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Column: Game Mag Weaseling

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Letters to Pac-Man About Video Games

December 12, 2010 12:00 AM |

['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.]

egpacman1.jpg

Whenever I have to write a column and don't have any particular idea for one in mind, I take a walk around my office/ferret room/magazine library and fish out random issues from the shelves in search of inspiration. When that doesn't work, I turn to Electronic Games.

The grande dame of game publications in the U.S. -- a mag whose issues still go for a fair bit of cash on auction sites, something that almost nothing post-Nintendo Power can claim -- is always fascinating to thumb through.

This was the first U.S. game mag of any kind, period, and it was very much inventing the style of such mags as it went along. I've written before about how Bill Kunkel and crew had to invent terms like "Easter egg" and "screenshot" for the purposes of this magazine, but they were also the first outlet (and the only one at all, at the time) to spell it "videogame," and not "video game."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 12/4/10

December 6, 2010 12:00 PM |

['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. This time -- an analytical look at the latest video game magazines released in the last couple of weeks.]

pczone-1011.jpg

Much like the news sections of print magazines, nobody should ever accuse me of being timely. I wrote about the closing of UK magazine PC Zone all the way back in July, and only now have I managed to get my own copy of the November 2010 issue, the final one.

Future Publishing, in the UK at least, have been very kind to their floundering mags. From Official PlayStation Magazine to such classic titles as Your Sinclair and Commodore Format, the publisher has (with few exceptions) always allowed its ill-performing titles to have an official "final issue" send-off instead of simply laying off the staff at the end of a cycle, as what happens with most other publications (and to me, about two or three times during my career). It's a nice gesture, especially considering PC Zone is probably lucky to be selling four-figures right now, I would imagine, despite my best efforts advertising it here.

From cover to cover, the final PC Zone makes no secret that this is the last one. The editor's column is written by "The Reaper" (which I can't help but wonder might be a reference to the semi-dormant Magazine Death Pool weblog), the letters column filled with fond reader tributes (including one from an Iraqi who somehow read the mag all through the 1990s), and there's a roundup of commentary bits from assorted PC-biz folk, a timeline-style PC Zone history, and a roundup interview with most of the main folks involved with the mag over the years, discussing what their favorite PC games of all time are. A little self-indulgent, yeah, but to fans, it's exactly what they want.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The League of Extraordinary Gamers

November 10, 2010 12:00 AM |

['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.]

loeg1.jpg   loeg2.jpg

Game Informer, the game mag with the largest circulation in the US and probably the world (unless there's some MMO publication in China I'm not aware of), wasn't just born overnight. It was crafted expertly after a long, drawn-out process, which was deftly chronicled in this six-page photo comic printed in the November 2000 edition of GI -- the first one to use the current "wide" format, and an issue I've only now managed to get my hands on.

loeg1.jpg   loeg2.jpg

In this rare peek into the process that goes on behind the scenes of a magazine redesign, we see EIC Andy McNamara and his gang (a lot of whom still work at GI a decade later) delving into the intricacies of good print design and how to attract the attention of potential customers via coverlines and eye-catching visuals. It's a fascinating glimpse, I think you'll agree.

loeg1.jpg   loeg2.jpg

Sadly, Ferrets magazine ceased publication in 2008 (really), so I'm not sure what McNamara's staff relied upon as inspiration for the mag's most current design. Whatever it is, it's resulted in some of the nicest cover art in recent memory, more months than most. I'd like to think some other weasel species provided guidance this time. Maybe otters.

[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.]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Bits and Bobs

November 1, 2010 12:00 PM |

['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.]

Normally this week would be a Mag Roundup where I cover all the magazines that I've received in the past little while. The situation's a little unique this time, though -- I've been traveling around for most of the past two weeks and still am right now, so I haven't actually gotten to my mailbox lately. (That, and I think I may've forgotten to renew my assorted Future subscriptions. Oops.)

So Mag Roundup will come back next week, probably. In its place, a few quick tidbits:

druagabook2.jpg   druagabook1.jpg

- As mentioned last week, I picked up the latest issue of Dengeki Games in Japan and rather liked it. I also found something else which isn't quite a magazine, but is nonetheless a neat piece of game-related print merchandise.

Solo RPG gamebooks, like the Fighting Fantasy series and so forth, were all the rage in Japan during the mid-1980s, much as they were in Europe and (later on) the US. Most of the gamebooks released in Japan were translated versions of Fighting Fantasy or other game series, but one or two home-grown titles popped up here and there -- and as I discovered during this trip, a guy named Naoto Suzuki wrote three books based on The Tower of Druaga, one of my favorite retro arcade games ever. (The one on the left is an original from 1986; the other one's a larger-sized reprint put out in 2008.)

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': A Bolt From Japan

October 24, 2010 12:00 AM |

['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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I'm in Japan at the moment, and I'm starting to wish I had more time. I'm not touring the countryside or anything like that; I'm in Tokyo and for the most part I've been catching up with personal/business contacts and the like, but there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day for everything I want to do.

I've had a bit of a chance to go scoping around for old magazines, but so far things haven't been very cheery. The only place I've really found any is at the Super Potato in Akihabara, which had a pretty nice selection of issues from Beep and PC Engine Fan and the like.

Unfortunately, they were asking way too much for my liking -- something like 1500 to 2500 yen per issue, which would be far beyond my budget even if the yen-dollar exchange rate wasn't pushing 15-year lows right now.

I did finally get around to picking up a copy of Dengeki Games, though, and I'm browsing through it this morning as a way of forgetting about my jet lag. As I wrote a bit about in the past, Dengeki Games is a mag that originally started as a mature-oriented Nintendo publication, but eventually became publisher ASCII Media Works' big, fat montly multiplatform book -- spiritually speaking, the only real direct competition Weekly Famitsu has in Japan.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 10/16/10

October 18, 2010 12:00 PM |

['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. This time -- an analytical look at the latest video game magazines released in the last couple of weeks.]

gi-1011.jpg

I need to finish this column up quickly, as I'm going to Japan in two days and have a crapload of work to handle between now and then, but I wanted to comment a bit about the current goings-on at GamePro, the outfit that gave me my first full-time job in the game industry.

The news doesn't seem to have been discussed much in public yet, but Mike Weigand, managing editor at GamePro, announced on Twitter that he's left the company effective this week. Major Mike had worked at GamePro since the salad days of the mid-1990s, when he jumped ship from Sendai -- where he mainly worked on EGM2 and, at times, seemed to practically write the entire magazine solo. He had the honor of being the last man at GamePro that I worked alongside during my own stint at the mag (from the start of 2002 to mid-2003), so the event's a particularly interesting one for me.

Who's replacing him -- and, for that matter, who's replacing John Davison, the print veteran that joined GP in 2009 and completely revamped the mag and website before jumping to GameSpot last month? There hasn't been any official announcement from IDG yet, but I've heard through the grapevine that Julian Rignall, former head of Future Plus (the outfit that handles pubs like @Gamer and NVision) and a guy who's been involved with game mags since 1985, will be taking the reins over there.

If the news is true, then Rignall's certainly got the qualifications for the job. The question at hand, though: GamePro's reinvented itself, yes, but now what? The circulation on the print mag is still not all that hot, reportedly peaking with the Medal of Honor cover and falling since then. I firmly believe that Davison extended the life of the GamePro brand during his short time at IDG, but where Rignall goes next with the brand could be an even more interesting story to watch.

Anyway, let's move on to covering the mags that crossed my mailbox over the past two weeks:

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': GamesTM's 100th

October 10, 2010 12:00 AM |

['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. This time - a look at a classic magazine collection completed.]

gamestm100-3.jpg

As threatened earlier, I tracked down a copy of the 100th edition of GamesTM published last month -- the cover I wanted the most out of all 100 they produced, no less. It was something of a stroke of luck, considering that I found it in the loneliest, most barren bookstore within ten miles of my house, and they had a whopping selection of three copies to choose from.

It was actually the first time I've purchased a GamesTM since their 50th issue, about four years ago. At the time, I didn't have an extremely high openion of it. I appreciated what it was going for, mind you -- a 180-page magazine full of original game content every month, the sort of book size that becoming kind of rare even when GamesTM opened in December 2002, along with an extensive regular section devoted to retro gaming. (Imagine Publishing now handles both GamesTM and the standalone Retro Gamer, making them the biggest professional outlet for old-game content almost by default.)

The idea was nice enough, but the execution used to be pretty lacking. Sure, there was a lot of content, but that was their only selling point -- quantity. A great big heap of the same old, boring, by-the-book news, previews, and reviews, something every magazine was doing already.

They would occasionally have good ideas, but they wouldn't follow through with them, like the time they opted against reviewing Half-Life 2 (since final code arrived too late) but wound up doing nearly no other coverage on the game, either.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 10/2/10

October 3, 2010 12:00 PM |

['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. This time -- an analytical look at the latest video game magazines released in the last couple of weeks.]

It's October -- 10/10, if you will -- and just now it's starting to become bearable to stay outside for more than half a minute per go. I'm celebrating by, well, staying inside and reorganizing my magazine collection. I'm a bit incorrigible by this point.

The mags coming out right now have a lot to cover for the coming months, but in this column, many of them seem to be turning backward instead. Case in point:

Edge October 2010

edge-1010.jpg

Cover: Rock Band 3

Although we're near the busy holiday season, this month's Edge does a lot of looking back.

The Rock Band 3 piece is more a history of Harmonix, and how their latest game is the natural conclusion of their 10-year-long music gameography. The Rare piece touted on the cover is pretty excellent, devoting an interview paragraph to games from all across their history, from Wizards & Warriors forward. Even the longform interview with Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later, mainly talks about the evolution of storytelling in video games over the past decade.

And all that's before I even got to the making-of piece on the original SNES Harvest Moon, too. Yowza.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The End of Computing

September 26, 2010 12:00 AM |

['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. This time - a look at a classic magazine collection completed.]

computer121.jpg

Something of a major milestone in the realm of computer magazine collecting was surpassed a couple of days back -- issue 121 of COMPUTE! magazine was found and added to the DLH's Commodore Archive magazine collection as an 'unofficial' PDF - with much of the rest of the issues available elsewhere online.

I have, of course, written about COMPUTE! a few times over the history of this column -- most recently, when I made fun of the fact that they released a porn-labeled modem in 1993. That trivializes its position in PC history, of course.

It was, for a time between 1981 and '86 or so, the biggest home-oriented computer magazine out there -- but after that, it quickly faded, as PC hobbyists evolved from hardcore hackers willing to code their own programs to "regular people" who simply wanted to use their Commodore 64s and Compaqs and other PCs to do something useful with a minimum of effort.

By the time 1990 rolled around, COMPUTE! was nothing short of an anachronism. Its original founder, Robert C. Locke, had left in order to found Game Players magazine, seeking to capitalize on the Nintendo Entertainment System boom. Its original unique draw -- brand-new BASIC and machine-language programs that people could type in and learn from -- was long gone, dropped in place of coverage of more casual oriented IBM PC-compatible coverage.

Despite that, though, the magazine still tried its damndest to have coverage of both the PC compatibles that dominated the mainstream industry by 1990 and the Amiga, Apple II, C64, and other systems that were well by the mainstream wayside, but still maintained a substantial audience.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 9/18/10

September 19, 2010 12:00 AM |

['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. This time -- an analytical look at the latest video game magazines released in the last couple of weeks.]

gi-1010-1.jpg

The new October issue of Game Informer is finally in my hands, and I'm happy for it, because (as GI's own editors have written and talked a bunch about) it's a three-part split cover for BioShock Infinite featuring some lovely Saturday Evening Post-style illustration by Robb Waters at Irrational Games. Each cover features quite impressive, dare I say framable, pieces of work. I didn't get the cover I wanted the most in my mailbox, but I'll live.

During my time writing for print mags I was rarely, if ever, involved in working out cover design. I'd occasionally write cover stories, but I wasn't the one who decided what the cover itself looked like -- that job was usually the EIC's and art director's.

However, oftentimes I had the impression that getting a decent image from game publishers for a magazine cover was a bit like pulling teeth. Maybe the PR department would just give us a couple of screenshots and expect us to print them as-is on the cover, like EGM did in its first year or so.

Maybe they'd hand us the same art assets they've already given to every other media outlet, so our cover would look like an outdated ad circular. Maybe they'd have the abolute perfect image, but it wouldn't be at print resolution, and they'd drag their feet endlessly at providing a bigger version. And so forth.