Part 2: The Magazine Scene

tsr: So during your heady freelance days...
CB: (laughs) My wild, uncontrollable freelance reviewing days?
tsr: Yeah, yeah, yeah. How many games did you review during that time?
CB: Jeez.. quite a lot. I mean, I was averaging between one and five games a month over a couple years.
tsr: And over those years, what was the best NES game and the worst NES game you reviewed?
"Horrible!" - VG&CE (ok, not really). The Raid 2020 experience.
CB: Umm, if you include the reviews I did in the book too, the one that I really just hated was this game called...what the hell was it? It was one of those Color Dreams games, it was like Drug Raid or something...
tsr: Raid 2020?
CB: Raid 2020, that's it, where you were like a drug cop or something? Oh my God, that was horrible! There were a couple like that...when I was doing the book, obviously I didn't have a lot of time to play the games before we wrote about them, and I'm embarassed by that today. Because maybe if I sat down and played Castlequest for 40 hours and that was the only game I owned, I might have enjoyed it a little bit more. But when you play it for half an hour, you're like, "This game sucks! This thing blows!" (laughs) And I didn't mind saying so, because I had to get that shit out the door. You might be interested in that book anyway, since there's a couple games that didn't come out in it, like Mike Ditka Big Play Football.
tsr: Yeah, so I assume when VG&CE reviewed a game that turned out to be unreleased, that game was the existing, finished version?
CB: Yeah. That's one of the things that not a lot of people know, like the people I see in the message board on your page. I can't speak for the other mags, but if you saw a review of a game in VG&CE, then we had a copy of it that we could play. Things like California Raisins; that existed. I just talked to the guy who wrote that review and I asked him, "Do you still have that game?!" and he said he sent it back.
tsr: Sent it back to the trash?
CB: (laughs) Well, I bet you'd kill for a copy of it! I don't know how often I'd play it, but...

tsr: OK, so what about the best game?
CB: I donno if the reviews that I wrote reflected my long-term views on the games, because The Guardian Legend is one of my favorite NES games, and I don't know if I really had the time to get into detail in the review and say how great it was...I don't know if the number ratings I gave it were that high. If I had to name a few, I'd say The Guardian Legend, Galaxy 5000 (one of the way most underrated games ever made), Shadow of the Ninja...
tsr: I have the music MP3ed from that.
CB: Really? I could hum that music!
[Insert half a minute of Shadow of the Ninja music humming here -ed]
CB: Also, uh...Tecmo Cup Soccer, [aka] Captain Tsubasa. You can't argue with the success of Tecmo Super Bowl, and Tecmo NBA Basketball was really awesome, but Tecmo Cup Soccer...there's no other game like that in the world! It's amazing!

tsr: You were working for VG&CE only at the time, or were you freelancing for other stuff?
CB: I was for VG&CE, and we also published a TurboGrafx magazine called TurboPlay.
VG&CE's TurboGrafx-16 only
sister magazine,
tsr: Oh yeah. Now, VG&CE was really into the TurboGrafx16 for some reason.
CB: I know! When I look back at the older issues, I was surprised; it really seemed like they were more into the TG than the Genesis.
tsr: How long did that magazine survive?
CB: Maybe a couple of years. I started full-time for VG&CE in April of 1992; I worked on two issues of TurboPlay and then they killed it. It was brought back as Duo World, and I worked on one issue and it got turned over to the guys who were doing VideoGames.
tsr: Do you know why they were into the Turbo so much?
CB: I think they just had a really great relationship with NEC. It was a business deal, you know? The agreement between NEC and TurboPlay was just a guarantee of advertising. VG&CE said to NEC, "We'll publish this bi-monthly 32-page magazine if you guarantee to buy four pages of advertising every issue." And it was really nothing more than that...which was a cool way to do it, because NEC didn't have any control over the editorial. Later on the EGM guys did their own Turbo magazine called Duo Force or something, but that was completely under the control of TTI.

tsr: Anyway, since you were working for VG&CE, I'm sure you were checking out the other mags of the time. So I'm gonna name some magazines, and I want you to tell me what you think about them.
CB: All right.
tsr: Number one, Nintendo Power.
CB: I always liked Nintendo Power. I don't think they're anywhere near the quality they used to be, but man, when that first issue showed up at my house, and I got to check out Bases Loaded, you know...I mean, they turned me on to Golgo 13! There was just no turning back after that. It's not quite what it used to be, but then Nintendo isn't quite what it used to be.
tsr: They're covering less.
CB: Yeah. But they were the best place to go for Nintendo information. I don't care that they were a "mouthpiece" for Nintendo to talk about its own products...I mean, that was a really healthy time for the business, and Nintendo Power really introduced me to a lot of cool games.
tsr: OK, number two, GamePro.
CB: I used to buy GamePro for the first three or four years. It was always a better looking magazine than the actual writing content...well, I've had friends who worked for all these magazines over the years, so I don't want to say anything too bad about them, but...
tsr: Do all the reviewers still use handles in that mag?
CB: Yeah. I think kids like that, the funny characters...but as a guy who works for a video game magazine, I would never want to toil on GamePro for years on end and not be able to use my real name. I think I would hate that. Plus, I think it was kind of unhealthy, what they did to the industry, which was basically not say a bad thing about any game for a period of five years! (laughs) We don't say anything negative in Tips & Tricks either, but the reason is because we just do tips and codes, so there's no reason to slam anybody.
EGM covers Dreamcast these days - do
we care? No!
tsr: Number three, Game Players and all the other Nintendo mags they made.
CB: (laughs) Yeah. I never really cared for Game Players, I always thought it was kind of dry and formulaic...I never really saw any information in Game Players that I hadn't already seen in another magazine. That was the first magazine I stopped buying.
tsr: And finally, Electronic Gaming Monthly.
CB: Well... I never really liked it. I used to buy it because I wanted to keep up with what they were doing.
tsr: I used to think it was the ultimate magazine in the NES days.
CB: Yeah, a lot of people did. I don't wanna sound like I'm all sour grapes, because they are pretty much the reason why VG&CE went down the drain. But the fact is they did a lot of things better than us. The thing that they always did that I wish we could have done was to go to the Consumer Electronics Show every year with this big hood attached to a camera and put it on every TV screen in the whole hall and take pictures of every single game that was on display.
tsr: I see.
CB: The fact that they were able to be that comprehensive... that was just something we couldn't do. We had, like, three guys working out of VG&CE, so we couldn't come close. But they also have a history of hiring guys who aren't really qualified to work on a video game magazine. In the early years, they had some guys who knew the history of the industry. Like Ed Semrad, whose name used to appear in the High Score section of the old Electronic Games magazine every month; guys who knew about more than just PlayStation. By the time EGM was taken over by Ziff-Davis, it seemed like they kept hiring people who not only didn't know much about video games, but were openly critical of old-school guys like Semrad.
tsr: I liked them, but I always thought they leaned toward high-tech too much. There was a time when they would never give high scores to any Game Boy game, just because it was black and white.
CB: Well, they had a guy who worked on Lynx games for Atari as one of the game reviewers.
tsr: Oh, ok! (laughs)
CB: So that had a lot to do with it.