Features & News

Interview: Iain Lee

August 31, 2010, Author: Neil Hughes

Iain Lee is a jack of all trades comedian, television and radio presenter, which many of you will remember from Channel 4’s “The Eleven O’clock Show”, “RI:SE”, and gamers will fondly remember the show Thumb Candy.

I dragged Iain away from writing his gaming column for MSN and presenting for Absolute Radio to discuss his love of gaming, LOST and the fact he even has his own iPhone app.

Q. Where did your love affair with gaming begin?

“The first game I was ever obsessed with was a Popeye cabinet in some crappy little bar in Spain. I don’t know if that was the first game I ever played or not, but it was definitely the first one that I became totally addicted to.”

Q. For those that are too young to remember, can you explain why Elite on the BBC B Computer is a contender for the greatest game ever.

“Elite was and is just awesome. It’s a huge game; I think there is something like 100,000 unique planets (that may be an exaggeration. It could be just 10,000, but that is still an amazing achievement for such an old computer), beautiful vector graphics, an engaging storyline and wonderful space combat and trading. It really has it all. The BBC version is superior because it was the first. Later versions and ports tweaked the game here and there when it didn’t really need it. They should totally bring out an online version for the 360 or PS3.”

Q.  As an ex-videogame TV show presenter, why do you think there has been a lack of quality game related TV shows on our screens?

“The four major channels just aren’t interested because they don’t get huge audiences. Gaming is seen as a niche market. While we all know that isn’t true, in terms of TV audiences it is. There are some good shows on the cable channels (I’m a big fan of Gameface on Bravo) but they are expected to get small audiences. I’ve pitched game shows and know other people with more weight than me who have done the same, and commissioning editors just roll their eyes. It aint gonna happen for a while.”

Q. Did you enjoy the gaming related shows you worked on?

“I enjoyed Thumb Candy a lot. I am very proud of that. It was a history of video games and I got to travel the world and meet some gaming legends. It was the most exciting two weeks. Thumb Bandits wasn’t such a good experience. We were promised so much more and it was never delivered. I seem to remember having to re-record most of the first five shows after an exec from Channel 4 saw them and didn’t like the set. That used up most of the series budget. I got in trouble for doing a review where I said I didn’t like Max Payne, and all the gaming companies threatened to not send us games unless we said nice things. Also, the comedy was pretty awful. Saying that, I still get a lot of nice emails about that show, so maybe I’m wrong.”

Q. Sure, Dominik Diamond set the benchmark for such shows, but should I dismiss my teenage memories of Debbie Greenwood in the show called First Class?

“I don’t remember First Class, but I do remember Debbie Greenwood. She was lovely. Where is she now?”

Last time I saw her she was showing off her toes on QVC.

The Robbins aren't Bobbins!

Q. It has been said that you should never meet your heroes, have you ever met someone you admired only to be disappointed or not actually like them?

“I don’t think so. I’m a big fan of Kiss and interviewed Gene Simmons. He was arrogant and full of himself, but that’s what I wanted from Gene Simmons. I would have been upset if he’d been anything else. Most people have been lovely, and most of my heroes have been great. Andy Partridge, Micky Dolenz; all delightful. Davy Jones was a bit odd…”

Q. What is your console of choice?

“I am a 360 man these days, although my fave console of all time is the Dreamcast. A beautiful machine with wonderful games and 56k dial up; genius”

Q. Do you play online with your headset or do you remain silent like an urban ninja?

“Oh no, I always wear my headset and to make things more fun, I pretend to be American. My wife often comes home to see me pretending to be from Chicago. I don’t know why I find it so entertaining, but it makes me laugh. My American accent is awful, but even Americans are convinced!”

Not everything is big in Japan.

Q. What is your favourite game soundtrack?

“Space Channel 5; wonderful. Everytime I’m in Japan, I try and track it down in specialist game shops, but it’s always just sold out.”

Q. As a Lost Fan were you happy with the ending of the series?

“I flip between thinking it was a wonderful way to tie things up, a work of art. Then I feel cheated because there was an element of purgatory and we were told that was not gonna be the outcome. Yes, I think they cheated us, but it was beautiful. Is that enough of a contradiction for you?”

Q. And… What did you think of the LOST: The Videogame?

“That was the biggest crock of shit ever. So poor. What a waste of a great opportunity. Boring game play, terrible actors, and awful story. Was there a story?”

Q. What has been your favourite game this year?

“Limbo on Xbox live. Wonderful game. Dead simple, beautiful, a little retro. Perfect.”

Q. I was watching the lottery show the other night and thought what has Iain Lee done with his hair? Did you know you had a doppleganger?

“Yes, I was up for that rather well paid job and they went for him!”

OJ Borg, poor man's Iain Lee?

Q. Is Sony Move and Microsoft Kinect going to change the gaming industry or is it just another gimmick?

“I’m suspicious. The fact that Milo isn’t going to be released (is it or isn’t it?) makes me angry for falling, yet again, for the Molyneux bluff and bluster. Have you noticed how they’re already playing down what it can do? When it was announced last year, it could do everything, now it’s probably just going to be good for some dance games. Wicked. I’ll wait until I get to have a go, but I’m not expecting much.

If I’m honest, I like holding a controller. I like to sit down, with my feet up, and twiddle my thumbs. I’m not into moving or anything physical; that’s why I play games.”

Q. 3D gaming?

“I’ve played Wipeout 3D and it did look amazing. I haven’t had a go on the 3DSI or whatever it’s called, but I have heard good things. I don’t think it’s necessary, and probably won’t last, but it’s fun. It’ll be popular for a while and then fade (please don’t show this to me in ten years time when people laugh at the fact that we used to play 2D games).”

Q. Is there anything that you would like to plug?

“I do a radio show on Absolute Radio, Mondays, Thursdays at 11pm. It’s a phone-in show and gets a lot of weirdo’s. You can get the podcasts on iTunes. I also have an iphone app that I thoroughly recommend. Look for Iain Lee on the iTunes store. It’s free.”

Q. Finally, can you settle the age old argument of “Who would win in a fight between a ninja and a pirate?”

“Are you joking? One ninja could take down a whole pirate ship on his own. Easy.”

I thank Iain for his time and walk off into the sunset in search of a free Iphone app and podcast to have a greater understanding of the man they call Mr Iain Lee.