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DID YOU READ

Author Harold Goldberg Explains How “All Your Base Are Belong to Us”

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There’s no denying the level of cultural impact video games have had in the last decade or so. Movies ache to look like them, businesses want to ape game mechanics for loyalty and profit and even book publishing‘s trying to tap into the creative energy of a medium once derided as disposable.

So, how did video game get to be such an electric vector in our lives and imaginations? That’s exactly the question that Harold Goldberg sets out to answer in his new book, “All Your Base Are Belong to Us.” Goldberg’s worked on both the game-making and critic sides of the medium and he digs deep into video game history to draw out the personalities responsible for the culture’s seismic shifts. Whether it’s the brashness of the early Atari days to the many unsung teenage geniuses that turned ideas into experience to the MMO revolution, Goldberg shows how the incandescent passion stoked by video games can warm hearts and burn lives.

Goldberg–also a music journalist and poet–answered some question about his book and how video games’ past may influence the medium’s future.

Do you think there’s more or less hucksterism than in the early days of the medium? Or is it just that the nature of the salesmanship has changed? Do you hink video games as a medium still need people like Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell or EA founder Trip Hawkins to proselytize about video games?

There’s much more hucksterism in today’s industry. But it’s far more refined, savvier, sometime subtler and occasionally more insidious. In the early days, there was bloviating on the parts of a handful of wild-west-style, self-made entrepreneurs. They’d stretch the truth. They’d lie. Those who worked for them said they sold their souls. Today, the hucksterism trickles down to journalists and fans from the producers who demo games, from the tightly controlled release of snippets of games, like trailers. And tweets, too. It’s somehow less soulful that the supposedly soulless snake oil salesmen in the early days. Yet it’s more informative and more effective and often more annoying.

Harold Goldberg book cover.jpgIt seems like part of your goal in “All Your Base” is to illuminate some of the personalities who’ve created and continue to create powerful gaming experiences. Do you feel like perception of the medium would’ve been different if names and faces were attached to the early systems and games?

I think it’s always important to attach a human face to a creative work. Marketing departments made Bill Gates the creative genius behind something as boring as an operating system. Nintendo did bring out Miyamoto to talk about Mario and Zelda games. But they brought him to gaming magazines, not to general interest magazines. And, while he tells a brilliant story, there was a language problem as well. The medium back then was considered one step up from being toys. That’s changing only now. And it’s still a long hard slog. Anecdotally, as a journalist, it’s much easier to get an assignment about music or movies than it is about games. Games still frighten the media elite just as comics did a couple of generations ago.

What was the most surprising anecdote or bit of research you came across in working on the book?

There were so many. I loved the fact that “Crash Bandicoot”‘s working title Sonic’s Ass. Oh, and Dan Houser almost came to blows with Burt Reynolds during the taping of an audio segment for “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.” But what was most surprising was that Ralph Baer, the maker of the Magnavox Odyssey, envisioned nearly all the kinds of games we have today, including downloadable games and wireless gaming — back in the 1970s.

Even today, in an age where creatives of all stripes are so media-savvy, lots of game designers eschew the spotlight. Why do you think that is?

If you’re the sensitive type, what people might ask you and what people might say to you could be devastating. It could cause a block, the inability to finish work on a project. It’s important sometimes to let the work speak for itself.

Is it fair to say there hasn’t been a lot of mentorship in the games business? Why not?

I think I do see mentorship. I certainly saw it when I worked at Sony Online. Jade Raymond and Ben Bell and I learned a lot about games from the people who had been in the industry before us. Of course, there were some real jerks there, too. There always are jerks. But the powers that are need to do more to mentor. They need to get into the schools. At the very least, they need to tell kids of the opportunities. Even making the informative videos on the Game Developers Conference site known to far more people would be a step in the right direction.

Do you think it was Shigeru Miyamoto’s fascination with the natural world that fueled his creativity?

He was influenced by manga, films like “Alice in Wonderland” and cartoons like “Popeye.” But he was utterly entranced by the wonders and curiosities of nature–lakes, caves, mountains, insects, horses, all animals. He retains that childlike sense of wonder to this day.

I’ve always felt that Rockstar Games is one of the few auteurs in the video game business. What do you feel it is about that particular collective of people that makes their games feel so well directed?

They seem to care passionately about every detail. And they care about putting a lot of game on a disk for the $60 you spend. Certainly, Sam Houser does. And it trickles down from him to the rest of the company. Even more, they have a deep curiosity about all other forms of culture, low and high. You can see it in “Red Dead Redemption.” In the New York Times, Fred Armisen called “Red Dead” a form of art. I have to agree. I was recently called ‘illiterate’ by a writer for espousing that point of view. But if you can call some film art and if you can call some forms of pop music art, why can’t you call “Red Dead” or “BioShock” or “Mass Effect 2” artful? They certainly capture the very essence of film and music — and give you much more.

Harold Goldberg.jpgWhat lessons do you think game creators and larger business entities have learned about the medium? What do you think they’ve ignored at their peril?

After 1983’s great gaming recession, game makers and game publishers learned to be more agile. They’ve learned to make games that are easy to play but hard to master. But some still haven’t learned that licensing a product from another industry won’t necessarily guarantee success. A great game may guarantee success. And sometimes, even that isn’t the case. Finally, there’s publisher hubris. I have yet to see a publisher that also makes hardware that was on top of the heap that didn’t somehow believe that they could never fail. And once they believe that, the fall is often quick and painful.

Do you see any links between the explosion of the games industry into the home and arcade markets of yesteryear and the proliferation of indie games hitting mobile devices today?

Yes! I see the same entrepreneurial spirit and the same genius and creativity in games like “Papa Sangre,” “Angry Birds” and “Infinity Blade.” And there are so many more, as you well know.

At 50 years old, video games still struggle at tapping into the psychic energy around big existential motivators like death, sex and parenthood? What games do you feel tackle them in interesting ways?

I think they do deal with them. “The Sims” does. “Undead Nightmare” DLC for “Red Dead Redemption” dealt with death through a lowly Sasquatch, a fantasy beast, in a real way that nearly moved me to tears. And I bet the people who cared about “Babysitting Mama” (it wasn’t me), would say that was a kind of semi-salient parenting experience. But I know what you’re really getting at. Games deal well with emotions that are black and white. It’s the grey areas, the subtleties of relationships and daily circumstances that are more complex than merely comic or tragic, that they really need to work on.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…