I played for over 30 minutes without losing a life when Mr. Arakawa said, “Okay, that’s enough. We believe you can play.” That day I was extended an offer to start as a consultant. I was ecstatic.
For this day I was given two Nintendo “Game & Watch” handheld games, “Oil Panic” and “Donkey Kong”. Within a few weeks I was moved to a full-time employee.
Little did I know then that my first video game job would turn out to be my dream job. Looking back, I can say that with certainty. I was Nintendo of America’s original game master and the envy of anyone who loved playing video games. With each new game, I was the first to play it. R&D in Japan valued my feedback, awaited my weekly field test reports and answers to their questions.
The Tukwila warehouse had very little office space. It was primarily dedicated to manufacturing, shipping and the storage of game parts. Our manufacturing manager, Don James was great about accommodating the confidential nature of my work with new games.
He built me an “office” by stacking Wells Gardner monitor boxes (w/monitors inside) to construct four walls. A flat cardboard game box served as a ceiling. It was just large enough for one upright game and a stool to sit on.
Until we moved to Redmond, I would analyze prototypes and conduct game timings from here. If the production floor was suddenly in need of space, Don used the forklift to disassemble it, then rebuilt it elsewhere. It was “mobile” before there was mobile!
I even went to New York City and played Donkey Kong before Judge Sweet during the most pivotal time in the young company’s existence. The case was “Universal vs. Nintendo.” And when I could, I tagged along with the sales guys to demo our games for distributors. It was like a “dog and pony show”. I’m not sure if I was the dog or pony.
All of these games I got to touch featured early designs by gaming rockstars Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda. It was my job to help them make games popular amongst American players and sell more than our competitors. I got to tip-toe the lines of product development and sales & marketing. If you liked video games, this was the best job ever.
Even back in the day I believed engagement in the form of comprehension was a key building block of good games. Easy to understand concepts and core loops, layered with evolving skill and challenge kept players engaged. Nintendo games have a near timeless quality with their fans. Fantasy-oriented and playful, they provide a whimsical departure from reality. Back then, most American games dealt in more “realistic fantasy” and sci-fi themes. I have always enjoyed helping designers to make games more enjoyable for players. Figure 1 is a drawing I made to help designers teach players how to play Mario Bros.
My first video game job occurred long before schools offered degrees in game design and programming. No one studied the “user experience” (UX), nor had ever heard of “game user research” (GUR). There was no natural path to gaming since it was not yet considered a real industry. Few saw it as anything more than just a passing fad. If you work in games or worked during the golden age of video games, please share your personal stories. From back in the day, we all have amazing stories to tell.
Thanks for reading!
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