N64 Gamer Ret­ro­spec­tive

The Aus­tralian 90s Nintendo Bi­ble James O’Con­nor talks with some of the pi­o­neers of Nintendo jour­nal­ism in Aus­tralia.

Hyper - - FEATURES -

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 eŸects 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 aŸord 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 o‰ce, 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 o‰ce 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.”

GROW­ING UP>>

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 o‰ce 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 dier­ent 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 I“ex­pected 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.”

LOOK­ING BACK>>

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 o–ce. 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.

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