It’s not particularly well known outside Japan, in part because much of the history is documented officially only in Japanese, but prior to being a game developer and going on to make games like Pokemon, Pulseman, Drill Dozer, and a handful of others, Game Freak was actually founded by Satoshi Tajiri in March 1983 as an independent game magazine of sorts. As an offspring of Japan’s doujin culture, Game Freak was much less about an actual profit so much as just an expression of Tajiri’s admiration for video games in general and the companies and people who make them. While things like the Touhou series and Recettear tend to be the most prominent aspects of doujin culture when it comes to games in particular, fan magazines and books about specific games, developers, or even just certain genres are hardly foreign to the scene and continue to be produced even today, often proving to be treasure troves of what can otherwise be obscure information on their subject matter. Indeed, in Game Freak’s case, for the four and a half years it was produced, each issue tended to focus on a game or a handful of them at most, providing overviews, tips, tricks, and other pertinent information on them. It was also during the magazine’s early days that Tajiri wound up meeting Ken Sugimori, a man who needs no real introduction as one of Game Freak’s iconic artists. Over the course of 24 proper issues and a handful of special editions, the magazine went from being a handwritten affair bound by staples and composed entirely by Tajiri alone to a collaborative effort with other people including Sugimori that would be more formally printed and have a respectable subscriber base in the hundreds.
What you see here is the first issue as it’s reprinted in Tajiri Satoshi: Pokemon wo Tsukutta Otoko, a Japanese-only biography on Tajiri and the creation of the Pokemon franchise. This initial handwritten issue that, again, Tajiri produced entirely on his own focuses on Taito games. I won’t translate the entire magazine, but here’s a brief breakdown of the contents for each page:
- Page 1: Cover.
- Page 2: A letter from Tajiri as the editor. Essentially discusses the leaps and bounds games are already making as a young medium and his desire to document their intricacies.
- Page 3: An outline of what games are in a then-contemporary context in a post-Space Invaders boom Japan, how they work as programs, etc.
- Page 4: A review page of Taito-produced arcade games. First two columns are the game names rendered in English and Japanese respectively, the third column consists of brief notes for the games (ie: “Lupin the III involves stealing money without getting caught.”), and the fourth column is his personal grade for the game, ranging from E at the lowest and A at the highest.
- Page 5: More Taito game reviews.
- Page 6: Various bits of arcade game industry news. The table on the left details the best selling arcade machines as of that issue, which are: 1. Xevious. 2. Pole Position. 3. Jangou (Mahjong game produced by Nichibutsu/Tokyo Nihon Bussan; commonly known as Jangou/Jangō Lady overseas) 4. Time Pilot 5. Galaga.
- Page 7: Tutorials on how to perform game bugs. Games listed are Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, and Fly Boy (hang gliding game produced by Kaneko).
- Page 8: More game glitches. Games included are Qix, Janputer (another mahjong game produced by ADK/Alpha Denshi Corporation), Pengo, and Donkey Kong, Jr.
- Page 9: A feature dedicated to new games. This issue focuses on Jangou. Noteworthy for the magazine to include since having a computer able to play majong was a big deal in 1980s Japan, not unlike the proliferation of chess simulations on computers overseas.
- Page 10: More information on Jangou.
- Page 11: “Easy to Draw Game Characters.” A good number of the characters depicted should be obvious enough, but in order: 1. Pac-Man 2. Sno-bee (enemy character from Pengo) 3. Q*bert 4. Qix 5. Giddospario (Xevious enemy). Bottom box is a call out for additional contributers for game strategy articles, illustrations/manga, bug information, opinions, etc.
- Page 12: Back issue orders. This the fourth edition of the first issue, hence why this page exists. Game Freak was known to do multiple print runs and also push out edited editions after an issue’s initial release.
- Page 13: A preview of the next issue, which is set to focus on Xevious. Bottom half is concluding remarks from Tajiri thanking readers for checking out the issue. His words discuss later issues and the ongoing success of the magazine, indicating this was inserted into issue 1 sometime after its first edition.
- Page 14: Back cover with issue information, including first edition print date (March 20, 1983) and the print date of this fourth edition (May 28, 1983). Game screenshot is Jangou.
Among English-speaking fans, the book where this copy of the magazine is sourced from is known mainly for its inclusion of (thoroughly fantastic) concept art that Sugimori produced for Pokemon Red/Green, but it also has a wealth of other sorts of information about Game Freak’s history. I believe translation efforts have been attempted to bring the book out in English, but to my knowledge, they’ve never been completed. If I find the time to do so, I may also translate the issue listings that detail the contents of every issue of Game Freak the magazine some other time, but either way, hopefully this has been insightful and made for a fun trip into the relatively lesser known history of one of the world’s premiere game developers.