Trading Card Spotlight - Chun Wah Kong

| Trading Card Spotlight

Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Chun Wah Kong, who currently is displayed on card number 2854, from the Superstars of 2018 Collection. Chun Wah is a game developer who started his career in the early 90's.  He was a game tester to start in England and then eventually was resposnsible for creating the very first DVD video game. the space simulator, Lander. In the early 2000's, Chun Wah started the gaming franchise, The Getaway and after that started his very own company Skoobie Games. 

What was the best era for video gaming in your opinion?

Not sure if it was the best, but my favourite was the mid 80s to early 90s. It is well documented that kids of my generation in UK, especially us “up North” with the horrible weather didn’t enjoy playing outside, so we all sat around our computers at home playing games and learning how to program. That’s what I did, and when I did go out, I hung around amusement arcades, making friends and playing the latest games. Tech was moving very quickly then, and seeing new advancements constantly was very appealing to an impressionable teenager. Those carefree days, reading gaming magazines at WHSmiths without buying them. Playing Kung Fu Master at the arcades, then picking up the latest £1.99 budget game before taking the bus home.

In your opinion, are there enough or too little indie developers and games each year?  

I don’t actively seek them out but I’m on social media and I see very few. Maybe I don’t get targeted enough rather than there aren’t many indie games. I do enjoy seeing new titles developed for older systems. It’s heart-warming to see new Vectrex games for instance. Vector Patrol by Kristof Tuts is probably the best game on the system. I should get a team together to make our own Vectrex game soon!

Recently, I’ve been replaying Papers Please which is absolutely brilliant. And I bought the classic Rose & Camellia on the Nintendo eShop for the Switch, with Air Twister on pre-order. Either way, it would be good to see more indie games as I believe that’s where you’re likely to see new and innovative ideas. The gaming world will be a richer and more vibrant place with more indie games.

Do you remember the first video game you played and what do you remember about it?

If you count handheld games then I would say Nintendo Game & Watch Fire, and Casio calculator MG-880 were the first digital games I played. I would have been 6 or 7, still in Hong Kong. We lived in a high rise in a council estate, many other families with kids our age lived along the same corridor. The games certainly belonged to our neighbours as they were not something we could afford. They were really fun. The concept of bouncing people jumping from buildings into a waiting ambulance is hilarious. The calculator game taught me you can be creative and make a game out of anything. I have since bought them for my collection.

Downstairs in a general store was where I played my first arcade game. At the time I didn’t even know its name but Namco’s King & Balloon was in a cocktail table hidden at the back. The store only had that 1 cab and it was really cosy when you squeezed into the little closet room with your friends to watch and take turns in playing. We were all giddy and panicked whenever we heard the game’s speech. That game made such an impression that I can still remember 40+ years later.

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

When I started at Software Creations making SNES and Genesis games 30 years ago, you could count the number of people working on a project on 2 hands. Nowadays, I scroll through the credits of a AAA title, there must be 100s if not 1000 names? Games are massive now costing hundreds of millions and several years to make. The business model has completely transformed. With DLCs and pre-order exclusives etc, I’m a traditionalist, I prefer when you buy a game you get the whole game. I don’t mind updates if we aren’t drip fed and they come in the form of a big expansion pack. That’s how I feel as a gamer.

I wish publishers would invest in more “mid-range” projects where risks can be better managed. When a game doesn’t perform well the company’s not immediately in danger of closure. Not everything needs to be a blockbuster. Gamers need more diversity and we’re not seeing enough original titles being encouraged by the platform holders. I know my old Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida’s a great champion of indie games, there needs to be more people like Shuhei.

Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?

I didn’t even know such things existed when I was younger. In UK, we collected stickers of footballers, popstars, scenes from movies and cartoons etc, I guess they were our equivalent. Still, the concept of celebrating video games and the people behind them never in a million years crossed my mind. I still find it hard to believe that I am on a Walter Day trading card, it’s such an honour.

When I was younger, I had the privilege to work with some gaming giants and pioneers of the industry. Ste Ruddy, Tim Follin, Dave Collier, John & Ste Pickford, Nick Burcombe, my boss at Software Creations Richard Kay. It’s a very long list, I can’t possibly name them all. If there was sticker album or trading card set for game developers back in the day they’d all be in it, way, way, way ahead of me.

What was the first game you designed and what was the motivation?

Apart from the simple games I used to program on the Amstrad in BASIC, I would write up my ideas and send them to a company called Elite Systems. Elite Systems was a developer/ publisher based in the Midlands in UK and they made some of my favourite games so naturally I wanted to share my designs with them. This would have been around 1987? I really don’t know what I was expecting, I was just a school kid, but they were nice enough to write back. They were all mainly action games or beat ‘em ups. I wish I had kept those correspondences.

What was the motivation? It was just something I enjoyed doing. I wasn’t asking for anything in return, I certainly wasn’t thinking one day it’d land me a job in design. It was purely for the love. I also applied to Ocean Software when I was 15 for work experience, but sadly it was not successful. I’ve always said when I started my first job at Software Creations playtesting games, I would have paid them for the privilege. A few months later, I started working on Maximum Carnage on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. That was the first commercial game I helped design.

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

He’s an icon. An inspiration and a patron saint of video games. He’s also very generous. When we made #XOXO on the iPhone, I approached Walter on the possibility of him lending his likeness to a character for the game and perhaps record some dialogue for it as well. He agreed without any hesitation and offered his time to do the audio recording. When we finally met in person in 2022, it was at an event and he had his obligations to the organisers, but he still made time for me despite his tiring schedule. Given the number of people he must meet on his travels, he has exceptional memory. He would remember conversations we had on Facebook from years ago. He is a human dynamo of positive energy.

 chun walter

What is your favorite video game past and present and why?

The answer to this question changes every day. Today, I will say Double Dragon and Breath of the Wild.

I’ve had a long history with Double Dragon. Memories include being underaged and denied entry to an arcade. I ended up standing outside peering through a gap to watch my brothers play. I’ve also skipped classes to play the game at the student union bar solely to practice the full nelson move and get good at it.

Double Dragon was the very first arcade PCB I bought when I got into the home arcade hobby but had no means to play it. It’s my favourite genre, the side scrolling beat ‘em up genre. I did an estimation, and I must have completed this game at least 200 times. There have been many dreadful sequels, but I was pleasantly surprised by the recent Nintendo Switch release, Double Dragon Gaiden.

Before Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for about a decade, I had grown indifferent to new games. I’d be the first to admit I’m just a casual fan of Zelda, but the promotional trailers looked amazing. I don’t think I have been consumed by a game so much since Shenmue on the Dreamcast. I wanted to play it from the moment I woke up. The game had the perfect balance of puzzle solving and action adventure. I was constantly surprised thinking certain aspects of the game were there just to make the game look good only to realise hours later they are integral to the gameplay.

When I put my developer hat on, I can’t help but appreciated it even more knowing how much toll it must have taken to bring these ideas to life, and how many battles the team must have fought to get everyone on side.

What would your design and theme of the perfect video game be and why?

I personally prefer character driven games as opposed to spaceships or something abstract. It would have to be pick up and play, with an universal theme that is easy to understand. No time limits, a pinch of slapstick action, but less reliance on quick reflexes so everyone can play. Colourful and joyous, the game rewards the player’s good skill and smart play with feel good effects. There’ll probably be a visual hook that’s never been done or exploited before.

Are you a fan of the digital media and what makes them better or worse than the standard physical copies of game?

Digital media is a great addition to how gamers can access games, whether it’s by subscription or to buy. Not everyone has access to game shops and mail order or want shelves of game boxes in their house. However, they shouldn’t replace physical media. In an ideal world, every game should be made available on both formats, perhaps at different price points with digital versions being cheaper.

Games need to be archived. There are many games I wish to play but are no longer accessible because either they have been pulled from the eShop by the publisher or the entire server for that system has become obsolete. What a shame that is. I can go and buy a game from 45 years ago for the Atari 2600 on eBay, but I cannot play After Burner: Climax on the PS3 because Sega decided to turn it off.

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

I would love to own the original Out Run deluxe cabinet. I want to say DDR but I’d be too old eventually and pinball machines require too much maintenance. I’m such a practical person. I’d love to play through all 5 courses of Out Run on a deluxe cab, and sway side to side with the motion feedback. When all that’s done, I can just chill to the soundtrack. Have I said Yu Suzuki is my industry hero?

What does it take to be a video game designer?

I hope I don’t sound too pretentious, but I’d say, “Heart”, especially in the age of A.I. I remember many years ago I came across a video of somebody dismantling Shigeru Miyamoto’s Super Mario Bros, world 1-1 level; kinda reverse engineering it, detailing why it’s so perfect. Imagine an A.I. taking that principle and use it as a template to generate its own idea of the perfect level. I’ve always believed everyone should follow their heart and convictions when it comes to producing art, and that’s what game designs are ultimately, an art form. Be brave, be bold. Do stuff that’s never been done before. Be open-minded. My wife is not a gamer, but I find myself bouncing ideas off her all the time to get feedback from a different perspective. The number of times she has come up with solutions to design problems that I would never have thought of is incredible.

When did Skoobie Games get created and what are your long-term goals?

Skoobie Games were formed in 2008. I had taken a few years away from making big budget games with Sony and mobile games were becoming more popular. I wanted an environment where I could make original games with a bunch of friends for fun again. Just small teams, self-funded, in our own time; to enjoy the camaraderie and journey of creating something new. It was fun! Although the name Skoobie Games no longer exists, its spirit remains.

Whenever the right opportunity presents itself, I will continue to collaborate with friends on their projects. Millie and Molly on the C64 being the prime example. An ex-colleague approached me during lock down and we made a pretty popular game together. It has since been ported to numerous platforms, including the Atari 7800 version which will see its release later this month at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo.

Which company makes/made the best pinball machines and why?

I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on this as I am only a novice. I can only share with you which are my favourites. Currently I have Stern Playboy and Attack from Mars in my games room. The former I played a lot over the last 20 years along the seaside promenade of Southend-on-Sea. It’s so cheesy. Attack from Mars is probably my all-time favourite. It reminds me of past holidays in Spain. When I play old games, I am transported to a certain place in time and these are no different. I also have very fond memories of Pinbot as it was the only pinball machine at my local arcade growing up. Newer releases, I enjoy the Wizard of Oz.

On a side note, I have the deepest respect and admiration for George Gomez who is skilled across arcade & console game design, as well as pinball and toys. That’s like holding all the Infinity Stones, or winning the quadruple. I would love to design a pinball machine one day.

How did you become the designer for the very first DVD games?

I was working for Psygnosis in 1997 and tech was always at the forefront of the company. I believe we had a close relationship with Dolby Digital when the opportunity presented itself. I must clarify the game was the first original game made especially for DVD and not an old CD game put onto a DVD. I remember going to BAFTA and presenting “Lander” on a cinema screen. The game utilised the audio equipment there to their fullest and offered a new level of immersion in interactive entertainment on par with the movies. Everyone there were all impressed. It was a great day.

Are video games good for relieving stress?

Absolutely, but don’t try playing a difficult game in those moments, play something you are familiar with. Double Dragon would be a prime example. =) A few well timed elbows to the enemy’s face does wonders to relieve stress.

Where do you see video games in the next 10 years?

In the past I’ve been terrible at making these predictions. I’ve said everything from hologram projections into your living room, to augmented reality enhanced visuals. This time I will be reserved and say I don’t think that much will change in terms of what you experience. It will still be a controller in your hands and the game on a screen.

There will however be massive changes in the making of games on the production side. Like I alluded to earlier about A.I. generated graphics, music, game logic, and even entire game worlds. Imagine the game Elite, where you can space travel to any distant galaxy, land on any of the infinite planets and interact with any creature. Communicate with them and go on adventures together. Everything will be procedurally generated by A.I., governed by a set of rules. So, no more art farms to outsource your art requirements to as you won’t need 100s of 3D modellers to build your assets, you’d just need a few to set the art style and parameters. No longer need to record individual lines of dialogue, all that will be generated using base recordings, you only need to adjust the personalities of the characters.

This idea can’t be that far away.

On a lighter note, I have been duly informed anything over 15 years old is now considered retro, so all the current consoles would classify or almost classify as retro in 10 years’ time.

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