['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.]

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It's a busy time in my life, with freelance duties dive-bombing me from all directions and me hardly having a chance to enjoy the unseasonably cool weather at all. Sometimes -- like all writers, I suppose -- I wonder if my work is worth it, if anyone's really reading the things I work on, if I could be typing "asdfjkl ovfo w4oivn" all day on the keyboard and accomplish the same effect.

At times like this, I comfort myself by saying "Don't worry, Kevin Gifford. Even if nobody cares now, even if you become penniless and wind up in the gutter burning copies of Game Player's Strategy Guide to Nintendo Games to keep warm, someone might appreciate it all afterwards. Just look at Maximum."

Maximum, published by UK outfit Emap from 1995 to 1996, is very much a product of its time. During this volatile period, when games were shifting from 2D to 3D and companies were flying in and out of the industry at lightspeed, Emap was still competing on pretty even terms with Future Publishing, snagging official licenses from Nintendo and Sega and raking in massive profits from both titles. They were also publishing Computer & Video Games, the oldest multiplatform mag in existence, which had a long history but was experiencing a major sales lull in the mid-90s, dipping down to 15,000 copies sold per month at the worst.

In that environment, Emap decided to hold an internal contest within its editorial corral to come up with the "next generation" of multiplatform mags. The winner was Richard Leadbetter, editor of Emap's Official Sega Magazine (later retitled Sega Saturn Magazine), and art director Gary Harrod, working on Nintendo Magazine System at the time.

In issue 25 of Retro Gamer, Leadbetter commented that both he and Harrod were "really annoyed at just how shockingly awful the multiformat magazines were" in the mid-90s. You can definitely gauge their response to this state of affairs within Maximum's pages. The basic idea behind the mag was to provide extremely exhaustive coverage of only the best games coming out every month, giving 14 or so uninterrupted pages to the really big releases like Virtua Fighter 2 and Super Mario 64 -- a different approach from the kitchen-sink design favored by the C&VG of the time (and, arguably, by EGM all the way to its demise).


"We also saw that gamers were turning into collectors and we wanted to produce collectible coverage to the games of the time," Leadbetter added in the Retro Gamer piece. Again, this is obvious after a quick look-through -- as you can see above, every spread (they were all spreads; Maximum never attracted much advertising) looked very clean and emphasized long series of screenshots to demonstrate some point or move in the game being covered. It looks less like a Brit-mag and more like a strategy guide, to be honest, and it's pretty obvious that Japanese strategy books were one of Harrod and staff writer Dave Hodgson's biggest inspirations.

Issue 1 of Maximum came out October 1995 at a price of £3.50, which was £2 more than C&VG back then and more along the lines of what mags with bonus disks or CD-ROMs charged. It sold between 20,000 and 25,000 copies, which was considered good for the high price Emap was asking for. However, sales slipped rapidly with the next couple issues, which Leadbetter blamed partly on major delays due to the staff's perfectionism and partly on placing two Saturn games (VF2 and Sega Rally) in a row on the cover. "At the time, none of us editorially cared about the business side of things," he said. "We wanted to get the mag out, but only if the quality was there. This led to a whole series of enormous rows with management, and it was an argument that we'd never have won."

Emap's games division itself was generally on the decline at this point -- especially after they lost the official PlayStation license to Future in '95 -- and the management was not particularly interested in supporting Maximum. This became especially true after C&VG reversed its fortunes, getting completely redesigned by the team of Paul Davis, Tom Guise and Ed Lomas in 1996 and drastically improving its sales (a story I'll cover at some other point). "I think by the end of the Maximum era, they were outselling us four to one," Leadbetter noted.

By the time the last issue rolled around in mid-'96, Hodgson had gone back to Nintendo Magazine System, Garry Harrod and a few others had moved to Die Hard GameFan, and Maximum was essentially zombified. There was talk of relaunching it at the end of 1996, but no one at Emap was apparently very serious about it.

The GameFan link may be appropriate here, because it would've taken someone like a GameFan staffer to really appreciate what Leadbetter and crew were attempting with Maximum. Like a lot of mags in this niche, Maximum was both ahead of its time (predicting the coffee-table collector market before titles like Edge really filled it) and behind its time, offering the sort of extreme hardcore coverage that only a small piece of the market could ever appreciate. Its time may have come today, though -- complete sets occasionally go for a lot on eBay in the UK, and if you're less morally minded they're pretty easily findable on torrent sites.

Hopefully my stuff will be equally appreciated after its time, at the least. It's not like I get royalties for any of my work anyway!

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]