“In my day, we didn’t have no innerwebs to search and instantly find maps and passwords and solutions to our Nintender games. We had to play them by ourselves, with no help, and draw our own maps, and write down the clues that some mistranslated NPC gave us, and write out our own passwords, and if you screwed up one single letter, it was no good and you had to go back to the beginning of the game and start it alllll over, and that was the way it was, and WE LIKED IT!”
Grumpy Old Man bit aside, mapping and note-taking was an essential part of gaming in the late ’80s, once the NES and Sega Master System were giving us larger, more complex adventures and RPGs than we were brought up on in the Atari, Intellivision, and Colecovision days. While official guidebooks and magazines did their part in supplying maps (either drawn or pasted together from screenshots) and hints, a lot of videogame cartrography was undertaken by the players themselves. And if one of those village goofballs in Zelda II or Dragon Warrior gave you a clue that sounded important, you better have written it down to refer back to later, if you knew what was good for you.
Anyway, for me, all this culminated in a binder full of handmade notes, charts, maps, and passwords, which proved very useful in my adolescent gaming years. And of course, I still have it.
Today, I’m showing you my original book of NES notes from the ’80s. I was around 14 or 15 when I did all this.
The cover, as you can see above, is a sheet of paper with the stickers from the original big black Official Nintendo Player’s Guide. On the back is a drawing I did — I think it was an entry for a Nintendo Power art contest that I didn’t get anything for, but I thought it was pretty cool.
I was always an art kid, drawing and doodling, so in addition to the maps, there were little diagrams, cartoons, logos, and other illuminations galore throughout my journals.
Really, the best thing to do is just show it to you. Are you ready?
(By the way, notice that each game has a small diagram of the optimal Turbo settings for the NES Advantage.)
Here’s a map of Zelda II’s final temple:
A bunch of Mega Man love.
You may remember this page in my Castlevania II post, wherein I actually had to refer to it to help me through the game again:
Plenty of pages of passwords:
And of course, lists of controller codes:
I also kept a list of game companies’ contact information. You know, just in case things got super serious.
This isn’t even the complete book; I skipped lots of pages. But I gotta say, I kept good notes. Wish I would have been that meticulous in college! In fact, going back through this, there are a lot of tips and tricks I’d totally forgotten about. Good job, 14-year-old me!
But wait — here’s a bonus for you! I actually started the process of taking notes and drawing diagrams before I even had an NES — I also have a notebook with Atari 2600 info that pre-dates my NES binder!
Check THIS out:
Above: High scores, with dates. I wonder if I can still beat these? Two things can be gleaned from this: 1) I was still playing Atari into my NES days (then again, I’m still playing it now), and 2) I got really good at Joust. The dates on these put me around 12 years old.
Notes on Dragonfire, one of my favorites:
These days, we have the ability to look up anything we need to know on our phones while playing a game. But I kind of think this sort of map-making and note-taking is a lost art; it was a huge part of our gaming lives back in the day, and I appreciate the way it made us really learn each game.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this look into my adolescent gaming habits! Did you have a notebook full of high scores, passwords, and maps?