Posts Tagged ‘interview’

4Play 4Questions: Walter Day, Founder of Twin Galaxies: The Official Electronic Scoreboard

Walter Day

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with video game scoring pioneer Walter Day. His business, Twin Galaxies, has been the official scoreboard for all things video games. If you think a record exists or needs to be broken, he’s the man to go to. You may have seen him the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, but I wanted to stay away from questions about that and get to really know the man. He’s very interesting guy with a unique perspective on gaming. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do another 4Questions with him again.

What gave you the idea to start Twin Galaxies, and how were the records kept? Was the transition to the web difficult, and what are the day-to-day operations like now?

Like a lot of people back in the early 80s I fell in love with video games and I just, when I, traveled as a traveling salesman I would stop at every arcade I could and I would play video games. I’d play Pacman I’d play Space Invaders I’d play Gorf and Galaxian I’d play Make Trax. Essentially I loved video games like a lot of people did back in the early eighties because I was a part of the first generation of people to meet video games head on and fall in love with them and embrace them and make them part of our life.

So I was one of the millions of pioneers who embraced video games the first generation to embrace video games as a part of their lifestyle. And i liked them so much that i opened up an arcade as an excuse to be able to be playing more video games than ever, so that was my rationale, how i, you know adopted video games to such an extreme degree like I made it a reasonable part of my life because I had an arcade so i open up an arcade in Nov 10 1981 in Ottumba Iowa it’s called Twin Galaxies I just made the name up, it just popped in my head.

A little while after opening it up someone got a high score on a video game, a Defender game. And when I tried to find out if it was indeed a new world record we discovered that no one kept track of the scores. There was no one keeping track of the scores anywhere, so we volunteered to the manufacturers and the magazines of that era which was Replay and Playmaker cause this is before there were consumer magazines like Computer Games or Electronic Gaming Monthly this is way before those.

We volunteered to be score keeper because we already had a big database of scores that I compiled from recording scores off of machines I found as I traveled around the nation as a traveling sales man so suddenly we were the score keepers because yes the video game manufactures said okay this is a great nice service your offering so we will recognize you as our scorekeeper so it’s kind of a miracle but thats what they did and we ran with it and we became definately the scorekeeper because we became like out in the lead creating events that put video game playing itself on the map like we had the Governer recognize video games by proclaiming our home town of Ottumba Iowa the video game capital of the world.

We created the first official video game world championship by having all the champions come together t be filmed by Thats Incredible  for video game olympics, we brought together the superstars for the first time ever so that it became a superstar kind of like society of players and they came together for that famous Life Magazine photograph back in Nov of 1982. So we did a lot of stuff thats how it all began, but then as time went on we learned we had to devise rules for each game, so we had to monitor the gameplay, learn what the glitches and the bugs and the cheats were, the problems with each game so that eventually Twin Galaxies evolved it’s processes into about a four or five step procedure. We analyzed the games in order to create the rules and then we enforced the rules and then we verified the game play that people submit to us and then we crown the champions of, you know arcade gaming and console gaming so there’s a four or five step process we put every world record through.

And thats what we’ve been doing now for decades, we did the first rule book, we submitted scores to the Guinness World Record book back in the early or mid eighties now we do it again. In fact for those people that may not know it there’s a brand new book that just came out in the bookstores called Guinness World Records: Gamers Edition 2008 and it’s the first ever Guinness Record book for video game scores, and we are their official suppliers, we supplied a tremendous percentage, a tremendous amount  of scores for the edition that is out on the bookshelves, and they even have our logo on the back cover of the book and they say that it’s done on conjunction with us, and they have a two page spread story on us inside the book and also a spread story on me personally, so they interview me, so it’s kind of exciting and very very flattering that we are getting so much attention.

So it’s been a long process but we are the score keepers, we got a big process that we take everybody’s scores through with the referees that are all volunteers and we still need more referees, if anybody out there [reading] wants to be a video game referee with Twin Galaxies they may qualify they should just contact us and apply. First you have to be an Excellent Excellent Game player, you have to be a very good expert on many many different games before we’ll even accept you as a referee because before a person becomes a referee they have to be a champion player, at least a very, very good player who knows game playing like the back of their hands.

I’m not really even a referee anymore in a sense, because all my referees know a thousand more times more than I do because i actually don’t play much because I’m so busy administering the Twin Galaxies cause there’s so many activities now for promotion and publicity and keeping things coordinated. I actually don’t play the games as much so I don’t therefore know the game nuances therefore I don’t know the game rules, so I have to rely on these incredibly brilliant referees and they’re the people I differ to because they are so knowledgeable and so honest. So we are very lucky that we have this organization that serves the hobby, we’ve been doing it for twenty seven year and it’s been a free service to everybody.

You’ve seen the growth of video games from Donkey Kong all the way to the recently released Super Smash Bros Brawl. Do you think the experience is still the same for the gamer and do you think the level of fun is still there?

Well, lets see, it’s still a lot of fun for everybody and its still something that the player can embrace and get lost in, the cyberspace is growing more and more real of course it was very flat, flat dimensions back 25 years ago, now its becoming more and more deep as far as the actual realm of cyberspace. Your sort of asking how the past relates to the present which relates to the future. At least thats how Im interpreting this I see the future, to get to the future part first.

Actually I’ll get t the past first, the games that were played years ago, they actually have more gaming intelligence in them than the games today. What that means is because they didn’t have graphics that were significant way back in the old days they had to really rely on incredibly good very deep intelligent game programming to make the actually game, game play the strategy of the game be very, very fascinating. Very, very engrossing be very, very appealing. So they had to have more layers of intelligence to a game so that it would take you a thousand quarters to learn a game twenty five years ago, Where it might take you I don’t know how many game plays but certainly far, far less to fully master a modern game as opposed to mastering a game 25 years ago.

In fact even now today every week or so there is some game that will have a new high score achieved because someone has mastered that game a little but further because there are so many layers to the knowledge, to the structure of the rules of that game for the person to uncover, explore, identify and overcome that those old games are a bigger challenge in a sense than these modern games. These modern games have all that churning graphics stuff that people are more fascinated by today then maybe the actual structure of how the game play is strategized. So the old games have a lot richer of game play than the modern games except for exceptions there will always be exceptions to these games, but generally the older games have a lot more research you had to do before you finally really mastered them.

Now where is game play going from today forward? Well I think that with todays bandwidth increasing and with technology becoming an actual marvel and with more and more incredible programming and also with the connectivity of the internet it’s going to be possible to play anybody anywhere but not only that, meet them in a cyberspace that is going to be completely realistic in a sense. The cyberspace of tomorrow is going to be the game playing space and i think people will be completely in an all surrounding kind of environment that they will be able to immerse themselves in and play in that environment not only against the bots of the computer program but against anyone else in the world who is also online so that connectivity of the internet , the bandwidth and the high technology is all gonna merge and it is going to merge and it’s going to merge in the game playing environment so that the player will be immersed in an huge, an amazing cyber-environment that will be completely all encompassing and there they will be playing their games.


Twin Galaxies circa 1981

Despite the rise of mega-arcades like Dave and Busters, GameWorks, and Jililans, it seems that the arcade business is slowly dying. What do you think it would take to get people back into the arcades, and do you think a future arcade owner would have to go for, lack of a better term, niche, like classic arcade games?

First, let’s analyze why the arcade dies. The arcade dies because more money’s being spent in the home and on the home system and the home connectivity. It’s like analogy like renting or buying. Renting your house, renting your apartment, or buying your house. Every last penny you spend on your house goes into increasing your equity, whereas, if you rent, you’re money’s going into someone else’s pocket. When you play in the arcade, your investment of learning that game is going into someone else’s pocket. You do get entertainment value, but still, you’re money is going into someone else’s pocket.

So, you’re getting your game system all paid for. You’re getting it set up at home. You’re having lots of games purchased. You have lots of peripherals and lots of incredible bandwidth and overclocking and all sorts of stuff. More people are spending more money on the house, and if they’re younger and the parents are underwriting their gaming habit, then the parents are saying, “Well, I’m not going to give you 30 dollars to spend in the arcade. I’ll buy you two games for your Xbox or pay for you subscription to Xbox. You stay home and play. I’m not going to waste your money anymore, and you’re not going to waste your money anymore.”

There’s a huge drive against going out and spending your money in the public space when you can have everything in the comfort of your own home. There’s that kind of trend where people are going to not be spending that much money in public on gaming because they can spend it at home.

However, why do you things like Dave and Busters happen? Well, Dave and Busters, GameWorks, and Jillians, and others, you’ll notice that not only do they have big arcades, but they’re also catering to an older crowd with a lot more money and also to a drinking crowd. They’re catering to an older demographic that is also there for drinking entertainment and eating. So, it’s an eating/drinking place that also has games.

Now, if someone tries just to have an arcade, the arcade will fail because the arcade can’t compete with this trend of investing your money at home and playing your games at home. An arcade can’t survive by itself.

A family entertainment center can survive, but there’s usually only a couple of those in a big city environment, and they all have to compete for the same demographic. What a family entertainment center is it’s a place that also has food and drinking, maybe alcohol or maybe not. Might have batting cages, go-karts, miniature golf, children’s games, redemption games, maybe bowling, maybe a water park. Those are called family entertainment centers because games are only an additional feature amongst many features. That’s where arcades are commonly are surviving now in a big city environment.

In a small town, there could be a small arcade, but there’s usually something else that’s helping keeping it going as opposed to the revenues that are ending up in the cash box from the arcade games. So, arcades don’t survive well and are usually a loser when people try to do just an arcade. However, there’s anomalies here and there where people have arcades that are so old that they have a lot of established foot traffic, and people come in and spend money on the arcade games that are there, but they are very rare and are commonly in bigger cities.

What could be the future? The concept is playing games at home where your investment stays at home, and you build up equity in your games, or playing out in public where your giving out your money to someone else’s pocket. When will people play in public and pay out their money into someone else’s pocket? That community essence come back into place but in a competitive setting. I believe that there could be actual gaming stadiums, eventually, where there could be the Phoenix Thunderballs video game team, and they have an actual, not stadium, but a clubhouse/competition center. People would come, not just to play recreationally, but to compete and try to get themselves ranked. The essence of bowling alley may somehow marry to the video game footprint some day. Whereby there’s lots of leagues. Leagues based on gender. Leagues based on age. Or leagues based on where they’re from. Or leagues based on the school they’re from. Where people play video games in a public setting, very similar to how a bowling alley is structured or exists.

That could very well be the future because gaming is competitive and gaming is becoming bigger. There is the public perception that it is a competitive thing and people can win money from doing and also win prestige from doing. I think we’re just around the corner from some really interesting developments that are only beginning to show their head a little bit. There could be another round of going out and paying your money in public to be playing games, whereas you go back home and practice in the comfort of your own home. You go out and play in public because, not only are you playing recreationally now, you’re also in a competitive environment where it becomes, really, a sport.

In the movie Tron, the character Flynn is digitized and downloaded into a computer mainframe. If the technology were available to digitize you, which game would you want to be placed in?

I guess I would like to be in a role-playing game with a huge landscape with a huge map where you just explore incredible landscapes and see incredible, different kinds of beings. Instead of one that’s just constant combat. Exploration, adventure and discovering amazing new thing and beautiful new places. That appeals to me the most. That would be my choice. Some big role-playing game that would be so rich in it’s environment and rich in the characters I’d meet. Sort of like Second Life, where  millions of people are gathering.  A role-playing with incredible diversity and lots of different adventures. The idea of going in there and being just a third-person, shooter, blowing people up is absurd. I think it would be more fun to explore.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on on April 3, 2008.

Posted: December 10th, 2012
Categories: Video games
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4Play 4Questions: Jonathan Coulton, musician

I’m extremely excited about this week’s 4Play 4Questions. Geek rocker Jonathan Coulton gave us a call last week to talk about music, life, and video games. Personally, I’m a huge fan. He’ll be making his first trip to Valley on May 15 at the Brickhouse in downtown Phoenix.

I read that you quit the luscious cubicle life to enter the music industry, how long before that were you making music and what was the decision like to make it your full time job?

I’ve been writing songs since I was in high school, and, I guess also recording songs since I was in high school. And it was a very gradual transition from then until now. I would record songs only for myself and then give them to friends and girls that I liked. And then it, sort of, continued through college, and then in 2003, I finally got it together to record a bunch of songs and print a CD. I was not a famous person. I was not even moderately well known. It was, sort of, a vanity pressing, I think.

But I made the CD and made it available online and would sell one copy a month or something like that. Around then, I was involved with this thing called “Little Gray Book” lectures which was a reading series created and hosted by a guy named John Hodgman who is a good friend of mine. I was part of this reading series and write a song for each show based on whatever the theme was for that show. The people who would come to that sort of knew who I was. So, that was sort of the beginning of the fan base there, I think.

And then, it was in 2005 when I quit the day job to do this full-time. It was not that I was making money with the music to convince me to leave the job; it was more of a leap of faith. Enough had been happening that I felt like if I pushed it a little harder I might be able to move a little further downfield and maybe even make some money doing that. It was also a very tortured decision. It was something I had always intended to do. I always meant to become a professional musician, but somehow, I just never gotten around to it.

The few factors that conspired to make it possible for me to do that was one of them being the birth of my daughter which was earlier in 2005. Becoming a parent really does change you the way they say it does. For me, I finally felt my own mortality very acutely. It became clear to me that I had a limited amount of time on this Earth and why wasn’t I doing what I wanted to do. Also, it was important to me to set a good example for my daughter, in terms of, being a person doing what they wanted to do rather than a person who is taking the safe route.
It was a difficult decision and took years for me to get there. I feel very fortunate that it turned out to be a good decision.

Who would you say is your fan base?Jonathan Coulton

There’s no way to mince words about at this point. My fans are predominately geeks. I use that as a term of affection. It’s the way I think of myself. The real core of the fan base, I think, is people who like computers, who write software, who use the internet, who enjoy science fiction, who have played Dungeons and Dragons. Not to resort to clichés, but that really seems to be the core fan base. I think a Jonathan Coulton show is one of the few places where you can hear “This is a song about math” and then screaming and applause following that line.

“Still Alive” has become extremely popular with gamers and is moving its way to Rock Band. Are you planning on making music for any other games?

I don’t have any plans to. I’m certainly open to it. One of the nice things about working with Valve on “Still Alive” was that there was such an overlap of styles and sensibilities that for me to write that song for that game was not really a stretch. Not that I didn’t work hard on it, it was the kind of song that I would write anyway. It was a very lucky thing for both of us, I think. One of the reasons it turned out so well is that they created a game with a character that was the same kind of character that I’m always writing about anyway. In that sense, it was a very natural matchup. I think if something else like that came along, I’d more than happy to contribute to the game.

After the robot uprising, will you join the resistance or welcome our robot overlords?

Well, you know, I would have to say it really depends on the nature of the robots and the nature of the uprising. If they’re enslaving humanity, I think there’s not question: I would join the resistance. If they are pretending to help humanity and still enslaving humanity, I would join the resistance. If they were actually helpful, I’m with the robots.

To truly appreciate the humor of his answer to the fourth question, you really have to listen to his response.

A sampling of our favorite songs:

Code Monkey

Mr. Fancy Pants

Soft Rocked by Me

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on on April 10, 2008.

Posted: December 10th, 2012
Categories: Video games
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4Play 4Questions: Tobin Lent, Punch-Entertainment

Launching this week is a new feature we’re calling the 4Play 4Questions. The purpose of this feature is to ask somebody in the video game industry, you guessed it, four questions. Three of which will be about either their game or the industry in general while the fourth one will be something a little more off-the-wall. It’ll be either something pertaining to their game or something completely unrelated.

In the future, we plan on moving this feature into the world of sports and entertainment where we will ask them questions about video games and their video game playing habits.

Our first interviewee is Tobin Lent, CEO of Punch-Entertainment, who just released their mobile social networking game, EGO, on the T-Mobile network.

1) First off, congratulations on receiving the “innovation in Mobile Game Design” award. What exactly is the game about?

EGO is a social networking game. It’s really like a very edgy The Sims meet Facebook where players can create a very customized Ego that they develop over time based on what they do with their Ego feeding and training. And also, in particular, how Egos develop as they interact with other people’s Egos. So it’s a really, heavily viable game, and it’s really dependant on people interacting with each other. So it’s really innovate and the first of it’s kind in North America. An interesting thing, you can play on your mobile phone and the web.

1a) How many users are currently playing the game?

We just launched, officially, a few days ago last time I checked we have a few thousand and growing. So, we’re pretty happy with the results so far.

2) With Apple releasing the iPhone SDK last week, do you have any plans to port EGO to that system?

Yeah, we sure do. We’re pretty excited about the iPhone, actually, and we’re planning on getting EGO over there. We think it’s going to be a great platform not only because of the technology but we’re also excited about the business model, and think they know about the flexibilities they’re offering to either download it for free so we can give free demos or even charge for it in a really elegant iTunes type of model. It’s going to be very successful.

3) With phones becoming more advanced and mobile broadband becoming more prevalent, are there any additional features users can look forward to and how do you plan on growing the EGO brand?

We’re really excited about where mobile is heading in terms of the device capabilities. In EGO, there was a lot of things we wanted to do and a lot more we wanted to put in the game, but we were restricted with size and bandwidth. As that improves, we want to basically offer a much richer experience for people. Maybe some more real time gaming interaction and the ability to buy more digital assets for their Ego and for their Ego-Room and customize it which would mean downloading assets straight to the phone. We’re very excited about where things are going with devices like the iPhone and open systems like Android and more prevalent uses of WiFi in cellphones, we’ll be able to do those things.

4) With Second Life, there is sort of a “red light district.” While it may be deemed as offensive to some users, it is a big part of the game’s success. Will EGO users be able to get their virtual freak on while riding the bus or the train?

[Laughs] That’s a great question. It’s interesting because we really studied a lot of the virtual worlds. Not just something like Second Life, which is pretty hardcore; even some of the more casual ones. What you find time and time again it’s interesting what people try to do with each other with their avatars. In most of these online avatar communities, the avatars can’t really do much with each other. So you find players really being creative with what they can do based on the very limited action set they get with the avatars. One of the things we wanted to do with EGO early was create a deep level interaction between the Egos. With our game, you can really do more between Egos than pretty much any other casual avatar game. It wasn’t designed to be sexual. It was designed to allow people express themselves and communicate in a much richer way. We are planning on launching a club in the next couple of months called “Love Lounge” which again be very fun and gameplay. We do want to allow people to have fun with each other and flirt with other. We’ll keep it clean. We do think that’s what people want to do. They want interact with each other. They want to flirt. They want their avatars to have a little affectionate from time to time.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on on March 11, 2008.

Posted: October 30th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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