RVG Interviews: Paul Rose (Mr Biffo).

Paul Rose aka Mr Biffo first hit the gaming scene way back in 1993 as an amusing writer of Channel 4’s Teletext magazine: Digitiser. Since those days Paul has gone on to have a very successful career writing various TV shows for mainstream TV but always keeping his hand in the gaming industry in someway, whether that was writing for Edge or Retro Gamer magazines or Digitser the Show. So sit back, relax and enjoy the interview.

RVG

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Paul

6 foot 2. Need to lose some weight. Old. Day job is writing kid’s tv. Hobby (with benefits) is writing about video games.

RVG

Tell us how you found yourself writing the Teletext Digitiser section way back in 93?

Paul

I was the main graphic designer for Teletext, having joined before they launched. I suggested to the editor that they needed a games section… and he turned around and told me I could write it. I never had any ambitions to be a writer!

RVG

Why do you feel the Digitiser section was so popular and so fondly remembered?

Paul

I’m under no illusions that it certainly helped being daily. We were pre-Internet when we started and there was no competition in that respect. The reason it’s endured is that, I think, we must’ve been good. People responded to our honesty and humour. We were just being ourselves.

RVG

What ultimately prompted you to quit doing Digitiser?

Paul

It had been 10 years, and they were 10 years in which we never really had the support of the editorial team. We were trying to do something that was as good as it could be, but the humour just annoyed them. One day, I was informed – mistakenly as it turned out – that they were going to axe Digi, and I quit before they could do so. I’d just had enough. Fortunately, my TV writing career was starting to take off. It was a gamble, but it paid off.

RVG

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Paul

Yes and no. I mean, we’re all susceptible to nostalgia. We all look back on the past with fondness, and games were a big part of a lot of people’s formative years. But it does seem to go deeper than that, into a real appreciation of gaming’s early years. That has surprised me, I think – the level to which people are so passionate about old games.

RVG

Are you a collector as well as a gamer?

Paul

Not massively, mainly due to a lack of space and money. If I’m going to fork out for something I’d rather it be a family holiday, to be honest.  I’ve got a few things which mean a lot to me, such as an Astro Wars machine. I’ve recently started picking up quirky LCD handhelds. I’m going to do a video on them at some point. I like getting stuff that I didn’t own, but would like to have done.

RVG

How did the idea for the Digitiser show come about?

Paul

It was born out of the YouTube series I did last year – a weird, surreal, narrative sketch show called Mr Biffo’s Found Footage. After that ended I knew I wanted to make something else. I didn’t know what – I just knew I wanted it to be different, but also something that was equally ambitious and would be a challenge. I like pushing myself. It took a while until I hit upon the should’ve-been-obvious notion of doing a “TV” version of Digitiser.

RVG

Why use YouTube for the show, more freedom maybe?

Paul

That’s exactly it. We’d never get commissioners interested in something like this. They’re games-phobic as it is, and would be doubly wary if I said I wanted to link the segments with strange little videos which have nothing to do with the games.

RVG

Why chose the wacky comedy style and not the more serious option for the style of the show?

Paul

It’s not really a choice. It’s just me being me, and it’s what I’ve always done. I don’t see it as wacky or zany – it’s just an expression of who I am to be honest. I’m always a bit weirded out when people say it’s wacky or bizarre; it just seems normal to me. I’m starting to understand that I have a weird sense of humour, though.

The original Digitiser was a games magazine on teletext. It should’ve been serious, but I can’t help myself. I’d get bored if there weren’t those surprises throughout.

I think I’m like that in real life too. I mean, I can suppress it – because otherwise people would think I was some lunatic – but when I’m with those I’m closest to my brain jumps around all over the place. It’s there in the editing of Digitiser The Show, but you see it coming out more and more in my presenting style, as I get more comfortable – but also more exhausted – as the series goes on, and the real me starts to emerge! I can no longer hold it in…

RVG

People being people will have their opinions on the show, I am sure its like Marmite in many ways, some will love it, some will hate it, in some way the show appeals more to the YouTube generation that all gamers! How do you respond to people’s varying opinions?

Paul

Well, it might appeal more to the YouTube generation, but I’m not sure they’d watch it, because in their eyes we’re all old. We’re not even trying to hide that fact – I go on about my age in almost every episode. I’m starting to learn to try to shut out all the conflicting opinions. Ep 1 was just overwhelming, and drove me mad, because we had people hating and loving completely different aspects of it. Such is the nature of any magazine show, and such is the nature of my particular sense of humour. I can’t satisfy everyone, and so I have to try to block all that out and just listen to what I want to watch.

RVG

Are you looking to eventually take a version of the show to the big TV companies?

Paul

I dunno. We thought about it, but in all honesty I can’t see a version of it that wouldn’t be watered down through the involvement of a TV company. During the Kickstarter we were approached by a producer with a lot of TV credits under his belt, but he wanted a share of the format, and suggested we spend the Kickstarter funds on a single pilot episode to shop to production companies and broadcasters. That would’ve been a betrayal of the backers, and there would’ve been no guarantee of a series.

It underlined for me that we’re probably better off doing this ourselves.

We might have better success with a company like Netflix, but for me a big part of the fun of this has been doing it entirely on our own terms. I’m learning so much through the process – what I’m capable of, but also what my limits are.

If we did more, I certainly wouldn’t take on so much of it by myself.

RVG

For those that have not watched the show so far, how would you sell it to them?

Paul

It’s a magazine show about old video games which you can enjoy even if you’re not into video games. We’re not like anything else you’ve ever seen, really. There are serious bits, there are comedy bits, and we end every episode with a big, physical, game that usually descends into chaos. It’s deliberately shambolic – trying to capture that anarchic late-night/Saturday morning live TV feel that seems to have been lost. We’re all being ourselves really – and for me, that’s the best thing about it.

RVG

Gaming shows for TV are very difficult to make a success especially when you consider the gaming sector is bigger than the music and movie industries put together, why do you think that is?

Paul

I don’t know really. I don’t think TV producers really know how to put games on TV in a way that makes them interesting. Admittedly, that’s why on Digitiser we have very little of people just sitting down and playing a game. I don’t want to watch that, and in a format like ours it’d just kill it. Also, TV is obsessed with celebrity, but on the few gaming shows of recent years they seem intent on shoving celebs front-and-centre. For me, the key wasn’t getting the balance of the format right – it was the chemistry between the hosts, and getting likeable, funny, knowledgable, people on there.

RVG

We are two episodes into your new show, what are your thoughts on how it’s progressing so far?

Paul

It seems to have gone down great really. We had a few technical issues with Ep 1 – which were ironed out for Ep 2. It’s frustrating, but it was inevitable given the ambition of the show. I think people do need to compare us to other YouTube shows rather than TV. Our budget is less than £5,000 an episode – even low-budget TV shows would have a budget 10 times that.

But broadly… between ep 1 and 2 we seem to have found our audience. People who get it, and aren’t just annoyed by the stupid humour.

RVG

What kind of feedback are you getting?

Paul

95% of it has been overwhelmingly positive. You get the usual complainers on anything, but the ratio here is better than I could’ve imagined. Just as Digi has always done, those who love it really, really love it.

RVG

How did you decide on your co-hosts?

Paul

I wanted a mix of strong personalities who would complement one another rather than clash, who had a mix of different experience and areas of knowledge. It was about piecing together an engine really – finding one that would run smoothly.

Paul Gannon was the first person I asked – I worked with him on Found Footage, and he interviewed me at the premiere for that. We seemed to click, and he’s got experience on camera, which I don’t have. I knew I needed somebody who could kind of shoulder the bulk of the presenting burden with me, who I could riff off of.

Gameplay Jenny was next. She’s mostly does Let’s Plays – but I’d met her in real life, and suspected she’d be confident on camera. And she was.

Paul and I then watched a lot of YouTube videos to find other people, and we both hit upon Octav1us more or less at the same time. She’s a star in the making, and her channel has grown so much in the past year. But she’s really funny, and really passionate about old games, and really smart.

Larry was the last person I asked. I know Larry pretty well, and he lives near me, but I never thought to ask him, because he’s already a massive YouTuber. I’m glad he did, because he said yes straight away. Turns out he was waiting to be asked!

I love how well we all get along, how comfortable we all felt in one another’s presence, and how we all have different experiences and areas of expertise. I also love that we’re all sort of quite cartoonish personalities in our own ways. It feels like the line-up of a beat ‘em up or something.

RVG

Why gaming, you have many fingers in many pies within the TV sector, is the gaming sector an element of escapism maybe, a freedom to Moc Moc?

Paul

Certainly, doing my YouTube projects is a form of escapism – it gives me a creative freedom I don’t have in my day job, much as I enjoy it, because there I’m working for other producers. It’s why I started up writing about games again, because I really needed an outlet.

RVG

Whilst writing for Digitser back in the day, was there any animosity from the printed media based on your reading figures?

Paul

Oh totally. We had a long-running feud with Mean Machines. Nicely, I’m now in touch with the magazine’s then-editor Steve Merrett, and we’ve buried the hatchet.

RVG

Your still writing about games these days, what drives you on and more importantly, find the time?

Paul

I write fast, thanks to my overclocked brain. I also tend to write Digitiser early in the morning, as soon as I wake up. Some people go for a jog when they get up – I write! What drives me on is that creative freedom I mentioned. I love the community around Digi. I love doing new things. All of that is incredibly seductive.

RVG

Whats next for you and Digitiser? Digitiser The Movie??

Paul

Hah! Wait and see. I’m still in the middle of editing this series, so it’s too soon to say what the next step is.

RVG

Finally a huge thanks for chatting to us, do you have any final words you would like to share?

Paul

Watch my show! You might hate some of it, but there’s a strong chance you’ll fall in love with it. It has the potential to make your life a better place.

Finally

A huge thank you to Paul for taking the time to chat to us, it was a fantastic read I am sure you will all agree, whether you love or hate this show I am a firm believer in supporting people like Mr Biffo, the show is certainly growing on me. If your still not watched this show yet you can watch the first Episode below and subscribe to the channel HERE.

Retro head and key holder of RVG.

zapiy

Retro head and key holder of RVG.