Posted on September 7, 2011
Rest In Peace Bill Kunkel: Video Game Journalism Pioneer
Bill Kunkel, part of the duo of Arnie Katz and Bill Kunkel who created Electronic Games the frst magazine about video games, Electronic Games, died on Sunday at the age of 61.
We were big fans of Bill Kunkel. One of the first stories I wrote for 8bitrocket.com was about Electronic Games magazine and how much it meant to me when I was a kid. I also interviewed him for this site a couple years ago.
Back in 2006, after reading Bill’s biography, Confessions Of The Game Doctor, I invited him to Mattel Toys to teach a 2-day class on game design. This was not a normal thing for the Mattel I.T. team that built web sites and games. Usually all of our training came from places like The Learning Tree. As the manager of the game development team, I tried to get classic game personalities to speak whenever possible, using a discretionary portion of the training budget. Besides Kunkel, we also had Chris Crawford and Rob Fulop come in for enormously successful seminars. As long as I told my bosses the class would be about something that sounded “I.T”, they were fine with it. They never spent any time watching what we were doing, anyway, and these classes were always the best ones of the year. The games we were making for the web needed to have simple graphics so great play mechanics were required to give them mass appeal. There was no better place to look than the Golden Age of video games for pioneers who knew how to make something simple into something really enjoyable.
At first Mr. Kunkel thought I wanted him to work for free, but of course, that was not the case. The only thing better than meeting your heroes and gleaning their insight, is having the ability to pay them for their time. Bill also got a kick out of the fact that he would be speaking to people from Mattel. I never felt better about myself or my job than the moment I heard Bill Kunkel’s voice on the phone get giddy about the prospect of speaking at Mattel, the place the brought Intellivision into the world.
Kunkel spent two days telling about his past, about his ideas for designing games for kids, and his tips for making games in the classic mold that would work in the modern age. At the time Bill came out, the main site we were working on, hotwheels.com has about 2 million monthly visits, and was ranked about 50th in kids web sites. After he left we started making games in earnest, and his ideas were part of the reason why, one yearlater, we had 10 million monthly visits and were ranked in the top-10.
For a couple years afterward, I followed Bill’s posts over at J2Games.com where he was a regular contributor. In the past year, I stopped visiting most of the my stand-by sites, and J2Games.com was one of them. When I read about his passing, I clicked over there to see that Bill has been writing continuously about games the whole time. I’m now kicking myself for not keeping up with his impressive body of work.
Anyway, I can say, seriously, the Bill Kunkel was one of the most interesting, gracious, funny, and intelligent people I have ever met. The world has lost a great mind, and a great person. Bill, you will be missed