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Interview: Patrick Hickey Jr. (Author of “The Minds Behind the Games”)

The number of video game-related books has increased greatly over the past few years, and while all have been great to read, the number of them that focus on the actual development process behind video games has been small. Most books cover topics in general or tackle things like entire console libraries, which while noble, often leave little room for detail.

Recently, however, a growing number of authors have taken up the task of writing about the game developers and the stories behind the titles we’ve grown to love. One of those authors is Patrick Hickey Jr., a professor and journalist who has written for The New York Times, The New York Daily News, and Complex. Hickey Jr.’s forthcoming book, The Minds Behind the Games, examines 36 different classic titles from multiple consoles, and it includes input from over 50 developers. The book provides some great insight into the creation of classics like Deus Ex, NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, and Doom.

Sega-16 recently caught up with Mr. Hickey Jr., who was kind enough to discuss his book and share his experiences telling these wonderful stories about so many beloved games.

 

Sega-16: How did this project come about? Was it something you were planning for a while?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: It was pretty spontaneous. I’m the Assistant Director of the Journalism program at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn and teaching four or five classes a semester and owning and running an entertainment site (ReviewFix.com) can get hectic. You can also feel a bit lost amongst all the work. My goals are always to create things that affect people and with my wife pregnant at the time, I felt like this was the best time for me to write a book. After telling one of my co-workers I was going to write a book, I decided on a whim to do this interview-style game book which would feature games that affected me as a kid, teen and adult. Sitting in my man cave one night, I started grabbing games I loved, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Kings Bounty, NHLPA ’93, Yars Revenge and then I started sending out e-mails and messages to developers. It was one of the most organic journalistic moments of my life. As time went on, I’d talk to my friends and they’d suggest games, some I found the devs for and again, it was just more soul-searching. Simply put, if you’re in your 30s and 40s, these games all affected you in one way or another. Well most of them. The indie games featured in the book are there for a completely other reason and that’s because they have great stories behind them and were developed the same way many of these great retro games were made with small teams that were in love with the medium.

Sega-16: Your book covers a wide spectrum of titles from different consoles. Did you have any specific titles you felt needed to be included?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: If you’re into pro wrestling (and I hope you are, because that’s the subject for my next book) you know who Cody Rhodes is. After leaving the WWE, he made a list of goals he wanted to accomplish. Before writing this book, I made a list of the types of games I wanted, the people, the kinds of people and I made sure they were all checked off before the manuscript went in. I wanted the Sega and Nintendo 16-bit consoles to be represented. I wanted female developers represented. I wanted to get Japanese and other foreign devs in there. I wanted smaller consoles like the Ouya mentioned. I wanted this to be like an all-you-can-eat of gaming goodness.

Sega-16: You seem to have gotten excellent responses from the talent you contacted, which is great. Their stories need to be told, and it’s wonderful that they’re willing to chat and share their experiences. Which of the people did you contact stand out the most for you?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: Every person was different- they were all mega unique. I felt like I was learning under some of the greatest philosophers in Greece at times. I have to say though that getting the opportunity to talk with Mark Turmell and John Tobias was like a dream. Those guys stole so many quarters from me as a kid. However, I can’t take away from people like Rob Fulop (Night Trap) David Crane (A Boy and His Blob), Richard Rouse III (The Suffering) and Mike Skupa (Bully) who gave me a ton of their time and helped me craft really cool chapters. I’ve said it before in other interviews, but there weren’t any jerks. A few characters, but no jerks.

Sega-16: How did you find the research process? Personally, it’s what I enjoy the most. It’s fascinating hearing the stories and reading old articles and interviews. What did you enjoy the most?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: I loved researching for this book. I’m an avid reader and I felt I had to do that before I could even approach some of these developers. I tell people all the time I thought I knew a lot about the industry before I wrote this book. I know a heck of a lot more now, but the difference is I now know I don’t know nearly as much as I thought. Instead, I like to think of it as I know a lot of the games featured and certain genres and eras and I’m hungrier than ever to learn more. Simply put, without the research element, this book would have been a joke. Getting so much positive feedback from the developers and my guest readers, editors, tastemakers and my editors at McFarland, I know I hit this one out of the park.

Sega-16: There seems to be a nice selection of Sega games. Were there any Sega developers you wanted to include but couldn’t?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: Yes, I definitely wanted to get the developers of games the likes of Ecco the Dolphin, Out of this World, Flashback, and Earthworm Jim; but they never got back to me. As a matter of fact, I sent about 150 pitches for this book. The fact that I got 36 games and over 50 developers featured is still difficult to fathom for me, this book is going to be beefy.

Sega-16: Many of the games included are from the ’90s, the era of the console wars and the multimedia boom. How does that era hold up for you now, after speaking to many of the people who made its most memorable games?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: I still play them all the time. I think it’s a golden age of gaming. While I absolutely adore the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision, as well as the Nintendo and Master System, the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and Sony PlayStation, at least for me, are timeless.

Sega-16: A lot of books have been released in the past few years, on many different subjects. What do you think of the current state of video game writing?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: I think it’s thriving. Video games are this generation’s films or comic books. They are integral parts of our lives. And now there are so many good writers putting together so many cool projects. In preparation for this book, I’ve met so many great ones, Brett Weiss, Antoine Clerc-Renaud, Jeffery Whittenhagen, and Leonard Herman among the many. Seeing their struggles and triumphs has helped me a ton.

Sega-16: You’ve mentioned sharing your writing experiences with your students. How have they responded?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: They love it. Even the ones not into video games see how excited I am by the interview process and saw all the lengths I went to in order to meet and speak with the people featured. But for the hardcore gamer friends of mine, telling them I spoke to the entire dev team of Night Trap and the creators of Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam induced smiles that got me through the writing process. This book is as much for them as it was for me. As well, many times during the writing of this book I was told by friends and students that they are considering writing a book now too. So, in a weird way, I feel like I’ve influenced some people.

Sega-16: You’ve stated that some of your favorite games are Pokemon Red and NBA Jam. Do you have a favorite Sega title?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: That’s such a hard question. It’s like asking a man who their favorite Victoria’s Secret model is. ToeJam & Earl, Desert Strike, and Road Rash are definitely on that list, as is Kings Bounty. However, NHLPA ‘93 is hands down my favorite hockey game of all-time and the one I’ve spent the most time on, so I have to say that. Not the sexy choice, but it’s the truth. The good news is all of those mentioned games are in the book.

Sega-16: What other video game-related books are you considering? Do you plan to do a sequel to your book in the future?

Patrick Hickey Jr.: I’d love to do a sequel, but first, we have to see how this one does. I have a wrestling book I’ve started (which focuses on the emotional and physical ramifications of a life in wrestling and the stories behind so many great workers) and thanks to my buddies from Battle Club Pro, I have a ton of access to the indie wrestling scene. I also would love to do a game book just on the indie scene because I feel like there are way too many wonderful indie games out there that people have no idea about. Once this book is released, I’ll have a much better idea of what the next step in my video game book writing career is.

We’d like to thank Mr. Hickey Jr. for his time and candor. For more information about his book and writings, check out its publisher page  and Amazon page.

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