Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Billy Joe Cain, who currently is displayed on card number 376, from the Superstars of 2012 Collection. Billy Joe is also on trading card #363 and trading card #2710. He has been playing video games since the 1970’s and became a Defender champion at the age of 14. Already a video game expert in the early 1990’s, he began his career as the lead designer on Origin Systems' Ultima 7: The Black Gate on SNES. Currently Billy’s new business is taking on the Virtual Reality world, designing an interactive story game that raises awareness of the psychological manipulation (grooming) that can lead to abuse and even human trafficking. You can donate to the cause and learn more about it by clicking here.
Do you remember your first arcade you played and what do you remember about it?
I was born in 1967, so I was really young when PONG appeared. I remember being mesmerized by the human interaction with the machine (felt like I got to put some “spin” on the ball - all in my head), and that it allowed me to entertain myself. Mostly I remember how it gave me “someone” to play with. And wow, then all the home versions! But even then, I was already playing mechanical games in bars. You know, like the baseball ones with pinballs, and of course pins. I literally have grown up watching games go from PONG to VR and have tried to stay immersed in the culture.
Do you remember your first pinball game you played and what do you remember about it?
The first game I really remember vividly is Captain Fantastic, but I know I played so many before that. I think it resonates because Elton, of course. So many other tables have huge places in my heart. One of them is Gorgar, because it was 1 foot away from my Defender at my home away from home... the arcade at the hardware store down the road from my house.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of arcade games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
I’m out of date and I know it. Many games seem extremely expensive and money hungry. Lots of the attention-grabbing techniques that were developed over the decades to get that money out of your pocket have been tweaked and exploited to the point where some games just feel like they are out for my cash. The games I grew up with were still trying to “figure out their own art form” and I got to see a huge variety of games before they consolidated into a small number of genres and licensed products. We had sheet shooting light gun games, jet fighters that used projection, laser discs, you name it. Now, there are 2 player fighters / shooters that need quarters pumped in every XX seconds. I also am seeing way more redemption machines. I’m not a fan of slot machine mechanics in redemption machines, but if that’s what keeps an arcade open... I’m okay with it.
When and why did you begin a Human Trafficking Awareness program?
I was taught that if you could make a difference to help with something, that you should do it. It’s a long story, but essentially, I was working for a friend who knew my kids, and I did not know he was a sex predator. He would call the land line at the house and talk to the kids or my wife and then they’d hand the phone to me. The kids asked me and my wife why he was having bizarre conversations about their sex organs and pornography, so we went to the police. They told us what he was doing was grooming our children. We found out there aren’t very many educational tools that can really teach you what that is. So... I decided to make one.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
Just the concept of video games being an accepted cultural activity was difficult to comprehend, so no way in heck did I think that would happen. I am so honored. Unbelievable.
When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?
At the King of Kong premiere in Austin! Right after the movie, I approached Walter and let him know I was interested in setting a Defender world record. He looks at me and says, “You’re Billy Joe Cain from Freeport Texas.” He then calls out to the entire theater “If any of you have a copy of my book (he’d just given out a few to lucky attendees), you need to get down here and have them autographed by the Defender champion of Texas!” He told me he had done a “sidebar” on the First Annual Texas Video Game Championships in his book and proceeded to open the copy he had to the exact page. I knew we’d be friends that very second.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
Kind. Because I believe Walter wants the world to be a place filled with wonder and love, and his actions are in line with that. He spent time with my kids when he was in town (we were lucky enough to have him at our house for an event in Austin once) and was so kind to them and everyone else we met.
What makes Defender your favorite arcade game and when did you first play it?
Defender had the first high score that didn't erase when the machine was turned off. They even celebrated high scores to an unprecedented level in their "Hall of Fame" high score table. They had a "Today's Greatest" high score that was erased when the machine was turned off and the "All Time Greatest" high scores were saved forever. Williams had added a set of batteries to the motherboard so the scores would be retained. To me, it was revelatory.
When I saw that "All Time Greatest" score table, I got unglued. I could leave a mark on a machine forever. Of course, Defender was insanely hard, with an average play time of a new user of something like 27 seconds, so it took quite a bit of time to get good enough to even get at the bottom of the high score table. But I was driven.
When Defender was released, there were two Defender machines within walking distance from my house. One at 7-11 and one at a local hardware store. I spent a lot of time at both those locations, as you can imagine. The hardware store owner had a desire to keep kids off the streets, so he would give us rewards for setting our personal high scores. I'd show him my score on Defender, and he'd challenge me to hit a new one. The reward? A brand new $10 roll of quarters, which mostly went right back into his machines.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
I don’t play a lot of games today, because they take too much time. I love them so much!! I tend to like games with a shorter play period, and my favorite game is Rock Band 3. I am up for just about any type of game!
What does it take to be a marathon video game player?
Tenacity and focus. It turns out there are a lot of things you need to do to prepare to stand in the same place for days, and most of it has to do with how you take care of your body, which isn’t what you generally think about when you’re a person that usually just thinks about the game at the moment. I gathered a set of marathon gamers and got advice from them for 6 months before I attempted my world-record.
If you could only have one arcade game besides Defender, what would it be and why?
I don’t know! It would have to be something a bunch of people could play at once, because I like gaming with others. If it couldn’t be a MAME cab, it’d probably be Killer Queen!
What does it take to be a business owner?
You have to believe in your product or service and find a way to be financially successful. I have run many businesses over the years and what I’m doing now has been the hardest road I’ve ever traveled. I believe in what I’m doing, and I know we are making a difference to many people.
How far has VR in gaming come, and where do you see it in the future?
The vast majority of people have not encountered VR, so although there are some breakthrough titles, we have a zillion miles to go. The hardware is too expensive, and it requires too much dedicated space in your house, so these issues will have to be overcome.
Do you prefer playing arcade games alone, against friends and why?
I love playing games with other people. I like that arcade games are a “standing right next to someone” experience, because it feels so tangible and enjoyable. I love the feeling of an arcade community where you can make friends, learn how to play better, and enjoy yourselves in healthy competition!
Which company makes the video games and why?
I think you meant “best” but I wasn’t sure. I’m leaving this one blank.
Who is your favorite arcade game character and what makes that character special?
I don’t know if I have a favorite! If I had to choose, I think I’d say Pac Man, because it is so friendly, and everyone thinks “Arcade Games” when they think of Pac Man. He’s kind of the best persona out there working for us full time!
What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘Defender?
It makes me feel warm and fuzzy because that game kept me alive and out of jail, gave me friends and extended family, and has brought me to amazing people like y’all!!
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
I’ve had the opportunity to do this and helped create some amazing franchises! At this point in my career, I’m interested in giving people the reins to help themselves through our interactive educational experiences, so the main character is YOU!