Growing up, I had a strange concept of game releases in correlation to where we actually were in time. I was born in the early 90’s and as a result, associated the NES and SNES with most of that decade. Never mind that the console behemoths of the time were the PlayStation, Saturn, and N64. Those consoles weren’t relevant to me until the end of the decade. As far as my little mind was concerned, consoles didn’t come out until I discovered them. Might I have been more aware of what was going on during that time if I had looked through the dozens of gaming magazines that my brother had? Possibly, but they never really caught my eye until the early 2000s, and by that point a lot of the games in those magazines were already a decade old.
But that didn’t stop me from being fascinated by the contents of those pages. As well, I finally started looking at game magazines on store shelves that had news about games that were actually relevant. I went through a short phase around the age of 12 where I collected RPG previews, reviews, and advertisements in a school folder and carried it around with me everywhere. This also meant that I had dissected numerous gaming magazines of my brother’s (which he gave me permission to do), as I just needed to have that information with me at all times. I didn’t care about the stupidly high number of pages about fighting games, or the often lewd or grotesque ads aimed at teenagers. I just wanted that sweet information about RPGs that slipped me by in my youth. Why didn’t I simply use the internet? I did after certain discoveries, which is what ended this phase, but that’s a story for another day.
While there is more to my history with gaming magazines, I’ll cut to the chase by saying I recently stumbled upon hundreds of scans of old magazines, well preserved by passionate fans. Information from the Golden Era of RPGs just waiting to be delved into, to see how these games were received during their time of relevance. And naturally, I wanted to share the findings with those equally as enthusiastic about the subject as myself. So that is where we are now.
Starting with the earliest 80’s publication that I could find, we have the magazine Enter, published by Children’s Television Workshop. This publication was aimed at computer programming for children instead of gaming for teens and adults, but it was still an interesting insight on some of the games of the time and how computer programming was treated back then. It was a rather gender inclusive magazine that showed just as many girls excited about learning about computers as there were boys. This was a surprisingly foreign concept to me with other publications, as many gaming magazines throughout the 90’s had a rather “boy’s club” approach, whether it was intentional or not. It was a welcome change of pace, and it was a decade prior.
As I mentioned previously, Enter focused more on talk about computer programming itself rather than computer games, but there were still previews and reviews scattered throughout. Here we have reviews for Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and Telengard. One interesting thing of note is the listed costs, which in Wizardry‘s case seems rather non-uniform, and is the equivalent of around $100 today.
A couple of issues later, we see another bit about the first Wizardry. This is much less descriptive than in Issue #2, but I believe was not intended to be a review and was likely part of a list of recommendations. Regardless, it was the only RPG mentioned in that issue.
It’s entirely possible that I missed something in all the other issues regarding role playing games, but this was the only time I noticed anything particularly substantial. My experience with Xyphus was very brief when I recently played it for a video, but saying it is a meld of Ultima and Wizardry seems about right. Equally as much so that it wasn’t as good as they were.
Also known as Stuart Smith’s Adventure Construction Set, this was one of the first graphical programs for creating your own role playing game, in a similar vein as today’s RPG Maker series. While it is certainly very primitive compared to the construction software of today, it was still incredible that something like this was available at the time. I have to mention that I love Phil’s mindset of what he wanted to create. Fairly certain I had similar thoughts when I first downloaded RPG Maker 2000 back in the day.
Enter unfortunately had its final issue the following month, so this is about copious as it was regarding information for role playing games. It seems as though some parts of Enter lived on through the 3-2-1 Contact magazine for a time, having its own section that dealt solely with computer programming. Whether or not information regarding computer games continued on is beyond my scope of knowledge.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much preserved in the way of computer gaming magazines from the 80’s during this time. So, I’ll shift the focus over to console gaming. The mid-to-late 80’s is when developers started to port role playing experiences from computer software into a home console format, but there were also original titles being developed and released.
Before Nintendo Power, there was Nintendo Fun Club News. It was just a newsletter and as such was nowhere near the length of a magazine, but it gave NES owners a peek at what was new as well as what was to come. (And it was free with your membership to Nintendo Fun Club, which was also free to join. Who doesn’t love free stuff?) Given the nature of a lot of older games, previews and reviews were also miniature guides of sorts to help you get started and overcome early obstacles. The fourth issue of NFCN had two pages dedicated to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, as well as a single page showing off Dragon Warrior.
Role playing games on consoles were few and far between in the late 80’s, at least ones that were truly worth mentioning. Because of this, NFCN was mostly an information dump for Zelda II alongside all the other genres of games that Nintendo was putting out at the time.
Zelda II took the front cover of this issue and gave quite a bit of beginner information, despite the game’s release being a few months off yet. I wonder how many eager kids studied this information like their life depended on it and, as a result, were well prepared for the first couple of hours of the game? (I would have probably been that kid, honestly.)
Nintendo Fun Club News was very short-lived, as it only ran for seven issues before Nintendo Power came into publication. But there was an equivalent to this newsletter that also ran in Canada, published by Mattel, known as Nintendo Power Flash, and ran from 1988 to 1990.
Nintendo Power Flash was, for all intents and purposes, the same thing as Nintendo Fun Club News, give or take some wording. See how similar this Sneak Peaks page is to the one in NFCN #4, although it doesn’t have the second page. The interesting thing to me is the difference in the dates, despite the preview being nearly identical. Why did it take two seasons to get the same information from the United States to Canada?
Again, you can see how similar this is to NFCN #6, although it used different artwork for the front cover and also lacks the third page of information.
This is about the extent of what I have seen so far for role playing game information from 1988 and earlier, but there is far, far more where that came from for 1989 and onward. The lack of preserved computer gaming magazines doesn’t really help, as that is primarily where the role playing games were during the 80’s. If I manage to find more magazines from that time, I will certainly come back to this era to talk about all that I find. But in the mean time, we’ll press forward into 1989 and then into the plethora of information from the 90’s.
As a bonus, here is an advertisement for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin that was found in Issue #3 of Enter. It was one of the first few console role playing games, released in 1983 for the Intellivision.