My Perfect Console with Simon Parkin
Henk Rogers, the man who bought Tetris.
My guest today is a Dutch video game designer and entrepreneur. While a student at the University of Hawaii, he’d while away the hours playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. After he moved to Japan, he bought a computer and used it to develop a role-playing game of his own, called Black Onyx, tailored to the Japanese market. When the game’s backer pulled out of the deal, he decided to self-publish the game, and borrowed $50,000 from a friend to set up Bullet-Proof Software.
Black Onyx sold 150,000 copies and influenced the creation of the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series. But it was a Russian game that made my guest truly famous when he helped broker the deal between the Soviet Union and Nintendo that brought Tetris to the world. That story has now been made into a film, set to debut on Apple TV this month. Please welcome, Henk Rogers.
24. Tom Bissell, scriptwriter, Gears of War, Star Wars: Andor.01:19:06My guest today is an award-winning author, journalist and writer for film, television, and video games. After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in English literature, he travelled to Uzbekistan as a volunteer for the Peace Corps. He then returned to New York where he worked as author and editor, reporting on the Iraq war for Harper's Magazine and contributing literary criticism to The New York Times Book Review. A keen thinker on video games, in 2010 he published Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, a book that included a dissection of his experiences playing Grand Theft Auto IV while abusing cocaine. His 2013 book, The Disaster Artist, was turned into an Oscar-nominated feature film directed by James Franco, and his short story Aral inspired Werner Herzog's 2016 film Salt and Fire. My guest has also written for video games such as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Uncharted 4, and Gears of War 5, and in 2021 he co-developed the Apple TV series The Mosquito Coast, based on the Paul Theroux novel of the same title. Recently he wrote three episodes for the second season of Star Wars: Andor, due to air in 2024. Welcome, Tom Bissell.
23. Sooz Kempner, Comedian.01:02:01My guest today is an English actress, pianist, singer and award-winning stand-up comedian. Born into a showbiz dynasty – the family dog appeared in an advertisment for Nissan, and their cat, Boris, played Jonesy in Aliens – she moved to Ayia Napa to work as a Christina Aguilera tribute act. After she returned to England she began a post-graduate course at Royal College of Music, performing stand-up in her spare time. In 2010 she graduated from the RCM and promptly won Best Newcomer at the Musical Comedy Awards. Since then, she has toured extensively, performed eight solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and launched two hit podcasts, Mystery on the Rocks, a true crime and cocktails comedy show and the UK's official podcast for the rock group Queen. A born performer and talented mimic, her impressions of Liza Minnelli, Nadine Dorries and Liz Truss routinely go viral online. She is currently touring the UK with her latest show, titled PlayStation – a nostalgic look back at growing up through the nineties. Welcome Sooz Kempner.
22. Kelsey Lewin, co-director Video Game History Foundation.01:14:56My guest today is co-director of the Video Game History Foundation, the non-profit dedicated to preserving, celebrating, and teaching the history of video games. In 2017, after graduating college, my guest helped curate an Atari-themed pop-up exhibition at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. Two years later Game Informer enlisted her as a volunteer to digitize the magazine’s entire archive at its Minnesota headquarters. After five weeks of intense work, she became the Video Game History Foundation’s co-director. Described by the New Yorker magazine as “compact and laser focussed”, since then she has sifted through thousands of old documents, discs, magazines, and prototypes in an effort to rescue the video game medium’s history from oblivion. “Once institutions can see that putting effort and funding behind video game preservation in a useful, sustainable way is possible — I think they’ll do it,” she recently wrote. “We’re working on it, but the work is just beginning.” Welcome, Kelsey Lewin.
21. Danny Pudi, actor, Community.01:00:42My guest today is an American comedian and actor, who played the role of Abed Nadir in the long-running American sitcom Community. Born in Chicago, Illinois to a Polish mother and an Indian father, he studied communication and theatre at Marquette University in Milwaukee having won the inaugural Chris Farley Scholarship – an award that led him to perform improv comedy alongside Dave Chappelle. In 2005 he moved to Los Angeles, and starred in several sitcom pilots before joining the cast of Community, in which he starred for six seasons. In 2017 my guest voiced Huey in the reboot of DuckTales. He has also provided cameo appearances in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Star Trek Beyond, as well as appearing in TV advertisements for the Far Cry series. He currently plays Brad Bakshi, the head of monetization department at a video game studio in the TV series Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet. Welcome, Danny Pudi.
20. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of Rez.58:49My guest today is the Japanese designer of some of the most transcendent music-themed video games yet made. He graduated with a degree in media aesthetics from Nihon University, then, inspired by a photograph of a virtual reality headset made by NASA, joined Sega hoping to work on a similar project. A keen sports car enthusiast, he developed the arcade racing game Sega Rally Championship then, during a research trip in Switzerland, attended a dance music concert and found himself in a crowd of tens of thousands. Seeing how the music, lights and bodies moved together, set him on a new path toward making full-sensory digital experiences. In 2001 he released Rez, a trance-themed game in which players shoot down computer viruses in time to the beat; it is today widely regarded as one of the high points of digital expression. “I still feel like I am in the middle of my career,” he once told me. “I’ve only achieved half of what I want to. And I have not lost my excitement about games.” Welcome, Tetsuya Mizuguchi.
19. Iain Cook, Chvrches.01:11:51My guest today is a Scottish musician, producer, and pop star. In 2003, while studying at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, he met Martin Doherty, who asked my guest to produce a record for his band. The two remained friends, and later played together in the post rock group Aereogramme. In 2007, after Aereogramme disbanded, my guest bought himself an analogue synthaser. Four years later he and Doherty joined up with the music journalist and singer Lauren Mayberry to form the synth pop group Chvrches. After gaining word of mouth attention online, Chvrches released their debut single, The Mother We Share, which broke into the UK singles chart. Since then, the band have toured the world, played to millions, released four studio albums and, in 2019, provided a song to Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima’s game about a post-apocalyptic delivery man. Welcome, Iain Cook.Clips under discussion:East Asia by Manabu Namiki.Ryu's Theme by Yoko Shimomura and Hideyuki Fukasawa.Mario Kart 8 Theme by Atsuko Asahi and Soyo Oka.Prelude by Nobuo Uematsu.New Beginnings by Noboru Mutoh.
18. Ellie Gibson, comedian, Scummy Mummy.01:11:10My guest today is an award--winning journalist, presenter, and one half of the comedy double act Scummy Mummies. Born in South London, my guest joined Sony in 2001 and there wrote the manuals for first-party PlayStation games. She moved into journalism, covering games for a variety of publications, including Eurogamer, The Guardian, Metro, and Vice. In 2013 she met aspiring comic Helen Thorn and together the pair decided to form a double-act to celebrate the scummier side of parenting. Since then, they have toured the UK to packed-out venues and launched of the world’s most popular parenting podcasts examining everything from mental health, to politics, wine to sex. My guest has continued to play games, however, appeared as a co-presenter on Dara O’ Briain’s Go 8-bit TV series and via streaming marathons on Twitch. Welcome, Ellie Gibson.
17. Ronan Farrow, investigative journalist, New Yorker.01:10:01My guest today is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American investigative journalist. Born in New York City he earned his degree in philosophy at just fifteen. While a teenager he served as a UNICEF Spokesperson for Youth, advocating for children and women caught up in the Darfur crisis in Sudan. In 2009, at 22 years old, he became a special advisor to the Obama administration, then a Rhodes Scholar, earning his PhD in political science at Magdalen College, Oxford. It was his work detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, published in the New Yorker, that situated my guest in the centre of the global spotlight, however. His reporting has had profound effects, both within the film industry, and further afield. Through all of this, video games have been a constant. “I love video games,” he told the New York Times in 2021. “Big nerd here." Welcome, Ronan Farrow.
16. Dan Vecchitto, creator of Trombone Champ.01:05:34My guest today is the American creator of one of 2022’s funniest games. In Trombone Champ, you play as a trombonist and must blast your way through a setlist of classical pieces, national anthems, and traditional songs in a brilliant and riotously silly reinterpretation of Guitar Hero. After a journalist for PC Gamer posted a video of himself ruining Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in the game last year, Trombone Champ became a viral sensation, propelling my guest and his wife collaborator into the spotlight. Colleen Wheeler of the International Trombone Association told the Guardian: “It is abundantly clear that this is the finest video game ever created.” Riding high on that success, my guest and his wife recently made a webgame to promote Gabrielle Zevin's smash hit novel ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’. “I don’t know why there’s not more comedy in games,” he once said. “Because games can be so funny.” Welcome Dan Vecchitto.Clips under discussion:At Doom's Gate (Robert Prince).Damn Puzzle (Nathan Wang).Intro (Glenn Stafford).Results (Bjørn Lynne).All other music by Simon Parkin