High Score Ep 2 Recap – The Comeback Kid

High Score Ep 2 Recap – The Comeback Kid

The story of video games in the United States is very much a “Comeback Kid,” story. The Video Game Market Crash of 1983 soured many on “Video Games” and a Video Game Console was something no one was willing to take a chance on. Still, there was one company that got the idea to try to bring their hit games over to the US. This episode puts a broad focus on that company at that time. That company was Nintendo. The year was 1985 when they made an attempt at launching their console in America. They would do many things over the next several years to give their console its best chance and break into the US market.

The episode's cold open has the first interviewee, Shaun, start by describing his job as a Game Counselor working for Nintendo. He would wear his jacket over to the mall during his lunch break and would be swarmed by kids awed by it. When he went in to get a summer job at Nintendo, he thought he'd be working in a warehouse. He went in and was given an application and shown to a back room where he was told he'd be playing games. After that, he was given a large stack of papers with a lot of information to memorize. He grabbed his sunglasses, sized paper to the lenses and wrote everything down that he needed to remember but couldn't on the paper and hid them on his sunglasses. Nintendo knew that they games were hard, but wanted people to be able to beat them. If people beat games, they would buy more. Shaun talked about his training had him working on video games 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks to learn about beating video games. This time was also used to build “Gameplay Binders.” These were a resource that any of the counselors could use, to help players get through the game. Working as a Game Play Counselor, Shaun needed to be able to handle a lot of questions, taking between 50-100 calls a day. He spent a little time talking the one game that stood out to him when it came to guiding players through, “Legacy of the Wizard.” This game has 64 rooms and there are a lot of similarities throughout in the rooms.

The second interview was with Tanaka Hirokaza. Known as “Hip,” or “Chip” Tanaka. The episode shows him in a club playing as DJ for a Chiptune party. He talked about sound effects and music as something to help immerse the players into the world of the game. That can help confirm that they are doing something. From there, the episode went over to his work on video games, his first was “Space Firebird”. The second game was “Radar Scope”. This was the game that was sent over to the United States to help break into the market in the arcades. It was just a question if it would capture the attention of the arcade market.

“Radar Scope” arcade cabinets would set in the warehouse of the newly formed Nintendo of America (NOA) and would not be the game to make the splash. Instead, they would be re-purposed and remade into cabinets for “Donkey Kong.” Tanaka built the soundboard that was used for “Donkey Kong,” and he did not intend for the sound of Jumpman to be so cute, but was and had a lot more variance than intended. This game led to massive profits being released in the arcades. This gave the way path forward for Nintendo to possibly re-establish the Video Game market.

The third Interviewee was Gail Tilden. She started at Nintendo of America as an Advertising Manager. By the end of her time at NOA, she would become a Brand Manager. She began talking about the start of Nintendo's consoles, the Family Computer Consoles, the Famicon. This console was very successful, getting a disk add-on, allowing for bigger games. But the aesthetic of the design would not work very well in the US. The new system would go through a few re-designs, first becoming the Advanced Video System Home Computer (which was more expensive to produce), and being something simply called , “The Lunch Box.” The AVS was redesigned by a team at Nintendo and would emerge as the Nintendo Entertainment system. With that done, it was time to test the waters. Here, part of Nintendo's plan was shown. They did a limited release in New York City. Tilden and everyone else did their best to make sure the NES was seen as an Entertainment Center and not a Video Game Console. The system did not sell out in its limited release but sold more than well enough to merit a nation-wide release. This saw Nintendo sending out lots of Demo Stations to retailers to get the console in front of people. Everyone was confident that if they could get people to see and play the games, the games would sell. And it did just that.

When it came to the release of the NES into the US market, there were a few things that got completely overlooked. First, there was the complete absence of any mention of the word, “video game.” Nintendo wanted the NES to have its best chance and in the US, there was still a stigma around video game consoles. Second, was the inclusion of a particular peripheral that was skipped completely: R.O.B. This Robotic Operating Buddy (R.O.B.) was meant to help distance the Nintendo as a “Video Game Console” and focus more on its place as an Entertainment System. Being the 1980's, R.O.B. was something very helpful in drawing attention and giving players someone to work with. While R.O.B. only had 2 games made for it, the Robot did its job, helping to calm the fears of a wary public.

The four interviewee was Jeff Hansen. He was the winner of the “Powerfest Tour” of 1989. He talked about seeing the ad for the Contest. He convinced his parents to take him to the nearby location in Salt Lake City. He made it to third place this first time. This got him a free Gameboy with a copy of the recently released “Tetris”. Hansen explained that the tournament had a single unique cartridge that was played. It had 3 games on it with separate goals for each section, all contributing to a custom high score counter. He was very clear that making it to Tetris was his goal, and that it was initially his weakest game. He played and learned Tetris. His family would give him a second chance, driving him to one of the final locations before the finale, Tampa, Florida, a 2,000 mile drive from their home! Hansen's parents faith was rewarded when he won his division in Tampa. It was rewarded once again when he won his division in the finale at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The Cartridge had the 3 games on it: Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer, and Tetris. The first 2 games have specific goals that need to be achieved. Super Mario Bros has the player collecting 50 coins as fast as they can. Most players used death abuse to restart sections with high coin density. Rad Racer has the goal of completing a course (there were 2 tracks). It also featured the removal of the overheat gauge, allowing the player to consistently maintain their highest possible speed. The final game was Tetris where you would play in Type-A mode, simply getting as many points as you could. Type-A has no limit to how far you can go for the levels. Any cartridges from the Nintendo World Championships are worth at least $1,000-$3,000 each. Many though can easily be sold for much higher. These are among the most sought after pieces of gaming history.

The last person to be introduced for their interviews was Jack Kirby, who passed away last year. Kirby represented Nintendo as they faced their first big lawsuit. This lawsuit was brought against them by Universal Studios because of “King Kong” and “Donkey Kong.” Universal was alleging that “Donkey Kong” was damaging to the brand of “King Kong.” Kirby went over to Japan with his team to see what influence “King Kong” had a on “Donkey Kong.” What they found there was a slew of things that look influence from “King Kong,” including 1 wrestler! Reviewing everything, the team arrived at the conclusion that Universal had no rights to claim this, and further more, that they knew this. The case went to trial of Judge Sweet presiding. Kirby had an arcade cabinet of “Donkey Kong,” brought in to demonstrate his side of the argument. Sweet was curious about the game and proclaimed it was the most enjoyable day in court he had ever had, aside from dealing with the paperwork of presiding over a case. The Judge agreed with Kirby and his team, and the case was resolved. Nintendo thanked Kirby in a way only a game company can. They named a character after him; Kirby from Dreamland.

The episode, after everything, ends on the best known thing from this era of marketing for Nintendo of America: Nintendo Power. The idea for the magazine seemed to stem from the President of NOA at the time. There was a lot of initial conflict over the magazine since how things looked in Japan for a gaming magazine and the lost entity of the American market for gaming magazines. Tilden worked with Howard Philips on this project when they went over to Japan. There were massive cultural differences at play as Tilden and Philips worked to get everything set up with Nintendo of Japan. Philips would sometimes refer to Tilden as the “Dragon Lady” to the Japanese Staff. One could infer she moniker came from her unyielding view of how the magazine should be done. While it took a lot of work, and some finding the right staff, they did manage to complete the magazine. The higher ups in Nintendo of America loved how the magazine was coming together. From there, they designed a clay Mario to do the first full rendering of Mario for the cover. The very first issue of Nintendo Power reached millions of homes. It covered the then forth coming “Super Mario Bros 2,” giving the full layout of the game, showing where to find a numerous items and secrets.

The episode concluded recapping what they had just gone over with Nintendo. There was a lot that happened over the time that was covered in this episode. They talked about what it was like to a Game Counselor at Nintendo, what Nintendo did breaking into the US market. The episode did end in a wonderful way, talking about the memories and times of joy from simply playing the games that many enjoyed then and many continue to enjoy to this day.

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