Thursday, January 23, 2020

Michael Mendheim Interview - Mutant League Football for Sega Genesis




Michael Mendheim was the brains behind Mutant League Football, a violent, super fun, over the top football game for the Sega Genesis. It was remade for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Journalist and author Patrick Hickey Jr. interviewed Mendheim for his Minds Behind the Games book series. Here is that interview:

Patrick Hickey Jr.: How was the original Mutant League Football born?

Michael Mendheim: I’ve always loved football and monsters. My favorite team is the Chicago Bears also known as “the Monsters of the Midway” – Football and monsters. That’s a game I wanted to play, only one problem. It didn’t exist, so it had to be created.

Back in 1991, I pitched this idea to one of my friends, Richard Robbins, who was a producer at Electronic Arts (he did the Desert Strike series). He liked the idea and set up a meeting to pitch the game to EA executives who made the product decisions. This included Trip Hawkins who was the founder and CEO of the company at the time. I spent a few weeks preparing a design and presentation, and then flew out to Redwood City. Trip and a majority of the executives liked the idea, and the project was approved with a modest budget.

Hickey Jr.: What was development like?

Mendheim: Developing the original game for the Sega Genesis at Electronic Arts was a great experience with many ups and downs. The original producer Richard Robbins, who championed the project, left the company early in the game’s development. We had no producer. It was just me and about 6 other developers (artists and engineers) who were assigned to the project. We worked without much oversite for about 9-12 months. At some point EA thought it might be a good idea to put a seasoned producer on the project, and that was Sam Nelson. He helped guide us across the finish line. Sam gave me a wealth of knowledge on how to develop and produce games. It wasn’t always easy working with him, but looking back, without him the game doesn’t ship.

Hickey Jr.: Any hurdles or moments where you thought the game wasn’t going to come out?

Mendheim: We were like salmon swimming up-stream the entire time. We had minimal support initially, EA was going through major changes (Trip Hawkins had left the company to start 3DO and there was serious restructuring going on). I worried every day the game was going to get killed, but with everything going on, we were lucky enough to fly under the radar for about 6 months. At some point someone looked at the projects in development and said, what the hell is Mutant League Football and who the hell is Michael Mendheim? I wasn’t an employee at the company, but people who knew about the project also knew I was the guy behind it. Lucky for us, by the time the big wigs reviewed the game it showed enough fun factor and potential to survive. That’s when they brought Sam Nelson on board.

Hickey Jr.: Some argue that the game is more enjoyable than Madden 93 on the Sega, the game it uses the engine of, how does that make you feel?

Mendheim: A popular misconception is that we built the game on the John Madden Football engine, which is incorrect. Our engineers built the Mutant League engine themselves, although we did consult with some of the key people working on the Madden games (Scott Orr and Richard Hilleman). Those early Madden Sega games were fantastic. I don’t think Mutant League Football is in the same league with them, but appreciate people’s love for the game. We did the best we could with the resources we had.

Hickey Jr.: How did you feel once it was released?

Mendheim: Relieved. I had played the game so much that there was no objectivity left in me. The game was fun to me, but it wasn’t clear if it was really fun or not. We had semi-mixed reviews in the focus groups. Some people liked the game, others didn’t. There was nothing like it in the market at the time, so it was one big dice roll. 

Hickey Jr.: What was the initial reception like?

Mendheim: Someone handed me a GamePro magazine with the game review. I was afraid to read the review. Seriously, I didn’t want to read it, but at the same time had to know and was relieved to see GamePro liked the game and gave it a strong review. More reviews followed and they were very good too. Then the game made the sales charts and ended up in the #1 slot. People liked it. We had a hit game. All that hard work paid off. It felt like a giant weight was lifted off of the team’s shoulders. EA immediately put other mutant sports games into production. It was a really great time.

Hickey Jr.: The game produced a spin-off in Mutant League Hockey and a cartoon- how do you feel that plays in the legacy of the game?

Mendheim: It plays an important role concerning nostalgia and awareness, and influences some of the design decisions we’ve made on the new game, but EA owns all rights to the original Mutant League Football & Hockey game and the relevision show is owned by Warner. So, all teams, characters, logos and audio/visual components from that game or television series cannot be in our game. The game we are making is very different than the original, it is going to look, sound, and play different. This is a brand-new game after all. However, it’s very important to us (and to our community) to maintain the key elements that made people love the original. People liked the original games’ political incorrectness, humor, sarcasm, and fun of obliterating your friend’s players. These are all things we can and will keep intact from the original.

Hickey Jr.: Many people prefer the hockey game to the football game but it was rushed. What happened there?

Mendheim: Yes, the game was rushed because EA had made the decision to kill the brand at that point. The Mutant League franchise was not in-line with EA’s new focus of developing and marketing sports games. Their goal was to be the “real sports” company and create the finest sport simulations in the industry. MLF did not fit into that strategy (it was the bastard child). Haha! EA made the right choice, that’s for sure. Good for them. Bad for MLF. The Hockey game was still about 12 to 14 months out from being released when the decision was made. They told us if we could finish the game in six months they would ship it, if not it would get killed.  So, we rushed a 14-month schedule into 6 months and managed to release it. They didn’t support it; hell, the cover art is a rough comp. Shipping hockey was a very hard and difficult thing to do, especially knowing that the brand was DOA. I know what Mutant League Hockey was supposed to be and could have been, so I was always sad and disappointed with that project.

Hickey Jr.: What did you learn about yourself during the development of the game?

Mendheim: To never give up…no matter how bad it gets. 

Hickey Jr.: Why do you think people still love the game so much?

Mendheim: There are two main reasons why I think people have a special place in their hearts for Mutant League Football.

1). The game made them care about their star players. Seriously, we have people after 25 years who still remember player’s names from the game. We made All-Star players very strong and important to winning, so if a star player died it really hurt your chances of winning. Gamer’s took protective care of their star players in a nurturing way. They benched them so they could rest and regain health. They held them out of the game with a lead to insure they would survive, etc. If a game can create an emotional bond between a user and a character, it’s a magical thing. I think MLF did this in a meaningful way. This is not an easy thing to do in a sports game.

2). The game made people laugh. When playing against friends, you’re trying to kill their star players, while they are trying to kill yours. There is laughing and gloating on one side and screaming and yelling on the other side and this is going on, back and forth throughout the entire game (and on almost every play). Killing a key all-star player could turn around the game – so you’re never really out of competition. There’s always the chance that you can create a forfeit and take home a win even though the score may be 65 to 0. Then you add in all the unpredictability of gameplay, the humor, sarcasm and it just creates a fun experience for everyone involved. It reminds them of fun. Good times with friends.

Hickey Jr.: You’ve gone on to play a role in other huge games the likes of Def Jam Icon, Army Men, Battle Tanx and Fester’s Quest and more. Because of that, where does Mutant League Football rest in your heart?

Mendheim: It will always be #1. Which is why we are making Mutant Football League.

We’ve had hundreds of fans of the original game play this new game at shows like PAX West and GenCon, and everyone who has played has given us a big thumbs up. This is their game. So, if anyone reading this wants to be part of this, just sign up to our MFL Fanatics Club on our website. Also, feel free to like and contribute on our Facebook page. And, of course you can follow us on Twitter: @MutantFootball.

Hickey Jr.: How do you want the game to be remembered?

Mendheim: As the videogame industry’s first action sports hybrid game… and that it made people laugh.

Like what you’ve read? Check out Patrick’s book The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers to read the full interview.

Order a personalized copy of the book and the sequel, The Minds Behind Adventure Games at his official site, PatrickHickeyJr.com and follow him on Instagram at @PatrickHickeyJr.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Happy Birthday Paul Stanley of KISS!

Happy Birthday Paul Stanley, one of the greatest frontmen in the history of rock 'n' roll. I was absolutely obsessed with the band as a kid and finally got to see KISS live in 1984. Then I had the pleasure of meeting the Starchild twice: once at a hotel in Dallas, once at a hotel in Fort Worth, both after an amazing show.

In 2014, while reading Paul's autobiography and several other KISS books, it occurred to me that no one had ever written a KISS encyclopedia. All the other iconic bands had at least one—the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Who, the Beatles, etc.—but not The Hottest Band in the World. So I sent a query letter to my publisher (McFarland), pitching such a project, and they readily agreed that KISS indeed was Encyclopedia-worthy. They loved the notion of filling this gap in the publishing market and the band's history, and I loved the idea of paying tribute to my childhood heroes. I then spent the next year-and-a-half researching and writing the world's first and only KISS encyclopedia, which the publisher dubbed Encyclopedia of KISS: Music, Personnel, Events and Related Subjects.You can read the preface on Amazon, as well as quite a few encyclopedia pages, by clicking HERE.

*Encyclopedia of KISS is world-class; Weiss has done his research very, very well. All areas are covered with enthusiasm and energy. - metal-rules.com

*I keep it near my favorite chair in the family room and pop it open quite a bit...it's a fun book I think fans will like...it's chock-full of great information...great job on the research. - Mark Cicchini, co-host of 3 Sides of the Coin podcast

*Good unofficial KISS book...a good read for KISS fans. – Bill Starkey, co-founder of the KISS Army

*A great book...a fun read...definitely a different kind of book. – Michael Brandvold, co-host of 3 Sides of the Coin podcast

*Terrific read...incredibly well-written and thorough in its examination of All Things KISS...author Brett Weiss has been exhaustive in his research...a great book. - Ross"Chaim" Berg, author of Gene Simmons: A Rock 'N Roll Journey in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Brett Weiss - Video Game Convention Guest in 2020


If you're a convention organizer looking for guests, feel free to email me (brettw105 AT sbcglobal.net) about a possible appearance at your show. I would be happy to do a panel on video game history, along with selling and autographing books at a booth. Currently, I'm doing three shows in 2020: CORGS May 23, Classic Game Fest July 25-26, and Portland Retro Gaming Expo August 14-16. But I'm sure I will do more. Thanks!
Here's my updated bio:
Longtime gamer, freelance writer, and national columnist Brett Weiss has been a respected journalist in the gaming and pop culture communities for more than two decades. He’s the author of more than 1,600 published articles. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Game Informer, Old School Gamer, Gameroom Magazine, Classic Gamer Magazine, the Pingame Journal, Video Game Collector, Video Game Trader, AntiqueWeek, Fangoria, Filmfax, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee and The Charlotte Observer, among many others.
www.brettweisswords.com
Weiss is also the author of 10 books, including the Classic Home Video Games series, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987, and The SNES Omnibus volumes 1 and 2. In addition to writing, Weiss hosts a new YouTube show called Tales from a Retro Gamer, and his channel is rapidly growing.
https://www.youtube.com/c/BrettWeissRetroGamer

Friday, January 3, 2020

New Atari 2600 Homebrew Book - Foreword by Brett Weiss!


It's always an honor to asked to participate in other creator's projects. The latest is my foreword to Brian Matherne's Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion Volume 3. Here is that foreword:

Before I get to Brian Matherne’s ongoing project to catalog, describe, and review homebrew games for the Atari 2600, let’s go back to 1984, which was a rough time for me, at least in the pop culture realm.

Rumors were swirling that my favorite comic book series, The Flash, was going to be cancelled, and sure enough, the last issue was published in the fall of 1985. Worse, Barry Allen, who of course was the Scarlet Speedster, died around the same time in the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book mega series. I was devastated—my favorite superhero of all time gone—not quite in a Flash—but nevertheless in a shocking turn of events.

Even worse, my beloved ColecoVision console, which I had gotten for Christmas in 1982, was being discontinued. The Great Video Game Crash occurred in 1983, and in 1984, the “next gen” ColecoVision was clearly being phased out, eventually to die completely in 1985. Again, I was devastated. Was the death of the Flash and the ColecoVision a tragedy compared to real-life problems and concerns? No, but I was super bummed, nevertheless. It didn’t help that the Atari 2600 and Intellivision died a few years later.

Then, something strange happened. Something I couldn’t have imagined in a million years. During the mid to late 1990s, hardcore fans and techno-wizards began producing games for outdated consoles, most notably the Atari 2600. Ed Federmeyer’s unlicensed Tetris port, which he called Edtris, breathed life into the once-thought-dead Atari VCS (as it was known originally) in 1995, lighting the way for independent programmers to create a variety of “homebrews” for the system.

In the years that followed, the homebrew scene blossomed, and now there are numerous homebrew games being released each year for pretty much all the consoles us old guys grew up playing. Wow, what a concept—NEW GAMES FOR CLASSIC CONSOLES!

As someone who writes reference books about video games, it has occurred to me more than once that it would be cool to do a series on homebrew games. However, I simply don’t have time—I’m too busy writing about original releases produced back in the day.

This is where we get back to Brian Matherne, a devoted retro gamer and writer who is spending his time and resources making a written record of Atari 2600 homebrew games, much to the delight of those of us who think it is super cool that people are actually creating—I’ll say it again—NEW GAMES FOR CLASSIC CONSOLES!

The first volume of Matherne’s Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion series covered such games as Medieval Mayhem, a Warlords clone that is my favorite homebrew of all time, Halo 2600, which amazed me when I saw it introduced at the 2010 Classic Gaming Expo, and Lady Bug, my favorite dot-munch maze game (which looks and plays astonishingly well on the Atari system). He has since followed with several more volumes, including the gem you hold in your hands, which covers such tantalizing titles as E.T. Book Cart, Jump VCS, Star Castle, and River Raid 3, the last of which is especially intriguing to me since I absolutely love the original River Raid.

For each game, Matherne provides valuable information in a fun, easy-to-read format, such as release date, publisher, storyline, programmer info, and gameplay details and critiques. There’re also screenshots, box scans, instructions, and other goodies.

Each book in the Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion series is a critical resource for those of us who grew up playing Atari’s first programmable console, and for those younger gamers who are just now discovering the wonders of the system that was once synonymous with video games. The books are good for collectors, pop culture historians, and researchers as well.

Carry on your good work, Brian, because, as you well know, there are—wait for it—NEW GAMES FOR CLASSIC CONSOLES!  

National columnist Brett Weiss has been a respected journalist for more than two decades. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Old SchoolGamer, Game Informer, Gameroom Magazine, Classic Gamer Magazine, the Pingame Journal, Video Game Collector, Video Game Trader, AntiqueWeek, Fangoria, and Filmfax, among many others.

Weiss, who hosts the YouTube show, Tales from a Retro Gamer, is also the author of 10 books, including the Classic Home Video Games series (the world’s first books to feature write-ups for EVERY game for such consoles as the NES, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Genesis, and ColecoVision), The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987, and The SNES Omnibus volumes 1 and 2.