THE ROAD TO VIDEOGAME HISTORY – Part 4

Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Home Videogames was a minor hit. It was mentioned in major magazines such as Next Generation and I began receiving letters from people thanking me for writing it. Many of them asked me when I was going to write an updated version of the book since it only went up to 1993 and by the time the book came out it was nearly 1995. I had begun writing a 1994 chapter in February, 1995 but I wasn’t going to publish an updated version when I still had plenty of copies of the original in inventory. However, by around November, 1995 I came up with the idea to do a yearly supplement. I decided to publish the 1994 chapter as a booklet, which I had experience doing. I assigned “21” to the chapter number to indicate that it was an addendum to the original. I then updated the list of magazines and fanzines and added an Internet section that listed known videogame websites and newsgroups. The booklet totaled fifty pages. The pink cover was in the same professional style as the original book.

Since Phoenix had only been available by mail from me, I had a list of everyone who had purchased it. I was able to offer Phoenix: 1994 to all of my customers for only $3.50, which included postage. I printed out post cards advertising the booklet and sent one to everyone on my customer list.

Also mentioned on the post card under “COMING SOON” was my first book ABC to the VCS for only $8.00. I had decided to publish it in booklet form also and eventually released it in 1996. The post card also promised Phoenix: 1995 as I planned to make these addendums an annual event. And Videotopia was also mentioned on the card.

Videotopia was the brainstorm of an Atlanta-based chiropractic student in Atlanta named Keith Feinstein. Keith wanted to start a museum of videogame history that traveled from one science center to another. He contacted me shortly after Phoenix became available and asked me if I wanted to be an advisor, which of course I did. As we talked, it turned out that Keith was originally from New Jersey and that we grew up in the same development on the same street, although we didn’t know each other. However I did know two of his cousins. Keith promised that the museum bookstores would carry Phoenix.

One of the earliest “fan” letters that I received came from an Atari collector from Long Island named John Hardie. John and I became friends and exchanged email addresses. Sometime in early September, 1995, John informed me that he and his friend Keita Iida were planning a meeting of videogame game collectors that would be held at a store called Videogame Connections in Howell, New Jersey, which was owned by Mike Etler. As luck would have it I moved on September 25 and we couldn’t get the Internet installed for two weeks (remember, technology was very primitive back then) so I didn’t receive an email from John until after the event had taken place. However they scheduled this to be a quarterly event and I made sure I attended the second one in January, 1996.

Entering Mike’s store was like entering a dream. New games for the PlayStation and N64 were sold in one spot of the store while older titles for the Atari 2600 and Intellivision were sold elsewhere. And the place was packed with videogame collectors and so for the first time I was able to mingle with people who I had this odd hobby in common. I became a regular to these quarterly meetings and looked forward to them. People actually came from all over the East coast to attend these meetings that sometimes lasted all night. One night Keith Feinstein, who had returned to New Jersey to work on Videotopia, was supposed to accompany me to one. I drove to his warehouse to pick him up but he had forgotten all about it and couldn’t go. He had an assistant working with him in the warehouse who asked me if I was into the videogames. I responded with a wink and said “I wrote the book on videogames.”

One unexpected benefit of these quarterly meetings was that Mike began carrying Phoenix in his store. This gave the book more exposure and word-of-mouth for it continued to increase as more and more people learned about it. The clowning glory of this word-of-mouth was when I received a letter from Ralph Baer, the inventor of the videogame console. Ralph inquired where he could obtain a copy of Phoenix. I immediately sent him one.

Keita gave the meetings a name: NAVA (North Atlantic Videogame Aficionados). NAVA would eventually morph into Classic Gaming Expo and then the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas.

PHOENIX 2

For some reason that I can’t recall, I never published Phoenix: 1995, even though I had written the chapter. Then sometime in 1997, I began writing a chapter about 1996. I don’t know when I decided to publish a second edition of Phoenix to include the three new chapters, but Keith Feinstein wrote a Foreword dated May 1, 1997 so it had to be before that.

In addition to the three chapters, I updated the older chapters with more information about arcade games. This led to a change in the subtitle with the removal of the word “home”. I also decided to change the two Appendix chapters. I replaced Multimedia and Virtual Reality with a chapter about gaming computers and one about the Internet. I also decided to improve Phoenix in a major way. The first edition did not contain any photos. And even if I had the means of taking pictures, I had no way of getting them into my computer. Scanners were still expensive in 1997 and digital cameras cost even more with low-end ones retailing for around $1,000. But a company called AIMS Labs came out with a device that did almost the same thing and was much more affordable. The GrabIT was a video frame grabber that plugged into the computer’s parallel-port interface on one end and into a camcorder on the other. I could then videotape my collection and the GrabIt would transfer my videotaped images to my computer as a series of JPG images.

By this time I now had a computer with Windows and Word. While the first edition came out appearing amateurish with double-spaced text and uneven margins, the second one actually looked professional – at least on the inside. The same could not be said about the outside.

Keith Feinstein designed a cover for the book, which he placed on his Videotopia website. Unfortunately, the art was never expanded so I could use it as an actual cover. However, my talent for drawing finally came to fruition and I was able to use MS Word to create a picture of a television with Pong playing on it.

Keith’s Cover
My Cover

I next used Corel Draw to create the title logo. I actually didn’t know what I was doing but I liked the result. To me it looked like a bird. The top of the “E” pointing upwards was the bird’s beak as it looked upwards. And the entire word “Phoenix” resembled the bird’s wingspan.

I ordered one thousand books from Morris Press and began taking preorders in early July. By the time the books arrived and shipping began on September 8, 1997, I had 107 preorders.

The book was once again reviewed favorably by the magazine. Next Generation’s review ended with the line: “If you’re reading this magazine, you should own this book.” Next Generation, in fact, liked the book so much that its publisher, Jonathan Simpson-Bint, contacted me with the prospect of buying the rights so he couldo publish it as a yearly event. The two of us went back and forth about this for a few weeks but nothing ever came out of it. However, the book continued to sell by word-of-mouth and I sold out of the initial printing within a year. I then placed an order for a second printing with one change. Fans had written to me with errors they encountered, whether they be typos or factual mistakes. If their tip proved to be legitimate, I made note of it. Like the original book, I had included order forms in the back of the book as per Dan Poynter’s suggestion. Since I couldn’t recall receiving any order that used one of these forms, I removed them from the second printing and replaced that page with an Errata that listed all of the errors that had been found in the first printing. Those books arrived in September, 1998. A third printing arrived in May, 1999.

Like its predecessor, the second issue of Phoenix was sold in Mike Etler’s Video Connections store. But apparently the books were also sold through Amazon, most likely through the Amazon Marketplace. At the time I was a technical writer for Automatic Data Processing (ADP), and the Vice-President in charge of my department, Mario Rutigliano, mentioned in the Summer 1999 issue of Inside IT, the company’s internal newsletter, how well my book was selling on Amazon. Apparently it was #4 in the U.S. computer and videogame category, and it did even better in Great Britain where it topped the British list!

That was exciting news for me. But by then I was already planning a new edition of Phoenix in a big way.

Promotional booklets for Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Home Videogames. The one on the left only contained Chapter 3 (1974-1976). The one on the right contained the three new chapters 21-23 (1994-1996). I don’t think these were ever distributed.

Pamphlet advertising Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames

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