Monday, September 14, 2020

Houston Arcade Expo: The Last Gaming Convention Standing




Houston Arcade Expo: The Last Gaming Convention Standing

I travel all over the country doing video game conventions, and I always have a blast. Unfortunately, most have been cancelled for 2020 because of…well, you know. I did RetroFest in Fort Worth in March, but the Midwest Gaming Classic, ClassicGame Fest, Portland Retro Gaming Expo, Video Game Summit, Long Island Retro Gaming Expo, and others I had plans on attending were preemptively shut down.

Only one remains, as far as I know: the Houston Arcade Expo (November 13-14), which will feature a vendor’s room, panels, cosplay, arcades and consoles set on free play, and more. I recently caught up with founder and organizer Keith Christensen and asked him about his gaming history and the plans for the show this year, including the chances of it being cancelled.

BRETT WEISS: Did you grow up around video games and arcades?

KEITH CHRISTENSEN: As with most any child of the ’70s and ’80s, I grew up with video games and pinball. It started with the home Pong TV games, moved to the Atari 2600, and then finally with my TRS 80 color computer (which I STILL have with all the stuff).

Playing at the local arcades was a rite of passage. I remember playing Lunar Lander at the Hobby Airport arcade when we picked up my dad, Flash Gordon pinball at the local 7-11, and Joker Poker at a church game room. A few of my favorite places were Goodtime Charlie’s (Sharpstown Mall), Gold Mine (Westwood Mall), Games People Play, and Panjo’s Pizza.

I remember taking glass bottle returns to the Lewis and Coker Grocery store so I would have enough money to play Phoenix with my best bud. Later, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I was in college, I played pinball at the local rock bars where I worked and hung out. I played all the classic ’90s machines in the wild as they came out. I still find it hard to believe that I’ve collected many of the games I played during my youth. The first arcade I actually owned was a Centipede that I got in 1996. I trade for computer work at a friend’s house in Dallas. That was the first of many arcade games I would own.

WEISS: When was the first Houston Arcade Expo, and how did it come about? Are you the sole owner?

CHRISTENSEN: I was hosting parties at my house and having a blast. I started having kids, so the partying at my house stopped. I got with my buddy Callan Hendricks in 2002 and hosted a party at a club where I used to do sound called Fitzgerald’s. I worked out a deal with the owner and did the first two shows there. After that, we moved to hotels, and the show became a multi-day event. I am the main crazy person in charge, but it takes a team of volunteers to make this happen.

WEISS: What separates the Houston Arcade Expo from similar events?

CHRISTENSEN: It has more of a party atmosphere and is much more laid back. We treat everyone like family!

WEISS: As far as I know, all other gaming shows from April to the present have been cancelled because of Covid-19. How confident are you that Houston will happen as scheduled?

CHRISTENSEN: It’s basically a gamble. I’m going to revisit the situation mid-October to check the numbers and see. We are not going to take any risks and are planning to have a fun yet smaller show. We’ll follow CDC guidelines for social distancing (games and booths at least six feet apart), and masks and hand sanitizer will be available. No entry without a mask. Upon arrival you and your party will have to fill out a short form and sign about your possible exposure to Covid-19. Each time you enter the venue, you will be checked for fever. Traffic from the vendor area to the game room will be in one direction, and there will be a separate entrance and exit.

WEISS: The show is three days this year. Is this a first, and what prompted you to expan
d to three days?

CHRISTENSEN: We moved it back to two days due to Covid-19 to try and manage it better. We will get to three days in 2021. Vendors, attendees, and the staff just cannot get enough—it’s like summer camp is over at the end of each show, so I wanted to delay the sadness by one more day…

WEISS: What would have to happen for the show to get cancelled? I assume it would be a decree from the city, but what specifically would have to happen? Covid numbers not going down? Something from the governor? Are large gatherings of people currently not allowed?

CHRISTENSEN: If things do not look safe for us to have the show, we will not have it regardless of what anyone says. If the numbers go through the roof, it is not worth it. However, on the flip side if the Covid numbers are within CDC specs, and the reproductive rate us below 1, I think with the right precautions we can do it! If we have to move it, we have the dates ready for the weekend of November 12, 2021, and ALL tickets and vendor booths will transfer to the 2021 show.

WEISS: Is there a deadline date for when you can say the show definitely will or will not get cancelled? 

CHRISTENSEN: We will make the decision mid-October based on the Covid-19 numbers in Harris County and how many people actually want to come out.

WEISS: If the show gets cancelled, would you consider a virtual convention?

CHRISTENSEN: Since the Houston show is more about the people who attend and their energy coupled with the games and experience, I think it would not translate that well unless we had everyone wearing a VR rig at home with an adult beverage in their hand [laughs]. Other, more structured shows I think can pull it off.

WEISS: Anything else you care to share about the Houston Arcade Expo?

CHRISTENSEN: This show has been and always will be a labor of love for everyone involved with putting it on. Our goal is not to be the biggest show in the land, but the most fun and engaging show we can have for us and all the attendees. I want to thank all the people who help put it on, especially Tina Christensen (my wife), Erich Stinson, Blake Dumesnil, John and Steph Pennington, Edmond Betz, Jay Welch, Carey Fishman, James Ayres, Robert Layne, and countless other folks we love! Peace and arcades!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Fan Letter About My Book: The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987

I received an email recently from a reader named Kevin Moon. He wanted to express his appreciation for and enjoyment of my "100 Greatest" book. It's a thoughtful email and very well written, so, with his permission, I figured I would share it with you guys. You can read a portion of the email below.

Hi Brett,

I’ve been wanting to contact you for a while now. I own and have read two of your books (Classic Home Video Games 1972-1984 and The 100 Greatest Console Video Games 1977-1987), both of which are excellent and thoroughly written.

I wanted to comment specifically on The 100 Greatest Console Video Games 1977-1987.  I absolutely love this book.  I feel that it’s just about the most perfect video game book out there, and felt compelled to reach out and to let you know that.  There are two major aspects that I really like.  One thing is the overall look, design, and feel of the book.  The design is very appealing.  I love how each entry has a big bold number with a picture of the game box, and how half of the page is devoted to it.  The fonts are perfect; the big, bold, sans serif fonts that introduce each game and give quick stats, and the wonderful serif font (Garamond?) for the text of each entry.  My undergraduate background was in graphic design (a lifetime ago), so this kind of thing appeals to me.  I love how you included not only screenshots, but also box art and pictures of instruction manuals and the cartridges themselves.  I will say that I do wish every single entry would have included a screenshot (in addition to box, cartridge, and instruction manual art).  For example, I absolutely love how you included the box art and shots of the instruction manual and two different cartridge types for Mr. Do!’s Castle on pages 152-153, but I also would have liked a screenshot as well.

The second appealing feature, and the thing that makes this book so perfect, is the selection of included games itself.  Your choices are inspired and genius.  It’s a great variety of games for a range of systems.  You don’t neglect any system and don’t focus too much on any one system, and even managed to include a game each for the more obscure systems Arcadia 2001 (Cat Trax) and APF-MP1000 (Space Destroyers, in the “Next 100” section).  Your choices are utterly inspired and are precisely the kind of selections I myself would have included in such a book.  I get rather tired of seeing the same old choices for “Top 25” or “Top 50” lists again and again, and your choices resonated with me. - Kevin Moon

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Kickstarter Update - The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L)



Hi, everyone! Most of my Kickstarter updates go to everyone who has backed the project, but I wanted to reach out to my blog readers this time around so my campaign can do as well as it possibly can. Plus, I thought you guys and gals might be interested!

We passed $15,000 some time ago with more than 160 backers--thanks for your support! I'm really hoping we can pass $20,000 so I can dedicate more of my time to writing books and less to various side hustles. I'd REALLY like to do more Omnibus books, a sequel to my 100 Greatest book, and updating of my KISS Encyclopedia, and more. If you'd like to share the Kickstarter on social media to help make this happen, I would greatly appreciate it! I have plenty of ideas for more books--I just need the time to write them!

Now for my question. The Kickstarter for The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L) has four days to go before the campaign ends. This was my first time to do Kickstarter, so it was definitely a learning process. I'd love your feedback. When it's time for me to Kickstart Volume 2 and other projects, what would you like to see different? What worked and what didn't work about this campaign? Feel free to share your opinions, both positive and negative. Constructive criticism is great for helping me improve, and I can always use a boost to keep doing what I do. If you haven’t seen my Kickstarter, you can check it out HERE.

Again, thank you so much for backing this project, subscribing to my YouTube channel (click HERE for 5 Secrets of The NES Omnibus), supporting me on Patreon, commenting on my Facebook posts, reading my books and just being awesome!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

I was on The Stone Age Gamer Podcast! -- Talking Kickstarter, The NES Omnibus, TikTok, and much more!

I had a blast on the Stone Age Gamer podcast the other night, talking Kickstarter, The NES Omnibus, content creation, TikTok, and a bunch of other stuff. The show is hosted by Kris Randazzo and Danny Ryan, both of whom contributed stories to my NES and SNES Omnibus books. Below is a sneak peek at a story by Kris that will appear in The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L), which is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter. You can listen to the podcast by clicking HERE.

Insider Insight: Blaser Master is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Not just because it’s super fun, or it’s still one of the best-looking games on the system, or even because of its truly amazing soundtrack. What makes it personally amazing was how it introduced me to the concept of being rewarded for curiosity, and paying attention to details. At the start of the game, there’s a ledge you can’t get to. It’s completely unassuming, and I honestly figured it was just there for decoration. But having read the instruction manual, I knew that at some point I was going to get the hover ability and when I did, I was going to go back to that first screen in the game and see what was on top of that ledge. I expected it to be nothing, but I wanted to see that “nothing” for myself. It took me a long time to finally defeat the Area 3 boss and get the hover ability, but as planned, the first thing I did wasn’t search for Area 4, it was head straight back to the beginning of the game. To my sheer bewilderment there WAS something up there! It was more hover fuel and a robot. And another ledge. And another. And a door. And that door lead to the entrance to Area 4! To this day, it’s one of my fondest video game memories, and a fantastic example of excellent game design. A true classic through and through. - Kris Randazzo, host of the Stone Age Gamer Podcast, content supervisor for Geekade

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

I Was on a WarGames Podcast! Shall We Play a Game?




Below is the late, great Roger Ebert’s review of WarGames, one of the best movies of the 1980s. I posed it because I recently was on a podcast called Staff Picks, talking about the film. It was a blast to revisit and discuss the movie, and the host, Mario Lanza, did a great job. You can listen to it HERE.



I am writing this review on a word processor that is connected to a computer that sets the type for the Sun-Times. If I make an error, the computer will tell me. Observe. I instruct it to set this review at a width of 90 characters. It flashes back: Margin too wide. Now things get interesting. I ask it to set the width at 100 characters. It flashes back: Margin too narrow. That's because it's reading only the first two digits of my three-digit number. It thinks I said 10, because 100, of course, is ridiculous.


Computers only do what they are programmed to do, and they will follow their programs to illogical conclusions. Example. This time I tell the computer to set my review at a width of 10 characters. It does! Having read 100 as 10 and found 10 too narrow, it reads 10 as 10, and lets me have my way. I've outsmarted the S.O.B.

Sooner or later, one of these self-satisfied, sublimely confident thinking machines is going to blow us all off the face of the planet. That is the message of "WarGames," a scary and intelligent new thriller that is one of the best films so far this year. The movie stars Matthew Broderick (the kid from "Max Dugan Returns") as a bright high school senior who spends a lot of time locked in his bedroom with his home computer. He speaks computerese well enough to dial by telephone into the computer at his school and change grades. But he's ready for bigger game.

He reads about a toy company that's introducing a new computer game. He programs his computer for a random search of telephone numbers in the company's area code, looking for a number that answers with a computer tone. Eventually, he connects with a computer. Unfortunately, the computer he connects with does not belong to a toy company. It belongs to the Defense Department, and its mission is to coordinate early warning systems and nuclear deterrents in the case of World War III. The kid challenges the computer to play a game called "Global Thermonuclear Warfare," and it cheerfully agrees.

As a premise for a thriller, this is a masterstroke. The movie, however, could easily go wrong by bogging us down in impenetrable computerese, or by ignoring the technical details altogether and giving us a "Fail Safe" retread. "WarGames" makes neither mistake. It convinces us that it knows computers, and it makes its knowledge into an amazingly entertaining thriller. (Note I do not claim the movie is accurate about computers -- only convincing.)

I've described only the opening gambits of the plot, and I will reveal no more. It's too much fun watching the story unwind. Another one of the pleasures of the movie is the way it takes cardboard characters and fleshes them out. Two in particular: the civilian chief of the US computer operation, played by Dabney Coleman as a man who has his own little weakness for simple logic, and the Air Force general in charge of the war room, played by Barry Corbin as a military man who argues that men, not computers, should make the final nuclear decisions.

"WarGames" was directed by John Badham, best known for "Saturday Night Fever" and the current "Blue Thunder," a thriller that I found considerably less convincing on the technical level. There's not a scene here where Badham doesn't seem to know what he's doing, weaving a complex web of computerese, personalities and puzzles; the movie absorbs us on emotional and intellectual levels at the same time. And the ending, a moment of blinding and yet utterly elementary insight, is wonderful.

- RogerEbert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

Monday, May 25, 2020

HUGE ANNOUNCEMENT & Video Preview of The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L)

I'm absolutely THRILLED to show you guys and gals a video preview of my forthcoming book, The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L), which will be shipping at the end of November from Schiffer Publishing. This company also published my SNES Omnibus books and The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977 to 1987. This fun video has an excellent voiceover intro by Patrick Hickey Jr., author of The Minds Behind the Games series. In addition to showing you book pages and revealing some details about the book, I also discuss Kickstarter , where you can pre-order a signed copy of the book and get bonuses. The Kickstarter is now live, so click HERE to check it out.

The NES Omnibus Vol. 1 is a massive hardcover coffee table book with a 1200-word foreword by The Goldbergs creator Adam F. Goldberg, a HUGE NES fan. He absolutely LOVES the console and tells some great stories in his foreword. More than 350 games are featured in this expansive tome, including popular titles like Adventure Island, Castlevania (a personal favorite of mine), Contra (which I absolutely LOVED back in the day), Ghosts ‘n Goblins (SO danged difficult), and The Legend of Zelda (so epic, so great), as well as all the obscure titles. EVERY original U.S. release for the NES from A to L is featured, and each game gets at least one full page of gameplay info, history, box art, screenshots, reviews, and quotes from vintage magazines and respected writers.

In addition, many of the games are supplemented by vintage ads from magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly and, best of all, nostalgic stories from such industry insiders as "8-Bit" Eric Perez (YouTube personality), “The Immortal” John Hancock (YouTube personality), John “Gamester81” Lester (YouTube personality), David Warhol (legendary Intellivision programmer), Steve Woita (Atari, Genesis, and PS1 programmer), Sean Tiedeman (director of The King of the Arcades), Greg Sewart (former Previews and Reviews Editor for Electronic Gaming Monthly), and Shane Stein (executive producer of The Game Chasers Movie).

The NES Omnibus Vol. 1 is well over 400 pages in length and has more than 2,000 photos and more than 220,000 words. The second and final book in the two-volume set, The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (N-Z), will be out in the spring of 2021. As I mentioned above, the Kickstarter for Volume 1 will be going live pretty soon, and I will keep y’all posted. As always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Interview with Activision Co-Founder Jim Levy


I recently had the terrific opportunity to interview Jim Levy, who co-founded Activision, which started off as a third-party publisher for the Atari 2600. The interview originally appeared in Old School Gamer Magazine. Enjoy!

BRETTWEISS: How did you get involved with Activision?

JIM LEVY: I started it. That’s the short answer. Activision was founded by five people. The four game designers who came out of Atari and me. I was the founding chairman and CEO. That’s how I got involved. I created it.

WEISS: Who approached whom? Could you tell me a little bit more about the genesis of the company?

LEVY: There are two parallel paths that came together. The Atari guys began to look for a way to get out of there and do game programming on their own as an independent design group. As I recall, their idea was to do that work and then license it or sell it to marketers or publishers.

WEISS: So their original idea was not to create their own new company?

LEVY: No, it was not. First of all, none of them had the management chops to do that experiment. What the were was game designers. So, at the same time this was happening, which was he early part of 1979, I was at a company that had been failing for some time but had a little startup division that was working on personal computer software publishing. In the very early days of personal computers. That division of the company reported to me. I was the corporate vice president. I started shopping the idea in the investment community of forming a company to do personal computer software. Around the second week of June of that year, I got a call from a friend of mine who was a lawyer, who I had been working with for a couple of years. He had been involved with me shopping the personal computer software. He called me up and said, “I have your design team in my office.” And that was the four games from Atari.

WEISS: David Crane, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller, and Bob Whitehead.

LEVY: They had been referred to him for guidance about how to go about what they wanted to do, which was to form this independent design group. So, they showed up at my house that afternoon. Over the next couple of weeks, we had extensive discussions. I convinced them that the thing to do was to start a company doing game cartridges for the Atari VCS. The would be the design team, and I would run the business. So, basically, I took the core of the business plan that I had been working on and rewrote it to fit the video game profile. At the same time, I had been talking to one venture capitalist who was very interested in backing the personal computer software idea. He was ready to do so when I went back to him and said, “I think we have a better idea here.” And they became the primary backers of Activision.

WEISS: Interesting.

LEVY: In the summer of ’79, most of the guys were still working at Atari, and I was working on a business plan. I eventually got the money secured from the venture capital investors and introduced them to the game design team. We had a deal by September. The two parallel paths were the game designers who wanted to leave Atari and do their own thing, but not form a company like Activision, and me, who was ready to form a company to publish personal computer software. We came together, and that’s how Activision was formed.

WEISS: That’s great how that worked out. Activision had a lot of great marketing ideas: the color-coded boxes, treating designers like rock stars, having the designer’s tips, trips, and photos in the instruction manuals. Was most of that your idea? I know the programmers wanted more recognition, but the actual marketing—was that your doing?
 
LEVY: That was all me. If you look at Activision in its early days, the four programmers were in a lab, designing games. I didn’t muck with them much. They would come out and tell me what they wanted to do, what they were working on, and I just let them run. I came out of creative industries: the publishing industry and the music industry, so I was used to dealing with creative people at arm’s length. Occasionally providing general guidance in terms of how marketable certain products might be and so forth. But I was not involved in the process of what these guys did and how they did it. I was only allowed in design lab about once a week [laughs].

WEISS: [laughs] You let them do their job.

LEVY: Yes. They designated one of their guys to be the liaison to the business side of things. He was the guy who I would deal with in terms of information flow back and forth. All of the work that created what you have seen as the face of Activision, including the name, which was mine, the logo, the flying V design, and how the packaging and manuals were put together, all that stuff, that was my responsibility in the development of the company. It was a lot of fun.

WEISS: I’ll bet it was.

LEVY: My background was primarily from a skillset was primarily marketing, and also entrepreneurial management in development ventures.

WEISS: Activision was definitely marketed well. Very distinctive packaging and everything. Is it true the programmers wanted more credit for their work? I know money was the main reason they left Atari, but were they also wanting more recognition?

LEVY: I don’t recall from our early conversations that that’s what they came to the table with originally. It was an automatic for me, having dealt with artists in the music industry for most of the 70s. The paradigm was that the artist was in fact the brand. I don’t know how many people could tell you what label the Eagles are on and whether it matters or not. My whole view of game design was that the programmers were the stars. They were the creators; they were the authors; they were the musicians. And eventually they would have their own brand. David Crane, Alan Miller, Bob Whitehead, Larry Kaplan—they would establish their own identities for the games they designed. Activision itself was a brand within the trade and was the name above the title, and was a presenting and producing organization, but the work was created by the guys. Pitfall!, for example, which was the best-selling game in the early days, was designed by David Crane. If you went and talked to a hundred people who played that game, they could tell you both that it was an Activision game, and that David Crane had designed it. That worked to our benefit the next time David designed a game. So, it was just like working with recording artists, like the next album from the Eagles.

WEISS: That was definitely a new way to go about things for the video game industry.

LEVY: Yeah. I came to the table with that. I don’t recall that it was as big of an issue for the designers early on. I do recall they were very upset with how they were being paid by Atari. They were being treated as if they were just mechanics and had no name value or financial value other than being workers in a lab.

WEISS: How did the high score patches program come about? Where did you get the idea?

LEVY: Okay, I’m going back 39 years now, when this first happened [laughs]. Of the first four games we released, the big title was Dragster. David Crane’s first Activision game. It was a drag racing game. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen it.


LEVY: It was a killer of a game, and it was a joystick breaker. Shortly after the game was released in the fall of ’80, people started sending us Polaroid pictures of their scores. Somebody would get a score of 6.9 seconds or whatever, and we’d get a picture. This flow of mail from users and purchasers of the game led us to think about how to respond from a customer relations standpoint. How to talk to them. At first, we sent congratulatory thank-you letters. And then we started thinking that maybe we should put a newsletter together and build a mailing list. So there was a newsletter we put together called “Activisions.” I do not recall exactly who came up with the idea for the patch. It was either me or one of the other people in the customer relations marketing crew. The idea to form a club, a club of Dragster players. I don’t think there was a threshold required. If you sent us a picture of your best time, we would send you a patch. You were a member of the Dragster club. Eventually, over a period of time—that first year we were releasing product—not every game was as competitive as Dragster. But if you communicated with us regarding the playing of any of our games, and your achievement with the game, you were going to get a patch. Ultimately, every game ended up with its club. There was a Tennis club and a Skiing club. Bob Whitehead’s Skiing game did have timed results. This developed over time, so every time we released a game, we created a patch, and it was a way of rewarding feedback from game players.

WEISS: Brilliant idea.

LEVY: The patches and the newsletter were our primary ways have contact with customers. This was before the days of electronic communication, so everything was on paper. We were getting thousands of pieces of mail per week. At one point we had an organization—10 or 12 people who would answer the mail.

WEISS: Wow, that’s a lot [laughs].

LEVY: Before I talked to you, I reached out to the leader of that organization—the woman that I hired to run it. Unfortunately, she’s in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease, so obviously she wasn’t going to be much help with this article.

WEISS: Oh, no, I’m sorry to hear that. Do you recall who manufactured the patches?

LEVY: No, I don’t, but I think it was a promotional products company. Activision was also in the clothing business [laughs]. Not to make money. All of our people had jackets and T-shirts and hats. We were in the luggage business. Our entire sales team had Activision luggage so they could be identified in airports. For a few years, you couldn’t go through an airport without seeing somebody carrying or wearing some piece of Activision paraphernalia.

WEISS: Great branding.

LEVY: Yeah, and the patches continued as we went into PC games instead of just console games. That era is what one writer called Activision 2.0. That was sort of the redefinition of the company after Atari caved in and blew big hole in the industry.

WEISS: Have you seen the prices of the patches recently on the collectibles market? They go for quite a bit. Around $20 to $70 each, depending on the patch and the condition.

LEVY: I’ve heard about it.

WEISS: I think that speaks to people’s fondness of the games while growing up.

LEVY: My daughter, who was in her teens when Activision was roaring along, she actually worked for the company one summer as a writer. She wrote manuals. She may have been the best single manual writer we ever had. She was really good. I have a whole collection of Activision memorabilia: posters, games, cutouts of Pitfall Harry, stuff like that. She has told me in no uncertain terms that I am not to destroy or give away any of that. She wants to come and go through it with me piece by piece. She said to me, complete sets of original games, which I have are pretty valuable. She hasn’t mentioned the patches, per say, but she’s made me aware of there being a huge market for original Activision material. I’m sure I have a whole bunch of the patches, but I’m not sure if I have a complete set.

WEISS: About 12 years or so ago, retro gaming started getting mainstream. Prices on all this stuff started going way up. Now it’s just crazy, some of the prices [laughs].

LEVY: I’m not really watching that. I’m pretty detached from the game industry now because it’s so totally different from what it was when we started Activision. But I do have occasional situations where I’ll run into someone, and they’ll ask me what I did, and I’ll tell them I was with this video game company in the ’80s called Activision, and they go nuts.

WEISS: Oh, yeah, I’ll bet!

LEVY: They’ll says something like, “Oh, my god, I spent my childhood playing those games. I thank them for helping me build my house.”

WEISS: [laughs] If you don’t mind me asking, what are you up to these days?

LEVY: I’m retired. I’m not actively involved in any business venture, but I am on a couple of boards for small, startup companies. My wife and I live in Sonoma, California now, and we’re very involved with some local organizations. I’m on the board of the Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, a regional theater group. She’s on the board of the local hospital. That’s the kind of thing we’ve been doing. Before Activision, I had a radio background. Before and after Activision, I had a broadcasting background. I did some local broadcasting work the first 10 years or so I was retired, but things are quieter now. We travel quite a bit and work on the local organizations. That’s pretty much life as we know it today.

WEISS: Well, fantastic. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it!

LEVY: By the way, are you aware of the National Video Game Museum outside of Dallas?

WEISS: Yeah, in Frisco. I live about 45 minutes from there. I’ve been 13 times [laughs].

LEVY: They cosponsored a 40th Activision reunion a couple of months ago. There were about 100 people there. I’d say close to 40 ex-Activision employees. There were some groups of patches that people brought in and put up in the archive corner.

WEISS: Yeah, I took some photos of the patches last time I was there to get some good pictures for the article.

LEVY: Someone sent me a photograph from one of the current gaming conventions, where they had encountered a whole wall of Activision patches, but I’m pretty much out of it now.

WEISS: Understood. Thank you again, I really appreciate it. It’s been fascinating talking to you.

LEVY: Thanks, I look forward to seeing the article.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Advance Look at Super Mario Bros. 2 Story from The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (N-Z)


BIG freaking shout-out to Shane Stein, one of the nicest, most upbeat guys I know and a good friend to me and the retro-gaming community in general, supporting my work, and the work of guys like Patrick Hickey Jr. and other content creators. He's my top Patreon, and he's always ready and willing to help out when I have a question about adulting. More importantly, he's a terrific family man--a great dad and a devoted husband to his lovely wife. He's even a gifted writer, showing that video games have a big impact on our lives beyond mere entertainment.

Here's an advance look at an excellent story he wrote for my latest project, The NESOmnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (N-Z), due in the spring of 2021. (Volume 1 will be out this fall and is available forpre-order).

Without further ado, here's Shane's Super Mario Bros. 2 story. Even if you don't like video games, give it a read:


We often make seemingly innocuous decisions that end up profoundly affecting us far in the future. These can be recognized only in hindsight, and we all likely have many such instances to marvel over and be thankful for. In my case, perhaps the most significant such episode involves the NES.

Virtually every kid who touched a control pad in the late ’80s loved Super Mario Bros. In late 1988, as whispers grew that a sequel soon would be headed to stores, anticipation around my neighborhood and at school (I had just started fifth grade) was, to put it mildly, off the charts. And on that first school day after Super Mario Bros. 2’s release date, I vividly recall sitting with my friends at lunch when a kid named Jake, who was a grade below me, ran up to our table, unzipped his backpack, and triumphantly pulled out the boxed treasure his parents must have just purchased for him. The facial expressions of everyone at our table revealed a singular shared reaction: You are so lucky!! 

Now, Jake and I were not close pals at the time; friendly, yes, but I really only knew him because he was my good friend Mike’s first cousin. Indeed, he probably raced to our lunch table simply to ask Mike to play the game together after school. But at that moment, with little hope of soon owning SMB2 myself (I usually received NES games only on birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions), I knew exactly who I needed to hang out with, and pronto. And sure enough, I ended up playing plenty of Nintendo with Jake going forward.

Notwithstanding this superficial beginning, Jake and I quickly became close friends, and remain so to this day. Twelve years after our initial bonding over SMB2, he and I attended a party where he introduced me to an attractive brunette named Tracey, who I asked out after five minutes of conversation. She and I went to dinner two nights later and have been together since, marrying in 2003 and becoming parents to three wonderful kids.

I’ve already of course told him plenty, but thank you again, Jake. And thank you, Mario. My princess was indeed in the right castle. - Shane Stein, executive producer of The Game Chasers Movie.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Patreon Perk Update - GREAT Story About Taboo: The Sixth Sense for the Nintendo NES



Krystle Tiedeman, the producer of The King of Arcades, just turned in one of my favorite stories for any of the Omnibus books. Her terrific and tantalizing Taboo tale will appear in The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (M-Z), which will release spring of next year, but Patrons at the $3 level or higher can read it now. It's so good!

Other recent Patreon perks include a digital copy of a great book called Memories ofa Virtual Caveman by Rob Strangman, your name in The NES Omnibus Volume 1 (a limited time offer), an advance look at the Jaws chapter in The NES Omnibus Volume 1, my exclusive review of a new KISS documentary, a different Zaxxon video than everyone else saw on YouTube, and an advance look at the foreword to NES Omnibus Vol. 2 by filmmaker Rob McCallum, and a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff.

Sign up for my Patreon page HERE.

Meanwhile,

Here’s a story from one of my earlier books, The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo andIts Games, Vol. 1 (A–M), that I think you’ll enjoy:

Insider Insight: ABC Monday Night Football was not a great game. In fact, it was barely average. The CPU was a complete joke. As a 12-year-old, I could shut out the CPU 63-0, play without punting, and sack the quarterback at will. Despite boasting NFL legend and Monday Night Football color commentator Frank Gifford’s likeness, it was just a plain vanilla football game.

However, one thing made the game memorable: the ability to create an entire team from scratch. Playing the role of team owner, I’d enter my friends’ names to correspond with the positions they played outside in real football. I would be the pass-catching fullback or tight end. The adults in my life would be the defensive and offensive tackles, since they were bigger than us prepubescent preteens. After about 45 mins of tirelessly making sure everything was right, I’d have an entire team ready to play a season.

A few days after going undefeated in the regular season and playoffs, I’d tell my friends how they did. Some would be mad, some would be happy, but none would understand how I’d have insane numbers like 2,000 yards receiving, 130 receptions and 37 touchdowns. Because of that, a barely passable NFL simulation that probably didn’t deserve the Nintendo Seal of Quality ended up being one of my favorite football video games of all time. - Patrick Hickey Jr.