Unless you’ve been living under a digital rock in the video game universe, you know the name Blake Harris, and if you don’t, you certainly know his new hit book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation. Between writing, getting his book out in multiple languages, working with nobodies like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg on two different movies based on his book, and overseeing the New York-based production of a play he wrote, I was stunned he even had the time to accept my offer for a Q & A, much less give the detailed and thoughtful responses you’ll see below. But that’s the thing about Blake: in spite of all of the craziness in his world, deep down he’s still just a regular, nice guy at heart.
Check out our discussion below, and if you have any further questions you would like answered, feel free to put them in the Comments section and I’ll do my best to pass them along and get back! And now with all that out of the way, let’s begin…
Adam: Would you call yourself a gamer?
Blake: Three years ago, I would not have called myself a gamer. It had been many years since videogames were a part of my daily life, and back then I don’t think the label “gamer” applied; I was just and playing videogames is what you did. But through writing and researching this project, I rediscovered my joy for gaming and also became mesmerized and amazed by what was going on in gaming today. There are certainly things to complain about –and no shortage of people doing so, it seems—but the gaming world we live in today is the best-case scenario of what we hoped for so many years ago.
Adam: What is your favorite modern game(s)? Favorite classic game(s)? Favorite console(s)?
Blake: The game that I’m currently obsessed with (still, even after a cople of months) is MarioKart. Maybe it’s just my love for racing as Shy Guy that will never go unquenched. Beyond that, I’ve always loved loved loved sports games. My favorite game all-time is NHL ’94 and, at the moment, I’m really enjoying the new Madden game.
As to my favorite console, that’s just about as tough as questions come because…
Adam: What was your /inspiration for writing Console Wars?
Blake: The console that changed my life and with which I associate many of my greatest childhood memories is the Sega Genesis. Fighting for Team Sega was the first time that I ever felt like I associated with something larger than myself, and there was a beauty to that, as well as the fact that I reluctantly did so with my little brother and it ultimately brought us closer. But, that being said, I only got the Genesis because my parents wouldn’t buy us an SNES. So, in a way, that was always the “one that got away for me.” Well, until I was eighteen and bought a used SNES and had years of fun playing everything I had missed out on.
And that’s actually what initially set me off to write the book. My brother got me a Sega Genesis for my birthday a few years ago and the experience of playing it for the first time in nearly twenty years brought back all sorts of memories. And then, after that, all sorts of questions: Why wouldn’t my parents buy us a Super Nintendo (but they were okay with a Sega Genesis)? Where did Sega come from and where did they go? And mostly: what the hell was going on behind-the-scenes thousands of miles away in boardrooms that ultimately shaped my childhood?
At first, I just wanted to read a book that told the business side of this story. But, when no such book existed, nor anything even remotely similar, I decided to write it myself.
Adam: How did you meet Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and at what point did they express interest in working with you?
Blake: My manager sent Seth and Evan an early draft of my book proposal before it went out to publishers. They were immediately intrigued and I met with them in January 2012 to discuss the project. The meeting went so well that later in the day they called back to say they wanted to produce a documentary and feature film based on the book.
Adam: Can you share any details on the movie (the one with Seth and Evan)? How far along are you, cast, release date, etc.? Will Seth be appearing in it as a cast member? Directing?
Blake: Seth and Evan are involved with both films: the documentary and the feature film at Sony Pictures. They are producers on the documentary (with myself and Jonah Tulis directing) and they are attached to write and direct the feature film at Sony (and will also be producing as well through their company Point Grey Pictures). We are currently in post-production on the documentary.
Adam: What are your thoughts on modern gaming and/or gamers as compared to the era of Console Wars? Similarities? Differences?
Blake: The industry has changed a great deal—mostly an evolution from the “wild west” into a gigantic and occasionally glamorous realm of big business—but for us, the players, the gamers and the consumers, I don’t think much has changed. I mean, a million things have changed, of course, but the essence has not: we still want fun, we still crave innovative hardware and software and we still demand better, better and better (as we should), which leads to countless hours of magic.
Adam: What are your thoughts on the trending idea that consoles are unnecessary and should be abandoned for more efficient and effective PCs?
Blake: I think the trend makes sense at this moment in time with the “next gen” console battle still in the early stages and such fun efficiency being offered on PCs but…but…but…I think that’s all going to change when virtual reality rocks the world as we know.
Adam: My wife is a PC gamer and constantly looks up cheat codes for the various Sim and MMO games she plays. Are you ok with this?
Blake: As long as she’s not cheating on you, I’m okay with all forms of cheating.
Adam: As a first time author, how well do you think you’ve handled the various reviews that you see for Console Wars? Obviously the majority of the reviews are very positive, but is it hard for you to see the negative ones, or have you grown a thicker skin to it? Or do you just ignore them and avoid reading them? Any advice for novice writers on this topic?
Blake: This is a great question and one that I’ve thought about a good deal lately. Not always in those exact terms, but relating to the issue of reader feedback (both good or bad). As you point out, this is my first book and with that came, for the first time, the occasional joy of being told by strangers that I suck.
Does that hurt? Sure, at first, and one might still occasionally ping if I’m having a bad day, but as feedback piled up from strangers around the world I came to a realization:
Strangers from around the world are reading CONSOLE WARS! I chose to write this book because I believed it was a great story about incredible people doing extraordinary things, and I wanted to share that with strangers. Well…mission accomplished.
Although some people have said that my narrative style sucks, or my dialogue sucks, or the scope of my book sucks beyond suck, here’s one thing NOBODY has said: the story sucks. And, as a someone trying to do right by the likes of legends like Tom Kalinske, Al Nilsen, Howard Lincoln and many more, this is what matters most to me as an author. At the end of the day, that’s really what makes me most proud of CONSOLE WARS; that the best feedback I’ve received on the book is from those who lived the story.
I have no advice for others on whether or not they should read reviews of their work, but from my own experience I will say this: it’s been great. So good, bad or ugly, please keep them coming!
Adam: Do you foresee another up and comer like Sega (or Tom Kalinske, former CEO of Sega America) shocking the gaming world again in the future, or is the modern industry past that point now?
Blake: Absolutely, but it will have to be in a much different way. The hardware industry is just too expensive to enter as a true “underdog” these days, at least when it comes to consoles, but if you look elsewhere on the gaming landscape you see rags-to-riches stories cropping up all the time, particularly in casual gaming (i.e. King, Rovio, etc.). But even if the barrier to entry has turned this wild west of an industry into a seemingly exclusive Camelot (Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo), those companies –as all industry leaders—will be challenged, humbled and occasionally defeated by better ideas and bigger chances done right.
Interestingly enough, as you and I discussed privately, Nintendo could now be perceived as an underdog in this present-day drama and I think this perception serves them. Not only because the heart warms for those who have not, but because what Nintendo offers is really something very different than Sony and Microsoft and it seems people are finally beginning to notice. And, with that, embrace what makes Nintendo special. There is no company in the world like Nintendo—no company that can replicate that feeling you get upon hearing its name—and as long as they continue to produce quality products filled with that je ne sais quoi, they’ll be the best at what they are trying to accomplish for many years to come.
Adam: What is the best perk you have gotten due to Console Wars, and why?
Blake: Advice and friendship from some of the heroes at Sega and Nintendo who I’ve gotten to know personally by working on this topic for nearly four years now. Oh, and a panel at Comic-Con. That was pretty awesome too.
Adam: Any new book projects on the horizon? If not, do you think you will get back to it eventually, and if so, what subject matter do you predict you would visit?
Blake: Yes, I’m getting very excited to start writing a new book and am currently narrowing down the list of topics. I’d very much like to write about Teddy Bears or Tahiti. In the meantime, I’ll be writing some videogame-related pieces for a few of my favorite websites.
Adam: What is the best gaming-related advice you’ve ever received?
Blake: “Thank You Mario! But our Princess is in another Castle.” -Toad
What you want is never where it’s supposed to be; but that would be a very foolish reason to stop looking. I think that’s what the Toad-man was trying to get at. At least that’s how I always interpreted his sage words.
Adam: Can I get some tickets and red carpet love for the premiere?
Blake: Ha! I’m just hoping that Seth and Evan save a pair for me and my lady…