In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.
Bill Amend is the cartoonist behind the comic strip FoxTrot, and has been at it for almost 25 years. FoxTrot has been running in national syndication since its debut in 1988. (It went Sundays-only in 2007.) Amend has a knack for sending up the geeky end of pop culture through mega-nerd Jason Fox, the youngest son in a family of five. He recenly released AAAA!, a collection of past strips targeted at kids.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Bill Amend: After a six-month hiatus, I’m plunging back into the World Of Warcraft, so to speak. The Mists Of Pandaria expansion, as you probably have heard, came out a week ago. That was enough to rekindle my interest at least to give it a look.
Gameological: How long have you been playing World Of Warcraft?
Amend: Since about a month into the game.
Gameological: Have you been using the same character this entire time?
Amend: I started out with an Alliance druid and played him for about six months. I switched to the Horde, and now I play an orc enhancement shaman. I’ve been playing him primarily since the beginning. I’ve got alternate characters that I goof around with, but generally I play my shaman.
Gameological: Did you play any of the earlier Warcraft games?
Amend: I started with Warcraft II way back when my wife bought it for me as a Valentine’s gift, or something. She had no idea of what a Pandora’s box she was opening. It was the beginning of the end.
Gameological: You’ve been putting video games into FoxTrot for a long time, so do you think Warcraft was the big turning point for a lifestyle change?
Amend: I’ve always played games. For years I had heard of Everquest, and this genre of MMOs and they were all for Windows PCs, and I was on Macs. I had heard about how horribly addictive they were, and so when World Of Warcraft came out, I wanted to give it a try, just to see what all the talk was about. Plus, I liked the lore of the Warcraft stories. It sucked me in quickly, but it worked out well because it was good fodder for the strip.
Gameological: I’m almost surprised—or maybe I’m missing a strip or two—but did Jason’s mom Andy ever get addicted to it? Because earlier, there was a story with her addicted to Doomathon II.
Amend: Yeah, I had her go crazy with Doomathon. It’s fun to play the characters off of what you would expect them to be doing, to go counter to perception. I had Paige I think briefly start playing World Of Warcraft, but by and large it’s always been Jason that’s the one geeking out about it. I’ve let his character mirror my own, so he plays an orc who’s an enhancement shaman, sort of the same way I do.
Gameological: Speaking of Paige, I was looking around your website, and I saw that beyond the strip, you made a Slugman video game that was Slugman versus a horde of Paige-o-trons. Why did your dip your toes into making video games?
Amend: Well, my background, I was a physics major in college, and I was really into programming computers back then. This was in the early ’80s, and I programmed in Pascal, which is a language no one uses anymore. I was trying to teach myself C, and some point along the line I bought a book about how to program games for the Mac, in C. It had all kinds of example codes, and one of the games that came with it was a freeware game called Glypha III. It was a clone of Joust, the old arcade game where you fly your little ostrich on top of other guys. It was freeware, and I had the code, and the book encouraged you to go in and tweak stuff. I realized I could change all the sounds and graphics, and turn it into a game presumably programmed by Jason. So I made a Slugman game, and it was freeware, so I distributed on the website. Unfortunately, it only worked on Macs, and then when I did this back in the late ’90s, so when OS X came out, we had to tweak some stuff to make it compatible, and it worked all the way until OS X Lion, which killed it.
Gameological: Are you playing anything on your Mac right now? I know that can pretty limiting.
Amend: I hate to sound like an advertisement for Blizzard, but StarCraft II is the other game I go on. I put it on hold right now while I’m trying to level up my character in Warcraft. I play Protoss and I like the game, but I think I like watching professional StarCraft even more, which is sort of weird. I’ve replaced watching football on weekends with watching these StarCraft tournaments that you can stream. It’s really cool, and they have decent prize money.
Gameological: Is that online? There’s not a TV station for that, is there?
Amend: Not yet. In Korea, I think it’s on a couple TV channels, so that may a glimpse into our future. It’s online. As long as my internet’s working okay, it’s not an issue. There’s some weekend where all of a sudden my internet bugs out, and you have to watch it at one frame a second.
Gameological: Is that something you can watch with other people, like you would with a football game?
Amend: I have not been to one, but they’ve started having something called BarCrafts. They’ll set them up either through Reddit or various StarCraft forums. You go to a bar, and in the same way a sports bar might have football on all the screens, they’ll have the StarCraft tournaments, and you can watch them with 30 other people, which is pretty cool.
Gameological: Are there any in your area?
Amend: I’ve seen information leading me to believe that there is occasionally one in my area. I have not yet had the courage to put on a StarCraft t-shirt and show up, because I’d be the oldest guy there by far. [Laughs.] “Who brought grampa in?” I’d have to bring my 16-year-old son and pretend that I’m there to chaperone him.
And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.
(Bill Amend photo courtesy of Genevieve719.)