Modern day video game players have all sorts of outlets available for assistance when they get stuck in a game, or when they want to learn all of a game's hidden secrets. In a word, that help is called the "Internet." Further, the video game merchandising machine has struck capitalist gold, and just about every video game released today is soon accompanied on the store shelves by an official hint book -- and usually a couple of unofficial ones, as well.

However, circa 1989, when the original Phantasy Star reached American soil, about the only help game players had to keep from smashing their heads into the wall was their friends in the neighborhood... and their friends at Sega's 1-800 game help line. I'll wager Sega's San Francisco offices fielded many calls from lost players in the summer of 1989 stuck wandering around one of Phantasy Star's many dungeons. But the luckiest of those callers received a prize worth more than 65,535 meseta: beautiful, complete computer-generated maps of the Phantasy Star dungeons.

When I first played Phantasy Star that magical summer, I don't know which brought greater tears of happiness to my eyes: first finding Noah in a desolate Motavian cave, or opening up the mail to find a complete map to the labyrinth that was Medusa's Tower. That beautiful map bore only the smallest of clues regarding the identity of my own personal Christopher Columbus whose prior explorations had made my own so much less painful -- a small caption that read "Mapped by Bill Bruchert, Chicago."

A few weeks ago, none other than Bill Bruchert himself found this website's My Stuff page while Googling his name. He contacted me via e-mail, and I asked this unsung hero of so many first-generation Phantasy Star players if he'd oblige me with an interview. Our conversation is as follows:

Q: When you made the maps, were you an employee of Sega at all, or just a fan playing the games?

A: I had always aspired to be an employee of Sega, but I was just a player enjoying Phantasy Star.

Q: What prompted you to make the maps, and then how did you get them to Sega?

A: I basically used simple quad-rule graph paper to make the maps, each forward step being one square (though moving through a secret door actually moved you two squares). I was not asked to make them by Sega, I just made them to make the game easier for myself. Since I had developed a loose friendship with one of the counselors at Sega, I sent copies of all my maps to her.

Q: The maps obviously looked computer-generated. What software did you use to make them?

A: I used MacPaint. It was one of the first drawing programs for any computer, and had a simple grid built in which I turned on to keep the squares uniform and match them up with my hand-drawn maps from the graph paper.

Q: You don't happen to still have the original files, do you?

A: I wish I could offer you a copy of the complete set, but I don't have the old Mac files they were saved to anymore.

Q: Did you ever have any idea just how helpful those maps were to so many people? Complete video game "hint books" may be common today, but back in 1989-1990, players were completely on their own save for 1-800 (or 1-900) hint lines.

A: I had some idea, particularly when a professional photographer who also lived in Chicago contacted me after my friend at Sega sent him one of my maps. I sent him copies of all my maps for his sons to use. He sent me back a nice set of screenshots he took with special lenses on his camera so the images wouldn't show scan lines.

Q: What did you think of the other games in the series?

A: I played Phantasy Star 2 and 3, but I didn't enjoy them as much as the original since Sega removed the 3d dungeons from the sequels. They were harder to map out yourself, which was probably their plan, since most developers nowadays want you to spend the extra money on hint books.