['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]


With the popularity of my field guide to US mags last week, it's been decided to make coverage of modern mags a regular feature on my little column. Most discussion of mags on the net tends to dwell on how obsolete they are and how uninformed and completely inferior the writing staff is. I think that's largely a bum rap.

Click through for the full guide to July's U.S. video game magazines...

Sure, not every magazine on the stand today is a pristine work of fine art, but things are a lot better than a few years ago -- most staffs have realized their readership is net savvy, so now they go less for the "reference guide to everything" approach and more for, you know, something you might actually like to read and keep on the shelf. I want to show people how well (or, as the case may be, unwell) they're succeeding with this.

For starters, I'm going to cover everything on the newsstand as of today, June 17, 2006 -- the day which will be known across the world as the day the U.S. tied Italy in the World Cup, proving we're good at things besides barbecues and dying of heart disease. I'm skipping out on Computer Gaming World and Game Informer since the latest issues I have were a while ago; I'll touch on them (and any other stragglers) in future columns.

Electronic Gaming Monthly July 2006

Most mags have their first issues after E3 coming out this month, and EGM launches off by interviewing the three top PR guys from each console maker -- Kaz Hirai of Sony, Reggie the Stare of Nintendo, and Shane Kim of Microsoft. This is followed with their annual post-E3 Opinionated Preview Guide, which takes 80 or so games from the floor and asks the simple question "How was it?" to all of them. The answers to this question still wade a bit into generic preview prose, but it's still the most readable of the month's E3 preview blowouts. (They also get top marks for not filling their pages with random booth photographs.)

The cover story this month is Call of Duty 3, which wasn't public at E3 and therefore counts as a super-hotsclusive for EGM. As any long-time Game Informer readers know (and as the EGM editors admit in their podcast this week), military games are about the most boring thing you can put on a magazine cover. They all look exactly the same.

Recommended: Listen to the podcast with EGM in hand and goggle as executive editor Shane Bettenhausen defends Sony's E3 performance with all his might. Also, read the two-page spread on the hilarious history of the Gizmondo, complete with a "car crash" design theme.

Top quote: "I counted the polygons -- Metroid [on Wii] only had 30,000. Lame!"

Official PlayStation Magazine July 2006

OPM's E3 coverage includes its own Kaz interview, as well as a two-page spread on the PS3's controller that spins the "Wii ripoff" argument and actually does a pretty decent job at it, discussing how well it worked with Warhawk at the show. The editors also get dev reactions from 6 or 7 industry dignitaries (including Kojima) and spread the cost/controller/online debate over a few pages of editorial coverage. Other main features include a long, multi-page interview with Tetsuya Mizuguchi and the annual OPM Power 20 list of influential industry folks, including names like Phil Harrison, Tim Sweeney, the Wii controller, and (in a bit of a longshot) Steven Spielberg.

Recommended: Greg Sewart's slamming of the PS2 version of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. OPM's got a podcast too, by the way.

Disc: Kind of zzzz. Cars leads and Urban Chaos and Pac-Man World Rally follows. Older demos on the disc include Namco's Kill.Switch, which still gets my vote as one of this generation's most obscure classics.

PC Gamer July 2006

I love big, huge anniversary features. PC Gamer agrees with me here, I reckon, because I think they just did one of these two years ago for their 10th anniversary. This iteration has tons of little box-outs filled with trivia over the past 149 issues, which ranges from the silly to the downright humorous. (They also finally admit that famous gamer-wife Stevie Case is probably not "the next game god," as they predicted in 2000. As a form of apology, they also printed a "Next Game Gods" comic that was cut from the original 2000 issue. It's great.)

PC Gamer divides its bread-and-butter game coverage into genre, with previews, reviews, and even features getting divided into the shooter, strategy, roleplaying, or "The Gamut" (i.e. "Misc") section.

Recommended: The "Five Legendary RPGs" mini-feature. Actually, there's a lot of hardcore mini-features in PC Gamer these days. It's funny, but throwaway features like these work a lot better in print than online for some reason. I think it's because retro-features online tend to be overwritten and drag on forever (I'm extremely guilty of this), making it hard to get through all of it.

PSM July 2006

The top cover feature is on MGS: Portable Ops, with lots of MGS4 in subsequent pages. (The feature talks extensively about Hideo Kojima, and what he wants to do with the series and so forth, but the actual interview with Kojima is small and mostly PR-speak as he isn't revealing much about MGS4 right now. It's not bad, but in retrospect, I probably would've approached the interview from a different angle.)

This issue was produced before E3, so the other previews don't have a great deal of meat behind them.

Recommended: 4-page feature on the history of controllers, with a long interview with Logitech marketing guy Ruben Mookerjee. Sounds stupid, but their massive chart of controllers over the years (with pix) is lots of fun -- it's neat to watch the progression of all the world's joysticks in the space of a single spread.

Look out for: PSM's revised website, currently (ostensibly) under construction. The old one was badly neglected, so hopefully there'll be something new in the redesign.

Offical Xbox Magazine July 2006

This issue isn't post-E3 either, so it's pretty similar to PSM above -- mostly previews that aren't much news to anyone right now.

The cover story is a straightforward treatment of F.E.A.R., but my favorite bit is the feature on Live achievements, which have proven to be more addictive and successful than Microsoft could've possibly imagined. Bits include quotes from devs on how they come up with the things and interviews with three nerds who "boast" over 30,000 points.

Another top feature: The 20 Best Xbox Games You Never Bought. Includes Psychonauts and Play coverboy Voodoo Vince, but sadly no Whiplash. Funnily, a lot of games from the 2003 holiday season are included -- those couple months were definitely the best and worst of times for the ol' box.

Disc: Tomb Raider: Legend (a little late, no?), MotoGP 06, and a Live version of Battlefield 2.

Computer Games July/August 2006

I found an issue! I found an issue! And it had a superb editorial in it from EIC Steve Bauman about how the "new media" of online game sites couldn't exist without the "old media" giving it things to talk about. I'm sure webloggers around the world will be aghast and rail against it on their sites, assuming they are as lucky as I am and can find a copy of the magazine.

Putting CG and GamePro next to each other, it's remarkable how similar they look designwise these days. I can attest that CG is a much, much, much better read, or at least that they use longer words that challenge the mind to a greater extent.

Top Art: A quote from an ex-EA exec mentioning masturbation includes a picture of the guy from classic Commodore 64 beating-off sim Stroker. They don't make games like that anymore, sadly.

Nintendo Power July 2006

I may start to sound like a broken record here, but I want to repeat that Nintendo Power is not just totally readable these days, but actually a damn fun mag to read -- they've arguably got the most well-written "random" features of any US mag. The previews tend to avoid boilerplate text, too, and the look is so clean that you'd hardly believe this mag exists if you just time-traveled in from 1990.

Of course, only Nintendo Power would be doing a 5-page preview feature on Tomb Raider: Legend by this point, so I suppose the more things change...

Play July 2006

Best known as "that one PS3 game with the really bad pre-E3 screenshots", Untold Legends looks pretty darn good in this issue, as you'd expect from Play. Though it's perhaps no coincidence that the concept art is usually printed a lot larger than the screens...

Play's E3 wrapup is pretty pedestrian, consisting mostly of lists and previews.

Top bit: Interviews with Takashi Tezuka (a postmortem on New SMB) and the creators of the new PSP Earthworm Jim. Fun read, considering you'd have to be a...well, a Dave Halverson to remember the original very well these days.

Hardcore Gamer Volume 2 Issue 1

I'm tempted to just say "Aw hell, just go read it on the site", but man if this isn't my favorite cover of the month. The combination of Terry Wolfinger drawing Lego figures and the promise of "360 luvin'/PS3 luvin'/Wii luvin'" along the site warms every possible cockle of my heart simultaneously.

It's never spelled out for you, but HCG's E3 report is by company and appears to be ranked -- #1 is Nintendo, #2 Microsoft, #20 NIS America, and so on. Kind of a neat touch, I think.

Top bit: Retro feature on Golvellius, one of the Sega Master System's top saving graces.

Tips & Tricks July 2006

Oh my, this cover.

GamePro July 2006

All right -- this is a little complicated, so pay attention.

This is the first issue of the Best Buy edition of GamePro. The only difference is a Best Buy-only cover and a spread on the inside with coupons and a little boilerplate game coverage. Otherwise it appears to be unchanged.

The idea here is that you go to your local Best Buy electronics store, pick up an issue of this, buy a subscription for $20, then save lots of money over the next 12 months with all the great coupons you'll be getting. In that aspect, it's kind of like a version of Game Informer or GMR for Best Buy stores. However, you can't buy an individual issue of this "Level-2" edition -- you have to buy a 12-issue subscription for $20, and that's what the UPC code on the mag rings you up for. Of course, this begs the question of why on earth you would buy this when real GamePro subscriptions are cheaper, but I suppose I'm not a high-powered electronics store executive and I'm not understanding the full picture here.

Anyway, the main feature this month is a long bit on Super Dragon Ball Z. I think every DBZ game Atari has ever released has gotten a cover story in GamePro. (The cover of this mag would be Super DBZ, but since this is the Level-2 edition, you get Reggie Bush representin' south San Diego with his cheeks instead. I'm not sure which would be a better cover.

Recommended (I suppose): There's a feature on EA's NCAA football game written by the guy who was starting center for Cal in 2001 and 2002. Well, English was one of his majors, so I guess he's qualified to write for a video game mag well enough, but...

One-off of the Moment

CPU (Computer Power User) has a special on the Xbox 360 on stands this summer at Walmart and other places. It's actually pretty massive, at 160 pages and no ads, and it has everything from a potted history of video games to a bit on online gaming that includes "screenshots" taken by pointing a camera at the screen. Nearly every single game and accessory is reviewed, though, so it's far from useless.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He owns enough magazines to smother himself with should the need arise, and his secret fantasy is for someone flush with game-publisher stock options to give him a monthly stipend so he can spend a year researching their full history and finishing the site. In his "off" time he is an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]