The bimonthly publication called TurboPlay was a godsend for those who sought TurboGrafx-16 news and information more substantive than obnoxious Sushi-X jibes and generic GamePro yarns. It delivered well-written, evenhanded reviews for virtually every Turbo title released stateside during its print run along with lots of PC Engine coverage and in-depth strategy guides for games that were lucky even to receive mention in other magazines. Most folks who have remained loyal to the TG-16 over the years remember TurboPlay not merely as a helpful resource but as a vital element of their early Grafx experiences. However, some aren't aware that it was actually a spin-off from VideoGames & Computer Entertainment, the greatest gaming publication ever produced.
VG&CE represented a congregation of the elite of gaming journalism. The list of writers who contributed to it includes NES aficionado Chris Bieniek, adventure-game guru Clayton Walnum, respected freelancers Joshua Mandel and Brent Walker, all-around gaming master Donn Nauert, the legendary Arnie Katz-Bill Kunkel-Joyce Worley triumvirate, eventual Working Designs headman Victor Ireland, and jocular then-newcomer Zach Meston. And leading the way during the magazine's glorious prime were Publisher Lee Pappas and Executive Editor Andy Eddy.
This ridiculously talented assemblage delivered a sophisticated product that stood out among its toddler-targeted peers. The writing in VG&CE was intelligent and witty but never overbearing, mature but never uptight. The writers earned credibility among game publishers for their responsible reporting and among readers for their honest game evaluations. And those evaluations were always thorough and well composed, as opposed to the small blocks of incoherent blather and meaningless number grades presented by the competition.
The VG&CE staff also did what was apparently considered unthinkable by their rivals: they provided outstanding Turbo coverage.
These guys knew their stuff. Walnum could have held the hand of even a crippled, shield-less Link through the labyrinths of Neutopia. Nauert would have scoffed at reports of the "impossibility" of Sinistron's later levels. Devising complex Military Madness stratagems was child's play for hardy Pappas. And Eddy put his boss-battling acumen to good use by coauthoring two Turbo tip books.
But it wasn't just impressive writing ability or vast gaming knowledge that made the work these guys produced so special. There was more to it than that. You would notice it when Lee was hailing Ys or slamming Axe II, or when Andy was administering one of his friendly-but-frank editorials. Along with skill, there was sincerity. The presence of this elusive melding not only made their writing stand out in an industry that's seen its share of clowns and hacks but also made it influential even beyond the realm of video games.
This particular clown/hack is one who can attest to the impact they made. Consider me very humbled and very appreciative that Lee Pappas and Andy Eddy, two of my writing heroes during my youth, agreed to do this interview with the Duomazovs. I present to you now the product of our correspondence.
The Brothers Duomazov: Game magazines often end up the butts of jokes for their perceived general lack of credibility and maturity, but VG&CE is still spoken of to this day with respect and fondness. How surprising and/or gratifying is it that VG&CE ended up being a uniquely sophisticated product within its industry and, at the same time, a very significant and memorable part of many gamers' childhoods?
Lee Pappas: Prior to VG&CE I published ANALOG Computing, the leading Atari computer magazine in the world. ANALOG Computing was an extremely profitable magazine with a large and dedicated following. I still hold that it was one of the highest quality computer publications ever, and apparently I am not alone. Nearly twenty years after ceasing publication we still get fan mail, and web sites around the world are dedicated to keeping the work we did alive via software downloads and page scans. This year alone I received a request from Germany to distribute the magazine on-line as PDFs translated into German and another similar request from Hong Kong.
So what does this have to do with VG&CE? I first discussed the idea of a games magazine with Michael DesChesnes, my then business partner at ANALOG Computing, and he shot down the idea. Soon after we sold ANALOG to LFP, I was walking to lunch on a Friday with Jim Kohls, the President of LFP, and mentioned the idea of a gaming magazine to him. The following Monday I had the go-ahead. This was close to Memorial Day weekend and my goal was to get the first issue out in September. Concept-to-launch in three months is a difficult goal for a start-up publication, so I pulled in many ANALOG people. Clayton Walnum, who was the editor for ANALOG at the time, recommended Andy Eddy, who was a contributor to ANALOG. Basically Andy went from climbing telephone poles for a Connecticut cable TV company to editor of VG&CE in one fell swoop (so like many others Andy got his start in the business due to ANALOG). The point of this is that we took the integrity, hard work, and innovation we put into ANALOG and did the same for VG&CE. Andy and I worked many long hours on VG&CE and really put in the extra effort, and I am happy the magazine is fondly remembered and respected! In fact, just recently the author of Star Raiders for the Atari 8-bit computer, Doug Neubauer, referenced an interview I conducted with him back in 1986--our work lives on.
Andy Eddy: I think there are a couple of reasons for why VG&CE came out differently. I would say one had to do with the fact that I came to the magazine with no other “real” magazine experience. I had been freelance writing for a few years as a side gig (as Lee said, with ANALOG being my first for-pay pieces while I was working full time for a cable TV company), but I didn’t know what it took to create a magazine. Frankly, it was a shock for me to get the job, but I reached for the brass ring when Lee offered me the position, dragging my wife and kids out to Los Angeles for this cool adventure.
So, when I get to the offices, I have no real idea what I’m doing. I know how to put sentences together and I know about games, having been a gamer—even back before video games, playing pinball as a kid. I just didn’t know about magazines, not even having thought before about someone having to write a table of contents or cover lines. It really was quite a risk Lee and I took on each other, but, like he said, we worked our tails off and put a lot of hours in at the office to make it happen.
Back to your question: I think my editorial naïveté worked in our favor, because when it came down to what we put in the magazine, a lot of it was what I wanted to read as a gamer, not as an editor trying to figure out what the readers wanted.
As for VG&CE being “uniquely sophisticated,” as you said, I think that was governed by Lee and I being older. When I moved out to LA, I was thirty, which was more than a bit outside the average video-gamer demographic, but we were also proof that it was more than teenagers who were interested in games. When we were building what VG&CE would be, we didn’t want it to just be a picture book of game screens or childish write-ups, but really delve into what went into the games—more than what you’d see when you’d start up the game, but how it was made from the people who made them and things like that. Again, this was the magazine we wanted to read, and Lee and I being big nerds who enjoyed computers and electronic games, we wanted to know about the games we enjoyed. I guess looking back on it, it was more a selfish pursuit; who knew that all of these other people wanted to read about the same stuff and not feel like they had to get their ten-year-old brother to translate it?
Now, more than twenty years after it started, it’s clear that we really caught lightning in a bottle. And the e-mails I still get now and again, about how much of an impact we made with the magazine, are not only flattering, but extremely heartening knowing that Lee’s initial idea, along with our execution and evolution of it over the years, was so well received.
TBD: Even if we disregard TurboPlay, VG&CE always appeared willing to embrace the TurboGrafx-16. While some other publications ignored many releases outright and seemed overly harsh with their "ratings" for the titles they did cover, VG&CE consistently gave the console and its games a "fair shake" and delivered plenty of Turbo reviews and strategy guides. Was this simply a result of the staff's desire to achieve fair and proportionate coverage? Were there any staffers in particular who were fond of the system?
LP: Occasionally Andy, Donn Nauert, and I would venture into Japantown (in LA) to have lunch and poke around. That’s when we first encountered the PC Engine and were wowed by its abilities. Of course we picked one up along with a bunch of games. Soon after, when NEC announced the TG-16 in the US, I dealt with Ken Wirt who handled the marketing for the console. Ken’s a great guy with an impressive resume in the consumer electronics industry. One day I am on the phone with him and Andy is in the office. Out of the blue I mentioned to Ken that we had been discussing a dedicated TG-16 magazine. Andy looked at me with a “huh--we’ve never even mentioned this to one another?” look. Ken liked the idea and the whole thing got rolling with plans to get cash subsidizing and paid advertising from NEC, package a subscription flyer in the console boxes, etc. It wasn’t just a business decision, we really liked the game system. The graphics and sound overshadowed the then-current crop of consoles--when I first saw R-Type…wow!
I also traveled to Tokyo and Sapporo to meet with Hudson Soft. What a terrific bunch of people--they were enthusiastic and very warm. (I could write an entire piece on that trip--it was amazing.) I also met with the folks from Shogakukan, who published PC Engine Fan, and worked out an agreement where they would provide editorial for us from Japan. We would then translate it and usually add our own artwork. A college friend of mine, Isao Yonehara, who was from Tokyo and worked in Beverly Hills with us, did the translation. So to finally answer your question, we were as fair to the TG-16 platform as any other system. Unlike most publications, we gave games the reviews they deserved--regardless of the ads placed in the magazines.
AE: I think we were all fond of it. I’d hate to think that we were biased toward it, but the norm within the game industry at that time was for games to come out in Japan first, then come to North America. As Lee noted, we did end up getting some good connections going with Hudson Soft and NEC, which helped us get TurboPlay together—as a deal to do the magazine first and then putting together each issue when we needed to—but I think at first we leaned toward the TG-16 because in the Japan market, the PC Engine was doing better than Sega’s Mega Drive (what the Genesis was called in Japan). We rolled the dice a bit, expecting (or at least hoping) that the PC Engine’s popularity would carry over to North America, so when it came time to cover the console in VG&CE, we were in good shape.
And that relationship also got us exposure to lots of games that NEC was considering for the North American market—I guess we were another voice for it to consider, because the NEC staff would send us games now and again, and ask us to offer our evaluation on whether we thought they were fun, how they would work in this market, etc.
In the end, the TG-16 didn’t do as well here, but VG&CE was all about covering the whole game industry—we were also “odd” in that we chose to cover console and computer games in the same publication, but it was our decision to go across the board, so even though TG-16 didn’t have the same popularity as Genesis or Super NES, we felt we should still highlight its games, because there were people who were playing them.
TBD: Perhaps we can draw some parallels between the TG-16 and VG&CE. Both meant a lot to their respective fan bases, but said fan bases ended up being too small, unfortunately, to ensure long-term success versus the competition. While Turbo fans can think of lots of mistakes that NEC made with their handling of the system in America, VG&CE devotees typically state that they wouldn't have changed a thing about the magazine. Looking back, is there anything that you feel VG&CE could have handled in a different or better fashion? Any regrets?
LP: I suppose we could have had more game guides, cheats, and tricks. The trend was going that way when I left the magazine. In fact I told the President of LFP that if they didn’t make those changes soon the magazine would start to lose sales. But while I was there and running things the staff churned out a high-quality magazine every month with terrific editorial and wonderful graphics. Alan Hunter’s artwork was incredible (and look where he is now--with a company called Petrol that is doing some amazing things).
The biggest problem with the TG-16 may have been the lack of a killer game that players just had to have. Another problem, and I see this with the PSP a bit, is too many Japanese games being brought over. Many are just too-Japanese in game culture or just damn odd. I’ll tell you this--I still follow the gaming and consumer electronics industry intensely and it’s impressive how much respect the TG-16 platform still enjoys. Any TG-16 hardware or software emulation on today’s platforms gathers great praise from Engadget and other sites. In fact recently a modder built a sharp-looking red portable TG-16, garnering many accolades from Engadget.
AE: From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, the way I see it is that NEC went into the North American game market with the TG-16 having the assumption that it was the best seller in Japan, so it would be the best seller here. The game industry was really young and the previous generation had that model (the NES/Famicom led in Japan, then led here), but I don’t think NEC took into account many other things that Nintendo did (some being…uh, not so friendly as business moves go) to have the success in both markets.
Then, assuming it was a lock for success, NEC seemed to get cocky. The word we were getting from developers and publishers was that NEC was demanding high royalty rates of its partners—the kind that Nintendo was putting on its partners—and being somewhat finicky in its dealings. Instead of sitting back and raking in the dough, NEC’s approach ended up causing many of its potential partners to play a waiting game: If the TG-16 was a success, it wouldn’t be as much of a risk for them to pony up to the bar with NEC, even if the business dealings and costs left a bad taste in their mouths…much as it did for many of Nintendo’s partners. Having a bad taste in your mouth isn’t so awful, it seems, as long as it comes with a fat wallet.
Like you said, that situation held back the TG-16 and left the door open for the Genesis and (later) the SNES to run through. Once that wave started, there didn’t appear to be any way to stop it, and the TG-16 ended up losing.
I do agree that VG&CE ended up losing its position to competitors, but for different reasons. Perhaps if we were doing VG&CE for Lee’s company before he sold it to LFP, we might have been able to do things differently, but LFP was a pretty big company that was pretty set in its ways of producing magazines. Granted, despite the…uh, subject matter of many of its more notable publications, the company’s overall magazine production was impeccable. That carried over into VG&CE, enabling it to be a very attractive and solidly produced magazine.
(As an example, note how we “hot stamped” the Sonic 2 hologram onto the cover when we did the first hologram on a game magazine, which made it not only impossible to peel off, but it was perfectly “registered” inside the monitor graphic, while when one of our competitors did a hologram, it was a sticker that “walked away” from many newsstand copies, but even if it was there, it was common for it to be crooked or out of register to where it was meant to be placed.)
While it made for a beautiful magazine, it also made for a longer-to-complete magazine. Simply put, lead time is why a lot of game magazines have gone out of business, because they can’t compete for the immediacy of the Internet. Similarly, VG&CE getting information into gamers’ hands a month after other magazines had it (no matter how much better the production quality might have been) started really costing us in the competition.
Lee and I did what we could to push against the status quo. For example, VG&CE was the first magazine at the company to be desktop published (vs. the traditional typesetting process that had been in place), and while we got off to a wonky start, we not only streamlined the production process for VG&CE, but LFP ended up taking what we’d done and implemented it across the entire slate of magazines the company published. Despite that, with all the magazines LFP did, we were still “in line” with all of them for production and printing resources, so we had to wait our turn, which did slow us down in getting the magazine into readers’ hands.
Also, without going too deep into it, there were issues regarding advertising that helped accelerate VG&CE’s death spiral. We lost our aggressive ad seller to one of our competitors, and with ad-page count being a determining factor not only in revenue, but in how many pages you have in your whole magazine, when we started having lower numbers of ad buys, our page count went down. When a gamer would pick up two competing magazines and one was noticeably heavier and fatter…well, I hate to say size matters given where we were working, but I think that counted against us in our later years also.
TBD: Those who have enjoyed the Turbo from its launch still smile when reminded of The Legendary Axe's crowning as VG&CE's 1989 Game of the Year, a title it won over Thunder Force II and Blazing Lazers. Were you among the Axe proponents during discussions about which game should receive the award? And as the 16-bit era went on, do you think that Axe and honorable mention Lazers held up as strong titles?
LP: Axe was a terrific game and I played it a lot. I liked it much more than Thunder Force II and Blazing Lazers and still hold that it deserved our award. It had the gameplay and the graphics chops to back it up. It was fun later on playing titles like that on the TurboExpress. I still have mine, it was #11 off the pre-assembly line. Don’t know if you heard this but in Japan it was originally called the Game Tank. One of the Hudson Soft guys knew just four English words at the time--game, boy, tank, and top--so Game Tank it was. Steve Wozniak saw my early version Express at an Apple PR event and went nuts over it--he wanted one really bad so I helped get him one from NEC.
AE: I believe I was more in the Blazing Lazers camp at the time this was debated among the staff. I played that game to death, but I think in the end, it was Legendary Axe that was a more “accessible” title; some space-shooters, such as R-Type and Blazing Lazers, can be extremely challenging and therefore not as mainstream in their appeal. I didn’t mind that Blazing Lazers didn’t come out on top, because it was one of the many good games on the system.
I think the fact that we’re seeing ports of TG-16 games on the current systems’ downloadable libraries is proof that the games hold up—not just across the 16-bit era, but up to today. There’s a lot of “retro” seeking, and these games are getting new admirers for their quality, as well as from an historical standpoint.
TBD: The following year, Phantasy Star II and Ys Book I & II fought an epic battle for the award, with PSII coming out on top in a match-up that the magazine couldn't have gone wrong with either way. While Ys fell short against its mighty opponent, it remains one of the games most revered by the Turbo community thanks to its excellent soundtrack, memorable villains, and dramatic cinemas. Has your experience with the game proven to be one that's stuck with you?
LP: What I remember most about Ys is the incredible score. It still ranks up there as one of my favorite gaming scores (and I have been collecting soundtracks since the '70s so I know music, TV and game soundtracks). It was a fun game to boot--certainly one of my favorites for the TG-16. I probably won’t ever play it again, as it most likely won’t live up to my fondness of it and my memories will be destroyed. Best to leave that alone.
AE: Admittedly, I’m not as big an RPG fan, so I don’t fully remember why we chose one over the other. I remember Ys being an epic game that kept you engaged for a long time, but Phantasy Star certainly had a more prominent standing in the market. As you said, it could have gone either way.
Those games are proof of how fast the game industry was growing and improving. Everyone got used to games that were plug-and-play, but also somewhat geared toward a short-attention span, but the RPGs that were coming out had much more depth and richness to them. It just took them a bit longer to catch on in North America, because “we” weren’t used to the slower pace and lack of a more immediate payoff.
TBD: Sticking with the Game of the Year theme for one more question, VG&CE had the guts to proclaim Sonic 2 its champion at a time when most magazines were printing up dissertations on Street Fighter II each and every month. Then again, VG&CE was always willing to travel its own path, criticizing Nintendo when many publications seemed eager to pander to potential advertisers, declining to print rumors that appeared in other mags (and often proved to be baseless), and even hesitating to implement a "scoring system" for its reviews. Do you think that VG&CE "went against the grain" too often at a time when so many gamers were looking for juicy rumors, numbers rather than articles, and countless fighting-game combos? Was it a no-win situation for a mag that clearly wanted to maintain its credibility and integrity, traits that endeared it to the readers it had earned?
LP: Many of the points you make are true--but remember we had a higher readership age. GamePro was much lower than us--really just kids. EGM was also younger and somewhat crude, plus they had no ethics. Once they had the Batman game previewed at their offices--but unknown to the game’s publisher they had a video tape recorder set up so they could later take screen captures and publish them even though they were asked not to. We didn’t pull that crap--which is why we had more exclusives than they did. At the time I was with the magazine our subscription, newsstand, and advertising sales were all ahead of the other guys. Best of all we were a respected magazine and had the credibility the others occasionally lacked. I also remember EGM printing a slight against Andy which added to their low brow mentality. As I mentioned previously, I saw the market changing more towards reviews, cheats, etc. Subscribers just wanted to read less and play more.
AE: As Lee said, we determined early on that we wanted to do things, dare I say, with a more journalistic approach. I did something that no one at the other magazines seemed to consider, which was to prominently post corrections to mistakes or omissions we had made in previous issues. We wanted to be trusted and seen as the ones with integrity. In the end, it’s nice that you noticed it, but I don’t know how much of an impact that made on the overall competition. (Not to say I’d do anything differently now, but not everyone saw the white hats we promised to wear.)
Again, if we were going to be a voice to our readers, but also of our readers, we couldn’t pass up being critical about the industry when the need was there. I don’t mind railing against Nintendo’s use of capsules as playing pieces in Dr. Mario; we didn’t hold back in the slightest writing about Nintendo being investigated by the Department of Justice for its NES dealings; and I think that also carried into TurboPlay, that we were, in essence, a contract publication for the system, but we weren’t run by NEC/TTI. We committed to doing the magazine, which is why NEC got on board with us and supported us, but we weren’t like Nintendo Power—we were free to write whatever we wanted and NEC never saw the issue before it was printed and bound. We didn’t want to be a mouthpiece.
Going back to your question, I don’t think VG&CE was affected by going against the grain. We just tried to cover the industry as best as we could and spell things out when they needed to be. I think in the end, we went home happy with the product we put out—and that we’re still doing interviews about it twenty years later probably indicates our instincts were pretty much on track.
That said…yes, scoring games is an endless debate. I would love nothing more than to do away with scores, but I think society has gotten used to grading and ranking things. Gamers demand that we put a number or other score on our reviews, so we grudgingly went along. But we also were the first to add additional perspectives to a review when we could, though it was always a challenge to cram all that info into such a compact space.
TBD: You've both certainly remained busy--Lee with new publishing endeavors and Andy heading things at GamePro for a while, writing new books, and running web sites--since your departure from VG&CE. During that time, have you been able to to work with (or even keep in touch with) other VG&CE "fan favorites" such as Chris Bieniek, Clayton Walnum, and, well, each other?
LP: I haven’t spoken with Andy in years. Too bad as we had a lot of fun working on the magazine and we roomed together for a while prior to his family moving out to LA. I see his name come up occasionally but that’s it. I keep up with Clayton from time to time, I always considered us friends. I didn’t really know Chris that well and I have no idea where Donn Nauert is. I actually just heard from Ken Wirt the day I wrote this. I keep in close contact with the original ANALOG team. In fact five of us launched a new venture in January--and what a team it is: Tom Hudson, who went on to develop one of the leading 3D rendering applications in the world, 3D Studio Max; Jon Bell, who worked on The Abyss, Terminator movies and Discovery Channel programs; Brian Moriarty, rated as one of the top game authors in the world and who was the number-one game guy at Skywalker Ranch for George Lucas. Can’t say the name of the fourth player--it’s just a secret for now. Also I can’t say what we are doing but it will be announced soon--it’s very cool and we are all having a lot of fun with it. Anyone who has followed my career knows I have always been on the forefront of technology and this continues that trend. I can say it’s not in the information segment for a change.
AE: Unfortunately, as Lee said, we haven’t kept in touch as much as we should (though through this interview, we traded some e-mails, which will hopefully lead to more communications between us). And I really immersed myself in the game industry, trying to stick close to what I really liked doing. I’ve had a few “breaks,” shall I say (such as doing a digital-culture magazine called Digital Diner, which only lasted a couple of issues before the company burned through the money its investors put into it, and after that a one-year stint at Network World magazine), but I appreciate that Lee gave me the opportunity to be the editor of a game publication, which led to other editorial jobs in the game industry.
For much the same reason, I haven’t talked to Clayton in forever. We just haven’t had the opportunity to cross paths—last I knew, Clay had gone more to his roots in writing books about programming.
Chris and I had spotty communication since I left VG&CE, but I ended up doing a mobile-games column for him at Tips & Tricks for a while, and we’ve traded a few e-mails since that publication unfortunately folded a couple of years ago.
Right now, my job path has taken me to IGN, where I’m editor in chief for the TeamXbox.com website. Still in the thick of games writing—and I’m not sure exactly what I’d do if that dried up on me, but it’s hopefully not something I need to consider for a while.
TBD: There has never really been a sophisticated successor to VG&CE. What do you think of the state of gaming journalism nowadays? Aside from the ones you've been connected with through work, are there any magazines or web sites that you think particularly highly of?
LP: I have always been a fan of the Future Publishing titles. I’ve been reading PC Gamer for many years along with their Xbox mag. I also follow Wired and the two Mac titles out there. The other gaming mags are crap except I do pick up Game Informer occasionally. For gaming news it’s hard to compete against the web anymore and as far as that goes I bounce around, not really loyal to any one site.
AE: Obviously, magazines are a harder sell these days, because it’s almost impossible to compete against the immediacy of the Internet, but there are still a few left that are making an impact. In the wake of VG&CE, I always thought that Edge out of the UK was a great magazine…and that was the inspiration for Next Generation here in North America. I think they were the only ones that were really taking the approach that VG&CE was taking.
I think the Internet has certainly expanded the scope of game journalism, for good and bad—there are a lot of well-done websites and a bunch of sites that are more amateur in quality…some because they’re run by enthusiasts who are just putting their opinions out there. Similarly, there are some sites that follow good journalistic practices, while there will always be sites that throw things against the wall to see what sticks. The readers are discriminating, though, so you might have some attention for a while with that approach, but it probably won’t last long; you’ll get called out if you try to go too far outside the lines.
If you’re a gamer, you have a lot of outlets to choose from—and I don’t think there’s one single outlet that’s a one-stop shop for game info. Though I may be biased working for the company, IGN’s network is strong on reviews and previews. Kotaku and Gamasutra are doing a good job in breaking news stories. And there are a number of others that’ll pop up with a particular good story or angle on the industry. The fact is, there are so many sites, especially if you have a special interest you want to follow.
TBD: In VG&CE's days, a common mailbag topic was the "inevitability" of another "industry crash," as some people felt 16-bit games were all flash and lacked the gameplay and depth of older 8-bit efforts. Ironically, many presently look back on the 16-bit era as gaming's "golden age." And now, of course, a lot of "old-school" players lament the extinction of 2D and think of modern games as a worthless mishmash of unrewarding, heartless, 3D abominations. How do you feel about the way gaming has evolved over the years? What modern games and systems do you enjoy most?
LP: The 16-bit era was the golden age--to us. My kids will look back at the current crop of consoles as their golden age. As far as 2D games disappearing, hah--nonsense! Look at recent hits such as Braid and even LittleBigPlanet. Check out all the 2D hit games on the iPhone! I still play games…a lot. For many years my neighbors and other friends have had an Xbox 360 group and we all play on Sunday nights. My neighbor is a Microsoft exec so we are in the loop with the new games, sometimes prior to release. I also have the PS3 which is a great console--my son is an Ace on Warhawk so he is online a lot. I don’t play the Wii much, though my kids do. And, of course, I have Nectaris (Military Madness) on the Wii. I also play daily on my (iPhone) 3G S and occasionally on my PSP and DS. The last games I played on the PC were Supreme Commander and C&C: Tiberium Wars 3. I have just started with EVE but don’t have the time, though it looks great. I still love RTS thanks to the original C&C/Dune and, of course my number one PC Engine games ever, Nectaris and NeoNectaris (it was a big treat meeting the guy behind those games when I visited Hudson Soft in Japan). As for the titles I play right now, I round up my favorite games on my blog (www.leepappas.com).
AE: Yes, when you’re in that moment, you want to try and speculate on how things will be—and later it’s easier to look back and point to successful predictions or failed forecasts. It’s that old “hindsight is 20/20” saying.
I think looking back at the 16-bit era, you can say that it was the time of the biggest evolution in games—from somewhat primitive shapes, colors and sounds to full-featured animation, music, and integrated video. And I also think that you hit a spot where you can’t improve things as much, which is where I believe we are now. Obviously, there are still steps that can be taken—such as better lip synching and smoother frame rates when there’s a lot being processed onscreen—but I don’t think the current game industry can make the same kinds of technology leaps as we saw in the ’80s and ’90s.
Especially with the growth in the indie development market and the high costs of bringing out a triple-A title, I think we’re going to continue to see all kinds of games, including advanced 3-D titles and inventive 2-D titles. If Tetris came out now, it wouldn’t be pushed aside because it’s “only 2-D”; people would embrace it for its entertainment value. As Lee pointed out, a game like Braid doesn’t push the envelope technologically, but still offers compelling gameplay.
Those kinds of games are inspiring others to create similar games that are simple in structure and make-up, but still pull in gamers because they’re fun. Hey, the whole world is Peggle crazy because it’s easy to play, but challenging to beat. At TeamXbox, we recently had a demo of a time-puzzle game (somewhat like the time puzzles in Braid) that started as a student project, but has been picked up for release on Xbox Live Arcade, and it’s fun, inventive and humorous in spite of pretty simple visuals. And there’s a game that lots of people don’t know about yet, but they will soon when it comes out this week: Scribblenauts. It’s a Nintendo DS puzzle game that requires you to enter words and those objects instantly appear in the game world. It’s impossible to describe, but has amazing appeal for all ages.
Not everyone wants to play World of Warcraft; some just want to play chess or Monopoly or another “casual” game, so I think we’ll always have a broad selection of game types available to us, no matter how advanced the hardware gets.
TBD: How about if we wrap things up with some typical Turbo questions? You've both obviously got full plates as it is, but do you ever play any TG-16/PC Engine games anymore? What were your own personal favorites for the system?
LP: Sure, I do haul my retro games out every once in a while, including the TG-16. (I have two backup TG-16s and PC Engines still sitting mint in the boxes…just in case.) As I mentioned, Nectaris to me was a great turned-based strategy game. I liked the battle on the Moon concept, the futuristic weapons, the strategy, and the music. NeoNectaris one-upped it with one of my favorite gaming scores ever (it’s on my iPhone right now) and a battle for Mars. I still have the pre-production Nectaris ROM from Hudson--basically a circuit board you plug into the TG-16.
Other favorites were some of the ones I already mentioned, along with Devil's Crush and Bomberman. I was lucky to be so involved with the TG-16, PC Engine, Hudson Soft, NEC, and talented magazine staffs.
AE: Unfortunately, I haven’t played a TG-16 game in some time, though I still have a lot of the gear packed away in storage, so I could get to them again. As I said, Blazing Lazers was one of my favorites, and because I was always a pinball fan, Alien Crush and Devil’s Crush were always near my system.
I never had a chance to get into Military Madness, but I think that was because Lee always had it. However, it’s due to come out on Xbox Live Arcade in the near future, so I guess I’ll have my chance to “go retro” with that soon.
If I had the chance, one game I’d go back and play all the way through was Gekisha Boy. That was one of the games that NEC sent us at TurboPlay to try out and evaluate. It was a fun game, but there was no way it was going to come out here without some major changes: It centered around a photographer who had to go through a sidescrolling world, snapping the best pictures of things that he saw, which would then be sold to a newspaper, so he could get more film. However, there were a lot of celebrities and trademark characters (such as Superman and Spider-Man), as well as a lot of graffiti’ed swear words and stereotyped characters that would make your jaw drop. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the inspiration for games such as Pokémon Snap and Sealife Safari. I don’t know where it went at the LFP offices, but I never saw it again.
Maybe this shady character took Andy's Gekisha Boy...