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A few quick notes before I sign off for Xmas and all that nonsense. First off, my review of Total PC Gaming last month (Issue 1 can now be found at most Barnes & Nobles, by the way) where I noted I haven't seen an issue of PC Zone in years attracted the attention of PC Zone's editors, who were nice enough to send a couple issues in the mail. (British PC game magazines seem to love this column for some reason. I can't complain.)

PC Zone was the first magazine in the UK devoted exclusively to games on x86 machines, debuting in April 1993 and going up against PC Format, a mag meant to cover the entirety of the home-PC marketplace but in practice mostly concentrated on games back then. Its most immediate predecessor was Zero, a multiplatform rag that was, in some ways, a spiritual successor to Your Sinclair -- all magazines known for having highly irreverent writing and building a diehard community of readers, although not necessarily being huge money-making successes (Zero died after three years). I own a few issues from PC Zone's first year that I bought off the newsstand back in the day, and in its early years, it was often a very silly magazine, with reviews taking very strange offroads and Duncan MacDonald's "Mr Cursor" column on the back page often descending into crazy nonsense.

Wikipedia tells me that the mag largely kept this tone going all through the 1990s, and indeed, even if I hadn't looked at the cover of these two latest issues, I'd be able to recognize the PC Zone influence in the pages. PC Zone is still irreverent, definitely -- regular columns include a Jackass-inspired bit where they try to break whatever game is on the demo DVD as much as possible and "Tat Zone," where they sell off the swag game companies send them on Ebay (for charity) and see how much it goes for. (A notepad with the Crysis logo on it sold for £27.07, causing PC Zone to comment that "you lot are moneyed beyond sense".)

It's not unusual for a game mag to try to be irreverent. What's unusual is the ability on editorial's part to consistently maintain this tone of irreverence across the entirety of the mag, from the cover to the reviews to the DVD coverdisc section to the little fineprint on the masthead. This is one of those few mags that I can turn to any page and any article -- even a review of some gaming mouse or another -- and rest assured that the text will be just as amusing as the big Gears of War review up front. It's a surprisingly rare accomplishment, in this age of every mag doing the exact same holiday shoppers' guides and the exact same preview features, and PC Zone really ought to be paid more attention for accomplishing it. (I can't help but think that dropping the cover DVD and lowering the £5.99 price would go a long way towards that goal.)

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In other news, PC Pilot has put out a winter special meant to introduce people to the world of flight simulation. You should be able to find it at B&N and elsewhere right now.

It might surprise some people to hear that there's not one, but two internationally distributed mags devoted exclusively to flight sims -- the bimonthly PC Pilot out of Britain, and the monthly Computer Pilot out of Australia. Both mags have been around for a while (Computer Pilot launched in 1996 and is celebrating its 100th issue next month), and both even have their individual niches that they cover. PC Pilot is the more "serious" mag of the two, concentrating on reviews of new planes, scenery packs and hardware, while CP is more about the "experience," featuring extensive reports of flights across this or that stretch of terrain and even including what I can only describe as flight-sim fanfiction -- the past three issues have chronicled the story of Dr. Betzy Wong, flight sim therapist, as she helps a hopelessly neurotic man come to terms with his family and improve his ATC and landing-approach skills. I'm not making this up.

Whenever I develop a curious interest in something, I tend to wind up picking up a magazine or two about the topic, even if I have no intention of seriously pursuing the subject. This is how I've found myself with subscriptions to everything from Make to Armchair General (which, by the way, seems to survive mostly off video-game advertising -- funny, eh?), and it's given me no lack of odd things to read about before falling asleep at night. If you've ever thought "My god, how can they fill up an entire magazine about flight sim crap?", why not pick up this month's PC Pilot and find out? At the very least, you'll satisfy your curiosity.

[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.]