Let’s Ask Dad

GMP DadsThis year at The Good Men Project, we have committed to a number of strategic initiatives developed to better engage our community. Original video programming where our distinct voice can be well-expressed continues to be a key focus for our creative team.

Our latest shoot which I helped produce got me thinking there’s a reason some things change while others stay the same. Our increased use of video may be new, but at its heart, it’s just another tool for telling the stories we so love to share. Many of those stories this month are about dads, not surprisingly with Father’s Day on the horizon.

We interviewed seven dads across a spectrum of different backgrounds. They were different ages, their children were different ages, some had one child, some had several. They came from different backgrounds, different income levels, different commitments to faith, and different hopes for the future. What they had in common was profound love for their children, deep reflection on the impact of their own fathers on their lives, humble concern about wanting to make consistently good choices for their children, and hope that their children would grow up resilient and caring in a world with unnerving obstacles at every stage of life.

As I sat in the studio and got to know each of these fine men through their detailed answers to our deceptively simple questions, I was struck by the commonality in their integrity, candor, introspection, and keen insights into the forever moments of parenting. Any single moment of a child’s development might or might not become a memory, but the memories each of these individuals recalled with resonance were as different as they were as human beings.

One father struggled to explain where a very young child’s grandparents “went” when their lives had come to an end. Another father lamented how the sad sarcasm his child learned to express was a direct result of the same sarcasm he wished he never expressed to that child in moments of exhaustion. Yet another wished that he could provide more material comforts to his children, yet hoped his child understood how hard he worked for what they did have.

There were so many emotions expressed in such a short time during the course of our interviews, I wondered how the clichés of men retreating to the silence of their insecurities ever became so widespread. The dads we met wanted to talk, wanted to share, wanted to explore, and most of all wanted to be the best dads they could ever be. They wanted to exchange ideas, hear what each other had to say, learn from each other, and find community in the complexity of fatherhood where definitive textbooks don’t exist and the future impact of their choices is as abstract as the roadmap that brought them to the present.

When you get a dose of honesty that concentrated and expressed with unlimited pathos, the mirror of your own life reflects vividly and without filter. We see ourselves in each other’s eyes, and we learn many of our lessons in seeing our own successes and setbacks in the similar acts of our peers.

It is very much our mission at The Good Men Project to further the conversation no one else is having, and while video in this form might be historical artifact, when placed in a give-and-take context it very much can inspire dialogue. That’s what we set out to do with this bit of storytelling, not just record the stories of those talking, but lay the groundwork for others to react to these truthful moments as starting points in diving into their own personal histories.

Dad relationships are complex, we all know that. One way to start making sense of the father-child bond is to listen carefully to expressions we might not otherwise hear, think about our own answers and actions, and then see where the conversation takes us. Empathy can be a strong force in course correction. Celebration can be an even stronger force in replacing strident self-critique with simple moments of approval and acknowledgment.

Fathers are not simple entities, there is no reason to pretend they are. We all may not have one active in our lives, but if we do, there’s no time like the present to celebrate the dialogue we can still enjoy. If that is not an option, then listening and sharing with others might be another path to awareness and bonding. Mistakes are plentiful, but forever moments matter more.

Enjoy the videos. Enjoy the conversation. It only works if this is a starting point, not an archive. Let us hear from you. Let your children hear from you. Listen to their prying questions and find their hearts in your heartfelt answers.

We’ll be adding more video to this page and our YouTube channel on an ongoing basis, so check back frequently as the story unfolds. The more we add, the better the conversation — but only if you become a part of it.

And hey, an extraordinarily Happy Father’s Day to our entire community from everyone at The Good Men Project!

_____

Here are the questions we asked in the interviews. Just click on the questions to launch the video answers.

How has the word “love” changed now that you are a dad?

Are your children more like you or more like their mom?

What’s the best advice your father ever gave you?

How would you describe your dad in a sentence or two?

What advice would you give to new dads?

In your family what are dad tasks and what are mom tasks?

What was expected and unexpected about fatherhood?

This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Advertisements

TSO in the Front Row

TSO1

Christmas time
And the moment’s just beginning
From last night
When we’d wished upon a star

If our kindness
This day is just pretending
If we pretend long enough
Never giving up
It just might be who we are

  • From “Promises to Keep” by Paul O’Neill & Robert Kinkel

It’s getting late. Or early. Depends on where you are. Music of the Night.

I’m just back from my almost annual two-and-a-half hours with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It was different this year. For the first time ever my wife and I sat in the front row. I didn’t pay any special price and TSO does not sell VIP packages. We just got lucky ordering the millisecond tickets went on sale to fans. Incredibly lucky. Staggeringly lucky. Not an ordinary occurrence for yours truly.

Last night’s show at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California was as good as any and every show we’ve seen TSO perform since we began following them around the turn of the Millennium. The difference was the intensity of, well, being in the front row. I’ve been going to rock concerts like this for over forty years now, and the few times I’ve found my way to the front row, there is nothing like it. When there is nothing between you and the musicians but a wee bit of inner space, you connect. It’s indescribable. It’s metaphysical. It’s what rock and roll is meant to be, the lines between audience and performers erased. You feel the experience in a different way. There is a pure intensity that sinks through your sensory inputs and temporarily commands possession of your emotional framework. Ideas become visceral. Passion becomes tangible. You wish it could last forever. At least I do.

Then reality returns. It has to return, so you can take the music with you and do something with it. Inspiration is a spark, not an engine. If you find a way for the spark to ignite, you carry the torch with a reason and do something with it. Moments like hanging in the front row keep me young, but my work is still my work. Part of that is sharing this stuff with you, to bring us together in the service of something productive, something that matters.

Seconds before the show began, in the dim light of pre-set, music director Al Pitrelli walked to center stage in the shadows. I was about ten feet from him. Pitrelli is a musician of such amazing talent I am humbled watching his fingers navigate the fret board at speeds I can barely imagine, let alone emulate. I looked at Pitrelli and made eye contact. I gave him the aviator’s thumbs up. He looked back at me and put his hand over his heart, a Roman Centurion salute of sorts, but kinder and more heartfelt as he often does when connecting with someone in the audience. In that moment I felt simultaneously like we had just met in person yet were old friends. I guess both of those readings are true. It is the illusion of knowingness that allows art to work. Ancient philosophers worried about the dangers of such false impressions. Old rock and rollers like me call it keeping the backbeat.

I have never met Al Pitrelli, or TSO founder/impresario Paul O’Neill, or anyone in Trans-Siberian Orchestra, despite the fact that they inspired me to write my second book, Endless Encores. I talk about the band in the book’s Preface, how brave they are to try out new material on every tour to keep moving forward, while still giving their fans the show they expect. They just give us more, music we don’t know is coming, and that lets us grow together rather than lock into a fixed expectation of the ordinary. Maybe someday I’ll get to meet these guys—who knows, what were the chances I’d end up in the front row of their show at retail?

What do I really want to share in this predawn realtime post, something I rarely do but at the moment feel compelled to publish unpolished? Is it to convince you that TSO offers a level of practiced musicianship, vibrant stagecraft, theatrical innovation, and storytelling significance that is much too rare in pop entertainment? Possibly. Is it simply to capture the moment for myself of front row showtime as a slice of life? I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. Yet here’s the real deal: Go back to the top of this post and have another look at the lyrics I excerpted.

There is a through line here. It is the holiday season, a time of pause, a time of reflection. In the ultimate irony, the venue where TSO played last night was not too far from San Bernardino, where violent tragedy again struck our nation only days ago. Families all around us are in pain. What we need to embrace is that every kind act in response to those in need is an act that restores humanity to humanity. Music, stories, and unforgettable performances can be our road back to the goodness that gives our life purpose. When art is a conduit that reminds us to act as we internalize, we are brought together toward a path that anticipates healing. We learn from the evocative, and we advance on the hard work that must be done to make sense of our brief time together.

TSO carries into my heart a sense of hope. It ties the holidays to a call of service, and it ties the years together in a continuum of incomplete measure. Sitting in the front row made it feel more real, more direct, more personal, and oh yes, more intense. We have a tremendous amount of work to do together and not much time to have an impact. Listen to the lyrics, feel the music, embrace the integration. Then do something with it.

Celebrate the holidays by doing something that really matters. And don’t forget to turn up the volume. I’ll see you in the front row, the cheap seats, or anywhere else we can make a real difference. Think hope, then make it happen.
TSO6

Endless Encores: A Brief Excerpt on Profits

EE CoverWith the September 22, 2015 publication of my second book, Endless Encores, I wanted to share a few excerpts to catch your interest. Published by The Story Plant, this is a business parable about People, Products, Profits—in that order. This excerpt is from the chapter about Profits.

♫ ♫ ♫

There was a modest rumble in the room. A flight had been called. It was not Daphne and Paul’s flight to Los Angeles, but both were heartened by the rustling of computer bags and rollaboards around them as fellow passengers-in-waiting began ambling to the door. It had been a long night, but now it appeared the delay would not go on forever, nor the conversation.

“We have hope,” proclaimed Paul. “We’re going to get out of here.”

“Hope is the strength that keeps us going,” said Daphne, watching people around her happily begin to leave the airport lounge. Since their flight wasn’t leaving, she had no reason to follow them, but she knew her remaining time with Paul would be limited.

“When you set out to determine strategy, how do you think about building the business so it keeps growing?” continued Paul. “No sane executive wants to lead a company into the Dead Brand Graveyard, yet so many end up there. Suppose they have the best people and the best products. How do they get their head around a business model that is going to both work now and expand into the future?”

“That’s the greatest enigma of all,” answered Daphne. “You have to think about recurring revenue alongside new revenue. Some transactions have to be there without your prodding, so you can add new transactions on top of them. If you’re going to spend money to acquire new customers, you have to balance that with what you’re spending to retain the ones you have. If all you do is spend to acquire new business, your margins will be perpetually squeezed. No fun, I assure you.”

“My boss says that all the time,” agreed Paul. “If every year you start the P&L from zero, it’s virtually impossible to grow. You have to know there is some business already on its way from your catalogue of products, and on top of that you add new product introductions.”

“Smart guy, your boss,” said Daphne. “He gets the mix a lot of us miss. Maybe he was at the same Paul McCartney concert I attended.”

“The same boss who isn’t going to can me for this lackluster sequel?”

“Yes, that clever fellow. Let me ask you something about that catalogue of products, the base of recurring revenue. Do you cannibalize your own markets before the competition does it for you?”

“Well, we don’t put out the same videogames, so it’s not exactly possible,” said Paul. “But if you’re asking do we sometimes leave one out there longer than we should to extract the last bit of profit from it, yeah, we do that sometimes.”

“How does it make you feel?”

“Queasy”

“Me, too,” winced Daphne. “I think we all do it to some extent, but the key to all of this is balance. Yes, you need a base of recurring revenue, but if you don’t give your customers something new and exciting before your competitors do, they will sweep your customers into their camp. You have to study and manage the ratios of evergreen and introductory endeavors at work in all your sales channels. Remember, constraints on distribution are low, choices are high.”

“It’s staggeringly hard to find the stamina to pull a product from the shelf when it’s still selling,” said Paul. “R&D costs are ridiculously high. We need all the sales we can muster for contribution margin to make sense.”

“One of the hardest choices in business is to pull a product while it’s still moving. Again, what we are talking about is strategy. Of course you don’t want to leave more money on the table than you should, but you’ll often find you need to leave some. If you don’t do it, your competitors will happily obviate your offerings. That can be the end of one brand and the birth of a new one that is no longer yours.”

♫ ♫ ♫

Endless Encores: Repeating Success Through People, Products, and Profits by Ken Goldstein is available in hardcover and as an e-book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo, IndieBound, Indigo, and at independent bookstores near you.

“Focus relentlessly on the extraordinary.” Pub Day

Endless Encores: A Brief Excerpt on Products

EE CoverWith the September 22, 2015 publication of my second book, Endless Encores, I wanted to share a few excerpts to catch your interest. Published by The Story Plant, this is a business parable about People, Products, Profits—in that order. This excerpt is from the chapter about Products.

♫ ♫ ♫

Paul’s phone dinged. It was the text alarm. He was afraid to look, but he knew the Band-Aid had to be ripped off in one pull. He turned over the handset so they could both see it at the same time. The text read: “We’ll talk when you get back.”

“I’m not off the hook,” grumbled Paul. “Not even a little.”

“Did you expect you would be with a simple text?” asked Daphne. “He’s your boss, not your father. How much did your company invest in the sequel?”

“Millions. We’re not going to lose all of it. We may not lose any of it. We just aren’t going to make the kind of money we made on the original. Sequels in my business are supposed to do better than the originals as the brand and market expand. Everything we do can’t be a winner.”

“Would you let Randy or Helen off the hot seat for mediocre performance with just a text?”

“No, of course not,” said Paul. “I would remind them that there is no growth without risk, that we have to be willing to try things and fail, but when we fail we have to learn. It’s not failure if it’s learning, but there has to be learning. You have to capture that learning and harness it.”

“I suppose he’ll say something to the same effect,” said Daphne. “Of course, I’ve never met him, so you never know. He could mop the floor with you to make him feel better.”

“Thanks, I feel so much more chipper,” grimaced Paul.

“You should,” said Daphne. “Think about the opposite spectrum. Suppose you weren’t willing to risk failure and learn. Suppose you devoted all your energy to protecting the status quo. Think of a company that isn’t around anymore that tried that trick.”

“Kodak comes to mind,” said Paul. “I read somewhere that they developed the first digital camera in 1975, but kept it off the market because they were afraid of what it might do to their traditional film processing business.”

“Polaroid missed the shift to digital as well,” replied Daphne. “They didn’t have to stick with mechanical, self-developing prints. That was a choice.”

“It’s amazing how bad the blunders can be,” continued Paul. “Borders Books, Circuit City, Tower Records—they’re gone forever. With all the customers they had, the vast resources, all that talent and cash in the bank, these days they’re just names, empty shells. Businesses become nostalgia.”

“Tombstones, actually, all in the Dead Brand Graveyard,” said Daphne. “No Endless Encores there. The list goes on and on: Palm, Zenith, Blockbuster, CompUSA, Wang Laboratories—all once beloved brands, all now decaying tales of yesteryear. Now think of the once great brands about to fail, the ones you know will soon evaporate. What is their idea of risk?”

“Way too conservative,” answered Paul. “They’re afraid to take risks because they’re afraid of failing, when in fact they’re already failing by refusing to dance a little closer to the edge.”

♫ ♫ ♫

Endless Encores: Repeating Success Through People, Products, and Profits by Ken Goldstein is available in hardcover and as an e-book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo, IndieBound, Indigo, and at independent bookstores near you.

Endless Encores: A Brief Excerpt on People

EE CoverWith the September 22, 2015 publication of my second book, Endless Encores, I wanted to share a few excerpts to catch your interest. Published by The Story Plant, this is a business parable about People, Products, Profits—in that order. This excerpt is from the chapter about People.

♫ ♫ ♫

It was getting late in the evening, and as yet there was no additional update on the flight departures. At this point Paul was sort of hoping it would go that way. To leave this conversation unfinished was not something that held much appeal.

“What don’t I know that I wish I knew?” asked Paul, knowing that didn’t exactly come out right. “We put everything into this new game, everything we had to give, but the end result isn’t flourishing.”

“Seems like we’re making quick progress with that wall,” prodded Daphne. “The truth is, you already know everything you need to know. All I can do is perhaps get you to rethink it in a different context. Take me through the project from the beginning.”

“The good one or the follow-up?” asked Paul.

“Why would I want to retrace the path of mediocrity?” replied Daphne. “The good one, the big winner—where did you begin with the original Ethereal Gaze?”

“We started with a pitch. We’d been kicking around this concept for a few years, the idea of an enormous war game, galactic in scope, but without a lot of weapons—without any bullets, or tactical bombs, or spleens exploding, any of the normal shooter stuff that was leaping off the shelf. We said we’d try to do it with clever ideas of strategy, mind-blowing graphics, a full symphonic soundtrack, and characters that made you believe they were real.”

“Sounds visionary, heck of an agenda for a library of program code,” lauded Daphne. “You even went against the grain and tried to build something that wasn’t a proven big seller. But tell me, and I sort of asked you this before but it is worth repeating, who is we?”

“We, the team,” answered Paul. “The core design group, the people I see every day who completely know this stuff, who come up with the ideas that make it happen.”

“Cool, got it, then let me ask you, which came first, the concept, or the talent to create it?”

“Why do I think this is another trick question?” asked Paul.

“The last time you thought I asked you a trick question it wasn’t, so go with your instinct. Which comes first, the idea, or those who offer the idea? This is a key starting point, kind of like the chicken and egg thing, only we’re going to solve it.”

“You can’t have an idea without someone expressing it,” said Paul, hoping he hadn’t said something too obvious.

“There you have it, bulls-eye,” declared Daphne. “Not just someone expressing it, someone with the ability and training to express it, and then be able to deliver on it. A team or an individual, it doesn’t matter, the foundation is the same. Let’s talk a little about talent.”

“I’ll try to keep up with you,” remarked Paul. “You have a lot of big ideas.”

“Too many people I’ve encountered over the years in business think it’s solely the big idea that matters,” continued Daphne. “Don’t get me wrong, big ideas are critical to success. You need spectacular concepts when you envision new products and services you want to bring to market. We’ll talk about that shortly. But before you can even think about creating, marketing, distributing, and selling anything of value, you have to have the right people in place to get the job done. Desperate leaders spend too much time worrying first about output. Long-term leaders spend the majority of their time thinking about talent.”

“I don’t know about that,” replied Paul. “I live in a world where customers need to be hugely excited, almost frothing at the mouth, standing in line overnight outside the store, waiting for the product to release before it’s even on the shelf.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, in one way or another, we all do,” countered Daphne. “Great ideas can be thrilling, but they don’t make payroll. Ideas get the ball rolling, but they are overrated. We worry too much about those who would steal them. Getting a product to market that embodies a great idea is what matters, and that is extraordinarily difficult. Products don’t build themselves.”

♫ ♫ ♫

Endless Encores: Repeating Success Through People, Products, and Profits by Ken Goldstein is available in hardcover and as an e-book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo, IndieBound, Indigo, and at independent bookstores near you.

Funniest Screenplays of All Time

Drama MasksBack in 2012, the Writers Guild of America surveyed its membership to identify the Best Written TV Series of All Time and I used the occasion to share my own list. This year the WGA is doing the same for the 101 Funniest Screenplays, asking members to submit fifteen titles to collect the 101 most mentioned. Again, I am not only happy to oblige, I am happy to share my picks with all of you even before the definitive list is published!

Of course funny means different things to different people. Is it slapstick funny, quirky funny, shock value funny, social critique funny, outrageous, embarrassing, or simply impossible to describe? How can you compare so many different kinds of funny, and is the contest even worthwhile other than as a recommendation list? Many wonder if it’s the writing that’s funny, or the performances, or the directing and editing. For me, you have to give credit to the writer if the movie ranks as one of the funniest, no more who contributes. Of course as someone who types a lot of words to share with others, I’m clearly biased toward recognizing writers for their contributions no matter the collaboration. Call me old-fashioned about the important of the written word, but my sense remains that if it’s not on the page ready to be made funny, no one can come to work to make it more funny!

I reached out to my Facebook friends to see what they thought, and what you see below, not in any specific order, are my fifteen, followed by all others that were mentioned frequently or emphatically. Mel Brooks is a clear and recurring winner here, along with the mockumentary Christopher Guest ensemble, a healthy dose of Monty Python, and a rousing run by the Coen Brothers. There were definitely generational trends in the responses I collected, with any number of people on this or that side of political correctness and golden age vs. modern age vs. contemporary leanings. Like music and literature, comedy is very personal, and taste is an individual expression of who we are what makes us tick. There’s a wide net here, and it will always be open to argument, rebuttal, reform, and addition.

I somewhat arbitrarily capped the list below at sixty titles because, well, I guess I didn’t want it to go on forever. Some of the motion pictures named by my friends were less familiar, so I tried to stay with more mainstream and recognizable fare. That should leave plenty of room for surprises when the WGA list is published next winter, and also for any others might want to add. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed many of these:

1) Young Frankenstein

2) Blazing Saddles

3) Monty Python and the Holy Grail

4) Animal House

5) Airplane

6) This Is Spinal Tap

7) When Harry Met Sally

8) Arthur

9) A Fish Called Wanda

10) There’s Something About Mary

11) Trading Places

12) Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

13) Stripes

14) Dr. Strangelove

15) MASH

And then from my social media community…

16) Waiting for Guffman

17) Best in Show

18) Some Like It Hot

19) What’s Up Doc?

20) Duck Soup

21) A Night at the Opera

22) Flirting with Disaster

23) Raising Arizona

24) The Producers

25) Caddy Shack

26) Bridesmaids

27) Wedding Crashers

28) Fast Times at Ridgemont High

29) The Princess Bride

30) Shakespeare in Love

31) Caddy Shack

32) Monty Python’s Life of Brian

33) Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

34) The Jerk

35) O Brother, Where Art Thou?

36) The Big Lebowski

37) Rushmore

38) Napoleon Dynamite

39) Being John Malkovich

40) Annie Hall

41) Harold and Maude

42) My Cousin Vinny

43) My Favorite Year

44) Groundhog Day

45) Ghostbusters

46) Tootsie

47) The Hangover

48) National Lampoon’s Vacation

49) His Girl Friday

50) Office Space

51) The Naked Gun

52) The Forty Year Old Virgin

53) Dumb and Dumber

54) Tommy Boy

55) Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

56) The Blues Brothers Movie

57) The Graduate

58) The Pink Panther

59) The Party

60) A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

That’s a more than decent start, plenty of chuckles, guffaws, and belly laughs to go around. Remember, it all starts with the written word, or as many writers like to say: “You know that joke? Somebody wrote that!”

Please feel free to add any of your favorites in the comments below!

Wings: Remastered and Revisited

Wings_coverA few decades back, before I became a software and media executive and long before I returned to writing, I wrote the “screenplay” for a succesful computer game called Wings.  That “interactive movie” — as it was marketed — was a World War I flight simulation that followed the lives of the very first fighter pilots, trying to make combat sense of fragile biplanes curiously equipped with machine guns.  It was published by an early innovator in gaming known as Cinemaware, which set out to make games look, feel, and tell stories more like movies.  Recently the Cinemaware brand was resurrected via a Kickstarter campaign to fund a mobile version of Wings, that if successful will contain the entirety of the many pages of story and dialogue, plus a lot of new material.  I have no financial interest in the new Wings, but it does bring back fantastic memories, a slice of life from an earlier time.  The new team asked me to do a text interview to support their campaign, which I decided for nostalgia to publish here as well.  Enjoy!

Please provide a brief bio of yourself.

At the moment I’m a first time novelist, my book This is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness just released last month to good reviews.  I’m also an investor, a start-up board member, an executive coach instructor, a blogger, and former corporate executive.  I was CEO of SHOP.COM, Executive VP of Disney Online, and VP Entertainment and Education at Broderbund Software.  I read a lot, follow the L.A. Dodgers, study wine, and am active in children’s welfare issues as well as local government.  If that’s not brief enough, cut everything except the part about reading and the Dodgers.

How did you originally join Cinemaware and get to work on Wings?

I met some of the Cinemaware team at a UCLA conference called The Future of Television in the late 1980s.  They told me they were creating interactive movies.  I had just written a spec screenplay called Miniatures about radio controlled model aircraft that sort of predicted the U.S. drone program.  It was the first thing I had written on a computer, a monochrome XT.  They asked me if I ever thought about working on a computer game.  I said No.  They showed me Rocket Ranger and It Came from the Desert on the Amiga.  Then I said Yes.  Quickly.

How was it working with the Wings team on the Amiga?  What do you remember most about that time?

It was a magical time, a time of possibilities.  I had experienced five years in traditional media of hearing why we couldn’t do certain things, how everything had to be done a rigid way, and how little respect there seemed to be for the writer.  Everything at Cinemaware was, yeah, let’s try that and see if we can make it work, why not?  I also remember writing on a Mac SE/30 for the first time, and I couldn’t believe why anyone would use anything other than that — so much for my XT.  And I remember when our competitor, Origin Systems, leaked a demo of their outer space saga Wing Commander, and our team was like, hmm, that’s a pretty compelling 3D engine, but our story is way better, so back to the drawing board, and they completely rewrote our flight simulator in about 2 weeks to be more state of the art.  Oh, and I remember when someone brought in the first Amiga with a 20MB hard drive and we could install both floppy disks without having to play with disk swapping or a slow seeking second external floppy drive, and that just seemed like the best possible gaming experience you could ever have — until we heard rumor about something coming called a CD-ROM.

How did you go about doing research for the game?

John Cutter, the game’s visionary designer, and I got ourselves invited backstage at the Air & Space Archives in San Diego, where we discovered a lot of the old U.S. Army Air Corp files were stashed.  We were blown away by how welcomed we were there, the military librarians spent hours with us digging out old files, it was a smorgasbord of history, and they couldn’t have been more helpful.  They kept bringing out boxes and boxes of dusty old papers and black & white photographs and let us have at it.  It was a super find and let us dig deep into a very special time of innovation, courage, and pain.  We devoured stacks of books on World War I (we even included a bibliography in the Aviator’s Briefing Manual, I’m guessing the first bibliography for a computer game).  We watched the 1927 silent movie Wings — winner of the first Academy Award for Best Picture — and The Dawn Patrol (1930) so many times on VHS by our QA release date I think we could recite the storylines in realtime without anything on the monitor — then we chose to borrow only the atmosphere: the title, the sets, the costumes, font styles from the text cards, but none of the stories or characters.

What do you think makes Wings such a special gaming experience?

I think it really was the first computer game to try to tell an epic story that was more theater than shoot ’em up, but we kept plenty of shoot ’em up.  We tried extremely hard to make the character role-playing real, to get inside the head of a 19-year-old kid who probably had about as much chance coming home alive as he did surviving enough sorties to live long enough to become squadron commander.  We obsessed on details of the period, used every pixel wisely, created a true sense of responsiveness in the story, something that would set off endless discussions about the true nature of interactivity.  We also kept the game controls immensely simple.  It wasn’t a super complex gravity based simulation where you had to be an engineer to takeoff and land the plane or fight virtual physics to keep the contraption airborne.  We simply “cut to” you in the air and said Just Fly and Shoot.  We brought in a lot of non-gamers with that simplicity, but funny enough, the hard-core gamers praised us for it as well.

Can you tell us what the team wanted to implement in the game, but didn’t have the time or resources to do?  Any special hidden gems or trivia for Cinemaware fans?

First you have to remember what we were dealing with getting the game to ship on two 512K floppy disks, as if any big blockbuster developer today could comprehend how little data that is.  Our programmers were masters of compression, and kept squeezing and squeezing.  The music  was astonishingly intelligent, but the short redundant loops made our composers crazy, so I’m sure they will be delighted with the enhanced score on the remastered version.  Every screen shot was a big hit to storage, and I remember the artists begging to include more storyboards, but that wasn’t possible.  Luckily for me text was as economical to store then as it is now, so I didn’t feel the same thrashing.  I do remember the branching tree logic making me nuts and having to write multiple outcomes for every mission, wondering if it was humanly possible to cover every fork in the story and how many people would care that on a given pass through the game they would only see fractions of the screenplay (we positioned this as a customer benefit, creating replay value).  I remember when the marketing folks “requested” we cut from three floppy disks in beta down to two in order to improve gross margin on wholesale, which almost created a revolution in the hallways.  Our indefatigable producer, Jerry Albright, reminded us it was OK for them to ask, and that we had to respect them for trying, then emphatically told them not a chance.  Then somehow our miracle programmers pulled it off and we shipped the master on Reel 1 and Reel 2.  I also remember a few brainstorms we had after we realized what a unique product we had developed, one for a CD-ROM version with recorded spoken dialogue that of course never happened, and one for a Wings sequel that would have been set in WWII, and who knows where that would have taken us.

If Cinemaware had a chance to expand on Wings, what do you think could be better developed or explored?

That’s sort of like asking the creative team who made the original movie version of Wings how they would have made it a talkie.  The remastered version being funded on Kickstarter is doing all the right things — improved graphics, enhanced music, more missions, improved physics in the engine — all of that brings out the best in what we did so long ago.  The important thing is that we gave the game heart, layered grounding in reality staying true to the source material, emotional resonance woven through a role-playing experience.  As long as you remain true to heart, the polished production values will fully bring out the best.

Ken, you also pledged for this campaign, thank you so much for the support.  What made you do it?

It is a very small sum of money to let an entirely new generation of gamers see where we started as an industry, and maybe a few grown-up parents will get to share the experience with their kids.  Really, it’s not much money for a lot of game, and it is a fun game, part of what got us here.  It’s kind of like the silent movie version of Wings we watched over and over — what if someone hadn’t bothered to preserve it, can you imagine having lost a gem like that?  I can’t, no way.  We all come from somewhere, it’s important to remember that and even more important to share the memories.

Pilot Shot