['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.]

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I know I'm running the risk of sounding like a game-industry version of Andy Rooney here, but am I the only one who's utterly sick of sneering armored soldier types on the covers of video-game magazines? It looks like the same cover over and over and over again, because they're all set up the exact same way -- vaguely threatening futuristic fighting man, either armored or skinheaded, looking directly at you.

Can you really call it "cover design" to have a character from whatever flavor of "space marine" game it is this month in your face like this, when it's quickly turning into a major cliche? (And before anyone says it, yes, I know Bioshock and Fallout 3 are not set in space. I'm exaggerating to prove a point about the general design trend here.)

Of course, I know why this trend's taking place. In terms of shifting issues on the newsstand, it's common design sense. There are several rules of thumb used by art directors at nearly every commercial magazine, outlined most neatly in a 2002 article from Folio, a magazine devoted to the magazine industry. These include:

- Your logo is your primary selling point, so make it prominent and don't obscure it unless your name is as recognizable as Time or National Geographic. (EGM used to let game art overrun their logo all the time, but the title's been completely unobscured in every issue since their last redesign. Game Informer and Play often color their logos to make them "transparent" over the cover art.)

- The cover image should be unique, bold, uncluttered, and taking up as much of the cover as possible. If there's a person on the cover, he/she should be making eye contact with the reader (fashion/lad-mags routinely Photoshop their model pics to accentuate this).

- Coverlines (the text on the cover that advertises what's inside) should play second fiddle to the art. They should make the reader want to see what's inside. Coverlines with numbers in them ("2000+ Game Codes") are easy to write, easy to understand and suggest "value" to the reader. They don't even have to be particularly big numbers -- "12 Page Sports Spectacular," for example, or "60 autographed Penny Arcade goodies". (GamePro used to fill every available space with coverlines, but they've laid off of them in recent years.)

- The top three inches across the top of the cover are the most important, because often the rest of the cover's obscured by other mags on the newsstand. Pretty much every game mag has coverlines above the logo to deal with this; corner snipes (a diagonal coverline in the top-left corner) are hallmarks of 70s/80s cover design, but you still see them now and then.

As you can see, angry space marines seem to satisfy that second rule rather well. They're mean, they're edgy, they stand out, and they're usually looking right at you on the magazine rack. But design choices get played out fast if everyone uses them all the time. There's the Great Pro Wrestling Epidemic of 1998-2000, for example, not to mention a certain run in the mid-1990s when EGM did 8 fighting-game covers in the space of 12 issues. Neither are known as wonderful times for game mags.

I'm hoping that I'm not just being a crusty curmudgeon and there really are other people at least somewhat annoyed by this. I love Games for Windows magazine dearly, but since its debut last December, five out of seven GFW issues so far have had anonymous army dudes of some sort on the cover -- and one of the others was WoW, which isn't exactly an original cover either. It's gotta stop!

(This brings up the question of what I like in game mag covers, which I'll cover next time.)

[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.]