Do you long for the retro years of gaming? Do you wish books existed that cover the the entire libraries of the NES, Super NES, or even the video game culture of the 90s? Or how about playing a brand new game for the NES? Then get ready for a very special Owner Outreach, where The Switch Effect speaks with Jeffrey Wittenhagen. Jeffrey is a father, writer, video game enthusiast, and owner of Hagen’s Alley Books. Having launched multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns, being an award winning published video game author, world record setter and co-host of Video Game Bullshit! (VGBS) podcast, we are excited to learn more!
Jeffrey, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Let’s start off with an easy one. Tell us about yourself.
I’m a collector and player of all types of games old and new. I’ve been writing about games for about 20 years now, although I’ve also written about tons of other pop culture subjects like horror films.
What was the first console/game you ever owned?
My first console I had growing up was the Atari 2600, which I had before I could form memories. We had tons of games such as Combat, Video Olympics, and Air-Sea Battle. However, my favorite that we initially had was the classic platformer Pitfall, which led to my love of the genre to this day.
Growing up, do you have any fond childhood memories around gaming?
I have so many fond memories, from getting my first NES, to simply going to the rental store to see what new games they had for me to try out. I literally should write a book about it. Hmm….
What motivated you to become a video game author?
Ever since I could remember I’ve always had a knack at organizing and creating content. The gaming books that were out just didn’t provide a look at the systems and games like I envisioned. Whether that be highlighting Hidden Gaming Gems (which I wrote about many many years ago), covering an entire year of gaming to put things in perspective, or covering an entire console’s library including games in other regions that would interest an English speaker and even brand new homebrew games. There is also so much conflicting information out there in terms of developers and publishers that I also have been trying to narrow down the definitive list of everything that I can as well. As many people have no doubt seen, there have been books released that follow my format pretty closely and I honestly see it is a huge compliment since the bar is constantly being raised, plus I get to read them now as well and the better follow my own vision so it’s pretty great!
For those who might not be familiar, would you like to share some words about the books you’ve published, including The Complete NES ?
You guys are throwing out a ton of loaded questions, which is great! I actually have 8 books published now, including a 9th which is an expansive re-release of a previous book. So the books like The Complete NES are all inclusive collector books that not only cover every game with what they are about, but offer box art and screenshots of every game so you can have a better idea what they are about. I didn’t want to complicate things with too much text and left the layouts pretty simple as to not take away from the game art itself, plus it gives it a “retro” feel. This is also the same style that I went with for the NES Oddities & the Homebrew Revolution book, however this time I focused on games that weren’t licensed or available in North America (which is where I am from and most familiar with). I also cover the extremely expansive NES Homebrew scene which has hundreds of games available; almost as many as the original run of licensed NES games! The Complete SNES: Definitive Edition is in a similar style to both of these books and will be a massive 630 page ode to the Super Nintendo. This is a re-release with an extra 130 pages of Super Famicom games that you don’t need to know Japanese to enjoy. Of course I’m not only going to cover Nintendo consoles either in the future!
The Nintendo Entertainment System Compendium and Super Nintendo Entertainment System Compendium each offer much more expansive spreads with beautiful full page art and more personal stories about OUR history with games from the systems. The Video Game Culture Chronicles (1990 and 1991 are both already covered) offers a similar art style but covers everything major that was released and happened during an entire year.
Then we have Hidden Gaming Gems: Generation by Generation which will be the next book that I’m taking to Kickstarter and releasing here in 2018. It’s a complete reformat of my original book that was published in 2012 and will offer hidden gaming gems for each generation all the way up to the Nintendo Switch! Each review is 4-6 full pages and offers some amazing art, while still having a real old school feel. I also have a legendary artist who is offering up an unused art piece from the 90s, so this book will have a 100% vintage feel to it! As I have offered in the past, backers will have the opportunity to write reviews about their own favorite hidden gaming gem and get published in the book as well!
Let’s talk video games! In the past couple of years, the retro gaming community seems to be expanding! There is a yearning for those 8- and 16-bit glory days. You went one step further with publishing NES games: Commie Killer, Black Box Challenge and even a game based on VGBS Gaming Podcast Season 1, which began as a Kickstarter campaign. All were also available for a limited time on your website.
Can you describe the process of launching a Kickstarter as well as publishing NES games?!
Another crazy loaded question right here! Kickstarter is seriously a ridiculous complex process to do right as it is literally like another job. The hardest part is getting everyone to know that your project is out there, as I still to this day meet new people who love my books and just found out about them. It always blows my mind! The other main thing is to make sure that that amount you ask for is enough to get you to the finish line. I have underestimated how much things cost in the past when I was releasing 2 books during a single campaign, but luckily I have had enough awesome support to still be able to get the print runs done.
As for publishing NES games, that’s a crazy one as with Jeffrey Wittenhagen’s Black Box Challenge (which is actually a limited release of the regular version that is available at infiniteneslives.com) I actually hand assembled each part of the game, from the board to folding the box! Each piece of a NES game has to be created, which is the thing people don’t think about and that can get quite costly unless you are doing massive amounts of copies (which I definitely never planned on).
What are the feelings you have as you see your campaigns get shared across the gaming community and ultimately funded?
Seeing my projects get supported is always humbling to me, whether it takes a couple of weeks, or the first 15 minutes like with the NES Oddities campaign, it’s really cool that there are so many crazy people out there like me that are obsessed with video games!
It’s been said that you’re a world record setter. Elaborate please?
Yep! The first time I met Walter Day I actually set a record in Super Punch-Out for the Super Nintendo live at a convention against Gabby Jay, which was the world record for doing it live. I have also set world records for numerous Commodore 64 games, including Summer Games, which were all done on the actual computer, although Twin Galaxies folded for the first time right after I submitted them. The latest one I set was on a little known arcade game called Enigma II on an actual machine that’s a one of a kind original from the 70s! This one was more of a gimmick though as there was no record of the game having a record, although I’m sure there are people out there that have beat it as I only played it for a short amount of time. It’s a fun thing to do for sure, but I have never done it seriously.
If being an author and game publisher were not enough, you’re also the co-host of VGBS Podcast, where you BS about all things video games. With four seasons under your belt, how did this podcast come to be?
So Video Game Bull Shit Gaming Podcast is exactly that, Kyle and I BS’ing about games! We have known each other our entire lives and since I move around a ton we have been having these epically analytic phone calls. We had been saying for years that we need to record them, and then we found out about podcasts. It’s definitely our passion to talk about games and something that we will likely continue to do for the long haul!
For a little foreshadowing to the Season 4 finale, our first episode we ever recorded was “Has the Angry Video Game Nerd Jumped the Shark?” and for Episode 100 we have a very special “nerdy” guest interview in store for everyone!
Let’s “switch” gears. We at The Switch Effect are obviously HUGE fans of Nintendo’s newest console. What are your thoughts on it?
The Switch is by far my favorite system since the NES and SNES. Not only is the portability aspect a huge plus for me, but all of the indie games that have taken inspiration from the 8 and 16-bit generations is amazing! Nintendo has really hit it out of the park with this system and it could be the greatest of all time!
What games are you most looking forward to playing?
I am a huge Zelda fanatic so while Breath of the Wild is truly a masterpiece, hearing rumblings of another Zelda game in the works is exciting. I also can’t wait to see what the new Metroid game turns out to be, since it’s been a long time since Prime 3. Finally, Super Meat Boy Forever also looks like an amazing sequel to one of my favorite indie games. That’s honestly just the tip of the iceberg.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share?
Be sure to check out my website frequently as I’m always uploading new articles on homebrew and indie games plus new VGBS Gaming Podcast episodes go live every other week! I always work on 2-3 books in tandem at the same time, and I always ask for people’s opinions on things! You can follow me on Facebook or @gamingVGBS on Twitter, as well as on Instagram.
Use the links below to purchase Jeffrey’s books, games, follow VGBS Gaming Podcast, and more!
VGBS Gaming Podcast
Hagen’s Alley Book Store