N64 Gamer Retrospective
The Australian 90s Nintendo Bible James O’Connor talks with some of the pioneers of Nintendo journalism in Australia.
If you were an Australian Nintendo 64 kid in the 90s and early 2000s – a dyed-in-the-wool serious Nintendo 64 kid, who bought into the ‘console wars’ and stuck posters of Banjo-Kazooie up on your walls – you bought N64 Gamer, Next Publishing’s magazine dedicated to all-things Nintendo 64 (and then, later, GameCube and Game Boy). You admired the commissioned art covers, memorised the review scores, and bought into the magazine’s ‘Nintendo rules, PlayStation drools’ ethos. Because this Nintendo-themed issue of Hyper is the closest thing to a new issue of the magazine in a long time, I reached out to all the magazine’s past editors to reminisce.
SUPER MEMORIES 64>>
These days, many of the review codes local journos receive come from Stephen O’Leary. He works for Bandai Namco now, but I first became familiar with him in 1998 when I bought my first issue of N64 Gamer and saw his name and mugshot alongside the opening editorial. “I was a contributor for Hyper Magazine for a little while before N64 Gamer”, O’Leary reminisces. “At the time Dan Toose was editing the magazine and was kind enough to recommend me for the N64 Gamer editor position. I was a bit of a hardcore gamer back then and had most systems, including an imported N64, so it was easy for me to get together the content required for the magazine.” He brought on Narayan Pattison as his deputy editor; while O’Leary was only there for the first year, Pattison stayed on for close to three years, taking over as editor once O’Leary left. “First thing I wrote was about GoldenEye - still to this day my favourite N64 game”, Pattison recalls. “The experience of gushing to Australian gaming fans about why they should buy GoldenEye was super rewarding and convinced me to turn my back on my law degree and pursue a career in games journalism.”
In those early years, spirits were high – the N64 was a technical marvel, and O’Leary remembers how keen the team was on the console. “N64 was the first true 3D system for home”, he says, “and it had eects that other consoles didn’t support at the time, so it gathered a bit of attention. We had a blast in the o¢ce playing Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye with many late nights.” Troy Gorman – who remembers being brought on to proofread the second issue while hanging out at Narayan’s house one day, and would later serve as editor after Narayan left – was excited to work on a magazine that didn’t face much competition on the local market. “The O¢cial magazine was our only competitor for Nintendo content and we didn’t really even look at it”, he recalls. “We just attempted to create a magazine that we would have liked to read.”
FOR THE FANS>>
A lot of 90s single-format games magazines leaned heavily on the N64/PlayStation ‘console war’ – what better way to get readers buying the magazine than to get them invested in the ‘side’ they chose? “I think it was very real with a portion of our readers,” Pattison muses. “I think most kids, very understandably, couldn’t aord both consoles. It makes sense to demonise the competing consoles to reinforce your belief that you’ve backed the right horse.” N64 Gamer’s anti-PlayStation bent was aggressive throughout the
mag – you’d never know that the PlayStation was vastly outselling the N64, or, eventually, that the PlayStation 2 wasn’t going to crash and burn – but it was all a bit of an act. “I’ve always been a Sega fan”, O’Leary admits (he left the magazine for a job at OziSoft, Sega’s local distributor at the time, and never returned to journalism). “There were very few N64 games and lots of pages, so playing up to the console wars was one of the many ways we injected more style and humour into the magazine”, Pattison recalls. “Although I do think the N64 genuinely had the more innovative games on balance and would be the one I would have picked if I could only have one console back then.”
For Stephen Farrelly, the magazine’s final editor, it was more real. “When I arrived at the oce, the Sony hatred on my Nintendo fanboy side was super-strong”, he remembers. “My world was shattered when Troy revealed they hammed up the rivalry and that they often just made up quotes from the PlayStation magazine guys in N64 Gamer. Being next to Hyper and PC PowerPlay in the oce meant I had a deep exposure to so many games that I kind of shifted from hardcore Nintendophile to a lover of all games.”
The Nintendo 64 had long periods where few new games released, and the team would have to find ways to fill pages. Often, they’d lean on their readers. “We got a big box of letters each month”, Pattison remembers, “that we read though and replied to. Because of the limited access to new games we devoted a lot of pages to letters, and I think that gave us a good handle on our readers and allowed us to make a magazine they really responded to.”
N64 Gamer was not the most mature magazine.
This was true of most gaming magazines at the time, of course, but N64 Gamer went out of its way to depict its own oce as raucous and fun. In one issue, a multi-page, photo-heavy feature explained how to hold the ultimate Nintendo party
PLAYING UP THE CONSOLE WARS WAS ONE OF THE MANY WAYS WE INJECTED MORE STYLE AND HUMOUR INTO THE MAGAZINE.
– and also told the story of their latest o ce hire, who they claimed was a pizza delivery guy who had lost that job because he chose to stay on at the party after delivering the pizzas. This was the sort of piece designed to fill a lot of pages without needing to write a lot, but it was also a piece that made readers feel closer to the writers. In truth, the o ce was a more traditional work environment, with four desks set up next to each other, not so dierent from where Next’s games magazines are put together now.
The magazine’s frivolity and willingness to play around with format led to a few memorable incidents. In one issue’s letter section, the magazine jokingly promised to reveal a ‘nude code’ for GoldenEye if enough people wrote in. “I thought it would be an amusing joke to photoshop in a model from the mens’ mag in the o ce next to us”, Pattison says. “I’m sure most readers realised a photograph in a screenshot was a joke, but we got a couple of thousand letters asking for the code.” A few reviews stick out as well – the infamous Superman was given a 6/10, a score later admitted to being far too high – but the standout is the 101% awarded to Perfect Dark in issue 30, on the basis that the multiplayer modes were so customisable that the player was given the choice to play in any way they wanted, regardless of how it impacted the frame rate. The review was written by then-editor Troy Gorman, who still loves Perfect Dark. “It was a great game. I still play the Xbox 360 version. When I wrote that review Iexpected some response, because scoring a game over 100% is just ridiculous, but we didn’t get any letters about it.”
THE LATER YEARS>>
Stephen Farrelly was N64 Gamer’s – and then, Nintendo Gamer’s, following a branding change – final editor. When he was first brought into the fold, he was writing for a Nintendo fansite called Tendobox. “My writing, while pretty shit, slowly got better”, he recalls. His first piece in the magazine was a freelance preview of WWF: Attitude, and his relationship with the magazine developed from there. “I also contributed regularly to the news section”, Farrelly recalls, “before Troy revealed he was leaving, but that he’d suggested me as a replacement editor”. Farrelly was living in Melbourne at the time, but after a few months of discussion decided to follow his passions to Sydney, where the editor’s chair awaited him. “I had nothing but the clothes on my back, and really had no idea about what it meant to be a magazine editor”, he admits. “However, I was always a pretty good talker and understood business and wanted to make an impression.”
By the time Farrelly came on, there were only two permanent sta in the o ce, him and Andrew
Bulmer, and they were set up in the same o ce as Hyper and Next’s PC magazines. “Our o ce was massive”, he remembers, “and we got along really well. The gaming mags were nestled alongside the soap opera mags, and they didn’t much like us because we were always loud, obnoxious, and usually played a lot of o ce cricket, which would see their desks getting battered with makeshift balls made from paper and sticky tape.”
They were having fun, but there was an insurmountable obstacle in the magazine’s way – the failure of the GameCube in Australia. The hugely delayed release of the console, which launched in Australia on May 17, 2002 – a full six months after the US – meant that the magazine had to limp through a very long release drought, and then cover a console that there was little local interest in. Issue 21 of Nintendo Gamer – which followed N64 Gamer’s 41 issue run, and released in July 2003 – was the final issue.
“The mag closing was one of the hardest moments of my life”, Farrelly says. “By our third year at the helm, my art-director Alen Trivuncevik and I - the only two full-timers on it - had it down to a fine art, and our writers were at the top of their game. The GameCube’s sales in Australia weren’t great though, and ad sales on the mag were hard to maintain because we had a revolving door of ad sales people coming through.” But Farrelly is happy with where the magazine ended, at least. “That last issue we got out was baller. The fact I was given a farewell issue to produce was bittersweet in that it was the end, but also because I got to say goodbye in its pages in my own way. That was the best issue of the magazine we ever did.”
Bring up N64 Gamer in a room of 30-something Australian game enthusiasts and someone will remember it fondly – and the same is true of its editors. “The working environment at Next was pretty
BRING UP N64 GAMER IN A ROOM OF 30 SOMETHING AUSTRALIAN GAME ENTHUSIASTS AND SOMEONE WILL REMEMBER IT FONDLY. A Brief Rebirth The brand name Nintendo Gamer made a very brief comeback in 2007 when Next attempted to relaunch the magazine as a bi-monthly publication. The Wii and the DS were huge successes, so it seemed like an appropriate time for the magazine to return. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long – four issues were released before the magazine disappeared.
good at the time”, O’Leary recalls. “We got to play games and get paid for it, although the monthly deadlines were often tense and filled with long hours due to the inconsistent release schedule of the N64 – sometimes all the games would arrive two days before print.” In his current role, he still meets industry people who remember him from the magazine.
Pattison, who worked for IGN and Good Game before returning to his second passion, law, says that editing N64 Gamer was “easily the most enjoyable and rewarding job” he’s ever had. “We were crazy passionate about gaming back then, so we were playing games 24/7, in and out of the oce. We’re all just big kids at heart and I think our passion was infectious. That really came through in the magazine and was the main reason so many readers responded to it.” Farrelly, who is now managing editor of Ausgamers and Red Bull Games Australia, has things he misses too. “I miss the design process and the smell of a fresh batch of mags back from the printer. I miss the silly photos we did and the selfindulgent shit.”
Working in print today is not the same as it was back then. There are far fewer of us, no letters coming in, and the magazine needs to do more to justify its own existence. But those of us who are still around, and still writing magazines like this, owe a lot to the ones we read growing up. N64 Gamer’s sense of humour, winning personality, and deep love for all things Nintendo are just as important today as they were back then.