raku1.jpg['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.]

Hello and welcome to Mag Roundup! Since this part of the column is now also running (with a slight time delay) over on Gamasutra, a brief re-introduction is in order. I'm an ex-magazine editor and freelance writer who -- call it curmudgeony nostalgia, call it what you will -- writes a weekly column over on GameSetWatch devoted to game and computer magazines, past and present. I've been at it since 2006 and, remarkably, haven't run out of things to prattle on about yet.

My aim with the biweekly Mag Roundup is to look over what's happening in the US/UK print game-mag scene, one that (despite financial hardship and constant disrespect online) is more innovative and interesting than ever before. If publishers expect you to pay for a magazine, they know they need to offer something that online can't.

They aren't stupid, after all, and from a new emphasis on developer interviews and behind-the-scenes coverage to grand new tie-ins like World of Warcraft: The Magazine, they're finally beginning to make good on that knowledge. Not all of them, no -- but the ones that are will almost surely be the ones that survive.

Join me, then, as I take a look at all the new magazines to hit my mailbox in the past two weeks. And post pictures of my ferrets. That's another given.

Play September 2009

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Cover: Muramasa: The Demon Blade

This cover, a George Kamitani original created for Play, generated a lot of online press starting late last month, long before the issue itself finally hit my mailbox today. It's undeniably beautiful, but it's also undeniably Play. Not that you asked, but if I was EICing it, I probably woulda told him to lay off the tentacles -- I don't care if Hokusai was doing it centuries ago; it still reaffirms all the bad stereotypes people have about Japanese popular media. Not that hardcore Play-fans mind, I'm sure.

I have to hand it to Play, however. If you lined up the past 12 issues of every US game mag and compared their covers, I think you'll find Play has the most consistent cover design out of any modern mag -- there's definitely a "Play style" in existance, and regardless of what you think of that style, it's nice to see such a unified look in a US mag instead of simple reworking of PR material.

The cover feature, a combination game review and interview with Kamitani and designer Yoshio Nishimura, extends across 18 of this issue's 92 pages. Dave Halverson's review is about as silly and obsessive as you'd expect, and the two interviewees are among the most frank and honest Japanese devs I know, so it's worth reading from start to finish.

Official Xbox Magazine October 2009

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Cover: Halo 3: ODST

OXM's disc gets a bit of a redesign starting this issue, including some gamer pics and other bonuses in addition to the usual demos. The real story, though, is what's inside: There's 15-odd pages devoted to Halo which goes into insane levels of depth, from a long hands-on with ODST to a roundup of 10 neat things taking place right now within the Halo universe.

Two other features, unadvertised on the cover, also make this issue a bit special. One's another Gamerscore-whoring guide, but with a twist: Two people, one well-seasoned in XBL and another completely new to it, compete to see how much score they can rack up in five days. The other is a bit on Kodu, with 3 editors creating three games and the rest of the crew reviewing them. I knocked OXM a bit for not mentioning Kodu when Edge did a big thing on it, and I'm glad that they had it covered in the issue following.

NVISION Fall 2009

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Cover: The 3D issue or Splinter Cell: Conviction (2 covers)

NVISION starts looking a lot like PiQ this issue (yeah, I know, I dwell on that four-issue mag too much) with a big roundup about 3D movies. It's quite a huge feature, talking with all kinds of movie executives and talking about how this and that film was made with 3D in mind as a given, and there's also a small bit on 3D in gaming -- to say the least, the technology still doesn't seem much beyond the 'novelty' point when it comes to PC games.

Otherwise the gaming content is mostly large previews of titles like Avatar, Splinter Cell and StarCraft II, with the sort of heavily art-driven treatment that PC Gamer readers have been enjoying for the past few months.

Nintendo Power October 2009

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Cover: Avatar

Nintendo Power...doing a 4-page special feature on the Sega Genesis?! Oh, my God, my 14-year-old self would freak!

That's the real standout piece in this month's NP, along with previews of NIS America's Sakura Wars release and Hudson's Tower of Shadow -- a fine-looking game that could use all the coverage it gets. The Avatar feature gets the usual nice (and interview-laden) NP treatment, but after seeing similar preview features in NVISION and P:TOM, I'm frankly getting a little Avatar'd out with the Future mags at the moment -- especially since all the features largely tackle the same angle of "Movie games suck, but here's what Ubisoft's doing to change that".

GamePro October 2009

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Cover: Assassin's Creed II

GP went all out on the cover feature, taking the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach I identify with them the most -- movie coverage, art anatomy, comments on the series from assorted gamers and a few competing devs. It's quite nice, as is a front end which is oddly laden with "Top X Humorous Things"-type quick pieces.

There's also a preview roundup covering "the 16 best upcoming games you didn't know about," but I'm not so sure that a Sonic game and DC Universe Online really count along those lines -- plus, A Boy and His Blob gets covered here even though there's a big spread about it up front as well. More substantial is a feature on game-design schools, covering ground that I've never really seen in GamePro before and also attracting ads from game academies I've similarly never seen in GamePro before.

Game Developer September 2009

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Cover: Wizard101

This is not the sort of cover you'd expect for a kid-friendly MMORPG, but it's a very Game Developer-y choice and I love it. The postmortem inside is also a neat look behind the thought process that leads to a team trying to tackle this tricky, but potentially lucrative, pre-teen audience.

Fall Specials (Already?!)

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GamePro's seasonal preview guide has published its latest issue, and I feel bad for pointing this out, but it's eight pages larger than GamePro itself this month. It is, surprise surprise, a preview guide covering late '09 and early '10, with just a few pages of cheats in the back.

Meanwhile, PC Gamer Presents World of Warcraft is an edited, redesigned, slightly updated version of CVG Presents #6, a British one-off I covered back in March '08 and heaped lavish praise upon. If you missed the UK original, it'd be worth your while to look at this -- there is a lot more original content, neato art design, and humorous, engaging text than what you'd expect from a Future US special. At the very least, it's better than anything Beckett has ever, ever, ever published on the subject.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site covering magazines and other esoteric aspects of the game industry. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]