Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Leonard Herman, who is displayed on card number 180, from the Superstars of 2011 and who is also featured on cards 514 and 1951. Leonard is the author of the book “Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames”. The 4th edition (retitled Phoenix IV: The History of the Videogame Industry) just published at the end of 2016 and is one of the most comprehensive video game history books available today. With nearly 830 pages of information, this book is a must for gamers everywhere. Leonard has also written articles for video game outlets such as Electronic Gaming Monthly, Supercade and GameSpot. He has also founded Rolenta Press, which has published video game books by such as authors as the late Ralph Baer, the father of the home video game console. In 2003, Leonard was awarded the Classic Gaming Expo Achievement award and has been an advisor for the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas.
Do you believe some Video Games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
No. Videogames were always deemed as violent ever since Death Race appeared in 1976. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people claimed Pong was violent because you had to ‘hit’ a ball. However, the violence is no worse than it is in movies. However, what makes videogames standout is that they are interactive. If anything, (but remember, I’m not a psychiatrist), people take their frustrations out on videogame enemies. I think the numbers are very, very low of people who made a transition from videogame violence to real life violence.
When did you write your first book and what motivated you to do so?
My first book was actually a science-fiction novel that I wrote in college. I remember sitting at a typewriter (what’s that?) and just typing anything that came to mind. Eventually I began to develop a plot. My goal was to write three pages a day for 100 days, which I did. Once finished, I cleaned up the nonsense in the beginning. The book eventually went through three drafts before I put it away for good.
My first videogame book began in 1981. When I saw that so many games were being released for the Atari VCS, I decided to write a directory for all the games. This was called ABC To The VCS. Unfortunately, the crash of ’83 negated any need for the book. In 1995, I mentioned the book in a fanzine called The 2600 Connection, and people asked me to publish it. So, I printed and sold a 160-page booklet that featured a microscopic font, that was photocopied and stapled. In 2005 I revised the book and printed it much more professionally. I’m now thinking of doing another revision.
What is the best way to find your books and to order them?
www.rolentapress.com for an autographed copy, or Amazon.
What games from the golden years (70s and 80s) were your favorite and why?
I must state that I rarely played arcade videogames. If I went to an arcade, I usually only played pinball. I felt that I spent so much money on home stuff, that I couldn’t justify spending my money in arcades.
I very much enjoyed logic games such as Superman and Adventure for the 2600, which was my system of choice. I also liked other puzzle/quest games such as Secret Quest and Dice Puzzle. I also loved Dark Chambers on the 2600 but I hated the 7800 version, which was more similar to the arcade game Gauntlet. I also enjoyed Backgammon but I’m finding that it cheats on the Atari Flashback Classics edition.
I also liked several shoot ’ems: Space Invaders, Asteroids, Astroblast and River Raid. Basically, anything from Starpath (especially Escape From the Mindmaster and Survival Island). I also loved Ram-It from Telesys, Mines of Minos from Commavid, and The Towering Inferno from Vidtec, even though it required the right joystick instead of the left.
Thinking back now, there were so many great games for the 2600 from the third-party companies. Most people think that the majority of these third-party games released nothing but trash, which in resulted in the crash, but that simply isn’t true.
Do you remember your first video game you played and what do you remember about it?
Pong. It was at the bowling alley where I was in the junior leagues (along with Jay Greenspan, now known as Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame). It really caught all of our attention because it took the place where a pinball machine previously sat and it was a TV!
What is your favorite portable gaming device and why?
The original Game Boy. I love it for its simplicity and its diversity.
Do you prefer PC or Console gaming and why?
Console gaming. As I’ve stated many times, including in the Introduction of my book, I consider PC gaming as software. PC games will not play adequately on all computers unless you have the correct configuration. With consoles, you know that when you buy a game for a certain console that it will play on that console (although that model is changing now). I do not even cover PC gaming in my book.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
Unfortunately, I don’t get to play much these days. When I did play, my favorite games were those that required logic. My least favorite genre is fighting games.
Do you like it when Hollywood makes a movie from the video game?
No, because usually the movie has no semblance to the game. But I was never a fan when videogames first began having a back story. The first one that I knew of was Super Breakout for the Atari 2600. I thought adding a storyline to a game like Breakout was absurd.
If you could own one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?
Bally’s Captain Fantastic pinball machine. I’m a big Elton John fan and that table, along with Bally’s Eight Ball, were my two favorites.
Growing up were you team Sega or Nintendo and why?
I was never a Nintendo fan in the early years. I looked at them as bullies. I owned a Sega Master System, not an NES.
How does video game music influence games past and present?
I’m friends with Tommy Tallarico so I’d love to say that they’re a big influence. But the truth is that I’m not in a position to answer. My specialty is the games from the early ’80s which didn’t have musical scores and were quite limited in their sounds.
Are video games aimed mainly at children, adolescents or adults?
I think today they are aimed mostly at adults: late teens and upwards
What springs to mind when you hear the term ‘video games’?
My sons in their rooms playing Super Smash Bros and NHL 17 for hours.
Of these five elements video games, which is the most important to you and why? Gameplay, Atmosphere, Music, Story, Art style.
Gameplay. The games that have stood the test of time were those that played extraordinary well, despite their bland graphics and music (Space Invaders, Asteroids).
What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
I rarely play today’s games. I find them much too complicated. But on the other hand, when Absolute Entertainment released Title Match Pro Wrestling for the Atari 2600, I found that overly complicated with its many joystick configurations. The last game that I played on the Xbox One was Atari Flashback Classics.
What is your favorite single player game and favorite multiplayer game?
Off the top of my head:
Single game would be Adventure or Superman for the 2600.
I don’t really have a favorite multiplayer game that I could think of, but if I had one, it would have to be a game where players played simultaneously.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a Video Game Trading card?
Well, when I was younger there weren’t even videogames, so of course videogame trading cards around them weren’t even a consideration. J But I never figured I would be on any type of trading card so it is pretty cool.
What does it take to be a Video Game Journalist?
I wish I knew. I’m not really a videogame journalist, although I have written for videogame magazines and even had my own brief column in the U.S. PlayStation magazine. Most recently I edited a magazine (Video Game Trader). But I do not cover the latest trends in video gaming.
Are you still involved with video gaming today, and what role do you play?
I’m really only involved today as far as history is concerned. I continue to update my book and make sure that it is correct. And when someone else prints something that is blatantly false, I let them know. I have no use for revisionist history.
Where do you see Video gaming in the next 20 years?
Well virtual reality is finally affordable after two decades, so I think that’s where games are eventually going as the technology keeps improving
This is one of an ongoing series of articles based on the Walter Day Collection of e-sports/video gaming trading cards – check out more information at thewalterdaycollection.com.