Friday, November 14, 2014

100 year old Nintendo promotional calendar

Today's post is about a small, simple item, which is still of great value to me. It is possibly the oldest item in my collection.

Although it looks quite beat up and has a lot of scribblings on the front, I immediately recognized its importance when I first saw it up for sale by a shop selling old documents.

Nintendo promotional calendar, front

The item we talk about is a calendar that Nintendo give away to promote their business. The item measures 24 by 14 centimeters.

The front contains details about the company and the back shows a calendar.

Nintendo promotional calendar, back

When I spotted the date of the calendar, I became very excited: 大正四年 which stands for Taishō 4!

Taishō is the era in Japanese history when emperor Taishō reigned. This lasted from 1912 to 1926, and Taishō 4 is equal to 1915 in the Western calendar.

It dates from the year 大正四年 (Taishō 4) in the Japanese calendar

This means this calendar is a hundred years old. It must have been produced in 1915 or 1914! Nintendo had existed for 25 years at that time and was still managed by its founder Fujisarō Yamauchi.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nintendo takes to the air in its 2012 company guide

The Nintendo company guide from 2012, presented to new (prospective) employees in Japan, does a nice job visualizing the global impact they can expect to have, as their creations will travel the world.

Captain Mario - heading the Nintendo air fleet

Mario is presented on the front, sporting a captain suit of the imaginary NTD Airlines. It is not often that you see Mario in suit and tie, but he wears it well.

The book measures 30 by 20 centimeters and has 64 pages. Underneath the dust jacket, the book's front and back covers are decorated with nice art from (then) recent games.

The air travel theme is carried out throughout most of the book, starting with a page with some great fantasy airport signs and luggage labels.

The first part of the book contains a visual story of around ten pages, with Nintendo games and figures traveling the world.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Interview in Nintendo Dream

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed for Nintendo Dream magazine (ニンテンドードリーム). Nintendo Dream is the only Japanese magazine dedicated fully to Nintendo games. The monthly magazine, often referred to by its abbreviated name Nindori (ニンドリ), is focused on new games for the Wii U and 3DS, but also occasionally covers older platforms and retro games. It is a magazine that most Japanese Nintendo fans read regularly, so a great platform to showcase my collection.

The interview was split in two parts, appearing in the November and December issues of this year (number 11 and 12 of 2014). The December issue is currently for sale in Japan and online shops like sell back issues.

The interview covers my collection and topics like how it started, where I have found all these items and what I like most (a similar interview appears in the Before Mario book that has just been released).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The birth of modern day Nintendo

As readers of this blog will undoubtedly know, I have recently written a book about Nintendo's toys and games from the period 1965 to 1983.

The book is called BEFORE MARIO. [Buy it here!]

After months of writing, photographing and designing the book, it was delivered by the printer about a week ago. What a great moment it was, to finally hold the result of all that hard work in my hands.

A good moment to take a closer look, I think!

BEFORE MARIO is published by Omaké Books, a French publisher that specializes in video game culture and history. They are well-known for their History of Nintendo series.

The book has a hard-cover and 224 full-color pages printed on high-quality paper. It measures 24 by 20 centimeters and weighs a cool kilogram!

The text is presented side-by-side in two languages: English and French. The integral text is provided in both languages.

I am very proud that the book includes a foreword by Satoru Okada.

Okada joined Nintendo in 1969 and was part of the team that created most of the wonderful toys featured in BEFORE MARIO. When Gunpei Yokoi left Nintendo in 1996, Okada took over as general manager of the Research & Engineering department. Under his management, this team developed the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS. Okada retired a few years ago.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nintendo's 2011 company guide is a treasure trove of behind the scenes pictures

The Nintendo company guides (that I posted about before, here and here), are great pieces of design work, as well as fantastic glimpses behind the white facades of Nintendo's headquarters in Japan.

These guides are given to prospective employees who participate in the yearly job application process conducted by Nintendo in Japan. The company guide shown here is from 2011.

The front shows a colorful collage of sketches of characters like Mario, Yoshi and Link.

The collages continues on the back, which more familiar faces.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Nintendo casino tables (early 1970s)

In the early 1970s, Nintendo set up a subsidiary called Nintendo Leisure System (任天堂レジャーシステム). This part of Nintendo's business focussed on developing entertainment equipment, including a range of arcade games (like Computer Othello) and the Laser Clay shooting gallery, which was based on the light beam technology started with the Kôsenjû SP series.

The pictures shown here are taken from four leaflets by Nintendo Leisure System, advertising luxurious gambling tables.

Although far removed from the innovative electronic games you would expect from Nintendo, they show that Nintendo was interested to cater to a broad range of entertainment interests, closely following trends.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Get the limited collector edition while you can! Before Mario book now available!

I am very excited and proud to announce that the book that I have been working on for the last nine months is finished and sent off to the printers!

"BEFORE MARIO - The Fantastic toys from the video game giant's early days"

Pre-ordering has started at Omaké Books right now.

A limited edition is available for 500 people who pre-order early (like, now). This version is numbered, has a special black cover and comes with a signed bookmark and Omaké Books trading card. It is also shipped two weeks in advance of the regular edition, for the incredible worldwide shipping rate of only 10 euro cents.

BEFORE MARIO "Black Cover" edition with gifts

I expect this limited edition will be appealing to many Nintendo collectors. However, the regular "classic white" cover has turned out very beautiful as well, so it may be hard to pick a cover version.

Content wise, the black and white versions are identical.

Below a few of pages are presented that give a good impression of the content and style of the book.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

More great stuff underway!

Some months ago, I posted about the beautiful 2013 and 2014 editions of Nintendo's company guide, given to (prospective) staff of Nintendo in Japan.

I recently managed to get my hands on a few more of these; editions 2009 to 2012, to be precise.

These fantastically designed books provide a rare glimpse into the kitchen of our favorite (video) game developer from Kyoto. You can expect full coverage here soon!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

(A bit) more news about the Before Mario book

This week we released some new information about the upcoming Before Mario book.

More information will become available soon, but for now here's a first glimpse of the content within this book.

"The period from 1965 to 1983 was a pivotal time for Nintendo, during which it transformed from manufacturer of traditional playing cards into a key player in the area of electronic entertainment. BEFORE MARIO provides a richly illustrated overview of over fifty Nintendo toys and games that are representative of these formative years."

BEFORE MARIO is 228 pages chockfull with information and hundreds of pictures taken exclusively for this book. It measures 24 by 20 centimeters.

A limited edition of 500 will be available during pre-order, with alternative cover.

More information here.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Big news!

I have some exciting news to share with you, about a project that has been cooking inside Before Mario's headquarters for quite some time: Before Mario has been turned into a book!

This brand new book will be released by Omaké Books, at the end of November. It will be available in English and French. More information here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Beforemario at the Retro Game Experience

Hi folks!

I realize it has been a bit quiet here the last few months. I expect to pick up the regular posting again towards the end of the year, but until then I will be quite busy with some other projects.

One of these is an upcoming exhibition of part of my collection. This will happen as part of a great three-day retro game event called the Retro Game Experience. It will be held in Hilversum in the Netherlands, in the weekend from September 12 to 14.

Retro Game Experience 2014

You may recall I visited the first edition of this event last year.

At this year's event, I will be showing a broad selection from my collection of Nintendo toys and games from 1965 to 1983. Many of the cool items featured on this blog will be on display. This will be a unique opportunity to see these items in real life. I don't believe something similar has been been organized before, except for the 2007 exhibition held by Isao Yamazaki in Osaka.

Besides the beforemario exhibition, there is much more to see and do. The 2014 edition promises to be even bigger and better than last year.

I am personally looking forward most to the arcade hall. I had a blast last year playing all these games in an authentic arcade environment. Here's the teaser for the event.

So, if you are in the neighborhood, please drop by in Hilversum. I would love to meet you!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nintendo board games - part 4 - 101 Dalmatians Game

After some delay, we pick up the series on Nintendo's board games where we left it a few months ago, with a tour around the Disney themed games.

Today's post features two games from the early 1960s, that are both based on the Disney animated film 101 Dalmatians.

101 Dalmatians Game

The first of these games is simply called 101 Dalmatians Game, as is written in English on the side of the box.

Nintendo 101 Dalmatians Game

The Japanese name of this game is '101-biki wan-chan dai kōshin gēmu' (101匹わんちゃん大行進ゲーム), which translates to 'March of the 101 Dalmatians Game'.

'March of the 101 Dalmatians' was the name under which the movie was originally released in Japan, in 1962, one year after its premiere in the US.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A closer look at Nintendo's 2014 company guide

A few weeks ago, in the post about the beautiful 2013 Nintendo company guide for recruits and new employees, I promised to also show the 2014 edition in more detail. Well, here it is.

The 2014 edition is a hardcover book with 64 pages, printed on high quality paper. It measures about 18 by 28 centimeters.

This edition is designed like a pack of Nintendo hanafuda cards. Hanafuda are the traditional Japanese playing cards that use images representing nature in various stages across the twelve months.

The first section of the guide has a lovely pictorial of some of Nintendo's major products from its long history. It is clearly important to Nintendo that all of its staff are aware of this heritage.

The first product are the hanafuda (花札) cards, or 'flower' cards, which started the company in 1889. The one card shown is the full moon card from the August suit. Like all Hanafuda cards, it includes a flower or plant, and this one depicts Susuki grass (薄), waving in a nightly breeze.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gunpei Yokoi's final two games

Gunpei Yokoi (横井軍平), Nintendo's legendary inventor and yearslong head of its R&D department, suffered a tragic death in a roadside accident on the 4th of October 1997, aged only 56.

One month earlier, his just established company Koto Laboratory released two products, that would turn out to be Yokoi's final two games.

Keychain games designed by Yokoi's Koto Laboratory

Yokoi worked at Nintendo for over thirty years, and played a pivotal role in the company's evolution from a relatively small manufacturer of playing cards to a global player in the world of electronic entertainment. The list of inventions that bear his name is beyond impressive and includes the Ultra Hand, Ultra Machine, Love Tester, Kousenjuu SP light gun series, Ultra Scope, Light Telephone, Eleconga, Ten Billion, Game & Watch, Game Boy, Virtual Boy and more.

As a result of Nintendo's prosperity, to which Yokoi himself had greatly contributed, the company's staff size had grown considerably and Yokoi's role had gradually become more managerial. He increasingly longed for the early days when most of his time was spent working hands-on on new ideas and inventions, and started dreaming about forming his own small ideas company that would allow him to do just that.

In August of 1996 Yokoi retired from Nintendo, after completing the design of the GameBoy Pocket, and founded Koto Laboratory in September of the same year. Like Nintendo, it was based in Yokoi's hometown Kyoto.

Inside Koto Laboratory in 1999
(Photos taken from The WonderSwan magazine vol 1, copyright Soft Bank)

The small team that Yokoi assembled at Koto started working on a number of projects, including an assignment from toy giant Bandai. Bandai had asked Koto to develop a competitor to the Game Boy, one of Yokoi's most successful creations during his time at Nintendo.

The Koto team also returned to another area were Yokoi had put a big stamp on in the past: LCD games. The heydays of the Game & Watch games were long over in 1996, but there still was a market for affordable, portable electronic games.

Koto's first products, a couple of keychain LCD games, were released in Japan by Hiro Company in September of 1997, one year after Koto had started.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Another beautiful Nintendo company guide

Last month I showed some pictures of the 2014 edition of the Nintendo company guide. This guide is provided to new and prospective employees. It shows the company's history and basic corporate information, and also gives a flavor of what it is like to work for Nintendo.

Nintendo company guides from 2013 and 2014

Each year, the guide is not only brought up to date, but also completely redesigned, usually around a theme. Over the years, the design has become more and more elaborate. These guides are little pieces of art, that contain behind the scenes material you do not see very often.

Recently, the edition of last year fell into my lap. This 2013 version is once again so nicely made, that I will show quite a bit of it in this post. I am sure you will enjoy this little peak behind the curtain of the wizards from Kyoto.

The somewhat surprising theme of the 2013 guide is vegetables. The front of the booklet is designed to look like the side of a cardboard box that can hold various sorts of produce. There is even a cutout in the shape of a handle.

The four kanji on the front (京都特産) stand for 'Kyoto speciality', referring to Nintendo's output as a regionally grown delicacy. Quite fitting, actually.

The booklet is 64 pages long. It starts with some pictures of vegetables and agricultural landscapes mixed with Nintendo characters and products.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Nintendo's beautiful company guides

In today's post we will take a look at a Nintendo tradition that is somewhat shielded from the eyes of the general public.

Like most other regular businesses, Nintendo produces a company compendium for internal use, with information on history, strategy, departments and management.

Cover of this year's Nintendo company guide

But unlike most companies - that usually deliver dull affairs not unlike telephone directories dipped in some branding sauce - Nintendo's company guide is eye-poppingly well designed.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bassmate Computer in latest Nintendo Dream

This month's edition of the Japanese magazine Nintendo Dream includes an article on the Bassmate Computer.

April 2014 edition of Nintendo Dream

As regular readers of this blog will recall, the Nintendo co-developed and manufactured Bassmate fishing computer was discovered as Nintendo item some time ago by collector Sander Slootweg and introduced to the world through

The article in Nintendo Dream was written by Florent Gorges, based on our joint research from June last year. The magazine is available on newsstands in Japan now, as well as at online retailers like Amazon Japan.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Nintendo Mini Game Block Puzzle (ブロックパズル, ca 1972)

The Nintendo Mini Game series from the 1970s is one of the favorite parts of my Nintendo collection.

It's a combination of the colorful designs and simple but fun game play that I like a lot. The packaging and overall game design also oozes 1970s style, which is the time period in which I grew up, so nostalgia probably is part of the appeal.

From a collector's point of view, it is also great that there so many different games to collect in this series.

Nintendo Mini Game Block Puzzle (ca 1972)

For many years, I believed that the series consisted of 48 different games in total. Until a few months ago, when a 49th game was discovered.

Just recently, I discovered yet another Mini Game. It is called Block Puzzle (ブロックパズル) and dates from around 1972.

Although the two versions shown here appear to be different games, they are actually completely identical. The only difference is the sides of the blocks that are exposed on the front.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What does the Nintendo Ele-conga sound like?

How does the Nintendo Ele-conga sound? That's a question I have been asked a number of times over the years. Multiple musicians also expressed an interest to use these vintage 1970s sounds in their music.

Nintendo Ele-conga (1972)

The Ele-conga, for those of you not yet familiar with this piece of Nintendo history, is one of the many brain-childs of Gunpei Yokoi. It's an electronic drum machine, with analog circuitry. It can produce five different percussion sounds. With the Autoplayer accessory, it can play pre-programmed rhythms.

Nintendo Ele-conga and Autoplayer

Well, for all folks interested to hear an actual Ele-conga play, your prayers have just been heard.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nintendo board games - part 3 - More Disney

Part 2 of the series about Nintendo's board games featured four Disney themed games from the mid 1960s. Today we will continue the Nintendo board game retrospective with five more Disney board games from that same period (ca 1964-1966).

We will take a look at:
  • Disneyland Adventureland Game
  • Bambi Game
  • Peter Pan Game
  • Lady and the Tramp Game
  • Sword in the Stone Game

Disneyland Adventureland Game

We already saw some Duck based games before, and here is another one. Well, at least Donald Duck is presented on the box front; his popularity used to attract interest.

Nintendo Disneyland Adventureland Game

The front shows Donald and one of his nephews in dire straits; their canoe has capsized and a hippo, alligator and a handful of spear-toting natives move in, competing for the fowl feast. [Forgetting for a moment that hippos are herbivores. And come to think of it, the natives may actually only be interested in getting Donald's autograph.]

The game is called Disneyland Adventureland Game (ディズニーランド冒険の国ゲーム).

Friday, January 24, 2014

N&B Block vs LEGO (任天堂 ブロック vs レゴ)

I just performed a small experiment. For some time, I had been wondering about the compatibility between Nintendo's N&B Block bricks and - its source of inspiration - the original LEGO bricks. In fact, the experiment is so simple that I don't understand why I had not tried it before.

Let's first take a closer look at the respective rectangular bricks, side by side. They have identical dimensions and are overall very similar, except for the names on the top of the studs.

N&B Block brick (left) and LEGO brick (right)

When we flip them over, we see more differences.