Archive for the 'Interviews' Category

VC&G Interview: Bill Harrison, The First Video Game Hardware Guru

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

William L. HarrisonForty years ago today, the world’s first television video game contest took place in a small lab in Nashua, NH. The place was Sanders Associates, a large defense contractor, and the contestants were Ralph Baer and his technician, Bill Harrison. The inventions of these two men and a third, Bill Rusch, would later appear commercially as the Magnavox Odyssey console in 1972.

History has heard quite a bit from Baer recently, including an interview I conducted with him back in January. But most often overlooked is perspective of the second player in that monumental game, Bill Harrison, who built all of the original Sanders video game hardware by hand. Now 73 years old and retired, William L. Harrison finally gives his side of the story in his first ever interview, and it’s exclusive to Vintage Computing and Gaming.

[ For more information on this important anniversary, read my feature, “Video Games Turn Forty,” at ]

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Benj’s Steve Wozniak Interview on Gamasutra

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Steve Wozniak Interview on GamasutraBack in February, I conducted a nice interview with Steve Wozniak (“Woz”), co-founder of Apple Computer, that mostly focused on video and computer games. The piece is now on Gamasutra for all to read. Woz talks about how the Apple II design was inspired by video games, his love of Tetris, Steve Jobs as a gamer, and more.

You might remember that I previously did a Ralph Baer interview for Gamasutra. This Woz interview is only the latest in a series. There are more to come, so stay tuned.

VC&G’s Ralph Baer Interview in This Month’s Game Developer Magazine, Gamasutra

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Benj's Ralph Baer InterviewBack in January, I had the wonderful opportunity to conduct an extensive telephone interview with the inventor of home video games, Ralph Baer (I’ll be writing more on him soon, so stay tuned). That epic interview, in a much shorter form, appears in the March 2007 edition of Game Developer magazine, which is available on newsstands now. (Just to note, there is a slight factual error in the introduction of the interview about Spacewar in the print version, not written by me, but there will be a correction published next issue.)

The good news for you is that there is a much longer version of the interview up on Gamasutra right now that you can read through online. Check it out, and look for more of my interviews with computer and video game industry pioneers in the coming months.

The Basement Mac Museum

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

The Classic II Mac BarDeep in the heart of Missouri lies a secret underground bunker full of Apple Macintosh computers. Within its stark white walls, you’ll find the computer collection of Jeremy Mehrle, a professional graphic designer with a decided preference for Apple hardware.

Actually, Mehrle’s presentation more closely resembles a swank nightclub than a bunker. The monochromatic color design and minimalistic furniture arrangement compliment the Mac collection perfectly, while adding an incredible touch of class to the makeshift museum. Dozens of compact Macs (mostly Classic IIs), which automatically run screen savers when turned on, engulf a tall bar area in one corner of the basement. In other section, there’s an eye-catching wall full of candy-colored iMacs. And don’t forget to take a stroll down the row of various all-in-one Mac models that includes the rare Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Eat your heart out, “Mac Shelf.”

Mac LineupMerhle, who also goes by the handle “soyburger,” posted some pictures of his basement Mac collection on Flickr in August of last year, and links to the gallery have been virally spreading around the web ever since. I just recently ran across the photos myself and was so impressed with the aesthetically adept setup that I decided to contact Merhle and conduct a short email interview, which you can read below. There’s a lot more to see of Mehrle’s basement than the pictures here, so don’t forget to check out the full gallery as well, on Flickr.

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VC&G Interview: Aaron Ethridge, President of Console Classix

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Aaron EthridgeFor those of you who don’t know, Console Classix (CC) is an online video game “rental service” of sorts that focuses on classic games. It beat GameTap to the punch by a number of years, and yet still remains relatively obscure. To go along with my VC&G review of that service, I recently conducted an interview with Console Classix’s President and co-founder, Aaron Ethridge, via email. He was generous in answering the many questions I posed to him, and I find his responses honest and fascinating. The following interview is long, but if you’re interested at all in CC, it’s well worth the read. His answers were edited for spelling, structure, and minor typos only; everything else is as he wrote it.

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VC&G Interview: Robert Tinney, BYTE Cover Artist and Microcomputer Illustration Pioneer

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Robert TinneyIf someone wrote a book on the history of personal computer art, chapter one could only bear the name of one man: Robert Tinney. As cover artist for over eighty issues of BYTE magazine — microcomputing’s first and finest major publication — and as one of the first men to illustrate topics related to the fledgling field of personal computers, he near single-handedly shaped the popular visual idiom of what computers were, could be, and would be for the for a whole generation of microcomputer enthusiasts.

That proud generation has long since grown up and moved on to a myriad of different fields and disciplines, spreading its knowledge, love, and expertise of all things technological around the world. Collectively, they have arguably become the world’s most influential, yet sometimes underrated, segment of the modern populace. So imagine if you could go back in time and visit that same generation in 1978. What would you see? A lot more pimples, no doubt, and a lot more hair. And most likely, you’d find a copy of BYTE in their hands — with a Robert Tinney illustration on the cover.

Byte Magazine CoverTinney’s BYTE artwork is amazing. It displays unparallelled creativity in the use of visual metaphors to convey typically intangible, abstract, and sometimes abstruse technical concepts. His illustrations penetrate all pretense and cut straight to the heart of the main idea of the topic at hand, laying it out in an appropriately minimalistic fashion that, while sometimes visually spartan, richly sparks the imagination and places the viewer firmly in the scene. His work communicates, and it does so in ways that words never could. For most commercial artists, the idea of illustrating for a completely new field without artistic precedent would probably be daunting, if not completely nervewracking — and who’s to say it wasn’t for Tinney — but despite that immense challenge, he pulled off the assignment not only handily, but with the kind of proficency and mastery that made the genre, in this writer’s humble opinion, firmly his own.

It was with all these superlatives in mind (and a stack of 1987 BYTEs as my bedside reading material) that I recently requested an email interview with Robert Tinney. I am delighted to say that he accepted the offer, and you can read the result below.

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A Better Interview, Starring the Massive Video Game Collection Owner’s Friend

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

VGC CollectionWho knew that you could have interviews about interviews? Well, when you are personally responsible for publishing the world’s least-interesting interview, you can! Oh the perks. For those of you who don’t know, the subject of that first interview (and the owner of the “Possible World’s Largest Video Game Collection“) was a bit vague about the details of, well…just about every question I asked. The decision of whether to actually publish the first interview was a hard one. I wanted to let people know more about the man behind the monster collection, but as it turned out, the collector’s answers were so unspecific that they essentially poured gas on the flames of Internet speculation. In other words, my initial mission was a total failure. Without the new pictures provided by the collector himself, and the other pictures I had to share, I would have shelved the whole thing.

But I didn’t shelve it; I published it and lots of people started getting interested in the collection — many more so than originally expected. Those same people, in the absence of any concrete information, soon began assuming all sorts of unflattering things about the nature of the man behind the collection (That’s the net for ya. Whoo!). Having no one but myself to blame for so much intense public scrutiny of this man’s personal life (trust me, he did not seek it himself), I thought I’d try to set the record…a little more straight…by interviewing his more outgoing friend and game shopping companion, who also happens to be the man who took most of the original pictures of the collection and persuaded the collector to put the pics online in the first place. And so I did, via email (The Official World’s Worst Interview Medium). In grand Internet naming tradition, he shall be referred to as “Nesvidiot.”

Yes, he likes Nintendo.

Vintage Computing and Gaming: How long have you known your friend? How did you meet?
Nesvidiot: We met at the flea market in about ’95.

VC&G: How old are you? How old is he?
NV: We are both mid-30s.

VC&G: Where is he from and what does he do for a living?
NV: Western Canada. He sells games at the flea market on weekends and eBays during the week.

VC&G: Some Internet commentors have suggested that he of has some sort of psychological condition, i.e. obsessive-compulsive disorder, problems with hoarding, etc. because of his incredibly large collection. How would you answer those people?
NV: People do whatever they want to do — it doesn’t matter if it is collecting video games, or hockey cards, or bottle caps. What ever makes you happy is all that matters. People that think he has a problem are usually envious and trying to hide their own problems by focusing on others. Hey, if it makes you happy…

VC&G: Other commentors like to make fun of the small monitor on a table near the SNES exercise bike in one of the pictures as if he played all his games there. Can you tell us what that monitor is for, and does he use it for gaming? Further, could you describe his real gaming setup (if he has one)? Is it upstairs?
NV:He plays games with the family upstairs on the 60″ TV. Downstairs is where he keeps everything and tests games on the little monitor.

VC&G: Why do you think he answered my original questions without much detail?
NV: He doesn’t like to boast, he is a really quiet, humble person.

VC&G: Do you have any idea how many games he has? Does he have a system for keeping track of them all?
NV: He has over 10,000 for sure. Yes he keeps lists, although it is hard to keep up with everything sometimes.

VC&G: Can you tell us about some of the highlights of his collection? Any cool and rare stuff worth mentioning?
NV: The SNES Life cycle with Mountainbike Rally/Speed Racer. The Panesian carts boxed, his new crystal DS’s, there is just too much cool stuff to mention.

VC&G: How much do you think he spends on video game collecting every month?
NV: Not a clue, probably every spare cent he has after bills.

VC&G: Where does he get most of his games?
NV: We go shopping every couple of weeks together — pawns, thrifts, game stores (EB, Microplay etc.).

VC&G: Does he have a wife or girlfriend? What does she think about his collection?
NV: Yes he has a wife of 17 years, and 2 children. This is what he does, obviously if she didn’t approve she wouldn’t have stayed with him this long. There are a happy family.

VC&G: Likewise with relatives. What do they think of his collection?
NV: He comes from a background of collecting and selling. They all understand and support him.

VC&G: How do you think his son feels about his father collecting so many video games?
NV: His son LOVES all the games and will inherit it one day I’m sure.

In addition to the interview, Nesvidiot added this comment at the bottom of the original interview page:

How many of you, if you had a collection of this size would advertise an open house viewing? Think about it, how many of you would even say anything about it, for fear of becoming a target.
No he is not French-
He has a 60″ bigscreen upstairs
the pics you see are of his collection- not his stockroom
he does collect a lot of import, including over 1300 Super Fam, a ton of Brazilian games, Pal variations, name it he’s had it at one time or another.
Most of you big collectors out there have bought games from him at one time or another- whether it be on the old newsgroups 10 years ago or on E-bay since it started.
This is what he does. I collect, videogames were even a business for me at one time, now only a hobby. But this is what he does- all he does. And it seems to work out pretty good for him.
He operates a booth at a flea market on Saturdays and Sundays, during the week he game hunts and ebays games.
Don’t be envious- it is hard work to accomplish what he has. Be happy that he is willing to share it with the world. There are other huge collections out there that will never see the press that this one has. It took me a long time to get him to post pics- a lot of the pics were taken by me. I still am in awe everytime I visit him- and he is one of my best friends.

That’s all for now. If I here from the collector himself again, I’ll update you on it. I’d like to thank Nesvidiot once again for the interview and shedding some light on his somewhat elusive friend!

Interview Attempt: (Possible) World’s Largest Video Game Collection Owner

Friday, March 24th, 2006

VGC CollectionI first ran across this man’s amazing collection a little over two weeks ago when looking at pictures of cool “game rooms” on Videogame What struck me as most unique about this collection was the sheer volume of games and the fact that they almost entirely covered all the walls and the floor of an entire room. After posting a note about the collection on my blog, word of this massive collection quickly spread around the Internet, unfortunately toppling the site under the heavy weight of intense visitor traffic shortly thereafter…from which it has still not yet recovered (oops!).

VGC CollectionFascinated by the collection, I managed to track down its owner (who wishes to be known publicly only as “videogamecollector”) and conduct an email interview with him. Well, I attempted to, anyway. He’s a bit reclusive (answering only 10 of 17 questions asked), and not exactly a master at typing the English language (I’ve had to clean up his answers quite a bit), but he was kind enough to provide a nice little window, however small, into his unique world. He also sent me some new pictures of his collection, which are displayed throughout the interview below. And for sheer completeness, I’m also providing some of the original collection pictures (from at the end of the interview. (Note: Be a pal and please link to this article, not directly to the images. Thanks!) And now, on with the show.

Update (03/30/2006): I just posted an interview with one of the collector’s best friends, which reads more like this original interview should have. He sheds a lot more light on the mystery collector. Check it out here.

VGC CollectionVintage Computing and Gaming: Thanks for agreeing to the interview. A lot of people have seen your impressive video game collection as linked from my blog recently and are eager to know more about it. First off, what do you do for a living?
Videogamecollector: Collect video games, for now.

VC&G: About how many games do you have in your collection? Have you ever counted all of them precisely?
VGC: I’m not sure if I really want to know.

VC&G: What has driven you to collect so many games?
VGC: It seems to be the rush of finding something I don’t have. Or you can call it my addiction.

VC&G: How many game systems (physical console units) do you have, including duplicates?
VCG: Again, I’m not sure — gotta get rid of those duplicates.

VGC CollectionVC&G: What parts of your collection are you most proud of? [i.e. complete SNES game library, all RPG games for Saturn, etc] Also, what are some of the rarest items in your collection?
VGC: Gotta think this one over for a few weeks.

VC&G: What are your collecting goals? For example, are you simply trying to collect every game ever made, or do you focus on label variations, all games for a particular system, game genres (RPGs, fighting games), etc.?
VGC: My goal is to get the games on my want list and sell all my variations and doubles.

VGC CollectionVC&G: Do you have a database or a list of all your games so you can keep track of them better? Or perhaps a system for storing them so you know where everything is?
VGC: I had a list of everything, and I’m now redoing my lists.

VC&G: Your collection seems to take up a lot of space. Where is the collection located? Is it in your basement? Have you ever had to physically move your entire collection?
VGC: Yes, everthing is in the basement. I’ve never had to move everything yet.

VGC CollectionVC&G: How long did it take you to amass your video game collection?
VGC: 16+ years.

VC&G: Do you know of anyone on Earth with a larger video game collection?
VGC: There are a few collectors online that have more, I think. Not sure though.

VGC CollectionVC&G: Is the young boy in your collection pictures your son? If so, what does he think of your collection and video games in general? Do you ever let him play any of your games?
VGC: Yes, my son plays games. He has a few hundred games in his room that he plays.

VC&G: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.
VGC: Thanks.

VGC CollectionDo you have or know of a video game collection bigger than this one? If so, drop me an email!

And now, as promised, here are the original images [Note: Be a pal and please link to this article, not directly to the images. Thanks!]:








An Interview with DahrkDaiz, Creator of Mario Adventure

Monday, February 13th, 2006

Mario AdventureJust yesterday I had the opportunity to conduct an email interview DahrkDaiz, creator of the impressive hack Mario Adventure. Mario Adventure is a completely new Mario game made from modifications to the Super Mario Bros. 3 game engine for the NES. The game was the subject of a recent piece on VC&G and has proven to be quite popular now that it has been given wider attention on our site.

Vintage Computing and Gaming: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. First off, where are you from?
DahrkDaiz: Knoxville, Tennessee

VC&G: What do you do for a living?
DD: I’m currently a student at ITT-Tech and working full time at a fast food restaurant.

VC&G: Do you aspire to be a professional game designer?
DD: I hope so one day but in reality I know game design is a tough field to crack, so I’ll continue to pursue the dream in my spare time while focusing on a realistic programming career, working for businesses to make a living.

VC&G: What’s your favorite video game? Favorite Mario game?
DD: A tie between Sonic 3 & Knuckles and SMB3. [Favorite Mario Game:] SMB3, no surprise there.

VC&G: What inspired you to make Mario Adventure?
DD: The total lack of a proper Mario sequel. I was disappointed with the Mario Advance series and I saw other people’s attempt at creating a new SMB3 experience and decided to take the matter into my own hands.

VC&G: Mario Adventure has been very popular on VC&G. It been downloaded over 11,000 times from our site in the last few days. Is there anything you’d like the players of Mario Adventure to know or keep in mind while playing?
DD: This hack was made with the hardcore SMB3 player in mind. I could practically beat the original with my eyes closed and figured it was time to up the difficulty. However, I tried to include ways to pass hard obstacles easily. Use your power-ups to their fullest abilities and you should do fine getting through the game.

Mario AdventureVC&G: What’s your favorite new feature of Mario Adventure? Also, what’s your favorite world in the game?
DD: Definitely the key collecting idea. I always liked having to back track through levels or world to get something out of the way to continue in a game. Point A to point B grows old quickly. [Favorite World:] Colossal Classics. The giant nostalgic look just has something about it that pleases me. Though I thought I could have a slightly better job with it.

VC&G: What development tools did you use to create Mario Adventure?
DD: FCEUd (emulator with an excellent debugger), YY-Chr (graphics editing), Mario 3 Improvement (archaic SMB3 level editor), Hex Workshop (hex editor).

VC&G: How long did it take you to complete Mario Adventuree?
DD: Approximately 16 months.

VC&G: Was reverse engineering the Super Mario Bros. 3 Game engine and implementing new rules, power-ups, etc. difficult? Tell us more about how you made changes to the Super Mario Bros. 3 game itself.
DD: At first it was very difficult. I slowly began to see a certain logic used behind the game. However, when reprogramming the code, I had to find unused space in the ROM, so that was pretty much hit and miss. Admittedly I did a poor job at coding it, hence all the bugs and glitches, but I did what I could with what knowledge I knew. A lot of time stepping through code and even writing code out on paper while at work during my break was required.

VC&G: Did you do all the level design in Mario Adventure yourself?
DD: Absolutely everything was done by me in this.

VC&G: Do you think Mario Adventure would work properly if somehow put on an actual hardware cartridge and played on a real NES/Famicom? Have you ever attempted this?
DD: Unfortunately, it will not. I reprogrammed the game to take advantage of a bug most emulators have, however, I did not realize at the time that it was a bug. The hack would work on a real NES, but not properly all time. The main bug being the status bar moving up over the screen at certain times.

VC&G: Have you ever heard from Nintendo about your Mario hacking exploits?
DD: Surprisingly, no.

Mario SeasonsVC&G: Have you done any previous game hacking projects? If so, tell us about them.
DD: Before Mario Adventure? No, but there were a few things I did while working on Mario Adventure and afterwards. Most of it is unknown unfinished test projects. I created a cool parallax (SNES style) background scroll in Mega Man 3 for Snake Man’s stage. I hacked Castlevania 3 to start and stay as Alucard. I completely hacked Ms. Pac-Man to have 32 unique levels, a mode to play levels at random and a pellet counter. This hack is known as Pac-Man 3 and will be available on my site once it relaunches.

VC&G: What can you tell us about your next hacking project? When will it be ready?
DD: I can tell you now the next big project is another SMB3 hack. Most people may sigh at this, but I took a different approach with this hack and differs from Mario Adventure. The scale is that, if not more than Mario Adventure. It makes Luigi and Mario be separate characters with each having special powers of their own for different gameplay, including Luigi’s floaty jump and slippery control and a new item box for Mario found in Mario Adventure. Each character has their own separate 8 worlds to play through, so this is literally two hacks in one. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.

VC&G: Is there anything else that you’d like our readers to know?
DD: Mario Adventure is a real gem, but I’ve listened to a lot of good and bad feedback on it and this new project I’m working on addresses those issues. But I like to thank everyone who’s played this hack and given so much praise for it. It’s really inspired me to take game development as a serious career.