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 is...it'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.
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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.
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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 themselves...it 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.