Well, it's been a very hectic past couple weeks for game mags, hasn't it? While I was out cavorting in Japan (and, of course, buying all the local mags so I could write a survey for GameSetWatch -- but that'll be next week), Dan Hsu left Ziff Davis and Games for Windows closed its doors, meaning that ZD has gone from publishing six regular game magazines (plus specials) in 2003 to only one in the space of five years. And also filed for Chapter 11. (The biggest surprise here is that Chapter 11 happened after all that downsizing, not before.)

Not even Simon Cox, the man behind what ZD's print mags were like in the early '00s, thinks print mags have much of a future with the company, if his comments to Kyle Orland are any measure. I would agree with them -- for a company like Ziff Davis, which (even after all the downsizing it's done) has a great deal of debt, a great deal of overhead, and has been put the brunt of its attention on an online strategy for the past three or so years, print mags aren't the way to the future.

The lack of advertising in the PC game marketplace is no doubt one reason why the marketplace couldn't support both GFW and PC Gamer at once, but I wonder if being published by an outfit as large as ZD -- and not, say, a much smaller company like the ones behind Play or Beckett MOG -- meant that it had to be a lot more profitable to stay alive than what would otherwise be the case.

(I also wonder if taking a magazine aimed mainly at hardcore gamer fans and naming it after after a Microsoft-driven initiative that most of the audience sees as half-baked was such a hot idear, but hindsight is always 20/20 with these things.)

Hsu's departure is also momentous because he, along with John Davison, was the main force behind the transformation of Sendai's old and (let's face it) amateurish rags into seriously well-writen and well-designed publications, stuff actually worth reading if you were over the age of 18.

One could argue that out of all the people in U.S. game print media, he had the most influence over what we have today, both in print and online, looks like and reads like. I first worked with him during that fleeting dream known as Gamers.com back in 2000 and later did a bunch of EGM freelance for him, and never had I had a boss more friendly and even-handed, even though I'm sure I made him want to choke me to death on more than one occasion. I'll be interested in what he does next, and I'll be even more interested in how this affects the hierarchy of things at ZD once April 25 (his last day) passes.

Anyway, read on to get my take on all the game mags of the past couple weeks. Frankly, with GFW gone, and as pretentious as it must sound, it's almost getting to the point where even I have to admit that Edge is the best there is in print-land...

Game Informer May 2008

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Cover: Gears of War 2

The summer of print game mags' discontent must come even to Game Informer, which (though still number one in America in terms of size) is lookin' a little anemic at 112 pages. However, that's not about to stop the bad dudes from Minnesota from dropping the GI Spy page, where they print pictures of themselves posing with PR chicks and playing Guitar Hero with random NFL players. It's their pride and joy, and you won't be taking it away from them that easily, thanks.

Cut down pages or no, GI's cover piece is the highlight of print-dom this month, although it's pretty much what you figure -- a bunch of so-obviously-not-in-game-it-hurts screenshots, some pictures of characters, and a lot of Cliffy bein' Cliffy. The only other big highlight in this issue is a feature that takes some devs and asks them what they'd do if they were charged with making the next FF, or Tomb Raider, or whatnot. I'm pretty sure (though not completely so; I'll have to check the archives) that EGM did this same feature a few years back, but it's still a neat idea -- Todd "Fallout 3" Howard's pitch to essentially turn Final Fantasy into Dragon's Lair is particularly hilarious.

Edge May 2008

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Cover: Metal Gear Solid 4

Despite what the cover would suggest, the theme of this issue appears to be casual gaming, with features commemorating the Sims studio and the folks behind the Buzz! series in addition to Kojima and his work. There's one of those traditionally Edge-y pieces on how end-of-level bosses aren't all that special anymore, and [the JP version of] Mario Kart Wii gets a 6 in the reviews well, which I am all for.

New this time around is Region Specific, an irregular feature that takes some region of the world and profiles all the game devs located there -- a natural evolution of some of the supplements they created for specific regions a while back. This month focus on Vancouver, home of Relic and Radical and an EA studio and a few others I haven't heard of. The Codeshop back-of-the-book section also has a surprisingly interesting piece on the ten-year anniversary of middleware giant Havok's founding.

Electronic Gaming Monthly May 2008 (Podcast)

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Cover: SOCOM: Confrontation

Sorry, GI/Edge/Beckett Massive Online Gamer: EGM is my favorite magazine now and forever, because talented 1UP gentleman and fellow ferret owner James Mielke is officially "EIC" of the magazine now. We need to stick up for each other, all of us weaselmaniacs do.

GI may've had the big hot-sclusive this month, but EGM makes up for it in quantity, with ten able but kinda pedestrian pages on the new SOCOM and smaller previews of Motorstorm 2 and 50 Cent II (written by Shane "I couldn't be more white if I tried" Bettenhausen, no less). The front-of-the-book news section is a little more interesting than GI's this month, too, thanks to a couple of neat Robert Ashley pieces on the repetition of ideas in game backdrops and the WorldGaming.com bet-on-games site.

Nintendo Power May 2008

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Cover: Final Fantasy IV

Wow, this is a really long piece on Final Fantasy IV DS they've got in here. Very long, and very Play-style, too, with a huge-arse interview segment and all sorts of nice art complimenting everything. I think they chose the wrong art for the cover, but the inside feature is quite neat. A 3-page feature on Boom Blox followed up immediately by interviews with Masahiro Sakurai and Masaya Matsuura demonstrates the sort of crazy super-casual, super-hardcore feel the magazine has these days.

Overall, still my favorite Future mag, though I still got a place in my heart for PC Gamer.

PlayStation: The Official Magazine May 2008

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Cover: Mafia II

Big bit in the middle about "crime"-type games, sort of like what GamePro did this month. Mafia II's feature is surprisingly rad, as are other bits on the latest GTA4 and Saints Row 2 stuff. Not so rad is the 2008 PSP Game Planner, another simple release spruced up a bit to take up more pages. Stop doing those, PTOM!

Official Xbox Magazine May 2008 (Podcast)

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Cover: GTA4

Although all the other mags did bits this month on GTA4's multiplayer, OXM is the only title to make a really big deal of it on the cover -- and on the disc, where GTA4's lollipop girl adorns the case cover even though the actual content is nothing but art. The bit inside on Infinite Undiscovery is a lot more interesting, as is the strategy guide on mastery of Guitar Hero (I should've known Dan Amrich would be a-writing something like that) and the feature on "house rules" approaches to old games, like playing WWII Olympics in Call of Duty 3 or a rudimentary form of baseball in Halo 3.

Game Developer April 2008

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Cover: Uncharted

Aw sweet, it's the annual salary survey where I learn yet again how much more I could've been making if I actually used my computer-science degree and got a job as a game-industry programmer! Wow, $83,383 on the average, huh? Cripes, if I made that much and worked at an Austin dev to keep living expenses low, I'd have my own Uncle Scrooge money bin to swim around in!

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