Interview: Scott Jones of Reviews on the Run

If you don’t know who Scott Jones and Victor Lucas are, you don’t deserve to call yourself a gamer. At least, not a Canadian one. If you do know them, good job, you pass the (first) test. The second is whether or not you knew that these two awesome guys were hanging around at Fan Expo in Toronto this past weekend. Well, I had the opportunity to sit down for a near-hour long candid interview with the show’s new co-host, Scott Jones, and while the show has since become a daily show, according to Scott, there is still plenty more to come! We got right into it, just chatting about the gaming industry, reviews, shovelware, and anything else you can do with a controller. There weren’t really questions here, just a conversation among friends, if you will. Check it out:

Scott Jones: I want to love everything. For example, Mafia II just came out, and I just hated it. I kept playing it and the game just kept breaking my heart and making all kinds of mistakes. I started that game thinking “I want this to be awesome. I want this to blow my head clean off,” and that’s the way I go into every game. I don’t go in with “Oh, this is gonna suck,” unless it’s Chuck E Cheese’s party games. But sometimes it’s fun to review the games that are shovelware like mini-game collections. It does seem like publishers overall have wised up a little bit, though; there’s been a lot less of this crap this year. Last year, we just couldn’t get rid of it. I felt like we needed to call an exterminator in the office to spray to keep that stuff out. This year, we have a couple of BS mini-game collections, but not nearly as much as the mini-game avalanche we had to deal with last year.

Eggplante!: Alright, so speaking of that shovelware, what is the lesser of two evils: tower defense games on the iPhone and iPad or mini-game collections on the Wii.

SJ: I love tower defense. I mean, I’m a huge sucker for it, even a terrible tower defense game, I’ll still download it, I’ll still play it. You know, I feel like I owe Subatomic, the Fieldrunners guys, I feel like I owe them money because their game costs so little and I’ve literally spent hundreds of hours on it.

E!: Well I’ll get you their address so you can send them a cheque!

SJ: You know, I was just thinking about that the other day, I said that to Vic, I wish there was kind of a “pay-what-you-think-this-is-worth” thing, because games that I’ve loved, I’ve just loved to death and I would’ve paid any price for them. I had that feeling with Metroid: Other M and I’ve had that feeling quite a few times this year; we’ve had such a great year.

E!: So I read something interesting online: your four-part blog post about your first E3 experience, and there was an adult writing gig in there somewhere?

SJ: I had a lot of bad jobs before this one, which is why I wake up everyday thankful.

E!: Well, okay so you said you started watching Tommy and Vic on Electric Playground back about ten years ago?

SJ: Yeah, I had been playing games since I was a kid. My uncle had an Atari and my parents wouldn’t let me have one, so sometimes he would let us borrow it and my brother had no interest in it but I would just get obsessed with this thing. I don’t know why, but it’s in my DNA for some reason. Over the years, I wanted to grow up and be a serious writer and I studied fine arts for a long time and I was a teacher for a while. But I always gamed. I was a closet gamer – literally – I kept all my games in the closet and when all of my high-brow literary friends would leave, I’d get out my Super Nintendo and I’d get my game going. And those were probably the happiest times of my life. You know, I had a Macintosh and played Marathon on that and I had a buddy with a PC and he was playing Doom. I nearly failed out of graduate school because I was at his apartment playing Doom all the time. And then it came out for the Mac and we heard a rumour that you could connect the two versions. Now, we weren’t the most technically proficient guys in the world, but we fuckin’ figured that out! And it was all modem and dial-up and slow-as-shit, but we would connect his PC and my Mac and we would death match that way and man, those were good times.

Eventually, I moved to New York and I still had these aspirations that I would write for the New Yorker or the New York Times or something, and I ended up taking a job at an adult magazine because I was out or money and it was either “take this job or go home,” so I took the job, and there were a lot of stories there, most of them not fit for a family publication like this one. I started writing game reviews on my lunch hour for free websites like Game Critics; I made friends with those guys and then one day, I got paid for it. Like, Maxim asked me to write a review for them and they paid me fifty bucks for it. I couldn’t believe that, here I was doing something that I liked, and I had fifty dollars on top of that! I never thought that I would make one cent doing this. That eventually snowballed until I got a debug unit, and then I got more offers to write for different places, and I started doing morning TV in New York, and EA called me up to talk about the new Madden, and then I met Vic one day at a party at E3 and I said “I watch your show” and eventually he called me back! He asked me if I wanted to do the show with him as a guest host and I almost said no because I had only done morning TV for like two or three minutes and I didn’t know if I could sustain it the way they do. But I thought “I will never forgive myself if I don’t try once and it fails miserably”. And I was wicked nervous and I just loosened up and Vic and I just hit it off and we have good man-chemistry on the show now!

When I first moved to Vancouver, we were doing one day a week, then we moved to two days a week, and then we went to daily. Every time Vic says something’s gonna happen, it’s happened. I couldn’t believe what he said to me one day, he said “this show, we’re gonna go daily some day,” and I’m thinking “you are full of shit.”

E!: Well, you would think there aren’t enough games to do a daily show, right? But when you’ve got 175,000 apps on the iPhone, and you’re doing movies and theatre reviews as well as games, you can get into it.

SJ: We started doing theatre reviews three or four months ago and the idea was that we would do them unlike anybody else. We would go to the movie and as soon as we walk out, the camera guy would hand us the microphones and says “go at it.” We don’t even know what we’re gonna say. We don’t talk about it beforehand or anything. That’s the thing that I think people don’t realize when they look at our show compared to other shows that are on the air is that none of it is rehearsed, nothing is written. Sometimes what we do is funny, sometimes it’s lame, and then sometimes it’s funny again, and we’re just making all that up. We’re just making it up as we go. None of it is scripted, there are no teleprompters, nothing. We call it “mole-ing” around in the dark. We’re just two moles in the dark trying to find our way to the right moment that we want to have on the show. I can’t even believe this, but we’ve already done 150 episodes this year alone. We’re going to do 250 before the year is out, and that’s a lot of TV!

E!: Who’s idea was it to wear suits on the show? That isn’t something you’d expect from a gaming show where people tend to be a bit more casual.

SJ: You know what, I like to give Vic credit for everything, but the suits was really my thing. Ever since I started doing the show, I feel like my thing in the business is, you know even in New York when I’d go on TV, what I’d want to do was have an image that’s sort of antithetical to what people think of as gamers. I want people to see that we’re not all pale dudes who live in the basement who look like the Simpson’s comic book guy with poor hygiene. You know, we’re adults, and we’re mature adults with mortgages and girlfriends, and wives, and relationships and kids. So I started wearing ties when I went to press events just because I got sick of seeing other guys show up with camouflage shorts and flip-flops and hats on backwards and I’m just like, “fuck you,” represent yourself and let’s class this thing up, you know? If we want to be taken more seriously by the world and we want our medium to be taken more seriously by the world, we have to look the part and we can’t just dress like we’re going to the skate shop or whatever. So, I started wearing suits and ties to our holiday specials, and then it just seemed like the right visual cue for the show, to say “we’re grown ups, these are grown up suits,” so we went out and bought a whole bunch of suits and we wear them for about 45 minutes every day.

E!: And it fits, it’s a nice balance because you’re not always wearing them. When you’re outside reviewing games, you’re wearing your casual clothes and it works.

SJ: Suits inside only, although before we came here, Vic said maybe we should wear suits in Toronto and I said, you know, it’s gonna be so hot. It’s nice to leave the suits behind for a couple of days.

E!: What’s it like working at Reviews on the Run?

SJ: Every place I’ve ever worked in my life, I’ve woken up in the morning and I’ve felt so terrible about having to go somewhere that I would just throw up. And here, I wake up, and I can’t wait to get to work and get to the studio and see what games we’re going to look at today, what FedExes came in, and it just never stops. And I don’t ever want any of that to go away, so I want to live my life in a way in which we make the best show we can make, and I don’t know anything about TV production, but Vic lets me learn on the show. I just hang out with him and try to be real and genuine and sometimes I make jokes that are funny and sometimes my jokes don’t work. What are you gonna do?

E!: So the big question: what’s next? I mean, you’ve gone daily, what are you going to do now… a channel?

SJ: Vic’s always got a million plans, and I can’t discount those plans and say, “it’s not gonna work,” because it always does. He could say we’re gonna open up a studio on the moon and we’re gonna have Greedy Moon Productions and I’d just think, “damn, that’s a long way going back and forth everyday!” What’s next? I don’t know, man, I can’t say anything but there has been talks of getting shows on in other markets because it seems like it would work down in the States, for example. They don’t get it there right now because there are some logistics issues, but there are always things happening. Some deals will come to fruition, and some won’t. We should be on in Europe; we should be on all over the world. The service we provide, even if you don’t buy a lot of games or Blu Rays, you can sit down for twenty minutes, fast-forward the commercials, and then you know everything that’s going on. We’ve all been, myself included, burned many times by games that are advertised well and they’re just dog shit. And if I can prevent that happening even once a week, then I have done my job.

E!: Well then I think we can say that you’ve done your job, sir! Really quick, give me the first thing that pops into your head with these things. Ke$ha.

SJ: What’s Kesha?

E!: Haha, you know that song Tik-Tok?

SJ: I don’t know it. I saw a picture of her I think. Umm, sleazy?

E!: Yeah, that fits. Steve Jobs?

SJ: Rich.

E!: Dark side or light side?

SJ: Uhh, dark side. I’m gloomy.

E!: Your E3 highlight this year?

SJ: The 3DS.

E!: Yeah, makes sense. What about something non-obvious. Forget Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo for a second.

SJ: (thinks for about twenty seconds) Rock Band 3. Shit man, we sat down for that demo and I’m thinking, “let’s just sit near the door, because I have enough instruments in my house, I don’t want new ones, I feel like I just bought Rock Band 2,” and then the demo that Harmonix put on just blew my head clean off. I couldn’t even believe what a great job they did showing Rock Band 3 is special. And so, I’m curious again, and now I think I need to make room in my junk closet for more junk, you know?

E!: So the last one is kind of a staple on Eggplante. I know Vic doesn’t eat sugar or fat or, anything really; he’s a robot, I’m convinced. So what is it for you: peanut butter or Nutella?

SJ: Well, we go to the movies a lot lately and our new thing is the popcorn and he’ll get like a little lady-bag of popcorn and I’ll get this giant vessel of popcorn and I’ll eat it and just feel awful afterwards, and he’s always like, “I told you to get the small!” Well, I don’t want the small! I’ll just eat it and you know we’re both really super healthy and we take really good care of ourselves. I don’t know why we do, but sometimes we forego the popcorn at the movies and inevitably one of us will pull out snap peas or carrots, and we’ll pass them back and forth.

E!: By one of us, you mean Vic?

SJ: Yeah.

E!: So you’re not really the ziplocked┬ábaby carrot-carrying person, then?

SJ: Umm, I’ve become, yeah. But to answer your question, I’ve started this weird think since I moved to Canada that I’ve started keeping my peanut butter in the refrigerator. So what I’ll do is get these giant Fuji apples, and they’re like the size of a baby head, and I’ll cut it up and take out my cold peanut butter and put it on the apple. So no Nutella; maybe if I lived in Montreal, I’d go with the Nutella.

E!: Hey man, I can’t thank you enough for that; you’re hilarious and I can’t help but wish you all the best!