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INTERVIEW
Michael Thomasson

Interviewed by Matt Helgeson
of Game Informer Magazine

GI> Tell us about yourself, your company, games you've put out in the past, and what you're doing for the future?
MT> I am a 3D animator by trade. Before re-entering into professional graphics, I used to operate a chain of classic gaming stores called "Let's Play' and 'L.A. Video & Games.' I had met many other hobbyists over the years managing the stores. When I went back into animation, I was constantly receiving inquiries and requests for games, since so many individuals knew that I had a large and extensive classic gaming collection. It was actually quite exhausting, so I learned html and placed my trade list on the internet to try and keep my phone from ringing around the clock. Well, it really took off, and over the years Good Deal Games evolved into the monster that it is. Everyone involved in Good Deal Games works on a volunteer basis and no one here has ever taken a single penny from the organization. We do what we do for the love of our hobby. It is very evident from the extensive amount of material on the GDG website that this is the case. In fact, all income from sales goes directly to operate the website and more importantly to license/design/program/manufacture/publish new games for classic gaming consoles.

I am very active in the classic gaming community. Not only do I operate Good Deal Games, but I also voluntarily create artwork for Carl Forhan's Atari Lynx and Jaguar games from box covers to in-game sprites, design all the issue covers for Classic Gamer Magazine, contribute to Syzygy Coin-Op Magazine. I am also designing the book cover for Ralph Baer's upcoming autobiography, the cover for Leonard Herman's next edition of Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames, contributed writing for the recently published Videogame Bible, CinciClassic organizer, and more...

To date Good Deal Games has released:

Sega CD Star Strike
Sega CD Bug Blasters: The Exterminators
Philips CD-i Go (co-published with Older Games)
Philips CD-i Space Ranger Alpha (co-published with Older Games)
Philips CD-i Plunderball (co-published with Older Games)
Philips CD-i Jack Sprite & the Crimson Ghost (co-published with Older Games)
Vectrex Vec Sports Boxing
Sega CD Citizen X

We have two Colecovision games completed (Cosmo Fighter 2 & Cosmo Fighter 3) as well as I.C.E.: Igloo Construction Emergency in the early development phase. The current process to release a new Colecovision game is to locate and destroy existing Colecovision carts by recycling them to make the new cartridges. Not only is this destructive to other games and our hobby, but it is also very time consuming since labels have to removed, new interiors have to be assembled and soldered, et cetera. Well, no longer! GDG is manufacturing new cartridge casings for the Colecovision. So, once our releases are available, we will also be making the casings available to any hobbyist programmer that would like to use them. A programmer releasing a new Colecovision game will no longer have to invest thousands of dollars which they probably wouldn't have to manufacture new carts. Our hope is that this will spark new interest and promote more classic game development for the Colecovision!

We have many other projects at the moment, but we are not quite ready to share all our secrets. Do know that we plan on supporting other platforms as well as those that we have previously supported. We will continue to release newly programmed games and unreleased licensed titles.

GI> Tell us about your personal past w/computers, games; How did you first get involved with retrogaming (is that the term?); and what inspired you about it; and what do you love about it?
MT> I started programming on a Commodore PET and then moved on to the TRS-80, TI-99/4a, Vic-20, Atari 400/800, and the IBM PC. I was an active gamer during the Atari 2600 / Odyssey2 period, but was not fortunate to own my own system until the Colecovision. I really burned that console up and had almost the full library. During the game crash of the early/mid eighties, I drifted away like most others since there was nothing new to play and spent most of my High School years discovering the fairer members of the opposite sex.

While cleaning out my cousins basement, I uncovered his Sega Master System and fired it up. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and decided to go back and purchase another Colecovision second-hand. I started to realize that games could now be purchased for only a few dollars - a fraction of the original price! With this new found knowledge, the collecting bug really hit as I rapidly grabbed every game that I could get my eager hand on. I was playing games that I never owned before, so even though they were old, they were new to me! I quickly built up an impressive collection visiting yard sales and flea markets. I eventually met a few other hobbyists and was surprised to find out that there were others playing the same old games. Remember, this was long before the internet caught on. It was much more difficult to locate such individuals.

I eventually discovered a small publication manufactured on a photocopier entitled Video Magic by a gentleman named Frank Poloski. It was through this hobbyist 'zine that I met many others with same interests. I even placed the following advertisement in it in 1992:


Any programmers or individuals with knowledge of
development systems or hardware, interested in
creating new software for Colecovision, Vectrex,
Atari 2600, 5200, 7800 or the Sega Master System

P L E A S E     C O N T A C T     M E

This is a non-profit project for the betterment and
support of 8-bit systems and to sustain our hobby.

Michael Thomasson
333 Jesselin Drive
Lexington, Kentucky 40503


I received very few responses, and those which did respond were from individuals that were interested in doing it, but like me, didn't really know where to start. Of course this was long before the popularity of the internet, and the homebrew community that has evolved over the last few years. I like to think that I was ahead of my time, but perhaps I was actually late since the Colecovision had been long surpassed by the NES when I tried to resurrect it.


GI> Who are some of the game creators (old, new, retro, current) that inspire you?
MT> Well, I'm more inspired by a particular game than by the game creator, but there are a few like Eugene Jarvis that make just great 'twitchy' games that I cannot get enough of. I've been playing the duel joystick Robotron: 2084 for 20 years and I never tire of the action. I have become friends with Ralph Baer (the creator of the videogame itself, the Odyssey console, Simon, and others) over the years and his analytical thinking has really inspired me. As a matter of fact, I just applied for a position as a toy designer at Fisher-Price and Mattel which was directly influenced by my talks with Ralph.

GI> It seems like there is a growing interest in this phenomenon. What do you attribute that to? What is the appeal? Talk about the community, your thoughts, etc.
MT> I really do not think that this is the case. I keep hearing it, but I don't believe it. I think that the interest has always been there, it is just that the communication lines were not so good. For years I thought that I was the only one still playing the Colecovision after the great game crash and later when the Nintendo NES was hot. Now we know that this just isn't the case. Thanks to the internet, and finally the press such as yourselves, we are finally able to really connect. Just walk around with an Atari shirt on for a single day, and you'll be surprised how many individuals approach you and tell you of their fond times with their VCS just like it was yesterday.

The classic gaming community seems to be a real genuine group of individuals. We are a fairly close group and our love of the hobby makes us pretty aware of what is happening in the retro scene. We meet for conventions like the Classic Gaming Expo and CinciClassic. However, there are what I term as predators entering into our territory. Years ago, one could go to a flea market and score hundreds of games without effort for very little money. Now I'm lucky to find a single game in a month. Like baseball cards and comics, the collectors have entered into the fray for personal profit as opposed to the (excuse the pun) love of the game. That is why I always stress that when someone supports Good Deal Games, that they are supporting their hobby, not harming it. They are not lining someones pockets, but promoting a future for their favorite past-time! Over the years I have met some absolutely fantastic individuals, all with unique stories to tell...

GI> What are some of the biggest challenges you face in dealing with old/outdated techology?
MT> While I used to be a programmer, all three languages that I was trained on are now long dead. I personally do all the hmtl programming for the site, but that is no great feat. Tony Cord of GDG programs all of our Online Arcade games that are playable on the Good Deal Games website, and Marcel DeKogel programs our original Colecovision titles. Manu Pärssinen of GDG programs our Vectrex titles. While I can't speak for these individuals, my understanding from dealing with them and others is that due to new tools, advances in technology, and better documentation, that is it actually easier to program a game for a classic console today then it was years ago during the active development window for a system.

Many of our games are titles that were being developed years ago when the system was active, but didn't see release for one reason or another. It is a relatively unknown fact that we uncovered copies of Star Strike and Bug Blasters: The Exterminators from a source other than the original developer. As a matter of fact, they did not even have copies of their own games. With the project never getting published, changes in staff, and everchanging market conditions and focus, the game source code was never backed up by the developer. Fortunately, copies do get around in small numbers to testing groups, magazine reviewers, et cetera. Good Deal Games actually supplied Stargate Films copies of their own games after we negotiated a license. At the time, we negotiated for three titles, including Wing Nuts. While we didn't have a copy, they did... or so we thought. We probably made the announcement a bit premature, because when their copy of Wing Nuts arrived, it turned out to be a version for the PC computer. So, if anyone out there has a copy of Wing Nuts in any form (complete or incomplete) for the 3DO or Sega CD, please contact us! As a matter of fact, if you have an unreleased game please contact us, as aquisition of a game is often the first step to getting a new title released.

Not so much on a technical side, but a great deal of effort goes into releasing new titles. All of our licensed releases never went past the programming stages, so only the game program existed. Good Deal Games had to create the manual and packaging, including all of the artwork. Since I'm a professional artist, I was able to create the logotypes, illustrations, 3D models, et cetera. Plus, countless hours of testing to ensure program stability was involved.

GI>Do you play current games?
MT>Of course. I may be getting older, but I can easily keep up with the rest of the crowd. I have what is called experience! I have just about every console ever made in my personal collection, including all the new machines. I have a PS2, X-Box, and more, but the modern machine that I play the most is the Sega Dreamcast. I still burn that machine up, while my PS2 sits and collects dust. I believe that the Dreamcast has the most diverse and quality game library since the Colecovision!

GI> What are some of the things that you think that old games have that are missing from modern day games?
MT> I get asked this question a lot. When a programmer only had 2K of memory to write a program, they had to really concentrate on game design. Without flashy graphics, sounds and special effects, a game was really measured by its gameplay. However, what I REALLY think is missing from todays games that made older games so magical is the lack of imagination. Do not misunderstand. While many games today are very well thought out and designed, the hi-resolution graphics paint a very clear picture of what the viewer experiences. The old games were more like reading a book. The player amplified the game in his/her mind! Sure, Warren Robinett's Dragon in Adventure looked like a duck. However, we were not seeing a duck, we were visualizing a huge massive green and red dragon with steely claws, smoking nostrils, thick scales, pointed quirky bent tails, and more! Today when I play the newer versions of Midway's Guantlet, well, I see exactly what they want me to see. Sure, its pretty, but it isn't necessarily what I want to see.

GI> What's next for you? New systems to tackle? NES? DC? PS-X?
MT> Actually, I have been pondering that myself. Since I have almost every cartridge release for most systems, there really isn't much game hunting to be done. So, over the past few years, I have been collecting more unusual gaming bits of history. Things like videogame bubblegum cards, animation cels of game related cartoons, prototypes of unreleased systems like the Atari Cosmos, Consumer Electronic Show (CES) handouts from trade meetings years ago, books, periodicals, action figures, et cetera. While I play games regularly, my interests seem to becoming more involved with the history and lore of classic gamings past. I truly believe that electronic entertainment can be an artform, and there are very few forms of art that the original creators are still around. Greek Sculptors - gone. Renaissance Painters - gone! Founders of Photography - gone! I want to preserve what can be saved while the individuals that founded the field can still be asked and actively participate!

GI> What would you say is the best retro new title ever created?
MT> I am very fond of Minter's Tempest 2000 & 3000 series, and many others. However, the gem that I find myself playing most is Konami's GameBoy Advance Arcade Advance. They do not advertise the best feature of this title. One can enter the classic Konami code at the title screen and it will convert the classic games into new renditions. The programming is the same, the games play the same, but the visual game sprites get a major overhaul. This is what classic gamers REALLY want. While new versions similar in gameplay can be fun, what I really crave is the same great playing game that I have been playing for years!

(Whew)
Okay, I'm off to play more games!

Part of this article and more classic gaming information
appears in this months issue of Game Informer (issue #116 December 2002)

 

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