more than just fun and games, Patrick Hickey Jr. will
"The Minds Behind the Games," the journalism
professor and gaming reporter interviewed more than 30
developers behind classic video games that shaped the
"Mortal Kombat" to "E.T.," the book
runs the gamut of games that were financial successes to
those that were critical failures. At the same time, it
offers personal accounts of video game development that
reveal the struggles that go into creating the final
Daily News talked to Hickey about what he learned about
the development of games from writing this book and
picked his brain on the industryís past, present and
Tell me why you decided to write a book about video
games from the programmersí perspective?
I thought that there were too many video game books that
were written from the point of view of a researcher. But
all of these books didnít feature direct quotations
from the creator. Theyíre not as in-depth and behind
the scenes as I think hardcore gamers would like them to
be or even a casual reader that knows nothing about the
video game industry.
I decided to go out and find a lot of these people and
talk about how the game affected their life and thereís
a lot of crazy stories in there. People donít
necessarily equate that type of struggle to video games
and they think itís all fun and games but thereís so
much humanity and so much passion and so much
perseverance behind the creation of a videogame and itís
almost more so than any piece of art that you could
think of. So I wanted to really capture that.
You didnít just capture the stories behind the video
games that were considered financial success but also
those that were flops. Why was that?
I wanted to capture some of the successes as well as
some of the failures because I feel they all had an
impact one way or another on the industry. Two of the
biggest failures in the history are featured in this
Trap" is considered one of the worst games of all
time but itís basically because the game shouldíve
came out in 1985 or 1986 when it would have been
completely state of the art. Instead it came out in 1992
and by then no one cared about it. And the game had such
a bad reputation that one of the creators of the gameís
girlfriend left him. And he was almost like blacklisted
from the industry. So he wanted to make something so
cute to follow up "Night Trap" so no one would
ever remember it. He ended up creating "Cats and
Dogs," which is like the first pet simulator. I
think thatís a story that needs to be told.
terms of "E.T.," "E.Tís" failure
isnít just the failure of the game but it also played
a huge part in Atariís failure as a company. They
really hurt their best programmer at the time, Howard
is a guy who made two games that sold over a million
copies. He was a complete rockstar. And even though
"E.T." was considered a huge failure it still
sold over a million copies so the guy has the best range
of any video game developer of all time.
Having done all these interviews, what are some
misconceptions you think people have about the video
game development process?
We think of the creation of video games as someone
saying like, "Oh, oh, I have an idea. And itís
going to be this." And then the game gets made like
that. Thatís absolutely not how it happens. Sure there
may be that light bulb moment. But the games end up
going through a process of fine tuning with what works,
changing what doesnít work.
biggest problem with "E.T." was, Howard Scott
Warshaw said, all the things that he envisioned for the
game he was able to do and thatís a huge problem. Once
you have that idea to make something, you do it but then
if you donít have those little moments where youíre
like, "if I could do this there it would be so much
better." If you donít have an opportunity to do
those things and to fine-tune and to playtest then your
game ends up as like complete garbage.
Whatís a common trait that you see in the development
of those games that do have a ripple effect in the
The common trait with all these games, every single one,
they needed somebody else to come in and be like
"alright, this sucks" or "oh, this is
great" because these guys and women were so
attached to their projects.
case in point "Mutant League Football" for the
Sega Genesis. Michael Mendheim, the creator was
basically like a one man show. He had a team of four or
five and he would just tell them what to do. And
Electronic Arts just let him do whatever he wanted and
then it got to the point where the big wigs brought in
Sam Nelson, who was a producer for their bigger games.
Mendheim fought him tooth and nail until he realized
that Sam Nelson had a fresh pair of eyes and was able to
look at his game a lot more critically. In the case of
pretty much all of these games the idea behind the
original game was awesome. But then there were three or
four other moments where they kind of separated
themselves from their connection to the game.
so much emotion tied up into this. Kids play video games
and itís all fun and itís silly but this is a
hardcore business built on passion. Thereís politics
involved. Itís so much more than fun and games.
Since you mentioned "guys and women"
developers, thereís a perception some have that men
created the gaming industry and are ultimately the
target audience. How accurate is that?
Now I wouldnít say that thatís accurate at all. For
some reason, men gravitated more in the beginning of the
industry. Dona Bailey was like the only woman that was a
programmer for Atari in the early í80s. She programmed
"Centipede." The thing is itís kind of a
microcosm of real life that women didnít have the same
opportunities as men. I feel now there are so many
opportunities for females in the video game industry to
play, to create. I think great video game companies donít
care if youíre a man or a woman now. Is it harder for
a woman? I think so.
then with "Yarsí Revenge" when they were
play testing that game, Howard Scott Warshaw told me he
was so happy that women loved his game. And he was like,
"Guys, like we could market this game to
women." And they were like, "Yeah, yeah."
then he saw the commercials, all the ads and who was in
the commercials and who was on the ads? Boys, guys.
Atari was so scared to take a risk. They had all of that
information right in front of their face, that women
wanted to play this game, and instead they just took a
safe route and marketed it to men. So I think that that
was a huge problem in the beginning of the industry. And
thatís probably one of the reasons why it crashed
About crashes, thereís been talk about potential
looming crash in the industry. Do you think thatís
There has been a ton of remakes in the past couple of
years. And that scares the ever loving crap out of me
because thereís so much originality in the indie
scene. And itís scary to me that developers wonít
take the chances that people on the indie scene will.
Could there be another crash down the line? Absolutely.
they just rest on their laurels and they donít create
new work. And theyíre just reinventing and rehashing
the stuff that theyíve already done, then youíre
going to have problems. Video game companies need to
understand that people will spend money but that there
needs to be more value. But like micro transactions in
console games has the power to completely kill the
industry. Itís a way video game companies can make a
quick buck but itís also a way that you can turn away
Now that youíve finished this book, whatís next for
Iíve been working on a book on pro-wrestling thatís
basically about the emotional and physical trials and
tribulations that somebody has to go through in order to
be a professional wrestler. How do you go from a little
kid that likes to watch wrestling to somebody that
actually travels three hundred days a year and the toll
on your body and the toll on your soul? And Iíve been
working with a Bronx-based wrestling promotion called
Battle Club Pro preparing to write the book.
then after that book is finished Iím probably going to
go back and write the sequel to the "Minds Behind
the Games." Also finishing up the "Padre"
(a video game Patrick is doing audio for). I have seven
issues of a comic book that I wrote a while ago that Iíve
never been able to find an artist on. So one day Iíd
like to do that. Iím going to constantly be doing cool
stuff for the rest of my life.