Marshall Garvey: Hello everyone, and welcome to another installment of Last Token Gaming’s interview series! Today we are joined by a very, very special guest, Patrick Hickey Jr. He’s a Brooklyn-based gaming journalist, yet “gaming journalist” is but one way he can be referred to. A renaissance man if ever there was one, Patrick is a full-time English lecturer and Assistant Director of the Journalism program at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn. As a writer, he’s been published by dozens of esteemed platforms, among them The New York Daily News, The New York Times, Complex, Examiner, and the New York Islanders official site.
His work for those and many other publications has earned him copious praise, and even led him to be featured in ad campaigns by Disney, Nintendo and EA Sports. For personal projects, he runs his own site, ReviewFix.com, and is the author of the acclaimed The Minds Behind the Games book series. As if that weren’t impressive enough, he’s also a video game voice actor, lending his pipes to indie titles like Relentless Rex and The Padre. We are thrilled to discuss all of this and more with him today! Patrick, thanks for being here.
Patrick Hickey Jr.: I don’t even think I have to be on the show now! I think you did such a good job of introducing me…wow, thank you! If Robert De Niro was here, he’d be like: (imitating) “You, you’re good, you! You’re good!”
MG: (Laughing) Thank you!
PH: Thank you, thank you for having me on! Pleasure to be on.
MG: So, let’s start right from the beginning: Where did your love affair with video games begin? What age, game (or multiple games), system, etc.?
PH: I would probably say around 3 or 4, the Nintendo Entertainment System, RBI Baseball, Ice Hockey, Blades of Steel, Dragon Warrior, Contra, Mario Brothers, you know…the good stuff. And then as I got older, I kind of got into the Genesis and the Super Nintendo.
But I would say the console that really changed my life forever was the original Sony PlayStation, because I was old enough at that point to buy my own games and to kind of pick what I wanted. Before it was like, everyone was playing Sonic, so my parents got me Sonic.
There was a couple of moments during the Super NES life cycle where I played EarthBound and Mario RPG, and Chrono Trigger, and I was kind of like, “This stuff is really sexy. This is so different from the stuff my parents want me to play.” And then in the PlayStation era it just continued with Final Fantasy VII, Wild Arms, and the enhancements in sports games.
I mean, I remember playing NHL FaceOff 98 for the first time and seeing polygonal characters in the animations, and seeing the actual names of the players and the numbers on the backs of the jerseys. And it was just like, “Wow! Now it’s starting to happen!”
So the original PlayStation was kind of like that “lightbulb moment,” and from thereon it just continued. And once I started really writing when I was in college, it was just natural for me. I love sports, so I covered a lot of sports, but I also covered a lot of entertainment. And that’s kind of how it all began!
MG: Excellent! So you obviously name dropped quite a few games there, but still, the basic question, but it’s fun to ask: What are your favorite games? List as many as you want!
PH: Uh, it’s funny, because I’m surrounded by 3,000 games on like 300 consoles, and stuff like that. Not 300 consoles, like 30 consoles. Wow, so…RBI Baseball, the original RBI Baseball is definitely up there. Ice Hockey is definitely up there, NFL FaceOff 2001, NHL 94, Pokemon Red, Fallout 3, NBA Jam, Final Fantasy VII.
Let’s see…what else, what else? I’m just looking around…Devil May Cry, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Halo 3. I’m not a huge fan of first person shooters, I’ve gotten into them tremendously after I just finished the Minds Behind [book] about the shooter games, but Halo 3 still stands up beautifully. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire…
PH: That’s more than a first person shooter though, that’s like a racing game, it’s a third person shooter, so…yeah. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the original, Dead Rising…
MG: Dead Rising!!! Oh, yes.
PH: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, that franchise…Champions of Norrath, those games that play like that. The original Diablo, oh…memories right there, you know? I literally will play anything, and I hate attaching labels onto games. I love to find out the stories behind the game. It’s funny, because after I started the book series, I really stopped reviewing games. However, in this article you can find the best ways to get gold on RuneScape and other PC games.
Because I dont feel like just slapping a label onto a game and saying, “Oh, it’s good, it’s bad”…it just robs you of an experience that you could have. I love talking to game journalists or gamers, and I’ll post a picture of the game that I’m playing right now and they’ll be like, “Oh, I’m getting ready to review it!” I feel like you can get so much more out of the game if you try and find out who developed it, why they developed it, the games that influenced them.
That’s kind of what I’m all about, so I gave you a whole wide variety of games because I don’t feel like I’m defined by any one game. I look at all of these games that I’m surrounded by now, and I think they all represent certain moments in my life and certain place that I was at the time.
Like I’m looking at Spider-Man 2 right now on the PlayStation 2, and I was like 20. I was a dumbass with long hair and a tongue ring and a band and stuff like that, but that was the game I would come home to at 2 o’clock in the morning and just web sling around. And that mechanic, that web slinging mechanic where the webs actually start to stick to real things, and you aren’t just floating in the air anymore…that’s kind of what I wanted to share in all of my books, the experiences behind the games. But not for me, because who am I, but the experiences behind the developers who actually made these games. All the things that they had to go through to deliver the experiences we enjoyed.
MG: That is so beautifully said! As a critic myself, obviously I do reviews at Last Token Gaming, I do lots of reviews in general…
PH: Sure! I’ve done thousands of reviews.
MG: But I appreciate that thought, because…there’s enough critique, but it’s also…I’ve been thinking for a long time, we don’t get to the stories behind video games enough. We’re at a point where we’ve got tons of documentaries that come out about “behind the music,” “behind the movies,” like here’s how these movies were made. But the process of video games, it’s like unspoken for a lot! So I love that you’re doing that.
PH: It’s crazy, I was in a Facebook chat like three weeks ago, and I was talking to one of my good buddies. He was telling me he was in a Starbucks, and he heard people talking about a game he had developed, and he just jumped in. “Well, you know, if you do this”…and they were just like, “Who are you?” They didn’t even care, and it just sucks to me.
As a college professor, I can go to my students and go, “Who wrote Romeo and Juliet?” And they go, “Oh, Shakespeare!” If I ask, “Who sings ‘Thriller’?”, they can either say Michael Jackson or, if they’re really cool, they’ll say Fall Out Boy. But if I say, “Who created Grand Theft Auto?”, they say Rockstar. And I say, “No, Rockstar *published* it!”
PH: Who is the guy that came up with the idea, you know? Like, what’s the story behind it? The fact that I know the story behind it, that it’s featured in my last book, The Minds Behind Adventure Games…and all the things that team went through, the fact that the original Grand Theft Auto almost didn’t come out, that’s a story that more people need to know.
MG: Totally! You know what it kind of reminds me of? That anecdote right there where they think of the studio. That reminds me of the Old Hollywood studio system, where you knew Casablanca, you knew Gone With the Wind, but you didn’t know who directed it. It was a studio product!
MG: So there’s a similar dynamic in games. Like, you know your Kojima, you know your Miyamoto, but like yeah…most of the great games you play you don’t know who came up with it. I couldn’t name who came up with Street Fighter or Contra or Halo.
PH: And there’re so many people too who go, “Oh, it’s just some Japanese guy, right?” And it’s just like, there are so many amazing American, Canadian, and European developers out there who get absolutely no credit. Because when you think of video games, you think of Japan, and listen: I’ve developed plenty of amazing Japanese developers, I love them.
But there are so many amazing American, Canadian, and U.K. developers out there who get absolutely no credit for their work. And that’s been one of my big goals, to kind of show people all of the different types of game developers…there are some AMAZING female video game developers out there right now and in the past, late seventies/early eighties, who were like the only people working in their offices, you know?
MG: Yep! Like Dona Bailey, who made Centipede.
PH: Dona Bailey, Barbara Michalec…there are so many amazing people out there that get absolutely no credit. Dona Bailey is the one a lot of people know, but like I said, Barbara Michalec, we are talking Ren and Stimpy, The Little Mermaid, she was at BlueSky during the whole Vectorman era. She did Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on the Amiga, she did Astro Blaster in the arcade, she’s a freaking pro! And we don’t know who she is. Why? Why don’t we know these things?
MG: I totally agree. Great name drops there by the way!
So, you have an extensive background in writing as we’ve previously mentioned, often as a sportswriter and editor. When did you start writing, and what inspired you to pursue that as your career?
PH: So what happened was I was 18, and I wanted to be a professional hockey player. I’m six-foot-four, 250 pounds now, I was like 225 at that time. And what I was going to do was take a year off from high school, and continue to try to get in the best possible shape that I could. And at 19, I was gonna apply to CUNY, state university of New York, college hockey programs like Division II, Division III, and try to walk on and become a pro hockey player.
And what ended up happening was I was on my way, I was working out every day. I was working at a pharmacy as a delivery boy, so I was on the bike 6-7 hours a day, I had legs like tree trunks. And I got hit by a car, separated my shoulder, busted some ribs, compressed some vertebrae in my neck, and herniated some discs in my lower back. So I go from that to this 18-year-old with a cane, and it sucked!
I had to reinvent myself. So I remember, this was like a year after the accident, I was still going to therapy 3-4 times a week, I was on unemployment, and it was just kind of like a, I wouldn’t say a dark time. But I would just sit home and read comic books and play video games and shit. I was just like, “Whatever.”
I had no aim or purpose, and it was like 3 o’clock in the morning. I was watching Batman: The Animated Series on DVD. And my dad had come into my bedroom, and he was like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m watching TV.” He was like, “No, with your life.” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” And he goes, “Well you had better fucking figure it out, because you’re not going to stay in my house not knowing what you’re going to do.”
So I went to bed, and the next morning I woke up, went online, and applied to Kingsborough Community College. A month later, I was in school. Fast forward 16 years from there, I’m the assistant director of the journalism program there…so yeah, I had to adapt. We’re kind of in a time now where, if you have something you want to do, you have to do it.
Because we don’t know how much time any of us have, you know? There are people passing away, people don’t get how bad New York City is. I live in Brooklyn, I live in the epicenter of this. People are getting sick and passing away, and if you have a vision and you have something you want to create, you just have to go and do it.
So I would say after that moment with my dad, I was just kind of like, “I’m gonna jump into this writing thing, and I’m gonna do this.” I was always a good writer, but like I said, I’m six-foot-four, I’m a big guy. So I played baseball in high school, I was like a jock, I had the lead in the school play, I was Danny Zuko in Grease and stuff like that. I was in bands.
So I had this whole nerdy, geeky side to me I didn’t show anybody, and after the accident I went full geek, and I love it. People ask me all the time, “Would you ever go back to before the accident?” And I tell them, “Absolutely not.” I love the life that I have now, and I love the person that I am. So that was 18 years ago, so since I was 19, I’ve been doing this.
MG: Awesome! And that’s a great story, and I connect with that because I do some of my own sports as a hobby. I do boxing, I jog for exercise, but that thing like, “Could you be an athlete/sports star, or be a writer?” I’d rather be a writer too, because as an athlete, you have a certain shelf life, it doesn’t last.
PH: Oh yeah! And then you’re gonna have to reinvent yourself anyway!
MG: Exactly! And that’s a difficult thing for athletes when they retire, to make that clean transition. Whereas with writing, it’s a lifetime endeavor, you know?
PH: I tell my journalism students all the time, “The best part of this, is that as long as this works (points to head), and as long as these work (waves fingers), you can work for the rest of your life.” You know? Being an athlete, I feel like that helped me, because I covered professional hockey for about six years, and I covered minor league baseball and professional baseball for like five or six years.
And I used to laugh at some of the other writers because they would ask the players, “How did you feel at this moment?” And I would go to them like, “What are you, stupid? This is a trained athlete. When he’s up in the batter’s box, bottom of the 9th, full count, he’s not thinking about what he’s having for dinner. He’s not thinking about anything except for putting the bat on the ball. He’s a machine, locked in.” And the player would be like, “Yeah man! Holy shit, what was I feeling? What are you, stupid?”
They never thought like the players, they’d just give them some stupid cliche. “I was just hoping to help the team, and you know, give one for the Gipper, and with the help of our lord almighty.” And it’s like, no, no! So the thing is, writing this book, I’ve done tons of interviews with video game developers for NBC, Examiner, and my site, and I know that a lot of developers give cliched answers. “Oh, we’re just trying to deliver the best product, something that our fans will like,” etc.
But I know that there’s more than that, so that’s kind of what I go through…and I’ve been told by many developers that I’m extremely annoying, that I ask a ton of questions. But then when they see the final product, they’re always like, “You know Pat, I’m sorry.” And I’m like, “That’s OK!” Like they get it at the end, you know? So to answer your question, I love all the adaptations I’ve had to make in my life. I feel like they’ve made me the person that I am.
MG: Oh, excellent! And perfect lead into…you’ve given some details already, but let’s talk about your Minds Behind the Games series. How many do you have so far? I know you got signed to a multi-book deal by McFarland, so yeah, just tell us about that journey!
PH: So what happened was, my wife was five months pregnant, and I really didn’t want to be one of those people that looked at their kid and was like, “I could have done amazing things if I didn’t have you.” And my whole thing was I had done awesome things before my wife had gotten pregnant, like the times at NBC. I had a fantasy football column, I covered two-and-a-half seasons of Saturday Night Live, I covered two Olympics, I covered a presidential election. I did tons of cool stuff at NBC, I amassed this huge video game collection that I’m super proud of…tons of fun, cool stuff.
But I’m like, “I need to write a book. I need to do something really cool.” Because I know things are gonna slow down once I have the kid, because when you have a kid, the kid becomes the most important thing. My daughter is the best investment in my life, I try and make her number one over everything else. So I wanted to try and take something out of the bucket list, take a feather off the cap, something that I could say that I’ve done so my daughter can be like, “My dad’s cooler than your dad because he did this.” Something like that, you know?
I remember talking to the director of the journalism program at my school, [saying] “We need to create a multimedia journalism course. We need to take this program into the next century. We need to update, we need tons of new things.” And he was just like, “No, don’t wanna do it.” And I’m like, “Why?” He said, “There’s no need to do it.”
And I just looked at him, and this is someone I shared an office with for like a decade…this is somebody who just wants to ride the status quo. He just kind of wants to slide through, he’s gotten his tenure…and I’d been full time for a couple of years, I was working on my tenure, and I was just like, “I’m not done yet. I’m not dead, I’m 33, I need to step up and do something.”
So once he said that, I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna write a book.” And he was like, “Yeah, go write a book,” he just kind dismissed it. So this was Halloween of 2016, I remember going home into this room now, sitting in the same exact place, and I’m just like, “I need to fucking do something!” And I started looking around, and I saw Toejam and Earl, and I saw Yar’s Revenge, and I saw King’s Bounty, and I saw Wonder Boy in Monster Land, and I saw Mutant League Football.
And I just pulled them out and I was like, “I don’t know anything about these games other than the fact that they’re fun.” That sucks, you know? And I love interviews, interviews are my favorite thing to do as a journalist. Like I told you, I run a site called ReviewFix so I obviously loved to do reviews at one point, not so much now…but reviews are awesome, they have their audience and people love them. I have plenty of people on my site who have picked up the slack for me….
So I was like, this is what I’m going to do: I’m gonna find out who developed these games, these six people, and I’m going to email them. And I’m gonna tell them I want to tell their story. And if three out of the six get back to me, I have enough to start a book.
Within a week, all six got back to me, and all six said yes. So I was like, “Oh my god! Holy crap.” So now, I have all six chapters written by Thanksgiving, so within a month I had written the six chapters. Because I was just in love, this was great, I was so proud of what I was writing for the first time in a really long time. So now it’s Thanksgiving, I had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, my wife is now even more pregnant than she was before…she’s just sleeping, relaxing.
And I’m sitting on the couch with the cat and the dog, and I’m just like, “Alright, I’ve got these six chapters .What am I gonna do?…You know, I’m gonna just start shopping for a publisher.” So I sent three emails to three different publishers, and McFarland was one of them. Three days later, McFarland said yes, and I got my book deal.
And I’ll never forget going to that same person, showing him the letter, and saying, “Look!” And he’s just like, “You know this doesn’t mean they’re going to publish your book?” And I’m just like, “Yeah, you’re right.” Because now in my head I’m saying, “Now I’ve got to finish a book!” They said that they’re gonna publish this, but listen: he didn’t mean the same thing that I meant, but that just fueled me in my head like, “Alright, now I have to finish this book!” So then I started getting more developers and stuff like that, and I ended up with 36 games, probably spoke to about 50 developers on the record and then another 20 off the record for background and color and stuff like that.
So that book came out in April of 2018. It’s in its third printing now, which is great. It sold a lot of digital copies too, which is awesome. But what happened was, right after the first book came out, after I submitted the manuscript for the first book in April of 2017, developers that I had pitched before started getting back to me. And they’re like, “Oh, we’d love to talk to you!” And I’m like, “I finished the book.”
And it’s just like another one, and another one, and another one…and now it’s like eight or nine. I started the first book with six, I’ve already got like nine…fuck it, I’m gonna do a sequel! So then I ended up getting like 25 games, and I got my publisher and I’m like, “I’m gonna do a sequel!” And they’re like, “Uh, yeah, no you’re not.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” They said, “You have some sports games in here, you have some shooter games in here, and you have some adventure games in here.”
Instead of doing another massive sequel, because I wanted like 40 games, bigger, better…they’re like, “No, why don’t you do Minds Behind the Adventure Games, why don’t you do Minds Behind the Sports Games, [and] why don’t you do Minds Behind the Shooter Games? We’ll sign you to a three-book deal right now for those three.” I have 25 games now, so that means I need like at least 90! So now I have to go out and get like 65 more games, and they’re like, “Yeah…which one can you have first and when can you have it?”
So I’m just looking at the list, I had like 12 or 13 adventure games, 9 sports games, and 4 shooters. I’ll have adventure first, then sports, then shooters. And they’re like, “OK!”…they gave me dates, I had nine months for one, then nine months after that, and nine months after that. So I had basically 27 months to write three books, 120,000 words each…holy shit!
But I just submitted the manuscript for The Minds Behind the Shooter Games, and that’s my biggest book that I’ve done so far, it’s like 135,000 words, it’s got 39 games in it. I’m super proud of that. So the first three books, the first big contract I signed, that’s finished. But then what happened was, in December, I knew that I was almost done with The Minds Behind the Shooter Games, and I’m just like, “I don’t want this journey to end.”
And The Minds Behind the Adventure Games had just come out and was doing great, and the book’s already in its second printing. So I’m like, “You know what, I’m gonna do something different, something unique.” And this guy right here (grabs console), this is one of my favorite consoles of all-time…the Sega Genesis. This is the Master System Converter so you can play Master System games and those old card games, which there’s not a lot of.
But I love the Sega Genesis…I remember when Sonic the Hedgehog came out, it was like, “Holy shit! Game’s move that fast?” Like Sonic doing the loopty loop, oh my god…and Sonic 2 when you could charge up, oh my god…and everyone talks about how important Nintendo was, and they are. But Sega left such a beautiful blueprint on the industry that I feel hasn’t been celebrated, so I started reaching out to Sega Genesis developers and I pitched that book to my publisher. They said yes, and I’ve already got 29 chapters of that written since January, so I’m working on chapter 30 as we speak. So that’s gonna be book 5, The Minds Behind the Sega Genesis Games.
MG: Oh, fantastic!
PH: So yeah…it’s a long answer, I apologize…
MG: No! I appreciate the long answers and all these great stories and details. That was a good move by the publisher to split it up into genres, then you can reach wider audiences.
PH: Absolutely! When it first happened, I was so pissed. I was like, “What the? No, no! This isn’t what I want to do!” And my wife was just kind of like, “Sh, sh…think about it.” And I’m like, “I don’t wanna think! I don’t think, I write!” And she goes, “Sh, sh, sh…Adventure, you’re gonna get some people, Sports you’re gonna get a lot of people, Shooters you’re definitely gonna get a lot of people…they’re all gonna build off of each other.”
She was absolutely right. The first book I’m still super proud of because it was my first baby, but I think the adventure book is written a lot better, the stories are a lot better. Sports is freaking insane, some of the stuff I got from some of these EA guys from the early nineties will blow your mind! Then the shooter book, there’s some stories in there, like on Red Dead Revolver, and Soldier of Fortune and Medal of Honor that I’m just like…I can’t believe these guys actually told me this, like they trusted me enough to tell me this stuff!
And it’s not on Wikipedia, it’s not on Reddit, I cannot wait for the first four books to all be out. Because to me, I don’t feel like there’s a book series out that’s like this…again, I think there’s, what’s his name, John [Szczepaniak], he does something similar but it’s more Japanese developers. And he does great books, he’s based in the U.K., he’s a very nice guy, once this whole [pandemic] thing calms down we’re gonna send each other autographed copies of our books and stuff like that, because he doesn’t want to ship anything right now.
But like I said, I’m doing that more for the games that influenced North Americans. I don’t feel like there’s anyone doing what I’m doing. I feel like once book #4 comes out, then that’s my first big body of work. I mean the Genesis book is going to be super cool, because these developers just talk about how difficult it was to bring something like Mortal Kombat 3 to life on the Genesis. It’s not supposed to work on the Genesis, these guys were like mad scientists on how they got things to work and the ways they got them to work, and there are so many surprises in that book.
So I’m super proud of the direction that that’s going in. Hopefully if the Genesis book does well, then maybe I’ll pick another console, or maybe I’ll pick a decade, you know? Minds Behind the ‘80s Games, Minds Behind the ‘90s Games…there’s no end to how much fun I can have, and how many different people I can speak to to bring another part of video game history to life.
MG: There really isn’t, and it’s the right time to do it because the video game industry is growing so much. Like it’s eclipsed movies and music, and it’s just the right time to really get this down on the printed page. Right now I’m working on a review for Brett Weiss’s SNES Omnibus…I think that’s how we connected!
PH: I’m in both of his SNES books, and his NES book. He actually wrote the foreword to my first book!
MG: Oh, nice!
PH: Yeah, because what happened was I read some of his stuff from McFarland, and I interviewed him for his KISS encyclopedia. Brett’s just such an amazing guy…he didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, and I was just like, “Brett, I’d be honored if you wrote the foreword and if I sent you a couple of chapters and you told me what you thought.” And he was super honest. I love his stuff!
He’s great at what he does, and he ended up coming to New York for a little while. His wife was teaching here, and I just took him for a day out on the town. We went to a couple retro game stores that I knew, we had pizza, we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, and we just bullshitted the whole day. And to have him play a part in the first book…he’s a great source too, because he knows his shit!
There’s a couple of chapters in the adventure book and sports book where I get a quote from him, where he kind of puts a couple of things into perspective. I never want to bogart anyone’s style, so I love what Brett does, the Leonard Maltin short review, and then he bounces in other people’s voices and stuff. I would never want to bogart that, my books read a lot different from his. But at the same time too, he’s got a couple of instances in a couple of books where he kind of pops in and says a thing to kind of add another voice.
MG: Yep! Well said. So, you don’t just play games, and you don’t just write about them: you voice them, too! Tell us about your voice acting roles in games so far, and how you got into that!
PH: Since you like stories (laughs)…it was the summer of 2017, and I had just finished the first book. And I was bored. I was just starting to get sources from the first book that I couldn’t fit in the first book, like they had answered me late, so the sequel wasn’t even thought of yet. I was like, “Oh, maybe I’ll have some long features on ReviewFix, or maybe I’ll try and sell these somewhere.” But the idea of the sequel hadn’t quite come to fruition yet, because I was still waiting for the first book to come out.
So I was on Twitter…sitting around, figuring out what I was going to do next, and I was writing for my site. One of the things I like to do on ReviewFix is feature independent game developers. I love to interview people that have games that no one knows about yet, and kind of do the same thing with The Minds Behind the Games, but in a Q&A format that’s kind of quick and easy for me to do as a journalist, but it gets their game out to as many people as possible.
And so I saw an animated GIF of a game…it was like a Catholic priest walking through a forest, and one of the trees in the forest comes out and slaps him across the face. It looked very Minecraft-ey, kind of voxel, but the lighting was really nice. So I was like, “This is a developer I could talk to, this looks really cool.” So I messaged the developer, and I asked to interview him, and I published the interview. And then he goes to me, “Would you like to play a beta of the game?” And I’m like, “Sure” So we started talking more, and he tells me I was the first person to interview him. I was like, “Wow, that’s cool!” He really appreciated the interviews, the questions and stuff.
So I’m playing the game, and it totally looks like an homage to Alone in the Dark, which is great. But what happens is, when you start the game, you’re in your bedroom and a letter comes under the door. So the first sentence in the game is, “It’s been a week since the disappearance of Cardinal Benedictus.” So, week, W-E-E-K, right? It was spelled W-E-A-K, and speaking to these guys I knew they were from Bulgaria and English wasn’t their first language.
So I reached out and I was like, “Listen, your game looks good, it plays fun, but there’s a lot of text, and if there’s a lot of typographical issues that’s gonna be a problem.” And they’re like, “Well, do you know anybody that could fix it?” And I said, “Well, I’ve been an english and journalism professor for over a decade…if you want me to take a look at it.” And they’re like, “It’s a lot of work…we wouldn’t be comfortable with you doing it for free.” So we discussed a price, and they sent me the whole story, and within four or five hours, I did it!
So like a week later, I got my money, and they message me again, and they’re like, “Oh, we have a whole bunch of other stuff for you.” And I’m just like, “Oh, OK!” They’re like, “We’re not done with you yet.”…so then I would continue to play the game, I’m doing some QA and some dialogue editing, story editing and stuff. And I was happy with that, this was my first job in the video game industry with an indie company, this game is a love letter to old school survival horror games and point-and-click games, I’m totally down with this.
Then what happened was we were getting ready to go to Kickstarter, and oh man, they worked me mega hard. Like I edited the entire Kickstarter page! All of the text on there, everything. I had to edit all of it. And what happened was a week before we were supposed to go to Kickstarter, a voice actor left, of the main character! They’re like, “We’re fucked.” He just said he was going through some personal stuff, and he can’t help out with the project anymore.
So I said, “You know what? I can do it.” They’re like, “Really?” And I’m like, “Listen, it’s supposed to be a scary survival horror game, but he sounds like Russell Brand. It’s like, ‘I’m a whacky Englishman walking through the shadow of the valley of death!’ This doesn’t match the text.” They’re like, “Do you think you could do better?”
So I go into my man cave in the exact spot that I’m in right now, and I’m just like, “OK. You edited all of the text. You know the way that this character is supposed to sound. You just have to find it.” I grew up during the Jerky Boys era, like the early nineties prank phone calls – there was no caller ID – and I used to make a ton of prank phone calls. Oh my god, I was great at keeping people on the phone because part of it was they just wanted to hear what I said next. It was great!
So, my wife hates this voice because I used to do it all the time. We would go to the movies, and I would be like (deepens voice): “The following movie is rated PG-13.” People would look around and go, “Where the fuck did that come from?” And my wife would be like, “Oh my god.” So I knew I couldn’t do that voice for this game, that would be just too out there, that’s too Don LaFontaine, that’s like a ripoff of his voice.
(British accent) And I bloody didn’t want to do that wacky English man, Russell Brand, you know. Couldn’t do that either. So what if I kind of combine the two? (Lowers voice) So I came up with this dark English accent. My name is Alexander Padre, and I am a bringer of death upon evil, and I walk through the shadow of the valley of death. And I just recorded all of the lines in that voice, and I sent it to them. I remember my throat was so crispy, I was spitting up blood after I did it, because I had never gotten that low.
Because I’m like, (lowers voice and points to throat) “In a world, one man…when I talk like this, down here”…it’s so farther down the diaphragm and the register, and it hurt! I sent it to them, and their response was, “Holy shit! Can you do this for the entire game right now so we can plug it into the game?” I’m like, “Sure!” So I did it. We didn’t get the money in Kickstarter, but what happened was so many people were like, “That voice is really cool for that character.”
And we got picked up by a bunch of indie sites, and we ended up getting a publisher, Feardemic, and they released the game in April of 2019 on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, it was released on Steam the year before. So that’s a dream come true for me, I can go on the Nintendo eShop and buy a game that I was the story editor on and the main character. And the PlayStation 4 store and all that stuff, it was great!
But what ended up happening was, I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder, so then I started going on Twitter and Discord and finding games that I thought looked cool that had no voice. And I would message the developer and give them my pitch, tell them who I am and what I’ve done and stuff. And then that’s how I got to work on Relentless Rex. And the guy that does Relentless Rex is amazing!
We had a nice conversation back and forth, and he was looking for something kind of Master Shredder-esque for this dinosaur, T-Rex…so I didn’t want to do a straight ripoff of Master Shredder, so I gave him kind of an Austrian Accent. So…oh my god, I haven’t done that voice since in such a long time. Because I did the trailer for their Kickstarter, and I’m gonna have a role in the game, but the main character is the little dinosaur, and I play the big T-Rex.
(Lowers voice) “Relentless Rex, I’m a big dinosaur, and I run around and roar and chew stuff, and I eat stuff so I sound like Shredder. But I don’t, ra ra ra!” And he ate that up, so we used that. I found The Caillou Offensive, which looks like the original Grand Theft Auto, but it’s like Rampage. It’s like a top-down, king of the monsters Rampage kind of game. (Announcer voice) “And I play the narrator! This is the Caillou Offensive, and you just died! Loser!” And I helped them kind of edit the dialogue for that.
So those were the first three games I came in contact with. But then the best thing that’s happened to me so far…so not only do I edit dialogue, not only do I voice act, but I’m also writing the story for a game! So what happened was, I’ll never forget this, I’m on Facebook, and I get a message from Pete Paquette. He’s like, “Is this Patrick Hickey Jr., the author of The Minds Behind the Games?” I’m like, “Is this Pete Paquette, the leader on BioShock Infinite?”
And he’s like, “Yeah, how do you know who I am?” And I’m like, “How do you know I am?” So he asks, “I have a podcast, I want to know if you wanted to come on, I preordered your book!” So now my first book still isn’t out yet, we’re waiting, but now I’m getting all of these opportunities to do other things. So I end up going on his show and had a great time, and at the end of the podcast he’s like, “Well, listen: If you ever want to do more in the video game industry, let me know.”
And I’m just like, “I’m letting you know.” So we get off the show, and he says, “I’m gonna call you back in two weeks, and we’re gonna have a conversation about what it is that I want from you.” My wife is awesome, and she says, “Listen, if nothing happens, you had a great time on his podcast,” this and that…two weeks later, he calls me, and he’s like, “I have an idea for a game,” and he tells me the idea for the game, and I’m like, “Alright, that sounds cool.”
And he goes, “No no no, this is just the idea! What I want you to do is create the world around this idea. I want you to write the lore, I want you to create the characters that inhabit this world.” I’m just like, “Wait…what?” “I want you to write the story for this idea!” And I’m like, “WOW! OK!” So the game’s changed form a little bit over the past two years. Where we are now, we’ve been in development for about nine months, and the name of the game is Kroom. And it’s basically The Legend of Zelda, but if Link had Strider’s sword and a gun from Contra. So it’s Legend of Zelda with a better sword and a gun.
It’s kind of like [if] Cave Story, Ikari Warriors, Contra, and Zelda all had a baby. And Pete’s brother Jeff does the music, and he’s the programmer. Pete is the animator and the co-developer, and I wrote the story and do a lot of QA and bug testing. I’m trying to learn Unity as we speak, so it’s like a two-and-a-half man dev team. So I went from three years ago wanting to do something different with my life to now. By next year at this time I’ll have five books out and have written a story for a game, and have voice acted and edited a bunch of games. So that’s kind of how all of that happened.
MG: That’s amazing! Gosh, what a trajectory! That’s a perfect lead into my final question: So, you’re a great story right there. You start out writing, you get big with that, and it opens up all these doors for you. I’ve also had similar experiences too, where it’s like…I do my writing for Last Token Gaming, and that got me a TV production gig with Access Sacramento, so it’s great how that happens.
So with all these great things happening for you: What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there who seek to make a living doing what they love? Especially if it is about video games.
PH: So I love when people say, “Oh, do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s bullshit. If you do what you love, it means so much more to you than the average person, and what’ll happen is they’ll never understand. You know. I remember when I started working at NBC and my dad joking around, like [he] asked me how much I made at NBC. And I told him, and he was shocked.
He was like, “Why do you make that much money?” And I’m like, “Because I went to college for six years, I have a master’s degree in journalism. Like, this is serious shit, this isn’t just me writing about sports and video games and stuff…this is super serious! Millions of people read this stuff! People care about this.” Just because you have a love for something doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the person to write about it.
And I’ve gotten super lucky, because I’ve paid my dues and I wrote for local newspapers, I was editor-in-chief at two college newspapers, I wrote for small websites, I wrote for big websites. I mean my first year at NBC, I wrote everything BUT sports and entertainment, and I remember going to my boss. I was like, “Listen, I’m really bored here.” And he’s like, “Well, what do you want to do?” I said, “I want to write about video games, I want to write about comic books, I want to write about movies. I want to do fun stuff!” And if it wasn’t for the fact that I did everything that they asked me to do, and I worked overtime and I did all the things that they could possibly ask from me, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities that I got at NBC.
So my advice is, if you love something, you have to SHOW how much you love it. You can’t just say, “Oh, I love this.” Like, you have to show, and the thing is you have to admit to yourself, as much as you love something, you know absolutely nothing about it. When I first started writing these books, I thought I knew a lot about video games, and I found out how little I knew. And I’m more than halfway done with my fifth book, and I still learn things every single day.
Like I found out today, I was talking to one of my buddies Tony Barnes, he’s an amazing developer who’s done Mutant League Football, Desert Strike, Jungle Strike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars Episode III, Strider, he’s amazing! And he told me a story today that I didn’t know. So when he told it to me, I was kind of like, “Wow!” So the thing is, if you open up your mind, and you kind of slap away and throw away cliche and urban legend and all the stupid nonsense and all the fat, and you just try and add sustenance and substance to your experience, and you try and make things deeper and ask more questions and think more and feel more, then you’re gonna produce content that people care about a lot more.
That’s why one of the first things in my journalism classes that I teach, I tell them [the students] all the time, the words “good,” “bad,” “very,” “really,” “kinda,” “almost,” “maybe”…none of them exist. They’re all bullshit filler words. So my biggest advice is if you’re a writer, you need to write every single day. The best thing that the coronavirus did was – and I’m sorry, Starbucks! – it closed down Starbucks, so now all those wannabe writers that sit in Starbucks all day at their computers that think that they’re writers, now they actually have to write.
So that’s the thing: people love to say that they are writers, and they love to put a scarf on and sit at their laptop, and they want people to SEE them write. And that’s the thing: I write on the bus, on the train, at home when everyone’s sleeping. When I’m in the bathroom sometimes an idea will come up, and I’ll be on my phone like, “Oh my god, that’s the beginning of the next chapter, right there”…you’re constantly creating content.
And one of the biggest things I can say is sometimes what you want to write about isn’t what people need you to write about. So again, I got super lucky that people actually care about what I have to say in terms of video games. But I mean, if people cared more about my thoughts about religion in the South and that would give me an audience, that’s what I would write about. The whole thing is, you don’t write for yourself. Great writers are selfless, they write for the masses, they write to be read.
So the only reason I continue doing these books is because people care about them. If no one cared about the first book, then maybe I would have been like, “You know what, OK. Let’s move into another direction.” So the biggest thing is: find an audience, take care of your audience and give them what they want. One of the best things about these books is I started a Facebook page, and starting with the second book I would tell people, “I’m looking to add four or five more games to the adventure book. Do you guys have any suggestions?”
And somebody was like, “Oh, Zill!” And another person was like, “Oh, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos on PS1!” So I went out and found the developers and added them to the adventure book. For the Genesis book, somebody was like, “Oh, Primal Rage! Oh, General Chaos!” And I got those, and they’re in the Genesis book. So that’s the thing: great writers care just as much about their audience as they do their stories.
MG: Excellent! And I second everything you said there. Yeah, you’ve gotta do it every day, and your mind is a nonstop creation machine.
PH: Nonstop, nonstop!
MG: Like you talk about…I like to go out in public to write sometimes, just to…except right now, I’ll go to Starbucks or I’ll even go to Buffalo Wild Wings. Just kind of do something a little different, but yeah…you can’t just situate it to that. You’ve gotta be willing to get up at 1 A.M. and be like, “There’s an idea!”
PH: Yeah, absolutely. You know like, just from you friending me on Facebook last week or two weeks ago, and I spied your page and stuff like that…you love music, you love boxing, and it’s like, you can write about those things! And you love video games. So it’s just like, you may go into a year phase where you’re just doing boxing, and then you go into another phase where you’re just doing sports, or you’re just doing video games…you obviously seem to be doing a good job with Last Token Gaming and stuff, so that’s your main thing.
So that’s the way you have to be. As a writer, you have to be able to adapt, grow, and change. That’s one of the reasons why we’re talking right now, because you asked me to be on the show, I checked you out, and I’m like, “This is a good guy! He’s doing good work!” And that’s the thing too, your sources invest in you as much as you invest in them…if you show them that you trust them, and you give them the time and the space that they need to share their story with you, they’re gonna allow you to tell great stories about them.
MG: 100% agreed. Well Patrick, thank you so much! This has been an incredible interview. All your stories, and all your insights, these are just very eye-opening, very entertaining to listen to, and I’m really excited to share this with our audience!
PH: Awesome, man!
MG: This has been a real pleasure. Thank you so much!
PH: Is it OK if I give a cheap little plug?
MG: Oh, I insist! I’m gonna include links to your stuff in the transcript, so plug away!
PH: Awesome! The first plug will be for the Kroom game, so it’s kroomgame.com. You can watch us on Twitch, Jeff goes on Twitch and Discord all the time, you can watch him actually develop the game, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Also, with my book, one of the big things that I do is I…you can buy the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Wal-Mart, Books-A-Million…wherever fine books are sold online, you can pick up the book, it’s also available digitally.
But if you want a real personal touch, you can order it directly through me at patrickhickeyjr.com/books, and what I do is every book that gets ordered through me I ship personally, I autograph. But I put cool stuff in there. Like you’re a Dodgers fan, so what I would do is if you ordered the book through me, I would go through all of my old baseball cards, I would find four or five 1985/1986 Dodgers cards, and I would put like five or six of them. It makes for a cool story to connect!
I don’t want to be one of those people, I’ve gone to book signings where the person is just like, “Hm. Next. Hm. Next. Hm. Next.” I want to have a relationship with you, I want you to be like, “Not only do I like those books, I like what he’s selling”…like Jeff Gabor, he’s an amazing animator, he’s worked on Horton Hears a Who, Spies in Disguise, Rio, Ice Age, he’s amazing…and he’s bought my first two books off of me, and I know he’s a big Denver Broncos fan.
So the last book that he ordered, I put a bunch of Broncos cards in there, and then he ends up messaging me and sending a picture of one of the cards and he was like, “How did you know? Karl Mecklenburg was one of my favorite football players when I was a kid.” I’m like, “Dude, I had no idea! I just grabbed as many Broncos cards as I thought and the best players that I could, I gave him an Elway and stuff like that…I didn’t wanna put any scrubs in there! He goes, “Dude, Mecklenburg retired in ‘94, and I used to make him for Madden 2001 because he was so good and I wanted him in the game.”
So not only will Jeff read the book and appreciate it, but he’ll connect with me because I put that card in there, and that’s what I want. So if you guys are interested in a super different experience, order the book personally from me. And I make more of a royalty too, so i you really want to support a young, up-and-coming author that’s probably the best way to do it. Thank you!
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