My Time at Sendai: A Former EGM Editor Speaks - Part 3

In case you were brought here by Google, or otherwise missed Parts 1 and 2, start here.  Congratulations for making it to Part 3!  I'll now assume you're either over 30 years old, or you know me personally.  I can't see any young gamers being remotely interested in any of this.  So if you find yourself saying "Dude, I wanna read about "Shoe" or Seanbaby, not these geriatric assholes I've never heard of! Eff this "Rodd" guy and his basement or whatever, I'm gonna go run around in a drab environment and shout obscenities at people I don't know online, while scoring a headshot and teabag…", then this blog post is probably not for you. Anyway…

Here Comes a New Challenger (or two)

So just like Martin had done for me, I was now trying to get MY friends into Sendai.  First was my buddy Danyon Carpenter.  I invited him and Mark Sarnecki come to visit the office one Saturday, again just like Martin had done for me.  I cleared this beforehand with Ed Semrad, and he allowed us to enjoy a day of gaming and junk food from the Sendai vending machines.  Of course the EGM office had the arcade version of Street Fighter II, a Neo-Geo upright arcade cabinet, as well as an all-in-one upright arcade cabinet with a built in subwoofer and connectors for any game system.  Not to mention multiples of every console known to man.  So any gamer going in there couldn't help but have the time of his life.  Plus they both had a chance to meet Ed and more importantly, Ed had a chance to meet them.

Apparently they'd made a good impression.  Before long, Danyon was on board, and Mark followed not long after, but not before passing initiation.  To get into Sendai, you had to play one of the most frustrating games ever and write a review afterward.  This tested both your gaming expertise and patience as well as writing ability.  Well, it wasn't really required; it was just fun to do to noobs (a word that didn't exist back then).  The game of course was Super Ghouls & Ghosts on SNES.  If you're saying right now, "What?  That game's not that hard…" then you're a liar and should shut up.  In any case, they both passed.

The Sendai crew, early 1992 posing for the National Enquirer
It was nice to have them on board, the three of us as (well as the whole EGM crew) were really a tight group, we all ate lunch together which was usually spent at the greasiest fast food place in town for about two hours, or sometimes at the local Enchanted Castle arcade.  Occasionally we'd go to the nearby Yorktown mall EB Games, to lord our awesomeness over the clerks there. It was easy to become a total asshole when you were young, rich and an EGM editor.  It was for me anyway.  Or maybe I'm always an asshole…  Since we spent so much time together, sometimes driving each other crazy, we usually opted to part ways after hours.  I believe I visited Mike Vallas' house a few times, and spent the night at Trickman's house once, playing R-Type on Amiga all night. 

EGM 31 Cover - 2/92
The Novelty Wears Off

It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows; I was 18 years old, with very little street smarts or knowledge of the corporate world.  Now here I was, learning how moving from three staples in the magazine to two staples saves the company thousands of dollars per month, and why we're now moving from staples to binding, and the pros and cons of 9 point text vs. 10 point text.  I'd just gotten my "raise" after having gone to salary, and I was feeling a bit of a sting.  As I said, when I asked why my salary was less than before, I never got a straight answer.  The answer I was given, and I quote Ed Semrad, "Well if you don't like it, go get a job flippin' burgers, guy!"  I had finally figured out what was going on here.  This was a fantastic scam they had going.  Get a bunch of kids to come in here drooling over video games and working for peanuts, and if they complain, threaten to kick 'em out into the real world where their only chance to survive WOULD be to flip burgers.  Very clever.  From a business standpoint, it was genius.  Suddenly playing video games for money wasn't fun anymore.  It was a job.  Once the reality set in that they didn't seem to care about me, my job performance went downhill fast.  While before I had stayed late hours and asked Ed for more work when I was finished with my assigned projects, now I was leaving at 5PM and enjoying weekends off.

This was compounded by an incident where Steve came into the office late one night around the holidays and offered a $500 bill to everyone who happened to be in attendance and called it a "Christmas bonus".  The speculation was that he was intoxicated, but I wasn't there.  Word spread quickly the next day, and those of us who didn't get the bonus lodged a complaint, because it didn't seem fair that some people got a bonus.  They deserved it for working late?  "Hey, we all busted our asses to meet deadline at one time or another" was the general consensus.  So we were begrudgingly cut checks, with tax taken out of course, so we ended up with about $360.

The peak of my frustration with the job occurred when we began to be assigned all of the pages on the pagination that had been assigned to Ed, in addition to our own pages.  We'd worked many late hours, and this was the week in particular that I worked the infamous 36-hour shift.  That's where you work 24 hours straight without going home, sleep in the closet for a few hours, then wake up and work another 12 hours, then drive home and not even remember going from your car to your bed, then sleeping for 15 hours in your own bed and returning to work mid-afternoon the next day to meet a four-magazine deadline.  At the end of this ordeal, a meeting was called, and we were chastised for slacking off and not meeting the deadline.  They asked what we've been doing all week, and were met with silence.  As I looked around and realized nobody was going to say anything, I finally said "It's because we're doing all Ed's work." 

Portable Guy

While I was praised by Steve for standing up and sticking up for everyone, it came as no surprise to me that after this incident, I was assigned the absolute worst games that came rolling through the office.  These were terrible, awful things, which could barely be called games, hand-picked by Ed, just for me.  And where were all of the lamest, worst games to play?  Why, on the portable systems of course!  So I became "Portable Guy".  As part of my punishment, I was forced to use the two most horrible tools known to exist.  The Wide Boy and the Wide Gear. 

I hate you, Wide Boy
Both devices allowed video to be passed from a portable gaming device to a television or in our case, video capture card in a Mac.  This was before the days of emulation, or the Super Game Boy and GameCube Game Boy adapter.  The Wide Boy was of course for use with Nintendo Game Boy cartridges and The Wide Gear was for Sega Game Gear cartridges.  These were not devices you could buy in any store and in fact seemed to be custom built prototypes thrown together just to get the job done.  Both devices consisted of an open circuit board with no protective casing.  What I learned eventually was that electronic devices have protective cases to protect not only the circuitry, but also protect the user from death.  These devices were a nightmare to use, both of them would reset and/or spark if moved or otherwise breathed on a certain way.  More than once I received a decent shock from both the Wide Boy and the Wide Gear.  Unfortunately I had to get used to it, because it was now my way of life thanks to my big mouth.

One time I spilled Orange Crush into EGMs irreplaceable Wide Boy, a secret which I kept to myself whenever anyone asked why the buttons on the Wide Boy were sticky.  It wouldn't be the last time I almost destroyed irreplaceable property at Sendai.  There was another time while everyone was away at CES, and the few of us that remained at the office became bored. SO, I brought the Jamma board from my recently purchased Super Contra arcade cabinet to plug into the Street Fighter II machine.  Again, this was before emulation; you had to have some hardware to play arcade games, which EGM had in abundance.  After we'd finished playing Super Contra, we plugged the Street Fighter II Jamma back in, and found that some of the controls weren't functioning.  We eventually realized the leads on the Super Contra Jamma were filthy, and we just needed to clean the connector before plugging Street Fighter II back in.  Unfortunately this discovery was made after I'd already soiled myself in fear I'd ruined the Street Fighter II machine.

CGR 11/91 Cover
The David White Conspiracy

Eventually I came to know and form a friendship with the guys at EGM's cousin magazine, Computer Game Review.  David White was the Senior Editor of CGR, basically the equivalent to Ed Semrad at EGM.  I found Dave to much more personable and accessible than any of the other managers at Sendai, he was easy to talk to and we shared a love of Star Trek.  Dave even took me to my first Star Trek convention which we attended with the other guys from CGR.  Unfortunately for me, Dave and Steve Harris would butt heads from time to time regarding certain aspects of CGR.  I learned that their working relationship had become strained, and one day I was finally told by Martin that Steve didn't like the fact that I was hanging out with Dave.  I knew they didn't get along, but what business was it of Steve's who I was hanging out with?

I didn't blame Martin. Of course Steve would never talk to me directly, and Martin was just doing what he was asked to do.  I told Martin I didn't really understand what my hanging out with Dave had to do with anything, and to let Steve know that it was my business who I hung out with outside of work.  This turned out to be a big mistake and was probably the second to last nail in my coffin.  Dave was let go not too long after that in what he described as "an argument over 9 vs 10 point text in CGR."  I lost contact with him after that which was a shame.

Fast forward briefly… About a year after I was fired from Sendai, I had the opportunity to attend the 1993 Consumer Electronics show here in Chicago (before E3 existed, all the latest video games were shown at CES).  It was an event that wasn't open to the public, but I was able to attend because my friend Scott Parus created a pretend company called "New Age Publishing" which allowed us to sign up for press passes to get in to CES.  While at CES I had an awkward encounter with Ed, who was of course there with Sendai.  He expressed very obvious sarcasm in stating he was glad I had an opportunity to attend the show.  And then made a point to bring attention to my press badge and say "Oh, New Age Publishing!  More like Dave White Publishing right?"  I just smiled and said "Ok, bye.", and walked away thinking, "Fuck off, Ed."

JAPAN – The Final Nail

Okay, back to the present, er past.  So now Ed had it in for me for ratting him out at the deadline meeting, and now Steve thought Dave and I were trying to undermine him somehow.  I had a feeling my time at Sendai was becoming short, maybe I'd gone too far basically telling Steve (via Martin) to mind his own business.  But I felt I was in the right defending my friendship with Dave.  There was no plot afoot at least that I was aware of.

Let me remind you at this point that all of this is based on my point of view at the time.  Just gut-feelings and vibes I felt.  I will never know how Ed and Steve really felt about me, nor at this point does it matter.  I'm just telling the story as I recall it.  And maybe my radar was completely out of whack, because it was at this point that I was chosen to go on the yearly trip to Japan with Ed.  If they weren't happy with me, would they send me to Japan?  But then again I was technically next in line, maybe it was just my turn, again I'll never know or care.

I was very nervous and excited at the prospect, and grateful for such an amazing opportunity.  Unfortunately, through a horrible lack of a sense of direction, (before the days of GPS, my current savior in all matters of driving), I got lost three times trying to get to the place I need to go to get my passport, so I was cutting the deadline close to be prepared to leave.  At the very same time, things were getting bad at home between my parents.  It was looking like a divorce was imminent.  And since I'd never learned how to manage my money, I still lived with my parents, and this was something I had to deal with firsthand every day.  All of this happening together was very stressful to say the least, and a couple nights before the trip, I was contacted at home by Ed.  He asked if I'd gotten my passport yet.  I could tell Steve was in the room, because every time I gave an answer to a question, I was put on hold.  I told Ed I had not gotten the passport yet, I had trouble finding the place and was dealing with some heavy matters at home.  After being put on hold again, Ed returned to say that Steve was coming to pick me up in a limo to take me where I needed to go.  I decided that this was just too much to handle.  I wasn't ready for this responsibility at this point in my life, and it was more important to me to be at home during this time.  I let Ed know how grateful I was for the opportunity, and apologized for my meandering on the matter, but declined to take the trip at this time.  I was put on hold again, and after a short five seconds Ed returned to say "Come in tomorrow and we'll work out the details." Puzzled, I replied, "Details of what?" Ed responded, "Your termination of employment." All I could say was, "Okay?" Ed very quickly shot back "Goodbye!" and hung up.

When I arrived the next day, I was advised by Ed that I would have to pay back the cost of the non-refundable plane ticket that was purchased in my name.  I laughed and said it was going to be a little tough without a job.  Ed let me know a bill would be sent.  To date I have never received it.  Either the multi-million dollar company was somehow able to weather the cost, or it got lost in the mail.

Catch you next month for those last two, Ed.
From EGM 35 - 6/92
End of a Short Era

I look back and realize that at the time, I wasn't ready for any of this.  It was a terrible first job for me to have.  I learned no responsibility; my first life lesson into adulthood was that you don't have to work hard.  Just drop out of high school and you can be a successful editor for a national magazine.  I was terrible with my money, and never learned how to manage it.  I thought I was better than other people, and turned into an asshole.  This is what happens to people who make a ton of money at a young age, and never learn the important lesson I learned after I was fired from Sendai.  That lesson was humility.  Although I missed the people and the environment, getting fired was the best thing for me at that time.  As I gathered my things from my desk in a haze of disbelief, I wouldn't understand that lesson.  It wouldn't be until years later when maturity set in that I'd really get it and appreciate the path my life took.  As I slung my backpack over my back for the last time and said goodbye to my friends, I turned to leave and locked eyes with Steve in the hallway.  An awkward encounter for both of us I'm sure.  He looked at me as if to say, "You have something you'd like to say to me?"  Somehow, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it wasn't worth saying anything, positive or negative.  I could tell him what I thought of him at the time, or I could plead for my job back.  But in the end, neither was good for me right now.  Somehow I knew that turning and walking away was the right decision.  Eventually I watched from afar as each of my friends were either fired, or quit because they couldn't take it anymore.  The few who toughed it out and stayed on were rewarded for their hard work by being let go when Steve Harris Sold EGM to Ziff-Davis, in favor of college-educated people who could be paid startup wages.  I made the right choice that day.  So, playing video games for money; not as glamourous as you might think.

As I mentioned, I attended Lutheran school as a youth.  I believe the most important thing I learned there was the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".  If you don't get it, it just means don't be a dick.  I show the utmost respect to everyone I meet, and I don't think it's too much to ask for a little respect in return, even from people who employ me.  This was the first job I lost to my stubbornness in holding to this belief, and it certainly would not be the last.

Look Closely... From EGM 21 - 4/91
I would just like to say that I didn't write this blog to discredit anyone, or out of some sort of vengeance or spite.  I'm simply recounting the events as I remember them.  In order to tell the complete story, I chose to recount the good as well as the bad.  I wrote this blog simply for the sake of telling an interesting story that happened to me once, which most people won't ever be able to experience.  I don't blame anyone or hold any grudges, in the end it was my own stubbornness that led to the end of my career at Sendai.  I have nothing but respect for Steve Harris as the man who created EGM, and the man who again holds the reins there.  He's a great businessman, but in a boss/employee relationship, we weren't a good fit.  Given the opportunity, would I do this again?  Probably not.  Gaming is different now, and I'm in the minority when it comes to what's hot and what's not.  I'll take a game of Pac-Man CE DX over a game of Black Ops any day.  A disembodied hand holding various weapons in a drab environment is not a video game, people!

Although there were ups and downs, the day to day enjoyment of the environment and the people is what I remember and miss most.  I was very fortunate that I was able to work with three of my close friends, and the rest of my co-workers were unique and amazing people who became my friends.  Again, gaming has changed.  My experience would be impossible to repeat today.  Nobody would dare hire someone to a position like mine without a journalism, desktop publishing or graphic design degree.  Reading this, you can see how very lucky I was that the circumstances fell into place the way they did.  I was able to work on EGM during what I consider to be the golden age of gaming, and I helped make an indelible mark on popular culture.  I was given the opportunity to learn some amazing skills which I still use to this very day to design this blog.  You won't see my name when you look up any past history of EGM, and I like it that way.  I know my role in the grand scheme, and I'm proud to have played it.

In Closing...

EGM/Gaming FM crews, SF Tourney 2001
So what happened after Sendai?  Well I've been everywhere from the top of the mountain, to the bottom of the barrel. Right now, I exist somewhere in the middle and that's fine with me.  Thanks to the greatest wife in the world, I did eventually get my GED five years after high school, graduating in the top 10% nationally which I remain proud of.  Along with Mark and Danyon we co-founded Gaming FM, an internet radio station that played video game soundtracks.  The story of Gaming FM is one for perhaps another day.  I do still have contact with most of the Sendai crew, Mark, Danyon and I live within five minutes of each other.  I don't see any of the other guys nearly as often as I'd like.  We did get together a couple of times to have Street Fighter tournaments at Mark's house, and we were reunited more recently at the funeral of fellow Sendai staffer Andy Baran, which I spoke about before. Wives and/or children are the priority now, but hopefully another Sendai reunion opportunity will present itself soon.

The Sendai Crew 2009 - Andy's Memorial
One last thing before I close…  I tried to remember of all the "little moments" my old brain could come up with during my short, but unforgettable time at Sendai Publishing Group, to give you an idea of what it was like to be there day to day.  I will never forget any of those people, whether I got along with them or not.  Despite everything, I look back on Sendai as a positive experience and I worked with some pretty awesome dudes!  So I leave you with my EGM memories, in no particular order:

  • Steve Harris announcing in his typical deadpan style, "We'll be having a Christmas Party. If I'm feeling jovial."
  • Steve walking in with a copy of a rival magazine who had just filed chapter 11 bankruptcy, and shouting "CHAPTER 11!" over and over as he tore pages out of the magazine and threw them about.
  • Watching Steve type.  The man typed faster than any human I'd ever seen, without errors.  The computer would spend 30 seconds catching up.
  • Mark Sarnecki scanning his middle finger, printing it out and hanging it on his cubicle wall, only to have Steve discover it and state, "That's pretty funny.  Waste of resources, but funny."
  • Ed Semrad walking into the office with an optical disk in his hand, forgetting why he came in and returning to his desk at least three times per day.
  • Ed calling every Japanese game "Stupid Ninja Kids" when he wasn't sure of the proper title.
  • Ed calling everybody "Guy".  Everybody.
  • Being asked by Ed to clean the basement storage cages out, and being specifically told to throw all the old junk in the dumpster. Then pulling our cars up and filling our trunks with ridiculous amounts of swag.
  • Ed's love of burnt popcorn and stinking up the office to enjoy it from the microwave.
  • Ed walking around the office in socks, and Danyon copying the behavior, prompting us to start calling Danyon "Ed Jr." for a while.
  • Danyon getting angry whenever we called him Ed Jr, and stating each time either "You will have no tires." or "You will die.", and then Trickman mimicking him while pushing an invisible pair of glasses up the bridge of his nose.
  • Mark and I changing Danyon's screensaver to random items we scanned around the office, like a bottle of Windex, a toilet paper roll, an image of Nintendo World Champion Thor Aackerlund, and some action figure.  Danyon told on us. 
  • Martin writing a song about my fear of driving in the snow. I'm not reciting the lyrics, although I do remember them.
  • Andy Baran doing something really funny while I pretended to be annoyed, and then laughing my ass off after he left.  I miss Andy.
  • Mike Vallas introducing us to anime through a lend of Project A-Ko which Danyon, Trickman and I watched at Mark's house. Changed our lives. 127 panty shots.
  • Vallas' PERFECT impression of "Guy sitting on crate" in Guile's Street Fighter II stage.
  • Martin, Trickman, Mark and I taking a road trip to Martin's aunt's farm in Wisconsin, listening to video game soundtracks the whole ride. 
  • Martin throwing an empty box at me that he pretended was heavy.
  • Paper clip fight, turning into rubber band fight, turning into pen fight, turning into eraser fight, turning into EGM back issue fight.
  • Mark throwing everyone's jacket from the back of their chair onto to the floor.
  • Whenever an optical disk went bad, we'd stick on a Post-It labeled "Corrupt" so we knew not to save to it.  It then became common to come back from lunch or the bathroom to find that someone had marked your mouse, mouse pad, computer, monitor, TV, game systems and even your soda can "corrupt" as well.
  • Eating LOTS of junk food and soda from the snack machine.
  • Mark and I sticking SNES EEPROMs all over Danyon's cubicle walls.
  • Mark and Vallas recreating the basement break room in exact detail, but inside one of the locked storage cages.  The people in the other suites loved us.
  • Mark slipping into a meeting room in the next suite during a presentation to sneak donuts. Again, people in the other suites, just so happy to have us.
  • Mark jumping up and down in the elevator and setting off the emergency alarm.
  • Various people sleeping behind the Neo-Geo machine, in closets, or under cubicles.
  • Ken Williams' computer playing the last boss music from Streets of Rage  every hour.
  • For Sendai staffers only: "HI I'M EDNA, YOU GONNA EAT THAT?",  "HIPPO!", and "I FOUND MY LUCKY POT!"
  • And finally, playing "Mega CD title screen" with our mouse pads.  You can too, it's simple.  Just watch the video below, hold your mouse pad in front of you and follow along.  You have to sing the song though too.

I actually got a little choked up writing that list.  Congraduration! See you next! Huge Success! Thank you to the father of American Karate, All your base, and all that.

-Ray (Radd) Price (Not the country singer)