In the world of sports video games, one of the biggest features — aside from gameplay itself — is the presentation.
From the on-field visuals to the graphic overlays to the commentary provided throughout a game, presentation can go a long way towards keeping players engaged in a product. If it’s dry and dull, fans are going to tune out even if the gameplay is good.
For nearly three decades one man has become a mainstay when it comes to sports video game commentary. That man is Tim Kitzrow.
If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll certainly recognize the voice.
From NBA Jam to MLB Slugfest, Kitzrow is the man you’ve heard proclaim lines like “Oh my, he’s on fire!” and “Boomshakalaka!”.
A classically trained actor, Kitzrow always had a love of comedy. He performed at the classic Second City in Chicago during a time where comedy greats like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert also performed. Though he always believed he’d be doing acting in the form of Shakespeare and the like for his career, a unique opportunity presented itself in the early 1990s.
Kitzrow said that he had always wanted to find a medium to write comedy for, and when NBA Jam, NFL Blitz and other opportunities came along, his dream became reality.
It wasn’t the outlet he expected to make a name for himself, but it became the best thing possible for him.
“I just got so hooked,” he said. “It’s an absolute drug when you’ve written something, and you know that kids around the arcade or at home laugh and people come up to you saying, “I love that line.” This is a world that reaches as many people as movies and TV, and I just felt lucky.”
If you asked Kitzrow what his favorite experience was doing play-by-play for a video game, he would always say the MLB Slugfest series. It was the first time in his career that he was given full control over script writing.
That all changed when Mutant Football League came around.
“I feel more excited working for a guy who’s entire life, blood, sweat and tears and every penny from his pocket is going into this,” Kitzrow said. “You feel like you’re part of an indie band; a david vs. goliath versus all these big companies. It makes you extra motivated.
“I’ve never had such a good feeling working with someone knowing that there aren’t people upstairs that don’t really care about the game, they just care about the numbers.”
That someone is Michael Mendheim, the man behind the Mutant League franchise.
For Mendheim, landing Kitzrow — or Grim Fitzroid in this case — for the game not only added to the production value of the product, but also added a level of credibility to the game.
“It absolutely lends credibility to what we’re doing,” creative director Michael Mendheim said. “When you get talent like Tim Kitzrow or our audio guy Brian Schmidt on the team, it elevates the whole project. I couldn’t be happier.”
From the start of the game’s production into this new era — a next-gen console release — the goal was to produce the best all-around experience possible. That meant getting the best person possible to do the game’s play-by-play, and Kitzrow was the primary choice from the get-go.
“You know, I called him up – we’re both from Chicago – we went out and had a coffee,” Mendheim said about contact Kitzrow. “After five minutes, I was sold. He’s the nicest guy. He knew me; knew the project. We just hit it off great, and I think he’s one of the key features in our game.”
To be considered one of the main features in the game, Kitzrow said that it’s humbling to him, and it still surprises him to this day that he has a fan base.
“It makes me feel great,” he said. “I never really noticed or realized how much of a fan base there was until after Slugfest. I’m excited that he thought that that was a good deal to have me in there, and the recognition factor. It’s flattering.”
As far as coming up with content for the game goes, Kitzrow says that the hardest part is coming up with a balance between longer jokes with set-ups and the classic one-liners he’s known for.
“You can’t just sit there and go , “I’m going to come up with the new Boomshakalaka.”, he said. “You just stumble on that.”
He added that trying to figure out the best script for a game as unique as Mutant Football League keeps him motivated and pushing forward. From creating parodies of real situations or coming up with funny jokes, everything is on the table for him. If he happens to come up with the next big catchphrase, then he’ll gladly take it.
“I don’t consciously try and find that new phrase, although I’m looking for it subconsciously I guess,” he said. “If it comes out, it comes out.”
When you’re a trained actor, you never know what type of career you’re going to have. You can train for years yet still end up working as a waiter full time while performing one off shows every now and then. Kitzrow is fully aware of that, and he refuses to take anything he’s done for granted. He’s a man that fell into a great situation to make a living doing what he loves to do: create comedy for people.
You may think one would get tired and annoyed of doing the same thing for 30 years and having fans all over the country ask him to say his classic lines, but Kitzrow doesn’t view it that way.
“There are TV stars and movie stars and athletes that see fans and say don’t bother me. I’m like, shit, this is what paid my way,” he said. “This is what I love to do so I’m one of those people that I can’t get enough of it.”
With Mutant Football League, Kitzrow said he’s having more fun writing lines because there aren’t the same restrictions in place with this game as there were with games like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz that had to deal with league licensing. It allows more freedom to say what he wants.
It also doesn’t hurt that the game is rated “M” for Mature.
“We’re Adult Swim as opposed to Saturday morning cartoons,” he said.
With nearly 20 games to his credit, Kitzrow’s voice has spanned a couple of generations. It’s gotten to the point where now those who grew up listening to him in games are now having children or are in higher-up positions at companies. It may sound egotistical, but think of it as being a child and getting to meet the real life Santa Claus.
Whether it be doing work with ESPN or the Chicago Bulls or the Washington Wizards, Kitzrow gets people now in their 30s and 40s that talk about quoting his lines when playing games in the backyard or even at the arcade with friends. It brings an emotion that’s hard for the long-time commentator to describe. The fact that so many people know of him and his work makes him as grateful as can be.
Kitzrow did admit, however, that there’s a certain demographic that makes him realize exactly how long he’s been working on video games.
“It makes me feel old when I go up to someone who’s a man who shaves, and I ask if they remember NBA Jam and they say no,” he said. “There’s a generation in their 20s who just don’t know about us.”
With Mutant Football League, Kitzrow truly feels that people will once again learn of his work, and just how great arcade sports titles can be to the industry. In fact, he believes that the opportunity is there to spawn a resurgence of the arcade sports genre simply due to the excitement surrounding Mutant Football.
“I’d even like to see a potential machine at some of the newer arcade bars that are popping up around the place,” he said.
No matter what happens with the genre, Kitzrow says, once fans get copies of the final version of Mutant Football League, they will be impressed.
Mutant Football League is currently in Pre-Alpha, and will see a full PC launch later this year. A console launch is expected in early 2018.