There and Back Again, a Gamer’s Guide Part Four: The Golden Age and Beyond

Strategy Guide Image

Previously, on There and Back Again…

“Shoot! What am I missing to solve this puzzle?”

“Did you try honey?”

“That’s your answer for everything.”

“Dammit! I’ve tried everything. How am supposed to beat this frickin’ boss?”

“Hold on, did you try this yet?”

*presses reset button*

“Dude! What the hell?!”

“It worked in X-Men.”

“Hello. You’ve reached the Nintendo Power Line. How may I help you?”

“Is your refrigerator running?”

“You realize this prank is going to cost you an arm and a leg, right?”

“…well, in that case, can you help me with this last dungeon in Phantasy Star?”

“Is this a part of the joke?”

“What joke?”

And now, the series finale…

Hello again. Last we left off, we saw Nintendo launch what would become their long-running series of strategy guides, Nintendo Player’s Guides. How wonderful it was for the owners of Nintendo consoles to have help in hand, alleviating the pain and suffering born from the many challenges they faced.

To live is to suffer was an early learned doctrine by the Sonic kids of the world. However, our enlightenment would not come by way of the Buddha and his Eightfold Path, but from two dudes working out of a makeshift office in Roseville, California.

The Prima Games imprint was originally founded when Ben Dominitz from Prima Publishing, contacted PC Games senior editor and GamePro staffer Rusel DeMaria, about creating a series of video game strategy guides. Originally titled The Secrets of the Games, the publishing imprint was first negotiated as a five-book deal; Nintendo Games Secrets (not necessary), Sega Genesis Games Secrets (fuck yes!), Turbografx Games Secrets (no comment), Game Boy Games Secrets (see first comment) and The Official Lucasfilm Games Air Combat Strategies Book (wtf?).

Making the format transition to cover a single game per book, The Secrets of the Games soon became Prima Games, and the publishing imprint found substantial success with guides for games such as Myst, The 7th Guest, and X-Wing. Prima Games confirmed the demand for multi-platform guides, but they would not hold the corner of this publishing market for long.

Stategy Guide 7th Guest
Scaring Your Kids: A How To Guide

BradyGames, an imprint to British publisher DK, would press start and enter the strategy guide game near the end of 1993. What remained of the 90s would prove to be the true Golden Age of print strategy guides, as BradyGames would go on to amass a publishing catalog of nearly 100 new titles year after year (including one for Final Fantasy VII, of which my dumbass would never have made it past disc one without).

Of course, as proven throughout history, new technologies often disrupt the status quo. With the rapid expanse of internet infrastructure, we would soon see the distribution model shift to a format whose cost, cadence, and ubiquity could not be matched.

In order to survive, Prima and Brady would eventually merge together in 2015, with all future publications printed under the Prima Games name, only to ultimately shutdown in 2018, bringing about the end of an era. Although there is much to love about print strategy guides—beautiful artwork, well-crafted character bios, maps, etc.—but could not compete with the passionate and sizable communities behind the emergent text-based walkthroughs (and their wicked-cool ASCII art).

GameFAQs wasn’t the first, but became by far the largest online resource for guiding boys and girls (hey, we’re all kids at heart!) from start menu to ending credits.

With the dot com era came a surge of unofficial fan-hosted websites. Small groups across the Internet, driven by their pure love of a video game franchise or genre, worked tirelessly to deliver help to the masses. Although information was plentiful, it could be difficult finding a quality guide among a sea of unregulated fandom.

During this period of wild-west of content contributions, saving yourself from a cumbersome sleuth through the countless domains could still be reason enough to buy an official strategy guide. This was the main problem that programmer Jeff Veasey sought to remedy.

With the ambition to consolidate the various walkthroughs and FAQs scattered across the web, Veasey created the Video Game FAQs Archive in 1995. Of course, the site’s name would soon change to GameFAQs, as it’s known today, in 1996. Although early iterations contained few pages of information, it did not take long for the community to build up to the juggernaut that it is today.

Stategy Guide GameFAQs
Print that strategy guide. It’s only 80 pages and we have no concept of the cost of paper and ink

I owe a great deal to the conglomerate of contributors for their miraculously detailed walkthroughs, and the overall forum community for always answering that desperate cry for help. GameFAQs has seen several changes since its initial launch by way of affiliate sponsorships and acquisitions, but has remained a relevant place for gamers to gather, thanks in large part to Veasey’s tenacious efforts to keep the site consistently updated. Veasey would eventually depart, but even with the rise of big games media, GameFAQs has stood strong against the tide—which leads me to my final talking point.

Big games media have a broad and rich history—too much to cover in its entirety here—and have brought their own nuanced approach to providing video game guidance. Although the structure of the text-based portions of their guides are organized and user-friendly, you’re most likely visiting one of these sites to consult an accompanying video of someone playing through the section of a game that you’re currently struggling with.

Initially, this video aid feature was unique to the corporate-owned gaming websites, as they required a technical skill set and larger budget to create. Even as YouTube made sharing videos through the Internet more accessible than ever for the average person, video capturing gameplay could still be a pain in the ass for the inexperienced.

As recording equipment and video editing software became more affordable, this barrier of entry would soon vanish. Hell, PlayStation and Xbox would eventually integrate video-capturing features directly into their fucking consoles!

I wonder what the future holds for the video game strategy guide. It seems like the format distribution has plateaued, however, video game streaming has taken off in mass popularity, presenting the potential for further innovation. People love watching skilled players dominate the digital landscape in real-time. With the recent shift towards games as a service/Battle Royale–less story, more multiplayer–I wonder if there’s a market for big name streamers to host online training sessions to share strategies and tactics with this new wave of competitive/eSports gamers. God knows, I’d be the first to sign up for lessons in Madden so I would stop throwing so many interceptions (sorry Co-Op Kid).

Strategy Guides Madden
We’re down by 28? Put me back in coach, I know I have one more interception in me

Well, after four parts of exploring video game strategy guides, I’m exhausted. I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to write about two weeks from now, but I promise to do my best to make it interesting, and hopefully make you laugh along the way. If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments!