['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

Everyone needs a break now and again -- I know I do, after having written about what seems like 20,000 magazines over the years here -- so for this holiday, I thought I'd cover a couple electronics-themed mags I picked up earlier in the week, one of whom I love with all my heart and two I at least enjoy a fling with now and then:

Make Issue 16


If there is hope for print media about video games, or for that matter any kind of very nerdy topic, then this is it.

Make is a lot more than a technology/do-it-yourself mag. It's a snappy and visually interesting introduction to modern nerd-dom, with the '70s definition of nerd ("I wired my S-100 bus machine with an extra 4K of RAM over the weekend instead of going to the company picnic with my wife") used instead of the modern one ("I used an iPhone to split up the bar tab"). The "visually interesting" phrase is important here; unlike other electronics periodicals, the emphasis is on ideas, concepts, and neat pictures over tech details.

And even when tech details are required, the light, airy, Edge-like visual design keeps attention spans engaged. Photos and diagrams are everywhere. You can flip to any random page and find something interesting to read. Try flipping through a modern US game mag. You're guaranteed to stop on an advertisement of some sort, whether a pull-out poster or subscription card. The sense of curiosity is lost.

But Make still has it, and a lot of that is because of its smaller dimensions, I think -- the tinier size allows for 200 pages an issue, and you feel like you're getting a ton, even for the premium price.

That's the watchword there -- "premium." Yeah, Make is a luxury item. But it's not that expensive, and the unique size, look, voice and design of it makes the buyer feel like he's getting something special. Compare that to game mags, where subs cost pocket change and only crazy coots like me keep any issue longer than a few months.

Nuts and Volts December 2008


I confessed in this column a while back that I bought an issue of Nuts and Volts sheerly because of how silly the cover looked. I must sheepishly admit that I did it again. Sorry. I was standing there at the bookstore wondering what was up with Santa's right arm, and I... I... I just couldn't help myself. Forgive me.

Nuts and Volts, along with its main competitor Circuit Cellar, is among the only hardcore electronics-hobbyist mags left in the US marketplace. They survive chiefly thanks to their diehard readership and an even more dedicated base of advertisers, some of whom have been doggedly supporting both mags since their launches in the '80s.

In terms of content, both mags are kind of amateur in style, a term I don't mean to sound offensive. Articles are mostly submitted by enthusiasts who snap their own pictures of parts, and schematics and step-by-step circuit instructions are de rigeur. It's a hobbyist rag, in other words, while Make is meant more to read for its own sake. Both approaches have their charms, but N&V wins out in cover design, no contest. Ahem.

Popular Communications December 2008


Another hobbyist mag I bought mainly for its cover. Damn, this looks exactly like any computer mag from the early 1980s! And as this index shows, neither the logo nor the visual design has changed appreciably since the title's launch in 1982.

PopComm is a mag about shortwave radios and police scanners and that sort of thing, a companion volume to its big brother, the amateur-radio mag CQ. Like N&V, it's mostly supported by diehard (and old) radio buffs and suppliers, and in many ways it looks like something from a bygone era inside and out. And yet...it's oddly readable.

I have no interest in amateur communications, but I still dig reading this, especially the article on the soon-to-be-dead art of TV DX, enabling people in Massachusetts to receive stations from South Carolina and Venezuela. I have a thing for "subversive" tech like that, the sort of thing Make or 2600 might cover. If only there were a little more of that...

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]