Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Bill Loguidice

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 7, 2009

An interview with retrogamer and game systems collector Bill Luguidice who talks about the two books he’s co-written, Vintage Games and Wii Fitness for Dummies, his own gaming background, and throws in a little bit of videogame history at no additional cost to you.

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vintage games2How would you describe Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time to someone who has never heard of it?

The book covers 34 of the most influential videogames of all time, regardless of platform, and talks about their histories and the games that came both before and after. The writing style is casual and fun, but is backed with lots of research and cross references, making it appealing to a wide range of readers.

You co-wrote the book with Matt Barton. How did you guys come to work on this together?

I had a contract for a book with another publisher that covered every U.S. home videogame and computer system from 1972 – 1987. Unfortunately, it was taking too long to write because of the vast amounts of research and the fact that it was my first book, so I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. I enlisted the aid of colleague and friend Matt Barton to help with some of the load. Long story short, even with Matt’s help I was still not able to finish within a reasonable timeframe, so the contract was dissolved. After regrouping, I began to re-shop the book with Matt through our literary agent. While it turned out Focal Press/Elsevier wasn’t interested in doing that particular book, they countered with their own idea, which we eventually morphed into what became Vintage Games. I plan on returning to the systems book at some point because it really is tremendous material (six of the chapters from that unpublished book appeared as special features on Gamasutra that were very well received), but the new projects have been coming fast and furious, so there really hasn’t been any time.

I would imagine a great deal of research went into writing the book. Could you describe what the process was like and how much of that would you say was work for you?

Unfortunately, as with most books, we had a tight schedule to adhere to. In the case of Vintage Games, it was roughly three months from start to finish. The hardest part initially was coming up with the list of the most important and influential games of all time. The 34 games was not reached by accident – we really drew on our experience – and I truly believe it’s one of the most fair and balanced such lists ever created. I’m quite proud of it. For the actual writing, we each took the lead on a particular chapter, with each chapter focusing primarily on a specific game. After we did the necessary primary and secondary research (from our own archives, the usual places on the Web, playing the game(s), etc.), we’d write the first draft and then pass it on the other for further tweaking and additions. We used Google Docs to do the initial collaboration, then I would convert the material to the publisher’s Word template as a particular chapter moved closer to our final vision for it. This process worked well. For the wonderful color images in the book, we used a combination of emulators and direct captures from the actual platforms/games, drawing upon my personal collection whenever possible. That’s why you see so many images used in the book that really haven’t been seen anywhere else. Anyway, while it was all on a subject we are extremely passionate about, it was most certainly work. Deadlines have a way of turning even fun stuff into soul crushing pain. Even the writing part is slow going. Of course when all the hard work results in something like Vintage Games, it’s worth it for the months of pain to have an achievement you can be proud of forever.

And you’re now in the process of producing a documentary on the book? How is that coming along?

It’s a videogame documentary for Lux Digital Pictures and both Matt and I are the writers and producers. While we got the offer to work on the film because of Vintage Games, it’s not directly related to it, as it’s a complete videogame history, from the 1940s to the present. There are a few similarities though, including talking about all types of platforms, including mainframes, arcade, consoles, computers, handhelds, etc., and lots and lots of games for each of them. And like Vintage Games for books, you’ll see things in the movie you’ve never seen on film before.

The project itself is coming along nicely. We filmed great interviews that will be used throughout the film back in March and are winding up capturing the last of the (mostly) gameplay footage this month. If all continues to go well, we should wrap primary production by the end of the year.

Videogames have their origins in the 1940s? That’s news to me. I certainly don’t recall my father ever talking about videogaming from his childhood. Could you explain this?

Well, when we talk about consumer videogames, we’re really referring to that magical year of 1972 (the same year I was born–see, it was my destiny!) when both the Magnavox Odyssey hit homes and Atari’s Pong hit arcades (or more specifically, bars). Naturally there was Computer Space as an arcade machine a year earlier that was loosely based off of the Spacewar! mainframe game from the 1960s that was all the rage with the lucky few (mostly engineering students) who got access to it, but neither really got the necessary mainstream exposure to get noticed and help launch an industry. So, when I say videogames had their origins in the 1940s, I’m specifically referring to the first programmable digital computers, which are the classic room-sized mainframes we see in the old footage. Without that breakthrough, none of what happened over the following years, be it what I consider the first true videogame, OXO (1952 on the EDSAC mainframe), or the various evolutions and revolutions that followed, would have come to pass.

You are also the co-founder of Armchair Arcade, a popular retrogaming website. How did you get involved with this?

Armchair Arcade was founded by me, Matt Barton and one other gentleman who is no longer involved with the project towards the end of 2003. We were regular “debaters” on a popular gaming forum and decided to channel that passion into our own site, which was initially about producing regular e-magazines. This became quite popular because we always approached it with a professional, rather than casual, attitude. Eventually other demands on our time made us decide to move to a blog format, which allowed us greater flexibility, which is where Armchair Arcade is today. We cover lots of topics, from classic to modern videogames and computers, along with other types of technology and occasional curveballs like philosophy, fiction, and thought experiments. It’s a lot of fun and we plan on keeping Armchair Arcade around as long as we are.

I’ve read where you own and maintain over 300 gaming systems from the 1970s to the present. Could I ask what is involved in maintaining such a collection, and where do you manage to store it all?

As of this interview I’m up to over 350 consoles, handhelds, computers and “other” (like programmable robots), from every type of manufacturer and region. Space is certainly an issue and I’ve been slowly scaling back my collecting ambitions since I’ve long ago reached the point where I don’t have time to use all the stuff in as profound a manner as I would like to. Of course I’ll still pick up the occasional item that I “have to have”. That’s the nature of the collecting beast.

I’ve actually been collecting since I was a small child (I turn 37 this month), though I didn’t think of it as collecting then since there really wasn’t such a thing associated with videogames and computers back in the early 80’s. I just really loved the stuff. In the 70’s at age 3 I remember getting great joy out of just messing with my mom’s pocket calculator and soon enough became thrilled whenever my parents would pull out our Pong console (not enough!). By age 7 I think, I used my Communion money to get myself an Atari 2600 VCS. My mom thought I would grow quickly bored of it. Little did she know the reality! By the end of fifth grade I got my first computer, a Commodore Vic-20, which I sold the following year to get money towards a Commodore 64. Of course since then I’ve either sold or have sold for me, quite a few items from my “collection”, but these days I only do that when I have duplicates.

So where do I put it all? When we moved to our latest house (affectionately dubbed by me, “The Forever House”, since I don’t see us moving again), one of the stipulations was that it have a full-sized basement that I could make my own. This house has that in spades. I was able to put together a professional gym, a rec room with MAME arcade machine and other fun items, and an office, as well as have a separate large storage area left over. Most of the items are on free standing shelving units in that storage area, which is in a separate, unfinished part of the basement. It’s certainly a challenge keeping it all organized, but it’s great having all of the hardware, software, accessories and literature relatively easily accessible, as it makes doing research (and sometimes having fun) that much easier.

wii fitness for dummies2I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t ask about your forthcoming book Wii Fit for Dummies. What can you tell us about this book that’s not self evident from the title?

It’s actually Wii Fitness for Dummies. Originally it was Wii Fit for Dummies, but as we were nearing completion, Nintendo announced Wii Fit Plus, so we changed scope to cover that, EA Sports Active: Personal Trainer and Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010. We not only go into detail about each of the packages, but also discuss general exercise theory and implementation. I’m happy to say this will be shelved as a fitness title, not a videogame book. Why am I happy about that? I feel very strongly about the positive aspects of videogames, and having what is ostensibly a videogame book appear on the shelves alongside pure fitness titles is a nice step in that direction. I’m enjoying writing this book for two reasons, one is that my other passion along with videogames has always been fitness, and another is that I’m writing this with my wife, Christina, who’s a top medical editor and writer. Outside of the aforementioned hard work that these things entail, that’s a big plus towards making the experience less stressful.

Are you now then in the best shape of your life?

Yes and no. I’ve been working out now for over 20 years and will continue to until the day I die, so every day I’m working towards my “best shape”. I’m a big proponent of natural bodybuilding as the best form of exercise because it can elicit the most positive changes both internally and externally. What’s nice about the titles covered in Wii Fitness for Dummies is that they really are grounded in sound exercise theory and many of the same principles that I believe in, so I do think they’re great tools as either primary workouts or, ideally, as supplements to other types of workouts. In the end, though, it’s all about staying active and continuing to challenge yourself.

Would you mind giving us a brief overview of your gaming background?

Besides what I already discussed earlier, I will say that overall I’m just a great fan of technology and science. While I have no particular talent for either (I’m even poor at math!), I find great joy in learning as much about all of that as I can. I guess that kind of defines my gaming background and interests as well. The platform doesn’t really matter to me. I can have great fun programming in BASIC on a computer from 1978 as I can creating a Visio flowchart on a tricked out modern day Windows PC. Same thing with the games. I can play the latest PlayStation 3 game, yet 1 hour later play a console game from 1976. I just love it all.

As someone who is an unabashed retrogamer, what’s your take on current games? Are you a fan, and if so, what do you enjoy playing?

I certainly am a fan of new stuff and I suspect I always will be. As crazy as it sounds, it’s always my goal to get every platform. Why? Because I don’t want to miss out on anything! Right now, for instance, hooked up to my family room HDTV and surround sound system are an Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii. Eventually these will make their way down to the basement when the next new platform(s) come out. Of course, with time constraints, I probably play more on my iPhone than anything these days, but the spirit is the same. I’m certainly no platform snob and no longer really tolerate so-called “fanboys” for a particular platform. If you’re a real gamer, you’ll want to play games period. The delivery mechanism shouldn’t matter.

Are you a particular fan of MMOs? What has your experience with them been like?

Though I have nothing against them (far from it), I’m not a personal fan of MMOs for one simple reason–time. I believe that playing an MMO requires a sufficient time commitment in order to get the most out of a game. Since I’m too busy these days to have regularly scheduled gaming sessions (I game when and where I’m able), I don’t think it’s worth the monetary commitment (the monthly fee) or the time investment (for even the ones that are free). Another factor is that between my regular job and freelance work, I spend anywhere from 10 – 12 hours a day+ on the computer, and really don’t spend much time playing games on it these days. I usually like the different look and experience a handheld or console gives me. I do play games online though on occasion, particularly on the Xbox 360, and certainly enjoy games like “1 vs 100”, which can be considered a massively multiplayer live game show. The nice thing about that is that I can play single sessions here and there when they’re scheduled if I’m available and don’t have to worry about things like leveling or meeting up with friends. It’s like a compartmentalized experience, meaning I only have to worry about how I do in the particular game I’m playing, and, win or lose, it doesn’t affect my enjoyment or experience with future play sessions. So, long story short, I’m not opposed to the principle of such games – and I’ve even participated in several MMORPG console betas – but the overall MMO landscape still has to expand a bit more into more game types and alternative reward systems for me to be able to participate in a more profound manner. I know it’s getting there so it’s just a matter of time.

How else do you tend to escape these days?

Besides playing videogames when I can and messing with old and new computers, and working out with my wife, I try to spend as much time as I can with my family. We have two young daughters – two years apart – who are now both in preschool programs, so they’re quite the handful. Of course with both my wife and me having full time jobs in addition to the freelance work, it gets tough to spend as much quality time as we’d like together, but we certainly do our best. Even if you’re ambitious and want it all, you’ve got to have balance!

And last but not least, just between you and me, who is more of a geek—you or Matt Barton?

Tough call. I’d say it would be a photo finish depending upon the specific definition used. With that said, I’m proud of who and what I am.

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