Retrograding 12.17.03

A year of Retrograding and a year of HBK. Hard to believe this time a year ago, I was engaged, living in England, working for a University, eating the worst food on the planet had hair down past my pecs, and was known for my work in the RPG industry and for my folklore, which one fellow much more famous author than I put it was, ‘more prolific that Stephen King.’

However, England was killing me with it’s over pessimistic attitude, lack of sun, food that I could have better prepared by crapping on it, and the fact the Home Office in Croyden was being bastards to Americans in general. It had been a year since I published anything, having taken a sabbatical to prep for Grad School, which I eventually turned down to go to England to be with my ex who had lost her work permit. Yup, things would be quite different now if I had chosen Rutgers or Princeton and massive loans over sweet sweet tang. But then, I wouldn’t be HBK if I had done that, eh?

I was rummaging across web pages in boredom and saw that 411games was hiring. I browsed through the content, saw it was primarily fluff and crappy writers and focused sheerly on US games. But then I saw one column in particular. The Down-Lo. Sure there was no substance behind one Mr. Jackson’s writing, but his lack of actual depth was more than made up for by his charisma and very kick ass sense of humour. Bebs wrote to make people laugh above all else, and he succeeded in spades.

I felt that this was a guy I could work with, even if people like Jason Masters, Eric Williams, and the rest of the crew sucked more ass than the Mummy in Bubba Hotep. 411 needed me and my knowledge of not only Japanese imports and obscure games, but my contacts and research ability.

But before you think this is me saying ‘I made 411games what it is today.’ It is in fact anything but. I needed 411 as much as they needed me. I needed an escape from England and the fact that I had become engaged to and moved across the Atlantic to a woman I was falling out of love with. I needed to prove to myself that after a year of writing I was still in the top 1% that people had always labeled me with. More importantly I needed to prove I wasn’t a one trick pony.

See, it was all well and good to be listed as one of the five best writers in my particular field in the world before I had graduated college. It was flattery and I tried not to let it go to my head. But where do you go after that, you know? Then Eden Studios picked up my first fiction book, 24 hours after they received. For any of you that have ever tried to get published you know that is about as close to impossible as it gets without being so. Most companies take 30 days to half a year to respond, and even then it’s 99% of the time a rejection letter.

And so as an author, I had really proven myself before I was even truly an adult. And then grad school came where I applied to a ton of PhD programs for English Education. And I learned the hard way that getting published that often and that young was akin to a kick to the balls for many colleges. I still have all 10 rejection letters I have. Many stating due to my already being published and making a good living as an author, they were giving the slot to someone they felt would benefit from it more. Screw the fact I wanted to teach, right? And that being published more times than the entire department at said colleges combined meant I was the obvious best choice. But as the U of WA told me over emails (which again I still have) most English profs are people who wanted to be authors but lacked the talent. And so they turned to teaching. My being a successful author who would rather teach was an insult big time to them, and so I got blacklisted.

I don’t understand it myself. It was a lot of stupid behind the scenes politics, and I’m over it now, but in the winter of 2002, it was a huge crushing blow to me. And the first time I was ever really hurt or upset. I should have listened to Profs Thorson and Hunt at the U of MN and gotten my PhD in Political Science. Hell, I had Ventura as a reference! What college would have turned that down?

I got into Princeton and Rutgers, but still, after the horrible shit I learned from other colleges, I was very shakey as to whether or not that was what I wanted to do with my life. Midlife Crisis at 24. And from that point on, I just didn’t have the drive or heart to write anything new.

And so it was about a little under a year later I saw 411’s ad and decided to start writing non-fiction again. And I went for in with the passion I hadn’t had in a long time. This was a chance to write again. About something I knew a great deal about; far more so than the majority of the population. But at the same time, it wasn’t something I was ‘the best’ at. It was something I could watch myself become better at. That I could make mistakes at. That people could correct me at. It was a challenge to myself that I needed to take.

And here we are a year later.

I know Pankonin when he first got my tryout column was confused as hell and I think I remember him saying he’d only heard of 1-2 of the games mentioned therein. But it was well written and I was in. Especially since I was willing to do double duty with RG and ADVANCE.

I also emailed Bebito a copy of the column. Who emailed me a day or two later saying he loved it and hoped I would join 411. Bebito was very supportive and I think was glad to have a fellow Sega maniac who shared his love of Phantasy Star and Shining Force. It was a good net friendship right out the gate.

Of course months later he confided that it was good, but he was afraid I was a big stinky poseur as I put Sakura Wars as my favorite RPG series, and everyone he knew that claimed to loooove SW had never actually played the games before. Or in Bebito’s own words, “Why would anyone who knows Japanese actually want to write for a dirty stinking hillbilly website anyways?’

It’s true. At the time 411mania was 411WRESTLING and the other sections were merely afterthoughts. There was even talk from Ashish about closing the games section down as it was piss poor. But 411 was one of the most visited sites on the web, which gave me a built in audience, and truth be told, the rest of the writers could have WRITTEN WITH THEIR CAPS LOCK ON and I’d still have done it. I just needed to right. And 411 was my deus ex machina.

And so it went.

And on Dec 17, 2003…my first column went up. Which in fact was the second one I wrote. Yes, although no one but myself remembers this, ADVANCE went up before the first Retrograding. My first column was actually two reviews, one of Pokemon, the other of Robotech: The Macross Saga. And it was good.

And yes, the column you are thinking of was in fact the first one I wrote, but due to a horrible screw up between my British Laptop and Pankonin’s US PC, the word document got all screwed up and had to be delayed. Misha still on occasion has that problem, once again proving England sucks.

But ah, that first column. Four days after RG ADVANCE, came Retro-Grading. Odd how it was hyphenated that first time, eh? Not something on my part. I guess Panky wanted to emphasis my retrogaming-ness, not thinking the average reader would catch that in the title.

True story: Retrograding was NOT the original name for the column. I went through 4 or 5 names, each an attempt to be witty or making an obscure reference. Then I just said f*ck it and went with something point blank. I was reviewing/grading old game/Retro shit. Hence the name. And now you know. And knowing is of course half the battle.

The column’s subject was ‘Top Ten RPG’s of All Time’ or ‘Ten Franchises That Make Final Fantasy Look Like the Pile of Fecal Matter it Really is.’

And I stand by that. The column was written by me, a gamer that’s pretty well versed in the history or companies, franchises, and popularity. And it was not geared for hardcore gamers or psycho obsessed gamers or crazy mad import fans. It was geared towards the normal 411WRESTLING audience. People steeped more in casual mainstream games and had very little experience with obscure indy companies or Japanese imports.

But I guess any column with the words Megaten, Sakura Taisen, or Lunar Magical School is going to be noticed by the world of hardcore (read: Obsessed) gamers. That coupled with the name recognition I already had and when…my first column was a doozy and still is one of the most read in 411Games history. What a way to start off, eh?

I created the MAILBAG simply to rid my inbox of the craploads of mail praising my column, and the handful of emails cursing me out as if I had just raped the pope in public. That column elicited a ton of response, by far the most out of all column for 411games. And even now I still get some. I was amazed to see it pop up on Penny Arcade, TNL, Gamespot, IGN, and other websites.

All I had wanted to do was inform gamers of my personal favorites and to show that Final Fantasy was just the most hyped RPG, not the best. And holy crap did I seem to have my 15 minutes of video game fame. People read. The discussed. They flamed and berated. They praise and cheered. Literally overnight, Alexander Lucard became known for being a VG journalist to read.

And I am still flattered beyond words at the reaction it got, not only from fans, but other writers as well. Sure some people had a problem I focused only on the Persona games in the Shin Megami series or bitched I didn’t include Suikoden or Action based RPGs and on and on. But hey, that’s their choice to be ticked.

And so it went from there. Right out of the gate I had a lot to follow up on. No way could my first column be my best, right? And so I covered everything from Lovecraftia in gaming to showing how companies’ customer service programs work to interviews with creators and employees of major companies like Microsoft. And Retrograding’s reputation grew; not only with 411 and video game fans, but with people inside the industry as well. I started getting letters even from companies I bashed telling me how much they enjoyed my column. The Kliq has gotten to see letters from TDK, Atlus, Atari, White Wolf, Penny Arcade, Treasure, Camelot, SNK Playmore, and even SQUARE-ENIX praising my column. And again, I was flattered. And still am each and every week by the emails sent by everyone, whether they work for Red Company, or they’re a 15 year old kid who went out and decided to try a Neo Geo Pocket Colour because of how much emotion I put into my writing when talking about it.

Was I or am I the best in this particular line of writing? I don’t think so. I make html errors, typos, and on occasion even factual errors. None of which I ever did with folklore. I know a lot of the people who read this column consider it their favorite VG related article, and some that think I’m some sort of all knowing fountain of video game knowledge. But in truth, I just a fan who has a storied background in research and non fiction, which lets me find and report things sometimes faster than other writers, but also in a very distinct tone and style. I appreciate all the praise you all give me, but the truth of the matter is, I personally feel I have a long way to go until I’m at the level in this particular brand of non-fiction that I was at when doing the VC.

I am happy that since joining 411, we managed to break two very cool stories before any other English VG site on the web. The first being the sales figures in Japan when the Cube first beat the PS2 and Xbox for sales in Japan. The second being that we were able to report that Sega was going to be doing a Shining Force game for the GBA MONTHS before other websites reported it. Hell, Both Bebito and I mentioned it at least twice each before Sega made their official announcement in the UK. Those are two of my proudest moments here at 411, if only because it shows our ability to find stories while other sites are talking about Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and GTA.

But most important of all during this year, has of course been the formation of the Kliq. Little did I know that starting a mailing list of all the 411Games staff and showing them pictures and IM conversations between some of my HBK harem and myself sheerly for shits and giggles that it would create a real camaraderie and close knit friendship between us all. Not friendship as in I’d let any of them stay and live with me as none of us have met in person, but we’re all as close as internet buddies can be. 411Games Quality has gone up by leaps and bounds since we started the Kliq. And don’t for a second ever think I will take credit for creating it. Starting a silly mailing list for us, but the Kliq was spawned by trust, co-operation and teamwork. And us each getting a silly wrestling nick name for fun, even though only Big Daddy Cool Bebito and myself have really had their nicknames stick.

I’m most proud of the Kliq because of the influence it has had on 411 as a whole. From our first Gamecube feature to Widro really enjoying our teamwork and hoping that the model would work on all of 411mania as a whole. Of course, by that time we had all become isolationist elitist bastards unwilling to work with the rest of the group and pissing off Widro time and time again as he just wanted to be part of the group and we snubbed him like football players mocking a D&D geek at the cafeteria lunch table. That guy has put up with so much from us. The fact of the matter is that Wids does give us space on his web page, and he is a nice guy that truly means well, even if some or all of the Kliq doesn’t agree with him from time to time. He gives un just enough rope to hang ourselves, and so far we haven’t kicked the chair out from under us yet.

Of course, we ARE the elite here at 411, but I think the rest of the Kliq would agree with me on that, egotistical primadonna sides of us talking or not.

Oddly enough I ended this year by bringing back the VC for one issue to say thanks to who I thought was my ‘real’ fanbase. The literal millions of people who read the devoured the VC and helped me to stretch my original 15 minutes of fame into a few years. And I loved the praise and thanks from people who came out of the woodwork to enjoy it, and also enjoyed seeing other 411mania writers getting a taste of who I am when not writing Retrograding. For the longest time I assumed I couldn’t cross the audiences and was actually afraid to. And I’ve found slowly but surely, that there is a cross over section of both fan bases. And I’m coming to find I enjoy knowing that.

Over the past few days in the forums, I had a debate with a guy my own age on a topic over a topic I am well published on. The guy had a lot of knowledge on the subject, but most of it was erroneous due to a god with an almost identical name from roughly the same local and era as the one we were discussing. I tried to correct the errors and point out why the mistakes were made. And got flamed. Mainly because the person assumed I wasn’t THE Alexander Lucard, but someone using the name in a fanboy type tribute to him. You know, I shake my head every time I look at that sentence. THE Alexander Lucard. As if I’m some super famous guy that everyone should know. :-P (I can’t express to you how cool it is every time I meet someone who knows and reads and loves my published work. There is no better feeling in the world. NONE. Although Bebito might argue booty is better…) And I thought the guys insults and flames were just joking around and being two guys trading ribs at one another just for the hell of it/working the other forum goers.

Turned out he was serious and didn’t know I was who I really am. Then tonight there was a big apology on the board about it. I can’t explain how weird it was for me to see that. I so often forget that facet of myself when I come to 411. And am always weirded out by people that know both me as a folklorist and as a 411Games writer.

Maybe it’s just that things come full circle and as Retrograding begins its second year at 411 and the VC is about to start up again as well, it makes sense to have the two tie together is such a manner. But it reassured me that even though 411 is a site geared more towards wrestling and sports fans, people that prefer porn to writers like Pope or Dryden or Byron, that there is a place here for intellectual literary criticism and debate. And it makes me happy to know that eventually both audiences can mix and appreciate each other. If there’s any goal for me over the next year here at 411mania, it’s that one. Unless of course Pankonin finally fires Bebito and I because in fact, we are Nash and Shawn almost to a T in the same backstage manner as our namesakes are rumored to be.

But before I go, I’d just like to end this year in review by giving individual thank yous to 411 guys who deserve it.

Pankonin: He hired me even though he only knew 10% of the games coming out of my mouth, and put up with me whining ‘Can we review imports? Can we review handheld stuff? Can I shit in a box and mail it to Square?’ I give him good natured ribbing from time to time. But thankfully he knows it’s all in jest. I know it bothers him when I admit outright, I don’t think of him as a boss or a leader. But that’s because I think of him as a friend. And likewise Panky has had no problem coming to me with actual important questions about the page. Because he respects my opinion. And comes to me with girl problems to. Because hey, who better to help friends with girls than the HeartBreak Kid himself, right?

Bebito: For being my first friend at 411 and the Big Daddy Cool to my Icon/Showstoppa/Main Eventah. For every bit of dry clinical research ability I have in my body, Bebito can match it with juvenile humour and insane antics. I keep telling him he’s going to get published someday if he ever finds the time to write a short story or novel. Out of the entire crew, I’ve probably opened up to him the most. Even if that’s not very much at all. Bebs and I have a bond that has yet to be broken. Although I know Pankonin is scared to death of when one of us finally quits or retires, because the other will join him out of loyalty.

Chuck Platt: The only Kliq member to actively call my cell phone for help with life’s little problems. I’m flattered he trusts and confides in me enough to consider me that good a friend. Chuck’s gone from one of RG’s biggest fans to a full fledged writer in his own right. Proud of him and am always impressed by his ability. Because when Chuck wants to, his column is outstanding.

Alex Williams: Joined right when Bebito and I were returning from an exile due to personal problems. Alex debuted by doing an Ikaruga review the same day I did mine. Very good way to get on my good side, no? Sure it wasn’t as insanely rabid as my own, but dammit he’s a Dancer and I’m a shooter. Plus two Alexi, both fans of shooters, the GBA and coming from Yiddish families both working for 411games can’t be a bad thing, now can it?

Little known fact: Alex W’s first column was nearly ADVANCE. That’s right. Before CHEAT!, I was going to turn over ADVANCE to him. Then Pankonin made a full fledged handheld section and CHEAT! came about.

Bryan Berg: Damn. One thing I would consider a suckers bet is that Bryan is going to surpass me in marketing ability by the time he gets to my age. I just happened to learn I was good at marketing and stumbled into the position. Berg is not only good at it, but has been homing it for as long as I’ve been a researcher. I’m going to be very proud the first time someone calls Charthouse and asks me to give that boy a glowing reference. Bryan’s been writing for 411Games the longest out of us all, and his veteran status shines through in everything he writes.

Liquidcross: My oldest friend out of the Kliq. Actually started off as a friend of the ex who then became one of my own. LC’s even more a hardcore scary gamer than I’m rumoured to be. Even if he doesn’t own a Neo geo. LC’s a guy who I am very glad I managed to get hired here at 411, not only by pleading with Pankonin to give him a shot, but also because he got a few guest appearances in my columns. And did a damn good job.

Laflin: Sure he’s our sports guy and thus the crappiest gamer of us all, but he’s also the oldest and really has grown the most out of anyone since joining 411games. Plus he’s earned my platonic love forever with comments like the following:

Okay. First. To Mr. HBK (by the way, LOVED ya in “Airheads”) Hit them. Hit them ALL. And y’all can kiss my mummified, ancient, over-the-freakin’-hill-29-year-old-ass; you’ve got a DOMINATRIX WANTING to give you rebound freebies and you’re going to turn her down because of her face? Cripes, put the gimp mask on her and go to town, son!

No idea if we’ve all just been a horrible influence on him, or it took us all becoming friends for Cory to release his craziness. And I bet none of the Kliq realized I still have all our original forming emails on file for just such an occasion. ;-)

Misha: Even though I hate England, and everything and everyone on that f*cking Isle of evil, Misha is…almost tolerable. Seriously though, like LC and Chuck, I pushed for Misha to get the spot filled by the ‘void’ of Jeff Watson aka Stinkypants NoFriends (Only Panky and Bebito will get that. And Laugh.). I’m glad to have someone pick up the Euro news now that I’m back in the States. And Misha is the best out of all the Europeans I’ve ever received letters from here at 411. He’s witty, full of pop culture knowledge, is obnoxious as hell to the point where he gets banned from our forums on a weekly basis, and fills a void I always felt 411Games was missing by having an all American team.

Fred: The Arab Rabbi. Fred’s an amazing writer. As intellectual as myself. And almost as big an SNK/Neo Geo fan. It’s amazing how much knowledge this man can store in his head. I mean, yeah. My brain is full of video game and Folklore knowledge. Fred’s is full of USEFUL information. Although he’s the quietest of us, whenever he does speak, it’s usually extremely relevant. Or mocking me. One of the two.

Lee: Oh Lee. What can we say about thee? I don’t think any words I have in my vocabulary can do you justice. Thus I will allow your own words to speak for me. Especially as this is an honest email that we got from him. And why we in the Kliq proudly associate Lee with Scott Hall

heY YO. bebITO!!!!! ALexxxxxx… I luv yousss
guys!! anyome wanT TO og 2 d baR wITH MEEEEE? Bebs,
i no dis GREEEEET tity bAR wif ChiCKS u CAN screW RIGH
T THERE!! wherE’s easy eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee???
he and his wif wood lik it 2!

-Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
da bad guy

Now how can I end my column on a better note than that? Finally, Thanks to all of you readers, writers, developers, publishers, and fans for making Retrograding so respected throughout the VG community. But more importantly, thank you for enjoying it as much as I love writing it. RG has given me back a lot of passion I thought I’d lost from England and Grad School. But thankfully it was just tucked away in an orifice to hide from UK Customs. After all, emotion is a controlled substance over there.