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INTERVIEW
John Sellers

John Sellers, a recovering video game junkie, writes for GQ, TV Guide,
Maxim, and other national magazines. He was a staff writer on
Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He recently published
'Arcade Fever',
the ultimate coffee table book!

MT> As a professional writer, do you prefer writing for GQ, TV Guide, or another publication?
JS> I like writing for any publication that will give me a forum to reveal my obsessions. At GQ currently, this means a feature on the comedy rock band Tenacious D (out in the November issue) and another on Computer Space (in the December issue). For Entertainment Weekly, I recently interviewed the guy who played Larry on Three's Company, because I love that show a little too much. When I was the Television Editor at Time Out New York, I wrote a recurring feature with the help of B-movie actor Bruce Campbell, who I think is the funniest dude in the world. My basic rule: I hate writing about boring stuff.

MT> You once appeared on the ABC television show 'That's Incredible'. Were you a contestant for the Twin Galaxies Video Game Olympics or can you do something else incredible?
JS> I was actually not a contestant at the Twin Galaxies Video Game Olympics; my older brother, Mark, was. I just tagged along. Being the tossled-haired 12-year-old brat that I was, the segment producer asked me to appear in a set-up shot where I look longingly into the window of the Twin Galaxies arcade. Total screen time: One second. The best part about this was that my brother, the contestant, got absolutely zero air time. I used to make fun of him for this quite a lot. Now I realize he may have lucked out. If I were to appear on the show for any talent I have, it would be the ability to sleep without drooling.

MT> As a staff writer for 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire', how many videogame related questions have you submitted for the show?
JS> I no longer work for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (I left in early 2000 to write ARCADE FEVER). But I know that I wrote at least one video-game question: What is the predominant color of the video-game character Pac-Man? Lame, I know. Not sure if it ever ran, actually. I will say that current staffers have told me that my book has been used to create three questions. So Regis may soon be getting some arcade flava.


MT> Exactly how many games of Donkey Kong did it take you to achieve the monumental score of 266,400 in Donkey Kong?
JS> I love Donkey Kong more than Twinkies. I'd estimate that it took 20 bike rides to the nearby pizza place that had a cocktail DK, and probably 50 or so visits to my local Putt-Putt arcade. So: 400 games? That's 400 times hearing that maddening intro song! More ridiculous though is that I've never broken that score--and I got that when I was 12. The best I've done in the last decade: I got 168,000 at this year's Classic Gaming Expo.

MT> So one morning you woke up and decided to write a book about arcade games. How long from inception to the printed page did this endeavor undertake?
JS> I've been preparing for this book since I was six and got hooked on Breakout, but the actual signing of the book deal occurred in February of 2000. I wrote no pages in the first five months after that because I was researching the games, trying to clear artwork with the copyright holders and just generally procrastinating on every level. It took from July of 2000 to January of this year to write and edit the manuscript and to assemble all the images, and then another four months of editing/fine tuning. Then I took a vacation. Long story short: a little over a year. It's still not quite where I'd like it to be. Hopefully it will approach perfection in the second edition!

MT> Did you often find yourself playing games instead of writing while conducting your research?
JS> Heck, yeah! MAME, as much as I love it, is the devil's work. I am not lying when I tell you I played 100 games of Kangaroo one week. Kangaroo! And don't get me started about Pooyan. But the "research" was definitely necessary; I got in the zone, man. I was dreaming in Tempest shapes again, and that's what I needed to make this book work. Also, I am lucky enough to be friends with and live near Keith Feinstein, the curator/cool guy of Videotopia. He let me hang at his warehouse in New Jersey whenever I wanted. Imagine having access to 400 vintage arcade games whenever you want! Oh, the problems it caused...

MT> In no way meant to belittle your writing, but one of the finer qualities of the book Arcade Fever are the spectacular images and photographs. How did Steve Belkowitz become involved in the production?
JS> Steve Belkowitz rules! I'm sure he'd tell you all sorts of horror stories about our two-day photography shoot at the freezing Videotopia warehouse last November, but he definitely did the games justice. My publisher, Running Press, had used him on another project, I believe, and I'm glad they shelled out for him: The original photographs are exactly what I wanted. Haven't talked to him since then--but he deserves a lot of free credits on his favorite game, which I believe is Tron.

MT> Arcade Fever covers approximately a hundred arcade favorites. Still, there were thousands of coin-op games. How did you decide which games to cover within the book?
JS> Well, my publisher only gave me 160 pages, so I had to be a little choosy. And I definitely needed to write more about, say, Pac-Man than Pooyan. Obviously I had to single out Computer Space, Asteroids and the many other games that were crucial to the development of arcade games. The real difficulty came in deciding between the Loopings and the Circus Charlies of the world. It came down to a mix of three things: historical importance, memory recall and the humor factor. Like, Mr. Do! wasn't a particularly important game, but I remembered it very well and it allowed me to write a little bit about his ridiculous clown suit. I also needed to make sure people remember how funny, for instance, the opening sequence to Congo Bongo was, how catchy the theme song to Time Pilot was, and that sort of thing. I know I left out some games that are important to many people (uh, sorry, Reactor fans!), and slighted other awesome games (like Major Havoc) by not writing about them enough. If I get more space for the next edition, I'll cram more stuff in!

MT> Never had I realized what inappropriate attire that videogame mascots wore until reading your commentary in Arcade Fever. What do you think were the worst offenders of this crime?
JS> The aforementioned Mr. Do! clown suit is a definite fashion Mr. Don't! And what the heck was Crazy Climber wearing? Drapery? And the evil being Qix looks like it's wearing Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat or something. I will say that the best fashion faux pas in classic video game history was made by Princess Daphne, with her too, too revealing outfit. She made the I Dream of Jeannie lady look dumpy.

MT> You claim that Chef Peter Pepper of Burgertime violated just about every health code in the book. Do you consider yourself an expert in food preparation or are you a former FDA employee? Have you ever worked fast food? Personally I think that our favorite chef did a fine job performing his job under the circumstances. We took the liberty of contacting Peter, and he stated that he will be filing a slander report against you to the authorities. Comments?
JS> First of all, that guy is a terrible chef. He walks on his own food. Sure, he's being chased around by walking pickles and eggs (don't you just hate Mr. Egg?), but would YOU want your burger stepped on? You don't know where his shoes have been, dude, and by the looks of him, you don't WANT to know. Remember, this is a man who has an "H" on his chef's hat. What did that stand for? Hamburger? Hat? Certainly not his name. I am confident I would prevail in any legal action taken by Peter Pepper. Thank you.

... and be sure to visit the ARCADE FEVER homepage!


Good Deal Games salutes John for creating a true masterpiece that recognizes
the heroes of our youth! Thaks for the pleasant trip down memory lane, John!

Good Deal Games now carries autographed copies of 'Arcade Fever' for ONLY $21.75!

 

 

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