"Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this Golden Ticket, Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you! For now, I do invite you to come to my factory and be my guest for one whole day. I will conduct you around the factory myself showing you everything that there is to see". If anyone alive knew how Charlie felt upon finding that Golden Ticket its Gareth Bailey. However, his personal invitation was not from Willy Wonka, it was signed Shigeru Miyamoto.
In 1994, Nintendo, a notoriously private and reserved company did the unimaginable. They decided to allow someone in the UK complete access to their Japanese headquarters and Future Publishing were charged with finding the individual. Several of their magazines including Super Play and Total! ran a competition where readers had to say why they thought they were worthy of such an incredible prize. "You'll meet the programmers, the big bosses all courtesy of Nintendo UK" exclaimed Total!. "The trip is all expenses paid [...] and the lucky winner will also appear in a huge feature in Total! This is the chance of a lifetime ".
Gareth was the perfect choice of winner, as at the time he lived and breathed Nintendo. "I have always loved Nintendo and believe I've owned every console they've brought out apart from the latest Wii U" he said to RetroCollect. "I was certainly a Nintendo addict back in the day, the games that stick in my mind were obviously 'Super Mario', 'Super Mario Kart' and of course 'The Legend of Zelda', oh 'Ocarina of Time' was quality".
But if the competition had required any amount of effort to enter, Nintendo would have had a different guest. " I only entered the competition because the ticket was loose on the front of the magazine" Gareth bashfully admits. " if I had to bother cutting it out I wouldn't have worried!" Providing that his luck was really in that day Gareth adds " I never usually entered many competitions!"
Jetting off to Nintendo HQ
True to their word, Nintendo UK flew Gareth and Future Publishing journalist "Fat" Frank O'Connor to Japan. "It was an early morning start for Gareth and I, not really knowing what to expect from our Japanese hosts we were both realy nervous" recalls Frank. Nintendo pulled out all the stops for their British guests, with a limo taking them from the hotel onto the head office in Kyoto. The building certainly impressed the Total! Journalists. "Nintendo's HQ is the clanest, shinest building I'd ever seen [and] a cathedral like meeting room we were joined by two of the most important men in video games Gumpei Yokoi and Shigeru Miyamoto". At this point in time, Nintendo where developing the N64 so certain parts of the offices were shielded from Gareth and Frank, obscured by white sheets and stern looking Japanese business men. It's now known that this was quite a difficult time for Nintendo who were having "difficulties" with Sony. The guests from the UK were instead shepherded towards announced games and established technology.
"I'll never forget playing 'Stunt Race FX' it's a standout memory...
"They invited us to test our Driving Skills on 'Stunt Race FX' and Shigeru Miyamoto took us through the game personally" Frank remembers. Even then industry legends love for the medium was clear. "He throughly enjoys playing games, so much so that we had to wait ages for a go!" For Gareth it was incredible, one of the first members of the British public to play the next big Nintendo release standing shoulder to shoulder with the creator of many of his favourite games. "I'll never forget playing 'Stunt Race FX' it's a standout memory."
He was however less keen on lunch. Frank O'Connor recalls that Gareth was somewhat concerned by the food served by their gracious hosts. "We were served Sushi and Tampura, which worried Gareth no end. Raw squid and evil-smelling pickles may be a delicacy in certain circles, but not, apparently, in any of those that Gareth frequents." Eager not to seem ungrateful but unable to stomach the far eastern delights, Gareth behaved like a true British abroad and pretended to eat rather than asking for something else. Frank, at least, was impressed. "he did a remarkable job of relocating the various bowls and pushing the food around his dish. In fact by the time he'd finished his careful arrangement it looked like he'd eaten loads of it". It really was a meal that Gareth will never forget. The memory which stands out the most was indeed the lunch!" He remembers. "I have never tried sushi since as it reminds me of that time, although I'm suremy palate has changed since!"
An unforgettable day
Food aside for the prize winner and his journalist guide it was a day they'll never forget. "It was an unforgettable day" Frank recalls. They had both had a glimpse into a company that still today few get such intimate access to. "Total! [was] the first British magazine ever to be invited across the hallowed threshold of Nintendo's Japanese and World headquarters" O'Connor clarifies. Even now twenty years later Gareth still had the gifts he was given on that trip. "I have kept my freebies, the Mario watch and I still have The playing cards they gave me in my drawer at home collecting dust!"
Like so many of us Gareth has found, modern life prevents him playing as much games as he would like. " I don't play many games at the moment due to family and work commitments but currently have a PS3, a Wii, a 3DS XL". However, when time allows it's still Nintendo that continues to be the heart's desire. "I'm not into anything like Call of Duty or the other first person shooters that all my mates seem to be in to, I prefer the platformers like Mario." However, unlike us, When Gareth sees the names on ten credits he remembers a time when they literally passed him the controller.
Thanks of course to Gareth for taking the time to tell us about his magical trip.
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