5. Fighting COVID with Video Games



5. Fighting COVID with Video Games — with Special Guest Rob Atkins


This week, Smitty talks to Rob Atkins about his nearly 30 years of working in the video game industry. Rob is a co-founder of Ritual Entertainment and CEO of Balanced Media Technologies. His video game roots include Duke Nukem, Terminal Velocity and Max Payne, and he now uses the processing power of video games to help with medical research in the fight against COVID-19, cancer, and other critical medical challenges.

Games You Deserve is a weekly podcast from Special Reserve Games that celebrates the digital art of video games. Join us for gaming industry interviews, insider perspectives, and interactive content. Production by Dan Vadeboncoeur. Music by Jesse Hamel. New episodes drop Sundays at 9:00 a.m. CST.

Listen below (or on your favorite podcast provider) and don’t forget to subscribe! Links and transcript follow beneath the player.


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Dan: Welcome to Games You Deserve brought to you by Special Reserve Games. This week on the show, I talked to my friend Rob Atkins about how he's using video games to help in the fight against COVID-19. We also read your emails and Erik brings us chapter one of the history of Nintendo. A few weeks ago, Erik, you put a challenge out to our listeners to ... I don't know if it's a challenge, but a request maybe to give us their desire to remake. We're talking about video game remakes and, of course, in the wake of the Final Fantasy VII remake, which has been incredibly successful, we asked the listeners, "What games would you like to see remade?" You've got quite a few answers.

Erik: I did. I did. We got a few different emails from people. The first one came from Justin. Justin says, "Listening to your podcast today about remakes/remasters, what comes to mind is a Smash TV or Total Carnage. I dropped so many quarters into those machines. I love them. I was lucky enough to grab a copy of Hotline Miami Collection from you before they sold out. It is my first purchase from Special Reserve. Hearing the process going into making the box, I'm excited to see it. Anyways, I'm rambling. Have a good day, sir. Thanks, Justin."

Dan: Thank you. That's awesome. Yeah, those games I do remember dropping quite a few quarters into those. They're pretty much the same game, weren't they? The Total Carnage and Smash TV?

Erik: Generally, yeah. That whole twin stick face one direction, shooting another one, top down, it's classic stuff. Yeah, they soaked up a lot of quarters.

Dan: For sure. I wonder how we would remake those. Would it be just enough to re-release it or would we want a graphics update on that? Or what do you think?

Smitty: I definitely think you'd have to beef up the graphics. I mean it's great as those are, imagine what you could do today with some of that, explosions and gunshots and all kinds of cool things. I mean if you look at Enter the Gungeon, for instance, Enter the Gungeon has a lot of those elements.

Erik: The second one we got was someone named Scott. His message was a little bit shorter than the other one. It says, "You have to admit, this would be a classic to be remade," and his subject line was, "Parasite Eve." Did you ever play that?

Dan: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I played it and finished it on, I believe, it was the PlayStation. The very first PlayStation, another one of those survival horrors and they did pretty well with the Resident Evil 2 remake. I think that would be a good one as well to tackle. Those are fun games to play when you're in your living room or bedroom just with all the lights down and you're just creeping yourself out to playing those games. That would be a lot of fun to revisit that one for sure.

Erik: Yeah, definitely. The third one we got was from Shane. Shane said, "I will try to keep this short, but thank you for all the work into making indie games into physical games. Your work is amazing. I will say that I'm a late buyer and very boned about missing My Friend Pedro. I did get to order Hotline Miami. Your podcast is great and I used to go to LAN parties a lot. We all played Quake. Some of the best times hanging with my mates in life. The one game I think needs remaking is Battlefield Bad Company."

Dan: Oh, wow.

Erik: "To this day, I think it's one of the best battlefield games of all time. Again, please keep up the great work on making physical games in the podcast."

Dan: It sounds like you had some love for that there.

Erik: I mean, I love Battlefield Bad Company. That was great. It's also fun just hearing someone say LAN parties.

Dan: Yeah. I mean when we thought about Quake, that was a big part of it when you're doing Q3A that kind of thing.

Erik: I also remember something. I was thinking about our podcast and how we talked about the Quake 2 and Quake 3 arena. I remember I said multiplayer quite a bit. Deathmatch. I remember that was always fun in a mixed company to be saying, "Hey, man, when we get done with work, you want to go home and Deathmatch?" People would. You have the people look at you like.

Dan: People giving you that look.

Smitty: Okay, now, what do you mean by that? You do look like you could be mean. Yeah, anyway.

Erik: Officer, it was that guy.

Smitty: Yeah, the LAN party Deathmatch.

Dan: When I was producing that episode I was looking for ads for Quake, and the only ones I really could find were the N64 ads from when Quake came to N64. That was the big feature on that version of it was the Deathmatch because you couldn't play online with the Nintendo 64, but there was that two player Deathmatch that people loved.

Smitty: Back in the day, the Shareware of ... god dang, was it Quake 2? I'm trying to remember which one was the Shareware. I'll have to ask Wilson or somebody. That was distributed at the counter nationwide at 7-Eleven.

Dan: Wow.

Smitty: 7-Eleven was Southland Corp and that's based here in Dallas, so it was easy.

Erik: I think that's the first disc to be honest. I think that was the original Quake that had that on there because it had the unlockables. You could buy Doom and stuff right off the disc too.

Smitty: Exactly, it was a real ...

Erik: That was amazing.

Smitty: Believe it or not, that was Mike Wilson. He was the marketing guy over at id Software, and that's Mike Wilson who is the current CEO of Devolver Digital and former GodGames or whatever. He had just left DWANGO. Look that one up, D-W-A-N-G-O, DWANGO. Hello, Dwango. Bob, I miss you. That was one of the first big marketing coups probably for ... especially for a first person shooter, a semi-violent, a very violent video game.

Smitty: It was probably the first national gorilla marketing campaign that worked. Anyway, thank you 7-Eleven now owned by a different company, but thank you 7-Eleven, right, for giving us the Shareware of Quake.

Erik: That's right. That's, right. We got one more here coming from Mark and I know who this guy is. He's actually on our Discord, and I recognize the name. "I know it's probably late to the party, but just listening to episode two of the podcast today, I'd like" and get this, "I'd like NHL '94 remade for Switch plus any other platforms of interest using the same general underlying code/logic with retro inspired graphics and multiplayer online. If you are keen to get the right people, I have Mark Lesser's contact details and some spare cash to invest."

Dan: Oh, man that'd be so much fun.

Smitty: Who's that signed by?

Erik: Mark Lesser.

Smitty: It's from Mark? You mean Mark Gretzky is that who signed it? "Mark Gretzky”.

Dan: If you can play NHL '94 online the same way you can now play NHL '20, right but still ...

Erik: That will be incredible.

Dan: Yeah. With the teams of the past like that's one of the best part about that game now is that you get to revisit all these classic teams. Again, going back to the production of the podcast, I use a clip from Swingers in one of these episodes in which they're playing NHL '94 before going out on the town and there's a great series where the guy makes Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed. It took the fighting. It's a great game. Again, that's just my high school years right there. Just going over to my buddy's house after school and playing NHL '94 every day. We did that all the time.

Erik: Yeah. There's still time to get out there and email us and drop us a message about what you want to see remade. Or even if you have other comments about some of the other episodes, if you want to throw your two cents at us. We're going to give away a special little prize package from Special Reserve Games. Email me, it's Erik, E-R-I-K @specialreservegames.com and you just might get your email read on the podcast.

Smitty: Did you say E-R-I-K?

Erik: Yes.

Smitty: E-R-I-K.

Erik: E-R-I-K, like it's okay.

Smitty: Because we have a guy that has been with us for a while in customer service named Marc, M-A-R-C.

Erik: That's right.

Smitty: Then Erik, E-R-I-K. I always tell them as often as I can you guys need to just switch your last letters of your last name so you guys can have ...

Erik: No, we're doing this the right way.

Smitty: I want you to have a pencil with your name on it. That you can just roll by at the Painted Desert or something. It's that E-R-I-C?

Erik: I'm always disappointed when I go to the knick knack shops because it's E-R-I-C. I know.

Smitty: I am too because my name is Jeffry, J-E-F-F-R-Y. It was because I was a Geoffry and it was a G-E-O-F-F-R-Y, because my dad was a literature teacher. The nurses and somebody said, "You'll never be able to call him Jeff, blah, blah with that spelling or something." That I guess freaked my mom out. They changed -  this is the story I got. Then, they changed my name back to JE but they didn't change the last part to have an E at the end like R-E-Y or E-R-Y whatever Jeffrey speller name? I'm Jeff, J-E-F-F-R-Y. Did I get a pencil with my name? Because most of them were Geoffrey's not Jeff. See, I'm projecting my pain onto you, Erik, and then Dan.

Dan: Dan, who's Dan?

Smitty: I have an uncle named Dan.

Dan: One of most common names out there. I always had a pencil with my name on it.

Smitty: Yeah. He's rubbing it in our face again, Erik.

Erik: I know. I know.

Smitty: It's lucky we can't get into Canada right now.

Erik: That's right.

Smitty: Or, we'd be talking to it.




Erik: Those were some great letters, man. I really appreciate people not only taking the time to listen to this podcast, but also to reach out and be interactive. We are in the interactive entertainment industry and so the key word here, I think, is interactive. As long as we keep interacting, we have the shared common interest. That's what keeps the video game industry so fresh and new but such a cool place to gather as a great community.

Smitty: I'd like to welcome one of my old friends, even though it doesn't mean we're getting older. We've just been friends for probably two decades at this point, Robert Atkins. He's the current CEO of BALANCED Media | Technology. When I met him, he was working at Ritual Entertainment and I was at Terminal Reality here in Dallas, Texas. Hey, Rob.

Robert Atkins: Hey, Jeff. It's great to be here, man. Thanks for having me.

Smitty: Oh my pleasure. We talk on the phone, we know each other. Tell people maybe just in summary, if you can, your life in the video game business.

Atkins: Yeah. It started almost 30 years ago. I was very fortunate. I'm from the same hometown at Shreveport, Louisiana that id Software started. My best friend, I'll never forget sitting in a little bench in this gallery at the LSU school that we went to and he was contemplating moving to Wisconsin with these guys that he had met named John Carmack, John Romero and Tom Hall to start id. I was like, "What do you got to lose, man? You can always come back to school."

Atkins: Long story short, I'm playing their Wolfenstein 3D two years later. It's one of the coolest games of all time and I decided to come to Shreveport and visit Adrian. I was still in college, came over to visit him and he was working on a game called Doom. At that point, it was like, holy shit. This is the renaissance of gaming, this is it. This is everything. I left my last semester of college. I didn't get my degree. I'm one class shy of my degree when I moved in.

Dan: It sounds just like me.

Atkins: When I moved in on Adrian's spare waterbed that didn't have a heater, it was a freezing water bed. I'm sitting there in this water bed, freezing, sending out applications. It was six months after I came to Dallas, I was hired to be the creative director of marketing at Apogee Software.

Dan: Apogee Software the original publisher of Terminal Velocity from Terminal Reality company. We've talked about that once or twice. At Apogee you worked on Duke Nukem 2, didn't you? We were doing boxes.

Atkins: Yeah.

Dan: I mean, these games were distributed on CD-ROM back then. We did have physical instruction manuals. What I'm doing now with Special Reserve and we talk about that, but that's how you got started, right? Doing some of the physical and the creative director stuff.

Atkins: Absolutely. We did a lot of direct to consumer products, just like you're doing now where we had people pre-order product that we were going to put together. Then, we put together these printed manuals. That was one of the things that I wanted to up the ante on was like, how do we make our printed stuff look really awesome. We started going to retail as well. We started doing the big boxes. Back then, Walmart was just starting to get into the game.

Atkins: Rise of the Triad was one of the first games I got to work on retail. You mentioned Terminal Velocity. Then, the big one that was one the big moments in my career was working on Duke Nukem 3D. I did the box for that and the logos and I got to do all the ads and all the placements. That was really where I got my start was doing the marketing side of things. I kept asking my bosses like I want to make the games, I just don't want to just do the print stuff. I want to make it. They're like, "No, you're really good at your job. You just do your job." I got a little frustrated. I brought in my own personal computer and I set it next to my Macintosh. I was doing the desktop publishing and during lunch, I would do pixel art. I started learning how to do pixel art so that I, one day, could hopefully make my own game.

Dan: Who was your boss? Who was he?

Atkins: My direct report was Scott Miller and then Steven Blackburn. George and I never really interfaced. George Broussard and I really never interfaced.

Smitty: George just lives right over there. I live, what, four blocks away from 3D Realms.

Atkins: Yeah.

Smitty: I mean right there.

Atkins: That was a cornerstone company, right?

Dan: Yeah.

Atkins: They were the reason why id Software came here, right?

Dan: I mean, Scott Miller tricked him to moving to mesquite. Thank God because Dallas in particular is where there are so many companies that spawn from Apogee, spawn from 3D Realms, spawn from id Software.

Smitty: Terminal Reality up in the island of Lewisville. I mean, it was making Macintosh games, Terminal Velocity is for Mac.

Atkins: That's wow.

Smitty: Then, it was ported to Windows 95. If I remember how the story went, I mean, because Brett Combs and Mark Randel, especially Brett, that was my cousin. He was a super Apple IIe nerd. I mean, he was the first guy I ever knew, personally that owned an Apple. Anyway, it's just like, if you imagine if they were going to stay making Macintosh games.

Atkins: Yeah.

Smitty: How far that would have... I mean that company would have—

Atkins: I know. The company with the hockey puck?

Smitty: Yeah. Would have never gone anywhere, right. Yeah, so then you went on to be a founder of Ritual Entertainment also here in Dallas.

Atkins: Yeah. In '96, we launched Duke Nukem 3D and it was one of the biggest games of all time that year especially. It was like winning Game of the Year awards. The other company that, id Software, that launched Quake that year, that was other big game that year and it was the first genuine 3D game. Me and a small group of people that worked at Apogee or 3D Realms, Richard Gray "The Levelord", Mark Dochtermann and Jim Dosé. Some of us decided we want to start our own company. We were very fortunate to be the first company that got the Quake engine. We made the first mission pack, Quake Mission Pack: Scourge of Armagon for id Software and it won a tremendous amount of awards. It started our company. We started using the Quake Engine to make all kinds of games from that point forward.

Smitty: Was SiN on the Quake Engine?

Atkins: Yes, SiN was Quake 2.

Smitty: Okay, yeah.

Atkins: SiN was the Quake Engine, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 was Quake 3 Engine. We worked on Star Trek games, Lord of the Rings games. I was part of a team that got to ... We almost got the Tomb Raider license, believe it or not. Doug Church and some other people, we got to sit in a room and rewrite the Tomb Raider Bible before Crystal Dynamics took the franchise over. I had two requests for that. I was like, I want to humanize the character so she didn't feel like this cartoon and I wanted her to become aware of her environment so she would know that she was in this space. They did it. Crystal Dynamics did a fantastic job with that franchise and I love to see what they've done. Other games of note were Counter-Strike Condition Zero. My team put Counter-Strike on the Xbox, 25 to Life and just got to touch at this point, over ...

Smitty: Let's just take a moment and let that sink in on what you just said to certain people. That was the Counter-Strike.

Atkins: Yes, that Counter-Strike.

Dan: Yeah, just let that sink in for a second. Also, we had to point out, "Levelord" Richard, one of our favorite people, right? We're all here in Dallas together because Richard now lives most of the time with his wife in Moscow, Russia. He was a Navy guy. He's an Old Navy guy here in the United States. He made one of my favorite multiplayer levels Behind Zee Bookcase.

Atkins: Yeah.

Dan: Oh my gosh. That was part of SiN. It was like the most multiplayer element of SiN. Because Behind Zee Bookcase, it didn't appear in the actual game or any kind of like SiN Chronicles or anything like that. Was that just a multiplayer only level created?

Atkins: Yeah. I can't remember who was in the original release. It's been like two decades for me.

Dan: Right.

Atkins: When we originally launched SiN, we basically were crushed by Half-Life. Half-Life came out two weeks later and crushed us. Historically we were known because we had some bugs that we, back then, you box it up, you put it on the shelf. You didn't have digital download. You couldn't have a digital update. Someone got the disc, they put it in, they expected it to work.

Dan: Yeah.

Atkins: We did as well. It didn't work as designed. It wasn't even beta tested before the publisher put it on to disk and shipped it. We tried to recover by creating a really fast update. During that update, we had additional multiplayer maps. We created a CTF, capture the flag, scenario. We had, at the time, I would argue the best multiplayer on the planet. It just wasn't enough to stand above Half-Life and all of the accolade that they deserve at the time. It was definitely a franchise that was true to our hearts. We got to work on something that was our game. It was a lot of fun to make.

Smitty: I remember around that time, I think. One of the first times you and I actually had a conversation, we joke about this. Richard Gray was involved in this. This was back at South by Southwest when it was the first year, I believe, that they were launching the interactive division or the inactive portion of South by Southwest. It started as music only. Then, they had incorporated movies and some other documentary film. Then, it was Andy, I forgot the guy's name. Andy at South by Southwest who's bringing in this interactive. A bunch of us from Dallas went down there to be on panels or talk. Trust me, there was not as many people at the interactive as there is now. Because the interactive of South by Southwest is – Twitter launched there and all that it is. Richard and you were walking down the street in Austin going to go get lunch or something away from the convention center. I knew Richard. I just kind of met him too. I was trying to tag along and go to lunch with you. I just remember you kept walking a little bit faster. You weren't really interested in talking to me. I thought, "Wow, this guy is a big rock star. I guess, he doesn't want to talk to me or whatever." I wasn't offended by it. Eventually, I think Richard said, "No, this is Smitty from Terminal Reality." You're like, "Oh, I thought you were like some fan boy chasing me around, trying to get an autograph or something." I was like, "Oh, come on."

Atkins: You look scary, man. Come on.

Smitty: Yeah. We're both about the same height and everything. Trust me, Rob is like 6'4", 6'5". This boy is no joke.




Smitty: We did go on to be a part of something that we both considered to be pretty great. Developer-driven publishing.

Atkins: Yeah.

Smitty: The idea behind Godgames or gathering of developers. You left your publisher, Terminal Reality. Microsoft was our publisher. We were all left to be joint owners, if you will, and contributed titles to gathering developers. Then, we got to work together on many games.

Atkins: Yeah. A lot of great titles.

Smitty: Great titles. Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 was one of them.

Atkins: Yeah, Max Payne.

Smitty: Max Payne. Oh, my God. Hold on, it all started with Jazz Jackrabbit 2.

Atkins: That's right.

Smitty: A little known company, Epic MegaGames.

Atkins: Yeah. Everybody knows these guys.

Smitty: A little bit. Then, Railroad Tycoon 2.

Atkins: Yeah, it's a great game.

Smitty: That actually sold really well. The sales of Railroad Tycoon 2, Sid Meier, I can't remember who actually did.

Atkins: PopTop.

Smitty: Was it PopTop who did that? Then, we did Tropico with PopTop. The sales of Railroad Tycoon 2 floated, I think, a couple extra months of gathering of developers early on. A railroad simulation actually started.

Atkins: The great thing about that was, it was the developers, the artists own the publisher. That's the great thing about the gaming industry. Super talented people technically capable and they're willing to take a risk to take things in their own hands to invent new ways of doing things, like distribution, Steam invented it because the retail model was broken. Digital downloads allowed us to update software sooner than later. There's all 3D.

Smitty: Matchmaking systems for multiplayer.

Atkins: There's so many things that exist today because of gaming. Innovators who were all most of them independently minded, independent of publishers. If they would have waited for someone to tell them to do these things, they never would have happened.

Smitty: Yeah.

Atkins: That's the great thing about developers and independent developers in particular. We were always, always part of indie development. We see something and we just do it. We just build it.

Smitty: Yeah. We had no choice.

Atkins: Often, we all self-publish it.

Smitty: Yup.

Atkins: That's the great thing about gaming is we've driven innovation across so many industries that most people are unaware of. Everyone had a smartphone that was AR capable. It wasn't until Pokémon GO was installed on their phones that they walked around and they picked up. That's a game driving, a hardware feature that no one even knew existed. That's the great thing about games is now there are over 2 billion people playing games worldwide. When I started in '93, there were 100 million people playing games worldwide. Now, there's almost equal male to female. The market is massive. Its games are for everyone. We're not going back. We're only going to continue to grow that market.

Smitty: Video games have driven a lot of innovation in a lot of different industries. You're in that now because you're in a research and allowing video gaming and especially even a multiplayer gaming concept or collectively, everybody, you're coalescing around the same client to actually do research and real world, I'm going to say, development of concepts or testing and proving theories. I'm butchering it. I'd like to really talk about how your whole life of video games has led up to this calling to lead a company that actually helps people maybe beat cancer, macular degeneration issues or even COVID-19.

Atkins: Yeah.

Smitty: How are you using video games and that idea and all the things you've learned in your current day? What are you doing now?

Atkins: Yeah. Thanks. At BALANCED Media | Technology, we decided to start a company that can connect technology into gaming that has dual purpose. While people are playing games, they could be playing Pac-Man. They could be playing Minecraft. They could be doing medical research simultaneously. They don't have to know about it. They literally could be turning red, black, green, or picking up a dot. What they're really doing is we're crowdsourcing these really massive problems. We're using the technology to connect community. We really believe in the power of people. We believe in the power of community. There's no greater engaged community in the world. There's no more empowered group of people in the world than gaming. We just want to yield that power and do good things with it.

Smitty: Explain what the Hewmen client is? Spell it so people can look at.

Atkins: Yeah. It's H-E-W-M-E-N. You can go to hewmen.com H-E-W-M-E-N, and you can download the client today. We're doing a thing called crowdsourcing with distributed grid computing. That's one example of what we do. While you're not using your computer, your computer could actually be processing COVID-19 research jobs. We've already been doing that. Within the first 5000 jobs that are community processed, we actually have a hit on a possible therapeutic, 5000 jobs. This is an independent company working with independent researchers trying to help find the solution. We're not connected to pharmaceuticals. We're not connected to some external company. We're independent of those organizations trying to actually solve these problems. We're allowing the community to do that with us.

Smitty: When you're getting a hit and we're doing COVID-19 research specifically, what does that mean? What am I going to see if I download the client? How am I going to actually be a part of this?

Atkins: Your computer is doing processing, in that case, it's working off of Blank technology, which is out of Berkeley. It's been around forever. If you remember SETI@home, it's very similar. That's one way you can help. The other thing is just play some of the games that we've made. Processing is one way. The other way is just your human intuition. We're actually putting our technology. We have our technology working on, Unreal, the same game engine that Fortnite works on. Unity, the same that most mobile gaming is done with it. We're putting our technology into the game engines. The other thing we're doing is we're connected to eSports. We work with great organizations like Complexity Gaming. We just did a Race to World First with their team Limit. While people are watching the Race to World First they, in an extension on Twitch, you could play a little interactive game. That interactive game was connected to cancer research. While people were watching this 10-day event, they help basically go through six months of cancer research by crowdsourcing it to the millions of people that watch that event. Literally, the viewers who aren't even downloading the game, they're not even buying anything, they're just getting to do something fun during the eSports event are now helping something really important like cancer research. We're going to have this technology in all of gaming. It's going to be an eSports streaming, mobile, top notch games like Minecraft. We're putting the technology on the server side of Minecraft right now. It's the new way of gaming. We're not changing gaming. We're empowering gamers to do something really cool, like solve the world's problems. Guess what? I'm tired of waiting around for somebody else to do it. If we can build something that allows individuals who are just doing the thing they love to do, play video games now suddenly make the world a better place. Or make the world suck less as I like to say, then by God, we're going to do it.

Smitty: Yeah, yeah. Amen to that. The whole thing about video gaming, I always remind people, let's quit calling it video gaming sometimes. We can just call it interactive entertainment. That's the way we used to say, people say I make video games for a living. Others wouldn't know, what does that mean? While I'm in the interactive entertainment industry. That sounds very, very important, doesn't it? That is what it is because I talk about all the time the gaming industry. Why is it so innovative? Why has it still not imploded like music or with Hollywood, and had the big money come in and ruin it? They've come in and bought a bunch of us up. Why is the gaming industry, why does it survive? It's not just because there are many cool people. It's because we have a shared common interest. It's just this simple, just the joy of playing games. That's the shared common interest. I think from a developer's standpoint, which we both are, and have been, I'm now a publisher. You're still very much a developer. You're a new wave of innovation development of interactive entertainment using interactive entertainment to like you say solve real world problems. Some of them might involve cancer, some of them just might involve the treatment of symptoms of COVID-19 and trying to find a combination of drugs that lessens the severity of symptoms of COVID-19, right?

Atkins: That's right.

Smitty: It doesn't always have to be about saving the world, it can be about making your day-to-day routine, something in your daily life, or something that disrupts all of our life a little more tolerable, a little easier to get together and get through.

Atkins: Yeah.

Smitty: Then, if you could come up with solving cancer, providing a research that led to a cancer treatment for one specific kind of cancer. Just one. Just one.

Atkins: Right.

Smitty: Great, that's one less cancer that's going to probably kill at least ... It's not just save one life type idea, but it is, ain't that cool that you could save a life or make someone's life suck less by playing video games.

Atkins: Right.

Smitty: I personally have been behind this. Special Reserve Games has actually been behind ...

Atkins: That's right. Big supporters, yeah.

Smitty: Yeah. We sponsored some of the streams. I wish I could do more. I wanted to have you on the podcast today to ... Because, we're great friends and I love you. I wanted people to know who you were. It's a reason to have you over to the house and have dinner afterwards. Actually, Rob is recording this here at my house. It's the first time I've seen you in quite a few months. We are socially distanced on his microphone if anyone's worried about it. I work from home.

Atkins: So do I.

Smitty: Yeah. We're pretty safe. Anyway, I just really wanted to introduce people to you but I think the work that you're doing is super important. Can you tell people if they want to find out more or get involved? Tell them again, how to contact BMT or download the Hewmen client.

Atkins: Yeah. You can go to bmt.world is one way or you can go directly to the Hewmen platform which is H-E-W-M-E-N.com.

Smitty: Right on. If you do start interacting with BMT, you won't be sorry. Silicon Valley? No, right here in Dallas, Texas, actually McKinney, Texas. It's a good organization and a great guy. I just appreciate you coming over and being on the Games You Deserve podcast, brother.

Atkins: Thank you, Jeff.

Smitty: Thank you.

Dan: We're going to switch over to a new segment on the podcast here. Erik's been working on an audio documentary of sorts about Nintendo. Tell us about it, Erik.

Erik: Yeah. This is a long look at Nintendo. I don't mean the Nintendo necessarily that you know, that most people know from Super Mario Brothers onward. This is possibly a much deeper look at Nintendo.

Erik: Nintendo has been around for a really, really long time before the 1900s. When you think about that that's an immense deep history with some wild turns. They've seen a lot of different things happen that not everybody really knows. There are some really neat and I'll say weird things that Nintendo has done. It's not your average game company. These are things that Sega probably didn't do. Sega like to say, "Genesis Does What Nintendon't." I don't know that they know Nintendo's dark history. I wanted to share some of that.

Dan: Awesome. Let's give it a listen to the first installment of Erik's history of Nintendo.

Erik: As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I had the pleasure of enjoying the technology explosion of that era. One of the most recognizable brands of the time is, of course, Nintendo. I'm certain everyone listening is quite familiar with the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES, and of course, Mario and the wonderful cast of associated characters. Long before Nintendo swept the world with its 8-bit technological marvel, Nintendo had quite humble beginnings. This is part one of a limited segment I'm calling Fire Flower from paper to pixels. The Nintendo you know today as a vast gaming powerhouse with multiple beloved franchises is a far cry from the small business founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi over 130 years ago, in the late fall of 1889. Nintendo, originally called Nintendo Koppai was founded in Kyoto, Japan, the birthplace of the then 28-year-old Fusajiro. As an artist, Fusajiro designed and painted playing cards using cardstock created from the bark of mitsumata trees, the same trees used to create the Japanese yen even to this day. Mitsumata can produce a high quality writing paper and the fibers are rather resilient, making it an ideal material to produce these playing cards named Hanafuda, which literally translates to floral playing cards. The history of Hanafuda stretches back into the mid-1500s when the Portuguese introduced their version of playing cards to Japan. Japan began manufacturing their own playing cards during the Tenshō period. They were used for a game that was similar to spades or euchre. Unfortunately, in 1633, Japan instituted a policy of Sakoku or closed country isolating Japan from the Western world, and in doing so, foreign playing cards, which were seen as a form of Western entertainment, were banned by the Tokugawa Shogunate. A ban on Tenshō cards was soon to follow in 1648. Sakoku policy would last for over 220 years until 1853. However, even with the ban on gambling and various cards, playing cards would continue to evolve, with new designs subsequently being banned, creating a chain of design evolution over time. The first appearance of Hanafuda known as Hana-Awase, was prior to 1816 when Japan identified it as a banned gambling card game. Once Sakoku was lifted due to trade treaties with the early American black ships, Hanafuda could be played again out in the open, giving opportunities such as the one afforded to Fusajiro Yamauchi to produce handcrafted, high quality Hanafuda. By 1902, demand for Fusajiro's Hanafuda was growing to the point where he could no longer produce the product on his own. Fusajiro trained apprentices in the crafting of Hanafuda to meet the growing demand and expanded his business by manufacturing western style playing cards. Five years later, in 1907, Fusajiro struck a distribution deal with Japan tobacco and salt corporation, which allowed Nintendo cards to be sold in cigarette shops. This move expanded Nintendo's reach from beyond the local Kyoto and Osaka regions to make them recognizable throughout Japan. In fact, Nintendo's cards were the primary cards used by the Yakuza in their gaming parlors. This meant that Nintendo would profit quite nicely, since new decks were supplied frequently during play. Fusajiro Yamauchi and his wife raised a daughter, Tei. Tei married a man by the name of Sekiryo Kaneda. Kaneda would eventually take on the surname of Yamauchi, as he was identified as Fusajiro Yamauchi's successor. Fusajiro Yamauchi retired from Nintendo Koppai in 1929, 40 years after the launch of what would one day become one of the most iconic brands known worldwide. At least one thing was clear, Sekiryo Yamauchi had large shoes to fill in Fusajiro Yamauchi's absence.

Dan: Eric, what can listeners look forward to in the next part?

Erik: I'm going to say Nintendo becomes Uber and leave it at that.

Dan: Okay. I can't wait to hear it.




Dan: What's new at Special Reserve Games?

Smitty: What's new Special Reserve Games? We are still sold out of Hotline Miami, Switch. I will tell you there are some very real discussions about doing Hotline Miami 1, Hotline Miami 2, each on PlayStation 4 discs.

Dan: Nice.

Smitty: There is talk about that, it's not done, done but hopefully soon. Write to your local congressman and demand Hotline Miami 1 on PlayStation 4 disc, that's a joke.

Erik: If you do that, please send a copy. I want to see that.

Smitty: Yeah. Also, what's coming up, we have a second chance sale, stockpile sale combined, if you will. Because we never really had a second chance sale for My Friend Pedro, we're combining that. We had so few units leftover. We're combining that with the stockpile sale for Gris and also for Metal Wolf Chaos XD on PS4.

Smitty: We have Gris on Switch, but we have no games left.

Erik: Some lovely art books.

Smitty: Gosh, we still have visit 125 of the 12-inch tall 14-inch wide, art books, 176 pages. It's been a while since I've had to quote the page count.

Erik: With those great little white gloves.

Smitty: Yeah, that they ship in. That's all that was produced.

Erik: That's right.

Smitty: There's not going to ever be a second pressing of the books. The books are absolutely approved and praised by Conrad Roset himself.

Smitty: We'll have a few hundred different things, units of Gris and also the art cards. Then, My Friend Pedro, we actually have a few games and Metal Wolf Chaos XD. We have a couple hundred PS4 games with some of the accessories. That will go up on sale and usually our stockpile sales are on Fridays. It gives people the weekend to look around. Sometimes, things sell out quickly, hopefully not everybody just rushes in and gobbles everything up. Although we love that when that happens.

Dan: I've got a question here about the sale. This is coming right from an Instagram feed. Someone here, the Somber Gamer asks, "Is this going to come in the cool boxes you guys do? Or is it just a physical copy? If someone wants to order My Friend Pedro? Will it come in the cool My Friend Pedro box?"

Smitty: On the stockpile sales or second chance sales, we always will show what does and doesn't come with it. The answer is yes. It absolutely will come in that cool My Friend Pedro box. Because we only sold at Special Reserve Games, the version of the, My Friend Pedro, that came in the, what we call reserve boxes. Sometimes, we're doing maybe a retail cover or an alternate cover with our partners Limited Run Games who are just some fantastic people. When we offer an alternate cover to a retail partner or Limited Run Games usually that does not come with a reserve box, but it's clearly notated on their site. We don't sell usually those versions on our site. We try to keep it less confusing. We're really straightforward. Look for the words reserve box, because that's usually what we call those special reserve product boxes.

Dan: That's the same for Metal Wolf Chaos XD as well?

Smitty: Metal Wolf Chaos XD did not have a reserve box ever. It was released just in the PlayStation 4 packaging. Then, we did what's called the propaganda envelope, which is a custom little envelope that has a letter inside with some propaganda stickers and Metal Wolf Chaos XD, PVC Wearable Patch. That was one of the few games we did that didn't have the reserve. One of the reasons was we had an exclusive retail option with GameStop that they wanted to do a lot of great distribution with Metal Wolf Chaos XD. I wasn't even sure I was going to release one for actual Special Reserve Games. I thought it was only going to have a retail release. I was just late. I didn't want to delay the game for a box. Then, coming up in June is going to be Mother Russia Bleeds. It is going to be announced for Switch. Mother Russia Bleeds PS4 is also in discussion right now. Hopefully, I'm delaying the actual total announcement about that until we iron out a few details. Hopefully, we'll be talking about a dual platform release for Mother Russia Bleeds. If we're not by the time this podcast airs, I'm sorry, guys, I could only do Switch. Go by Switch. I don't know. What am I supposed to do? Those are a couple of new things coming out. Personally, I've been continuing to participate in the beta test for Fall Guys, for PS4. 

Erik: That's so much a fun, by the way.

Smitty: Yeah. You did too, right, Erik?

Erik: I did. I did. I got a chance to play some of that. That's just amazing.

Smitty: Right, right. It's for everybody. It's online only. It's essentially a massively multiplayer, fun game without guns.

Erik: Real colorful.

Smitty: Very, very colorful. When we were talking about the Wii, and how Wii Sports was the only thing that we played, this reminds me, am I going weird? Like, there's ...

Erik: No, it's got that feel to it.

Smitty: It has that feel to it.

Erik: Yeah.

Smitty: Like a Wii Sports.

Erik: Not a bad way, in the best possible way.

Smitty: Absolutely.

Erik: Honestly just get everybody together and try to make it from one end of the course to the other. You're running into these obstacles. People are bumping into each other. It's crazy.

Dan: It's like, Wipeout.

Smitty: Yeah, exactly, Wipeout. It's like Wipeout but with jellybean characters that are top heavy, because there's a physics element to the game as well, like platforms that will balance and then so let's say if you have 40 people running, 20 people might run to one end of the platform. It starts tilting. Then, you can't get on it. There's some of it, even though you're competitive, you have to be cooperative in certain places or everybody just falls off the plane.

Dan: Yeah, there's a couple of different neat elements to the varying levels. Each time you kind of finish a stage and you move on to the next round. The entire course is different. You're doing something very different at that point. One of the courses has gigantic fruit-like massive bananas and apples and stuff rolling down the platform and squishing you, knocking you over. You're running up a conveyor belt. If you get knocked over, you might just fall off the end of the conveyor belt. It's truly amazing. I want to remind everybody that if you are watching our Twitter account, or if you join our Discord, you will find this information. It's something that we try to share and keep everybody up to date. When we make the announcements that usually got information to follow, and everybody's happy to share. If you just happen to be joining recently into the Discord, you can check the pin messages. We always keep those things there too. It looks like the game clock has run out of time and the princess is in another castle. On behalf of Games You Deserve, I would like to give a huge thanks to Rob Atkins for joining us. Until next episode. That's it.