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Nintendo Power: Remembering America's Longest-Lasting Game Magazine

December 11, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

Mapping It Out

HP: Back then -- it's hard to imagine now, because we have so many tools, including YouTube walkthroughs and so on. It's hard to imagine that we were all playing games on little toilet paper tubes -- this narrow perspective of what the game world was. To have these maps suddenly spoke to how large the game world was, which then resulted in this tremendous feeling of empowerment, because you could feel it, finally. You could finally know what was beyond the edge of your television screen in the next area.

That was huge. I'm just gaga over it now, thinking of how fun it was to pull out a map of Zelda and see the entire world, and be able to go through it with your fingertip and then say, "Okay, there's where you can burn that tree," or push that rock, or whatever. It was so cool. Getting that in the hands of kids was -- from my perspective -- the real big win that we were after.

GT: Especially in the old days, it was really complicated to make those maps. It's not like there's really a "stop frame" button where you can pull a frame and then go to frame two. It's just like a big scrolling thing while you're playing, and where your character's a challenging thing to put all those pieces together.

You have to imagine that you're making a map of Metroid or something. It's extremely complicated to show the multiple layers of the game and the caverns you're ducking into.

HP: That machine that we had at Work House in Tokyo looked like a VCR or something. It was huge. They'd hook it up to the game system, and then it would print out a picture that was maybe four postage stamps big. It wasn't even as large as a Polaroid. It would print out this beautiful color picture, and then these guys would sit there and take their X-Acto knives and cut out the trim, and then they'd paste them onto this larger board, and make this huge board that was the entire map.

There were a lot of bleary-eyed days and nights in small rooms in Japan looking at the big press proofs, and looking at these little TV shots and going, "Is that the third one?" There were a couple of times when the guys pasted them up wrong and connected the map incorrectly. Can you imagine if we'd shipped out something like that? There was lots of that stuff, and things like, "Is it the blue candle or the red candle?" If you made a mistake like that, it could have big ramifications. I spent a lot of energy making sure that was accurate.

It was so, so cool. We had to get that out to the kids.

Click for larger version.

GT: When people talk about why the consumer would just as soon move to digital media or move to the Internet for gaming news, news was never really Nintendo Power's forte. It was really gameplay. Those maps were invaluable. They were definitely what gave the magazine such legs.

Helping the Player

GT: Getting it together, we came up with fun concepts. Classified Information would have a background like an envelope and be FBI-ish -- like you were getting all these different codes and passwords, which was an in-thing that you couldn't share over the Internet at the time. It was coveted by fans and they would be excited to get it.

Our reviews were called Video Shorts, and then there were the main features and the maps. With our Player's Polls, the main thing was to gather the information on what games the readers liked the most. It had a bingo card. That was also an idea that came out of Japan. With magazines like Shonen Jump, they include a bingo card every time, and they make decisions based on the popularity among the readership in regards to which anime becomes TV shows. We wanted a bingo card in our magazine in order to monitor the games the consumers were liking, in addition to asking direct marketing and research questions.

Then we always gave away a fantastic prize. It was one of the ways licensees could come up with something and get extra coverage from us for their games. We got these wild things, like a Batmobile, and tickets to the World Series and the Super Bowl and F1 races and meet and greets with Matt Groening from The Simpsons.

Click for larger version.

HP: With any game, you have issues where the challenges are too challenging for some part of your audience, and you still want them to have fun. You didn't want them to get blocked. You wanted them to take that 20 percent of the blockers that were blocking 80 percent of the players and get them out in the magazine somehow. That's how we came up with the different mechanisms in the magazine for providing those tips to the kids, whether it's the actual game review or the Howard & Nester comic, or Counselor's Corner, things like that.

It was about how we could come up with different was to provide tips for kids. We wanted them to have fun and not get stopped, but we didn't want them to be calling the 800 number. We knew the 800 number wouldn't last, so we needed to get something in place that they would consider to be better than the 800 number.

GT: Another thing we used the magazine for was in the letters section with customer service. If they had an issue that they wanted covered in the magazine, we didn't want to be writing preachy customer service articles. One solution for that was to present the customer service problem as a letter, and then respond with the answer. That way, it would have been published. That was the way we at Nintendo Power could get around writing consumer service articles.

One time, they wanted to write something about the flashing Control Deck problem. If an NES cartridge wasn't pushed in right, it would flash. I thought I would do my niece, who was 12 at the time, a favor and write the letter from her, because she then would have her name and her city in the magazine. And there was a typo in the magazine, so she wanted to know how to fix her flashing "Control Dick." [laughs] So while I thought I was doing my 12-year-old niece a big favor, it didn't make her any more popular. [laughs]

Other than Howard, we didn't really use pictures of people that we published. We used Nintendo Game Counselors a lot. We had Counselor's Corner, and we would use pictures of them to give gameplay tips.

I don't think anybody wanted somebody who -- and I was around 31 at the time myself -- they didn't want to see a picture of somebody's mom as the person who's doing Nintendo Power. So we were always a little bit...even the pictures of the kids wasn't for safety or security so much as you always want the person to put themselves into the magazine, and if you see people who you think aren't like you or don't reflect you, it can be a turn-off. So there were not too many people in the magazine.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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Jacob Alvarez
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Fare the well Nintendo Power. The publication may be gone, but the memory remains.

Lex Allen
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So, I'm really curious about why they stopped. Was that somewhere in the article?

I used to write letters to them when I was a kid. I used to draw characters on the envelopes too, but they never published them sadly.

Rebecca Richards
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Nintendo declined to renew their licensing agreement with Future Publishing, who had been handling the magazine for them since 2007. They have not said why, and they are not publishing it in-house either.

I think it's the lack of a "why" that makes it suck the most.

Andrew Chen
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The "why" is usually due to declining profitability, if not outright losing money.
As we all know, game magazines are not what they were in their hey-day. The internet has rendered the subscriber-ship of most untenable, thus even once-mighty EGM went out of print.
As a magazine that serves an even more smaller, specific customer base...yeah Nintendo Power's days were probably numbered long ago. Kudos to Future for giving it a go.

Lex Allen
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I'm sure that it was for financial reasons as well, but I would of liked to hear how bad it was.

Chris OKeefe
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I remember as a kid getting my hands on these magazines and feeling like it was christmas. We didn't have a lot of money to spend on things like games or computers. What we did have was an NES, and later an SNES, and we mostly only got games for christmas. These magazines were very much a portal into the other worlds that were waiting to be explored, and when something really grabbed me I'd bug the parents to take me to the local rental shop and let me rent it. Back when renting games was still a big thing.

It's likely I never would have become as interested in the industry as I am today if not for this magazine. So thanks for that.

Derek Manning
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This was my first gaming magazine, I remember getting issue number one. With my initial subscription we got a free copy of Dragon Warrior 1 for the NES as well. So many good memories of this magazine. It will be missed.

Raymond Grier
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With the Dragon Warrior game I got a small strategy guide and a map, that was so cool.

Muir Freeland
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I love the image of people cutting out map squares and pasting them on a giant board. It sounds like a nightmare in the best way possible.

Raymond Grier
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I had always assumed they used a camera to photograph the screen.

Mike Kasprzak
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Grabbed my copy of the final issue.

Growing up, I first subscribed about a year after it started. Without a doubt, Nintendo Power played a pivotal role in me getting involved in games professionally. It became a goal of mine to develop games for Nintendo systems, and a decade ago, I did get to work on several licensed games for the various GameBoy family of devices (GB, GBC, GBA). So, mission accomplished.

I don't do much Nintendo stuff anymore (Indie), but I will always respect Nintendo and Nintendo Power magazine. Thanks for memories.

Keith Thomson
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I was only subscribed to Nintendo Power for a couple of years myself, but I did enjoy the magazine while I had it. The game that they sent me though was especially important, as it set the course for most of my console gaming from there forward. (Dragon Quest 1.)

I liked their guides enough that I actually named a cat after one of the characters in a Final Fantasy screenshot... (I had no idea that "Gail" was an actual person at Nintendo Power at the time.)

Of course, the magazine eventually drifted over to mostly covering SNES titles, and I drifted over to PC gaming instead when my parents decided not to buy consoles anymore, so I ended up dropping it. When I came back to console gaming in the late 90's, Nintendo just wasn't bringing over the kind of games I enjoyed anymore. At this point I play maybe 5-10% of the time on nintendo platforms, and about 70% on Sony platforms, so I never resubscribed.

Youn Lee
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1993~1995 about 3 years I read this magazine, which was one of the most beautiful memories in my childhood. Getting a newest issue of this, was like buying a new game monthly. Now I live in Korea, as a 26 years old grown up, and uncomfortable of using English. I will always miss you.

Alexander Brandon
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This is an incredibly well done write up. I loved this magazine along with many others and this trip down memory lane is sincerely appreciated. I always did wonder how they did screenshots and maps! That was REAL publishing and design. Nowdays anyone can do it with the tools we have, but not many do it well. Hats off to Howard, Gail and everyone involved for a great magazine that was the only avenue of information about these games.

Benjamin Smith
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Wow this is truly sad...This magazine is why I went to school for Video Game Art. I would sit up hours looking at the maps and pictures trying to draw them on Mario Paint.

David Boudreau
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Yeah it was always a great day when my copy of the Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter finally arrived. I was very loyal, however one of you people screwed up when the first issue of Nintendo Power came out- I remember waiting and WAITING that summer after all the hype, and hearing how my friends got their copy but mine never got sent out until very late, and I was emotionally scarred for life!! But I can't stay too mad at you, I still remember things like that Zelda map, great stuff.

Brenden Sewell
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That magazine was with me as a regular friend of sorts for most of my developing years. I still have some 150 odd issues sitting around in my old house somewhere.

Michael Ruud
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Nintendo Power was clearly a labor of love, and while it's with a heavy heart that its time has come to a close you've done good on giving the people behind its genesis the treatment they deserve with this article. And that final issue. It's such an appropriate bookend to the journey they've taken thus far. The cover, the fact that it features a review for a new Mario game on the dawn of the release of a new console, the final nester comic, the final page... everything about it is so heartfelt and tragic I dare call it poetic.

Thanks for the memories, Nintendo.

Rob Gomes
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I believe I was subscribed from Issue #1 through around Issue #100 or so. It was a pretty long run.

Some of the big game-centric strategy guide issues were tremendously well done. The Final Fantasy one is the one that sticks out for me, but I know there were strategy guides for 3 other games as well.

The Dragon Warrior offer I certainly remember as well. Renew your subscription and get a new game, strategy guide and other goodies? Sure! Sign me up! That's hard to argue when you're under the age of 10 (especially to my parents).

The issues I remember most however, were Issue #8 (the DuckTales issue) and #10 (the Batman issue) for one reason, which is depicted in one of the above photos: River City Ransom. One of the unsung heroes of the NES, arguably my favorite game of all time, and one I've for which not seen a comparable title since.

Josh Foreman
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So sad... Here's my moment of glory where I got a full page in the letters section...