By Ray Barnholt
Video games are an interesting field for a ton of reasons. One would be that we sometimes remember people associated with games even more than the people who actually made them. If you’ve been reading/watching game magazines/shows over the years, you probably have a memory of That Guy who wrote those reviews you like, or That Guy on that one game TV show, or That Guy who played the ninja in that fighting game, or That Guy who was in those silly advertisements.
Dozens of people like that came and went throughout our gaming lives, especially in the ’90s, when magazines were the primary source of getting game information and digitized actors in fighting games and awful full-motion video titles were increasingly becoming the norm. So we handpicked a bunch of those and tracked them down to find out if they stayed in the business, moved on to other pursuits, or at least got better haircuts.
The man behind Mortal Kombat’s original Johnny Cage and the pallete-swap ninjas was a local martial artist just like the rest of the MK cast, though Daniel Pesina’s reign ended when he appeared in an ad for MK knock-off Bloodstorm, which got him kicked out of Midway’s house (on purpose? It’s hard to say). Today, Master Pesina continues to teach martial arts at Chicago Wushu, while his younger brother Carlos stayed on for other MK projects.
First appearing as a “cheerleader” on NBA Jam’s attract screen, Playboy model Kerri Hoskins became featured in many Midway games, eventually taking the role of Sonya Blade in MK3. Now Kerri Branson, she lives in Illinois as a personal trainer and promotes fitness through her web site, TrainedForChange.com.
Forden was also in Mortal Kombat — not as a fighter, but as the guy who appeared for half a second and yelped “toasty!” after a well-placed uppercut. Forden was the sound designer at Midway, and got his in-joke inserted into Mortal Kombat II and a few other sequels. He stayed with Midway pretty much until the end, and then joined Ed Boon’s NetherRealm studio to work on the latest Mortal Kombat, and of course, get his Easter egg into the game.
FAKE GAME PROS
The host of “GamePro TV” in the ’90s didn’t really come off as a gamer, but that’s understandable when you’re like a teenage Wink Martindale, hosting any game show that came along — just smile and read the lines. We remember him best as a reciter of game tips, though. And even well into adulthood, Roth continued to host a wide variety of game shows. These days, he’s CEO of 3Ball, a TV production company responsible for many popular reality shows, including The Biggest Loser.
If J.D. Roth was the cheerful older brother type, then Stivi Paskoski, a.k.a. Johnny Arcade of Video Power, was the crazy cousin who enjoyed fireworks too much. His machine gun-like exuberance and wealth of goofy voices pretty much telegraphed his present job as a character actor, mostly appearing in one-off roles on crime procedurals like Law & Order, as well as in a stint on Showtime’s Brotherhood.
The 1990 Nintendo World Champion became a real-life Jimmy Woods (the “wizard” of The Wizard) thanks to his raw NES skills. Aackerlund then became a figurehead for Camerica, the maker of the Game Genie and unlicensed NES games, something that likely didn’t sit well with Nintendo. So when Camerica went away, it seemed like Thor did, too. He recently resurfaced, though, running a gaming blog Lost Hammer, partly with his brother Erik, and maintaining his Tetris discipline.
You know him as the kid with the mullet from the magazine ads for Renovation’s Genesis game Gaiares, but there’s a real person in front of that hair. Despite the fun times working for a game company (including trips to CES), James Bunker didn’t stay in the game business long — he had to finish high school, after all. But he did stay close to home, and has spent the past decade working at FlyteComm, a maker of high-end flight-tracking software. On a more personal note, Bunker tells us, “My high school sweetheart, who ironically used to work with me at Renovation, is still the love of my life.”
Turbo Technologies’ nontraditional superhero “Johnny Turbo” may have been a joke that got out of hand when all they were trying to do was sell TurboDuos, but it nevertheless introduced us to John Brandstetter, the real-life TTI employee the character was based on. He stayed in the game industry, too, working for Sega and Bandai among others, and now works for mobile game publisher Flying Tiger.
Meston started as a writer (sometimes ghostwriter) of game strategy guides, authoring dozens of books in the ’90s. He also did wider game coverage for publications such as VideoGames and Wired, before joining Working Designs as a localization editor, and then moving to PR briefly for Atlus. Today, the good-humored Meston is way out of the game, so to speak; he’s a marketing coordinator for real estate giant Coldwell Banker.
The man who took Sega to “the next level” made the most of Sega’s unique position in the American market in the early ’90s with hip, biting marketing that pulled Genesis ahead of Super NES in mindshare for a little while. After Sega, Kalinske went to edutainment company LeapFrog and was the CEO for several years before stepping down to vice chairman in 2002. He is also executive chairman of the recently-opened American branch of Moonshoot, an educational company focused on teaching children English.
Bernard Stolar is a game industry vet who goes back to the days of Atari’s arcade division. In the late ’90s, he was a VP at Sony CEA and then took over Tom Kalinske’s job at Sega of America. Hardcore gamers didn’t much like Stolar once they found out he was instrumental in holding back certain types of games, especially RPGs, at both Sony and Sega. In his arguably smartest move, Stolar made sure the Dreamcast launched in America at $199, but he was let go just before the launch, allegedly due to disagreements with his Japanese bosses. He then went to Mattel’s interactive division in what we’ll call a “reverse Kalinske.” After more bouncing around in the game industry (including a stint at Google), Stolar seems to have settled down as CEO of his own consulting firm, The Stolar Group.
Zito probably wouldn’t like being called a “suit,” as he started out as a journalist for the Washington Post in the ’70s. Nevertheless, he co-founded Digital Pictures in 1991 and faithfully supported the Sega CD with full-motion video games and nothing but. As the years went on, DP gained notoriety, and Zito valiantly tried to convince the industry that full-motion video games were the future. Rather, DP’s games became history, either in important ways (Night Trap being singled out by the Senate) or in a more ironic fashion, like, uh, the rest of their games. Can’t blame him for trying to sell his product, though. Today, Zito has slowed down a bit, and you can find an archive of his photography and writing at zito.com.
Yukawa was the somewhat hapless Sega executive in a series of commercials for the company around the time of the Japanese Dreamcast launch. He was indeed Sega’s actual managing director for many years, and a convincing actor — he became a minor pop culture figure thanks to the commercials, ultimately being featured on the back of the Dreamcast’s box (as well as immortalized in polygons in “What’s Shenmue,” a Shenmue demo disc). But roughly a year after the Dreamcast’s release, Yukawa left Sega, and seemed to fall off the face of the earth. In 2009, he reappeared as a manager at Niusia, a company that offers Chinese language learning to the Japanese. Though that was a couple of years ago, as far as we can tell, he seems to still be at the company today.
THE BIG AND SMALL SCREEN
Yes, it’s the kid from The Wizard; the little boy who had a natural talent for being really good at video games, thanks to creative editing. The character was mostly mute and depressed throughout the film, but, well, don’t blame him for not having much to work with. Though Edwards didn’t become as big as some of his co-stars in the movie (Jenny Lewis is in Rilo Kiley; we know), he did stay an actor. As a kid he had parts in Newsies and Little Big League, and through adulthood he’s had bit parts in all sorts of movies and TV shows (including the part of “High School Guy” in American Pie 2). And how many people can say they made a nation of kids jealous by being the first to play Super Mario Bros. 3 in a movie?
The Double Dragon movie had quite a cast, from Robert Patrick to Scott Wolf and Alyssa Milano, but you shouldn’t forget Mark Dacascos, who played Jimmy Lee, one half of the Lee “brothers.” The Hawaiian-born martial artist had bit parts in dozens of movies and shows that had even the faintest hint of action in them, so there’s a chance you’ve seen him in stuff like Cradle 2 the Grave or the new Hawaii Five-O. But his most notable post-Double Dragon role is definitely the crazy Chairman on Iron Chef America (and Australia).
In the ’90s, you didn’t need to be a working actor to be in a game; you could just be its creator. Chris Jones helmed Access’ Tex Murphy adventure games both as their designer and as private dick Tex Murphy himself. Hey, he was handsome enough. Jones stayed with Access when they were bought by Microsoft and focused on making golf games, and in 2002 founded TruGolf, producer of larger-scale virtual golf sims, as well as the more recent Big Finish Games, a small adventure game studio.
The starring role is always on a bit player’s mind, and for character actor Steve Witting, he got one in the mid-’90s…in a Sega CD FMV game. In Wirehead, Witting played the “hero” Ned Hubbard, the regular dad with a radio-control brain implant who ends up in quite an irregular misadventure as he tries to escape the FBI. As one of the last Sega CD games, it didn’t exactly light up the charts. But like any good character actor, Witting remains in the business — perhaps you saw him for a few seconds on 30 Rock when Tina Fey’s character went to her high school reunion.
Vallejo is an accomplished illustrator with a history of fantasy-style art that dates back to the ’60s. His history with games is comparatively lengthy, as he created cover art for many computer and console games of the ’80s and ’90s, including several Genesis games (Ecco the Dolphin; Phantasy Star IV; Star Control II, etc.). In 2010, 2K commissioned Vallejo (and wife Julie Bell) to produce a piece based on BioShock 2 for a promotional gallery of artists’ takes on the game’s world. Vallejo and Bell continue to work on all sorts of epic art projects (including a humorous ad piece for Old Spice, of all things), which you can keep track of at their site, imaginistix.com.
If you pick up any given moody rock album of the ’70s or ’80s, there’s a good chance its cover was painted by Roger Dean, creator of surrealistic landscapes that seemed to become a staple of album cover design of that period, with Asia and Yes being frequent clients. Dean also created the logos for classic game publisher Psygnosis as well as Henk Rogers’ Bullet-Proof (now Blue Planet) Software, which led him to design the now-standard T-shaped Tetris logo. Of course, he also created cover art for both companies’ games, including classics like Shadow of the Beast and Faceball 2000. At 66, Dean continues working in his unforgettable style, especially in creating the cover art for the latest Yes album.
Fantasy geeks should know Larry Elmore — if not by name, then by output. His illustrations have been part of Dungeons & Dragons, Dragonlance, Magic: The Gathering, and in video games, multiple key illustrations for the original EverQuest series and all manner of PC RPGs (his most recent credit being 2003′s Horizons: Empire of Istaria). Elmore stays active by penning his long-running comic strip SnarfQuest, taking assorted commissions, and just plain painting for his own enjoyment.
Chances are you know Terry Wolfinger best as the in-house artist for Die Hard GameFan magazine in its ’90s heyday, creating the Monitaur mascot and comic, plus the editors’ cartoon alter egos. Wolfinger later contributed the same sort of work to GameFan’s spiritual successor Hardcore Gamer, but in between he’s done concept art for games like The Suffering and Rise of the Argonauts, plus cover art for Agetec’s Raw Danger and Fire Pro Wrestling Returns. Terrywolfinger.com contains much of his recent work, much of it caricature.
THEIR NAME WAS THE GAME
Yoot Saito might be one of the most criminally underappreciated game designers. He and his company Vivarium have, over the years, created odd games like Seaman and Odama (even if the latter was a nice idea that fell flat). He also created SimTower and put his name on the spiritual sequel Yoot Tower. So, if you’ve been sucked into Tiny Tower recently, just remember who you ought to really thank for that. (As it turns out, Yoot Tower is now available on iPad from Saito’s newest company, DigiToys.)
He of “Archer Maclean’s Mercury” gets to have his name on the box because he was a British gaming legend. Maclean wrote both Dropzone and International Karate, two of the most celebrated microcomputer games of the early ’80s. After a couple of decades of not-so-notable developments (but always with his name attached to them), Maclean founded Awesome Play in 2005 and developed Mercury and the Wii racing game Wheelspin. Mercury seems to be Maclean’s new legacy, though, so you can expect Mercury Hg on PSN and Xbox Live Arcade soon.
As one of the original “rockstar artists” at Electronic Arts, Bill Budge made a splash with Pinball Construction Set, a 1983 suite for making your own virtual pinball games. Budge considered himself more of a programmer than game designer, though, so he left EA just a few years after joining, and returned to the game industry in the ’90s (back to EA, then Trip Hawkins’ 3DO, and then Sony) due to all the technological advancements that were happening in the field. Today, Budge is at Google’s Native Code department, as deep into programming as ever.
Sports figures on game boxes are nothing new, but Bill Laimbeer was an odd one out. The former Detroit Piston made a name for himself as one of the team’s “bad boys,” enough that Hudson Soft got his likeness for Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball, a futuristic, roughness-focused b-ball game for the Super NES that turned out to be pretty terrible. Perhaps as a combination of that and his not-too-dignified celebrity, Laimbeer didn’t stay on video game boxes. A year after retiring in 1993, Laimbeer started an ultimately unsuccessful box-making company with his father (yes, really), but he did get back into basketball, coaching the WNBA’s Detroit Shock, leaving that position in 2009, and now serving as assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves.