10 years as a games journalist – my most memorable moments

On 2 May 2006, I joined Official Nintendo Magazine as a Staff Writer.

After a quick glance at my calendar, I have determined that today is therefore my 10th anniversary as a video games journalist (or critic, or writer or whatever you want to call it: I still don’t really know myself).

My first ever ONM review: a shit DS racing game. The glory days
My first ever ONM review. They got better, honest

Over the past decade I’ve loved every minute of working for ONM, then Nintendo Gamer, then CVG and finally as a freelancer.

And now I’ve got Tired Old Hack, which gives me more freedom to write what I want than I’ve ever had. In short, it’s been a bloody good 10 years.

With that in mind, although games are usually the main focus when I write, I hope you don’t mind if I make today’s article about my own career.

Here are 20 of my favourite memories as a games journalist over the past decade. These are not all of them, not by a long shot: they’re just the ones that stand out at this very moment.

Besides, they’re the ones I have photos to go with. In no real order, then:


1) My Super Mario Galaxy review

I’ve written about this before, so forgive me for retelling the story. I’ll be as brief as I can – I want to write up a bigger article about it one day.

I’ve always been an enormous Mario fan. I first fell in love with Super Mario Bros when I was four years old, and the series shaped my entire love for gaming. So when I got the opportunity to review Super Mario Galaxy a little over a year into my career I was beyond excited.

The review in its entirety
The review in its entirety. Click on it to read it

There was just one catch: it was going to be the most stressful review I would ever write.

We had six pages put aside for Super Mario Galaxy in ONM issue 23. If Nintendo could get us the game in time it would be a review, if not we’d have to fudge a preview and save the review for the next issue, making us one of the last to cover it.

Our deadline to go to the printers was noon on 10 October. Just as we were finishing up on 8 October, we got the call from Nintendo UK – the game was complete and would be ready for review at its Windsor HQ the next day.

I was delighted but then realised what my task was: play Super Mario Galaxy to completion and write a six-page review in a day and a half.

Early the next morning I took a train to Windsor and sat at Nintendo’s UK HQ, essentially trying to speed-run the new Mario game I had been waiting to play for so long.

This task would have been tricky enough with any normal game, but when it quickly emerged that I was playing one of the greatest games ever and I was sitting there literally in tears as my childhood flung itself out of the screen and into my heart, it was so difficult to keep reminding myself that there was no time to stop and soak it in. “Wait until it’s out in the shops,” I kept telling myself.

I couldn't resist taking a cheeky photo of the ending though. Here it is, the first time anyone outside of Nintendo ever completed Super Mario Galaxy
I couldn’t resist taking a cheeky photo of the ending though. Here it is, the first time anyone outside of Nintendo ever completed Super Mario Galaxy

I finished the game in about nine hours and ran to the train station. While I’d been playing, the design team back in the office had already laid out the pages, just waiting for me to drop the text in. I was up all night writing that review, just pouring my heart into it as what I’d played started to sink in.

Exhausted, I went into the office early the next morning and we dropped my text into the article, just in time to go to the printers.

The result was an article people still talk to me about to this day, and the article I don’t think I’ll ever beat even if I get to do this for another 10 years.


2) The ONM team

When I was young and reading games magazines I always wondered what it would be like to be doing that job. Did everyone on the magazine just sit and talk about games all the time? After I joined I was happy to find that, for the most part, yes they did.

The legendary Chandra 'The Hair' Nair on his last day
The legendary Chandra ‘The Hair’ Nair on his last day

There were always people in the office – usually production editors or design folk – who weren’t really into gaming and were there because they were great at tidying up our words or laying out pages.

Some of the best-looking pages in ONM were designed by people who didn’t know Zelda wasn’t the name of the hero. And that was completely fine, because they were incredible at their jobs.

But then there were those who were just as passionate about gaming as me, and came at it from different angles. The four I bonded with most were Chandra Nair (initially my Deputy Editor then later my Editor), Martin Mathers (another Deputy Editor), Tom East (Online Editor) and Mike Jackson, who had formerly written for the old Nintendo: The Official Magazine and then moved to Official Xbox Magazine (then later CVG) when it closed down.

All four quickly became my good friends, and made each day an absolute joy. If you’ve ever done what I used to do and pictured how much fun it would be to work at a games magazine, these were the guys who proved it’s all true.

Me and Mike Jackson. We didn't always get on, as you can see
Me and Mike Jackson. As you can see, we didn’t always get on

We’ve all gone our separate ways now. I’m back in Scotland, Chan-san’s working for Nintendo, Tom’s at Red Bull, Mathers is at Rising Star Games and Jackson’s living in Vegas, but I’ll always remember those days when we all worked in the same office as some of the best years of my life.


3) Meeting Shigeru Miyamoto

It’s the one dream most Nintendo fans have, and I was lucky enough to live it. 90 minutes in the company of Shigeru Miyamoto.

It wasn’t the perfect conditions I could have hoped for – it was part of his Wii Music press tour and so there was an insistence that most of the questions were about that – but just being able to interact with the man who shaped my entire life was amazing.

miyamoto-1

Before that I had been able to do an email interview with him, which in itself was exciting. But being able to actually speak to the guy face-to-face, even though it was about his worst game, was a massive high point.

20160502_161516One thing I didn’t realise before I spoke to him was that, although he doesn’t speak English too often, he understands it really well.

As a result, the process was as follows: I’d ask a question in English, he’d immediately answer in Japanese then the translator would tell me his answer in English. There was no need for him to translate my questions.

It’s considered unprofessional among some to have the person you interview sign something for you, but I’m calling bullshit on that. Most of us got into this gig because we’re passionate gamers, so if you think I wasn’t going to get Miyamoto to sign my Japanese copy of Super Mario World then you’re clearly smoking the hard stuff.


4) Hardware launches

When you’re working away in an office it can sometimes feel like you’re working on a personal project with a small group. You know your magazine’s selling tens of thousands of copies but it’s hard to really quantify that in your head.

I especially felt this way because I grew up at a time when not everyone in my school was a gamer so, my small group of close friends aside, I sometimes felt that my hobby was quite niche. I craved wider acceptance of it.

That’s why I loved going to hardware launches, or other events where a lot of Nintendo fans would turn up.

It was such a lovely thing to see so many people there who all loved the same thing I did, and to even have some of them brandishing copies of the magazine I helped write for them to increase their knowledge and passion for gaming.

And look at the queue for that Wii U one. You see? It was popular for at least one night.


5) Visiting Yuke’s in Japan

I’ve always been a massive fan of professional wrestling, and as such have also obviously spent most of my life being obsessed with wrestling video games.

I’d also wanted to go to Japan my whole life, so I had a minor meltdown when Chandra sent me off to a THQ press trip to Japan to visit Yuke’s, the studio behind the WWE Smackdown / Smackdown vs Raw / 2K series.

Japan itself was incredible, but then of course it was. I spent far too much money (especially considering my humble salary) on retro Japanese games, and had a great time enjoying all the sights and sounds of Akihabara and the like.

But Yuke’s was also one of the most interesting studio visits I’ve ever had. I’ve been to plenty over the past decade but my love for Yuke’s games meant this was by far my favourite. I took loads of photos and videos of their game-making process, and may share them in an article sometime in the near future.


6) The ONM podcast

Let it be known that I’d wanted to do a podcast for at least a year until new editor Neil Long finally gave it the nod. So yes, the ONM podcast was my idea.

53244_290It was really just an excuse for us to down tools for an hour or two, sit in a big room and talk shite about Nintendo games. And I loved every second.

It was also brilliant seeing the in-jokes that arose entirely within the podcast, from my constant references to DuckTales to our recurring ‘joke’ request for a new Donkey Kong Country (which ended up happening even though we never really expected it).

Sadly, the ONM podcasts were all pulled from iTunes by Future, but they’re thankfully all archived here so get stuck in and reminisce. They still hold up. My only regret was that I wasn’t around to do the final podcast, the appropriately numbered Episode 64, when the mag closed down in 2014.


7) Meeting Suda 51

If Shigeru Miyamoto is the Walt Disney of video games, then Suda 51 is the Quentin Tarantino. His games were always hyper-violent, stylised and frequently controversial. I love him.

He’s also a lovely guy in real life. When I first interviewed him for No More Heroes I wanted to give him a gift as a thank you for all the bizarre games of his I’d played over the years.

I bought him a Celtic shirt with Suda and number 51 on the back, because Japanese free kick maestro Shunsuke Nakamura had just signed for them.

Delighted, he stood up and started hitting invisible free kicks in the middle of the room.

This was in 2007. Three years later, just before the 2010 World Cup, I got a parcel from Japan. It was from Suda 51. It was a Japan shirt with Nakamura on the back of it.

He will always be one of my favourite people in the industry.


8) My work desk

I’ve always loved collecting Nintendo tat, and for the first year or two of my career a hefty chunk of my salary went to importing weird and wonderful stuff from Japan.

As a result my desk became the stuff of legend, a perfectly sculpted shrine to all things Nintendo.

Eventually it all got a bit too much and I was finding it hard to actually move my mouse without hitting a little plastic Bee Mario or tripping up a plastic Link with the cable, so I decided to get rid of a load of it via eBay and ONM giveaway competitions.

These days I’ve got my own wee shrine in my flat, so I’m keeping the dream alive even if it’s now mostly taken up with amiibo and Lego Dimensions minifigs.


9) Going to Nintendo World

If you’ve never been to the Nintendo World shop in New York, you’re too late.

I mean, you aren’t really. It’s still there, and it’s still a massive shop dedicated to all things Nintendo.

FYI: I looked like a fucking idiot back in the day
FYI: I looked like a fucking idiot back in the day

But it used to be so much better. It used to sell limited edition diamond-covered DS Lites that cost tens of thousands of dollars and other ridiculous things like that.

Even better, it used to have a little Nintendo museum section, complete with things like a working Game Boy that had been found in the rubble of bombed barracks during the Gulf War.

Most amazing, though, was the presence of the AVS, or Advanced Video System. This was the prototype NES, complete with full keyboard and metallic controllers, that was only shown once at a trade show and shunned by retailers suffering from the video game crash.

Its failure to impress forced Nintendo to rethink and come up with the NES, so only one exists. And it used to be at Nintendo World. But now it isn’t.


10) The Luigi suit

Long-time ONM readers will remember the mythical Luigi suit, a bizarre-looking costume that featured a massive Luigi head that looked more like Mario.

At last, here’s the truth behind it. The Luigi suit was a birthday present for me. It was sent to the office by my friend Allison, who I believe had bought it from some weird Hong Kong fancy dress store online.

We loved how bizarre it looked so we started leaving the head lying around in various photo shoots and videos we shot for ONM, to the point that the head started getting a cult following.

The full outfit was only ever properly worn once, when I went to the MCM Expo in London wearing it. It was ridiculously warm.


11) The Trocadero crew

trocaderoFor a while we had a small group of journalists who would all head off to London’s Trocadero to play the arcade games then go for dinner.

It consisted of me, ONM’s Martin Mathers, OXM’s Ryan King, OXM’s Gillen McAllister, OXM’s Ben Talbot and CVG’s Mike Jackson.

Highlights included the mental Bishi Bashi Special and the exhausting Fist Of The North Star game, in which you had to punch seven shades of piss out of six moving targets, all with perfect timing.

I would like to state now that I was the best at both, and have prepared this GIF of me playing the latter as partial evidence of this.


12) Meeting other ‘famous’ folk

Miyamoto and Suda 51 are one thing (well, two, technically) but they paled in comparison to some of the other pop culture heavyweights I met over the years.

Mario? Met. The Honey Monster? Claimed. Cooking Mama? Done. Well, not like that.

I’m basically a modern day Jonathan Ross. If you don’t count Jonathan Ross, who I suppose is probably the actual modern day Jonathan Ross.

Oh, and I also met Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario, a couple of times. He’s a lovely guy but he does the voice a hell of a lot. Here’s the full interview I did with him if you’re curious to see it:


13) Going to Rare

If you’ve been a Nintendo fan for any reasonable period of time you’ll know that during the SNES and Nintendo 64 era Rare WAS Nintendo.

Rare 1Although the big N was churning out magic from its Kyoto base with the likes of Super Mario 64 and Ocarina Of Time, over in the UK Rare was more than doing its bit too.

Everything Rare made was gaming genius. GoldenEye. Perfect Dark. Donkey Kong Country. Banjo-Kazooie. Diddy Kong Racing. Blast Corps. Sesame Street 123.

Okay, maybe that last one wasn’t so good. But still.

Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise on DS may not have been a notable game in the grand scheme of things but it was a notable one for Rare because for the first time it decided to invite journalists over to its fabled Twycross studio to check it out.

Rare 3

It was a fantastic day, most notably because I got to ‘meet’ Banjo and Conker, and see their fantastic little mini-museum in their reception area.


14) Brilliantly stupid photo shoots

The 'ONM band'
The ‘ONM band’

You young pups may not be familiar with magazines, so let me tell you one thing about them – they’ve got pictures in them.

Usually these pictures relate to the games we’re talking about, but on rare occasions – usually when we needed to fill space – we used to chuck pictures of ourselves in there for a laugh.

Whether it was forming the fake ONM band as part of our Rock Band Wii review, or those ridiculous M&Ms advertorials in the early days, we used to have a great time doing them.

Incidentally, the number of letters we got from people who thought those M&Ms editorials were the real deal and not just a piss-take to fulfil our advertising deal with M&Ms was impressive.

I mean come on, seriously
I mean come on, seriously

15) Meeting readers

Me, former ONM Online Editor Tom East and the four lovely ONM bloggers, who I still see regularly and am proud to now call friends
Me, Tom and the four lovely ONM bloggers who I can still proudly call my friends

I don’t always toot my own horn but one of the things I’ve always taken pride in over the last decade is the fact that I’ve consistently maintained a good relationship with the readers of the publications I’ve written for.

I was easily the most active staff member on the ONM forums and any time I went to expos or similar events I’d inevitably be approached by readers looking for a chat. I loved it. Not because I’d been recognised, but because they appreciated that I was one of them and was only too happy to talk games with them.

I have good friendships with many of those readers to this day. Some have since become members of the games industry (be it as press or PR) and while they all got there by the strength of their own abilities, I like the wee warm feeling of knowing I was there when they were starting out.

A bunch of ONM readers who encountered me at an Expo once. Got them to all write their ONM forum usernames on a piece of paper and took a photo for the forum
A bunch of ONM readers who encountered me at an Expo once. Got them to all write their ONM forum usernames on a piece of paper and took a photo for the forum

A ‘big up’, then (as I believe they call it) to the many readers I became real-life friends with: Colette, Marti, Chris, John, David, Antonia, Pell, Alli, Ross, Holly, Eve, Joe and the numerous others I know for a fact I’ve forgotten because my mind’s turned into mush 3000 words into this article.


16) This gun that looks a bit like a cock

It’s from a Men In Black game on Wii. Doesn’t it look like a willy?

cock-shaped gun


17) The response to me leaving ONM

As I’ve already said, I’d like to think I had a good relationship with the ONM readers. But nothing really prepared me for the reaction when I left the magazine after six years and was asked to write a leaving blog article.

I'm off thenThe slew of comments I received showing disappointment that I was leaving and wishing me well was so touching, and I’ll never forget it.

I can say without any exaggeration that my six years at ONM were the best six years of my life to date. But that’s from my own selfish “I had a lot of fun” point of view.

Future Publishing may have legally been my employers and to get their appraisal – that they trusted me to move to Nintendo Gamer and improve its website – meant a lot to me.

But to get a final appraisal from my REAL ‘employers’ – the people who bought the mag every month to read my words – meant the whole world.

The ONM site is gone now, wiped off the face of the internet, but whenever I’m feeling down or doubting my ability I still dig out the archive version of that blog from time to time and read the comments. They always cheer me up.


18) My Nintendo Gamer Art Academy video

I only spent nine months as the Online Editor of Nintendo Gamer, but they were the most satisfying nine months in terms of the work I produced.

Because I was essentially left to my own devices, I was able to write anything I wanted, as long as it didn’t get us into any legal trouble and as long as it got decent traffic. Essentially, it was what Tired Old Hack would be if I was ever able to do this site as a full-time job.

The botched Spanish fresco my video was based on
The botched Spanish fresco my video was based on

In the time I spent there I wrote all manner of bizarre articles and traffic was growing much faster than my targets, but eventually (for reasons I can’t quite discuss) the site was closed down anyway and I was promoted to Games Editor at the legendary multi-format site CVG.

I had loads of unfulfilled ideas that I never got to put up on Nintendo Gamer, but they’ll all end up on here eventually.

One of the ones that I did get to do was this ridiculous Art Academy tutorial, inspired by the then-recent news about an old woman painting over a Spanish fresco and ruining it.

It was all done in one take with no script, and I’m massively proud of the number of daft jokes and one-liners in it.


19) Being on BBC World News

When news spread that Satoru Iwata had sadly passed away, it was in the wee hours of the morning in the UK.

I was still awake, so I decided to write a Tired Old Hack article paying tribute to the man who had such a massive influence on the games industry.

When everyone woke the next day, every site started writing up Iwata features. But mine was already done.

I’m assuming this is why BBC World News found it, and asked me to come into the studio to talk about Iwata.

Feel free to watch it again and observe my clear nervousness, both at being on live TV and being interviewed by a presenter who clearly had no idea what she was talking about and was silently complaining off-camera about her broken laptop every time it cut to my face.


20) My entire time at CVG

My CVG career lasted all of two years and in that time my writing massively improved.

I owe much of that to Rob Crossley, my Deputy Editor. I’ll be the first to admit Rob initially wound me up – he gave me loads of brutally frank feedback about my writing and for the first few couple of months I was a quietly seething ball of fire.

cvgAfter all, I’d been writing for seven years, who was this guy to tell me what I was doing wrong?

I started making changes to my writing just to get Rob off my back, and then the inevitable penny dropped – he was bloody right.

Rob taught me that you always have to listen to criticism because every writer is their own greatest fan. Once you realise that you don’t actually know everything and accept advice your writing will increase tenfold.

Well, maybe seven or eightfold. I was already pretty awesome at the time.

CVG was great fun though. From lunchtime Mario Kart and Towerfall sessions, to late-night E3 reporting marathons, to beating Streets Of Rage in the coolest way imaginable, it was always a laugh.

We also started a new podcast called CVG Off The Record, which Future has also pulled off the internet. You can still find the first 14 here, along with our massive eight-year Game Of The Generation chat, which ended with legitimate tears.

There was passion at CVG. There was always an undying love for games running through its veins ever since it first launched as a magazine in 1981.

When Future made the decision to close it down, we all left one by one. Editor Andy left to join Playtonic (who are working on Yooka-Laylee). Rob moved to GameSpot. Tamoor got a job at the London Underground, then saw sense and joined Rob at GameSpot too.

By the end, it was me and our news guy Tom Ivan, then his notice period ran out, leaving me. The last CVG member after 31 years of unbroken games coverage. Then my notice ran out too. What we thought was the perfect symbol of undying passion for games had died.

cvg

As the one who essentially turned off the lights at both CVG and my own full-time games journalism career, it took me a long time to get over what had happened. But while I’ll never believe closing CVG was the right move, I’ve at least come to terms with my own career.

I now have a job paying significantly more than I was ever paid at Future. It’s not a games journalism job. But crucially it allows me to remain a freelancer and let me work on Tired Old Hack in my free time.

I’m still writing about games. And I’m still having the time of my life doing it.

Here’s to another 10 years.


Over the next year or so I’m going to be writing longer stories about some of my memories as a games journalist, including longer versions of my Super Mario Galaxy review story, going to Yuke’s in Japan and the like.

If you’ve got any questions about my last decade as a games journalist, please do ask them in the comments below. If you don’t then… um, see you later then.

10 thoughts on “10 years as a games journalist – my most memorable moments

  1. Lovely article Chris! I’ve still got the Super Mario Galaxy review issue knocking about somewhere.

    The stupid photoshoots from ONM were great, I remember one where you were all playing FIFA (or PES?) that I found bloody hilarious.

    You’ve had a fantastic career mate, hope it keeps going well for you.

    Like

  2. That was an excellent read, Chris. Regrettably, I think I only ever read your Nintendo Gamer website articles as I stumbled across NGamer in 2012 after the swish re-design. Magazines made up a significant part of my teens (namely the N64/NGC magazines) and they made me feel part of a club; I remember coming in to secondary school with an issue of N64 that had the new Perfect Dark review and passing it around. The ridiculous amount of games reviewed in issue 36, including the brutal Carmageddon 64 review from Tim Weaver. The razor-sharp humour that made every page a joy to read, something I feel comes through in your Tired Old Hack posts.

    It wasn’t until NGamer died that I switched to the Official Mag, which was WAY better than I remembered – when they were throwing “Fony Greystation” insults around (admittedly, it was the Tim Street EMAP days). I still try and pick up issues of the Future Nintendo mags on eBay, and have been archiving NGC magazines over at andynick’s magazinesfromthepast.wikia.com Wiki page. Eventually, it will be a nice place to look back at videogames journalist’s careers and a handy place to see what scores were handed out for reviews.

    It’s nice seeing the names Martin Mathers and Chandra Nair from the Dreamcast Magazine days (I always thought Chandra was a woman’s name!) which boldly gave Shenmue an 85% rather than the 10/10 the Official mag gave it.

    Looking forward to reading more about what it was like working on a magazine.

    Like

  3. A fantastic read, Chris. I had a smile on my face from start to finish. I remember sending you an email back when your full-time career ended and I was humbled to get a reply. Here’s hoping things keep going well and I look forward to reading the longer version of some of these stories.

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  4. What a brilliant article! I really enjoy reading your work Chris, the passion, knowledge and sense of fun in your writing is fantastic. I’ve only been an Xbox gamer and read OXM so had never read any of your ONM or CVG stuff but since finding this site a few months ago I have enjoyed everything I have read! Keep up the stellar work!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 1) Tom East works for Red Bull?
    2) You came up with the ONM podcast idea (well done!)!
    3) There is a place where I can relisten to the ONM podcast (thank you o’ great and powerful spirit of matthew castle)!

    P.S. Thank you for your lovely years of work you have spent entertaining random strangers! Don’t ever stop!

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