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A couple of developments in PC game mags occurred recently that're more related than you'd expect at first glance. First, Imagine Publishing's Total PC Gaming debuted on British newsstands this month with a print run of 40,000, becoming the first computer games magazine to launch over there in many, many years (over a decade, maybe?). Editor-in-chief (and, apparently, Game Mag Weaseling fan) Dave Harfield was nice enough to send me a copy of Issue 1 in the mail for review.

Visually and stylistically, TPCG doesn't stray too far from the Brit-mag norm. You've got bright, long reviews and previews done up with a clean, white background and featuring all sorts of little extra gubbins on the side -- spec discussions, development status, how the game looks at different detail levels (a neat addition), and so on. Reviews are scored out of ten and seem by-and-large forgiving so far, with only one game -- sleep-inducing Taiwanese MMORPG Bounty Bay Online, which gets a 2 -- scoring below the "average" mark. Hardware reviews get a lot of page space in this mag, too, signifying a dedication to covering the after-market modding marketplace with a fervor you don't see in print too often.

TPCG's innovations include:

- No disc. US mags mostly shed their discs a couple years ago, but the British PC mags still sport them. This one drops them for obvious reasons (you can get it all on the Internet! Duh!) and is subsequently two pounds cheaper than PC Gamer's UK edition, despite its larger page count and book size.

- A dedicated MMO section. GFW and PC Gamer US both have regular MMO coverage, but TPCG features 20 pages of it in its own "sub-magazine" after the reviews well. "MMO Worlds" reminds me a lot of the MASSIVE of old -- it's intelligent writing about MMOs present and future, with this month's installment mainly devoted to the Tabula Rasa launch. These 20 pages alone are already better than anything Beckett Massive Online Gamer's done.

- A dedicated retro section. Classic game coverage has served fellow Imagine mags Retro Gamer and GamesTM exceedingly well. TPCG's "Redux" section includes bits on System Shock 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Amiga emulators, and Portal, the 1986 Activision game that invented the "visual novel" genre eight years before the Japanese popularized it. A great start, I'd say, especially considering how many obscure old PC releases are out there waiting for someone to discover them.

Speaking from what experience I have with Britmags (I have yet to see an issue of PC Zone), I'd say TPCG is among, if not the best UK PC mag already. It's big, nicely written, dedicated, and never too boring. I'd love to see something like it over here, but given the American mag industry's situation these days, I'm sure it'd never happen without extensive modifications.

TPCG is also notable for featuring the work of Lara Crigger and Kelly Wand, both of which used to contribute to Computer Games magazine. There was pretty extensive online talk that CGM and sister mag MMO Games (formerly MASSIVE) were going to relaunch in some way sooner or later, but sadly, the idea seems dead in the water now -- this month's issue of Games for Windows includes a notice (reproduced above) that old CGM subscribers will receive GFW for the outstanding remainder of their term. Having been both a CGM and MMO Games subscriber, my GFW subscription now extends into late 2009. Brilliant! It's sad to see CGM go permanently, but with all the main contributors to the mag having moved on to bigger and better things, the party was definitely over long before Ziff bought up the subscription list.

After that lengthy intro, let's move right into the US mags of the past two weeks. Click onward for more!

Games for Windows: The Official Magazine December 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Top 10 PC Games of 2008!

The cover story is nice enough, encompassing a collection of previews (some with dev quotes) and a look at some hyped-up games that missed their 2007 release target, but the highlight of this issue is undoubtedly "Beyond the Box," a collection of interviews with Gabe Newell and assorted product leads for every game in The Orange Box. Killer, killer reading material in there. There's a neat piece on modern interactive fiction, and Tom & Bruce is also funnier than usual, covering a World in Conflict map set in a modern, wintry suburban tableau.

A letter this month from "Will C." made me take note -- he's an old-timer who's a little miffed at how the magazine has changed:

"I would like [Computer Gaming World founder] Russell Sipe to start up a new PC gaming magazine. I remember who I used to be able to read CGW in public without being embarrassed... I know PC games always strived to become mainstream, but I always hoped we could set an example. Now it's just another example of pop culture appealing to the lowest common denominator. To sell. Make money."

GFW's response: "Someone from the Cretaceous Period called looking for you the other day. I think she said her name was Scorpia." Awww! I love letters like this -- CGW used to be packed with them, making it the most snippy, passive-aggressive letters section I've seen in any magazine.

Game Informer December 2007

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Cover: Ghostbusters

GI has been Vivendi's good friend many a time this year, and this hot-sclusive is only the latest bust-out the publisher's collaborated with the magazine about. The feature's quite nice, featuring a lot of nice screens that should be immediately familiar to anyone who's watched the movie. The text is the usual sort of "Here's what the developers showed us, how about that?!!" style, but Dan Aykroyd (who's co-writing the script) gets interviewed, which is brill.

The Connect news section goes on until page 72 this month, mainly thanks to a very large holiday buyer's guide, a bunch of news pieces, and a few Edge-like bits on game development (the art of Little Big Planet, a bit by the head of Spark Unlimited about the lack of talent nurturing in the game industry, and so on).

Edge December 2007

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Cover: The PS3 strikes back

The cover story is nothing devastating -- basically a look at the present and future of the PS3 as a game medium, built around an interview with SCE Europe director Ray Maguire. It's not even the lead story between the covers, either -- that's reserved for bits on Hironobu Sakaguchi discussing what he's attempting to do with Lost Odyssey, and a first look on The Path, a Belgian-born game retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that looks weird, Euro, and otherwise ludicrously unsellable. For review-score nerds, the big story is undoubtedly the 10 Edge gives The Orange Box, calling it "brilliant" and "almost overwhelming in its depth".

This issue debuts another new columnist: Randy Smith, EA LA game designer and a guy chiefly known for his work on the three Thief games. His beat is on the game design process, and he kicks off with a general piece on the status of design which is quite nice. Mister Biffo still has his column, which I'd normally whine about, but he's actually pretty interesting this time around, talking about British broadcaster ITV's leader Michael Grade and his opinion that video games exist in a "moral vacuum".

Edge comes with one supplement this month: a 36-page look at the Scandinavian game industry, including studio profiles, roundtable interviews, a piece on how the old demo scene led to the game scene of today, and even a handy guide on what to expect if you get a job in the Nordic lands.

Also worth noting: This issue of Edge has a full-page ad for whiskey in it. Damn! Is this the first time this has happened in game mags?

Electronic Gaming Monthly Holiday 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Games overload!

This issue of EGM is only 102 pages, leading me to wonder if the mag's sales department took a very early holiday break of their own while the editors toiled on. Game Informer's December issue is 172 pages; even OXM's holiday edition is 124, though admittedly with that damn 30-page cell-phone game supplement attached to it.

Still, I can't complain too much, given that EGM knows how to fill what pages it's allowed to print on. Their holiday buyer's guide is the only print-mag one I've seen so far that attempts to shake up the formula at all -- it divides its coverage into type of gamers (retro nuts, Halo 3 nuts) and offers four gift suggestions ranging from "best buddy" to "enemy". For the game who loves BioShock, you can give him a trip to Jules' Undersea Lodge... or you can give him a copy of Pipe Dream, the boring PC puzzler that one of BioShock's minigames was based on. That sort of thing. It's funny, and it also recognizes that nobody actually uses these guides anyway, so why not make it something worth reading?

The "Games Overload" coverline is the theme of the rest of the issue, including the reviews section and a preview feature covering 2007 games that wound up slipping into 2008. Manhunt 2 receives an average score of 5.33, even though Shoe defends it against the spineless ESRB in his editorial.

Official Xbox Magazine Holiday 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Rock Band

The Culdcept Saga demo this month is what I'm after, but I'm weird that way -- textwise, the highlight is the six-page Rock Band review, as well as a Halo 3 online survival guide (including a piece by old editor and Bungie writer Frank O'Connor that neatly wraps up the project in his eyes). Otherwise, curse that stupid cell-phone advertising supplement. Arrr.

Hardcore Gamer December 2007

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Cover: Super Mario Galaxy

HGM devotes eight pages to reviewing SMG this month, something both EGM and GI avoided -- EGM said it didn't make its way into the office in time for a review, but hey, maybe HGM's lower distribution gives it a quicker turnaround time, or something. Either way, it's a nice-looking piece that ends with a perfect score, of course.

[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.]