Reading: Flying Saucers and the Scriptures

No grade school class is complete without one kid fascinated by the paranormal. I did my best to fill that role. I read books on UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, Bigfoot, assorted lesser cryptids, and anything that fell under the label of “the Unexplained.” I watched Unsolved Mysteries faithfully, hoping each time for a UFO case or a haunting instead of those tedious “Fraud” stories. And of course I spent bedtimes and evenings in the fearful hope that a UFO would zag across the sky or, better yet, an alien would phase into my living room.

I read fewer and fewer of those books as I got older, and I was far more skeptical when I returned to the ideas as a teenager and a warped adult. I realized that there’s little credible evidence for extraterrestrials, that Bigfoot would’ve been captured by now if it existed, and that, heartbreakingly enough, Nessie is a fish, a fake, or a swimming deer. Oh, and the Flatwoods Monster, Mothman, and the Hopkinsville Goblins all were just owls.

Of course, that doesn’t shake my fascination for the Unexplained, even when it’s easily explained. I love weird creatures and crazy theories and anything that lurks just outside of the plausible world. So when a friend of mine mentioned a book called Flying Saucers and the Scriptures, I knew I’d have to read it one day. This was due in part to a minor mystery. My friend had borrowed it from the library of a Christian college in Ohio, but it had disappeared from the shelves when he sought it out years later. Someone or something wanted this book to be forgotten. That, or they wanted to sell it to me for twenty bucks on Amazon.

Books that combine UFOs and the Bible generally take one of two paths. Devoted UFO nuts maintain that scriptural accounts of Ezekiel’s fiery flying wheel or the Book of Enoch’s fallen angels are veiled descriptions of alien visitations, refracted through a culture that had no concept of such things. Many Christian interpretations take the opposite track: UFOs, including those of the modern age, are either heavenly or demonic messengers, and today’s secular science interprets them as alien in origin. Flying Saucers and the Scriptures leans toward the latter school of thought…but it’s not what I expected.


John W. Dean’s Flying Saucers and the Scriptures devotes itself entirely to the contactee movements of the 1940s and 1950s, when Americans wanted a flying-saucer craze but hadn’t yet developed UFO abductions and gray aliens and lost time. It was a much simpler era. Contactees usually met perfectly human-looking aliens, took rides in rockets or car-shaped spaceships, and saw the vast civilizations of Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and undiscovered planets. Much of it started with George Adamski, whose encounters with suspiciously Nordic “Space Brothers” led to others claiming they’d taken joyrides with aliens who had cities on the moon and dire concerns about nuclear war. The culture brought around such enduring fiction as the Book of Urantia and the Church of Scientology, but most UFO contactees faded from sight after a decade or so of writing books and giving seminars and founding short-lived, semi-profitable cults.

Dean backs all of them. Issued by the self-publishing charlatans at Vantage Press in 1964, Flying Saucers and the Scriptures is his attempt to reconcile alien contactees with Christian tenets, and it’s a weird collection of uncritical reportage and gullible pseudo-science. Dean recounts the tales told by notable contactees: Adamski’s Space Brothers, Buck Nelson’s dead civilizations of Mars and Venus, and Reinhold Schmidt’s spaceship rides and coffee chats with extraterrestrials. He also reprints benevolent letters from space people, and he charts known planets as well as the Earth’s undetected alternate-orbit sister world, Clarion. It’s perpetually on the other side of the sun, so we can’t see it. You know, just like Gor and Hestia and Melancholia!

When not credulously recounting these stories, Dean points out the religious aspects of the alleged aliens’ beliefs. Schmidt, for example, relayed that Jesus had ascended to Venus after his time on earth and would return around 1998. The Spacemen of contactee stories have laws resembling the Ten Commandments, cosmologies that include Jesus and the Creator, and an enlightened, peaceful way of life. Dean finds all of this superior to the people of his own blighted planet, and he chides NASA and the government for spending millions on space exploration when they could talk with contactees who clearly explored the vast forests of Mars.

It’s an awkward read in many ways. Free of professional editors, Dean apparently dumped a single rambling lecture into the book. He leaps one subject to another, with no chapter breaks, and his mixtures of astronomic measurements and goofy space stories sound delusional even by the standards of the 1950s. Surprisingly, there’s not much exploration of scripture. The author occasionally delves into Elijah and Ezekiel’s possible encounters with flying saucers, but he’s far more concerned with giving credence to contactee accounts, even when they contradict each other.

Dean also provides drawings and photographs of UFO interiors and star charts. To those who doubt their accuracy, he charges “if you say they are fake, then try to fake one yourself.” Of course, most of the pictures are primitive shots of flying saucers obviously superimposed in the sky, interspersed with photos of contactees. The only mysterious one is a blurred photo of a Venusian named Bucky…and it’s right below a shot of an authentic dog of Venus.


Most of the stories recounted by Dean are routine. Space-folk pick up a contactee, show him or her a few cities, reveal the greater truths of the universes, and perhaps cure some earthling maladies. It’s tame, unimaginative stuff compared to those haunting, vaguer accounts from abductees who floated out of their rooms and awakened on operating tables ringed by huge-eyed greys. If I’d found this book as a kid, I’d have lasted only a few paragraphs before trading it for Monster Hunting Today or Intruders or Mysteries of the Ancient Americas.

If nothing else, Flying Saucers and the Scriptures is an interesting look at just how seriously some people took the contactee movement and how they made no effort to dress up their chicanery—they didn’t even put alien antennae on their Venusian dogs. It’s hard to tell if Dean was running a con or if he was raptly convinced that aliens gave humble Missouri farmers outer-space versions of holy writ, but there’s something amusing about his guileless presentation of just about every detail fed to him. I especially liked this exchange from Dean’s interview with a contactee named James Hill.
Are those from different planets of different heights?
Yes. Some are giants ten feet tall. There are also small men and women—midgets and pygmies—not many, but more than here on earth, and they are not segregated.
Are there any fat ones?
NO!
Spacemen of the 1950s may be avatars of interplanetary peace and Biblical truth, but they’re not above fat-shaming.

Poorly organized and dull it may be, but I liked Flying Saucers and the Scriptures for its quaintly insane flying-saucer stories. It’s a look at an era when pop-culture alien encounters meant visits to the cities of Jupiter instead of nighttime kidnappings and cow mutilations. A lot of modern UFO fans ignore that era, perhaps because it seems so silly next to today’s creepier, hazier extraterrestrial sightings. Yet people believed in it enough to write and read books about it.

In fact, John W. Dean believed in it so much that he wrote more books. His Flying Saucers: Close Up came out in 1970 with a special message on its cover.


I think I have to read it. I still have a role to fill.

A Demo Demo Dilemma

I discussed the Demo Demo PlayStation series here before, partly because it has the only publicly released bit of Bounty Arms and partly because it’s a neat relic of the PlayStation’s uncertain first year. The Demo Demo line appeared in store kiosks shortly after the PlayStation’s debut in late 1994, when Nintendo and Sega and even the NEC-Hudson alliance dominated much of the game industry’s giant Risk board. Demo Demo lasted only a few years and was soon forgotten, but it helped show off Sony’s new system in time of need.

Demo Demo discs weren't sold commercially, but they had to catch the eye in stores. That’s why a lot of them have comics on their covers. They’re simple strips with a few recurring characters, and among them are two girls who serve as a doofus and a straightman (or “boke” and “tsukkomi” if you want the Japanese terms) as they promote Sony products. I previously looked at one of their cover comics, and I now present their first appearance, which comes on the only Demo Demo PlayStation disc I still own. Through no coincidence, it’s the one with the Bounty Arms demo.


I guessed wildly and incorrectly when I summarized a Demo Demo comic before, so I’ll translate it here. Neither character has a name as far as I can tell, and it’s tempting to label them Demo and Dummo. But I'll be consistent.

PANEL ONE 
Brown-Haired Stupid Girl: I wonder if these games are any good…
Blonde-Haired Smart Girl: Why don’t you just go to the store and try them out on Demo Demo?

PANEL TWO
Smart Girl: Check out videos of new and upcoming games! Play demos yourself! And there’s a new edition every month!

PANEL THREE 
Stupid Girl: Wow, this game’s really interesting! Oh, but so is THIS one! Uh oh, which one do I want?
Smart Girl: Sigh. There she goes…

There’s less of a joke here than we see in the girls’ later outing, but it revolves around the fact that someone can’t decide what PlayStation game to get. And why? Because every PlayStation game is amazingly good. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nekketsu Oyako or Cosmic Race or TAMA or Toshinden or Kileak: The Blood, my dear, because you’re guaranteed to love it!

Our indecisive heroine’s friend could just tell her to get Ridge Racer, which was the console’s most impressive first-round release and still plays well today. However, Sony has a Demo Demo quota to meet this month. Something’s gotta move PlayStations, and I’m afraid it won’t be Bounty Arms.

Explanations

As you know, I don’t update very often. I’d like to have new stuff at least once a week, but the uncomfortable truth is that this website is my seldom-watered houseplant. I want to fix that. To give it more attention, I’m going to expand its scope just a little. So don’t worry if you see something here that has nothing to do with games or cartoons. Rest assured that most of my updates will remain focused on old Compile shooters, canceled anime series, or a spill of cranberry sauce that forms the Angel Cop logo.

Hmm. That’s pretty lean for an entry, so I’ll explain something else: the name Kid Fenris.


The short answer? It’s a play on Kid Icarus, the old Nintendo game. For those unfamiliar, Kid Icarus is a staple of the early NES library, an action-adventure game that stars a plucky, heroic version of Icarus. In Greek myth Icarus flew too near the sun and became an avatar of overconfidence, and Nintendo just made him a little archer who saved a goddess from the clutches of Medusa. He also appeared in the Captain N cartoon, but we can't hold that against him.

The strange thing is that I didn’t even like Kid Icarus during the NES days. I only played it at demo stations, and I was frustrated at how barren the levels seemed, how easy it was to fall off the screen, and how Icarus collected hearts for money instead of health. That went against everything Star Tropics and The Legend of Zelda taught us! I’ve since come to appreciate it (though I still prefer its structural cousin Metroid), and I really enjoyed Kid Icarus: Uprising on the 3DS. I even like playing Pit and Palutena in Super Smash Bros.

Back in 1991, there wasn’t much Kid Icarus. We had an NES game and a Game Boy sequel, and that made many young Nintendo cultists wonder about a Kid Icarus title on the Super NES. I imagined something more ambitious. If Nintendo could make Kid Icarus out of bowdlerized Greek myths, why not make a similar game out of another legend? And at the time, I liked no legend better than the Fenris-wolf from Norse canon.


There’s no real link between Icarus and Fenris, aside from both of them being doomed. Fenris (or Fenrir, as he’s commonly known) started off as a wolf-pup spawn of Loki, and the Aesir gods adopted him and fed him until Fenris got out of control. The gods decided to bind him with a magical dwarf-made fetter called Gleipnir, but the wolf wouldn’t let them try anything unless the god Tyr stuck a hand in his mouth as a sign of trust. The Norse gods were jerks as usual, so the incident left Tyr minus a hand and Fenris enchained until the end of the world. During Ragnarok, the wolf devours Odin and is in turn ripped asunder by Vidar. Kind of a raw deal for a puppy that no one wanted to take care of once he stopped being cute.

I thought it’d be great if Nintendo were to make a Kid Icarus follow-up about a monster of Norse myth, no matter how unmarketable it might be. That’s as far as I got. I never drew up any plans for Kid Fenris, and I don’t think I even worked out if he should be a human in wolf clothes, an actual kid wolf, or some sort of were-hero.


I remembered Kid Fenris years later, when Mortal Kombat II was for a few months the sacred text of a video-game generation. For one of the game’s goofy Friendship moves, the thunder god Raiden summoned a smaller version of himself named Kidd Thunder. Or maybe that's his nephew. Mortal Kombat changes its mind a lot.


Before long, I liked Darkstalkers more than Mortal Kombat. Poor Darkstalkers was never as popular, but I knew what it needed to catch on big time. I knew that Jon Talbain, Darkstalkers’ resident werewolf, should have his own junior sidekick called Kid Fenris. I might’ve even written that up as a “What If...” bon mot and sent it to Electronic Gaming Monthly. If I sent it, they never printed any such witticism. Thank goodness.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well, I liked the name when I was a kid, and it was the first thing that came to mind when I devised an online handle as a teenager. In testament to my vast creative development over the years, Kid Fenris remained the best thing I had at hand when I set up my website back around 2003. Yes, every other name I conjured was either worse or taken.   

At this point, I refuse to abandon Kid Fenris. It sounds like it came from a vintage 1912 boxing ad or some Dragon Age fan fiction, yet it shall stay. I’m attached. 

And if Nintendo ever makes a Kid Fenris game, I'll have a domain to sell them.

A Huddle of Huddles

I liked watching football more than any other sport when I was a kid. Part of that came from the dynamism of play, how it was possible for any team to score and pull ahead at any point during the game. What’s more, football helmets and gear looked cooler to a kid than anything baseball or soccer allowed. And I never played football in an organized sense, so the sport had the gravity of some arcane ritual involving first downs and wide receivers.

More than anything, though, I think I liked football because of the NFL Huddles.


Football teams had mascots since the league’s inception, but it wasn’t until 1983 that the NFL put together a line of plush toys and little rubber figurines called Huddles. Each represented a particular team, some more creatively than others. I’m not sure if they were sold in toy aisles or in the sporting goods section. I suspect they went to both. Huddles were aimed just as much at kids as they were at adults who wanted to festoon every inch of the living room with Chargers or Packers merchandise.

I bought one or two Huddle figures on my own, and my grandmother got me the rest as a birthday present. I suspect she nabbed them on the discount racks, as this was several years after their debut. Indeed, the Huddles didn’t last long, and praise for them is scant even on an Internet that finds nostalgia for Macron-1 and Food Fighters. They seem to have passed through the toy market without much attention, but they’re an adorable pop-culture collision of football and toys.


Just about every figure from line envisions the cutest possible mascot. Check out the scarf on the Jets icon, who sources tell me is called Jumbo Jet, or the whiskery visage of the Cincinnati Bengals Huddle. The Bears Huddle has a cocky, just-hanging-out pose, befitting a mascot who was just there to do the Super Bowl Shuffle.


Not every NFL totem is a creature, but the Huddle designers made even the drab human effigies stand out. The most inventive in the bunch is the New York Giants Huddle, who carries a club and a tiny football. The Kansas City Chiefs representative may be the most elaborately dressed, and I like how the Viking looks like an Asterix character. The paint jobs on the figures range from decent to downright sloppy, but let's remember that this was 1983 and the Huddles weren't expected to do Star Wars numbers.


Hailing from the 1980s, the Huddles are now out of date. There are no Carolina Panthers or Baltimore Ravens, and several Huddles have their old team logos. One of them, the Houston Oilers guy, no longer exits. His team became the Tennessee Titans in 1999. Something tells me that the Washington Redskins Huddle, or Reddy Redskin, will join this particular group fairly soon.

A close look at my collection also reveals that the Denver Broncos Huddle, or Bucky Bronco, has the most wear to his helmet. I played with him the most, as my love for the Broncos made him the obvious leader of the group. Who was the main villain? I don’t remember. Maybe the Giant. He’s the only one who looks remotely mean. Then again, I didn't play with Huddles the same way I enlisted Transformers or Ninja Turtles. I mostly just arranged them in their proper divisions and repositioned them as won/loss records dictated. Then I sulked when the Broncos lost the Super Bowl.


A few of the Huddles go the lazy route. The Cleveland Browns and the New Orleans Saints get identical twins in football gear, with only paint jobs to distinguish them. The Browns have used dogs as their unofficial mascot for a long as I can remember, so I'm not sure why their Huddle didn't follow that lead. The Saint is a tougher call. I’d suggest a papal ferula or a big halo for him, but that might be sacrilegious.

The NFL still makes merchandise for team mascots, but it’s not packaged under the Huddle brand. As far as I can tell, the line burned out in the mid-1980s, leaving only a few toys and some children’s books in which the Huddles battle the sinister machinations of Charlie Cheater.

Did the NFL forsake the Huddles too soon? With a little work, they might have stuck around long enough to earn a Saturday morning cartoon, a video game, or McDonald’s happy-meal spots. Perhaps they’re just the thing to distract young fans from the NFL’s current spate of scandals, tax-exempt privileges, and disappointed fans. We’re all a little more forgiving of controversies and losing seasons when they’re paired with a happy, football-clutching dolphin.

The Finest Art of Gift-Giving

Did everyone have a good Christmas? I certainly did, and that was partly because of a wonderful present from a friend who prefers to be known as Magic Trashman. He’s an artist and comic-maker, and since he doesn’t yet have a website I’ll have to settling for linking to his DeviantArt page. For his gift, he seized upon an idle Twitter post I made years ago about bugging him to put canceled video-game characters into classic works of art.


I forgot all about that post, but Mr. Trashman did not. This past Christmas he sent me a framed portrait with this response on the back.


And what’s inside the frame? No, he didn't draw characters from canceled video games. He drew something better.


It’s wonderful. It repopulates one of the dogs-at-poker portraits with things I like. The brownish creature on the left is Quilli, heroic porcupine from Quill Quest. It's a video game I sketched out as a child (before Sonic came around, I swear). His fellow players should be more familiar, as they're from Mystery Science Theater 3000, Monster World IV, Darkstalkers, and my favorite shot of actor Billy Barty. Maybe there's even a Bounty Arms reference someplace. I'll have to look closely.

The table shows that Quilli is betting with power-ups from Quill Quest: a hamburger, a watch, and even a Mondo Magnet. Also on the pile is a Mighty Orbots figure, which mystified me at first. I’ve never been more than a mild fan of the show; it has some of the slickest animation ever seen in a Saturday morning cartoon, but even as a kid I found the robots dopey and irritating compared to Robotech or any Transformer. Upon investigation, I realized its purpose: a line of planned Orbots toys was never released, so it’s possible that someone, likely Crow or Tom Servo, put this ultra-rare prototype up as a gambling chip. How clever of the artist to include it.

Little Things: Tricky Kick

I suspect that Tricky Kick wanted to be obscure even by the standards of TurboGrafx-16 games. It presented a deliberately confusing front back in 1990. The title suggests a soccer game, but it isn’t. The “family” label suggests a party game, but it allows only one player. And the box art, with its cave-guy and samurai and schoolgirl standing on an eye puzzle, fits nothing so much as the cover of an unclassifiable prog-rock album with a title like Precambrian Odditure.


The Escherian topography of the cover hints at the truth: Tricky Kick is a puzzle game. Its characters advance through stages by booting an enemy, usually a harmless one, around the screen until it collides with an identical foe and vanishes. That’s about it. A few creative obstacles and enemy-launching gadgets pop up, but the game remains too limited, both in what you see and what you can do. It never gets even half as interesting as The Adventures of Lolo or Kickle Cubicle, but TurboGrafx-16 owners didn’t have much in that category. If they wanted to shove things around a screen with little threat involved, Tricky Kick had them captive.


The best parts of Tricky Kick have nothing to do with the gameplay. Each character gets a cute, short introduction and a unique setting: elven hero Oberon takes on an evil sorceress, schoolgirl Mayumi finds her way to her classmate Biff’s party (yes, Biff), a kid named Taro undergoes some haunted-house hazing, the feudal Japanese prince Suzuki schemes his way to rule the nation, and an Ultraman knock-off called Udon punts giant monsters around city streets. Oh, and a caveman known as Gonzo heads out to slay a big meaty mammoth.


Gonzo’s intro is my favorite piece of the game by far, due to its delightful vision of Paleolithic life. The matriarch of the family, in the absence of modern diapers, has swaddled her youngest child in her mass of untamed cavewoman hair. Gonzo’s eldest son takes after him, one of his daughters takes after her mom, and the remaining kids look like troglodyte versions of Charlie Brown…or Bonk, the bald cave-boy who became the TurboGrafx’s only respected mascot. In fact, we might be seeing Bonk’s origin right here! And maybe the purple-haired girl grew up to become Flare from The Legendary Axe or the mysterious assassin from The Legendary Axe II! It’s another point for the Grand Unified Theory of TurboGrafx games!

Most of all, I like Gonzo’s expression. You can see a determined grimace there in his beard, but a quicker glance makes it look like he has the smiling, noseless, innocent face of a Lego figure. I like that duality, even though Gonzo’s obviously not supposed to look upbeat. He knows that he faces a harsh task and perhaps a harsher return home. Should he survive his foray, he could come back to find that one of his children was snatched up by a Haast’s eagle, that his family was devoured by a sabertoothed tiger, or that his entire tribe was wiped out by an avalanche or some neighboring clan that just invented spears and genocide. But he can’t let anyone know that.

Interview: Fester's Quest

Fester’s Quest is a curious sight in the landscape of NES games based on movies and TV series. The Addams Family wasn’t particularly prominent during the late 1980s, and yet Sunsoft created a game all about it—and not just a predictable action game starring the members of Charles Addams’ macabre clan. No, Fester’s Quest is all about Uncle Fester fending off an alien invasion and rescuing Gomez, with the rest of the family popping up to provide the pasty hero with potions, whips, and restorative vises.


That alone would mark Fester’s Quest as an oddity, but there’s more to its reputation. It's one of the toughest NES games around. Tougher than Battletoads. Tougher than Ninja Gaiden. Perhaps even tougher than that Captain Planet game. Fester can take only two hits (four if you uncover secret health boosts), enemies are relentless, and defeat sends Jackie Coogan’s finest television role back to the very start of the game. It vexed children of the NES era to no end, and many hate Fester’s Quest to this very day. I don’t think it’s a bad game, though. It feels a lot like the overhead sections of Blaster Master, and it has that sort of hyper-catchy music that Sunsoft always pulled off in their NES games. Plus it gave us this!

A lot about Fester’s Quest puzzled me, so I went to the source. Richard Robbins was the game’s producer (and pretty much its creator), while Michael Mendheim served as designer as well as the illustrator for the game’s cover (and over a dozen other game boxes). Both went on to more popular things: Robbins worked on the Desert Strike series and CrΓΌe Ball, while Mendheim was part of Battle Tanx and the Army Men series. The two of them also crafted the cult classic Mutant League Football. In fact, Mendheim and others revived it this year—check out the website! Before all of this, though, they were the minds behind Fester’s Quest


Fester's Quest has a strange premise for a licensed game. How did Sunsoft decide to combine The Addams Family and an alien invasion? And why make Uncle Fester the hero?

Robbins: I had a dream, literally, for a game called "Uncle Fester's Playhouse." Pee-wee’s Playhouse was airing then. We came up with the alien idea as a quest, to save the family.


The Addams Family seems to have been a fairly quiet property in the late 1980s. Why did Sunsoft option it for a game? Did they get it as a package deal with Platoon?

Robbins:  I was a huge Addams Family fan. I called Charles Addams’ widow Lady Colyton literally at a chateau in France and started a dialog. It took many, many expensive long-distance calls and a sort of romancing to convince this regal lady to let us do a game. Lady Colyton kept talking about a movie deal, which I thought was a bunch of baloney at the time. The Japan folks at Sunsoft were extremely skeptical and gave me a real hard time. They really questioned who would care about this really old weird TV show.  

Was Fester's Quest at first intended to be a license-free game, or perhaps a Blaster Master follow-up?

Robbins:  Fester's Quest was always to be an original. I wrote the storyline and named Blaster Master around the same time.  

Many have pointed out how Fester's Quest feels a lot like the overhead-view sections in Blaster Master. In a 2011 interview, Blaster Master creator Yoshiaki Iwata says that "The character designer for Blaster Master was also one of the main designers on Fester’s Quest, which probably explains some of the similarities there." Do you think that's the case, or do the two games share deeper roots?

Robbins: Same team developed both in the same lab.
 

How did you end up working on the game, Mr. Mendheim? What was it like going from drawing game cover art to designing  Fester's Quest?

Mendheim: Initially, I was an illustrator and graphic designer and my company did a lot of cover illustrations for games. I created some concept art for the game and then my role gradually expanded to helping design the product. I was an avid gameplayer back then but as far as game design I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I had never designed a game and this baby was my first.  Richard Robbins provided a wealth of guidance and hand-holding on this project. He showed me the ropes.

We created a lot of top-down maps for the levels, based on similar games that we both liked. Once I started getting into it, it actually came quite naturally.

Was the game developed in Japan? If so, how did you work with the staff there?

Mendheim: Yes, all the game development was done in Japan. Back in the day, game development teams were very small, maybe six or seven people. I would receive builds in the US, which we would play and then write design and tuning notes back and forth. Every few months we would fly to Japan and communicate through an interpreter. One of the main areas of responsibility for us was trying to make sure the game stayed somewhat true to the Addams Family license. Culturally, the Japanese development team did not understand The Addams Family at all, nor did they understand the dark humor elements and this made it a bit difficult for us. However, everyone we worked with was very bright and kind. We all did the best we could under the circumstances. The game was on a very rapid development schedule so there wasn’t time baked into the schedule for much R&D or play tuning. The development was bang, bang—get it right the first time. Not the best situation to be cutting your teeth on as a first time game designer.


Fester's Quest has a reputation for being a very hard game, due to its tough enemies and a continue feature that sends players back to the start. What was your design process for the game? Was a password system ever considered?

Mendheim: Oh man, you had to bring that up! Not having a password system was all my fault—a complete and idiotic oversight. The save system was overlooked by me because we had debug codes in our test builds which allowed us to jump from level to level and save our progress during the creation of the game. This was NOT included in the final code because it was not included in my design document. When the game was in QA being tested by a Japanese testing company, they complained it was too hard and it soon became obvious to everyone that the game needed a save system. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to implement save points and then have the game re-tested because of schedule constraints. The game was scheduled and budgeted to make its quarter and the publisher did not want to delay release, so after a well-deserved reaming towards yours truly, they came up with a marketing strategy that marketed Fester's Quest as one of the most challenging games ever made. That’s literally how they sold it. It was a terrible mistake on my part but the marketing angle helped sell the game and I learned from that mistake. Yikes!

Were you involved in making the European version of the game slightly less difficult?

Mendheim: No, but clearly they had time to fix the problem so they did.


In an interview with Complex earlier this year, you mention that Fester's Quest sold over a million copies. Did Sunsoft ever plan to make a sequel?

Mendheim: I’ll let Richard answer this one…

Robbins:  I left Sunsoft for EA by that time, maybe we would have had I stayed.  

The code for Fester's Quest contains graphics for one mysterious unused item and two unused bosses.  What were they? Was the game going to have a two-part final boss?

Robbins:  Not sure on this one, goes way back.

Mendheim: Yeah, I don’t remember this one either. I’m sure we had it in there but our dev schedule was really tight, so it was probably cut.  

How do you think working on Fester's Quest influenced your later games?

Mendheim: Fester’s Quest was design grade school for me, I learned a lot of things concerning how to develop video games, most of them being what not to do. The entire experience for me was new and took me completely outside my comfort zone. I did something I didn’t feel at all comfortable doing, made a million mistakes, but came through on the other side with a new passion. This game more than any other took me down the career path I have been involved in for over twenty years. It closed the door for me on graphic arts and illustration and opened the door for game development, which has been a long-term love affair for me. Thank you, Richard for giving me the opportunity.