Ninterview: Howard "Gamemaster" Phillips
Posted by Damien McFerran
We speak to one of Nintendo of America's first employees
Howard Phillips joined Nintendo in the early '80s with the intention of helping transport a few new-fangled arcade cabinets, but he ended up becoming the spokesperson for one of the fastest-growing entertainment companies in the US.
He recently began a Kickstarter campaign for his first mobile app, and continues to be actively involved in the industry. We got chance to have a chat with the Gamemaster himself recently, the results of which are below. Enjoy!
Nintendo Life: Who are you, what do you do?
Howard Phillips: I've been involved with video games for years, including designing and producing new titles.
NL: Tell us a bit about your youth. Is it true you created all kinds of weird and wonderful gadgets?
HP: Yep. When I was a kid we didn't have a lot to play with - we weren't poor, but back then parents didn't bury kids in toys, so we got a few new ones each year for Christmas and birthdays. Anything else we had to make ourselves so we were constantly making things to play with, on, in, or around.
We would build forts and tree-houses out of scrap wood we found behind garages and then when we wanted to build something new we would disassemble the last tree-house nail by nail, straighten the nails, and reuse everything for the next tree-house.
This extended into electromechanical things as well such as the arcade game made from clock motors and an old world globe.
NL: When did you become involved with Nintendo, and how?
HP: In 1981 a school buddy asked me to help this new company Nintendo by running the warehouse and shipping - basically moving all the Donkey Kong arcade games in and out.
NL: What is your favourite Nintendo game?
HP: The original Legend of Zelda - the gap between previous games and Zelda was huge in terms of depth, progression and surprises.
NL: What was it like working for Nintendo in those early years?
HP: It was great fun as there were just a few of us, less than 20 for many years and so we all worked really well together.
NL: Is it true that you were instrumental in selecting the first batch of Japanese Famicom titles that were released for the NES?
HP: Yep - NoA President Mr. Arakawa asked me to go through the original 47 Famicom games and pick the ones I thought were the most fun and also offered a variety of gameplay.
NL: How did Nintendo Power come to be, and what was your involvement in the early years?
HP: At first we had toll-free phone number for kids to call and ask gameplay questions, but that got to be too big so we started up the Fun Club News to send out answers to the most common questions. That grew into Nintendo Power soon after; by then, there were many games and kids needed straight-talking info on what each one was like.
NL: What is your favourite gaming platform of all time?
HP: The NES, because I spent thousands of hours playing it and so the D-pad controller became an extension of my brain. The variety of games was great and the tech got better thanks to additional chips in the carts, so not only were the games new but they were also technically more impressive.
NL: What do you love most about video games?
HP: Play. Simple play. And the ability to share play with others either cooperatively, competitively, or just sharing game experiences, such as tips, news and rumours.
NL: What do you think the future holds for Nintendo?
HP: Its difficult for big companies like Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony and Apple to get out of their own way and truly serve the wants and desires of gamers. Competitive marketing along with shareholder pressures conspire to make weaker games. I hope Wii U and Miyamoto will end up being a rebirth for them.
NL: What makes Nintendo particularly special to you?
HP: The original focus on the games and the game experience - it was personal. Each happy gamer was important and we all worked hard to make gamers happy.
NL: What's the most treasured Nintendo item in your collection?
HP: Probably the Howard and Nester Tetris characters - I still have the models - as it reminds me of the simple fun we all had back then.