Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Paul E. Niemeyer, who currently is displayed on card number 4113, from the Superstars of 2022 Collection. Paul’s career started back in 1982 at Bally/Midway. Paul displayed his artwork talent on dozens of games like Tapper, TRON, Spy Hunter and of course Mortal Kombat. Paul has worked with many movie studios as well like Jurassic Park II, Star Trek 5, and Star Wars: Phantom Menace. In 2006. Paul also opened a top 10 rated haunted house in Chicago. A pure artistic talent, you can catch Paul at most retro video game conferences as he has book over 20 of them in 2022.
Do you remember when you played your first arcade game and what do you remember about the
I think it was probably the vector imaged Battlezone… I think there might have been a machine in one of the bars at college and we were fascinated by it! We were crazy pinball geeks, but THIS… what electronic wonder be this?!? And, to look back on that particular game and see that the actual viewing screen was tiny for that huge cabinet is too funny! But it was the newest, coolest thing, and we wanted more.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games? How do you compare them to older,classic games?
Well, the difference is always going to be night and day, if only for the technology quantum leap that occurred during that time. But I certainly feel that those old classic games had a charm and “look” that can still be seen in games designed for handheld devices. I worked on Peggle and Bejeweled 2 for PopCap and those graphics were just barely more articulated than the systems we were using in the early 80s. The games and gameplay have held up over the decades as I think is evident in the popularity of the new arcades.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
I had certainly hoped so… I had made up my mind to be A famous artist when I was quite young, preferably working on games that I loved so much. I’ve often said at seminars and panels that I am very happy to think that my 16-year-old self would be very impressed with where I landed, and that’s always been my litmus paper for how I was doing.
Have you ever received any media coverage for your appearance on the trading card? If so, where?
I am relatively new to being recognized for my endeavors in the gaming universe, so it is all quite new and thrilling to me. My first media coverage was actually at Free Play Florida in November of 2021 when I was given my first card! Poor Walter was ill and couldn’t make the show but was “there” via the magic of the internet and a really large screen! Oddly enough, I seem to have always been in the wrong place at the wrong time to actually meet Walter but had text and talk to him on a number of occasions. We finally got to meet at a show just recently in person which was just a fantastic experience for me! I am flattered and honored that there are people like Walter who are there to preserve something that is iconic and is an integral part of the pop culture. It is like he has become the steward of the genre, and that is something that I am very impressed with.
Besides Mortal Kombat, what are other games do you do artwork for?
My game art career began at Bally/Midway in 1982, working for pinball legend, Paul Farris. Indid art on “Tapper”, “PacMan Plus”, “Super PacMan”, “Professor PacMan”, “TRON”, “Satan’s Hollow”, “Spy Hunter”, “WACKO”, and “Midnight Marauders”, as well as dozens of prototype games. In 1984, I went freelance and worked on games like “Time Killers”, “Aeroboto”, “Star Guards”, an endless list of prototype games, and the huge success, the Original “Mortal Kombat”. I had simultaneous careers as a designer/illustrator in the Chicago ad agencies, a nature artist for the DNR, and a game art designer/illustrator for the video/pinball game community. I worked on “Demolition Man” Pinball as a graphic designer.
In 2000, I helped start Eagle Games, where I was a partner, the creative director, and designed & illustrated art for the games. Eagle Games made big, beautiful box games for the serious wargamer. Eagle headlined games like The American Civil War, Napoleon in Europe, Age of Imperialism, along with a WWII game and it’s expansion, “ATTACK!”. Eagle also produced many board game versions of popular video games like Railroad Tycoon, Age of Steam, Age of Mythology, and Syd Meier’s: Civilization, as well as producing board games for other game companies. Eagle Games was sold to Gryphon Games and became Eagle-Gryphon games in 2005. I designed and illustrated many games as an independent freelancer for Pegasus Games, Mr. Bee Games, UberPlay Games, Esdevium Games, CBG Games, and did the packaging design & illustration for PopCap’s “Peggle” and “Bejeweled 2”.In 2021, my sculptures finally appeared in my first published pinball game, American Pinball’s “Legends of Valhalla”. After 41 years, I finally got a pinball game to my credit!!
How did you get the job of being the artist for the Mortal Kombat franchise?
Greg Freres, who had been my boss from 82 to 84 at Bally/Midway. He called me up and asked me to come down and work on a new fighting game that they were developing at Williams (Midway) called Dragon Attack, to be re-named Mortal Kombat at my very first meeting.
Do you have a favorite character in Mortal Kombat and why?
I would say that I like Lord Raiden, probably because of his portrayal by Christopher Lambert in the first movie. He is a mystic deity, still has a bit of the rogue about him!
THAT definitely appeals to me!
Do you prefer arcade or console gaming and why?
Arcade! I’m an old school guy!
What does it take to be a video game artist, and what advice would you give a person today who would like to get into the industry?
I believe the answer to that is the answer to a more general question- what does it take to be a good artist? And I have found that there are three general rules…
3. and MORE PRACTICE!!!
As for any advice to someone who wants to get into the business of game design, I say to thee, kind and gentle soul, “good luck.” Unfortunately, it’s really the only poignant advice I have to give because the world that I created art for video games in is a far and distant memory. I have absolutely no clue what is going on out there beyond my happy little studio! And that is more by design than anything…
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
Gracious. Gracious encompasses so many other wonderful qualities that it is fitting for him. He is a wonderfully gracious man.
Do you believe some video games are too violent and lead to violence in America?
Now that is a quandary… One school of thought is that everybody gets all their crazy Yaya‘s out on the gameplay and it is generally a more healthy thing. The other school of thought is that we have all seen far too many murders, shootings, stabbings, and general mayhem to have it even ruffle our feathers anymore. We have become jaded to seeing extreme gore, and that doesn’t seem right. I owned a very large professional haunted attraction for 10 years here in Chicago called ABYSS haunted house and I know for a fact that it is very difficult to scare today’s customer because they have been exposed to so much that it no longer has a fright factor. What do we do about this? I do not have any answers for you, but I do know that the games were far more of a release of negative energy into the gameplay rather than the gameplay initiating negative energy.
Besides the games you did artwork for, which was your favorite game back in the 1990’s?
Castle Wolfenstein 3D ate up a ton of hours (I can still hear the theme playing in my head!!), a couple of super frustrating flight simulators, and a golf game I can’t remember the name of…
What other careers did you do in the gaming industry besides artwork?
I have designed, illustrated, made production art, fabricated, and sculpted for games, but never have NOT done something art related. I did write some copy on game cards for Eagle Games, but that is about it!
Do you like it when Hollywood makes a movie from the video game?
That’s up to Hollywood! Don’t eff it up!!!
Who is your favorite video game character of all time and what makes that character special?
That, I do not have an answer for… I never dwell on my own characters, so I definitely do not dwell on any other characters. I just try to take it all in…
What are some stories about the original Mortal Kombat that most people may not know?
Most people do not know that the dragon on the original game was facing left. When Mortal Kombat 2 came out it was facing right and has been facing right ever since.
Are you still involved with Mortal Kombat today, and what role do you play?
Sadly, my time doing Mortal Kombat was confined to the first game, and I was unceremoniously shown the door the moment it was done. I believe there were some bad feelings amongst some that, I, a freelancer, had created the most valuable art asset the company ever had, and I did not work there, or ever had.
Where do you see video gaming in the next 10 years?
What makes you think I know anything about the previous 10 years?!? The gaming universe is in such a constant state of flux, I don’t pretend to keep up. I’m usually in a state of awe at every new development.
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.