['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.]


There's a lot to discuss this week, including a new mag launch and another UK non-game-mag that US readers will be interested in pursuing anyway, but I have to start with the most humorous piece of game-media news to break this month: Ziff Davis Media selling Electronic Gaming Monthly's subscriber base to Maxim. Some loyal EGM readers started getting Maxim back in April, I guess, but my sub didn't begin until this July '09 issue.

Steve Harris wrote on the new EGM's Twitter last week that this deal "happened prior to my deal," so he didn't have a chance to score the old EGM's subscribers and move them to his mag. It's a bit of a shame, too. Thanks to all the game magazines Ziff has bought out and/or folded in their time, my subscription to EGM had been extended, and extended, and extended to dizzying levels over the years. This means that as of now, I am owed issues of something until March of 2012, according to my mailing sticker.

I would have much preferred that something to be the new EGM instead of Maxim. Not that I dislike Maxim. I subscribed to it for a while in the mid-aughts as part of a package deal I got off some clearinghouse website. I think boobies are great. Especially covered ones, because I'm from Texas and we don't believe in exposing ourselves down here. You know who likes seeing bare nipples? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that's who. Think about that.

This mag is, demographically, a decent enough fit for EGM readers, who (according to Ziff's still-active online sales kit) were 93% male and 86% over the age of 17. But Maxim ain't what it used to be.

The hooters are just as round and tempting, the jokes about cannibalism and fat people just as eye-rolling, but the mag has shrunk to 112 pages and sports an ad-to-edit ratio that's worse than the worst of EGM's tiny issues. (The entire "men's lifestyle" genre of magazines is in trouble, really. Maxim's flagship UK edition folded in April, though it's now available online; the US edition still boasts a circulation of 2.3 million, but it's buffeted by the bad economy, free-falling ad sales, a headcount that would make most game-mag editors green with envy, and an impending FDA ban on cigarette advertising in print.)

In the end, I think I'll send a note to the PO box on the cover sticker. It's actually the first time I've ever canceled a subscription. Normally I wouldn't bother. It seems rude, somehow. But if my calculations are correct, I could potentially get around forty bucks out of a refund, and forty bucks pays for a month of broadband Internet service, letting me download all the boob shots and pictures of rappers holding giant pieces of barbecue that I want. Fair bargain, that.

Let's move on to all the game mags released in the past fortnight, shall we?

NVISION Summer 2009


Cover: The evolution of entertainment and computer graphics

Chuck Osborn, NVISION EIC and former senior editor on PC Gamer US, calls his new quarterly "the first enthusiast publication devoted to computer graphics in entertainment and beyond," which I guess makes it a sort of Cinefex for gamers. Nvidia has a partnership deal with the mag which manifests itself chiefly by coverage of the video outfit's new ION notebook hardware and the word "ATI" not being found anywhere. (Strictly speaking, NVISION doesn't print opinionated reviews of anything the way that PC Gamer would, so you can't call it biased in that respect.)

The internals are a mix of straight articles about graphics, cameras, "the uncanny valley" and so on, and game coverage -- in this issue, the new Batman, The Sims 3, the online game iRacing, and more. A set of one-off spreads called "Frame Rate" gives a quick guide to tweaking three different PC titles for maximum performance on Nvidia's card lineup, complete with annotated screenshots. There are some neat pieces (the aforementioned uncanny valley feature, another one on ancient sci-fi flick A Trip to the Moon), but there's also some filler -- a large piece on upcoming comic book films, "Top 10 Blu-ray Discs" -- that could've shown up in P:TOM or basically any other game or entertainment mag.

Overall I like the concept, which seems a lot more coherent and thought-out than PCXL two years ago. I think it could do with fewer of the traditional filler bits, however, and more of the hard CGI coverage -- more how-to pieces, for example. (NVISION has only a page of that in this issue.)

Game Informer July 2009


Cover: Max Payne 3

GI has a tendency to reach my mailbox the day after I finish this column, meaning that by the time I get to discussing it, the online hype behind its latest world excusive is already a thing of the past.

My take is that this would've been a great piece to put in NVISION. 99% of what it talks about is graphics, animation, Rockstar's dogged pursuit of realism in building the slums of Sao Paulo. It's got lovely pre-rendered screens and even more concept art than usual for GI's features. Approaching the article with the expectation that it's gonna be all about the externals of a game, you can appreciate it. Asking for real gameplay details, though, is asking too much -- and in GI's defense, it'd ask Rockstar PR to do something that it never does at this point in a project's development.

Otherwise, the mag's biggest attraction this month is reviews and previews. I like the Connect news section usually, but it seems a bit lame and GamePro-ish this month -- "the TV-show video games we want to see," "the RPGs we want to see," etc. There's a spread that has no theme other than "here are some cool anecdotes from the dev teams of six different games," which sounds a bit disjointed but is remarkable fun to read.

Play July 2009


Cover: WET

Top piece this month: "All You Need To Know About Game Development Can Be Learned From Bad '80s Coming of Age Films," by Brandon Justice, which is actually about game QA of all things.

Besides the cover feature there's also 10 pages devoted to "The Ties That Bind," the first of a multi-parter where Play's editors sound off on the games that have influenced them the most. It's good writing, but the design is wall-of-text and ultimately it's nothing that you couldn't read on NeoGAF from any number of people.

GamePro August 2009


Cover: Mass Effect 2

It seems like the "Opening Shots" for this issue, the section at the start of the mag where GP prints really big screenshots of upcoming hot games with little captions, is getting really big. The issue is 96 pages, and real content doesn't begin until Page 17.

Said content is neat, though, from a quick look at Katamari art to a look at the best spectators in video games (the crowds of Miis in Wii Fit, for example). The sci-fi preview roundup in the middle is similarly engaging, but unadvertised on the cover is five pages of sports game previews that frankly couldn't be more wall-of-text and boring.

Retro Gamer Issue 65


Cover: Super Metroid

It's a very nice Metroid retrospective decorating this issue, one that extends for eight pages (followed by six more pages with series head Yoshio Sakamoto) and is laden with trivia and shots of armored suits and everything.

Retro Gamer has a new regular column called "Let All Play" where they assign their forum goons a single game to play and print all the best opinions they get about it. It's Castle of Illusion this month, and despite the inherent filler-ness of these four pages, I found myself reading the whole thing and wishing I actually bothered to get involved with the forum. This is one of the few examples I can recall of a print mag recycling content from its homepage and the results actually being worth it.

PlayStation: The Official Magazine August 2009


Cover: Final Fantasy XIII

I have a tendency to overlook PTOM in these updates, which I regret. It is not the most eye-catching of publications, but out of Future's platform-specific mags, I think it does the best job of providing a complete coverage package for users of the platform. You've got bits on PS3 hardware, software, Blu-ray, and online all in one package -- and there is palpable advantage to it all being PS3-specific, since in may ways the platform's still in its own little island in the game industry.

So it is with this issue, which presents its ever-consistent package of material -- all very useful, but not so much of it really eye-catching to the hardcore Internet game news hound. The FFXIII piece is very nice, though -- considering this is the first really concentrated US print-mag look at the game, the design's lovely and the coverage neat, although the specifics of the "world first" content were in Famitsu before E3.

There's another dev profile/roundup this month, following the one in the last issue, that's also worth reading. Find out all about Ubisoft Shanghai's zombie splinter cell and EA Tiburon's animatronic pony!

ImagineFX June 2009


Last but not least, the June '09 issue of this UK digital-art mag, plugged in Edge a couple months back, is available now on US shelves. I bring up this tiny little mag (audited circulation: 16,809) for the 40-ish pages of game-art content inside, which massive graphical spreads devoted to God of War III, Mirror's Edge, Halo 3, and more. There's also a crapload of how-tos on game environments, creating rad-looking 3D tanks and things, designing characters, you name it.

If you're dreaming of becoming an art designer in the game business, buying this would be a superb way to make those dreams, er, dreamier.

[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.]