I had an opportunity to meet the author of the upcoming book The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers. It’s a collection of 30+ interviews and stories dealing with the fine people who’s brains gave us the games we love. If you’re a behind-the-scenes type person like I am, who is fascinated with the process and history behind everything, than this book is up your alley. His name is Patrick Hickey Jr. and I had some questions.
Ghost of Gamer Past – For someone to seek out as many developers as you had done, you must have a deep appreciation for video games. What are some of your favorite games?
Patrick Hickey Jr. – The NHL series, Pokemon and Fallout quickly come to mind since I’ve probably played these games more than any other in my life. I have a deep affinity for indie games as well and am an avid collector. As of today, I have about 2,500 games (and probably over a 1,000 digital titles). Since about the age of 14, when I started buying my own games, I haven’t traded a single one in. I’m definitely a lifer. Between my time at NBC, Examiner and as the founder of ReviewFix.com, I’ve reviewed more games than I can count. All of that experience lent itself to the writing of this book.
GOGP – That’s some collection you have. At this point I’m pretty much a lifer too. There are a lot of people around who write off video games, thinking they are nothing but drivel. Do you believe that video games are basically a form of art?
PHJ – Not basically, they totally are. The same amount of work that goes into a great screenplay, song, poem or book, well, even more, goes into a video game. These guys not only have to write the story and the music, but they have to design an entire world. If that’s not art, then I don’t know what is.
GOGP – I can’t argue with that. Are the glory days of gaming long gone now, lost to the big budget blockbusters that we only hear about in the mainstream?
PHJ – The industry is going through a metamorphosis right now. There are so many indie developers out there, and the amazing games on every platform are almost too much to count. However, many gamers don’t even begin to scratch the surface of knowing what is out there. My advice is to hunt of GOG, Steam and online. You have no idea what you’ll find. For me, I think right now, the best games are on the indie scene.
GOGP – There’s some free advice to all the readers out there. All I have been mostly playing for a long while now are really old games. How do you feel about this retro revival that is happening, Is it a trend as some people will point out?
PHJ – I do think it’s a fad, but it’ll ultimately have long-lasting ramifications on the industry. Games like Shovel Knight and even Super Meat Boy have come out and proven that people don’t need graphical powerhouses. They just need substance. The love many have for retro games are proof that phenomenal graphics aren’t the only things that they want. Gamers are still affected by amazing stories and game play innovation. Thankfully, that’s what retro games thrive on.
GOGP – I hope you’re wrong about it being a fad, for my own sake. You worked on your upcoming book, The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers, for six to eight hours a day. At the dinner table, in bed, you name it. Was your wife totally annoyed with you?
PHJ – I was lucky in the fact that when I started the project she was about five months pregnant. Being a college professor as well (I am a full-time Lecturer of English and Journalism and Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York), I have the luxury of having time to work on other projects. So on the way to work, I spent time sending emails to developers and starting or finishing chapters. When my wife fell asleep at night, I’d do interviews and continue the writing process. A few times though my wife got semi-angry because, yeah, I was entrenched in the process. We were walking one time and I got a yes for the project from Jamie Fristrom, the developer of Spider-Man 2, one of my favorite PS2 games ever. I was stoked. My wife told me to put my phone away. I replied, “But Jamie Fristrom! Jamie Freaking Fristrom!” She wasn’t impressed, haha. All jokes aside, however, my wife has been incredibly supportive, listening to my audio interviews and just being a sounding board. She’s the most rational and open-minded person I know and it’s been a blessing having her by my side for this entire process.
GOGP – Well said. I too wait for my significant other to fall asleep to get work done. But anyway, those are a lot of hours and you must be a very dedicated person. But are you generally an obsessive person too? I know when I start something I completely obsess over it until I accomplish my goal, or burn out.
PHJ – Yes, I am very obsessive as well. I have to get the last word, I have to win the fight. I’m not competitive, I’m the most competitive. But unlike many, I don’t get burnt out. Every year I tell myself it’s only a matter of time until I slow down, but I always find ways to get to my goals. Case in point- my five-month-old is sleeping right next to me as I write these answers. Having a daughter has been the best blessing I could have ever asked for and I’m not going to be like most people and have regrets and not make my dreams come true because I had a child. She’s not an excuse for me to be the person I want to be. She’s the reason I have to be.
My next book is going to be on Professional Wrestling and I’m watching as much as I can (even more than usual.) I’m also working with a great indie wrestling promotion, Battle Club Pro, in order to get a better understanding of the way the industry works. I’ve already seen someone get their face split open and argued with a promoter from another company. I feel like I’m already in the business, haha. Sounds obsessive? Sure, but I think I use it as a strength.
GOGP – Those are words to live by my friend. And I like that you’re plugging the next book already. Very smooth. I read something interesting in a previous article you were featured in. You said that gamers don’t connect the individuals behind the games to the actual game itself. It’s very true, I am definitely guilty of that. We really don’t see the developers of the games we love as special, the same way we regard the musicians of the music we love. Is your book going to open our eyes and help us see these people as the rockstars they deserve to be?
PHJ – I think so. When you see how much hard work went into these games, you’ll definitely see these people a bit differently. I already had an appreciation for them before I started writing and I can’t tell you how much more respect I have for every single person featured in this book. They are simply amazing people.
GOGP – In that case every literate gamer out there should be reading your book. I always wondered who was out there keeping Wikipedia current and it turns out it’s you. It must be a thankless task. What drives you to do that?
PHJ – I never did it before this book, but I felt compelled to after seeing so much incorrect information. So many gamers don’t know the truth behind their favorite games. And many of them just head to Wikipedia. The hope is one day someone feels like “The Minds Behind the Games is important and deserving enough to make a Wikipedia page for it. That way gamers can connect to it organically in a way that’ll make them fans of the history of this industry for life.
GOGP – The world needs more heroes out there protecting the truth. I would prefer everyone referring to GhostofGamerPast.com for the truth but wikipedia is fine. Writing a book not only takes up a lot of time, but it can come at a cost as well. Did you receive an advance for this book? Which I should mention is called The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers.
PHJ – The thing that many don’t understand about the publishing industry and advances is that if you receive an advance, that money has to be paid back after the release of the book. Advances are great to get you by financially during the writing of the book, but if the book doesn’t sell, you have to pay it back. Like I said, I have a wonderful full-time career, so I wasn’t in a place to want to ask for, or need an advance. I didn’t even ask for one.
GOGP – When authors speak about receiving an advance they make it sound all important. But I think you made the right call. Have you ever thought about putting a bunch of the developers you have now met in a room and seeing what sort of game they can all come up with? Like forming a so called super group.
PHJ – I’m not a game developer or publisher, I’m a writer. I’d never try and step on any of these people’s toes by thinking I knew enough about what they do to create a project. However, yeah, the thought of some of these people working together is an amazing one. If you read the book, you’ll find out that many of them have at different points in their careers, creating some amazing games.
GOGP – Too bad, I was already thinking of ways to abuse your power. I’m kidding of course. Where can we find your book?
PHJ – The book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and my publisher, McFarland & Company’s websites. You can also join my Facebook Page for the book where I have daily videos and photos posted on the games featured and give away games featured in the book.
GOGP – Well I feel that we’ve learned a lot. Your book, The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers, sounds very interesting and I will have to read it. And I encourage everyone out there to do the same. Thank you Patrick for taking the time to chat with me.