['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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After a bit of a dry period, Mort -- the guy who has been releasing complete, fully-scanned collections of old British game and computer magazines for several years now -- has returned with a vengeance, recently putting up DVD sets for two well-known mags that demonstrate the two-sidedness of the scene very clearly.

The Micro User, produced by Database Publications (aka Europress), was the most popular magazine devoted to the BBC Micro line of 8-bit computers. To a generation of kids that grew up in the 1980s-era United Kingdom, the BBC was the equivalent of the Apple II in the US -- a common fixture in school libraries and labs; tons of business and educational software; a fairly decent game scene; a large number finding their way into homes despite the hefty price tag. Something like one and a half million were sold across the UK, and the platform's popularity was durable enough that The Micro User lasted 115 issues, from March 1983 all the way to September 1992.

The innards of each issue are about what you'd expect from the era -- i.e., it's positively chaotic. Like how I remarked when I looked at Your Computer, there's a certain rabid enthusiasm lurking behind the articles and advertisements that still shines through remarkably well today.

Nearly all of The Micro User's articles and printed programs were submitted by readers, from nerdy electronics experts submitting some new circuit to interface with the computer to normal housewives and special-ed teachers showing how they use the BBC in their careers and their lives.

This is the era when computers were inherently new and shiny and "the future"; you had to be a certain sort of person to get into them, and with each page of magazines like this one, you ran into people just like yourself. I don't mean to get all nostalgic for that era -- I like how programs don't take five minutes to load these days, for example -- but I think it's safe to say that mags like The Micro User aren't just historically fascinating; they're still entertaining to read today thanks to this enthusiasm that bleeds through.

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Sega Saturn Magazine, no relation to the Japanese title of the same name, exudes a very different sort of enthusiasm. Among British mag collectors, it's often spoken of in the same breath as titles like Zzap!64, Amiga Power, Super Play and so forth. Of those mags, Sega Saturn Magazine probably resembles Super Play the most, perhaps out of sheer necessity.

SSM was launched by EMAP in January 1994 under the simple name of Sega Magazine. It was definitely a latecomer to the Sega console market -- by this time, every UK publisher of any size had at least one, and often two or three, monthly mags devoted to the Mega Drive family -- but it had the advantage of being an officially-authorized Sega publication, similar to the Nintendo one EMAP launched in 1992.

(This arrangement also marked the practical "death" of Mean Machines, EMAP's family of unofficial console mags and one of the most influential publications of the early 1990s, since MM's staff moved en masse to help launch Sega Magazine.)

By the time Sega Magazine changed names to Sega Saturn Magazine in November 1995, it was already pretty clear which way the title was going to go with its coverage. Issue 1 was packed with a 30-minute VHS videocassette, something I'm sure newsagents just loved trying to fit into the magazine racks, that included gameplay videos of Sega Rally, Virtua Fighter 2, and a few other launch-window releases. (An AVI of the video is included on Mort's DVD.) It was the sort of thing hardcore early adopters ate up -- and because the Saturn quickly fell to the PlayStation in market share, those hardcore fans came to define the magazine's tone.

Like with Super Play, coverage of import games quickly began to take over the mag -- more out of necessity than anything else, but also because that's what readers wanted. Like Super Play, SSM occasionally put games on the cover (like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and X-Men vs. Street Fighter) that didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of receiving an official UK release. Readers didn't mind. That's what they bought the mag for, after all. Towards the end, though, I'm sure finding content to fill a 100-page mag with -- while Sega Europe abandoned the Saturn and the Dreamcast was still a long way away -- was a bit of a creative challenge.

Eventually -- mercifully, perhaps -- EMAP closed the magazine down with Issue 37 in November 1998. EMAP did not retain the official Sega license for the Dreamcast (that went to rival Dennis Publishing), which makes me wonder all the more why they kept plugging with the mag all the way to the end of '98. Ah well. The results were still worth it.

[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.]