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Inside the Classic Game Room - An Interview with CGR Host Mark Bussler

In 1999, Mark Bussler and David Crosson created Game Room, one of the first online shows of its kind...if not the first. Dedicated to reviewing classic and contemporary games, from the Atari 2600 to the fledgling Sega Dreamcast, Game Room was shot on a tiny budget by two enthusiastic friends who met in film school. Filmed mostly at night in their free time, Game Room produced roughly 80 episodes before its cancellation in 2000. After directing a few documentaries, Bussler decided to relaunch the series in 2008 as Classic Game Room HD, streamlining its format while building a sizable audience during the next few years. "Banished from Earth, Classic Game Room broadcasts from the Intergalactic Space Arcade on its never-ending mission to review everything."

To promote the new Blu-ray and DVD release of The Best of Classic Game Room: 15th Anniversary Collection, Mark Bussler chatted with yours truly about the last decade and a half of his professional career.

RM: What are the Intergalactic Space Arcade's hours of operation?

MB: Around the clock! The sun never sets in space.

RM: It's got to cost a lot to keep those arcade machines running. Given the choice of paying your electric bill or keeping the fridge stocked with drinks, which vice earns top priority?

MB: Oh man, you lead off with the big questions. Technically we're self-sufficient. I can hang a couple six packs out of the airlock and chill them in the vacuum of space while also powering the video games with our solar array.

RM: You've been reviewing classic games for a long time. Before the YouTube channel, website, and even pre-1999 CGR, did you have any other game-related jobs?

MB: I was never in the video game industry. I grew up playing video games and love the art of games, but I know nothing about programming. My plan after college was to pursue a career in marketing, website design and graphic arts which somehow led me here. Even I don't understand it.

RM: When and how did you meet original CGR co-host David Crosson?

MB: We met in film school in early 1999. The company I was in at the time used Internet streaming video to market engineering software and I took post-graduate classes to learn a few things. We hit it off and became friends; we have similar tastes. The site moved into entertainment and I had this idea to produce video game journalism using video and when he jumped on board, The Game Room was born! It was a great excuse to drink beer and play video games!

Laserdiscs: great physical medium, or the greatest physical medium?

RM: Tell us about the early days of CGR. How has the process changed between those $50-per-episode productions and more recent reviews?

MB: Back then we had no idea what we were doing. This was uncharted territory and pre-YouTube, Facebook and social media. We figured out how to run the Atari 2600 into a DVCpro deck and recorded the Sega Dreamcast with Betacam SP. At first we'd do running audio commentary on Digital-8 cassettes with a camcorder by talking into the microphone while watching game footage. We shot little movies and fooled around with the green screen. We just made it up as we went and had no idea that anyone was watching these videos on their 28.8 modems in little postage stamp-sized windows. Now I can do a polished 4K review using a GoPro if I want.

RM: I vaguely recall an old CGR review in which you (figuratively) ripped a Nintendo 64 game to shreds and lost a bit of potential advertising money. Did that actually happen, or am I going nuts?

MB: We were getting a few ads on our website in 2000. If my memory is correct, Nintendo was going to run an ad but our Perfect Dark review for N64 made fun of the game from start to finish. However, I think they were more annoyed that we ran a news release about it before they did and that was the issue. I told the story once and I think people took away a more exciting story than I intended. I don't really remember, it wasn't a big deal and in the end we didn't get any ad revenue from anyone and had to shut down.

RM: Have you ever gotten any review feedback from people in the gaming industry?

MB: We've worked with a lot of major game publishers and I've reviewed their games and they usually love it, even when the reviews are bad (because they're still getting press). I've talked with game producers who are my age and we all seem to share this common love of Atari and the NES and the dawn of console gaming. I've kept the show goofy but professional and respectful at the same time, they like that.

RM: If you had the chance to participate in Shenmue's English dub, who would you have voiced?

MB: Ohhhh, that would be so much fun. "YOU ARE THE CHAMPION!!" I'd be a street thug for sure.

RM: You directed a few historical documentaries between 2000 and 2008 [when CGR was in hibernation] including Westinghouse, Expo: Magic of the White City, and an assortment of Civil War-related material. Are you planning to host CGR indefinitely, or are any other films on the horizon?

MB: I'm glad you mentioned Westinghouse and Expo, those are the two documentary films that I am most proud of. I plan to continue Classic Game Room; in fact, I'm compiling the reviews into "Greatest Reviews" collections by game system right now. Each film will have clone Mark battles, behind the scenes stuff, exclusive reviews and extended cuts. They're going to be super RAD.

The Lord Karnage Sandwich

RM: What made you decide to bring back CGR when you reviewed Zaxxon in 2008? Was it tough getting back into that world, especially without a co-host?

MB: It was tough bringing the show back in 2008 because I didn't want to try and artificially recreate the original formula. I was once again figuring out how to do it and listened to the audience as it grew. I planned to hire an actor and take a producing role, but just stuck with it. Now, game reviews are a dime a dozen and the PlayStation 2 is considered "retro"! I enjoy introducing kids to the wonders of the Magnavox Odyssey 2, Vectrex, ColecoVision, Sega SG-1000 and Atari 2600!

RM: Early CGR reviews came from your personal collection, while most of the more recent items have been sent in by fans (and thus, probably new to you). Do you prefer the comfort of reviewing a familiar favorite or the spontaneity of "flying blind"?

MB: I love working with fan donations. I've played so many incredible games (and terrible ones!) and have learned so much over the years about the history of gaming. By this point, I've reviewed every video game that I grew up with, so it's all new and it's always a challenge.

RM: What was the first game mailed to you by a fan for review? Did you actually request donations, or did people just start sending them in?

MB: I never imagined that I'd receive one game, let alone thousands. At some point in 2009 or 2010, a package arrived from a fan who was moving and cleaning out their closet. From there, they've trickled in and eventually poured in to fill a corner of a warehouse. I've joked that CGR has turned into the galaxy's largest collection of obsolete technology. People send me stuff instead of sending it to a landfill, and then I make fun of it on the Internet. The future is so awesome.

RM: What's the most unusual item you've been sent?

MB: It's the amazing things that stick out like Steel Battalion, the Neo-Geo CD, Fairchild Channel F, Truxton, Bentley Compu-Vision, ED-209, the Defender handheld, and an entire case of Cocaine! Oh, let me clarify: it's an energy drink called Cocaine, not actual narcotics.

RM: There are reportedly thousands of donated games, accessories, and other items in your "to do" pile. Do you review them on a "first come, first served" basis or pick stuff at random?

MB: That's about right, thousands. Sadly, I can't do them in the order that they arrive because some take longer to play than others and my schedule is always a mess. I try and jump around to different games from different fans around the world and fit them in where I can.

Looking for trouble in a 1972 El Camino

RM: You've built an extremely loyal fan base over the years. At what point did you feel the interest was high enough to produce another CGR collection?

MB: People have been asking for a "Best of CGR" film for years, but I honestly didn't expect the kind of support that we received when the project was launched on Kickstarter. It was funded in a day and a half! It's something I wanted to do and I'm glad Dave got on board for an interview. We had a great time catching up, and I think the enthusiasm shows. The silly-movie style of it turned out so well, I think, that I'm working on more.

RM: Not only was funding completed quickly, but all of your Best of CGR stretch goals were met too...with some of them added well into the campaign. Were there plans for any more?

MB: No, I exhausted all of them. It took the CGR Team two weeks to sign, seal and ship all of the Best of CGR Kickstarter orders. I killed an entire box of Sharpies.

RM: I tried to load the Best of CGR Blu-ray into my Pioneer Elite laserdisc player, but it doesn't seem to be working. What am I doing wrong?

MB: I'd call Pioneer. There's clearly something wrong with it. The Elite models are supposed to be super futuristic, aren't they?

RM: There's more than four hours of CGR material crammed onto this disc. Fan requests aside, what are you most proud of? What's first in line for a future collection?

MB: I like the filmmaking process and am used to low budget, guerrilla filmmaking which works well with the CGR brand of sci-fi spoof comedy. I couldn't do any external space station shots so it was funny to drive the El Camino into the warehouse and receive a "future Laser Disc" from a sentient talking computer. I'm proud of the Future Mark vs. Past Mark "review-off" at the end of the film. My next project is Ethel the Cyborg Ninja Book 1, a comic book about a cyborg ninja who fights to save the universe with a coked-up space chicken, broken computer, flying squid and talking brick. Then I'm working on Lord Karnage Book 2 and the "Greatest Reviews" series from Classic Game Room.

A pile of CGR goodies including the Blu-ray, DVD, a hardcover comic, artwork, and the Laserdisc-sized Collector's Edition

RM: It was great to see original CGR co-host David Crosson on this release, both during the film and audio commentary. Has he been involved behind the scenes in recent years?

MB: We haven't worked together since the original show but enjoyed getting together recently. We talked about doing some more Dreamcast reviews soon! Stay tuned. :)

RM: The Special Edition Laser-Hyper-Vision Album Set looks pretty darn impressive. Being a visual artist and obvious physical media junkie, how important was it for you to create a deluxe edition?

MB: I really tried to get a Laser Disc version of the film made. I was told it couldn't be done but our vendor looked into it and as it turns out...it can't be done. Sadly, nobody makes Laser Discs anymore. I created a lot of artwork for the DVDs and Blu-Ray discs and thought it would be fun to release them all together in a 12" x 12" LP-sized collector's edition along with the 2007 DVD. My wife is a photographer and shot the insert. I designed the package to look like a 1970's disco album. It's quite something!

RM: Finally, what was the most rewarding part of assembling this collection? Anything you'd do differently the next time?

MB: The most rewarding part is hearing from fans that they've enjoyed it; they're the reason I'm able to keep doing this. I also dig seeing the reviews and live-action scenes in their best quality. CGR's 1972 El Camino sparkles on the big screen with disco radiance! What would I do differently? I'd find a way to stop Jar Jar before he ruined Episode I.

RM: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and the very best of luck in your future productions. Truxton 4 life!

MB: Thank you! All hail Lord Karnage!

The Best of Classic Game Room: 15th Anniversary Collection is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Also be sure to check out 2007's Classic Game Room: The Rise and Fall of the Internet's Greatest Video Game Review Show and browse all the other goodies at Classic Game Room's official website. *END TRANSMISSION*

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.


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