This morning as I was dealing with the fallout from having been over an hour late arriving in Philadelphia, getting ripped off by a cab driver and discovering, upon my arrival at Valley Forge, that someone along the way had lost my room reservation (note: none of this is unusual), the last person I expected to meet was Bill Kunkel, one of the founding fathers of video game journalism.
Kunkel, also known as "The Game Doctor," co-founded Electronic Games in 1981 and has since written extensively in various outlets, founded his own game company, taught game design at UNLV and has now come full circle, writing once again about games.
"You try to get out, and they pull you back in," says Kunkel, referring to a call he received from legendary publisher Larry Flynt, about a job at Tips & Tricks magazine. "I've been writing online since there's been an online. And now [that I'm back in print] the web is killing us."
I gave him my card. "You're one of the people that's killing us," he said. I smiled and shook his hand.
Bill spoke today at a panel, with Tips & Tricks Editorial Coordinator, Abigal Heppe and video game composer and G4 personality Tommy Tallarico. The subject was "Video Game Journalism," and was largely addressed to those seeking entry into the "elite club" of game journalists.
"Everyone can write a game review," said Heppe, who's written a few of her own. She suggests would-be game writers should find their own niche, and break new ground.
"Wanna get into game journalism?" asked Kunkel. "Learn journalism. If you're a journalist, you can cover anything."
On the subject of payola, writers accepting money in exchange for favorable reviews or coverage, the panel, unsurprisingly, was unanimously down on those who'd partake.
Kunkel described a scene not unlike the movie Almost Famous in which a young journalist gets caught up in the magic of meeting his heroes, and becomes too close to them to imagine writing anything negative about their work. He suggested that this may happen more than we realize and that it's simply a factor of the youth and inexperience of many game writers.
Heppe was less subtle: "It happens and it sucks," she said. "[The developers] know when a game is bad and if they're going to take [negative reviews] personally, then they're in the wrong business."
"If you're going to trade a good review for a plane trip to L.A.," said Kunkel, "then that's your credibility on the line."
Then the conversation turned to the inevitable: the console war.
"You're actually getting a pretty good deal for the machine," said Heppe, cataloguing the list of high-tech gadgetry shipping with the PS3.
"That said," concluded Tallarico, "I still think $600 is high."
Kunkel believes that the PS3 will fail, and that it proves his theory that a console maker can't be dominant for three consecutive generations. "Inevitably," he said, "they screw something up."
I asked him what they screwed up this time. He suggested they nailed it last generation with the PS2's DVD capability. "The Matrix DVD was the best-selling piece of software for that system." But that with BluRay, they've made a mistake. "You could be spending $600 on the next BetaMax."
He thinks Nintendo got it right with the Wii, citing the simplicity of the control scheme. "I grew up with one joystick and one button. With [the Xbox controller] I feel like a cameraman. ... Nintendo had the reputation of being a kids system. [This time] I think they'll be the gamer's system."