['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.]


The day's finally come -- both Electronic Gaming Monthly and GameFan (website not online as of this writing) are available in bookstores now. I'll cover EGM in depth later as I'm still waiting on my issue to come in the mail, but I had a quick browse-through at the bookstore and my initial impressions are pretty positive.

GameFan, however, is the greater surprise, so I'll devote the whole column to it this week. First off, it's big. Really big. The page size, I mean. Think Rolling Stone before it was shrunk down in 2008. It's got about half an inch lengthwise on PS Extreme in its "PSE2" incarnation, and that was a pretty tough magazine to shelve itself.

The sheer size of the thing (see above picture for comparisons with other mags) didn't come across in the cover images that were being passed around online a couple weeks ago, and it's quite a surprise. It's easy to see that Dave Halverson is, at least, trying to be as new and different as possible with this mag -- all the more so after Play Magazine, in his words, "succumbed to a sudden nearly industry-wide exodus to online advertising following last year's economic decline."

Halverson warns in his editorial that the monthly GameFan should be considered "a two issue launch" as they get a feel for this new format. You can tell they're trying to figure out what works best with the super-wide page size in this issue, all while simultaneously distancing themselves from what Play looked like. Unlike Play's trademark smooth, lightly-colored, refined look, GameFan looks, well, like GameFan -- busy, colorful, multiple things happening visually on each page. Like the original GameFan, there isn't a lot of unity within the design, but things do look exciting and pleasing.

The magazine has its flaws, though. Like with Play, most articles seems to be little more than long columns of text with pieces of artwork just sort of lain around wherever they'd fill up space. There are a couple of nicely-designed sections, like the interview with Suda51's Grasshopper Manufacture, but then you have the cover story on Blade Kitten which has no real visual theme at all.

There's screenshots on one page, a really big piece of character art on the next one, more screenshots of assorted size on the third. Again, very GameFan-y -- and very PSExtreme-y, for that matter -- but it's just the sort of thing that most game magazines (including Play) have spent the past decade sidling away from.

I can fault Halverson for a lot of things, but nobody can doubt his devotion to the print-mag medium. He has his beliefs, both in games and in mag design, and he's pushed those beliefs unwaveringly over the past 17 years. While I commend that, I'm not sure what the audience for GameFan, the modern game magazine, is.

The '90s GF had a fanbase of mostly preteens and teenagers, but they aren't the intended target of this mag, judging by the way words like "shit" aren't censored in the text. Grown-ups may get nostalgic for the GameFan brand name, but I'm not sure the willy-nilly design and Play-style rambling interviews are going to retain their interest for long.

Still, I can't think of a first issue of any magazine that was immediately excellent from the start, and I hope the mag is popular enough that it has a chance to find its niche.

[Kevin Gifford used to breed ferrets, but now he's busy running 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 of publishers and game companies.]