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

December 11, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

Howard & Gail

HP: It never would've happened without Gail. Gail is one of those incredible work powerhouses -- super smart, super energy, very creative, selfless, and on and on. She was the driving force behind getting it done.

Mr. Arakawa would come up and say, "What do you think about this?" And he'd get an honest answer from her and a believable story about what was possible and what wasn't.

GT: The company was growing and maturing, and we were getting a much bigger marketing and advertising department, so I wasn't running all of marketing communications at that time. I had when we were tiny.

I needed to come in, like, tomorrow [out of maternity leave, to start on the magazine], and I had a baby. The gals at work used to laugh when I would bring my son in, who was like six weeks old, and I'd hand him off to someone in the office and I'd go into some big Japanese meeting to discuss Nintendo Power.

They didn't know what to do because he was crying. They fed him water, and I went into a crazy fit over it. I think I was so dumb that I didn't know it would be fine, and they were so dumb that they didn't know...none of us knew what to do with a six-week-old baby in the office while I was attending these meetings.

But it worked out. He's still thriving.

HP: Gail was very strong at being a publisher and an editor. Nothing got by her, just from a pure print production standpoint. Also, she was pretty creative for print production. But when it came to the games, I knew that if I didn't catch it, it would get printed, and we'd print a million of them and send them out to kids.

The First Issue

GT: The biggest thing was the masthead, of course. Nintendo's marketing slogan at the time was "Now you're playing with power." The idea was to stay within what we were doing in marketing. We talked about naming the magazine something like "Power Player." The trademark for that wasn't available, not because someone had a video game magazine named that -- it just wasn't available.

That was the deal with Mr. Arakawa. In this particular realm, he had very strong ideas. He came back and said, "The 'now you're playing with power' part? That's fine, whatever. But whatever name you come up with for the masthead, it has to have the word Nintendo."

We had a small agency called Griffith's Advertising who did our covers, so the first issue had a clay model done by Will Vinton Studios in Oregon, who at the time did a lot of famous claymation, like the California Raisins. They molded that Mario for us to take pictures of.

HP: That issue she pulled together with Tokuma Enterprises in Japan, which is kind of like the Time Corp of Japan. I believe they were doing Famicom [magazine]. They were supportive of us, and served as executive publisher or something. We did all of the printing over there, and we were initially doing all the publishing over there with Work House, which is this small design company in Tokyo.

GT: We enlisted some teams in Japan to help us. The magazine was co-published, really, by Nintendo of America. They used a studio that had expertise in making these kinds of layouts and video game maps and that kind of thing to support us. We directed how many pages, what we wanted to talk about in the magazine, set up regular columns like Classified Information and Video Shorts and that kind of thing, and they provided us with the graphic support. We wrote the copy.

HP: When you look back on modern times you'd think, "Well, they probably had a staff of 50 running around doing all sorts of different things." No, we did not. It was only about a half-dozen people scattered across Nintendo of America and Work House and Tokuma in Japan that really got things going.

After a while Gail started getting writers on staff, but it was really thin to begin with. It wasn't thin because Nintendo was one of those companies like Microsoft who would get twice the work done with half the people. It was just because it was all new, and everybody was doing so many different things at the same time.

We just did it. Doing things didn't mean going out and hiring people. Doing things meant doing them, and then after figuring out what could be done, maybe hiring people who could replace you so you could move on to the next project.

I don't know if you've ever worked at a small company when you're doing a startup thing, but everybody does everything. Arakawa would come out and help pack brochures for the trade shows and stuff like that. So would his wife, Yoko. Everybody worked together. But I had a lot of jobs. When we started that, I was still a warehouse manager responsible for shipping all that stuff in and out.

GT: Howard and I went to Japan to work on the editorials and layouts. Pretty much every issue involved two trips to Japan. Usually, Howard and I made one, and the production manager made the second. We got over there to work on the layouts and figure out what we liked and didn't like.

We were in some hotel suite, with everyone smoking on the tenth story of some hotel in Tokyo.

[In Japan] there's a very different sensibility about certain kinds of color, especially with greens. They tend more toward the olive greens, or oranges. They have a very different sensibility about fonts, and what the font reflects, and background colors, and that kind of thing. I was directing them that I didn't like it or wanted to change it, and there was all this uproar.

So Howard was trying to be funny and got everyone to be on the same team. It wasn't that he was saying "don't listen to [her]," but...he was saying something about me being the Dragon Lady. "Don't worry about it, she's just the Dragon Lady."

Unfortunately, that is something that really stuck, and from 1987 until I left Nintendo, the creative people that I worked with over there all knew that I was the Dragon Lady. That didn't do a lot for my reputation and the idea they were working with an American woman who was supposed to be the boss.

While we were going through all these traumas of trying to get on the same page, the art director quit. He didn't want to work with me. [laughs] He walked out. He didn't really want to get on board with my direction and stormed out. But there was a gentlemen there who at the time was a more junior person in our staff who stepped up and said, "I know what she's asking for, and I know what they want." I don't know if he believed it, but he made it appear that it wasn't so unreasonable that we were trying to do something more appropriate for our market.

That gentleman, Mr. Orimo, became the art director for the magazine, especially in terms of the Japanese construction of maps and gameplay. He ultimately moved his group to the U.S. to service the magazine, as V Design. They went on to continue for 20 years, participating with the magazine.

Article Start Previous Page 2 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...