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Electronic Games: The Arnie Katz Interview
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Electronic Games: The Arnie Katz Interview

December 28, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

Do you still play games, or did your time reviewing them turn you off to them?

AK: I do not hate games. I like a lot of other things now. The one game I play with some consistency is not very technologically advanced. It's called Diamond Mine Baseball.

Kind of like the old MicroLeague Baseball?

AK: It is. The graphics are not nearly as good, but the baseball model is 100 times better. That comes from someone who designed MicroLeague Baseball 2 and worked on MicroLeague Baseball 4. They made some terrible mistakes. They did not know how to complete a product.

What my brother and I would do with MicroLeague Baseball, was play a great team against a crappy team, and then recompile the games stats dozens of times until we had an amazing team from one game.

AK: I'll tell you a funny story. Bill and I were doing gaming seminars on QuantumLink, the predecessor to AOL, and then moved over to AOL when they launched it. With the cooperation of MicroLeague, we offered AOL a MicroLeague All-Star Game pre-play. MicroLeague sent us a disk with the All-Star game rosters computed.

We signed on, they gave us a big room and we started playing the game. We did written color and play-by-play commentary, as though it was a real game. When the first eight guys got hits, we decided there was something not quite right.

The first inning went on and on. It was like kid's game rounders, with people going around and around. Finally, with players being thrown out, stretching bases, and a strikeout, we got through the top half of the inning. We started the next half, thinking, "Now everything will be okay," Bill and I assured each other.

We were wrong. It was the same thing. We played through an inning and a half and it was a football score. We just said, "We are not doing this."

You were doing that live?

AK: Absolutely. We had two computers set up. We were really just banging away at it and really giving them a show. I contacted MicroLeague; Paul Kelly was in charge at that point, and I said "Paul, we had a disaster!", and he said to me "Oh yeah, there's a mistake in the disk". Thank you!

Back in Electronic Games days, did you ever visit the original Atari, Inc.?

AK: Oh yes! Bill and I each visited Atari. Bill might have gone two or three times. I went when they were going to introduce the 5200. They had me play all the games and write the blurbs for the covers.

You wrote blurbs for the covers?

AK: Yeah, some of them anyway.

What did you think of the 5200?

AK: I thought it was the same games again. I thought it was going to be a failure, but I did not tell them because they did not ask me.

One of the things about CES was that we had to be careful. We could destroy a game with an offhand comment. I tried to be very circumspect about what I said. I tried to not judge a game by the 30 seconds I saw of it. You need to play a game. The play-action is everything. In the long run, you can stand a game that plays great but looks bad, but a game that looks great and plays bad is unbearable.

Did you ever meet the Tramiels from Atari Corp.?

AK: I knew who they were. They had come from Commodore. I think Atari Corp. had a lot of policies that were not going to help the company survive, but I don't think the Tramiels were the devil.

Atari as we knew it had been flushed down the toilet by Warner Bros. anyway. A lot of Atari fans were mad at the Tramiels, but they were basically some guys who nursed along a famous logo for 10 years or so with little leverage to do much else.

AK: Exactly. When they did it, it was almost like a side issue. There was Nintendo and Sega and those were companies people were caring about. I really didn't take it seriously. It's kind of like Intellivision. It continued for several years as its own company, but you couldn't judge it along with a regular company with a big R&D staff.

And the Tramiels did come back, but like you said about the 5200, they just sold the same games over and over again.

AK: Yeah, but Nintendo has done the same thing with their games.

Sure, but Nintendo made major improvements every time out.

AK: Yeah, but so did Atari. However, they were starting from such a primitive system that the improvements had to be small by comparison, and maybe not as good as the fans wanted them to be.

You guys never scored your reviews, right?

AK: In Video Games we ended up with letter grades or something. I felt that if the review was well enough written, you could tell how the reviewer values the game.

My personal feeling is that number and letter grades just allow people (like me) to skip the written content in lieu of the score.

AK: It reduces the magazine to a bunch of letter grades. I believe that video games and computer games are artistic creations like a radio show or a TV show, or a movie or a CD, and they deserve the same kind of consideration.

Do you think that kind of success and trust you had with the readers when you published the original Electronic Games could be recreated today?

AK: I think if any kind for magazine is going to be successful these days it has to be on the internet. Honestly, I don't think that magazine is being done now. I don't see everything, but my gut is that does not exist today.

There are pieces in different places, some good authors and journalists out there, but not really all in one place.

AK: I think some of the smaller sites need to band together and pool their resources. They need to stop duplicating efforts.

I usually follow single writers these days. For instance, there is game journalist who, 10 years ago, gave Roller Coaster Tycoon a good review. He was one of the people who saw the brilliance of it. I've followed his stuff ever since.

AK: You know, the field is losing a lot of those good writers. Steve Kent, for instance. He was a good journalist.

Steve Kent was great.

AK: Yeah, he's writing novels now. He's sold several science fiction novels. I thought he was very good, but his incentive is not very high to do this stuff any more. There are not many places where you can really make a good living writing about electronic gaming, and if you can't make a living out of it, it means the best writers won't be doing it. For example, I know that Bill Kunkel is now doing some writing and he's a terrific writer. However, I think he's doing it out of personal commitment.

Yeah, he's doing a lot of other jobs at the same time.

AK: Yes, he's kept his hand in a lot of different things!

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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