My brother and I grew up watching a quirky Canadian video game show called Electric Playground. 14 years and 18 seasons later, the concept evolved into two shows, has had over a dozen hosts, and spawned the beginning of video gaming on television. Fast forward another year, and ElecPlay has now become EP Daily, a (you guessed it) daily show that seems to have endless content, now talking about music, movies, comics, and anything even remotely nerdy. Sweet!
I caught up with Victor Lucas, the show’s creator, host, and all-time video game guru (although I’m sure he would be very humbled to hear that) to discuss his success, his roots, and his vegetarianism. Read on for the interview!Eggplante: At the Video Games panel yesterday, you said you started in acting and producing rather than video gaming. How did that come about?
Victor Lucas: I started at the Vancouver Film and Theatre School and did a two year program there, worked with lots of awesome people, and I knew quite a few people in the acting community, so it was really sweet and I loved it. I loved acting, but I didn’t love the audition process. I did it for a few years and got some pretty good roles right out of school, and then I started auditioning for commercials and it really started to be a drag, so I wanted to figure out something else to do with my life and I had always played video games. I actually used video games in acting school as a source of inspiration to get to different emotions – a lot of rage – and I never gave them up. I would treat myself to games when I had bad auditions – and when I had good auditions. I’ve always loved movies and the performance world out there, but I love video games just as much, and I took a look at what was on TV at the time, and the only show that I was able to watch was that really crappy Top 10 Video Arcade show. That piece of shit show that just drove me crazy was my source of inspiration. No offense to any of the performers, but they just had to read back of the box bullshit copy that I just said “I’m smarter than this and there are millions of other gamers in Canada and around the world that are smarter than this; they deserve a good video game show.” That’s the genesis for the Electric Playground.
E: How much time was there between starting up and hitting mainstream? It seemed like there was no lag!
VL: In Canada, we had a really good response. We got great time slots right away. What happened was that I wrote the concept for EP in December of ’94, and then by early-’95, my apartment became the first Greedy Productions office. We got the website up in the Spring of ’95, and we pitched the hell out of the show to sponsors, TV stations, and broadcast networks. We went to the first E3, and we basically just did everything we said we would do, up to and including delivering the show in 1997. We had to get a lot of signatures and a lot of people to support us and lots of letters of interest, and we did a lot of banging on doors. People loved the concept and saw the reasoning behind it and they were ready for something new! We started with shows along the West Coast, and we got a great rating in San Francisco because half the industry at the time was based in San Francisco! It was a pretty auspicious beginning for a tiny little independent TV show.
E: A show about video games was a pretty big risk for the studios; it had never been done.
VL: It had never been done. The developers never had anything like this. They never had teams of video crews coming in and filming them and giving them love, and then adding all our weird and wacky effects and our reverence for the medium. And they loved the show and we got that acceptance right away, and we just kept rocking and rolling and we had to persevere through a lot of broadcaster changes through the years, but we were very fortunate. We came up with the concept first, and we had a good show right out of the gate, even though we didn’t really know what the hell we were doing. I mean, we were talking about the coolest medium that existed, so there were a lot of things falling into place at the right time. There were a lot of people who wanted to watch the show.
E: Congratulations on the one year mark for EP Daily; is it hard to believe?
VL: It flew. It absolutely flew.
E: I grew up watching the show with my brother, and we were pissed when we saw Reviews on the Run was gone, and when we saw it come back as its own individual show a few months later, we were like “Alright, we love these guys again”! Is it weird to think that it has come so far? It has evolved so much.
VL: You know, I didn’t plan for it like this. I mean, I had a pretty cool business plan and it was pretty ambitious and we exceeded a lot of the things that we wanted to do in terms of exposure and longevity. I think it speaks to the honesty behind the programming. I was never a producer who just saw an opportunity here; I was a fanatic that just wanted to give back to the people, and I think people really got that. Tommy [Tallarico] was a huge part of that and I think everybody knew he was a big inside player and we’ve been very fortunate with the people we’ve had in front and behind the camera, because there is such an obvious passion for the show. They adapt to it, and add their own stuff to it and it just flows man!
E: Well, you’ve got so many great people; Donna, Miri, Jose “Fubar”, Briana, and yet the show still works. And you started from two people and now you’ve got like six.
VL: You know, we’ve had a lot of people, Jade Raymond, Zoe, Julie. Actually, Evangeline [Lilly] used to come on and do hardware stuff for us, and I was auditioning her as an on-air talent, and it’s a good thing I didn’t hire her or she wouldn’t have gotten Lost!
E: So you guys probably know more about the broadened game industry than the people making the games. Ubisoft knows about their own little world very very well, but probably not about what others are doing; is that fair?
VL: Well, I make TV, and we have to have a good broad view on the industry, and we have a pretty good sphere of connection, but you’d be surprised about the real networking movement in the game industry. And the beauty of this business is that the games industry is filled with really honest and genuine people. The ego is certainly there, and it has to be for people to build stuff, but it’s not in a gross way; it’s a collaborative art form. When you talk about a great game, it’s the whole team that’s behind the game, not just one person.
E: So let’s get into some funky questions; Nutella or Peanut Butter?
VL: Peanut Butter. I don’t eat sugar. I don’t eat meat. I don’t eat chicken. I don’t touch butter.
E: Willpower FTW! So where does the Batman fetish come from? You do know that it’s just a glorified toolbelt, right? And he can’t actually fly!
VL: I wanted to be Batman when I grew up. I saw the character and thought, well this guy is just a regular guy and he’s really smart and he trained, and technically, you could do it. But I’m too lazy. So I didn’t become Batman, but whatever, I make TV. Hahaha.
E: What is the Reviews on the Run process? Do you play every single game?
VL: Absolutely! When you see the footage up there, that’s me playing the game.
E: But do you play every game start to finish?
VL: No, Fuck no! We’d be lucky to get one show a month! We play them for as long as we possibly can, and that is an indescribable amount of time and it’s different for every game. We read all the literature about the games, online interviews, we have interviews that we’re always getting as well, we check out preview code; we become as intimately familiar with the product as we can before we give our opinion on it. We play everything, we touch everything, that is the rule. There is no intern playing our games for us.
E: Do you play games in your spare time?
VL: Absolutely! I just go back to the games that I love.
E: How? Doesn’t your wife kill you?
VL: I love it! My wife tolerates it. She understands that this is my business and I really need time to play games. I feel like Aquaman without water if I don’t play video games. I really get shaky. Sometimes I just feel like “I need to sit down and play games… NOW.”
E: Favourite game of all time?
VL: Grand Theft Auto 3. Monumental accomplishment and completely pivotal in the video game industry.
E: E3 showstopper?
VL: Batman Arkham Asylum.
E: Really quick thoughts on Natal?
VL: It was very impressive, I played the Milo stuff. I think all of that stuff is really cool, I think what Sony is going to do is really cool, but it’s dependent on the software and, you know, Nintendo publishers are really starting to hone their craft and make some great titles for Nintendo now and they’ve got a leg up. It can’t be a gimmick; it has to be intrinsic, it has to work, you can’t be frustrated, and now my big vibe on this thing is that you can’t feel like an idiot when you play your games. If you feel like an idiot, then you fail at making the experience fun.
E: Listen, thank you so much for the interview. When are you coming back to Toronto?
VL: Soon; we had an amazing time this trip and it’s really obvious Toronto has some great stuff!
This is my favourite interview I’ve done so far and I’m glad it really got to the depth of Victor Lucas and the Electric Playground that I don’t think a lot of people have seen. When I snuck up on Victor at Fan Expo, he instantly recognized me even though we had only met once at E3 months ago. It speaks volumes for what he has done for the gaming community and I know that he’s got years and years to come of this continued success!