COLUMN: ‘Game Mag Weaseling’: Mag Roundup 8/26/06
['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.]
It took two man-days of work and I think I threw out my back, but a long-overdue task is finally completed -- I have inventoried my magazine collection, more or less.
Why haven't I done this now? Well, because it's a hell of a lot of boring work. I mean, I knew generally what I have and don't have in my head, but actually going through every mag in the collection to amass physical proof is a pretty dull job -- one highlit with the occasional exciting discovery (I am only five issues away from completing my collection of 99'er, an extremely obscure and haphazardly-published computer magazine), but still pretty dull overall.
Still, I have completed it, and now I can pin a few numbers on my hobby. All told, I own 1989 video-game magazines and 2049 computer/PC game mags, for a grand total of 4038 issues. This doesn't count a lot of things, though -- I didn't bother tabulating the British and foreign-language mags, and individual issues with multiple "collector's edition" covers count as one. I also haven't counted up my list of duplicates, which is growing worrisomely large; I'll list that up tomorrow so I can hopefully get some more trading action going on.
Regardless, 4038 is a very large number, about 1000 more than I was expecting. Even so, I'm still lacking in many areas -- I need a lot more issues of PC Gamer and Game Informer, for example. In due time, however.
If you're interested in looking at exactly what I have, here are Excel files of my video-game mags and my computer mags. If you see a title in the lists that you'd like me to talk about in this column, by all means comment or email me.
Anyway, enough horn blowing -- it's time to check out all the game mags released in the US for the past fortnight. Click on below to see the whole spread.
One thing of note if you're reading all the mags that I do: Atlus has a half dozen or so advertisements for Ring of Rose running this month, each in a different magazine. That's the first I've heard of someone doing that, and while it'd take someone like...well, me to appreciate it, appreciate it I definitely do. The one on the back cover of Play (and in Game Informer) is my personal favorite, though Hardcore Gamer's is rad too.
Game Informer September 2006
This magazine wins the Top Cover Design Sweepstakes for this month, hands down. It's especially surprising because covers based on Rockstar titles are usually boring as all 'ell. However, the true identity of the game kind of got leaked out with Rockstar's online trailer before the mag was released, which puts the "World Exclusive" status of it into some question. But the details inside! While the article is in the usual looooooooong Game Informer style, it succeeds in pushing Bully as a really innovative game and makes me hugely excited for it, even though careful analysis of the meticulously-crafted screenshots reveal that the engine still suffers from a bit of that GTA floppy-arm syndrome.
The other feature: Is for Battlefield: Bad Company, the new DICE/EA console game. This features a big pic of a bald Marine on the front page and I'm therefore not quite so interested in it.
Inneresting: GI's 8.5 review for Xenosaga III, which is quite a bit happier with the game than many other players (and myself) were. They're also a bunch of Yakuza hatars, giving it a 6.
Connect: Magazine-dom's best news section is also exciting as ever, especially thanks to the two-page feature on game localization -- a topic near and dear to my heart. Several folks are interviewed from Nintendo, Square Enix and Atlus, all three of whom absolutely know their stuff in this area.
Odd: A full-page advertisement for Bowflex. I heard that GI raised their ad rates lately to more closely reflect their circulation; until now, they had been charging around the same rates as other mags despite having triple the circulation. Maybe they're making more of an effort now to nab non-endemic advertising as a result.
Cover: Original illustration from Stuntkid (in newsstand editions, this is completely covered by the polybag with illustrations of LocoRoco, Yakuza, etc.)
OPM's continued timely coverage of PS3 controllers continues unabated in this month's Hype section, which kicks off with an interview with Immersion prez Vic "We're not charging a premium for this" Viegas. The cover feature is your typical Ziff-ish preview-a-rama article, and (IMO) not all that noteworthy.
The top interview subject this month is Amy Hennig -- 17-year game veteran, producer of the Legacy of Kain games, and now working on Untitled Naughty Dog Game. I haven't seen this month's CGW yet, but barring a dark-horse miracle from them, this is the best interview of the month. This is a lady who has a ton of neat stories (her first title as designer was Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City) and a ton of intelligent crap to say about game design.
The disc: Is Lego Star Wars II and nothing else of major note.
The review system: Has changed subtly for the second time in half a year. Six months ago the mag went from the "discs/dots/stars/whatevers" system to a straight score out of 5.0; now, in an apparent move to synchronize with 1UP and EGM, they're going for the plain ol' score-out-of-10 system. The first game reviewed under this system is an "exclusive" dossier (even though I got EGM's review in the mail first) on Okami. It got 9/10, as well as a 1-page interview with Atsushi Inaba. I want that Amaterasu plush on his desk.
In the back: Is a smart feature on a topic that's immediately appealing for me as a lover in obscurity: A look at the estimated 30,000 people who still play EverQuest Online Adventures. Lord, this game was still running? I literally had no idea. I had to review the expansion to that years ago, and it was the most painful experience of my life.
Cover: Some army dude
There isn't a great deal to say about PCG this month. That's partly because there isn't much going on with PC games right this very moment, but it's also due to a fair bit of laziness behind the production of this issue. It seems like the majority of the previews (including over half of the pieces in the "RTS Revolution" feature advertised on the cover) are 100% based around plain-jane, online-site-style interviews with random developers -- which is good enough when readers can discuss it in realtime on an online site's forums, but not when there's no one else there to point out why this chat is interesting.
It's also a slow month for reviews, with the top scorers all being RTSes and wagonloads of games getting under 50%.
And another thing: The typo and misplaced-caption count shot into overdrive this issue.
One highlight, though: The interview with Anshe Chung, who banks over $150,000 a year by selling imaginary real estate on Second Life, is pretty interesting. She seems like such a cold, business-like lady.
Oh, and another thing too: The binding on this issue is already falling apart on me. This happened with last month's Official Xbox Magazine, too. Who prints Future's mags?
GamePro September 2006
Cover: Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2
I covered the Level-2 version of this issue last time (the inside content is largely the same), but I just wanted to post up the "real" cover since you really can't go wrong with Tecmo-ladies on the front like this...
...unless, of course, you cover up part of their bodies with a box-out for the comic book packed inside. Boo. This comic commemorates Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (the upcoming MMO), and it's a full-sized one-off, with two stories of blood and/or lust for you to lust after.
Hardcore Gamer September 2006
Cover: Disgaea 2
It's the usual full-page GameFan-style preview-review hijinx for HCG this month. It's nice to see Mr. Wolfinger back to drawing the cover. I still think that we could do with magazine covers having a more uniform art style from month to month...but maybe that's just the old fuddy-duddy in me speaking out.
There's a good eight pages of Disgaea 2 review and strategy here, which is great. (Nine, actually, if you count the scrapbook-style page of scary cosplay in the back. Urgh.)
Standout features: Include a piece on game music (written by Daniel Kayser of Gametrailers and a spread filled with suggestions for your next game party, including such winners as Soul Calibur III with fishing controllers and a new take on Halo Warthog destruction derbies.
Play September 2006
Cover: Just Cause and Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising
Play decided to have two unrelated covers this month, a decision that reminds me of the glory days of GMR and Xbox Nation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first time a PC game has received a Play cover, and both titles get long, extensive reviews. My favorite feature, though, is once again on Rayman: Raving Rabbids -- I can't get enough of the look of this game.
Kicking off this month: Is a "Best-of series" (their capitalization). This is a two-page spread where Page 1 is some original art and Page 2 is a checklist of top games in a certain genre, designed up to look something you're supposed to clip out and keep somewhere for safekeeping. Dave Halverson covers platformers this month, with separate lists for 3D, 2D and 8-bit titles. Kind of smart-looking, and while it sounds pedestrian in text, in practice it's fun to read and I look forward to future installments. (#1 for the 8-bits is Ghosts 'n Goblins, which makes me worry about Halverson a great deal.)
Top review: Is the Bit Generations lineup, the first time I've seen a mag so much as mention 'em in print. Play devotes a spread to them which is, of course, superbly designed.
Tips & Tricks 2006 Video-Game Codebook Special Zombie Edition
Cover: Dead Rising
Tips & Tricks puts out two Codebooks a year; one in May and one in October. The October Codebook hit my mailbox a couple days ago, which is pretty darn early for an October cover (assuming you aren’t a Future mag with their wacky 13-issues-per-year publishing schedule).
These codebooks are essentially long lists of codes printed on poor paper stock; the cover feature is a four-page (small by T&T standards) piece on Dead Rising. Another four pages of cheat codes from “zombie games” followed, and then it’s off to the codes for about 80 straight pages.
But to finish off: T&T has thrown in seven pages of “pencil puzzles”, Picross-type jobbies where you fill in dots on a grid to build pictures of video game characters. These timekillers were a mainstay of T&T’s nether regions for several years, but were dropped from the mag in 2004 -- to the extreme anguish and dismay of readers, it seems. “It’s hard to believe that it’s been exactly two years since they disappeared from the pages of our monthly magazine,” says the editorial, “and that during those two years, many of you never stopped writing letters and asking for them to be reinstated. Thanks for keeping the faith!” Some people really, really love their pencil puzzles, it seems.
[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.]