Interviews: Scroll's Ray Barnholt Talks SNES and New-Age Fanzines
Posted by Damien McFerran
Former 1UP staffer fills us in on what he's up to now
The humble fanzine harks back to an era when the net didn't exist and the most bits you could possibly hope for from a games console was 16.
It's hard to appreciate this now, but back then these crude pen-and-paper creations were the ancestors of sites like the one you're reading right now; unofficial, unhindered by overbearing publishers and unashamedly devoted to covering the topic of video games.
Although the fanzine in its original form is long dead, it's good to see that the spirit remains. Scroll is a unique magazine which calls to mind the same energy and love for the medium, but maintains a distinctly professional feel.
That should hardly come as a surprise, as the man behind this fledgling tome is none other than Ray Barnholt, former 1UP staffer and a regular contributor to the famous Retronauts podcast.
The first issue of Scroll features a celebration of the SNES, making it of special interest to Nintendo fans. We caught up with Ray to talk about his new project.
Nintendo Life: Can you give us a little information on your background?
Ray Barnholt: 1UP has been the majority of my career, but before that I started at a fansite called the Gaming Intelligence Agency, and sort of kicked around that sector for a few years, freelancing for 1UP as well, before being hired on there.
What inspired you to create Scroll?
For a long time, I wanted to do something about video games on the Web that was distinctly magazine-like, because I was finding all sorts of sites using fancy designs — I always found the old anime site EX as a great example of that. I also co-created a fan site called Crunk Games, and when I redesigned it a few years ago, I brought a teeny-tiny bit of magazine influence to what you can see there now. But my original ideas were seriously when I was a teenager, and they quickly became less reasonable as Web design matured after the '90s and blogs became the de facto way to publish articles. I kept the germ of the idea around in case I ever found the wherewithal, though.
I never really thought of doing anything as a tangible print product, but then Jeremy Parish developed his GameSpite books, which are sold through Blurb, where the overhead is slim to none, and so, suddenly I thought I could realize the idea. I was thinking of something digest-sized like GameSpite or this Japanese magazine called Continue, but could only go with black-and-white. I found MagCloud soon after, and though they weren't offering my ideal size, they were color, so I got their template and started playing around. This was actually many months before 1UP laid me off, but there was no question I had to do it after that.
How many people are involved with its creation and design?
I did every single thing myself, except write the Phantasy Star piece and any images that were clearly lifted off the Internet. However, I'm getting a selection of different artists to do work for the next issue, which is something that will probably happen again. But as far as writing and design, I want to leave it with me or my closest friends for now.
Why did you pick the Super NES as the cover star for the debut issue?
It's 20 years old in America this year, and I like thinking of meaty history pieces to write for such anniversaries. It's also the system I was kind of around for — I started with the NES, then became game crazy, and followed the Super NES the entire way.
There's a distinctly import-centric feel to the magazine, which is great because gaming in Japan never seems to get the sort of attention it deserves. Was this a conscious decision, or is it just because Japanese games are the ones you tend to gravitate towards?
Yeah, it's what I like to learn and talk about. When I was doing my fan site, there was a regular stream of crazy and interesting Japanese games to cover, but not as much now. Rather than call Japan "finished," my alternative is to just make light of Japan's industry today, what with all the girly games and failed attempts at aping Western style. It's fun to observe because it's so ridiculous, but I like to give people a somewhat more reasonable understanding, direct or not.
How can people get hold of the magazine? Is there a print version available?
Go the site, scroll.vg, and you can click on a link right on the front page to buy it in print or in bits.
What are your plans for issue two, and when can we expect to see it? What does the future hold for Scroll?
My answer to both of these is 'you'll see.' I can't be definitive about issue 2 right now, but I'm hoping it can be out in April or May. I have many ideas for other cover subjects afterward, but rest assured they'll be weird. I like taking the road less travelled, and the zine is the vehicle.