Monday 9 April 2007

Racketboy: The Interview!

"The Saturn Junkyard, like The Dreamcast Junkyard before it, is a labour of love. It's aim is to celebrate and keep alive a console that has passed over into the annals of gaming history. In this respect it deals with a piece of the past. However, it is run by, and contributed to, by gamers who use this hallowed console in the present. I'm as happy playing my Saturn in 2007 as I am playing my Dreamcast, my PS2, my DS or (on my 40th birthday, May 16th... Diarise people)... my Wii!

You see classic consoles are like classic movies, classic tunes or classic literature.
They live on in their own right, as technology/art moves forward...
Shakespeare didn't stop being worthwhile 'cos Dickens jotted down a few lines. The Doors still rock the joint even though The Sex Pistols kicked up a bit of a noise.
Star Trek still does the business in the wake of Heroes.
And for you youngsters out there, Missy Elliot aint washed up just because Timbaland is putting out tracks for Justin and Nelly. But I digress...

When putting together articles and games reviews for the SJY, when thinking of anything Saturn related, there is one reference point that needs to be cross checked. An encyclopaedic odyssey of all things Saturn related. An oracle of epic proportions. The Alpha and Omega of Saturn knowledge. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Racketboy...

The excellent provides the springboard for this particular site. Any game I buy/play/stumble across for my beloved Saturn, has been reviewed, dissected and analyzed by the legendary Racketboy. Such is my respect for the man, that in the early stages of the Saturn Junkyard, on discovering that he had commented on one of my posts, I let out an audible gasp. My wife and kids on hearing this, questioned the cause of my outburst. "I've got a comment off Racketboy" I gushed..."He's a bit of a blogging legend..."

Recently I contacted Racketboy (real name Nick) and he kindly agreed to answering a few questions for the Saturn Junkyard's readers. So here goes...

First of all should I address you as Nick or Racketboy?

Either is fine. Most of the people online call me "racket", I don't really care.
I don't usually go by my "normal" name because I enjoy being a bit anonymous and nobody would know how to pronounce my last name ("racket" is close enough)

BTW, before I go any farther, I have to say a special thanks for asking me to participate and I am very flattered by your complements. While I definitely do not consider myself to be a "legend" or even an expert, I'm glad that so many people have learned a thing or two from my writing.

How did you get into videogames? What are your early gaming experiences?

I grew up as an arcade kid with the rise of Pac-Man and Frogger so I was mesmerized by animated pixels at an early age. My older cousin also had an Atari 2600 and I use to get a real kick out of Space Invaders and Pole Position.

Once I got to elementary school, a lot of my friends had an NES, but my parents had a rule that if I was going to have a video game system, I would have to pay for it myself. Their reasoning was that if I was going to spend all my time playing games (instead of school work), then it wasn't going to be because they paid for it. Anyway, I used to play the NES at various friends' houses whenever I had the chance. My favorites at the time were Mike Tyson's Punch Out and Duck Hunt (I thought Super Mario Bros. was cool, but I sucked at it).

Some of my favorite gaming experiences remained in the arcades. My local Little Caesars pizza place had a great arcade collection with classics like Double Dragon, Dig Dug and eventually games like Street Fighter 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Man, I loved that stuff. Later on, I eventually bought a Gameboy and a Sega Genesis as the first systems of my very own.

I actually got out of console gaming for quite a while during my last few years of high school and my freshman year of college. I got back into classic gaming the summer of my Freshman year when I bought a Saturn off of eBay and started collecting games for that and my Genesis/Sega CD/32X combo.

Your blog is somewhat inspirational to us at the Saturn and Dreamcast Junkyards. When did you start it and how much time do you put into it?

Well, when I was really getting into the retro scene back in the early 2000's, I was a very active member at SegaXtreme. I used to spend a lot of time on there when I was living out in California and was bored at work. I organized a project to compile a list of all the top games for all of Sega's consoles among other things. I was also an active news poster for the site's front page. With the rise of gaming blogs and my fascination with RSS, I was hoping to see SegaXtreme grow and set up an RSS feed for news and such. The developers there didn't think it was worth the effort, so I started posting my news stories on a Blogger blog in 2004 so I could have an RSS feed for retro news (there weren't any retro gaming RSS feeds at the time). For a while I posted some of them on SX as well, but the site was slowly dying off and I was getting a better response from my site, so I silently left SX to focus on my own project.

Initially, I didn't put a lot of time into it. I just posted some interesting links and wrote a paragraph to accompany it or something. I didn't have a ton of original content for a while. But once I started getting noticed for some of my longer articles, I made the transition from just reporting news to writing my own original content.

Now, on average, I probably spend two to three hours a day on the site. I don't have a dedicated time to work on it and its kinda spread out throughout the day. My USB flash drive is my best friend as I have a bunch of text, html, and excel files with a bunch of articles that are half-way in development. I have a normal day job in an office, so I will jot some things down during my breaks or when I'm waiting to hear back from somebody. Then I flesh things out after hours or on weekends when I'm at home. Some of my longer articles are actually in development for a month or more, while sometimes I will knock a decent post out in an evening.

I'm aware the site is a team effort. How did you recruit your team members?

While, I do have some contributers, the site isn't as much of a team project as some other blogs. I still do the majority of the writing, but I have a couple people who do some articles here and there. On a couple of occasions, I have asked around my forums if there are people willing to help out and each time I have had somebody that was willing to write something.

I have also run a couple of contests where readers can write up game reviews or summaries for a chance to win some prizes. I then either publish those reviews or incorporate them into some of my game lists.

On some subjects I'm not as educated in as I would like, I post some topics in my forum and get some input from the forum members. I have a lot of smart people in there, so I've gained a lot from them.

What is it about The Saturn that keeps you loyal? It wasn't a phenomenal success...

There are a number of things that keep me loyal to the Saturn.

First of all, until NiGHTS into Dreams, Guardian Heroes, the Panzer Dragoon series, Shining Force III, and Radiant Silvergun get accurately ported (or better) to a modern console, I won't be forgetting about the Saturn.

I am also a big fan of fighting games, and to a lesser extent 2D shooters. If you enjoy these types of games, a Saturn and a Dreamcast are must-own consoles. Having a six-button controller like the Saturn's gamepad is a definite plus for these as well. I think Sega needs to re-issue a Saturn controller for every console (and the PC again), preferably wireless, to give all of us retro fans something to cheer about.

And finally, the Saturn is just a great piece of hardware. I still think it is one of my favorite console designs and it runs super quiet. That was one of my biggest disappointments about the Dreamcast. It lost a lot of the elegance that the Saturn established.

If you had to narrow down your top 5 Saturn games what would they be and why?

NiGHTS into Dreams - Even after all these years, the gameplay is fresh and the level designs are out of this world. If only we could get it re-issued with smoothed graphics and HD support.

Panzer Dragoon Saga - Take the engaging world that the original Panzer Dragoons set up and mix in some interesting RPG gameplay. It's unlike any other in the genre.

Guardian Heroes - I love beatemups and adding RPG elements make the genre so much better. It also has some cool 2D graphical effects and a branching storyline. Some of Treasure's finest.
Street Fighter Alpha 2 - My favorite fighting game of all time. Sure SFA3 had more characters, but I thought everything else was better about the second installment. The controls seemed tighter and the fighters were more balanced. I even liked the backgrounds better in 2. It seemed like with Alpha 3, Capcom just crammed as much stuff in there as they could and didn't take the same amount of time to polish it up as much as they could.
X-Men vs Street Fighter - The reason to own a 4MB RAM cart for the Saturn. The original "Vs." fighter is still my favorite. Like SFA2, it had fewer characters than its sequels, but it was more polished. Plus it had some characters in it that I enjoyed, but were later pulled in installments that followed.

For more on the topic, I would recommend checking out my post, The Best Sega Saturn Games for Today

Sega is a shadow of it's former self. From being a big player in the console market, its now a third party developer... Why is Sega special?

To add to your statement, I would say that Sega as a software developer is a shadow of its former software self as well. Sega was special because they weren't afraid to take risks in developing innovative games and characters. Sega left the hardware business because they wanted to focus on the most profitable business -- making the games. And once they focused on increasing their profits, they quit making games that were riskier and less profitable. This kinda explains why they have been rushing so many Sonic games out the door. They know people will buy them -- even if they don't live up to their potential in terms of gameplay.

Adding to Sega's downturn is the departure of some of Sega's key developers. Sonic Team had the most obvious departures with Sonic creators Yuji Naka and Naoto Oshima leaving to start their own ventures.

Fortunately, Sega just recently admitted that they have not been living up to their reputation and may be working a bit harder to rival Nintendo's software in the near future. I'm hoping that the new NiGHTS into Dreams game for the Wii will be evidence of this initiative.

You have love for the Dreamcast, Sega's last attempt to compete in the console market.
Why is it worth playing and sticking with?

Besides nostalgia, I personally stick with the Dreamcast because it has a number of unique games (plus lots of fighters and shmups) that haven't been ported elsewhere and games are quite affordable for the most part. Even though some of the Dreamcast's best games have been ported to newer systems, it's nice having them all on one platform. It also keeps me from feeling the need for an XBox/360 or Playstation 2/3 for now.

The Dreamcast is also a very affordable platform to get into and find a number of rather modern games in addition to one of the best homebrew and emulation scenes out there.

On a side note, I would probably stick with the Dreamcast significantly longer if there was a solid wireless controller solution for the Dreamcast. I love my Wavebirds on the Gamecube since my wife and I can play in the living room without having wires all over the place.

What consoles do you currently own AND still play?

I used to have a lot more, but I sold many of them off when I moved from Michigan to California to Florida and then back to Michigan with only two small cars to cram everything into. Here's what I still have and play at the moment.

Sega Saturn
Nintendo Gamecube
Nintendo DS
Sega Genesis
Sega Dreamcast
I hope to gradually accumulate some more consoles as the years go by.

What games/consoles have you played in 2007?

My wife and I both have a DS, so 2007 has seen us play a lot on the dual-screened wonder:

New Super Mario Bros. - the multiplayer games are surprisingly good in addition to the main game
Meteos - One of my favorite puzzlers ever -- and that is saying a lot
Clubhouse Games - TONS of games that are perfect for a lazy evening
Metroid Prime Pinball - Excellent pinball simulator -- especially with the rumble pack
On the Saturn, I've been playing on my LCD (which has S-Video input)

NiGHTS into Dreams
Street Fighter Alpha 2

With the Dreamcast, I've been enjoying the beauty with my VGA adapter. The games I've been playing lately are

Metropolis Street Racer
Propeller Arena
Trigger Heart Exelcia

Sonic 2
Phantom 2049

The 'next gen' console wars are happening around us... 360, PS3, Wii. What is your take on these systems. Do you think there will be an outright winner?

I think Sony was getting overly arrogant after the PS2's success and now they are going to have a big stumble. Nintendo realized they needed to shake things up after the mediocre success of the N64 and Gamecube and it is definitely working. Microsoft learned from most of their mistakes with the original XBox and is still plugging away and is looking to be a major player despite some people writing them off right away.

The XBox 360 seems to be doing much better than the original XBox in many ways, but I still think the price point is keeping it from getting bigger (I can't afford one right now). The hardware seems to be very solid (but I'm holding for a more silent version) and the software support is getting better all the time (stealing PS3 exclusives left and right). XBox Live Arcade is also getting a lot of excellent games that I think are more attractive than nearly all the Wii Virtual Console games so far.

The Wii is off to an excellent start due to its attractiveness to non-gamers. I work in an office with lots of 40-50-year olds -- many of which are women. I'm blown away by how many of them talk about how great the Wii is and how much fun they have playing it with their families. And like Nintendo's DS, it just has a great gimmick that gives developers the ability to make innovative games that they would not have otherwise been able to do. As I touched on before, I'm a bit disappointed so far with the Virtual Console after all its initial hype.

Because it is so different, I don't see the Wii taking over the "Console War", but I am a firm believer in the whole "Wii 360" thing. The Wii is perfect for casual gamers and will sell a lot that way. In fact, in the long term, it will probably end up being the biggest seller of the bunch. The 360 will be the most popular with the hardcore gamers and will have a respectable library of its own. Most dedicated gamers will probably own both a 360 and a Wii.

As for the Playstation 3, it's not looking good. The Playstation 2 got off to a slow start as well, but I don't see the PS3 recovering quite as well. The price point is just too high, and developers are getting discouraged by the slow sales and are lured in by the established 360 audience and the hot demand for the Wii. It really all comes down to developer support and Sony is losing it fast.

Do you ever play handheld consoles? If so which ones and which games?

Lately, I have actually been doing most of my gaming on handhelds. I like being able to take my games to work and other trips I am on to pass time. It's also nice to play them out in my Sun Room at home when the weather is nice.

As I mentioned above, my wife and I are big DS fans. I got a white DS Lite for my birthday last summer and my wife ended up playing it more than I did (she loved Brain Age and Clubhouse Games). To get mine back and allow us to play wireless multiplayer, I got her a Pink DS Lite for Valentines. Lately we have been duking it out at Meteos and New Super Mario Bros.

I've also played through most of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney. It's a great game, but I have been getting a bit tired of it, to be honest. I get frustrated when I can't find the stuff that I'm looking for and end up using GameFAQs. Takes some of the fun out of it. Metroid Prime Pinball is also a bunch of fun, as I mentioned in a question above.

In addition to my DS, I have a GP2X that I use for emulation, homebrew, and playing videos. I still haven't gotten around to getting some of the other emulators up and working, so I mostly play Genesis games on it -- primarily Vectorman and Sonic 2.

Finally, your site is not blogger, it's Is that testimony to it's growth and development?

I originally started the site on Blogger since I mainly just wanted a way to post retro news and have an RSS feed to complement my posts at SegaXtreme (where I was one of the more active posters and moderators). Looking back, my writing was pretty sparse and pretty lackluster. But somehow, some people were actually reading it and it slowly grew in readership.

As a side project, I was selling some accessories and parts for the Saturn and Dreamcast and I thought that I should get a domain and hosting account so I could have a more professional storefront. Having the blog on the domain and hosting was just a side-benefit at the time. Soon after the move, I was making a few dollars a month in ads, so it was enough to pay for the hosting bill.

Once I got featured on Digg, Joystiq, and Kotaku a few times, RSS subscriptions and traffic really started to gain steam. Since then it has been a very gradual progression. Since I'm cover a relatively nich audience, I don't nearly have the audience of your mainstream gaming sites, but for the topics I cover, I've been pretty happy with the results.

With the growth of my ad revenue, I've been able to outsource some of my web development so I can focus on my writing. This past month I've moved my site over to the Wordpress platform so I can have more flexibility and organization of the content. I also have some other interesting things in the works, that should make the site more enjoyable.

Are there any blogs out there that you regularly dip into or check out? What blogs would you recommend?

I assume you are referring to gaming blogs, so I'll keep it to those. With a lot of gaming blogs, I'll subscribe to them, but then unsubscribe because they post too much or they just post news that the major gaming blogs already covered.

I'll skim through Joystiq and Kotaku just to make sure I don't miss out on anything major. But the only ones I read completely are smaller, usually independent blogs. Other than the Junkyards (obviously), I read GameSetWatch, PressTheButtons, Error Macro, Siliconera and insertcredit. Other favorites (when they post something) are Special Attack and ShootTheCore.

Today, I learned about a new game review site that seems up my alley: Actionbutton
I'm glad to see I'm not the only one that doesn't find some of these over-hyped modern games to be less than fun.

Hey! This is purely for me, Father Krishna. There's no point having a hero here and not asking a bit more personal stuff...

Top 5 Movies ?
Back to the Future trilogy
The Original Star Wars Trilogy
Monsters Inc.
13 Going on 30

Top 5 TV Shows?
Arrested Development
Lost (except this season has been slow)
The Office
ok, #6 is Firefly

Top 5 Musicians/Bands?
White Stripes
Jars of Clay
Norah Jones

Top 5 Books?
Purple Cow
Being Digital
The Second Coming of Steve Jobs
Free Prize Inside
The Tipping Point
(I never really got into reading fiction much)

I'd like to say a massive thankyou to Racketboy for giving his time and energy to contribute this interview and for his continuing support and guidance for Saturn fans everywhere!
So there you have it! Racketboy(!) on the Saturn Junkyard! Now back to more mundane matters...."


gnome said...

That's to interviews what Metroid Mother is to Metroids, thun an mother. Brilliant stuff Father. Brilliant stuff Racket.

Now, I really want a Saturn and got some nice blogging tips too. Cheers guys! You both keep it up!

Unknown said...

... holy crap Father..!! How am I supposed to read all this in between work..? You should write a feckin' book on all old or elderly consoles out there!!

I will have to come back to this...

Unknown said...

(elderly stands speechless, a tear welling in his aging eyes.....)

I know him, that's Father Krishna that is.. the one an only.... true original...

(quite unconsciously the old man starts clapping....)

fatherkrishna said...

Do you remember when you said I should have my own page Elderly?

I couldn't contemplate it at the time... thanks to your and Gnomes support I've got the SJY, Retro Treasures, The DCJY and GGOTG!

I fecking love you two!

One day, whenever the pair of you are ready, we'll have to meet up in real life.

I'd love that, I really would!

fatherkrishna said...

It is sublime Racketboy! :)

gnome said...

Yes! Real life party! With real life tequila! And tea! Woohoho!

Porroe said...

ooooh......tequila :D

Unknown said...

(crying into his tequila....) I remember Fk.... God those were the days.......


hugs FK...