Back in 2014, I was fresh out of university, working in a call centre and feeling like maybe I'd never get anywhere in my dream to be a games journalist. I was also feeling like it was a stupid idea to dream of being a games journalist, because it's one of those jobs like "Jaffa Cake taster" or "puppy cuddler" - it probably does exist, but you're better off dreaming a little smaller.
Let's not talk about my first week, in which we were called into a meeting to be told the magazine had nine months to live
But then, a friend sent me the job posting for Staff Writer at Official Nintendo Magazine, and I thought - well, it can't hurt to apply. So I did, and I had two interviews, and I wrote a piece about smellovision being the future of Nintendo (Miyamoto, call me), and I took a quiz on Nintendo history that I failed quite spectacularly, but because I did lots of dumb doodles, they hired me. ONM had rather different standards to most other places, and thank God they did, because dumb doodles and bad puns are pretty much my entire MO.
Let's not talk about my first week, in which we were called into a meeting to be told the magazine had nine months to live. No! That's sad. Let's instead talk about how incredibly lucky I was to work at ONM for the short time that I did.
ONM came out on a monthly basis, so each month was focused on that deadline. It was like cycling up a hill: slow for the first week, then gaining momentum in the second and third, then pedalling like mad in the final week before reaching the top and taking a little break, before realising there was another hill right at the top and starting over again. It's quite a soothing way to do games writing - building towards a finished product, settling into the different sections so that each successive magazine becomes more familiar and easier to do.
I went to work in video afterwards, and it was wildly different. Deadlines were more frequent, and sooner, and the cycle was weekly rather than monthly, making the pace feel frantic and more repetitive than that of a magazine. On ONM, a month's worth of work in paper form felt tangible, collectible, and something to be proud of. In video, the view count tails off after roughly three days. People forget about videos you put up a week ago, whereas I still get fans asking about things I did in ONM from two years back.
On ONM, a month's worth of work in paper form felt tangible, collectible, and something to be proud of
Of course, ONM wasn't all Princess Peaches and cream. It was occasionally difficult to fill the pages, especially as our last days working on the magazine were during that time where Nintendo basically threw their hands up and said "we don't know what the Wii U is either!". We had pages full of reviews of chess games, Watch Dogs (six months after its initial release on other consoles) and Assassin's Creed (a game that roughly zero people bought on Wii U), because nothing else was really going on. Big-name titles like Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros would receive eight-page spreads in every issue until our eyes started to bleed at the idea of doing another breakdown of Pikachu's best combos.
But, for my money, that's where ONM shone: when you have to cover the same games, month after month, you find ways of getting around it. I did a six-page feature on where to go on holiday in Nintendo games, with fake Trip Advisor reviews and an entire page just for "souvenirs". We were proud of what we did with the back page every issue, which was usually a terrible, self-indulgent joke - designing our own Monster Hunter weapons on Post-It notes and scanning them in; secret "leaked" quotes from Miyamoto; our predictions for the next 20 years of gaming. The best part about ONM was that we had so few creative boundaries (and often, so few things to talk about) that we could do basically whatever we wanted. And we did.
The reason that worked for ONM and might not work for other publications is that we had a very specific cocktail of influences: a slow schedule of releases, brains overflowing with stupid ideas and a whole month to work on them. Batting ideas around the office (by which I mean the small-but-excellent crew of me, Joe Skrebels and Matthew Castle) usually consisted of trying to make each other laugh.
The main lesson I learned at Official Nintendo Magazine was not "do what you love" as much as "do what you love with people you'd pay money to spend time with"
I've worked in a lot of places since where a pitch has to be incredibly solid, with research and scripts, and it usually has to be something that appeals to advertisers in some way, but ONM was simpler. I think that's because we trusted and respected each other's creativity enough to only need a simple pitch - "What if Toad went house shopping", "What would the Queen's favourite games be", that sort of thing.
The main lesson I learned at Official Nintendo Magazine was not "do what you love" as much as "do what you love with people you'd pay money to spend time with". I loved working at Future (in some ways) because it had an office full of people that loved and encouraged individuality and personality. I learned that the best way to create something that people love as much as you love making it is to make it with people you admire.
Everyone I worked with on ONM is someone whose work I enjoy reading, and I think that had a positive effect on my own development as a writer. I think that came across in the magazine, and that's what I'm saddest about losing. ONM had a soul, a style, and under the leadership of Matthew Castle, a man who sharpened his games-writing teeth on NGamer, it was becoming something super special (and I'm not just saying that because I was part of it. Wait, no, I totally am).
The greatest loss is not that you don't get to read our writing any more - you totally can, because Skrebels is at IGN, Castle is still cranking out excellent writing on Official Xbox Magazine (turncoat), and I'm everywhere, including here - it's that ONM, the special, weird corner of the magazine rack that it was, is no longer. Please understand that my tongue is firmly in cheek when I talk about how Skrebs, Castle and I were the best team that ever "magazined" together, but even if I wasn't working on it, I would still have bought and read ONM cover-to-cover, because it was so much fun.
It was a perfect storm of silliness, passion and creativity, fuelled by having next to nothing to talk about
Games writing can sometimes be quite serious and po-faced and "Dark Souls Helped Me Overcome My Fear Of Gigantic Inside-Out Spider Monsters", and I have definitely contributed to that (because sometimes it's nice to treat games like Serious Art) but ONM was a place where all that was dropped at the door. Jokes about the ethical issues of the indentured servitude of Koopas, celebrations of fan-made art, and a letters page where we took the p*** out of basically everyone - that's what made ONM. It was a perfect storm of silliness, passion and creativity, fuelled by having next to nothing to talk about.
If ONM were still around, we'd be running through every single theory about Breath of the Wild, ranking every single Sun & Moon Pokémon by coolness and choosing which celebrity we think should voice the English version of Detective Pikachu. It would have been glorious.
Guess I'm off to weep into my Yarn Yoshi, then.