My interview with Nathan Lockard uncovered SHOCKING SECRETS! Nah, just kidding. It was pretty interesting though.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen some of my Nintendo Power posts. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you really should. I’m a huge fan of Nintendo Power magazine and have been ever since I first got my subscription back in 1991.
Like a lot of NP fans, my first issue came after Christmas of 1990. My family didn’t have much money, but my parents splurged me that year and got me exactly what I wanted: a few NES games under the tree. They picked up on Nintendo Power’s Dragon Warrior promotion, which included a free copy of the game with a NP subscription. So I got Dragon Warrior, A Boy and His Blob (seemed random then, too) and a few off-the-shelf issues of the Game Player’s Strategy Guide to Nintendo Games, which I thumbed through endlessly and still have. The next month was January, my birthday month, and that was when I got Nintendo Power volume 20 as another gift.
I knew about Nintendo Power, of course; you couldn’t miss those in-your-face commercials. But when I actually got my grubby paws on that first issue, I was floored. From that moment on, I was infatuated with Nintendo Power magazine and I couldn’t wait to get my new issue every month.
Before my subscription, I had no idea how many Nintendo games actually existed. My rental choices were really limited in the backwater Missouri town I lived in at the time, so with Nintendo Power’s full-level maps and blow-by-blow walkthroughs of the hottest games, I could at least get an idea of what I was missing. It was the closest thing we had to Let’s Play videos back then.
And I mean sure, Nintendo Power was just Nintendo’s (wildly successful) attempt at guiding purchases and creating hype for their latest releases, but when you’re eight years old, that means nothing. I was there for the games and I loved every second of it.
So fast forward about thirty years and I’m tweeting and collecting classic volumes of Nintendo Power. By almost-coincidence, I met Nathan Lockard, who worked as an editorial assistant at Nintendo Power in 1996. For whatever reason, he agreed to do a short interview and answer some of my silly questions to get a little behind-the-scenes peek at what it was like to work at that iconic magazine.
For reference, 1996 was the year the Nintendo 64 launched, along with Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Super Mario RPG, and was generally an exciting time to be a gamer. And Nathan was at the epicenter of it all.
Let’s dig a little dirt and see what Nintendo Power was like during the advent of the 64-bit era.
Ghetto Gamer: Thanks so much for taking some time. I’m really a big Nintendo Power fan, so it’s really interesting to talk to somebody that was actually there! I hope my questions are good, but not too much for you. I’m sure you have better things to do, haha.
Tell us a little about how you got into gaming in the first place, and how it led to your working at Nintendo Power.
Nathan: I’m an old-timer – I’ve been gaming since the Atari 2600 days although I didn’t get truly hooked until my younger brothers and I got an NES with Super Mario Bros 2 on Christmas 1988. Soon after that I started a paper route to fund my gaming addiction.
GG: Oh my god, you had a paper route!? That’s so quaint!
N: Hah, yeah I suppose so. Biking up and down the foothills of Seattle with 40 pounds of newspapers at least kept me in shape! With the money I made I bought up pretty much everything that came out, from NES to Game Boy to TurboGrafx-16, Sega Genesis, and SNES. Like many of us from that era I rented a lot of games and at some point I started taking notes about each one I played. With a little encouragement from my parents this turned into a book called The Good, The Bad, & The Bogus which was published in 1994.
GG: I just ordered a copy on eBay. You already know I’m a sucker for retrogaming literature!
N: You should’ve told me you wanted one. Like all first first-time authors I have a bookcase full of books that I’ve written. They’re all copies of the same book, mind you.
The publication of TGTB2 led to my writing a weekly column in the local newspaper and articles for magazines like 3-2-1 Contact. At the time I lived in Redmond, WA, just down the road from Nintendo of America’s headquarters, and since I was a “journalist” I was invited to a variety of press events that they held at HQ.
You might think this is how I got my gig at Nintendo Power, but it was actually just dumb luck. My homeroom teacher during my senior year was good friends with Gail Tilden, the editor-in-chief of NP. He strongly recommended she bring me on as an intern, something NP had never done before, and I think she did it mostly as a favor to him.
GG: So did you ever publish any gaming literature beyond Good, The Bad & The Bogus? Outside of Nintendo Power, I mean?
N: Not really. I had another stint at Nintendo after college in 1998 and got into their product testing department as a tester. That was fun but it also convinced me that I didn’t want a career in the gaming industry. It was fun to work on games all day, but that didn’t outweigh the long hours and low pay.
GG: What was your role at NP. What did you actually do there day to day?
Nathan: I was an intern so initially I didn’t have much to do. I was assigned to shadow and help the Prepress Assistant, a guy named Todd Dyment. He was awesome to work with and very patient with me.
I began working there only a few days after graduating from high school so this was the first 9-to-5 job I’d ever had. The first assignments that Todd gave me were to take screenshots. Most of the shots for the walkthrough sections were taken previously by another team (V-Design) so I took shots for sections like Counselors’ Corner and Classified Information.
I also had to double-check the maps in the upcoming issue to make sure callouts were in the right place. That meant playing through the games each month which sometimes meant long hours.
I worked at NP during the second half of 1996 and for the last three months they gave me Player’s Pulse. That was definitely the highlight of my time on staff. I got to pick letters to include, write responses to those letters, and pick the envelope art that was displayed on those pages.
GG: Was everyone there into games? I’ve always imagined there were in-office tournaments and lots of breaks for gaming, or at least after-work Killer Instinct battles. Or were a lot of them just there to work and didn’t care about gaming?
N: Yeah, I’d say everyone there was a gamer. At least everyone on the magazine staff anyway.
It was a busy place so we didn’t have a lot of downtime to play games in groups but most everyone had a SNES and N64 hooked up at their workstation. As you’d expect there were kiosks and arcade games all over the place as well. The cafeteria, which was called Mario Club, had a bunch of Nintendo arcade units like Punch-Out!!, Donkey Kong, Arm Wrestling, a Playchoice-10, Killer Instinct, and Cruis’n USA.
There were occasionally tournaments, like one for Tetris Attack which released just before I started there. The N64 came out while I was working there and a bunch of us would spend our lunch hour playing 4-player Wayne Gretzky’s Hockey on a projector in one of the conference rooms. Good times.
GG: You worked at Nintendo Power back in 1996, the year Nintendo Power stopped using glued spines and switched to staples. Like, what was up with that? What were they thinking?
N: Beats me. I think it was a cost-savings measure but man did we take a lot of flack for it. As I said, eventually I took over Player’s Pulse and I could group the letters into four groups:
1) Something cute or fun
2) Bring back the manila envelopes in Classified Information!
3) Why do you print so many envelopes from Naomi Chiba? and
4) Bring back the bindings!
If this had happened in 2020 we would’ve had a Change.org petition and a trending hashtag or two.
GG: Ha! Were you there when they finally went back to glued spines? What was the attitude toward that?
N: Yeah, they realized quickly that the stapled binding was extremely unpopular and they went back to the proper bindings in volume 92 (Jan 97).
GG: What was your favorite project to work on during your time there?
N: I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I contributed to the naming of the original 151 Pokemon from the Blue & Red games. I’m a little embarrassed to say it but I was thoroughly unimpressed by the game. I thought it would fail miserably. Great prediction, right?
Anyway, they printed out a massive picture of all the Pokemon characters on the biggest plotter you’ve ever seen and spread the printout on huge tables in a conference room. Each character had its name written in kanji characters along with a suggested Engrish name provided by NOJ.
We each had a marker and walked around the table writing a name next to each monster. I remember that only Pikachu had a non-negotiable name. Everything else was fair game for the brainstorming exercise. Sadly I don’t remember a single name that I suggested.
GG: I’ve got this kind of weird fascination with the Nintendo Power Counselors. Did you ever meet those guys? Were they really writing that column, or was it just a gimmick?
N: This may have been different before or after I worked at Nintendo, but during my time it was just a gimmick. The pictures were all legit – those were real-life Game Counselors – but everything else about Counselors’ Corner was produced by the magazine staff. The counselors didn’t seem to mind though. It was a special honor to have your name and picture in the mag.
GG: Yeah, no doubt!
So what was up with the contests? The monthly drawings—I obediently entered every month and never won anything. Was every winner like, the CEO’s nephew or something?
N: I’m with you—I sent in the postcard every month too, but so did about 250,000 other kids. The odds were stacked against us, I’m afraid. And don’t worry, the monthly drawings were all legit.
Once a month the mailroom would send a couple of boxes full of postcards up to the NP staff and whoever was there at the time would reach in and grab a few cards out to choose winners. It was very unscientific.
The prizes were far more elaborate in the early days of the magazine than during the time I was on staff. I got to help with a few of them including the “Gold Coins” grand prize in volume 89. As the intern I was assigned to find someone who sold gold coins.
GG: Do you have any random stories you’d like to share?
N: Oh man, where to begin?
One thing that folks might appreciate is that the NOA campus had a couple of two-story buildings. The older building had the game counselors and game testers upstairs and it was connected to the newer building by an enclosed skybridge that was named “A Link to the Past.” Clever, no?
All the corporate staff was in the new building along with marketing and the Nintendo Power team. I went across that skybridge almost every day to check-in or check-out games from the Nintendo Game Counselors Library.
They cleared out duplicate copies of games each year just before Christmas by allowing employees to buy them for a few bucks each. I bought a ton of them that year including a copy of Metal Warriors for $2.
On a more personal note there’s the time I had to make accurate counts of everything that was in each of the levels in Super Mario 64 for the back of the poster in volume 90. It took FOREVER to get those counts and in the end a couple of them were wrong. I took a little flak for that one.
GG: So are you still into gaming? What kind of games are you playing these days?
N: Yeah I’m still a big gamer. I have a few kids and they’re all gamers as well. I still favor 2D games both modern and retro but I collect and play a lot of games.
GG: What’s something you’re currently playing?
N: I just got a TurboGrafx-16 Mini so I’m working my way through the games on there such as Rondo of Blood and Alien Crush. I’m also about half-way through Chrono Trigger on my DS, and Guacamelee 2 on my Switch, and I can never seem to kick my Steam Rocket League habit.
Ghetto Gamer: Nathan, thank you again for taking the time to chat with me. It really has been really interesting hearing some insider stories about Nintendo Power. I don’t know if it’s just my age talking, but I honestly feel like gaming culture left something behind when we moved from paper magazines to the digital realm.
As much as I love how the internet fetches gaming news for me as soon as it leaks, I really miss the anticipation of a monthly publication with deep dives and wonderfully random stuff. And yes, I miss checking every month to see if my letter or envelope art got published in Player’s Pulse. (They never were.) And I loved those Nintendo Power maps!
Nathan: You’re very welcome! Like I said, I’m a fellow fan. I miss the days of print magazines too, but I love that in this day and age gamers can connect over the internet. It’s content creators like you that make it possible. I miss the old days but also love the modern era. Thank you for the opportunity to talk!