in front of a large audience, which was new to me and made me nervous. So, I just never looked at the audience, never even turned my head so that I would accidently see them. This meant I never really met Ed McMahon, even though he was sitting right next to me, because that would have required me to turn my head and see the audience, which I was certain would cause me to freak out.

At the time, I knew that "The Tonight Show" was a big deal but I never knew how big it was until I got older. When I was a kid, I was never allowed to stay up late enough to really watch it. So I never had the context of that show's almost historical impact. If I had known any of that it would have made me more nervous.

The whole family drove out to Los Angeles for the taping of the show. We actually rented an A-Team-like van for the drive, so the whole road trip felt like the movie Little Miss Sunshine or Vacation. We stayed at this big hotel in the valley near the NBC lot. The taping was at the end of the day and we, very conservatively, just stayed at the hotel that day. I was such a bundle of energy and nerves by mid-afternoon that my parents told me to go walk around the hotel lobby to burn of some of the energy. Maybe they were thinking that we would just stroll around but instead my sister and I subsequently spent an hour running up the down escalators and down the up escalators until I got back to the room just exhausted. I think my mom freaked and gave me soda and coffee to pep me up because it was show time and we had to head to the studio. I think I've been drinking coffee ever since.

Do you still have the "Vid Kid" suits and/or briefcase?

You know, I do still have the briefcase. I couldn't give that up. And I still have a tiny Members' Only jacket that's covered with Activision "high score" patches for games they did for the Atari 2600. True story.

What was the impetus for making the switch from writing about video games to developing them?

I wrote my video game column every week for ten years, from age 10 to age 20, covering the era from the Atari 2600 to the Super Nintendo System. I was honestly just ready for a change and I was young enough, and fresh out of college, and had moved to California from a small town in Texas so it was the ideal time to try something new.

What I found out was that years and years spent critiquing games and the elements about them that work and don't has translated very naturally into the role of producer. For me, it has been more of a natural transition than, say, to programming or even designing.

Because I grew up with video games and sometimes spoke for the industry to the press, I was always a fan of the industry's early roots as a very mass-market, family-oriented, living room-centric form of entertainment. My feeling has always been that the video game industry, both as an art form and as a business, needs to be as evangelistic to new and non-core gamers as possible. Games like The Sims is a great example of the success that can be found when you include people who were, by and large, ignored from the late 1980s to the late 1990s.

Overall, I like to think that I have always been the biggest fan of innovation and envelope-pushing in the industry in whatever stage or form that comes, sometimes it's graphics, thematic expansion, genre redefinition, or other times it comes in the form of crazy new play styles like some Wii games. Right now, I think we are in a new golden age of video game creativity and quality. Some of those games are very complex, deep and engaging PC experiences like The Sims 3, and others are very accessible, very simple, fun iPhone/iPad games.

What is it like working on a franchise as well-known as The Sims?

The best thing about working at the Sims Studio is working with the people that are overall responsible for it. You can't have one of the most popular and long-lasting game franchises in history without having some of the most talented, creative, and fun people in the business behind those games. Plus, it's great to work on games that have such a wide and dedicated fan base. Different people play The Sims 3 in different ways, some people like to tell stories, or create crazy situations and see how they pan out, others like to play with life, others like to play architect, fashion designer, interior designer, and so on.

Nerd alert -- I sometimes describe the Sims as the forerunner to the "holodeck" in Star Trek. If gaming technology ever advances to real life-like holograms then The Sims, at that point, will have advanced simulated personalities and A.I. to the point where the holodeck will in fact become a reality.


Any interesting/anecdotal Will Wright stories you'd like to share?

Sorry. There is a conference room named after him, which is kinda cool.

Beyond the obvious, what do you think is the biggest difference between the video games of today opposed to those of yesteryear?

Almost all games of yesteryear were ultimately designed to beat you, the player. Almost no one would actually finish those games; excelling at video games was primarily only about high scores or how far you got; the game itself was only a medium or an arena in which you really competed with yourself. Now, most games are specifically designed to be beaten. Hurdles, obstacles, puzzles, power-ups, etc. are all very purposely placed to make the game winnable yet make you feel like you are very special because you beat it. I think there's some kind of life analogy here somewhere.

What is your best/fondest memory from your time as the "Vid Kid?"

I got to meet a lot of cool people, from game designers to industry legends like Nolan Bushnell and even 80's icons like Mr. T and Andre the Giant. I got to introduce the original Nintendo Entertainment System at its US unveiling in 1985 and afterwards the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto (though it was very early in his career) and Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was the CEO of Nintendo at the time, called me up and we talked about the various appeal of different video game elements. Though the conversation was hard because we had to speak through a translator.


What were some of your favorite games of your "Vid Kid" era? And of today?

I never really had a specific favorite game from the Vid Kid era, but I do have a level of affinity for games like QiX, Dig Dug, Pac-Man, Demon Attack, Centipede, Kaboom!, Cosmic Ark, Joust, action games that couldn't ever really be beaten (unless you were insane.) Other games that come to mind now, as I'm thinking about it, that I liked:  Pitfall!, M.U.L.E., Maniac Mansion, H.E.R.O, Death Sword (which I think was known as Barbarian in the U.K.). Oh, the list can go on and on.


As for now, I think a team of ninjas might apparate in my living room and kill me if I didn't say that I was playing a lot of Sims Social on Facebook lately. But, really, the truth is that I am playing a lot of Sims Social on Facebook lately. It's a fresh new take on a franchise that I've spent years with and it's impressive that they were able to take The Sims and use it to really polish and add depth to the Facebook game genre. Other than that, I tend to travel a lot and so I?m actually playing a ton of games on my iPad, which I think is enjoying a Golden Age of gaming creativity, even though they are often smaller games.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bill Kunkel 1950-2011

This is another piece I wrote for Retro Gamer (UK) Magazine. The great Bill Kunkel passed away last month and I wrote a eulogy/obituary for the magazine. It appears in November's issue, # 95.


The revered “Game Doctor” essentially invented video game journalism as we know it.

One of the great lights of the industry, its initial, gleaming beacon if you will, has been extinguished. Bill “The Game Doctor” Kunkel passed away at his home in Michigan early Sunday morning, September 5th from an apparent heart attack. He was 61-years-old at the time of his death and is survived by his wife, Laurie, and his siblings, Stephanie, Karen, Joellen, Ken and Stuart.

Bill’s career started off humbly enough, writing and photographing for various wrestling and science fiction fanzines. He then went on to write for Marvel, DC and Harvey Comics, working on such popular characters as Spider-Man, Superman, Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost. But it was in 1978 that he found his stride with the “Arcade Alley” recurring feature in Video Magazine. Launching off the success of that article, Bill, along with life-long friends and business partners, Arnie Katz and Joyce Worley-Katz, started the first magazine entirely devoted to video games, Electronic Games. It was there that Bill took up the pseudonym of the “Game Doctor” and invented many of terms and concepts (such as “screenshot,” “playfield” and “Easter Egg”) we take for granted today.


After Electronic Games folded in 1984, Bill, Arnie and Joyce went on to form Subway Software, designing such games as Micro League Wrestling, Batman Returns and The Simpson’s: Bart’s Nightmare. Bill himself would later join Running With Scissors and have a large role in the two Postal games. He also returned to comics for a stint with Platinum Studios in the late 90’s.

On top of all that, Bill provided expert testimony is several, high-profile video game related lawsuits (Atari v. Magnavox, Nintendo v. Galoob and Capcom v. Data East) and taught game design/theory courses at The University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV).

No words could better sum up who Bill Kunkel was, and what he stood for, than the words written by Arnie Katz in the foreward to Bill’s 2005 memoir, Confessions of the Game Doctor: “Bill Kunkel fought for the idea that gaming could interest adults at a time when the mainstream media dismissed players as glassy-eyed pubescent joystick addicts. He has always battled for information over ignorance, truth over convenience.”

With the Game Doctor’s untimely demise, the video game world has lost one of its first, true renaissance men. Anyone who has aspirations of becoming a video game journalist or game designer would do themselves a great service by checking out Bill’s seminal “Game Doctor” pieces, his incisive “Kunkel Report” articles and, of course, his aforementioned memoir.

Bill’s distinguished career touched and influenced myriad people throughout the video game industry. These are but a few who had kind words about the man after learning of his death...

Vince Desi, CEO Running With Scissors


“Bill was my friend, my advisor, and a founding member of Running With Scissors; he was our Editor In Chief. He was truly the Godfather of Video Game journalism, and a true Don in the game industry. He was smart and respected, and brutally honest, something this industry and world desperately needs. Bill always liked to say, ‘Life will kill you.’ God Bless him.”
  



Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, CEO Platinum Studios

“Bill was a good friend and a good person.  Nothing was ever too much for him to try and tackle.  What he did take on he approached in a wonderful and innovative manner.  He will be missed but also celebrated.”





Tommy Tallarico, CEO/Producer Video Games Live

"Growing up I remember reading Bill's columns in Electronic Games Magazine. I had the great pleasure of knowing him and being his friend for 22 years. Yo Bill...save me a seat in Heaven by the Intellivision console! Me and you in Downhill Skiing!"