Trading Card Spotlight - Phil Campbell

Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Phil Campbell who currently is displayed on card number 364, from the Superstars of 2012 Collection.  There is no one better in the world at the arcade game Space Harrier.  Phil is the current world record holder on the Space Harrier arcade machine.  Phil had his record beaten in 2010 but went right back to the machine and re-broke the record again to take back his crown.  Living in the U.K., Phil is an all-around gaming fan.  He collects arcade machines along with console games and systems.  Of course, being the world record holder on Space Harrier, he owns 3 different Space Harrier cabinets.  Phil plans to one day visit Japan and see all the unique gaming machines they have there.

Do you think the 'Golden Age' of arcade gaming is over?

I think arguably so yes. I'm tempted to say you can only bottle lightning once and things can only really be new and exciting the first time but there are two opposing points of view to this. Firstly, trends are cyclical; we are already seeing a surge in dedicated venues that specifically aim to recreate the look and feel of an 80's arcade with original machines; that experience will absolutely be new to some gamers. Plus, the arcade games that today’s kids are playing, those games will be their classic arcade games, that they will look back fondly upon when they are older. They may not be our games, our Pac-Man, Galaga or Star Wars but they will mean just as much to those guys as the games that we played in our youth do to us. Everyone has their own 'Golden Age.'

How many arcade machines do you currently have?

I currently have 36 full-size arcade machines. I think I’ll probably buy a couple more and then I’ll call it a day. Basically, I don’t have any room left! Most of my machines are in my house because I like to restore them and look after them but a couple of the bigger machines, like the deluxe sit-down Space Harrier and Star Wars cockpit are held in storage. Primarily I collect so that I can have my own classic arcade room, which is a dream I’ve had since I was a teenager. I have a lot of the classics from the 80’s as well, such as Out Run, Gauntlet, Super Hang On, Championship Sprint, Tron and Afterburner II. I collect the games I used to play a lot in the arcades when I was young. My goal is to try to capture the excitement and the enjoyment that I had as a small boy, rushing to the arcade to play the latest video game release with my pocket money.

Do you remember your first video game / arcade you played and what do you remember about it?

I remember the first game I played was Konami’s Scramble around 1982. I remember the game was unbelievably difficult or at least as a small child I found it so. Scramble was very addictive though; I would spend hours and hours playing it, trying to beat it but I don’t think I ever did. To this day I’ve never got to the end of the game, in fact it’s probably many, many years since I last played Scramble, which is unfortunate. I should really go back to it.

Are you still playing Space Harrier today, and what goals do you have?

At one point I got completely obsessed with the game and I managed to get hold of seven full-size Space Harrier arcade machines, which I kept in my house. There were Space Harrier machines in the hallway, upstairs in the lounge and in the dining room; about the only room that didn’t have a Space Harrier in it was the bedroom! Things all got a bit silly to be honest. Things have quietened down a bit these days but I’m fortunate to still own a couple of Space Harrier arcade machines, (just in case one breaks down!) including the Deluxe version. Yes, I still do play - I practice quite regularly and at least once every couple of months I’ll have a serious go to see if I can beat my world record. I like the idea of beating it and then putting the recording in a drawer, just in case anybody beats my score! It’s a game I think I’ll play until I can no longer hold the joystick.

What is your favorite single player game and favorite multiplayer game?

My favorite single-player game at the moment is surprisingly not Space Harrier! I mean I love it and it holds a special place in my life but barring the connection to my childhood, it doesn’t really have a strong emotional storyline; it doesn’t engage the player at that level. In fairness though, it was never meant to. In fact, my favorite single-player game is not even an arcade game! No, at the moment my favorite single-player game is Sony’s The Last of Us. It is truly a masterclass in how to engage your audience with strong storytelling, believable characters, pacing and for me at least, it transcends the influence a game can have on your emotional state. As for my favorite multiplayer game, this would have to be Atari’s Super Sprint arcade machine. I’ve been playing this with my father since the 80’s and even if we only manage to meet up once every couple of years to play, it’s always a complete blast and we are immediately transported back to our family holidays at the arcades when we were much younger. Sega’s Hotrod is a close second, I think; it’s a brilliantly competitive 4-player riot with friends!

What are your opinions about todays generation of video games?  How do you compare them to older, classic games?

As the technology was so limited back in the 80s, the games had to be playable; gameplay was king. Games didn’t have bags of processing power and memory; they had to grab you and hold your attention with very limited resources really. I think as technology has advanced games have become more complicated. Far too complicated in fact. Gaming has definitely moved into the home and games are more integrated into our daily lives and accessible than ever, but modern games have lost that instant playability factor. Of course, it’s always been about monetization of gameplay; back in the 80’s it was your pocket money but these days it’s worse than ever, with add-ons, loot boxes and subscriptions and downloadable content; everything is hidden behind a pay wall.  Modern gaming seems to be all about the grind. People say that modern gaming is far more sociable and acceptable than it ever was and to an extent that’s true but I’d argue that sitting staring at your phone or your tablet or your PC screen is nowhere near as sociable as going down to an actual arcade with your friends accompanying you, and playing actual video games in the company of others and sharing the experience. Modern arcades have become rammed with gambling and fruit machines and video games have been relegated to dark corners with Out of Order signs on them; that’s if you can even find a traditional arcade that has vintage video games still, beyond modern dedicated venues. That’s why I collect classic arcade machines; these games need to be preserved. Through forums and collecting circles, people now have access to own and play these classic games; the games that they played as children and have the chance to reminisce, whilst mixing with like-minded collectors.

Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a Video Game Trading card? 

Honestly, I would never have imagined that; I didn’t even know there was such a thing. For me it was just about where could I find an arcade that had a deluxe motion Space Harrier machine. I Remember I would attract crowds of people whilst playing, who would stop to watch me. I knew there was something about that game and I was aware that I was ‘good’ at it in that I was able to complete it, but I had no idea then that I would end up in the future at some point with the world record with my own trading card. That still blows my mind.

Have you ever received any media coverage for your appearance on the Trading Card?  If so, where?

I haven’t received any specific media coverage for the trading card, but I did receive some newspaper coverage for the world record back in May 2010. I’d had the world record for the arcade version of Space Harrier for about a year at that point, when the previous world record holder, Nick Hutt broke my record. Of course, I immediately went back and tried again. About a month later, I was fortunate to beat Nick’s new record and get the world record back and we both got some media coverage by The Examiner at the time. The website is unfortunately no longer with us, but essentially, we got the story printed that there was this kind of back and forth battle going on between myself and Nick for the Space Harrier arcade world record, which was kind of cool. Nick and I still keep in touch too.

What is your favorite portable gaming device and why?

I like the Nintendo Switch a lot. It has a great and growing library of classic Sega arcade game conversions and it’s a lot of power to have in your hands; people are really learning to do great things with it. I often take my Switch on the train with me, it’s great to see the looks on the faces of all the other passengers when I pull out my Nintendo Switch and start playing Space Harrier or Out Run. It’s just such a versatile machine and it’s a great multiplayer console. I think Nintendo really surprised a lot of people with the Switch; it’s been far more successful than anyone expected.

What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?

Until very recently, when I wasn’t playing vintage arcade games, I was playing either Quake, (and its various sequels) or World of Warcraft on the PC. Years and years, I’ve spent pouring time into those games and I’ve made some great friends. I’ve recently managed to wean myself off Warcraft though and switched to Call of Duty (COD) and Overwatch.  I now play COD in most of my downtime when I’m not working my IT job. Mario Kart on the Switch is probably my go to game for myself and my girlfriend.

If you could own one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?

Probably the one machine that I’ve never managed to get hold of is a sit-down Out Run deluxe. It’s such an iconic cab and hugely popular with collectors. When machines do appear, they command huge prices and I fear I will never manage to get my hands on one now. I’m proud of my collection though; I have a lot of really nice machines and I never take it for granted how fortunate I am.

Which console company is your favorite and why?  Nintendo, Sony, Sega, or Microsoft?

I don’t think you can ever really count Nintendo out. They have consistently proven that they put playability above graphics and that you can have a state-of-the-art experience without having state of the art expensive hardware to go with it. They are constantly looking for new ways to innovate, new ways to play and even after all these years Nintendo is still finding innovative ways of engaging audiences old and new. None of the other gaming companies really have a Mario or a Zelda or have anything really that can compete at that level of pure playability. Sure, Sony and Microsoft have their own popular franchises their own characters, but nobody really does it like Nintendo. Nintendo are the only company that constantly surprise, constantly innovate and consistently put a smile on your face.

How does video game music influence games past and present?

For me video game music has always been 50% of the experience.  Done correctly, video game music can pick you up and take you on a journey; it can uplift your emotional state and truly immerse you in whatever is happening on screen. Music can tell you how a video game character is feeling, what their drivers are, how they react to in-game events and gives them a purpose which in turn gives the player a purpose. Vintage video game creators didn’t have much technology to play with, so they had to squeeze these amazing sound effects and music out of barely anything at all; music was usually an afterthought once the main game had been completed and yet still we see examples where the music that was being produced at the time is still remembered and listened to today. Amazing artists like Matt Gray and Rob Hubbard are still around and still producing video game inspired music. Those guys, together with the likes of Ben Daglish, Richard Joseph and Martin Galway set the bar high. Today’s games might have huge live orchestras and cutting-edge technology to help the studio realize their vision but the names I’ve mentioned are just a few of many classic video game composers who influenced the scene and created the building blocks for what music is today. They made game music credible and cool. It’s great to see modern bands designed entirety around 8-bit music and imagery, even going as far as to use original 8-bit console hardware to make music.

Do you believe some Video Games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?

I would say that the foundations need to be there to begin with. There must be a desire, subliminally or otherwise to make a connection with the game on a level that was not intended. There must be a baseline of instability, an ability to be easily led, an imbalance or a desire to see meaning and make connections that are perhaps not there. I don’t think videogames cause violence directly, but they can, in certain extreme individuals, be a catalyst for violence. Does that mean we should censor or tone down video games? Absolutely not. There will always be products that are widely available to the general public that are open for abuse totally out of sync which the purpose for which they were intended; by individuals with extreme beliefs or imbalanced mental states.

Do you prefer playing video games alone, against friends or online against the world and why?

I tend to play either alone or against a small circle of close friends locally in my arcade or online, (online gaming is a great way to stay in touch with childhood friends or friends from areas you have maybe moved away from) or I play anonymously online against the world. I prefer to play in person of course, you can’t beat that experience. It has to be said though, that multiplayer interaction, the social aspect and the unpredictability of online gaming matches have reached the stage where a single player game must be incredibly well crafted; essentially to Hollywood film script standards, to compete with the instant fix that social gaming comes with. It’s far more gratifying to achieve a goal in a game if you know the people next to you are real people, working together, supporting each other towards a common goal. We’ve maybe never met 99% of the people we play online with and likely never will but it’s fascinating; you can achieve something with complete strangers any day of the week, an infinite number of times and every single scenario is different; no two games are ever the exact same. Current AI just cannot compete with that in single player games.

When did you first play Space Harrier and why did it stick with you?

I first played Space Harrier in a popular U.K. seaside resort called Morecambe. I remember thinking that the 3D aspect of it, Sega’s ‘super scaler’ technology as it was known, was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and the whole cab moved. It was incredible. The game sent you hurtling into the screen across a chequerboard landscape, battling everything from giant robots and 2-headed dragons to flying mushrooms and fighter jets. What 11-year-old boy wouldn’t want to play that until all their pocket money was gone? I think Space Harrier has stayed with me because we all want to be good at something, everyone wants to be able to say they’ve achieved something; made a difference with their life in some small way. ‘Hey, I was here and for a short while I was the Space Harrier world record holder!’ I was just good at Space Harrier. It made me happy to see the smiling faces of the onlookers. I will never forget one occasion I was trying to beat the game on a single credit and there was a crowd of people around me and the atmosphere was just electric. I was having the game of my life, when out of the corner of my eye, I see a small child that had been watching me play run over to an adult shouting “Mum! Mum! He’s the best player I have ever seen!” We nearly missed the train home that day because I was playing Space Harrier. It’s a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?

Unfortunately, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Walter, with him being based in the US and me being based in the UK it makes things pretty difficult, but I’d love to meet him one day.

If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?

Iconic. Walter must be one of the most recognizable, if not the most recognizable people in the classic video arcade scene; everyone knows Walter. He has this amazing referee shirt. It’s like he’s a superhero and that’s his costume which I guess in a sense he is. He is so recognizable, and he’s done so much for the community and he is so hard-working. He is a true icon.

Are video games good for relieving stress?

Absolutely. After a hard day at work there is little better way of relieving stress then grabbing a joystick and either revisiting a beloved classic game or logging into an online gaming experience. You are instantly transported away from whatever real-world issues have sapped all your patience and metal energy and into a world where hey, you can win and have fun doing so! It works both ways though. I found when I was going for a world record attempt on Space Harrier that everything becomes about the score. You stop enjoying the game and it becomes your nemesis; an obstacle to be overcome. When I would die once and immediately know it was futile to continue, I would start over again. After 2 weeks of playing the same game and dying again and again and again, your stress levels rise. You begin to think you’ll never break the high score. It’s demoralizing. The game that gave you so much pleasure growing up suddenly isn’t fun anymore. I personally find high score attempts incredibly stressful. Then you hit the ‘zone’, and everything comes together, you have your perfect game and the record falls. It usually takes a couple of days for the stress to disappear though and I take a break from the game for a time to get back to a point where I enjoy it again.

Who is your favorite video game character and what makes that character special?

My favorite video game character is ‘Armakuni’ from the classic 8-bit game The Last Ninja on the Commodore 64. I recall seeing an early preview of the game in Commodore User and thinking it was the best graphics I had ever seen on the system. I had to have that game. I read that copy of the magazine until its pages fell apart. When The Last Ninja finally arrived after being delayed for what seemed like a lifetime, I was knocked out by how well animated Armakuni was. It was simply the best animation I’d ever seen; like a miniature person running around the screen, fighting, jumping and interacting on a level C64 gaming just hadn’t experienced until that point. Armakuni’s control was tight and responsive and he was interacting with these hugely detailed isometric graphics, whilst the player listening to some of the best music the system would ever see. Only the sequel managed to beat it. Mario and Sonic may be more recognizable but Armakuni had more of an impact on my life. I still play The Last Ninja 1 and 2 to completion once a year.

What springs to mind when you hear the term ‘video games’?

‘Video games’ used to be a term spoken in hushed terms when I was at school. You had groups of 8-bit computer fans arguing in the school yard about which system was better. Consoles weren’t really a thing again at that point and arcades were held in almost mythical status by players because they represented a level of visual and audio fidelity that home computers could never hope to achieve. But ‘gamers’ and ‘gaming’ weren’t popular. As a gamer you never got the girl, you didn’t get invited to all the parties, (because generally, people don’t want to hear about your tactics for beating the third boss on Yie Ar Kung Fu.) People played games but few kids talked openly about them, except to other gamers and away from the popular kids, who were into football and sports. These days gaming is widely accepted as a social pastime, a professional career and a sport in its own right. People are no longer confined to their bedrooms, saving their hard-earned pocket money so they can ask embarrassingly “Where are the new games?” in their local department store. Gaming is a worldwide phenomenon, on every system you can imagine and with real life changing revenue and prize money opportunities for the most gifted development teams and gamers, who are held in high esteem, even worshipped by their hundreds of thousands of fans and spectators across the planet.

Of these five elements video games, which is the most important to you and why?  Gameplay, Atmosphere, Music, Story, Art style.

Gameplay is king. Every time. History has shown that you can have the best-looking screenshots on your flyer but if your game isn’t very playable, it simply isn’t going to be embraced by the community. There are so many different pulls on our spare time these days; so many different types of media all vying for our attention and disposable income, that something has to really feel like a worthwhile use of your time. I believe you can only achieve that through good gameplay; the other elements you list might draw your attention momentarily; you might hear a catchy snippet of a game soundtrack or be distracted by a new art style but only interesting and rewarding gameplay will keep you coming back.

Do you find boss battles to be the best part of a video game?

Bosses can certainly be iconic and memorable. I mean, who doesn’t remember Dobkeratops from level 1 of R-Type or actually, the 2-headed dragons from Space Harrier? I don’t think they are the ‘best’ part of a video game though. For me gaming is about the journey; and all aspects of that journey are important. I’ve never understood games that have a ‘boss-rush’ mode where you only fight the bosses one after another; you need that build-up of smaller enemies and locations, the passage of time. You need to feel that you came from somewhere, that you’re going somewhere, towards a goal, (which might be the boss) but it’s everything in between and the quality of that gameplay content, that also counts towards the experience. You wouldn’t have a sandwich filling without any sandwich, would you? The whole experience is equally as important.

If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?

I had an idea where you’d start at level 1 with a game that was visually and sonically akin to something you would have played in the early 80’s, with gameplay to match. With each new level however, the game would advance a few years to look, play and sound like a game from that particular era; including any notable advances in technology or style that were made at the time. Eventually the player would arrive at current gaming standards, with the final level perhaps trying something that hasn’t been done before to represent the true journey of gaming. If such a game could be done so that it was not jarring to the player, then I think that would be interesting. For me it’s less about a new IP or a new idea though and more about reinvigorating our beloved or dormant franchises. Imagine how cool VR versions of Out Run, Space Harrier, or After Burner would be, where the game puts you in the cockpit, with huge detailed scenery rushing by; the player being engulfed in explosions and enemies. Flipping the Ferrari in Out Run when you crash would be interesting! I think there are also way too many games that deserved sequels that never got any; some were started and never completed, or never got off the drawing board for various reasons. In a similar vein to Shenmue III, I would love to see Starglider III, The Last Ninja 4, anything with Monty Mole in it or how about The Sacred Armour of Antiriad 2?

Do you learn anything from playing video games?

That’s an interesting question. Well, at a basic level gaming obviously keeps your reactions in good shape and keeps you mentally focused and active. Games can teach you patience, tactics, diplomacy and social interaction. They can open you to experiences across the full emotional spectrum, happiness right through to anger, and frustration when things aren’t particularly going your way. Games teach you how to connect. I guess gaming to an extent also keeps you ‘tech savvy’, with their constant hardware and software refreshes and updates; we almost take it for granted.

Where do you see Video gaming in the next 20 years?

I think whilst it’s been an extremely difficult birth, virtual reality (VR) is here to stay. I think we’re going to see a move towards fully immersive, full body VR experiences, including real-time feedback, which will greatly enhance the social aspect of gaming; something akin to what we’ve seen in the Ready Player One movie perhaps. Competitive gaming can only grow, with even bigger arenas, a wider choice of games, more publicity, more focus and visibility in social media and of course far bigger prize funds. I think there’s going to be an increase in social media gaming celebrities or ‘influencers’; we’ve seen it with YouTube content creators to an extent already. I think there’s always going to be a place for a console type device under the television, but I think gaming will move more towards real-time streaming as technology advances and Internet bandwidth becomes more widely available, with faster speeds. People will stream their content in real time, and you won’t necessarily have to have a physical disk or a physical product in your hands. Gaming will be less about having a physical collection and more about always on connectivity and the ability to immediately stream the latest triple-A software on day of release in real time, lag-free and rendered at 8K. AI will perhaps advance to a level that you simply cannot tell if you are playing against a human or computer code.