Best of ND 2014! Nintendo Power One Year Later: The Nintendojo Interview

In this special interview, Nintendojo is proud to speak to Nintendo Power veterans Steve Thomason, Chris Hoffman, and Justin Cheng!

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 12/29/2014 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Steven and Chris both touched on the level of faith that the readership seemed to have in the magazine. Nintendo Power seemed to have a large base of staunch defenders and loyal readers. In fact, in the final issue, all three of you cited one of your favorite moments with the magazine being the 20th Anniversary celebration at the Nintendo World Store in New York City. Steven, I believe you were the one that said you were taken aback by how many people actually turned out for the event. What is it about Nintendo Power that you think made it such an enduring part of the history of this industry?

Chris: For that New York event specifically, I think it was the promise of free cake. Yeah, probably that. I’m kidding, of course. Steve and I once interviewed WWE wrestler John Cena, and he proclaimed Nintendo Power to be “the first magazine!” It’s not, in fact, the first magazine, or even the first video game magazine, but it felt like it was. Its pages opened up to reveal this whole amazing world of games for so many people. Hopefully you had some game-playing friends, but Nintendo Power really fostered this feeling that there was the entire fantastic universe of games and gamers, and it was bright and colorful and fun. As a kid, you probably can’t afford every good game that comes along, but with Nintendo Power, you could feel like you’re trying them out and you’re pulled into their worlds. That was especially true when every game was 2D and the magazine was dominated by those massive game maps. Plus, if you wanted to see what a game was all about, months before its release, Nintendo Power was the place to be. And don’t forget about Classified Information! Man, if you were the one with a copy of Nintendo Power (and your friends didn’t) back when codes were still a thing, you were suddenly, like, the de facto gaming guru. Even when the format evolved and the presentation changed, I think the magazine still made people feel good about being Nintendo fans, added to the fun of being a gamer, and still offered a sense of community.

Justin: Chris summed things up well. Nintendo Power was THE magazine for gamers back in the day, and people certainly have nostalgic feelings about it as a result. As for the modern era, in addition to the sense of community, I also think that part of the reason why Nintendo was important to gamers is because Nintendo Power filled a need that wasn’t necessarily being met by other publications. It may not be true, but it seems like a lot of the more prominent outlets tend to ignore a lot of games on Nintendo platforms. Obviously, Mario and Zelda games get big coverage, but there are plenty of titles that don’t. Nintendo Power showcased these games. Plus, it was a place where exciting new titles were unveiled to the public for the first time ever, which is pretty cool.

Steve: Chris and Justin hit on all the same points I’d make. I think because of the company’s long and storied history, most Nintendo fans feel a strong attachment to the brand, and NP was an extension of that. The magazine helped engender a sense of community, and, I think, did a good job of celebrating Nintendo’s legacy. And as Justin mentioned, most other media outlets gave minimal coverage to Nintendo platforms outside of the big franchises. NP was the only place offering in-depth coverage on all the other titles, particularly if they were on handhelds.

Chris, alongside Alan Averill, you’re probably one of the better recognized contributors to Nintendo Power. A lot of that comes from the 8-bit sprite you used (and still use on Twitter) as your likeness, as well as your “Don’t Hassle the Hoff” column. What was the genesis for that whole persona and the column itself? GamePro magazine was well known for its unique editor personas, but that was fairly rare for Nintendo Power.

Chris: Credit for the original idea goes to NP writer Andy Myers, who suggested that every issue the readers ask me a question and then I unload a whole bunch of video game knowledge on them under the column name “Don’t Hassle the Hoff.” Obviously, it didn’t quite end up that way, but the idea was quietly kicking around for a couple of years. At the time it started, Chris Slate was handling most of the letters column, but I offered to help fill some of the space by taking some of the zanier letters, or letters covering topics that I had a personal interest in, and come up with an entertaining response. I guess with a title like Don’t Hassle the Hoff, it naturally gravitated toward being totally snarky and sarcastic and sometimes nonsensical, so being a jerk (but not too much of a jerk) felt like the way to go. Eventually I started handling the entire letters column, so I think after that Don’t Hassle the Hoff probably got weirder and weirder as I tried to differentiate it from my regular responses. Here’s a secret about Don’t Hassle the Hoff: despite the title, I actually wanted the readers to try to hassle me. Mind blown, right??

Even though NP didn’t really have distinct personalities early on, I think they were allowed to come to the forefront a bit more with the redesign in 2005. That was when the reviews became far more in depth, and being able to relate to the reviewers became more important, so the writer’s faces were attached to the bigger reviews and things like the Writer’s Block column appeared. So in a sense the genesis of Don’t Hassle the Hoff came from there.

When you look at how this year has played out for Nintendo, do you see a bright future for the company? What about the industry in general? Where are things heading?

Chris: Back when Nintendo Power was around, was the Wii U struggling in a miserable last place? I DIDN’T THINK SO! There’s clearly a direct cause-and-effect relationship going on here. Jokes aside, it’s no secret that Nintendo has had an awful year with Wii U. 3DS is doing fine (not amazing, but not bad), but Wii U just can’t catch a break. I honestly can’t think of anything Nintendo could do to get Wii U out of this funk it’s in. (Other than facilitate the return of NP, of course.) I’m sure a price cut would help, but, man, it looks pretty bleak, and the media isn’t helping. I feel like a lot of the press is having a field day painting this picture that Nintendo is on the verge of going under. Nintendo has made a lot of mistakes with Wii U (the name, the specs, the marketing, the inclusion of a pack-in that looks like it’s a Wii game, etc.), and I just don’t know if they can be undone. Nintendo is slow to learn, and it can’t just backpedal and get back on track like Microsoft did with Xbox One. Hopefully Nintendo has a big trick up its sleeve, but I don’t know what it could be.

On the other hand, the record-setting success for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can only be a good thing for industry. Things are looking healthy for the new generation of systems, and that makes me happy. I don’t feel like there are many must-have games yet, but I think we’ll be getting them soon enough.

You know what’s funny, though? Despite all of Wii U’s problems, if I look at all three new systems, Wii U has Super Mario 3D World, Zelda, and Pikmin 3— I think I’d take any of those over anything that’s currently available on PS4 or Xbone. That won’t change Nintendo’s fortunes, but fans can take comfort in the fact that they have some amazing software.

Justin: It’s hard not to feel pessimistic about Nintendo’s future when you look at Wii U sales figures and hear folks constantly saying that Nintendo is doomed. Of course, they have tons of cash in the bank, so them being “doomed” anytime soon isn’t likely. And like Chris said, 3DS is doing OK. But Nintendo really needs to do something to instill confidence in the company again.

As for the industry in general, things are looking up for Sony and Microsoft right now. Both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are selling well, and that’s certainly a good thing for the industry. Hopefully the costs of making games for these consoles don’t get too crazy, though. Fortunately, the indie scene is thriving, and I can’t wait to see what indie developers have in store for us.

Steve: I must decline comment on Nintendo’s fortunes, but I think the industry as a whole is in good shape. The success of the new consoles seems to be proving the doomsayers wrong thus far, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. So many commentators feel the urge to make these “either/or” prognostications— predicting that mobile will bring about the end of home consoles— but it seems pretty obvious to me that there’s plenty of demand for both. There are millions of us who love big, lavish productions like Zelda or Uncharted, and we’re never going to be satisfied playing games strictly on our tablets or phones. It’s just not the same experience.

Putting aside the business aspect, I think it’s an amazing time to be a gamer. The best thing to come out of this past generation in my opinion was the advent of the downloadable marketplace. It’s allowed big publishers to take the kinds of risks they no longer can with packaged games, and it’s opened the doors for indie developers. Giving more creators the opportunity to find an audience has pushed the whole medium forward, and I firmly believe that there are more amazing games coming out than ever before. If anything, the past few years have proven just how big and diverse the audience for games has become, and the industry has never done a better job of catering to all tastes.

When you look back at Nintendo Power, what do you find yourself missing the most about working for the magazine?

Justin: I miss a lot of things. I miss being able to play and write about the latest Nintendo games. I miss the Nintendo Power community. I miss the sense of accomplishment I got after finishing an issue. But if I had to pick one thing, I would say I miss the staff. There was a lot of work to be done on each issue of the magazine, but it often didn’t feel like it because I was working alongside my friends. I’m glad that I’ve been able to work (as a part-timer) with Chris Slate and Chris Hoffman again on MacLife, and I host a weekly podcast with Phil Theobald. But I don’t reach out to everyone else as much as I should.

Chris: I agree with Justin– I definitely miss the camaraderie of working with a group of hardcore gamers who were dedicated to making the best video game publication possible. Nintendo Power had a long and storied history behind it; it meant a lot to a lot of people, and all of us wanted to do everything we could to live up to that. I also miss being able to interact with the people behind this great hobby of ours. The gaming industry is full of passionate, imaginative creators, and it was always fun to pick their brains and see what goes into their work. Oh, and I miss the time I launched Chris Slate into space; sadly, we have a strict no-leaving-the-atmosphere rule at MacLife. Incidentally, I’d love to be able to revive Don’t Hassle the Hoff somewhere else!

But more than working at the magazine, I miss the magazine, period. It had been a part of gaming for so long, it almost felt like Nintendo Power was the core of the Nintendo fan community, and without it it seems like there hasn’t been as strong a rallying point for Nintendo fans. Of course, there’s Nintendo Direct, but it’s not quite the same thing; those pop up sporadically, and it seems like after they happen Nintendo just kind of goes silent for a while and you don’t ever know when the next bit of info is going to arrive. I liked that NP was there on a consistent, reliable basis to bring out more details or cover a game in more depth or deliver exclusive news here and there. Miiverse helps fill the community void a bit, and it’s nice that other publications have stepped in to continue where we left off, but I still feel like the Nintendo world lost something that has yet to be replaced.

Steve: I miss the rest of the NP crew. I would mention this pretty regularly in the weeks leading up to the magazine’s closure, but I felt very lucky to work with such devoted, professional, and talented individuals. More than that, I consider them my friends. We were a close-knit group, and we all had the same bizarre sense of humor, which made going into the office each day a hell of a lot of fun. I can’t even remember how many times I laughed until I cried during late-night crunches, when we all tended to get a bit loopy. Working with a team like that is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I also miss interviewing game developers. I had the opportunity to speak with so many amazing creators, and getting even a brief glimpse at what makes them tick was something I found endlessly fascinating. Especially Suda 51. No one’s more fun to talk to than him.

Finally, I miss just making the magazine. I truly loved the process of putting together a self-contained volume each month (even if it could be stressful at times), then holding the fruits of that labor in my hands. When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was work at a video game magazine, so I feel incredibly fortunate that I got to realize that dream for so long.

Wrapping things up here, what’s the one thing you’d like fans to remember fondly about Nintendo Power, or about your time with the magazine? Whether it’s one specific thing that you worked on, or an aspect of the magazine as a whole, what is it that you hope stands the test of time?

Chris: Hopefully when people think about Nintendo Power, they associate the magazine with helping them get more enjoyment out of gaming, or having pointed them toward a great game that they would have otherwise overlooked. Also, I’d like them to remember that Steve once appeared in the magazine without his pants. Whether it’s fondly or with abject horror, it doesn’t matter to me!

Justin: I just hope people enjoyed the magazine as a whole. If I had to pick out one particular thing from my time on the magazine, I would say the final issue is what I’m most proud of. It was a bittersweet issue; I was sad that it was over, but I’m glad that we were able to include so much great stuff.

Steve: I would echo Hoff’s sentiments (other than the part about me sans pants). My ambition for the magazine was always to enhance people’s enjoyment of video games, so I hope we were able to accomplish that. I hope our readers felt like they got their money’s worth each month. And I hope that the staff’s passion and enthusiasm came across in our work. Thanks again to everyone who helped Nintendo Power last as long as it did. It was an amazing run.

I would personally like to thank Steve, Chris, and Justin for an amazing interview experience. If you’d like to continue following their exploits in gaming, be sure to follow all three on Twitter: @StevenThomason, @ChrisTheHoff, and @thejustincheng. Thanks for reading, and let us know what you thought of our interview in the comments below!

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