Interview with Frank Gasking Author of The Games That Weren’t

Interview by Peter Ward

Biography

During work days i’m a software/web developer within the School of Psychology at the University of Kent, but outside of work I am a massive retro gaming nerd and have a passion for unreleased games, running a digital archive for just over 20 years dedicated to the subject at https://www.gamesthatwerent.com

Frank Gasking Author

“Welcome to Retro Gamesmaster thank you for sparing time from your busy schedule.  Let’s get this interview underway”

Thanks for the invite Peter, looking forward to it! 🙂


“What got you into writing books about retro gaming?”

Back in 2013, I realised that the Games That Weren’t archive was coming up for being 20 years old, which is an incredibly long time. I felt that I needed to mark it in some way, so the idea came up for doing a book on the subject. My good friend Vinny Mainolfi (who runs FREEZE64 magazine – https://freeze64.com/) thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to go for it. I had no idea at all if I could actually do it though at the time.

The Games that Weren’t

“How long has it taken to research for the new book?”

Research was ongoing from the start and right up until the end, so around 6-7 years in total during my spare time. This consisted of lots of searching through magazines, online resources, tracking down, contacting and interviewing those involved with the games and trying to weave together a solid timelines of events.  Even when a write up was complete, i’d often go back to it later on and try and uncover a little bit more information, especially if there was someone I hadn’t yet tracked down at the time to speak to or if something new had come to light.


“What is in the new book that will tempt retro fans to hand over their cash?”

First of all, the book is massive – consisting of 644 high quality printed pages and covering more than 80 games in total. There are titles such as Half Life (Dreamcast), Star Fox 2 (SNES), The Last Ninja (ZX Spectrum + various), Stunt Car Racer Pro (Xbox, PC, PS2) and many more.  The entire book overall spans 40 years from 1975 to 2015, covering a multitude of platforms across those eras.  

The main written features talk to those involved on the games and attempt to tell the full story of each, many of which haven’t been told in detail until now.  Assets and screenshots are shown for most titles, some also never seen until now. In the case of games that don’t have anything to show, there are specially created artist’s impressions, giving a unique visual interpretation of what could have been.

In addition to this, there are a number of interview pieces, “Hardware That Weren’t” blueprint pieces (which have come out really well) and a number of breakout double page spreads with developer quotes. The aim was to create something as enjoyable and informative as possible for readers, hence why it took so long to produce. Finally, the publisher is the highly reputed Bitmap Books ( https://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/), who have a great standing and reputation within the retro community with their impressive Visual Compendium and various other titles.


“Tell us more about the Kickstarter?”

Originally I wasn’t sure if we would be going down a Kickstarter route or not to raise funds to produce the book. I guess maybe we didn’t need to in the end, as I had written and pulled most of the the book together by the time I started working with Bitmap Books. In the end, Sam Dyer produced the book design and self funded a lot of the remaining bits and pieces we needed (such as artwork). In the end, it was decided to go straight to pre-order, which opened on the 2nd June at 7am. It was great in a way, as it meant people were committing to an actual finished product.

Konix Multi-System

“When is your book due for release?”

Pre-orders are now open at http://www.gtwbook.co.uk , with physical copies expected to reach readers from around the 15th August onwards (depending on postal delays due to the current Covid-19 situation).


“How long have you been writing books?”

This is my first and only book i’ve ever written.  Before that I just contributed to other people’s books, including the Commodore 64: Visual Compendium, writing its unreleased games section. Over the years i’ve written for various Commodore 64 fanzines, and briefly did a stint with Retro Gamer magazine during the early days – running a regular GTW feature and the odd “Whatever happened to…” article.


“What are your plans after this book is published?”

Have a very very long break! 😉

Well, that probably won’t happen 🙂 … I’m just looking forward to playing more games for a bit, rather than writing about them. Spend a bit more time with my wife and daughter (who lost me a fair bit during the heavy writing days), and just continue working on the digital archive, finding more games and preserving them for people to check out.

There might be the possibility of doing some more writing work, but not until after I’ve done something different for a bit! 🙂

Boxer

“What was your first gaming experience?”

It was either playing on the very first Game and Watch – “Ball” game, which I used to compete against my mum for the highest score. Or it was playing Buck Rogers by U.S. Gold on the Commodore 64 over my sister’s house back in 1987/88. I remember it clear as day – i’d never seen anything like it before and was desperate to get my own games system/computer after that.  I later got a second-hand Atari 2600 Jr and a bundle of games as my first gaming setup for Christmas 1988, followed by a second-hand Vic 20 bundle the next year for my birthday.  


“My favourite computer was my Amiga, and my favourite console the Megadrive.  Do you have a favourite?”

Great choices, loved playing on both of those growing up round friends and family’s homes.

For me personally, my favourite computer is the Commodore 64 (although I have a soft spot for the Commodore Vic-20). I’ve owned one since 1990 and I’ve been playing the machine ever since, catching the tail end of its commercial life,  watching it die out and then re-surge again in recent years. There is just something about its architecture which feels timeless to me, and it is amazing to see so many people developing for the platform again.  So many games being released on a monthly basis, its almost like 1990/91 again – just without being able to go into shops to buy them.

Console wise i’d have to say the Atari 2600. Mainly because each time I put on a game, I slip back to 1988/89 again and lose a few hours to the likes of Millipede and Yar’s Revenge. I find myself more often drawn back to those games, rather than titles on the Megadrive or Master System for instance. I think its because of the nostalgia hit and the craving I get for it.


“What is your favourite retro game?”

This changes a lot, but I love playing a classic title called Blue Max on the Commodore 64 and often load it up even today.  If you ask me next week, my favourite game will be Midnight Resistance on the same platform probably.


“Do you still game on the current consoles and if so what is your favourite game?”

I have a PS4, but I haven’t had time to nearly play it enough to have a favourite game unfortunately. Netflix is the most popular thing on it at the moment. I have though enjoyed playing a bit of Spiderman, No Man’s Sky and Fifa 18. Because of my limited time these days, I focus more on playing retro games and just keep an eye on modern games from a distance.


“Whats the worst game you have ever played?”

Has to be Hard Drivin’ on the Commodore 64. To be fair though, the developer was given a crazy task of converting the highly complex Atari arcade to an 8-bit machine and only in about 2 weeks. It feels like you are constantly skidding on ice and is a travesty in comparison to the vastly superior ZX Spectrum version.


“Finally what game or feature would you like to see on Retrogamesmaster in the future?”

It would be really cool to see a feature on maybe some of the more obscure gaming magazines of the day for consoles/computers during the 1990s.  We focus a lot on the likes of Zzap!64 or Super Play, but there were many other magazines that came and went that many people may have forgot about.