Nintendo children’s book author Steve Foxe deserves a lot of credit for creating fun stories under the video game giant’s strict guidelines.
When I was a kid back in the 90s, in-game storytelling was limited by the technology of the day. What little lore there was attached to iconic Nintendo characters like Mario and Zelda came primarily from secondary sources.
If you wanted background on Mario and friends, you had to scour issues of Nintendo Power, watch the Saturday-morning cartoons featuring Nintendo’s most iconic characters, or turn to books that did much of the early world-building.
At that time, because there was so little backstory, writers often had carte blanche to create stories as they saw fit. However, Nintendo has become much more protective over its intellectual property since then and writers like Steve Foxe no longer enjoy the liberties that their predecessors once did.
The Modern Era of Nintendo Books
To find out what it’s like to play in Nintendo’s sandbox now, I spoke with Foxe, who has written a number of books featuring some of the video game company’s most beloved characters.
According to Foxe, licensed kid’s books are “a lot more confined than it was back in the day when Nintendo did original story content more often”.
Essentially how it works now is Foxe is given a ton of building blocks in the form of prompts, licensed imagery, and style guides to craft fun new stories with.
He then takes the story elements at his disposal and will “go from there, with the restriction that I can’t put the characters in a story or give them any original dialogue. It’s all very controlled at this stage, but it’s still a ton of fun to get to work with characters I’ve loved since I was four years old”.
Steve Foxe Discusses His Creative Process
Room for Creativity
TFTC: Since Nintendo provides you with a prompt and existing licensing imagery and style guides, how hard is it to get creative within those strict boundaries?
Foxe: The fun thing about working with Nintendo properties is that we’re talking about long-running games with large asset libraries. There’s a lot of opportunity to mix and match and find creative ways to stage existing art. I enjoy the challenge of working with a set list of “ingredients”, so to speak.
Impact of Gameplay on writing
TFTC: Before writing your books, do you get hands-on experience with games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons or is everything based on the style guides?
Foxe: The scheduling for these books has typically meant the games are already out before I start writing; since there are usually several years between game installments, we have a good window to work within. So no early previews, but a great reason to revisit the games!
Writing for Nintendo
TFTC: How does writing for Nintendo compare to other properties that you’ve made book adaptations for?
Foxe: While it’s of course a lot of fun to generate original stories for other properties, Nintendo has been a core part of my life since I was four years old playing Donkey Kong Country on SNES. What these books lack in “creative freedom,” they more than make up for in lifelong fulfillment!
Creating Activity Books
TFTC: You not only do story books, but you also do activity books. What’s the creative process with those? Are you just writing captions or designing activities too?
Foxe: For activity books, I actually do generate and mockup the puzzles, mazes, word searches, etc., and then a designer with much better graphic skills brings them to life! So in addition to writing captions and suggesting art, it’s making a blueprint.
Living the Dream
TFTC: You mentioned that you’ve been playing Nintendo games since you were four. What do you think four-year-old Steve would think of the books you’re creating now?
Foxe: I like to joke that it’s a special feeling to know Nintendo has now paid me more than I’ve paid them—but it’s probably close! I think that the Donkey Kong-playing kid would be extremely grateful to be able to help spread that love and magic in their fashion.
TFTC: If you had carte blanche to work in the wheelhouse of any video game franchise, which one would it be and why?
Foxe: I think I could easily tell Pokémon stories until I was 98 years old. Even after all these years, the world never gets stale. Two more obscure choices, though, would be Altered Beast, which ate many of my quarters at Pizza Hut back in the day, and Radical Rex, an extremely nineties game I loved on the SNES!
Nintendo Books Authored by Steve Foxe
Steve Foxe is quite a prolific author in the children’s book space with nearly 10 books under his name dealing with Nintendo properties alone. He has also built stories around characters from the worlds of Marvel, DC and Transformers which have been incorporated into books and comics alike. You can check out his complete bibliography on his Amazon author page.
Books Signed by Steve Foxe
As is tradition here at Tales From The Collection, I had to ask Steve to sign a selection of his books that I’ve been enjoying with my young kids for a few years now. He kindly inscribed his autograph on each and every one.
As an added bonus, he tossed in a few inscriptions and even a Poké Ball sketch. It was a fun little touch that made storytime just a little more special.