['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.]

Very few new US mags hit shelves the past couple weeks, but that's all right because everyone was too busy dissecting GI's GTA4 feature anyway. I have the entire magazine on my mind, though, and click on to read my views on how the world's top-circulation game mag is doing in its quest to keep itself relevant...

Game Informer May 2007

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Cover: Grand Theft Auto IV

I'd like start by reprinting some of editor-in-chief Andy McNamara's opening statements this issue:

"I find it funny that almost daily I read about how print is dead on some Internet site. It's like they have nothing better to do than belittle their competition, rather than compete. To the naysayers: Magazines are here to stay, whether the Internet likes it or not [...]

I actually enjoy the avenues that open up to us when creating a magazine. In the early days of Game Informer, we spent a lot of time and effort cramming as much news into an issue as we possibly could. Thankfully, regurgitating every minor press release is no longer our charge. Magazines are about the big picture. This lets us do more in-depth reporting and analysis. we can look at what is and what isn't important to the gamer today, and find the stories that we think are shaping gaming now and for the future."

I think statements like these should be pretty familiar to anyone who's read this column before. As I've mentioned, pretty much every magazine these days, from GI and EGM all the way down to Beckett's publications, are trying their best to be interesting to read in and of themselves -- become coffee-table items, in other words -- rather then pretend to be authoritative on every aspect of gaming.

So how well has this issue of Game Informer (arguably one of the most closely examined in years) lived up to McNamara's goal of covering the big picture over the details? Well, the "Connect" news section up front personifies it. This particular month's Connect is a little more news-y than usual, devoting spreads to previews of upcoming MMORPGs and the very old news of Sony's GDC announcements (Edge did it nicer a month ago).

Much more interesting, however, is the six pages on game focus groups -- a feature I think EGM did a while ago, but with nowhere near this amount of depth and featuring this amount of input from both group members and industry people, both "speaking under condition of anonymity" and not. There's also an interview with Randy Pitchford (an interesting talk about the very boring topic of FPSes) and a very nice piece from the chief creative officer of Cryptic Studios (City of Heroes) about the future of the MMO industry.

Following this is the feature well, with 10 pages on GTA4 and six on All-Pro Football 2K8. Like most issues of Game Informer, this is where I start to wonder if McNamara's team loses their focus on "the big picture". What is it about either piece that couldn't have been done by IGN (and, indeed, probably will be done over the next few months)? I'm not sure there's much of anything, really.

Both articles are interesting if you are interested in the game in question in the first place. They are glorified feature lists enhanced with developer quotes and insulated by hundreds of words of filler. The same continues with the 17 pages of "regular" previews afterwards, which give you very little reason to want to read them at all, and the reviews are as they are in any mag -- helpful as another opinion, but not what you're buying the magazine for.

Now, GI is not the only magazine with boring features and previews. They all do, though I'd make the argument that mags like EGM, OXM and Games for Windows are at least trying to do away with them. What's more, GI's news/commentary section is totally unique among US games media (online or off) and I think it's easily worth the price of a subscription all by itself.

But does having an enormous circulation and every PR lady in the world trying to get her game on your cover mean that it's OK to publish features and previews that not only could be reproduced online, but probably done better online? I know I'm being harsh by expecting an industry leader to completely revamp itself overnight against the wishes of management, but while GI has made great strides toward McNamara's goal, I think they have just a bit further to go.

Tips & Tricks May 2007

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Cover: God of War II

This must be what it feels like when you're attending a White House dinner and find yourself wearing the same evening gown as Laura Bush. Tips & Tricks this month starts out with six pages on the professional gaming circuit...just as an entire magazine, Beckett eSports, debuts on newsstands that's devoted to the same topic. T&T even printed the exact same photo of Halo 2 player Dave Walsh on the cover's top-right corner that eSports used for their main cover subject. The article's more interesting than all of eSports, though, concentrating on all the highlights of the scene without feeling obliged to report every little tournament detail.

The column lineup's exciting as ever, including two more pages of ancient Nintendo toys (I need to find out where Chris Bieniek got this stuff) and a couple of neat dev interviews.

Hardcore Gamer May 2007

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Cover: Spider-Man 3

Was I the only subscriber to HGM who thought that this cover was actually a stick-on advertisement hiding the "real" cover? For that matter, am I the only subscriber to HGM at all? Is there anyone else out there? It's lonely...

The big news this month: all the editors now have weblogs, which you can access via hgmblog.com if you're too cool for clicking. Otherwise, you know the score for this mag by now, although the GDC "Junket Journal" is kinda a fun read.

[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.]