Money, Opium, Boobs and Tim Schafer: All the makings of a juicy E! True Game Industry Story.
5. Rising Through The Ranks of the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine Forums
Back when the Ziff-Davis magazines had their forums on the website Gamers.com, I was one of the more prominent members of the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine (or OPM…heh, now the misleading drug reference in the title makes sense, eh?) message board, if I do say so myself. So when OPM started putting a sidebar in the letters section of the actual print magazine with some of the highlights from the various forum threads each month, I popped up quite often. My contributions to the board were even referenced by the OPM staff elsewhere: When someone wrote them asking if they thought Jack Black was a gamer, they replied that they had it on “good authority” that he had been talking about playing Halo on the Xbox on the road with Tenacious D at a recent gig – and I was that good authority, as I was the one who posted that story on the forum. Such was my impact in my relatively short time on the forums that when OPM finally shut down, they showed their appreciation to their online community by printing a list in the magazine’s final issue of all the forum members who had helped to make their forums so great, and I made that list – even though it had been four or five years since I had even posted there at that point. Of course, there was also some turbulence during my brief but glorious time on the forums, including my temporary banning for some run-ins with the OPM staff – all of which I fully instigated – but we don’t have to talk about all that. I made the hall of fame and that’s all that counts, right?
4. Fool Me Once? No, No You Didn’t
Even though this is also OPM-related, I thought this warranted a separate entry than #5, as it wasn’t tied to the forums in any way. In their April 2000 issue, they showed what they claimed was a new Dual Shock controller licensed after the game Tomb Raider, shown above. As you can see, the controller sported two analog sticks right where Lara’s breasts would be – each topped with “a mass of silicone” – and also featured “a continuous, adjustable vibration.” I didn’t even need to notice the additional clues of the company’s name being AFD Entertainment or that additional female characters were to be released – including Fear Effect’s Hana in both hooker and towel outfits – to know I was looking at their April Fool’s Day joke for that year. I emailed them immediately calling them out on it. So impressed were they by the sheer speed of my response that they made my email Letter of the Month in the very next issue. As a prize, I got a whole box full of assorted video game swag, mostly useless junk they got from game companies as promo items, but as someone who wasn’t in the industry I was giddy to receive every single piece of wonderful junk in that box. I don’t know if they had a Letter of the Month every single issue (after the first one obviously), but by my count there were 109 issues of the magazine printed, so that puts us Letter of the Month winners in pretty rare company. Maybe me and the other 107 should get together and have reunions every five years. If you’re reading this and you’re one of them, contact me!
3. My Game Informer Hat Trick
While most people reading this are old enough to remember a time when you had to write and send actual physical letters to magazines, it is going to be interesting explaining to my kids in a few years that when daddy was 14, he had a letter – that he wrote with pen and paper, put in an envelope, put a stamp on, and walked to a mailbox – printed in Game Informer magazine. Said letter was asking the GI staff about the upcoming home versions of Mortal Kombat 3 (namely whether the SNES and Genesis version were closer in quality than MK2 was on those systems), and what was going on with the Sega VR (they informed me, of course, that the latter was likely cancelled. What? Sega actually cancelled a piece hardware in the 90’s??). Needless to say I was thrilled, and I showed everyone. Little did I know that my luck would continue, as I got another letter printed in each of the following two years. One was me making the “bold statement” that I missed the NES, which in 1997 meant that I am super cool because I was retro way before being retro was a thing, and above is the actual issue that letter appeared in. The other was…well…a poem. See, I wrote a legit letter, I don’t remember what about, and after I sealed it up I was doodling on the envelope where I also whipped up a quick and rather silly eight line poem. Sample line: “From Mario to Sonic, Rayman to Crash, GI has the latest reviews in a flash.” It was just an afterthought, but that’s what they decided to print. Still, how many of YOU can say you’ve had your poetry published? Because technically, I can.
2. Tim Schafer Owes Me Money!!!
So way back in 2008, I posted a story to my old blog about how I had finally opened my copy of Psychonauts only to discover that I could’ve won $5,000 had I bought – and opened – the game sooner (the picture above is an actual photograph of my prize token). Fast forward a few months, and the 1up.com-based podcast 1upFM was doing their latest Game Club – like a book club, but with games – and Psychonauts was the focus, so I shared my story with them. Then, after the final installment of the series, they had Psychonauts creator Tim Schafer on…and they shared my story with him! He of course had a good laugh about it, and when the show’s hosts put him on the spot and inquired as to whether he’d be willing to do anything to make up for my loss, he said that if he ever has an extra $5,000 laying around, he’d give it to me. Well, a year later, Double Fine releases Brutal Legend. So I look up Tim Schafer on Facebook, and I actually find his personal page (don’t look for it now, you won’t find it anymore), so I shoot him a message and say “Hey, you’ve got a new game out, it seems to be going well, so where’s my 5 grand?” And he actually wrote me back! However, he informed me that since he needs all of his money, then it isn’t technically “extra,” therefore he didn’t have any extra money to give me. It was all very cool, and an awesome end to what began as a very frustrating moment. But would I trade that cool story and fun interaction with Tim Schafer if it meant getting my $5,000 instead? Uh, is that a serious question?
1. Look Ma, I’m On TV (Sort Of)
For those that don’t remember – and unless you were a gamer who was just the right age at just the right time, then you probably don’t – Video Power was a short-lived weekday morning TV show all about video games that ran for only two seasons, from 1990 to 1992. In the first season, the show was a cartoon in the vein of Captain N, only instead of starring Nintendo characters it featured characters from games published by Acclaim (including some developed by Chicago game heroes Midway). The strange cast included a basketball player from Arch Rivals, a knight from Wizards & Warriors, a policeman from NARC, Kwirk from Kwirk, and…Bigfoot, the popular 80’s monster truck who had his own game. Ah the 80’s, when there could be a famous monster truck. Anyway, this cartoon was book-ended by live-action segments featuring host Johnny Arcade, who brought us the latest in video game news and reviews. Those parts of the show weren’t half bad honestly, especially for a kid-centric show, and clearly I was a big fan since I drew a picture of Tyrone the b-ball player and Kwirk and sent it in. One morning, I’m watching Video Power before school over a bowl of cereal, and Johnny Arcade pulls out a piece of paper from “Chris Hodges of Chicago” and says what I drew! Holy crap! He didn’t actually show the pictures, which is just as well, but that didn’t even matter. And for getting my name mentioned on the air, I won a copy of Total Recall for the NES. I was the most popular kid at school that day. Unfortunately, I never received my game, though it isn’t THAT unfortunate if you know anything about the Total Recall game. The other sad addendum to this story is that, even though a YouTube user named Rogier21 has uploaded what seems to be the entire first season of the show – during which my letter was read – the segment where my name is said is nowhere to be found. There are two episodes that are incomplete and have parts of them missing, which I can only assume is where my part just so happened to be. Go figure.