Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Brett Weiss has used his passion and knowledge for video games to create a wonderful collection of books that allow readers to travel back in time and relive their favorite video game memories and introduces new readers to the rich history of video games. In this interview, Brett sits down with us to talk about his books and so much more.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your connection with video games?
Brett Weiss: Well I discovered video games back in 1975 with Pong and Midway’s Gunfight and places like bowling alleys and skating rinks. I had also been playing Pinball around that time and then later my cousin got ATARI Pong for his home console. And that blew me away— that you could play video games in your house! I didn’t know you could do that. 1975 was a big year! I discovered video games in the arcades and I had also been playing Electro-Mechanical machines at that point but 1975 is my first memory of actual video games with Atari Pong and Gunfight. In 1976 my two best friends each got a Fairchild Channel F and then in 1977 the Atari 2600 came out and a bunch of my friends got that and I would go over to their houses a lot and play that. That’s the beginning of my interest in video games.
Video game preservation has always been a hot-button topic since we can purchase video games digitally through online platforms such as PSN, Nintendo e-Shop, Amazon, and many others. But companies can decide to shut down their servers for a particular console, and while previously purchased content can be re-downloaded, a lot of us wonder if it will ALWAYS be that way. An example: Sony had recently announced the shut down of their digital stores for the Playstation 3, PSP, and Vita, and immediately people started to back up their games. With that said what is your take on video game preservation and the importance of it?
Brett Weiss: Well I don’t think the companies care that much about video game preservation I think they’re interested in what’s going on now, and appeasing stockholders and that kind of stuff so it’s really up to the fans to preserve video game history, and I think they’re doing a pretty good job of that with the different books, the Video Game History Foundation, the collectors just preserving things, and the National Video Game Museum located in Frisco, Texas. And I think it’s important just because it’s fun! I think there’s so much in life that’s serious and that we have to deal with and video games are fun, and it’s just fun to preserve the history, and it’s also good for gamers today to have some foundation. If you know what came before you, you can appreciate better what’s going on now by knowing what came before.
There are similar books on the market that try to capture the history of video games, can you tell me what makes the books you’ve written different and unique?
Brett Weiss: That’s a great question! So there are a couple of things that set them apart. Number one is: I’ve been gaming since 1975 so I have a long history with games than most writers who wrote the books that you see now and I have more of a historical aspect. But another thing that a lot of people enjoy from my Omnibus books are called “Insider Insights” these are nostalgic stories from programmers, other authors, developers, popular YouTubers that have supplemental stories for the games— Like growing up playing the games, programming the games, some historical context of the games. So you get a lot of context, history, and personal anecdotes for a lot of the games in the books.
And people love reading about the perspectives of these content creators and programmers who grew up playing these games and memorable things that happened to them with these games. In addition to reviews and synopses of the games you also get stories! And people love to read stories.
My Omnibus books also contain quotes from vintage magazines so you get an idea of what reviewers thought of the game when they were new in stores and you get a broad look at each game which definitely sets them apart from other books.
So my next question is something that I was really curious about. When you are creating these big books how were people able to share with you those memories so they can be a part of the ‘Insider Insights’?
Brett Weiss: So the first Omnibus book I did was the SNES Omnibus covering the first half of every US release of the Super Nintendo A through L and I put the word out on social media that I was looking for contributing writers as long as they had some industry connection— whether they were a programmer, developer, video game store owner, reviewers for a magazine or websites, YouTubers. People with some connection to the industry. I put out the word that I was looking for people to share nostalgic stories for publication in my book.
And so quite a few people messaged me saying they were interested and I asked them what games were they interested in writing about and I would let them know if those titles were available, and then I would tell them that I’m more looking for nostalgic stories than I am for reviews. Just memorable experiences like getting the game for Christmas, playing couch co-op with their sibling, or maybe development for the game like David Warhol who used to program for Intellivision and then did some programming for NES games. He shared some stories of programming specific games for the NES. Stuff like that makes the books more fun to read.
Editor’s Note: Our very own Editor-in-Chief was kind enough to share his own Insider Insight contribution to Brett’s book. Here is what Jason has to say!
I started working with Brett when he put out the call for contributors for his first SNES book, though I knew of his work way before that. Brett wrote one of my favorite books on gaming ever, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987. It’s an awesome collected edition, loaded with some of the greatest games of all time. If you haven’t read it, you should. I was pumped to work not only on one of his books, but one dedicated to my favorite console ever to boot! I ended up contributing a few takes on some of my favorite SNES games for both that book and it’s sequel, and had a blast doing it. I’m happy to, in a completely and utterly partial way, recommend both.
Since everyone has been sharing their memories with you about their favorite video games what has been YOUR favorite video game memory that’s close to your heart?
Brett Weiss: That’s a great question! So Christmas of 1982— getting a ColecoVision was just one of the greatest days of my life, and in the Summer of 1982 I was still playing video games at other people’s homes— their Atari, their Intellivision, their [Magnavox] Odyssey 2 as I didn’t have a game console of my own yet because they were expensive but when I turned 15 I saw the ColecoVision commercial on TV that summer and they were playing Donkey Kong! I couldn’t believe how good it looked and thought ‘WOW that looks just like in the arcades!’ I knew I had to have a ColecoVision of my very own. My parents had a limit of 100 dollars for Christmas but the ColecoVision was 200 dollars, so I gave them 100 dollars of my lawn-mowing money and then they pitched in 100 bucks and I got a ColecoVision and Mouse Trap for Christmas, and I played Donkey Kong which came with the console and Mouse Trap. I played late into the night sitting in my beanbag chair and then the next morning I got up and started playing it again. That was the most memorable thing for me. Another was finally getting my own game console after so long of just playing at other people’s homes.
Then in 1987, another big memory was that my brother got me an NES for Christmas and that was mind-boggling! At the time I had a ColecoVision, Atari 2600, Intellivision, and I was so content with the little consoles, but my brother got me an NES in 1987 and I couldn’t believe how good the graphics were and how great the controls were and everything so I had really good times at Christmas!
Wow! As a follow-up question, I want to ask if you have made any new gaming memories recently? And do you play any new games currently?
Brett Weiss: Oh absolutely! Every time my nephew Chris comes into town— he lives in Okinawa, Japan so he comes home a couple of times a year and we were really close when he was growing up, well whenever he comes home now me and him and my two adult kids would play Bomberman, Warlords on the Atari 2600, we play South Park for the Playstation [laughs] It’s so bad it’s good every Christmas and then in the Summer we’d play those games with family and it’s just so much fun. So yeah still making memories today!
When I first heard about your books I figured that this was a big project and despite how passionate you are about video games, I can only imagine that you’ve had some challenges along the way, as you put all of this goodness all together in one package. Can you tell me about them?
Brett Weiss: Well my first book was in 2007 and it was called Classic Home Video Games 1972-1984 and that covered the Atari, ColecoVision, Intellivision, [Magnavox] Odyssey 2 and all those great consoles and even the Fairchild Channel F and some of the obscure systems that I grew up playing, that was a lot of fun to write and before that, I’ve been writing for the All Game Guide— and that was an online resource and I was reviewing and writing synopses for that online source. But they downsized and stopped publishing people unless they worked at the place, but they let go all of their freelancers and so after that, I thought ‘hey why don’t I just start writing these kinds of reviews in book form?’ In 2006 I met McFarland and Company at San Diego Comic-Con and I talked to them for a while and they emailed me asking if I had any book ideas and that’s when the Classic Home Video Game series was born!
I was just playing a lot of games late into the night, making notes, and getting up the next morning, and writing about the games. It can get tiring and it’s a big job. Writing a book is difficult, it’s a craft and an art form but over the years I have probably gotten better at it, and writing for the All Game Guide for several years helped me polish my craft. These books take a long time to write and editing can get tedious— once you are finished with the book then you have to go over it with a fine-tooth comb looking for any mistakes or fact-checking and making corrections, and making sure the dates, the name of the publishers and all that stuff is correct. Just every little thing can get tedious and time-consuming. The editing process is a big challenge.
And for each game you don’t want to get repetitious in how you describe a game because I’m writing synopses for hundreds and hundreds of games so there’s just a lot of time involved and there’s an isolation aspect to it too— it’s just me here and my dog! [laughs] It’s fun, if I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t do it and every time I finish a book I’m thinking ‘man that was a major undertaking I’m not gonna write another book at least for a long time!’ But then after about two weeks, I get that itch again and I’ll [laughs] submit an idea to a publisher or start the next book or whatever so I enjoy it overall.
As a writer myself I am always interested to learn about the goals that people set to keep them motivated and strong during the stress and isolation that comes along with each project. What was your goal for each book you wrote?
Brett Weiss: A lot of writers will tell you that they don’t like writing but they love having been published. [laughs] I like writing but I also just love being published and looking forward to a new book or new article to come out— I write for different magazines and newspapers and it’s just always a thrill to finish a project and to see your name in print and to have that feeling of completing something and also just out of necessity. I’m a writer. I sit down to write every day and I need to make a living doing that so also just out of sheer necessity to get content out to put food on the table.
Do you ever review games just for fun? Not for anything professional but do you write just for fun sometimes?
Brett Weiss: Every once in a while I’ll contribute something for free just to support a project. Walter Day is an industry icon noted for being an early high scorekeeper— he kept track of high scores for arcade games and he started Twin Galaxies Arcade back in the day, well there’s a new book coming out about trading cards that he’s publishing and I contributed a story to that about meeting Walter Day and my experiences with him, so yeah every once in a while I’ll contribute something to a project that I just want to help support.
How has the pandemic influenced your writing environment? Has it changed at all or stayed the same?
Brett Weiss: Well, writing is a solitary experience so in some ways it’s been the same— with NES Omnibus Volume 1 the majority of writing that was during the pandemic got sorted in a way where it gave me the extra time to write because I was home more and didn’t travel as much and I wasn’t going to video game conventions. During all of this— other than the real problems like people I know getting sick and I’ve known some people that have died, the biggest bummer for me during the pandemic is no video game conventions. I love conventions, I love meeting readers and fans, and talking to some people who either read my books or watch my YouTube channel I miss doing that because it’s just so much fun and to also treasure hunt at these conventions to add things to my collection. I miss going to conventions.
In a sense, I think we are all still connected in a certain way and through your books, I think a lot of people are reliving these memories but we’re also creating some new ones and hang in there because we are spreading positivity and this helps us to get away from what’s going on in the news right now.
Brett Weiss: Right!
The pandemic has turned our world and lives upside down. Suddenly we were forced apart from our loved ones and friends, and some of us experienced isolation. How do you think video games have helped people stay sane during this difficult time?
Brett Weiss: Video games have been HUGE during this. You know some people think video games are unimportant or whatever but during the pandemic, they have been absolutely essential for helping people preserve their sanity not only by connecting safely with their friends by playing any online multiplayer game through their PS4, PS5, Xbox, or the Switch but also just to occupy your time— you know you’re home a lot more, some people were on furlough from work, or you’re just home more in general because you’re not going out to bars and restaurants or concerts so you can play games which are great for creativity, adventure, and exploration. They have been a huge help. I’ve talked to store owners who have just sold a ton of stuff during the pandemic and people start asking’ Hey do you have a used Switch or Playstation 4?’ and they’ll say no because they’ve been selling so well. Then people will ask ‘What about a used Playstation 2?’ Store owners will go ‘No.’ And then they are asked: ‘Well what about a used Sega Genesis?’ And store owners will go: ‘Yes!’ And then people will go: ‘Okay I’ll take it!’ You know, people that haven’t [played games] in a long time on consoles —they have re-bought consoles just for the pandemic so that they’ll have something to do during this time so yeah they’ve been a huge help in preserving sanity for a lot of people.
I understand that. As a person with a physical disability who lives alone the only point of physical contact that I have with the outside world besides phone calls at this time is my mother because she comes to check on me twice a week to make sure that I’m okay, and it’s also not easy for me to go outdoors for some fresh air due to the physical limitations that I do have and the barriers that my apartment building presents. I have been treating my Nintendo Switch like a best friend and you are right it has been helping with managing anxiety, depression, and isolation that I’ve been experiencing during the pandemic.
When I heard about your books and I heard about the video game connection with those books I said: “You know what? I think it’s time for me to speak with you and try to do something positive right now because we are all separated from loved ones. The last time I saw people in person was back in February of 2020 so I haven’t seen anyone for a year. I’ve been doing the best I can in hunkering down and keeping myself safe, but I believe that talking to people like you who are passionate about video games is something very positive so thank you very much!
Brett Weiss: Oh absolutely I can sympathize. I’ve met people who have been very isolated during all this so I can sympathize. I appreciate your kind words and I’ve enjoyed talking to you so this is great!
I found out something cool about you when I was double-checking information about your very first book! It said that you used to own a comic book store, can you tell me about that?
Brett Weiss: During the early 1990s, I owned a pair of comic book stores In the Dallas/Fort Worth area with my brother-in-law. We sold comics, books, role-playing games, action figures.
And did something happen to those comic book stores? Did it become too hard to maintain them, or did you both wanted to go in a different direction? Was it financially unsustainable to keep them open?
Brett Weiss: I sold my share of the stores to my brother-in-law and then went to work for Waldenbooks. He ran the stores for another year or so before closing up shop. While I was working at Waldenbooks, that same brother-in-law sent me a classified ad from the All Game Guide looking for people to write about old video games and computer games. After sending the main editor for the All Game Guide some writing samples, he took me on as a freelancer and eventually an editor. I got steady work from the All Game Guide so I was able to quit my Waldenbooks job and work from home, writing full-time.
If anybody is struggling right now during this pandemic and they love video games so much what would be your kind words to them?
Brett Weiss: Well just hang in there and remember to press pause and go outside, take walks and visit with people outdoors—you can meet at the park or outside in people’s yards and have a nice balance in your life. Sure play video games but also get some fresh air and exercise, and it’s also a good time to organize your game room! Strengthen your collection and weed out the games you don’t want or make a checklist of the games you’re looking for online or the next time there are shows. Take some time to enjoy your hobby but also mix it up and enjoy other things too!
The NES Omnibus Volume 2 is scheduled to release in October-November as its Kickstarter campaign was a huge success.
You can check out Brett at the following places on the web: