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November 20, 2015 10:42 PM   Subscribe

What was it like to be a Nintendo game play counselor? The A.V. Club interviews three former Nintento Hotline gameplay experts.
posted by figurant (25 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
What a fascinating article! I don't know if such a thing existed here in Australia- I would have been exactly the target demographic back in the Golden Age of NES! Something I'm not clear on: how did Nintendo make money out of the operation? Was it a 1-900 number? Or was it more of a marketing exercise?
posted by Philby at 12:00 AM on November 21, 2015


What was it like to be a Nintendo game play counselor?

I always assumed it was like that sequence in The Wizard where Jenny Lewis and Fred Savage call the Nintendo Power Hotline? and talk about secrets and tips and tricks. Though I cannot recall how they found the money for all those calls, especially as they were on the run for the majority of that film.That movie was one giant advertisement for Super Mario Bros. 3.
posted by Fizz at 4:22 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Was it a 1-900 number?

I would have assumed so, but the 206 area code is Seattle. So long-distance for almost everyone, but not a 900 number.
posted by hoyland at 4:29 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Super Mario Bros. 3 may be the best game of all time, though.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:29 AM on November 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


The Wizard may have been a flimsy cover for an advertisement for SMB3.. but boy oh boy did it catch my attention. I am sure I would have been entirely unbearable around The house until it was finally released on PAL- a full year and a half after I saw the movie in Australian theatres! The Wizard was showing December 1989- the game wasn't out in Australia until August 1991!!
posted by Philby at 4:39 AM on November 21, 2015


I saw a talk by Uemura, who ran Nintendo's R&D department during the time when the NES was created. He mentioned that the hotline was created as a way of compensating for how spread out the US is. In Japan, everything is so dense that information about how to get past tricky parts of new games traveled quickly. But in the US it was easy to be isolated and get stuck.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 5:49 AM on November 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


The part about being at several call centers, where everybody starts out as a team and wants to help the customers and really dig into problems, but then it all becomes just a numbers game...that totally resonates with me. I went through that many, many times in the early part of my working life, and it's always the exact same story.
posted by xingcat at 5:49 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Playing video games certainly was a different experience before the internet, wasn't it? If you got stuck at a particular point in the game, there was no Googling your way out of it. I worked at a FuncoLand in the late 90s and I was the resident RPG nerd. After FFVII came out, people started calling the store all the time asking for help. I vividly remember spending a good thirty minutes on the phone once talking somebody through the Temple of the Ancients. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by pecanpies at 8:17 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I called that very number looking for the last labyrinth in one the second quest of Legend of Zelda. It was not long after that game came out, and the guy was gave a little laugh and said something along the lines of "that's like the one question I am not allowed to answer, good luck kid."
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 8:25 AM on November 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


The part about being at several call centers, where everybody starts out as a team and wants to help the customers and really dig into problems, but then it all becomes just a numbers game...that totally resonates with me. I went through that many, many times in the early part of my working life, and it's always the exact same story.

A call center is a precisely-calibrated machine designed to convert hirings into firings.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:59 AM on November 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you got stuck at a particular point in the game, there was no Googling your way out of it.

Yeah, I never did finish Zork III. I would sometimes go for days trying various ideas about what to do without experiencing the thrill of hearing the C64's floppy drive churn, announcing I'd hit on something that made the game load a new paragraph of text that wasn't "You can't see [a thing the game just mentioned] here," or "Pushing the moss isn't helpful," or "I don't know the word 'cry'," or "Such language in a high class establishment like this!"
posted by straight at 9:00 AM on November 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


straight : you just hit on something I hadn't thought about in years and years and years. You're exactly right, when playing those Infocom games the sound of the drive coming to life filled you with jubilation after being stuck for hours. Thank you for the reminder!
posted by radiosilents at 9:15 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I called that very number looking for the last labyrinth in one the second quest of Legend of Zelda. It was not long after that game came out, and the guy was gave a little laugh and said something along the lines of "that's like the one question I am not allowed to answer, good luck kid."

Dude just said that because he didn't know.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:55 AM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


I never called the Nintendo line thanks to living in a suburb with enough friends who had and had shared their knowledge. But I did call a similar tip line for Vic Tokei ([TOW-kay] if you were wondering) twice, once for each of their Golgo 13 games. The first person I talked to was clearly reading from some manual they had provided her. ("Which game was that, again?" "It says here that you need to shoot the targets above the glass tubes. Does that make sense to you?") When I called back the second time a few years later, I was almost disappointed to talk to someone that had actually played the game and quite familiar with my dilemma. I sort of like the idea that you could call up a game company and just get a random person that was actually working on something related to making or distributing games.

When Nintendo Power came out they would have these little profiles on the various game counselors. In one of the earlier issues, one of them listed their greatest accomplishment as having beaten The Legend of Zelda without a sword which I now know after much trial and error is impossible. (You can only reach Gannon without a sword; you can't harm him without one.) Damn you, lying counselor guy, for wasting a 14 year old's weekend.
posted by dances with hamsters at 10:17 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I liked the Sega hotline; it was a local call for me, the hold times were shorter, and the counselors seemed to be on looser leash. Also, one time they mailed me a bunch of photocopied Phantasy Star maps for free.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:39 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


After FFVII came out, people started calling the store all the time asking for help. I vividly remember spending a good thirty minutes on the phone once talking somebody through the Temple of the Ancients.

Haha, that just reminded me of when I went to go buy FFVII and wanted to pick up the strategy guide to go along with it. The store clerk very angerly spat out that they "don't sell cheat guides. Go somewhere else if you want to cheat". Which is kind of a rude way to treat a nine year old kid. Now I wonder if he was mad for other reasons.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:55 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Infocom sold booklets of InvisiClues that came with a pen that would reveal progressively less-vague clues printed in invisible ink for each puzzle, including several red herrings to help avoid spoilers (such as a whole page of clues about a location that didn't exist or a series of clues referring to an object not found in the game ("What wetsuit?")).

These were the inspiration for a shareware program called the Universal Hint System that would read hint files you could download for particular games, doling out hints gradually from gentle nudges to explicit answers.

Of course all this is now done rather trivially in HTML online.
posted by straight at 11:17 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


The store clerk very angerly spat out that they "don't sell cheat guides. Go somewhere else if you want to cheat". Which is kind of a rude way to treat a nine year old kid. Now I wonder if he was mad for other reasons.

Maybe he had a bad breakup with a Prima booklet
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:06 PM on November 21, 2015


I grew up in 206, I called that number all the time.
posted by lkc at 7:09 PM on November 21, 2015


Gosh, now i'm feeling left out because i never called the hotline. My friends and i were GOLDEN NINTENDO MASTERS who didn't need help from no one. We beat every game we had in time.

Errr, except Battletoads. As far as i can tell, Battletoads was unbeatable. Ninja Gaiden, Blaster Master, Street Fighter 2010, and that horrible first TMNT game were hard as hell, but beatable.

Did... did anyone here ever beat Battletoads?
posted by ELF Radio at 7:58 PM on November 21, 2015


I think I only ever managed to get to the third level on Battletoads. After the first one and the second one where you fall down a hole and swing from side to side. I think there may be have been motorbikes or something involved somehow. But never past that.
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:51 PM on November 21, 2015


Battletoads... oh my frickin dog, apparently it is possible.. but clearly only for the superhuman. Back in my days of ultra-twitch NES Mastery I could get to maybe the 3rd last level- but some of that game certain bordered on the goddamn impossible!!!
posted by Philby at 12:17 AM on November 22, 2015


Due to a bug, one of the levels of Battletoads was indeed unbeatable if you were playing 2-player.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:47 AM on November 22, 2015


Oh, gosh, I can still hear the recording. "And be sure to get permission from whomEVER pays the bills."

I used to call when I was restarting Sim City for SNES and had forgotten - again - how to tweak it to start with a million dollars (build a power station, set all taxes to zero, wait a year, raise taxes again, voila! or something like that). And I know I called for a variety of other things. That helpline was a national treasure.
posted by Occula at 9:08 AM on November 23, 2015


I believe I called for help with Kid Icarus or perhaps Metroid.

But now I have to close this browser tab because it makes me think there are 206 new messages in this thread for me to read.
posted by mmascolino at 6:49 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


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