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Posts Tagged ‘Harold Goldberg’

by Harold Goldberg

As another school year threatens to begin, the New York Videogame Critics Circle finds itself in need of a new intern. Interns should be over the age of 18 and in college.

You’ll learn from the best in the business. Here’s a list of our stellar members.

Applicants should:

*Be a self-starter; i.e. meet deadlines!

*Have some writing chops

*Be a good communicator, especially on the phone

*Be able to hold your own on camera, if need be

*Be affable and willing to work hard

*Be super organized.

There is little to no pay for this position.

If you’re interested,

*send a note

*including your credentials,

*a link to writing work if you have it,

*and add your contact info.

*Send that package via the contact form below.

Or, you can talk to me directly at the New York Videogame Critics Circle Community Event tomorrow night, 8/6, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the founder of The Circle.

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by Harold Goldberg

SIGNIFICANTLY UPDATED: MAY 13, 2014

May 13 will likely be lucky for author and filmmaker Blake J. Harris. That particular Tuesday is the day Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined A Generation (It Books), his well-researched and compelling narrative history of Sega, Nintendo and Sony’s battles, will be released. I met the affable Harris a few years ago – shortly after All Your Base Are Belong to Us, my own narrative history of games, hit the shelves.

We hit it off immediately. Harris has many fascinating stories to tell, of his collaboration with Seth Rogen and Scott Rudin for the tome’s film version, of the geniuses of videogames, and of the writing process itself. Part One appears today. Part Two will appear on the book’s release date.

Also, Harris will read and answer questions from Console Wars at the Astoria Book Shop on May 15 at 7 p.m. If you get there early, you can play old school games with the author.

Now, on to the interview.

1) What compelled you to write a book on the Console Wars?

My journey down the 16-bit rabbit hole was as unexpected as it proved
to be delightful.

A little over three years ago, my typically terrible-gift-giving
brother surprised me on my 28th birthday with the perfect gift: a Sega
Genesis, which is what we had when we were kids. Holding that
controller in my hands after so years away from videogames brought to
the surface all kinds of memories and then, after the barrage of that
nostalgia hit me, came all kinds of questions. What ever happened to
Sega? How were they even able to compete against Nintendo in the first
place? And ultimately: what the hell was going on behind the scenes
all that time?

To answer these questions and all the others that kept bubbling up I
wanted to read a book on the subject. But, as luck would have it, no
such book existed. Not only did no such book exist, but I quickly
learned that for an industry as gigantic as videogames there was an
alarmingly small number of books about this wonderfully wild world.

Well, after reviewing my old college econ notes on supply and demand,
I began contacting former of employees from Sega and Nintendo to find
out if there was an interesting story here; something exciting and
dramatic with twists and turns that would appeal to gamers and
non-gamers alike. Needless to say, what I soon discovered exceeded
even my wildest expectations.

2) What do we need to know about Tom Kalinske, who’s kind of the
protagonist of Console Wars?

The most important thing to know about Tom Kalinske is that he’s the
man responsible for the childhood of anyone born in the 70s or 80s.
From Barbie and He-Man to Flintstones Chewable Vitamins and Matchbox
cars, his ability to turn unusual ideas into iconic properties is
second to none. And in 1990, when Nintendo had over 90% of the market,
that made him the perfect guy (and perhaps the only guy) capable of
transforming Sega from an industry punchline into a
generation-defining market leader.

3) What did he do right and what did he do wrong?

He did a ton of things of right. Some that many of us might remember
(like launching the famous Sega-Scream-infused Welcome to the Next
Level campaign), some that many of us never knew about (like
brilliantly and unexpectedly getting the Genesis into Wal-mart) and
some that none of us will ever know or fully understand (like how he
convinced a team of rebels that they truly had the golden touch).

What did he do wrong? Like any CEO, a variety of mistakes were made
along the one. Perhaps the most notable (and perhaps inevitably
unavoidable) was to focus on beating Nintendo (and then Sony) when a
more crafty enemy was lurking much closer than he realized.

(more…)

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by Harold Goldberg

Recently, Polygon’s Colin F. Campbell wrote Piranha Frenzy, a full-length novel that’s a labor or love.

Within this taut fiction about what’s it’s like to be a videogame journalist, Campbell offers a motley mix of characters. There’s an older guy/mentor who raises his eyebrows at youthful idiocy tempered with younger folks with too much attitude.  Immersed in this jumble of personalities is a writer called Kjersti Wong, a go-getter who reviews a game that somehow is more than it seems.

Here’s how “Piranha Frenzy” begins:

“Kjersti Wong gazes at the crawling hell-scape. Groaning imps patrol in musical patterns, throbbing portals glowing crimson.”

Yes, it starts with the emotions one feels when playing a game, but soon, there’s a mystery which unfolds that affects everyone. As the tale progresses, there’s also writing about game review embargoes, the absurdity of review scores, and interpersonal annoyances like critics hating other critics. It’s nerd-dishy, yes. But it’s also tight prose peppered with humor that skillfully plotted.

Ultimately, Piranha Frenzy feels real.

Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the Circle’s founder.

campbell

 

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Tomorrow night’s 3rd Annual New York Videogame Critics Circle Awards will begin with a compelling panel at 7:30 p.m.

Here’s who will hold court:

 

Chelsea Stark (Mashable) on the year in Nintendo

Evan Narcisse (Kotaku) on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Haiti

Jeff Bakalar (CNET/404) on what’s good and bad about sequels

Jill Scharr (Tom’s Guide) on environmental story-telling in games

Mike Futter (Game Informer) on the changing landscape of games

Harold Goldberg, Moderator (New York Times, NPR) on Indie games vs. Big Budget Games

See you there!

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by Harold Goldberg

Recently, CNET’s Jeff Bakalar and I had a conversation about a piece I wrote about Rockstar Games’ Sam Houser for Playboy magazine. Jeff was really kind to have me on, and his opener was akin to “That’s a hard interview to get. How did you get the interview?” I did my best to explain why, but since I’m better with the written word, here’s a bit more for journalists and those others interested in the process.

It was early in the new year when I began thinking about contacting Rockstar Games for a story about Sam Houser. Sam and I had a couple of fine, long conversations which resulted in two chapters in All Your Base Are Belong to Us, a narrative history of videogames I wrote a couple of years ago. Although we had corresponded via email since then, we hadn’t talked or seen each other since. We’d tried to have a get together upstate, where we both have houses fairly near each other. But Sam was always busy with work.

When Rockstar said the interview might be a possibility, I began to think of the right home for a profile. At first, I thought about the New York Times, where I’m a contributor. They indicated they had something in the works about Rockstar, so I looked elsewhere. I thought about contacts I had at the country’s more well-regarded and literary magazines. Yet, even in this day and age, the editors there at these magazines do not know games well, or well enough.

I thought of the better online sites, particularly Polygon. But I remember that when I was invited to apply for a job there, I suggested that I could bring Rockstar stories and a Sam Houser piece to the fold. I never heard back from Polygon at all. (I still quite enjoy what Polygon doing, however, especially those stories written by our members, Russ Frushtick, Chris Plante and Samit Sakar.)

I suggested the story in an email to Playboy, just a paragraph or two of how a story might unfold. For a while, I didn’t hear back. So I began to consider other options, maybe The Atlantic, maybe The New Yorker, maybe the Times of London. But when he responded, Jason Buhrmester responded with enthusiasm and, most importantly, understanding.

I chose Playboy because my editor isn’t just a brilliant editor. He knows games and games history. He understands them and appreciates them as a form of popular art. He’s also part of a team that is bringing back extraordinary writing and topics to the articles portion of the magazine. Ai Wei Wei. Marshall McLuhan. T.C. Boyle. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a magazine with content like that?

But would Rockstar itself go for a story in Playboy? I was happy to hear they trusted me and would be willing to work with me again. Ultimately, they said they were fine with any magazine that would understand what they were trying to do. And they were fine with letting me do a long profile of Sam. There were no deals made. No questions would be off the table. I could ask anything I wanted to ask.

Sam didn’t want to be photographed. That was all right with me; it would have no impact on the story. And I understood completely; I don’t like to be photographed, either.

The primary unknown was timing. Rockstar was in the midst of crunch time with Grand Theft Auto V. Sam was traveling back and forth to Scotland, the location of their Rockstar North studio, to help out with the finishing touches of the game.

The last time I spoke to Sam coincided with the release of Red Dead Redemption, the story-filled western that may be my favorite Rockstar game (the music is part of that, as our Robert Gordon explained so well recently). That particular long talk didn’t happen until the game launched, and that was right up against my book deadline – hard up against it. My editor, at one point, suggested that I drop the chapters. I couldn’t have that. The book would have been incomplete without the Rockstar story. We delayed my deadline, and just when the Witching Hour was nigh, the company came through.

It was the same this time. We originally planned for the piece to coincide with the release of GTA V in September. I told Playboy that if the interview happened by August 15, I could make their drop dead deadline and write the piece in four days. It would’ve been exhausting, but I believed I could have done it – as long as they paid for transcribing.

But by the time Sam was able to sit down in late August, that deadline had passed.

I now would have more time to hone the piece. Since I’m never quite satisfied with anything I write, I was happy to have the extra time.

Sam, who rode his bike in to the office that day as he always does, was enthusiastic and honest (as you can see by reading the piece). What I felt is that the conversation was like the theory-filled “My Dinner With Andre” film by director Louis Malle. I’m no Wallace Shawn, but Sam is like Andre Gregory in that he has thought so carefully about our human foibles, the culture of games and popular culture in general.

When the transcript was done, it was almost 90 pages in length. I had far more than I needed, and could have written a story of 15,000 words. The final draft came in about 1,000 words longer than my 5,000 word limit, and I had already cut a lot. Jason kindly said it was a really difficult piece to edit because there was so much in it that was gripping. But he tightened it expertly.

Eight months after the process had begun, the story was published in Playboy’s Christmas issue. I found it somehow wonderfully ironic that New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was featured in the same issue as the one of the most important and most controversial makers of popular art – ever.

I don’t know when I’ll see Sam again. As I mentioned in the story, he does covet his privacy. But, from time to time, I’ll look at that transcript again. And I’ll probably become a bit wistful. I really wish I could share the full transcript and the audio tape with everyone. I can’t, unfortunately. But I’ve done the best I can with the story, explaining some of the heretofore unfamiliar inner workings and the candid, fascinating thought processes of an artist at the very top of his game.

Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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By Harold Goldberg

For a journalist like me, it was pre-launch chaos. While Microsoft and Edelman, their long-time PR agency, promises nothing like this will happen to consumers, the following is what happened to me when reviewing the Xbox One.

Full of optimism, I picked up the Xbox One last week at a demo in a Chelsea loft with a living room feel. I was so happy to get the console so early prior to its debut. But there would be a price to pay.

The demo was not about games but about how you could watch cable TV and play games at the same time. Multitasking was the watchword I kept hearing. In this new tech nirvana, I would be able to watch cable  TV and game or Skype and play or watch Netflix and play. Forza 5 was on the screen, but the game itself not demo-ed very much. No other games were shown

I asked, “Can I stand the Xbox One vertically?”

The Microsoft rep answered, “It will only stand vertically.”

“Vertically?” I asked again to be certain.

It was standing horizontally throughout the demo.

When I set the box up at home, I couldn’t get online for hours and hours. Getting online is a prerequisite because an update had to be downloaded to get Xbox One to play games.

I kept putting in my WiFi password, and the system kept rejecting it. I contacted the Edelman PR person because one odd message said my router couldn’t interface with Microsoft servers. After six hours of waiting, worrying that something was wrong with my networking hardware because that’s what the error messages indicated, I finally downloaded the update.

The Microsoft people did eventually check in, about an hour after I was able to connect for myself. I had asked via email if servers were down and whether this caused the problem. The Microsoft rep didn’t answer that.

Though the download helped, many apps still weren’t working. But this was a work in progress. I was trying to roll with it.

As the days passed, there were more updates, and apps like Netflix began to work. So did SkyDrive, which allows for posting clips of my gaming to social media sites.

An Edelman rep wrote to say Microsoft would check in at 3 p.m. on Wednesday to ask how I was fairing with the new console. I said I was busy writing a story, but that I would talk to the person. Then, he followed up to say Microsoft might be late.

I eventually took to waiting by the phone for the call because Kinect, which was working well with the Xbox One’s interface, was not working with the Kinect Sports Rivals game demo I downloaded. The error message indicated that there was something on the floor that was in the way of Kinect.

There was nothing blocking the ‘sightline’ of the camera — at all.

Microsoft never checked in – at all. I’m still waiting.

That initial feeling of anxiety, of something that’s supposed to be new and glorious and special not working well out of the box, stayed with me. The early adopter elation I often feel when diving into the software wonders of a brand new console was tainted by a feeling of being punched in the stomach.

Sadly, it’s something that I’ll have to note in my reviews. I won’t be reviewing the system until after launch – until I’m certain that consumers elsewhere aren’t or are having the same problems I had with getting Xbox One to work properly.

Again, Microsoft has assured this won’t happen to average users. I’ll be watching Twitter closely to see.

And I’ll link to my first review once it’s up.

Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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by Harold Goldberg

Last week, I had surgery. It was indeed a bit rough; I’m still recovering. But ever since I can remember, I’ve looked to books, music, film and games as an escape from feeling bad, from pain, not the worst pain because the worst pain means the inability to enjoy media at all, interactive or non-interactive, even at its best. As I began to return to a certain normalcy, I felt the abiding need to indulge in a game as a flight of fancy, I wanted desperately to be taken elsewhere.

Nearby was my stack of games, and the latest, Assassins’ Creed IV: Black Flag went first because I felt it would take me on a nice trip to the Caribbean. Which is want I really want. The other day I fantasized about travel around the holidays. I went so far as to try to book something. (So, caveat emptor: Watch out for the hotel/flight offers on the travel sites. Every flight seems prohibitively expensive and every hotel/flight package is just plain prohibitive. It’ll seem affordable, but they’ll have you to stuck in Dallas on a layover for 10 hours. And that is no vacation at all.)

But back to my virtual travels. I hope to experience at least a modicum awe. In my wildest dreams, I even hope to be swept away.

I’ll give it just an hour to do that.

1) The PS3 powers up. The inserted disk spins. And the game loads. Or, well, it’s supposed to. I need a 32 megabyte update. I don’t want to wait, but I’m glad the publisher is doing its best to remove bugs.

2) Really? More waiting. Turns out there’s not enough room for the nearly 1.5 gigabytes I need on the PS3. I delete games going back to 2006. Eventually, I have room.

3) Dang. Really? More waiting? There’s a rotating triangle on the screen, not even any artwork as in GTA V to watch and muse upon as I wait. I wonder how long this data transfer will take. This is like waiting for a delayed plane. It lasts just 15 minutes. But it’s too long for me.

4) Surprised at the quickness of it, I’m immediately thrown into action on the high seas. I’m asked to the grab the ship’s wheel as attack is nigh. But my pirate character seems daunted by the mere fact of walking. His gait is slow as if he’s in a daze (or like me after the operation). Some pirate yells, “Grab the damn wheel.” I’m trying.

5) They want me to shoot some tall ships with cannonballs and oil-filled barrels. It’s not exactly the fog of war. I stop my ship not far from a cove and wait for the enemy to come to me. I don’t feel impending doom. I feel a sense of fun. That’s good; that’s right. Fun.

6) After the ships are sunk, I’m sunk, too, thrown off into the roiling water, perhaps to drown. As I breathe in the killing ocean, there’s a scene within a bedroom, featuring a beauty named Caroline. My character tells her may be gone on the high seas for two years. Two years? Women waited that long back in the day? When something like that happened to me in real life, and the wait was two months, I got a frosty, “You want me to wait?” And that was the end of that. But Caroline says she’ll wait.

7) I’m back to consciousness in the water. I hit the surface and breathe. Night turns to day and my swimming is like a ghost’s swimming. It looks like the water is going through me as a paddle, like I’m oddly translucent.

8) The tropical fish near the shore don’t flee from me, even when I swim over them. These are bold fish. Shouldn’t they rush away? Or was it different back then in the time of pirates? Yet I almost feel the warmth of a beach drenched in sun as I swim in to shore. That’s good. That’s like a vacation. That’s what I need.

9) Rich man, poor man. I’m just a penniless cretin. I meet a well-off, wounded assassin who lies near to me on the sand. We don’t get along as he seems to want me to save him for little reward. We have words. I chase him through the jungle.

10) Oh, the jungle! The beauty. It reminds me of a tropical trail, of walking high up to the water source on the Caribbean island of Nevis a few years back. In the game, there’s a thin, rushing waterfall and cove water so blue, it’s like clear blue sky, heavenly. I feel I can breathe deeply as I stop to admire the world around me. I peer at big blue morphos butterflies which are indigenous to a neo-tropical areas such as this.

11) I’m a ghost again. I seem to walk like a wraith through the giant leaves of tropical plants, never so much as moving them as the slightest breeze might. It’s an open world game. This kind of thing happens in open world games. But still, it took me out of that key moment of fantasy.

12) I fail in catching up to the assassin, a few times. The idea, I gather a few minutes later, is pretty much to run straight without much movement from side to side. Forget finding a quicker way to the human prey. Just follow his steps.

13) When I do meet him, I parry a blow from his sword. He falls and I kill him. I don his clothes (which weirdly fit exactly right, like Paul Smith has made them by hand). And I become him – a lowly pirate turned into a somewhat feared and respected assassin.

14) I search around for loot and secret things. There’s a lot here. But I want to move forward in the adventure. I only take a few dollars from one treasure chest.

15) I perch from an outcropping near another waterfall. Torturing pirates gather below. They try to shake down a merchant they’ve captured. Perhaps it was due to my New York Times reading and the proximity of that to game play. But his cries and the pirates’ torture remind me of yesterday’s story about young gang rapists in India. In any case, I feel empathy for the merchant and make my way to save the person.

16) I use stealth and hide in the grass. None of the pirates seems to be able to find me, and that doesn’t seem real at all. But it’s a game trope, and I’m happy enough that I get them before they get me.

17) The mewling merchant wants me to take him to Havana on a ship he owns. He’s overfed and shifty-eyed, doesn’t like looking me straight on. I can’t trust him, just as I can’t trust anyone else. Havana. There, in Cuba, I might find more beauty. A venturesome trip through the danger-filled  neo-tropics will now commence. I might even have it in me to utter a “Yo Ho Ho.” Or two.

Harold Goldberg, a contributor to the New York Times, is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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