The internet strikes again! Once more bringing me in direct contact with an ex-Game Play Counselor from the old Nintendo Power days. Yes, this episode continues the now three-part series on Tales from Counselor’s Corner. The on-line radiance of my old letters to Nintendo Power seem to be a beacon to ex-GPCs.
More tales from Nintendo, part 3
On this occasion, Paul Reed happened find my article and other interviews, and as it happens, Paul was one of the GPCs that had replied to one of my many letters to Nintendo back in the early 90s. Interviewing GPCs is going to be old hat before too long, it would seem, but every time the opportunity comes around it blows my mind. If one more GPC stumbles across my corner of the web, I’ll be forced to make it a life long quest to communicate with and interview every GPC that worked for Nintendo Power before 1995.
So once again, I fired away with questions about the glory days at Nintendo, trying to get insight to the other half of the NES gaming. I was young and eating up everything Nintendo back then, and people like Paul had the dream job and spoon fed kids like me everyday.
Interview with Paul Reed, Nintendo Power GPC
Morning Toast: When did you start working for Nintendo and how old were you when you started? Describe a little about that period in your life.
Paul Reed: I started as a temp GPC in April of 89. I’d been in Redmond for a few months, first time living in a big city, barely knew anyone. I had a job washing dishes, and hated it. One day I was playing NES over at a buddy’s place, and he said ‘hey, you’re pretty good, ever think about being a Game Counselor?’ I thought he was joking until he (a former GPC) explained it to me. I figured playing games for a living beat washing dishes, and the rest was history.
MT: Was the job at NOA something you flaunted around your friends at the time? Because I would have.
PR: At the time, most of my friends were co-workers at Nintendo, so flaunting it wouldn’t have went far. I kept it on the down-low with my non-Nintendo friends; they thought it was cool and kept hitting me up for codes and free games.
MT: At that time, what did your parents think about you working for a video game company? Did they get it?
PR: I had a good time telling my mom that, yes, all those quarters I blew on video games did pay off after all. She found it hard to believe I got paid to work at NOA at first. All of my younger relatives thought I had the greatest job in the universe, though.
MT: Did working at NOA turn gaming into an anti-hobby that you no longer enjoyed? Or were video games pretty new to you when you started?
PR: If anything, working at NOA increased my love of gaming. I got to play games I normally couldn’t due to lack of funds – our game library was enormous, and we often got games well before the public.
I was O.G. when it came to video games – played Space War and Pong in the arcades, had an Odyssey system, Atari, etc. I’d played through several of the games we had to learn before working at NOA, so I was eager for more when I got hired.
MT: There’s a scene in the movie “The Wizard” where it shows a GPC helping the main characters. In that scene the GPC is in a tiny cubicle with binders laying all over the place enthusiastically giving the gamer tips. Could that have been your cubicle?
PR: Oh, man… The Wizard. Heh. Our cubicles were pretty cramped, and loaded with binders, maps, codes, etc. Throw in some Nintendo swag and action figures, and you’d have had a pic of my cube back then.
MT: Kirk Starr talked about the “game tips notebooks.” Did each GPC have their own personal binder? How impressive was your tip notebook?
PR: Every GPC’s cube had a set of binders, but they didn’t get updated as often as we’d like. Out of necessity, a lot of us started putting together personal binders with maps and tips we found on our own.
The binders declined in value when we started using a database called “ELMO”. It was like a primitive version of GameFaqs written by GPC’s. I worked on Team ELMO for a while, and that’s when my binder went down in coolness…all of my time was going into writing playthroughs.
MT: Both Kirk and Kasey Curtis have said that writing letters was cherished over being on the phone floor. Did you prefer writing letters to kids like me or talking on the phone?
PR: I’m with Kirk and Kasey on this one. I liked writing letters, because I could take more time to do research, play games to figure out answers, and personalize my responses when I could.
MT: The letter you wrote me back in 1994 was about Solar Jetman. Did that happen to be a game you knew and/or liked? Or did you get my letter and think, “who would want to play that game?!”
PR: I actually liked Solar Jetman, it reminded me of games like Defender and Lunar Lander. It wasn’t a ‘who would like that game’ for me… I reserved that statement for puzzle games like the Lolo series. Not a big fan!
MT: I thought it was pretty bad ass when I got letters from Nintendo, but I now realize that I was one of probably thousands you wrote during your time there. Did you have a daily quota of calls or letters you were expected to make?
PR: We didn’t have quotas, really. We sorted letters by the date they arrived and tried to get back to people in a timely fashion. As for calls, we had the daunting challenge of helping people well and to not keep people waiting on hold too long. That’s easy if the gamer’s questions are easy – ‘What’s the Contra Code?’. Not so easy if it’s ‘How do I get through 10-4 in Adventures of Lolo 2’.
MT: Were any of your tips ever published in an issue of Nintendo Power? Was your profile ever featured?
PR: My profile was featured, though the issue it was in escapes me. Might’ve been the one with Tetris on the cover. Some of the stuff I wrote for ELMO made it into Nintendo Power as tips… but not necessarily from me. They were added into articles and playthroughs; the NP staff often worked with GPC’s to write those articles.
MT: What NES game was “your” game that you knew backwards and forwards? And would you still know that game today?
PR: RPG’s were my favorite back in the day, especially the Final Fantasy series. Chrono Trigger was a game I knew well, and still love today. Ayla FTW!
MT: I assume you lived near Redmond at the time. Did being a GPC lead to any local celebrity-ness? Were there teens stopping you on the street asking for cheat codes?
PR: The GPC Jackets were kid-magnets for sure. Every now and then I’d get asked for a code or a game release date. Adults probably thought we were in some sort of nerd gang.
MT: What was a “good” day as a Game Play Counselor?
PR: I started out when it was possible for a GPC to be familiar with all of the games, and really knowledgeable about the hits. Getting really stumped by a caller was pretty rare. So, in those days, customer satisfaction was high. Happy gamers, happy GPC’s.
Also, any time they made Pasta to order at Café Mario. The pesto sauce there was the bomb!
MT: What was a “bad” day as a Game Play Counselor?
PR: Eventually, it was impossible for a GPC to know every NES, SNES and Game Boy game. We became more reliant on ELMO, and less knowledgeable as a whole. So there’d be times we’d get calls on a game we knew nothing about, and no one around you did either. We’d have to wing it with ELMO, and hope for the best. Sometimes they’d get a bad tip, and call back… and take it out on us.
MT: What do you think was the best NES peripheral or accessory?
PR: For the NES, I thought the Power Pad was genius, and apparently so did the DDR designers. My favorite of all was the Super Scope… what’s not to like about a toy bazooka? It was the Zapper on steroids.
MT: Beyond playing video games for a paycheck, what was the best part about working for Nintendo?
PR: The people, definitely. There were a lot of cool people working as GPC’s back then. A lot of us hung out together after work. At one point all of my roomies were fellow GPC’s, and most of my close friends as well. Kirk Starr and I used to study Tae Kwon Do together. Good times!
MT: The GPC in this photo, Caesar Filori, did you know him? Because he looked like a complete tool. Very Lucas-like and his mullet looks pretty weak. Were the GPC accomplishments verified by anyone? Contra in 15-minutes with one guy sounds near impossible.
PR: I knew Caesar, and he wasn’t a tool at all. OK, his mullet was weak sauce, but otherwise he was a good guy. I worked with him for a while after NOA testing games for EA Seattle. I dunno about that Contra feat, though…might have to call shenanigans on that. ;)
As for the GPC Accomplishments, I know some of them were – there were some hardcore gamers at NOA back then! One of my roomies spent a weekend to play through Final Fantasy using an all-Thief party, for example. A lot of guys would try ridiculous stuff just to see if it could be done…and brag about it.
MT: Anyone else you know from that pic of GPCs? Got any good stories about any of them?
PR: I knew Caesar, Josh and Tom. I don’t remember Tony much, but by the time those guys started there were a ton of GPC’s… tough to know everyone. They all started after I’d went through training and made NOA, so they were the “new kids” for a while.
MT: And now the question that matters…where did you rank on the mullet scale at NOA? Was your mullet admired and respected? Who do you remember as having the most impressive mullet?
PR: I had a pretty impressive rocker mullet AND a mighty beard. Definitely rockin’ the barbarian look for sure. It was respected; when I got bored and shaved my head, there were tears.
Most impressive mullet? Hm… Starr had a good one – so good he got to be on “The Lame List” with some other metalheads. Check this out to see what a Lame List was all about.
MT: You mentioned that after NOA you remained in the game industry. When did you leave NOA and where did you go afterwards?
PR: After NOA, I went into game testing for a while. I worked for Squaresoft on Secret of Evermore, and got promoted to Assistant Game Designer there. From there, I went onward as a Game Designer – even worked on the Metroid Prime games for Retro & Nintendo. Right now I’m a senior designer working on DC Universe Online for SOE.
MT: Since it sounds like you’re still knee deep in gaming, what’s your take on the current state of gaming considering your role in early gaming? Do you think gaming is in a good place now, or was it better “back in the day?” What is missing from today’s gaming scene?
PR: I think gaming’s in a pretty good place. My big gripe used to be that games had become too complicated for many gamers – too many buttons and sticks and things to know. Atari 2600 joystick – one stick, one button. PS3 controller – two sticks, a D-Pad, and many buttons. Then casual games took off, and now it seems like there’s something for everyone out there.
I’d like to see fewer sequels and more innovation, especially in FPS land. Seriously, I think we’ve seen enough space marine/futuristic FPS games for a while!
MT: What consoles can we find you on these days? And what games stand out to you now?
PR: PS3, the 360 and the Wii are in my house. Games that stand out now… hm. Fallout 3 was a blast. Guitar Hero & Rock Band. God of War! I’m checking out Left 4 Dead right now. And, of course, DCUO!
MT: Do you own any “retro” consoles like the NES or SNES? Still play?
PR: Oh, definitely. I still have my SNES, PS2, Atari, and Dreamcast. Old does not necessarily mean lame when it comes to games.
MT: What cool things did you keep or “borrow” from your days at NOA that you may still have today?
PR: My SNES, for one – all of us were given a system when it came out. I gave my Samus jacket to one of my cousins because she loves Metroid. I still have my Nintendo Powerfest badge and some swag from that tour.
MT: Do you have any kids today, and do they understand the historical significance of their father?
PR: No kids for me, but numerous younger cousins who still think it’s cool that I worked for Nintendo and make video games today.
MT: Does your time at NOA still come up in conversation with friends or people you meet these days, or has it just become part of your unsung past?
PR: It comes up fairly often – usually when I meet someone and they say ‘how did you get started in the video game business?’ I’m proud to talk about NOA and being a GPC. It was a great gig!
MT: Can you share the one good story that pops into your head whenever you talk about your time at Nintendo?
PR: One of the best was when I was on the road with the Nintendo Powerfest tour. Veteran GPC’s got to go on the tour and work the shows, and our group had some good times. Sometimes actual famous people showed up as special guests – the best for me was the Macho Man himself, Randy Savage. He came out to play Wrestlemania against one of the GPC’s onstage… but he hadn’t played before. At all. The GPC who got to play against him was kinda cocky, and wanted to destroy Savage onstage in front of the kids. We managed to convince him that Savage would destroy him for real if he humiliated him in a video game. Needless to say, the GPC was a bit nervous when it was time to go one-on-one with Savage. He played it smart and let the Macho Man kick his ass. Good call, dude!
But wait, there’s more!
Read the complete collection of Tales from Counselor’s Corner with more GPC interviews and letters from Nintendo Power.