['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.]


Now would be about the time to write another Mag Roundup column, but since I've received only one new game magazine in the past two weeks (oh US Postal Service, why hast thou forsaken me), I'd instead like to show off some of the game-media archaeological work I've been up to lately.

Frank Cifaldi pointed out to me earlier that Google has incorporated the archives of the Milwaukee Journal, the Wisconsin evening newspaper that was folded into its hometown rival and renamed the Journal Sentinel in 1995, into its news search. Why should you care about this? Because it means that Google's put online a nearly-complete run of "Video Adventures," a weekly game-biz column written by longtime Electronic Gaming Monthly editor Ed Semrad for the Journal between October 1983 and December 1991.

Semrad, described as "a Milwaukee-area technical writer and video game whiz" in his Journal bio, provided some surprisingly in-depth industry coverage for his hometown paper. His first column dove immediately to the then hot-button topic of programmers embedding their names into their work (the first Easter eggs), and after that he settled down to a steady diet of console hardware and game reviews. Very timely ones, too; since he was writing on a short-lead weekly deadline, Semrad's column is a great way to tell exactly when your favorite classic-era games were released...and when the industry started falling apart in the mid-80s.


Video Adventures had a bit of an eccentric schedule for much of 1985, perhaps owing to the fact that there was simply nothing to write about. "It is hard to believe that the video game industry has come to an end," Semrad wrote in his April 27, 1985 column. "Just a few years ago the big companies like Atari, Coleco and Mattel were making hundreds of millions of dollars [...] Who would have believed that the end would come so quickly?"

Semrad reviewed The Dam Busters for the Colecovision in that April column, a title he rather dramatically called "the last video game made." Lucky for his newspaper-writing gig, then, that Nintendo showed off the NES at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show two months later, releasing it to test markets in mid-October 1985. Semrad was one of the first (and only) mainstream reporters to cover the system from its release, and he had some very prescient things to say about it: "Overall, if anybody can bring video games back, Nintendo, with its new fourth-generation game system, will be the one. The games I saw in June equal or surpass most computer games not only in playability but in graphics. With the robot, light gun and 17 games Nintendo is giving its best shot."

The column grew more regular as the NES ballooned in popularity, of course, and by the time the TurboGrafx-16 and Genesis rolled around, Semrad had a picture next to his bio and more space to work with than a lot of his compatriots in the monthly video-game mags. His stuff is really well written, too, and there's little doubt that his Journal work is part of the reason why Steve Harris hired him on for EGM.

Sadly, Google News doesn't make it terribly easy to browse through individual columns. If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, use the advanced search, choose the Journal as your source, then search with generic video-game terms and see what happens. Let me know if you find anything else juicy!

[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.]