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triverse

The Game Doctor Is In...

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Retromags.com is proud to welcome an icon to the project. You may know him as the Game Doctor (most promintent in Video Games and Computer Entertainment for me, but the Doctor has been printed in many other magazines too, including a short run in Electronic Gaming Monthly and the 80's and 90's run of Electronic Games, a remake of sorts of the 80's Electronic Games, the magazine credited as starting this fine section of the gaming industry we enjoy here at Retromags. You may know him as Bill Kunkel from his various articles in many different magazines and also on the web having written quite a bit of material on games and the industry. Any way you know him, he has surely earned your respect and is now a member here with Retromags.

Now for the visit to the Game Doctor's office:

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KKW (I call them the Gaming Tri-Fecta)

Retromags: When did you get into writing about games?

BILL: When both the Atari VCS and Odyssey2 hit in the late 70s, Arnie and Joyce bought an Atari so my first wife and I grabbed an Odyssey2. We had previously owned an original Odyssey as well as a series of those hard-wired Pong-style and multi-game (shooting, driving, etc.) systems but these new systems, which Arnie dubbed "programmable" suddenly presented us with a hardware-software scenario. That meant there would be more software and just like videotapes, 8-Tracks and records, there would be a need for people to review them.

Fortunately, Arnie had worked for several years at an upscale trade magazine with Bruce Apar, who had since moved on to edit VIDEO magazine for Reese Publications. So we pitched Bruce on the idea of a videogame review column and he went for it. I actually wrote quite a few pieces for VIDEO, including one on a new cable station that was going to specialize in sports programing. They were called the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, better known today as ESPN. But the plum assignment was "Arcade Alley", the first regular magazine column to review video and computer games. It was that column's success that helped sell Reese on publishing ELECTRONIC GAMES and becoming rich.

Retromags: At what point did you meet Arnie Katz and Joyce Worley?

BILL: Well, we were all New Yorkers, except for Joyce who had moved to Brooklyn Heights from Missouri to live with Arnie. My then-fiance and I started attending parties that Arnie and Joyce gave on Friday nights around 1971 through our mutual interest in publishing science fiction fanzines. Awesome parties. Arnie and Joyce had just married and moved into their own place and the people they knew were just amazing; writers, editors and artists from DC Comics like Denny O'Neil and Steve Skeates, science fiction writers like Terry Carr and a whole generation of budding artists and writers and it was through my meeting Denny at one of those parties that I sold him my first attempt at a comic book script for House of Mystery, which he was just assigned to edit. I wrote comics for DC, Marvel and Harvey in the following years.

Through the 70s, my first wife Charlene and I worked with Arnie and Joyce had one ambition -- to find a way to make money writing about something or things that really interested us. We wrote, edited and published a pro wrestling magazine and did a wrestling radio show, but videogames did the trick.

Retromags: If you could go back and do on thing differently what would it be?

BILL: I would have asked for a piece of the action on the original EG but we wouldn't have gotten it and it might have queered the entire deal anyway. Honestly, I'm not one to rehash history and wish I'd done things differently. There are certainly a few ladies I wish I'd done but professionally, I seriously can not think of anything. Believe me, we had lots of opportunities to invest in things like AOL (back when it was called Quantum Link and only ran on the C64 we knew Steve Case was going to make a fortune with this thing) but you can't do that when you're a journalist and expect to keep any credibility, so you pass and you live with it.

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Unreleased issue of Electronic Games from the 90's (affectionately known as Issue 0)

Retromags: How did you get involved with J2games.com?

BILL: It was right after LFP gave up on its last gasp attempt to save Tips & Tricks by hiring me to be EIC for about a year. I am very proud of what we were able to do in the issues we produced but I don;t really think anybody could have saved it. When Larry found out that EGM was folding, he tapped out. Of course, when they originally brought me in as a consultant I recommended they sell the property but Larry kept reading about all the bread the game business was making and he'd been running this magazine -- which was a direct descendent of VIDEOGAMES & COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT -- for 13 years. So he hired me and flew me out to LA for every third week but we couldn't jumpstart the sales.

Once I signed off on that contract, I went back to my other projects (LFP never hired me as an employee, so I was EIC of T&T as an independent contractor) and Jay contacted me and not only asked me if I'd be willing to write for J2 but he actually offered me a very generous minority partnership percentage. So while I have actually been working on several non-game-related projects, J2 gives me a chance to write about whatever I want and add my two cents on any subject that comes up. It's been great fun and it's helped me remember so much that I'd forgotten.

Retromags: Have you been involved with any writing over the years since most of us last saw you write for VG&CE and Electronic Games from the 90's?

BILL: I wrote for various online sites but around 1996, my partnership with Arnie and Joyce ended (on the best of possible terms -- Arnie, for example, was Best Man at my second wedding several months later). I formed a new company with Ed Dille and our long-time agent Barry Friedman called Fog Studios and we produced dozens of strategy guides and signed a deal to provide extensive content to the popular download site HappyPuppy.com. That led to a three-year lawsuit we eventually won. In the meantime I worked briefly for Metropolis Media, which then owned Diehard GameFan and created GameFan Sports Network magazine with Rustin Lee. It lasted two issues before Metropolis went belly-up. Fog then attempted to launch a magazine called PC ACE, which focused on simulators, strategy games and science fiction. That lasted three issues before the financial backers folded up. After that I wrote exclusively on the Internet. I worked at InsideGames.com, edited numerous categories on a site called CollectingChannel.com and spent a year working with Platinum Studios to help make movie-to-game projects happen.

Around 2004 Chris "Cav" Cavanaugh suggested that the memoir pieces I was writing for the Digital Press site should be expanded and turned into a book. He even suggested RolentaPress.com and Lenny Herman said yes, so I wrote my meoirs, "Confessions of The Game Doctor." This book was a real shot in the arm for my career and led to several gigs, including the T&T deal. And for over a decade now I've been a member of Running With Scissors, Vince Desi's group of creative madmen who brought us the POSTAL franchise.

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Retromags: What is your favorite game of all time?

BILL: You know, my stock answer to that was always Tetris, but since the Wii came out I've had more fun with the Sports package than I have with any game since Air-Sea Battle on the VCS.

Retromags: Not meaning to name drop here, but have you kept in touch with many colleagues over the years?

BILL: Of course, not all of them are still around. But yes, things like Facebook are great for discovering old friends and having them locate you. I've never missed a CGE and I've attended every VGXPO since Ed Fleming started it.

Retromags: What is the most treasured gaming item you have?

BILL: Probably that mounted gold VCS joystick that CGE gave to Arnie, Joyce and I at CGE '99 as our Lifetime Achievement Awards. The following year they gave us much nicer lucite plaques, but that gold joystick means a lot more to me

Retromags: Also, when did the Gamedoctor idea/persona come about?

BILL: We created the Game Doctor for the first issue of EG in '81 because Arnie, Joyce and my names were already on almost everything and we wanted to make it look like a bigger staff. Over the years, the Doc began to take on his own personality, to an extent. When I "came out" as the Doc's secret identity in the final issue of the 90s EG, I was amazed at how many people were surprised. People in the industry soon started calling me "Doc" and "Game Doctor." Then in 2005 I was at the Hollywood Bowl with Vince Desi for Tommy Tallarico's VGL show and I was seated at one of about a dozen long tables filled with gaming notables signing autographs. My placard read "Bill Kunkel, aka The Game Doctor" and I soon realized that while only a few people knew who Bill was, an incredible number of them knew the Game Doctor name. I realized I had inadvertently created a brand. Of course I have protected it vigilantly over the years as other writers have attempted to usurp it, but a quick letter has always been enough to settle the issue of who, exactly, the Game Doctor is.

Retromags: How about some some comments on the pictures you sent me and just some information you would like to share with the members of Retromags, maybe something along the lines of how you first learned about the project and what you think about it.

BILL: I sent you several pictures, from Young Bill to Old Bill, along with some covers of very rare magazines -- including one '90s EG cover that never actually appeared on an issue -- it was used as the Sales Kit to sell ads for the first issue. I first learned about RetroMag from Carl [triverse], but I had passed by it while doing Google searches in the past. Then folks started contacting me about putting up digital versions of the old game magazines, which I think is a fabulous thing. It's not like the companies that published them are still making money off them and the fact that you guys make these magazines attainable is indeed a Wonderful Thing.

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Bill "The Game Doctor" Kunkel

For anyone interested in what the Game Doctor has been up to or is interested in reading more about his life and views on the gaming industry should definitely check out his book "Confessions of the Game Doctor" available now on Rolentapress.com. On Rolentapress.com you can listen to Bill Kunkel give the CGE keynote speech at the Classic Gaming Expo 2005. Audio is courtesy of Earl Green and www.thelogbook.com (credit Rolentapress.com).

I would like to formally thank Mr. Kunkel for his contributions to some of the magazines that we are trying to preserve here on Retromags.com and also for the intangible uncalculable contributions he made to the industry as a whole through his writing of and his working on and in the games industry. Bill has quite a bit of wonderful and amazing history posted on the J2games.com forums, you definitely should take a look at it.

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Reading this interview brought back so many memories.

Bill, you were my inspiration from the very start, and I want to thank you for the countless years of enjoyment.

Edited by STGuy1040

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I am awed and humbled. Triverse, thank you for the interview. You have my undying gratitude and eternal respect. And the same for you, Game Dr.! Without EG, the world would have been a dimmer place in the early 80's!

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Bill has been a wonderful person to work with before, during and after that interview took place. He really is one of the best journalists that our hobby has seen. I know I can trust the Retromags members to show him the respect he deserves. For those that are too young to know who he is and what he has done, you can take a look at the fact that magazines like GamePro and Game Informer and EGM and all others were started because without Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz to start it, gaming magazines would probably be totally different than they are.

For some great reading why not check out Electronic Games #1, Electronic Games #17 and the Video Games and Computer Entertainment section of the downloads for articles that Bill has written.

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Bill has been a wonderful person to work with before, during and after that interview took place. He really is one of the best journalists that our hobby has seen. I know I can trust the Retromags members to show him the respect he deserves. For those that are too young to know who he is and what he has done, you can take a look at the fact that magazines like Gamepro and Game Informer and EGM and all others were started because without Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz to start it, gaming magazines would probably be totally different than they are.

For some great reading why not check out Electronic Games #1, Electronic Games #17 and the Video Games and Computer Entertainment section of the downloads for articles that Bill has written.

I am constantly amazed at the number of folks who actually remember stuff I wrote 30 years ago, much less that they care. This site is a true gift to game lovers everywhere and I hope I'm able to add to the content that has already been transported to this site. I've often commented that stuff I wrote in the 80s and 90s in print is still around and still being read, whereas tons of material that I produced for websites since the 90s have disappeared because the site went down. One of the virtues of hard copy, I guess. But scanning that hard copy to the Web is the best of all possible worlds and I'm proud to be a part of this site and I do indeed plan to stick around.

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