The next author I’m featuring in the the Games & Books & Q&A series — in which I alternately interview children’s/YA literature folks about video games and ask gamers about the books that inspired them — is Tom Angleberger.
As anyone who’s ever folded a piece of notebook paper into a Star Wars character knows, Tom is the author of the Origami Yoda series, including the upcoming and final title, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus. His most recent book is The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain!
CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?
TA: Probably Pong, my dad had it. I remember that you could create your own variant games by leaving the switches stuck halfway.
I think my first arcade game may have been Space Invaders. And my first real gamer moment was when my school got an Apple ][ and I saw Colossal Cave Adventure boot up for the first time.
CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?
TA: I played a lot of games that now leave me wondering, why did I waste my time on that? Stuff like the Atari Raiders of the Lost Ark or, frankly, most of the Atari games.
Even a lot of computer games left me feeling the same way — possibly because I was never able to finish them. (Cranston Manor, Masquerade, The Bard’s Tale and the aforementioned Colossal Cave Adventure.) I remember a real moment of clarity after trying to swim past a shark in some dumb game. You had to work so hard to get to that shark and then it just swam right into you. That became a touchstone for me — just because someone made it, doesn’t mean it’s worth playing.
But then there were games that WERE worth playing!
In the arcade, it was Discs of Tron, Marble Madness, Joust and the sublime Star Wars (vector graphics).
And on my Apple it was Lode Runner. What a game! Not sure it’s ever been topped. 150 levels + 50 more with Championship Lode Runner. You had to run and gun (drill actually) and think.
And what I may have enjoyed the most was programming my own games in BASIC. Man, those were the days!
CB: What role do games play in your life today?
TA: I have put serious time into early Final Fantasy games (Final Fantasy Tactics is another masterpiece), Donkey Kong Country, Tony Hawk Pro Skater (2 was my favorite), NBA Jam, various golf and racing games. And I love pinball simulators since I cannot afford my own machine. (Best pinball ever: The Addams Family by the master, Pat Lawlor.)
But aside from Words with Friends, my gaming time now is mostly devoted to one game: 007: Quantum of Solace. Michael Hemphill, my co-author on Stonewall Hinkleman, and I have been playing the two-player version of this on the Wii for years. It is surprisingly deep, we keep finding new strategies, new variations.
We’ve been playing various games together for about 15 years, I guess: Gran Turismo, ATV Offroad Fury, Dynasty Tactics, a little bit of Mario Kart and now this OO7 thing. It’s woven into our friendship.
I expect to continue this series through the October publication of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.