Strategy Guides: From Meager Beginnings...

The year was 1987 and I was addicted to my Nintendo Entertainment System. In fact, I was actually quite obsessed with all things Nintendo. I read every issue of Nintendo Power multiple times, I had their fold-out posters on my bedroom wall (the poster for Strider was my favorite) and I played games every chance I could get. I used to dream of one day writing for Nintendo Power.

Back then, in the 8-bit days, a "strategy guide" for a game consisted of no more than a few pages of tips in the back of a magazine. There were no online guides or FAQs. Heck, there wasn't even an online period. There were the 1-900 tipe lines and that was about it. I recall Nintendo releasing an all-black soft-cover "strategy guide" that contained all you needed to know for 30 games. Imagine that. 30 games covered inside and out in under 200 pages. I know it was under 200 pages because I made photocopies of every page and put each game's info in a different manilla folder. Yes, when it came to collecting, I had an OCD streak a mile long. Baseball cards, stamps (don't ask), videogames, and even videogame information was organized meticulously. I was a 90-pound Felix Unger.

Despite covering 30 games in a single tome, that book had full-color maps for Goonies II. And that made it indispensable. I actually spent an entire night on the phone with my step-brother playing that game with the maps in my lap. My step-brother and I both beat the game that night with me guiding the way over the phone. We were on the phone for over 6 hours but I had the book and he didn't. He needed my help and we both loved Goonies II and neither of us had beaten it yet.

The year is now 2005 and I'm up all night once again. Not playing a game over the phone, or even online for that matter, but wrapping up my latest official strategy guide. This one for the upcoming Tony Hawk's American Wasteland. Like that book in my youth, it too is under 200 pages in length and contains full-color maps. But that is where the similarities end. As I write this, my computer is in the process of burning over 3 gigabytes of data to a DVD so as to free up room on my C drive. Despite having zipped and compressed my finished map files and the hundreds of screenshots and text files involved in authoring a guidebook, the "THAW" folder on my desktop was still weighing in at over 3 gigs.

That's insane.

To think that the amount of data generated in the process of fully documenting and illustrating the goings-on in, what some would say is "just a skateboard game", could possibly equate to the actual file size of the game as it appears on disc is frightening.

But only because I'm naive. It actually seems, now that I think about it, that strategy guides and the games they cover may have always had a 1:1 byte ratio. Thinking back to Goonies II and the several pages of text and two color maps that got me through it, they couldn't possibly have occupied less than 1 meg or so of space on someone's early IBM computer. A little searching revealed that the largest NES game in terms of file size was apparently Dragon Warrior 4 which was, you guessed it, 1 megabyte.

This shouldn't come as any surprise, as the technologies and quality of presentation in both games and the books that cover them have increased exponentially over the past decade or two. But, as someone who finds himself with ever shrinkening deadlines, the increase in game size -- and therefore guidebook size -- has me concerned. Three gigs of data generated by 1 person in 2 weeks for "just a skateboarding game" is all but at the limits of time and physical endurance.

It's 4:21 am and I'm done working for the night. But my next guidebook for the upcoming western, Gun, is even bigger and my deadline for it is October 8th. I'd go to sleep but I'm afraid how much game data might be on that disc sitting beside me.

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