['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now.]


Oh, there are just so many magazines!

This installment of Mag Roundup is absolutely enormous, thanks to a sudden spate of strategy specials. It's also quite an important one, since it marks the closing of one magazine (MMO Games, formerly MASSIVE) and the launch of a new one (Beckett's eSports).

I recently went crazy with my credit card and bought all the Britmags I could find locally, so you can look forward to me tackling the British game-mag industry next week. For now, though, let's have a look at all the US game mags on the newsstand right now...

MMO Games Issue #1.03


Cover: Hellgate: London

MMO Games, as hinted at earlier, is the new name of MASSIVE Magazine. Editor Steve Bauman makes an oblique reference to lawyers in his opening piece, but doesn't get into specifics -- specifics that may be hard to track down now that mag owner TheGlobe.com has closed down the division. (Certainly, there's at least two game-industry companies I can think of named "Massive" that would have a case against them if TheGlobe didn't ask for permission first.)

With the new name, there's also a new website for the mag listed at mmogamesmag.com; however, that URL doesn't actually go anywhere, despite the fact TheGlobe registered it back in January. The renaming seemed to be done in a major rush overall, considering there's still a house ad for MASSIVE (touting issue 2, no less) inside this issue.

Getting back to the content, though, the most interesting part of MMO Games' first and last issue is its theme: money. There's 28 pages devoted to where to camp, what to trade, and how to kill your afternoons and evenings in all manner of different MMOs, along with a few bits of development commentary at the far end of the mag discussing currency's role in online games. Sounds interesting at first, but read it, and you quickly realize it's a glorified 28-page strategy guide, which isn't the most engaging thing ever (not to mention likely out of date in many areas, given the way MMOs and their populations evolve). The rest of the mag is mostly taken up by your typical mag-style previews, which is a disappointment.

I think MASSIVE #2 will remain my favorite issue of this magazine's short run, but I'll still bemoan its loss, because for just a little while there, it was doing something many magazines weren't doing -- less nitty-gritty game coverage and more lifestyle or scene-type stuff. It's a direction that print will have to devote itself more and more fully to in the future, since that's one of its main advantages over the Internet.

Beckett eSports April/May 2007


Cover: Mr. Dave Walsh (sponsored by Red Bull)

One mag down, another mag up! Yes, Beckett Media (which now publishes more ongoing game mags than Ziff Davis, can you believe that?) is blazing the stands this month with eGames, a new bimonthly made in cooperation with pro-gamer site GotFrag that strives to be "the #1 source for competitive video gaming."

The structure of eSports is pretty loose. The 78-page mag is mostly filled with profiles of people and teams, including Dave Walsh (who's so good at Halo 2 that Red Bull gives him 10 cases of energy drinks a month) and Complexity, a team of Counter-Strike journeymen. Six major cyber-gaming leagues (yes, there are (over) six of them) have their own columns going over qualifiers and upcoming tournaments, and there's also coverage of one-offs like the Madden Challenge held during the NFL Pro Bowl. A multi-page overview of DirectX 10 and a news/rumors/humor section in the back round the whole package out.

The thing I'm struck by thumbing through eGames is how damn nerdy we all look. I mean, seriously. Every picture of a pro gamer in this mag makes me want to do the "NERRRRRRRRRRDDS!" shout from that classic of movie-dom, Revenge of the Nerds. Your typical game mag this definitely ain't; unless you really like pictures of pale, twig-like white guys in their early 20s, you'll be interested in the text and interviews and coverage and stuff. But, on the same token, if you're looking for that sort of thing, you'd be getting it right now on the GotFrag site anyway, right?

Which leads me to kind of wonder what the raison d'être for the eSports mag is in the first place. But ah well, the text (despite being written at a fanzine level) is kinda interesting, so...

Nintendo Power May 2007


Cover: Pokémon Diamond/Pearl (Dialga/Palkia covers)

Hooray, I'm getting NPs super-early again! And once again, NP is the only magazine which really is worth it for the "exclusives" -- not that their preview coverage is all that exclusive, but it's often the case that you hear about obscure Nintendo-console-exclusive releases here, both first and in the most extensive fashion anywhere besides IGN Wii.

This month's NP kicks it on the interview front as well, featuring a roundtable discussion with the four main folks behind Diamond/Pearl (including Ken Sugimori, the man who devised and drew the first 251 Pokémon pretty much by himself). The interview cavalcade continues with Randy Pitchford (Brothers in Arms: Double Time), the Super Paper Mario guys, and Shingo Mukaitoge (Dewy), but that's not even the main highlight here -- that's reserved for the 4-page feature on cooking games titled "Now You're Cooking with Power" and featuring staff writer Chris Hoffman in a photo-sequence that's nothing short of hilarious. And there's a two-page strategy guide on Kid Icarus. Sheesh. Nintendo fans are so spoiled, they are.

Game Informer April 2007


Cover: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Once again, the first third of GI is must-read material and the rest is must-look-at-the-screenshots material. Doug Lowenstein gets an "exit interview" in the news section that's a remarkable read ("In 20 years we will have a president that will have grown up playing Grand Theft Auto. That's inevitable"). There's a roundtable of four developers (Cliffy, Lord British, Todd Howard, and Cory Barlog (God of War II)) about the future of games as art which is similarly stimulating. Kudo Tsunoda, general manager of EA Chicago and generally the most sane man working for that company, gets two pages. Interviews, interviews, interviews! I love it!

After the news and before the reviews, we have hot-sclusive looks at Uncharted (I preferred "Untitled Naughty Dog Project" myself), Spider-Man 3, and Saboteur, along with their annual Game Infarcer joke-mag. Uncharted is actually a neat preview 'cos the art designers put some serious effort into it, offering up sequences of animation-describing photos and other bits of game-developer nerd trivia that's neat to look at. The rest is kinda run-of-the-mill, and I almost wish Game Infarcer could've eaten up more space because I'd rather read more of that than another couple spreads of boring previews. My opinion, anyway.

Play April 2007


Cover: BioShock

Play's gettin' a little lean at 84 pages, but the contents are quite nice -- a long piece on BioShock that's well-rewarded by how much info they're giving out on the game these days, a roundup of racing games featuring more of that Dany Orizio "guess which game I'm from" original art, and six pages on Gamecock and other new "indie" publishers. No room for much else, though, besides the usual reviews/previews.

Hardcore Gamer April 2007


Cover: Heist

This issue has a feature on "Ports Gone Wrong" -- those misfits of the past (the PC Mega Man, for example) that shock and amaze with their ineptitude. It's a great idea for a feature, even though it could use some better research. When covering the PC-8801 port of Super Mario Bros, it's mention that "this game is so unplayable, Mario dies in the demo" -- but he dies in one of the NES version's demos, too. Yeah! I outnerded you!

Otherwise, you know what to expect from HCG by now -- tons of art and color all over the place, helping you forgive any transgressions the text may make.

Official Xbox Magazine April 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: GRAW 2

The biggest news with OXM may be with the disc. In a move to make the disc worth looking for even with XBL downloads duplicating a lot of its big-name content, there's now an episodic game of sorts called OXM Universe that uses your OXM Points (unlocked by playing demo-disc games and watching videos) as in-game "credits." A space exploration/strategy thingie of sorts, Universe is a neat little timewaster, I think -- even though they had to reset everyone's OXM Points to launch it.

Universe (which will run every issue and end "no later than" Holiday '07) is accompanied by a GRAW Chapter 2 download and demos of GRAW 2, Crackdown, and...wait for it...New Rally-X. Ooh! Ah yes, and the magazine: It's a pretty normal isue, with a look at XNA indie games being the main highlight if you aren't after previews/reviews.

PSM March 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Ninja Gaiden Sigma

I have to say, it's all right if there's a subscription card here or there in the mag I read, but PSM just seems to be packed with little interruptions and annoyances this month. First up, the 8-page cell phone guide, also in OXM. Second up, a giant fold-out God of War II advertorial which includes an interview with Barlog (also seen in GI). Third up, this full-page Full Sail ad printed on thick stock so the mag always opens up right to it. Arrgh.

Ignoring these for the moment, I'd say the most "hey, neato" moment for me this month was opening up the reviews section and seeing Sonic the Hedgehog get about 75 words, if that. And a 2.0 score. Justin Cheng, you are a harsh mistress.

Tips & Tricks April 2007


Cover: Some lovely ladies (and Izuna)

Funny thing I just noticed -- the greatest chunk of Tips & Tricks' contents is now taken up not by tips, or tricks, but by all the columns and departments they now print. "Departments" (including a new one on World of Warcraft) occupies 32 pages, codes 22, strategy guides 15, and previews eight. This really suggests to me that they oughta consider a name change already -- I love most of the departments, but no one's gonna notice them if they're scared off by the "Tips & Tricks" title. (Well, I notice them, but...)

Moving on, the top feature this month is on game schools, and it's actually kinda similar to the game-school advertorials Famitsu runs around three times a year in Japan -- it covers every school, shows off some example art, and contains a few quotes from each school's rep discussing potential students' concerns. Top department highlights include a female-guitarist showdown in Guitar Hero II, a review of the Captain N DVD set, and a really neat (and incredibly, surprisingly exhaustive) overview of all the toys Nintendo produced during the 1960s and '70s. Seriously, you'll spend 10 minutes just poring over that spread and seeing all the random junk Nintendo produced 40 years ago. It's nuts.

tt-codebook07-1.jpg   cv-07sp.jpg

Mag publishers went strategy-guide crazy this month. Here's Tips & Tricks Spring '07 Video-Game Codebook and the spring 2007 issue of Code Vault, both of which are mostly straight strategy and reference. The T&T Codebook has an "exclusive" preview of Spider-Man 3, but so did every other mag this month -- and Code Vault is still all excerpts from Brady strategy guides, which ain't too useful.

pcgamerultimatestrategyguid.jpg   xbox360gearguide.jpg

Future's two new specials are Xbox 360 Gear Guide and PC Gamer Ultimate Strategy Guide, and while they aren't all original content (stuff is borrowed from Maximum PC, Games Radar, the UK edition of PC Gamer, you name it), they're both put together in a package that's fun to sit down and read. This was especially surprising for me wtih the PC Gamer special -- it's dotted with all manner of neat sidetracks, from a how-to on putting a zombie dude in Oblivion to a blow-by-blow guide on forging a World of Warcraft character to level 60 in one week.

Strategy guides are nice and all, but in the age of GameFAQs, the thing has to be fun to read in addition to useful if you expect folks to shell out for it. Future definitely succeeded here.


Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention Game Developer March 2007, another fat issue laden with glossy GDC-season help-wanted ads. The postmortem on Sam and Max is the straw that broke the camel's back -- once I'm done writing this, I'm gonna subscribe to GameTap and download Episode One right away. It just looks like too much goofy fun.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]