['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.]

Yipes! I take a week off and the mags just pile up on my doorstep! Let's get right to business with my take with this installment of Mag Roundup's biggest event:

Game Informer November 2009

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Cover: Epic Mickey

Heavens be! This is quite a redesign indeed. I talked a bit about Game Informer's new website earlier, and I still like it a lot -- the sort of thing that 1UP was meant to be to Ziff's magazines back when it launched in 2003, something that didn't quite happen due to a lack of urgency and many other reasons.

With that in mind, I want to concentrate my discussion this column on the print mag itself. What I like:

- The general design now takes far more advantage of the wide-body page size than before. Feature content spreads out to the far edges all the time; those edges become a natural place for long sidebars that are interesting but not important enough to interrupt the main text with.

- Things look a lot cleaner, with white the color of choice nearly everywhere except in the main feature.

- There is no back-cover advertisement and instead the front-cover art wraps around. I hope to the heavens that this is permanent. The cover this issue is unequivocally awesome; hopefully devs will be as kind to GI with their art assets in future installments.

- The Skate 3 sub-feature is a lovely piece of clean design, although the ending ("So grab your board, get your friends together, and get ready to hit it") is a bit PR-y. The Epic Mickey piece is designed more in the old GI tradition, but that's not necessarily a bad thing -- the look still fits in with the rest of the mag, and it's killer reading, mainly thanks to Warren Spector's intelligent enthusiasm and the sheer, er, epicness of the project.

- The back-page quiz (which I am guessing was a lot of work to compose and not all that popular with readers) has been replaced with what I hope is a regular procession of "neat game trivia" -- in this month, a graphical examination of the "Nanosuit 2.0" from the upcoming Crysis sequel. This is a vast improvement on what was there before.

What I don't like:

- Connect, the front-page section, seems more disjointed than before. Maybe this is because the design is more unified now, which makes it all seem to blend together to the eyes. You have a hard-nosed multi-page feature about the marriage of Hollywood and games next to a GamePro-style silly top-ten list, across the page from a Maxim-like humor piece, segueing to a couple pages of hard news, moving to another hard-nosed multi-page feature. This is one of the things I don't like about GamePro's front section, too. I'd run the thing to segue a bit more smartly -- changing tones so quickly from one article to the next is a bit jarring.

- The titling in sub-sections of Connect is hard to follow. Some sections have light-gray-on-white titles that are easy to miss; others (like the rumor section, which I thought had been removed until I finally noticed it) have only a small and easily overlooked orange box identifying them.

- GI Spy, the page where Game Informer editors publish pictures of themselves with PR ladies and B-celebs, is still around. However, it's now a quarter-page strip that extends over the bottom of three pages of the letters/reader art section. It's not quite nonexistent like how I want to see it, but at least it seems much less obtrusive than before.

Overall, while I understand that the real revolution lies in GI's reforged bond with its online site, I also think the print mag's new design is a positive step toward making it look more refined, modern and professional. That's important, of course, because GI is the giant of the game-mag business and you could say it needs to act that way. It's not a world-shifting redesign by any means -- the writing style is still the same, and the mag often errs on the side of verbosity too much for my tastes -- but it is doubtlessly the breath of fresh air that both GI and the biz really needed.

PC Zone November 2009

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Cover: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

The cover feature is nice, something I don't say too often about PC Zone -- it's a massive amount of neat info and neater art, although I'm sure it's old news to PC gamers by this point.

But the real treat here is "Around the World in 8 Simulations," an absolutely hilarious feature where author Steve Hogarty tries to take a virtual world tour using as many sims as possible, from Flight Simulator X to obscure European truck and train games.

I'm a little loath to spoil the best joke from it, but here it is: He uses Assassin's Creed as a "horse simulator" to travel from Damascus to Jerusalem. "We whip a brown horse hard out of Damascus," Hogarty writes. "Doing this in Assassin's Creed is highly illegal, and we attract the attention of some guards who'd clearly rather chase a man on a horse than guiard the thing they're supposed to be guarding. A few gruesome tramplings later, and with more than a couple of dramatic leaps over fallen palm trees, we arrive at Jerusalem. We find the spot where we reckon they'd build an airport in about 822 years, and wait."

The article goes on to note the seemingly short distance between the two cities in the game (they're really 134 miles apart), and calculates that horses can therefore travel at about 1500 mph, faster than a Concorde. Wow! No wonder they're fighting all the time over there -- transport to the front lines is a breeze.

PC Gamer December 2009

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Cover: WOW: Cataclysm

A remarkably packed issue, although nothing in here is mega-huge. The cover piece, basically a BlizzCon postmortem with the gang at Blizzard, is neat, but way neater is the next feature, unadvertised on the cover -- a peek into the world of Arma 2 online maniacs who play on max realism. It's fascinating stuff -- a look into a world that I'd never get to check out otherwise -- and the sort of thing a print mag is undeniably the best at.

Official Xbox Magazine December 2009

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Cover: Assassin's Creed II

A pretty straightforward issue; Assassin II is a play-report from the first three hours and L4D2 is...well, more L4D2, which Future mags have been covering the way CNN covered the balloon boy while I was away last week. (Not that L4D2 should be compared in any other way with that story, of course. I'm not mean.)

Speaking of, not to echo G4 of all things, but yes, the Assassin II print ad is the best game ad ever. Of the past three or four years, anyway. Brilliant outside-the-box thinking.

PlayStation: The Official Magazine December 2009

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Cover: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

This cover doesn't seem much at first, but I think it's the first time P:TOM (or, really, any mag lately that ain't Tips & Tricks) gave the cover to a strategy guide. A strategy guide for one of 2009's hottest games, and one that is surely going to be the must-have online console title of the year (at the very least), but still, a strategy guide. Who'd-a thunk? It's a nice-looking piece, too, all done up like a dossier and everything.

OXM did just a quick piece on Inversion this month, but P:TOM has a much fuller treatment, a feature that picks up the game's gravity-bending themes and riffs on it by forcing you to turn the mag around in assorted ways to read all of it. Nice job.

Play October 2009

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Cover: MagnaCarta 2 or Splatterhouse

I got the MagnaCarta 2 version in the mail, which doesn't quite have the force of last month's cover, but wait'll you see the centerfold...er, 2-page spread art that kicks off the review! Yowza! The text is Halverson at his best, of course -- he compares the game to Phantasy Star (the first one)!

In a bit more serious note, I've been waiting for someone to write a status report on Splatterhouse, that famously delayed and tussled project that debuted on the cover of EGM what seems like a decade ago. Doug Perry has the honor of penning it, and the results are in-depth, engaging, and (in a good way) un-Play-like.

I noticed this month that Play has gotten rid of the annoying bullet graphics in the "Parting Shot" review summary boxes, something I complained about since their inception in July '08. Good on 'em.

Retro Gamer Issue 69

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Cover: Final Fantasy

Not my most favorite issue of RG, chiefly because none of the making-of bits (Die Hard Trilogy and Syndicate) grabbed me and I've read enough Final Fantasy retrospective features over the years to last me several lifetimes. Yes, even if they did interview the designer of Dissidia to wrap this one up (very appropriate choice, there).

Top highlight: the Coin-Op Capers piece on Space Harrier, an arcade game that absolutely deserves this sort of exhaustive treatment. Bravo.

Tips & Tricks November/December 2009

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Cover: Wii Sports Resort

It's already been mentioned on their website, but some surprisingly good news in T&T land: starting next issue, they'll publish eight installments a year instead of six and will throw in a fold-out poster and an extra full-on strategy guide per issue from now on. Reassuring news about a print mag that I never expected to hear reassuring news about. Good job on Chris Bieniek and the rest of the gang, no doubt.

By the way, T&T does not seem to offer subscriptions any longer. Makes sense, I suppose. T&T always lived and died by the newsstand, and pushing heavily-discounted subs is not conducive to high newsstand sales -- especially when said low-cost subs aren't subsidized by advertising, of which T&T has very little of.

Girls of Gaming 7

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Dang it, I spent $12.95 on softcore porn again! I love how I can immediately tell when it's Dave Halverson writing the little blurbs accompanying the sexy girl art -- all of a sudden, they're written in the first person and start including clauses like "industrial strength earplugs drilled into my tympanic membrane."

All kidding aside, there is one piece of art that I really liked, a Mirror's Edge-themed page by Rob Duenas. Unfortunately, it was done in authentic, headache-inducing red/blue-separated 3D. Why?

[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.]