Interview with Bill Kunkel
This interview conducted and copyright in April 2001.
Bill Kunkel is the co-founder of video game journalism and the executive editor for Electronic Games Magazine during the early 80's.
The August 1983 issue of that magazine ran a main feature on Miner 2049er consisting of interviews with the designer, game play-throughs and advertisments from the various licensees. The coverage was unique even by todays standards and indicates the large enthusiasm and marketing force behind Miner 2049er.
Bill Kunkel is now currently director of interactive development for Platinum Studios, an amazing media content provider.
Firstly, Kudos on such a fine magazine...even if it was over 15 years ago. It is now a collectors item.
Thank you! It's more like 20 years now. I was at the Classic Gamer Expo a couple of years ago and a dealer had a copy of the first issue of the original 1981 EG. I figured I'd buy it since my copy is a little dog-eared and I figured I'd grab it for maybe $10. The guy wanted $350 -- and it was hardly mint!
Why did the August 1983 issue of Electronic Games feature Miner 2049er so prominanantly?
I met Barry Friedman, who had co-founded International Computer Group with Brodie and Tracy, at a coin-op show in Chicago in March (probably the AMOA show). He was a real wildman, hair down his back (even longer than mine), big beard, dressed like a total street hippie, and when he found out who I was, he insisted on showing me the game. He had an early prototype of the Atari 400/800 cart, and we wandered into the convention hotel mall until he found a computer store, where he comandeered an Atari computer and started playing this game. Pretty soon, I was playing it. I was a huge Lode Runner fan (and Space Panic and the Apple ripoff, Apple Panic) and loved games like Jumpman, so I was an obvious sucker for this game. I went back to New York and told Arnie about it and we decided this would be the first game to "get the cover" of an issue of EG (other games had appeared on our covers, but only as part of a theme, we had never "featured" a game in this manner). As you see, our coverage was pretty complete; Arnie did a great job of organizing it into sidebars and features.
Was there any other issues that featured a computer game to the same level as the Miner 2049er coverage?
I know we gave The Full Treatment to the coin-op Tron game -- in fact, Tron was on more covers of EG than anything I can think of, except maybe Pac-Man (the Pac-Man gets married cover is my all-time favorite. Bob Aise drew that and he was just brilliant. He also drew a pornographic honeymoon sketch for me which I have to this day.)
What was the market reaction to your August 1983 Miner 2049er issue?
According to my memory, we probably sold about 225,000 copies of that issue. Not the most successful ever, but a definite breakthrough issue.
Soon after Electronic Games, other video game magazines such as ELECTRONIC FUN began to appear. What were your feelings on these?
Electronic Fun was a crude rip-off of EG from the same company that had ripped off Reese's previous publication, VIDEO, to produce VIDEO REVIEW. Now we do ELECTRONIC GAMES and they did ELECTRONIC FUN. Great imaginations, eh?
To what do you attribute Miner 2049er's huge success?
That type of proto-platform game was becoming very popular and Miner offered a lot of levels, giving the game great endurance and playability. Also, it worked well on a huge diversity of systems -- that was really the key. Suddenly, a by-God Hot Game was available on the Trash-80 -- every game player who owned one of those cursed units had to think it was Christmas! Getting it out on all those platforms was the single key ingredient in the game's success. I think it's an excellent game, but I liked Jumpman better. Miner was important because it represented a marketing breakthrough for the industry as well as a cool game.
What do you know about the unreleased Miner 2049er sequel, SCRAPER CAPER?
Think I saw it at CES, but it was NOT completed at that time and I believe we only saw a level or two. Or course, this all happened 20 years ago, so I wouldn't go under oath on this.
Why did Bill Hogue "dissappear" from the industry. Someone of his talents could have gone a long way.
I don't think Bill was that big a fan of the games. He made a ton of money with one franchise then moved into another field. That happened with lots of the early programmers. Remember Larry Kaplan from Activision? He took a flop Atari coin-op called Avalanche, recreated the graphic elements and had a huge hit with Kaboom! But he was no game designer and his inclinations led him to the more technical side of the industry for many years.
With so many classic arcade games getting the modern "3D makeover" recently, what do you think Miners chances are of the same?
Funny, Barry Friedman and I were just talking about the fact that it was time for a revival of interest in Miner!