Posted on May 4th, 2011 5 comments
Back on Monday I talked a bit about Tokuma Shoten’s Super Mario Bros. strategy guide, the one that sold 630,000 copies in 1985 (1.3 million overall, in the end) and became the bestselling book in Japan for two years straight. What I failed to mention — because I completely forgot — is that you can read the guide today even if you don’t know Japanese, because Nintendo of America translated it verbatim into English and sold it via the Fun Club News and early issues of Nintendo Power under the name How to win at Super Mario Bros. (This book was never sold outside of mail order and is now extremely uncommon, but .cbz scans are available on the net thanks to Retromags.)
The book was entirely written and designed in house by the editors of Tokuma’s Family Computer Magazine in Japan. The first half of the book was largely recycled from coverage originally printed in the November 1985 issue of the mag, while the writing and screenshot-snapping for World 5-1 through 8-4 was handled by Naoto Yamamoto, who was a part-time writer that mostly worked for Technopolis, Tokuma’s computer hobby mag, at the time.
Here’s a word or two on the ’80s Japan game-mag scene from Yamamoto, courtesy of his weblog:
“We had planned to launch the guide in Japan with a run of 130,000 copies, but we already had plans for subsequent printings before the book was even released. Tokuma Shoten at the time held itself up to a very refined and literary image as a publisher, so it often divided up publication into several divided releases so it could produce a large number of printings and claim that as a status symbol for the book.
Famimaga continued on with strategy guides for Pac-Land, Mach Rider, Twinbee and Spelunker, but there was no such thing as a specialist strategy guide writer at this point. They would get written by production outfits that dealt in children’s magazines, or by part-timers hired by those outfits if they had no previous game experience. I moved on to Pac-Land right from Super Mario, and I remember that the sample ROM Namco gave me to work with had a completely faceless Pac-Man in the game. They told me it was in order to keep the ROM from leaking out somewhere in the middleman process, but of course I couldn’t take any screenshots off of that thing. I wound up having my bosses go through these tense negotiations with Namco in order to get me a usable ROM, and ultimately the schedule got so tight that I had to spent four straight nights staying in the office.”
If you think spending four straight days playing the FC version of Pac-Land sounds like fun, think again.
“I wound up passing out in the office, I guess because of all the fatigue that had accumulated since that summer, and I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The hospital was really close by, to the point that the rest of the editorial staff arrived before I did, which became a funny story at parties afterward. I received some gifts and new clothes and such, and ultimately I rested up for about four days. Thus, the release date got delayed. Afterwards — and not that I was the reason for it or anything — but subsequent guides were written by outside production firms. They still had me running around for them with the Twinbee guide, though, since they had trouble finding anyone to play through the game’s ‘second quest’ and they needed screenshots.”
How much money did Yamamoto earn for co-writing the most successful book in Japan for two years running?
“The Mario guide was done entirely in-house, so I received no royalties for it outside of my hourly salary. My writing fee, in other words, was zero. Outside of physical production, [Tokuma] spent zero yen making the guide and sold such a vast number of copies of it. I did receive royalties for the English version, though, which arrived in my bank account a long time later — a grand total of 5,555 yen [about $37 in 1987 dollars].”