The Geek Genius Behind Ready Player One: An Interview With Ernest Cline

Here at Warp Zoned, we’re suckers for video game books. But there’s nothing quite like Ernie Cline’s Ready Player One, which I recently reviewed and completely adored. I had a chance to catch up with Cline, whose impressive knowledge of popular culture is astounding. Read on to find out what influenced him, how much research he did for the book (spoiler: a surprisingly small amount), and just how many video games he’s played.

Warp Zoned: What were your main influences for the novel?

Ernest Cline: Ready Player One was influenced by pretty much every book, movie, TV show, and song I’ve ever enjoyed. But I would say the three main influences were probably Willie Wonka, Snow Crash, and the Atari 2600 game Adventure.

WZ: I see you covered more ground than just the 80s – where did you draw the line? Like, for example, I noticed something from one of my all-time favorite movies – Sneakers. You snuck in Setec Astronomy!

Cline: I didn’t really draw a line anywhere, or restrict myself to just referencing things from the 1980s. There’s a lot of stuff from the 70s in there, like “Schoolhouse Rock!,” Monty Python, and 2112. And there are more modern references to stuff like Sneakers and “Firefly.” I threw in references to anything I thought Halliday (or Wade) might be a fan of, even if it wasn’t specific to the 80s.

WZ: How much research did you end up doing for all the detail you poured into the book?

Cline: Not very much, unless you count my entire life before I wrote it as “research.” Nearly everything referenced in the book is something that was already in my head. Occasionally I would look something up online, just to make sure I was remembering something correctly. But I never had to go looking for things to reference. I just drew upon my own experience and interests.

WZ: Who is your favorite character in the story?

Cline: I love Daito and Shoto an awful lot. I have a weakness for Samurai characters.

WZ: Were you like the main character at all – did you feel isolated because of your love of video games?

Cline: I did feel isolated for a while when I was growing up, but then in high school I bonded with a whole group of uber geeks like myself who all loved video games, movies, comics, and Dungeons & Dragons. And I’m still friends with all of those guys today, 25 years later.

WZ: How many of these games have you played?

Cline: Every last one of them. Except the OASIS, of course.

WZ: How many did you play in preparation for writing the book?

Cline: I didn’t really play any in preparation. But when I was writing about a specific game, like Pac-Man or Tempest, I would pull the game up in an emulator and play it for a while, just so all of the details of the gameplay were fresh in my head. I also used a MAME cheat code to jump to the final Pac-Man split screen, so I could get all of its details right (without have to play for six hours straight to reach it).

WZ: Is Halliday loosely based on Atari founder Nolan Bushnell?

Cline: Not really. He’s more of a cross between Howard Hughes and Richard Garriott, with a heavy dose of Willie Wonka thrown in. But the bad guy in RPO is named “Nolan Sorrento” as a nod to Nolan Bushnell. (Not that I think Nolan is a bad guy, or anything. It’s meant as a subtle tribute!)

WZ: I liked how you didn’t just make the entire story safe, like the good guys always win and no one gets hurt kind of idea. Was it tough to not have everything be hunky-dorey all the time?

Cline: No, I loved throwing curve balls at my characters and then watching them work through them. And writing about a dystopian future turns out to be a lot more fun than actually living in one.

WZ: What’s your favorite video game?

Cline: That’s an impossible question to answer. But I will say that Half-Life 2 and both Portal games are high on my all-time favorites list.

WZ: What’s your favorite book?

Cline: Also impossible to answer. But Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan is always in my top five.

WZ: Have you ever considered writing a book on video game history? There are so many great ones out there (Game Over by David Sheff, Ultimate History of Video Games by Steve Kent) but none of them are being added to, yet the gaming industry still grows larger and larger.

Cline: Non-fiction isn’t really my thing, but I love those books. Supercade by Van Burnham is one of my favorite books on Video Game History.

WZ: What game are you most looking forward to this year?

Cline: Mass Effect 3. Aliens: Colonial Marines looks pretty bad ass, too.

WZ: What’s the most underrated game, in your opinion?

Cline: E.T. for the Atari 2600. People love to hate on this game and blame it for the downfall of Atari, but that’s nonsense. It wasn’t even close to being one of the “worst” Atari games. I used to play it for hours, and have a blast doing it.

WZ: Have you ever considered writing the story for a video game?

Cline: Yes, I think that would be a total blast. I hope I get the chance to try that someday.

A huge thank you goes out to Ernie for taking the time to let us interview him! If you haven’t read the book already, go do it. If you have, check out the official soundtrack mix tape and squee.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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