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INTERVIEW
Bill Kunkel


Co-founder of videogame journalism, and Executive Editor for Electronic Games Magazine during the 80's, Game Designer, Legal Expert, Comic book Author, and The Game Doctor!

MT> What is the history behind "Arcade Alley" that was published within Video Magazine? Was it an easy sell to Reese Communications to get the article into the magazine, and eventually it's own publication?
BK> Actually, it was a surprisingly easy sell. For one thing, Video was a very successful magazine at the time and had the market pretty much to itself. Arnie knew Bruce Apar, who was editing Video, and we sold him a few video game-based features and pieces on interactive TV (remember QUBE anyone?) and the growth of cable-spawned sports channels like the recently launched ESPN. You had to be brain dead not to notice that the 2600 was becoming a significant new kind of electronic entertainment device. And Bruce is a very sharp guy so after a couple months of writing features, we sold him on the idea of a column.

The only REAL concern was that we wouldn't have enough new games to review three a month. Of course, that was actually the least of our worries, and between the 2600 and the Odyssey2 we got through the lean times.

The column did very well, and Reese was a small but very cool company. And as they say in business, you don't argue with success. The video game thing was going nuts and Arnie and I sold Jay Rosenfield, who was the son of company founder Maurice (nickname: "Reese", hence the name) on the idea of a magazine in steps. He agreed to do the first issue as an annual, which meant it could sit on the stands forever. It did VERY well, and by the second or third issue we were bi-monthly and I think we went monthly by the fourth or fifth issue. The magazine was coining money in its first few years -- the entire company moved from Gramarcy Park to the penthouse floor of the old Grumbacher Building on 34th Street and 10th Avenue. We had these swank offices and a guy who came in to check on the plants every week. We were a huge success and until the industry started to falter after the '83 holiday season, it was a cash cow. We did TV shows -- I did every one of those "A.M. Peoria" and "Good Morning, Trenton" shows in the United States and Arnie was on the Today Show. We wrote for Games, Forbes and The NY Times. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime-if-you're-lucky opportunities and Reese was smart enough not to fight it.

MT> What was it like working w/ Arnie Katz and Joyce Worley? How did the original duo and trio form?
BK> I don't know if it's a big secret or whatever, but Arnie and Joyce have been married for like 20 years. My first wife, Charlene, and I were very close to Arnie and Joyce as friends starting in 1971 and we had all sorts of adventures in the '70s. Charlene and I broke up in 1979, just before the big success, but the three of us were just incredibly tight. We did a wrestling radio show in New York, published a wrestling magazine (always ahead of the times) together, and published a lot of fanzines.

The idea was that we wanted to make money writing about something we enjoyed. We had been huge fans of coin-ops throughout the '70s and we realized that SOMEBODY was going to write about this stuff if we didn't and we knew we could do a better job.

MT> Before writing for Electronic Games, you were a writer for Marvel, Harvey, & DC Comics. With this experience, what were your reactions to the Swordquest & Atari Force comic books?
BK> Let's face it, at the time, video games did not possess the graphic potential to really accomplish anything like storytelling. So from the jump you had a guaranteed bad idea. Even if the comics were good -- and some of them were okay -- they'd have nothing to do with the actual game.

Given my background, I always resisted the attempt to mix superheroes and video games in the early and mid-80s. When Sega hired us to provide editorial content for its new SEGA VISIONS Magazine, I absolutely refused to do the "Captain Sega" crap and we got a really good comic artist and I created a teen character named Niles Nemo, which was a play on Little Nemo, the old comic strip character. Niles would eat pizza while playing a Sega video game, and he'd go inside the game in his pizza-inspired dreams. We did about four or five of them, each a two-pager, and they're something I'm very proud of to this day.


MT> Electronic Games Magazine covered many consumer electronic topics. Which of the dominant forms of interactive entertainment did you most enjoy giving coverage in EGM: Coin-op, handhelds, computer, or console? Why?
BK> Well, we each had our areas where our tastes and temperament led us. Arnie had been a hardcore tabletop paper gamer since he was a kid, so he was our guy for computer games, adventures and strategy stuff, and Joyce concentrated on handhelds and tabletop games. I was drawn to the plug-and-play ease of video games, and liked the sports and action orientation of coin-ops, so those were my favorite areas personally.

MT> As well as starting Electronic Games Magazine, you have also helped contribute to other gaming publications - Video Games & Computer Entertainment, Sega Visions, Computer Gaming World, and the current EGM. What was your role in establishing these periodicals?
BK>Ahh, each one's a story. Some were easy sells and some were just cursed projects. I basically met Steve Harris at a CES and two conversations with Arnie later we had the deal to create the '90s "revival" of EG (we had no part, however, in the start-up of EGM, though it was obviously heavily inspired by the original EG). We did VGCE for Larry Flynt (but we didn't deal with him) and that was another one of those deals where the time was right, the NES had re-established video games. But every magazine I've been involved in creating -- and there are probably about a dozen -- was a unique story.

MT> So, you are The Game Doctor! What is in store for the Game Doctor's future? Please tell us about your new sidekick, Game Nurse Rachel?
BK> Well, once Steve Harris officially acknowledged in our contract back in '92 or whenever that I owned the name "The Game Doctor" I did my best to keep the character visible, and he's appeared in a lot of magazines. I CAN tell you that the Doc has a most unusual appearance coming up at the GoPostal.com site. But the project that's closest to his heart is the creation of an online (and eventually bricks-and-mortar) museum devoted to the hobby of electronic gaming -- that and taking the digital photos of Game Nurse Rachael to accompany the site. :)

MT> You are considered an expert for videogame legal consultation, and were involved as an expert witness within two major industry lawsuits. Please tell us about your role in the Capcom vs. Data East court case and Galoob vs. Nintendo proceedings.
BK> Actually, my first case was way back in 1982. We had JUST started the magazine and our contact at Magnavox called to ask if I would serve as an expert witness in the famous Atari Pac-Man case. I felt K.C. Munchkin was a significantly different game from Pac-Man and still do, and I don't believe any company should be allowed to own a whole genre of game. That's the same reason I testified for Data East against Capcom; Capcom appeared, to me, to be claiming ownership of 2-D fighting games. So we walk into court and the judge was clearly prepared to rule for Capcom, but DE's legal team made a big deal about how I had been flown in at great expense and how I was prepared to argue against Capcom's point. So the judge decided to stay his gavel, there was a major trial, and DE won.

The Nintendo case was less interesting. They were trying to supress the Game Genie and I was brought in primarily as an expert analyst to determine how much Nintendo had cost Galoob by keeping the Genie off the shelves the previous Christmas. But do I know how to pick my enemies or what? Atari in the early '80s, Nintendo in the late '80s and Capcom in the early '90s. But to give them their due, none of the companies I testified against ever showed me any disfavor for having worked against them. But I obviously wasn't picking clients based on which was the best career move and I like to think my arguements were sufficiently eloquent that the companies realized I actually believed what I was saying.

MT> Tell us about Subway Software.
BK> When Reese fired Arnie and Joyce and several other writers in the mid-'80s, I left the company as well in order to join forces with Arnie and Joyce at the upcoming CES. We started Katz Kunkel Worley Inc. and saw it as having several divisions. We felt consulting would be the bigest thing but we also hoped to do some game design. Now as it worked out, we had been free consultants to the industry for so long that the companies had a hard time dealing with the
concept of suddenly paying us.

Instead, Brian Fargo at Interplay offered us the opportunity to design a game which was called BORROWED TIME. Suddenly, we were game designers (in those days, it was a tough sell to convince programmers that they couldn't do it all themselves) and we needed a name. Well, neither Arnie nor I drive so the trips between our NYC apartments involved a lot of subway travel and that inspired the name.

We designed a LOT of games, many of them for the English market, but rarely had any control once our design was handed in. We also played "game doctor" on a number of outside games. You fixed 'em if you could and you nixed 'em if you couldn't. And companies like Sega paid us to look at their games. I remember they sent us TOEJAM & EARL and we told them it was the company's guaranteed break-through game. Then they released SONIC THE HEDGEHOG and T&E became cult classic also-rans.

MT> As well as your contributions to classic gaming journalism, you have been a game designer, consultant, and more. What are a few of your proudest accomplishments?
BK> Well, I think we had a great concept behind the computer WWF Wrestling games we designed (and Mike Riedel programmed) around '87 and it was originally scheduled to be packed-in with the CDTV. It might have saved that system. But the Subway Software game I'm personally proudest of is SUPERMAN, MAN OF STEEL, which was published in the States by Capstone. The C64 version sucks, but the Amiga and ST versions are the best work I ever did, and the young Brit programmers were inspired. I don't think there's another game from that era that did a better job of mixing superheroes and electronic games.


MT> Do you feel that being so embedded in so many facets of entertainment software, and by being a major player since it's infanthood, that you have a unique perspective on the industry?
BK> Over the years, one of the reasons the three of us have stayed employed is that very perspective. Nobody else saw the scene evolve the way we did. We were on ground zero and did everything from building "bombs" to reporting on them.
           

MT> What are your impressions about the current classic gaming publications like Classic Gamer Magazine and Syzygy Magazine?
BK> It's a grand thing and I wish them the best of luck! CGM has really classed up its look. Hey, these games have been around for three decades now and it's time for us to start looking back on them as history.
        

MT> You've been involved within the gaming industry for over two decades. Do you still find it as fresh and attractive as you did in 1978?
BK> I doubt anyone can retain the wide-eyed wonder of anything over the course of 20-plus years. Do games still light up my life the way they once did? I wish I could say yes, but life has a way of wearing you down, especially when you're playing at the professional level. You can't take money and stay a virgin, and once your innocence is gone, it's gone.

But I still very much treasure whatever status I have within the gaming community and I'm still a gamer, if a less hardcore type. Every time somebody comes up to me and tells me how much they loved the original EG when they were kids, I'm like a proud pop whose kid just graduated with honors. I simply can't imagine a time when I won't love electronic games any more.
 
            

Well, we all loved the original Electronic Games Magazines,
have all certainly enjoyed videogame journalism
(we/your doing so now)
so thanks to Bill for realizing it's potential almost two decades ago,
and thanks Bill for taking the time to share your unique perspective with us!

Have questions? E-mail Bill
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