Presenter Jonathan Ross has been playing and collecting games for over a quarter of a century, amassing an enviable hoard that consumes much of the space in his production company’s Camden office. We spoke to him about his prized Japanese Dreamcast and the perks of living with a game reviewer.
How did you get into games?
I played pub arcade games first of all. Then when I got together with Jane [Goldman, Ross’s screenwriter wife] about 26 years ago, she had a BBC computer where you programmed the game in yourself, and she used to write for game magazines for a while, too. And that was exciting, mainly because we used to get the games to test. I remember the day Parodius came and I thought, ‘This is the greatest game ever made.’ And it is one of the greatest games ever made, up there with New Zealand Story, which I think is vastly underrated. I remember wanting to get the early Nintendo 8bit system – it was really hard to find in the UK for some reason. Anyway, we went shopping together down the Tottenham Court Road and we bought the 8bit Master System and about three or four games, including Shinobi, and I fell in love with it. I remember getting very excited when the TurboGrafx came out – or the Core Grafx in Japan – and I bought that specifically so I could get Splatterhouse. And the great thing about that machine, of course, was not only that the portables would work with the TV, but also you used the same game for the main home console that you did for the portable.
You’re clearly a fan of retro games. Do you still play them?
You can get a lot of them on the phone these days, but they’re never the same. I’ve got old Amiga games on here [points to his iPad Mini] and it’s just not the same. You need the physical controls and you need that size of the screen. And there’s something about it being on a TV screen… But yeah, the favourites still for me are some of the early ones; R-Type is one of my favourite games. I quite like some of the upgrades – they made this really dense 3D one for the PlayStation – but the original R-Type is still the best. Oh, and Tatsujin on the Mega Drive, which was just the most fucking gorgeous upward-scrolling, 16bit, kill-everything game. [And]Jane and I, before we had kids, spent a whole weekend playing Ghouls’n Ghosts – a whole weekend in our pyjamas!
You love comic books as well. Do you see any parallels with games?
Well, the popular misconception about gaming is that it’s all Call Of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. And there’s a similar stigma with anything that has that kind of built-in juvenile quality. Obviously there are comics that are very sophisticated, but [most people’s] image of comic books is men in tights swinging or flying through the air. And that’s fine, that’s part of the appeal, but there’ll always be that stigma, even if you say to someone ‘Have you read Alison Bechdel?’ or ‘Have you read [Art] Spiegelman?’
I think it’s a generational thing. Providing we’re still all here in 50 years’ time, it won’t be an issue. We’ll have the same approach in the west that they do in Japan, where you see salarymen reading comics on the train about golf! But this [points to iPhone] has broken down the barriers a lot, because anyone with any kind of smartphone device can play games on it… But you’ve still got the people who control old media – I’m well versed in this, as you know – and the editors of the newspapers don’t play these games.
The Hotsauce office is quite the treasure trove. What’s your rarest piece?
Probably the Dreamcast Divers [2000 CX-1]. This was only released in Japan – [it’s a] TV with a built-in [console] and it lights up. And look at the shape of it! The design is just beautiful. This was made after Dreamcast came out but before [Sega] decided to abandon hardware. There’s a dial-up modem for it, and a keyboard to play text-based games and RPGs. There’s a camera that goes with it as well for face recognition.
Can you pick a favourite game?
I’d rather give you a top three. It would have to be one of the Mario games, probably Super Mario 64, which was incredible. Then it would have to be R-Type, and then I might go with Splatterhouse, just because it was so weird. It looks so clunky by today’s standards, but I loved the world.
Ross’s breakthrough came with 1987’s The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross. He quickly became one of Channel 4’s most popular personalities, but used his fame to pursue his love of pop culture. This would lead to 1988’s The Incredibly Strange Film Show, which focused on cult directors, and 2006’s Japanorama, which centred on his love of anime and videogames. Ross has hosted the BAFTA Video Games Awards, and recently opened production company Hotsauce Interactive, which released its first game, endless runner Catcha Catcha Aliens, in December 2012.