['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.]


I don't cover it in these roundups because of its dirty Britishness, but Retro Gamer (available in a lot of Barnes & Noble stores) has to win some sort of award for Most Improved Game Magazine Ever. I bought the first few issues in 2004, but gave up on it pretty quickly -- not for its British-centric coverage (Jeff Minter was not a pioneer of anything, guys, come on), but because the design was awful and the text read like barely-rewritten stuff found on the web.

Wot a difference a couple years make! After going under and getting bought by a new publisher, Retro Gamer got rid of its pack-in CD and has done a total about-face -- it's now absolutely thrilling to read and the refreshingly innovative design outclasses more than one mainstream US game magazine. I would love to have a mag that's more concentrated on American and Japanese retro-gaming, but regardless, Retro Gamer still deserves a lot more attention from gamers everywhere, not just cheap-ass 8-bit junkies with massive ROM collections. If you haven't seen it, hunt for it.

Getting back to the main subject, click here for a full report on every game magazine that's hit US store shelves over the past two weeks.

Official Xbox Magazine September 2006


Something interesting happened this month which you'd think would be a more common occurrence: two different rags have almost the exact same main feature. In OXM's case, the editors noticed that there's pretty much jack going on in Xbox-land this summer, so this month they decided to appeal to those gamers who read OXM regularly, yet haven't gotten around to upgrading to an Xbox 360 quite yet. (Which I appreciate, to be honest, because I'm one of them. Although, frankly, I'm not buying new games -- I'm snapping up all the ones I didn't get around to the first time for cheap, like Jade Empire.)

So the main feature this month covers 30 games for the original Xbox, headlined by six pages on Mortal Kombat: Armageddon and flanked by LEGO Star Wars II and a bunch of games I really don't care about, like Destroy All Humans! 2 and Knights of the Temple II.

The Disc: Continues the theme by offering "Best of Xbox Volume 1", demos of five old Xbox classics: Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, Half-Life 2, Mercenaries, LEGO Star Wars, and DoA Ultimate. There's also a demo of Saint's Row -- parents, hide the disc from your kiddies!

Filler-tastic: A six-page feature on custom 360 faceplates, including an interview with a guy who's spent around $4000 collecting rare ones. I'd make fun of him, but, well, I'm typing this in a room with thousands of magazines in it, so...

Play August 2006


In contrast to OXM's look at the future of the original Xbox, Play concentrates on the past with a feature called "X Marked the Spot" that's really right up self-described "Xbox whore" Dave Halverson's alley ("I'm not sure I'm even ready to let go, even after all the times it's reminded me that my disc is dirty or damaged"). He uses it to go over the great hits and misses of the system, from Armed & Dangerous and Voodoo Vince to Galleon and Shrek ("it remains the one and only wall-to-wall bump-mapped Xbox game"). The feature's a lot of quick-to-read snippets of text, and it works well with the usual clean visual style of Play's layout.

Oh, right: The cover is Ultimate Ghouls 'N Ghosts, the last time a PSP game may get the cover of any mag for a while, and the art inside is fantastic, as it is within a follow-up feature on Okami.

Only in Play: Will you find (a) a full-page preview of Snoopy vs the Red Baron that (b) actually makes the game look good. There's also an interview with the head of Artificial Studios, an indy outfit making some sort of anime-ish action game, and the producer of Adult Swim pilot Korgoth of Barbaria, misspelled "Kogarth" on the cover. (If you missed it when it aired two months ago, sucks to be you.)

Game Informer August 2006


Mr. Informer, I have a hot tip for you: stop letting lame games hog up the entire cover just to keep up the "world exclusive" streak. Seriously, there is a ton of cool crap in this issue and the casual bookstore buyer (which, admittedly, you don't have a ton of) wouldn't know about any of it because the cover's always taken up by an anonymous scowling space marine, or U.S. Marine, or space mercenary, or U.S. space mercenary/SEAL/secret agent. Or Batman.

The entire "Connect" section (the news/opinion part of GI) is gold this month, for example. The ESRB article mentioned on the cover is four pages long and features commentary from both sides of the recent ratings controversy, including ESRB head Patricia Vance and anti-violence media group head David Walsh, and it cites all sorts of studies and hearings. It's a superb piece to read and learn from, especially compared to efforts from other mags which largely just make fun of Jack Thompson.

Connect also has bits on state-of-the-art character modeling techniques, "the top 10 design trends" (i.e. motion sensing and microtransactions), machinima, Warner Bros. video game guy Jason Hall, why casual games are the future of gaming, and a pro/con about whether licensed games are good for the industry. It's all well written and backed up with real game-business people and research, and I think it's worth a free GameStop subscription all by itself. In an era when most game mags have kinda given up on "news," GI ought to be lauded for trying to be more in-depth than any other outlet in print or online.

As for the cover: Man, I really don't give a flip about Kane & Lynch. Then again, with a game like this where the screenshots all show situations you've probably played through before in GTA countless times, it's difficult to be very interested in the feature. I think GI's feature style (one long text narrative; sidebars nonexistent) is also a detriment when the game isn't top-tier -- without any pull quotes or sidebars to explain why this particular game is special, it's hard to drum up the effort to actually read the story.

I will conjecture that the "world exclusive" streak may have affected GI's cover negatively this month. Why? Because Turok (the other big feature in this issue) would almost certainly have made a more interesting and unique cover. Everyone knows that a dinosaur on the cover always bumps magazine sales. That and gorillas.

Computer Gaming World August 2006


And speaking of covers, CGW's is brilliant this month, arguably the best of this roundup. The subject matter of most PC games being what it is today, it's pretty rare for a PC games mag to really stick out from the crowd with its cover content. But oh yes, this does. The feature itself, which goes over the grand history of Sam & Max after their game came out in 1993 (including two separate canceled projects), is similarly brill, although it inclues a full-page photo of creator Steve Purcell at the end for no apparent reason (did an advertisement drop out at the last minute?).

Viewpoint: Is the new name of CGW's review section, which has evolved so much over the past couple issues that the reviews aren't really reviews anymore -- they try their best not to be comprehensive, instead commenting on individual bits they enjoyed or hated and occasionally quoting from other people's reviews and even web-forum posts to make a point. It's utterly unique, to be sure, and while the quoting sometimes seems a little forced, it does seem to free up the CGW writer's mind a bit more -- instead of striving to cover every little thing in 600 words, he's more free to just write about whatever the 'ell he feels like without feeling guilty. I'll be interested to see how this style evolves as the staff gets more accustomed to it.

PC Gamer September 2006 (Podcast)


This month's PCG has a little bit on the ESRB too, as well as a piece on Hillary Clinton's new Media Safety Guide (they're pretty soft on it), but as the cover portends, the real meat this month is an eight-page feature on Bioshock that goes into extreme detail on bits overlooked in the Game Informer blowout a few months back.

It's interesting: How different PCG and CGW are these days, after several years where it was getting hard to tell between the two titles. PCG's emphasis these days is still on "the latest," with its cover proudly proclaiming that "online previews told you NOTHING" about Bioshock and the brunt of the mag still devoted to up-to-the-moment reviews and previews. This makes it a bit difficult to point out any individual bit of this month's PCG that non-PC game enthusiasts should watch out for, although the assorted editorials in each genre section are always worth reading. The bit on a 3D mod of StarCraft is also kinda neat.

GamePro August 2006


Oh my, that cover.

But seriously: The contents of this issue are surprisingly hardcore -- there are large roundup features on HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, and every next-gen system, including an excerpt from Dean Takahashi's new book on the development of the Xbox 360.

Newsstand editions: Are packed with a copy of Rush City #0, a new title from DC Comics about a firefighter who gets into a coma or something. Nice, but no Sly Cooper.

Innovation in advertising?: There are two ads for Super Dragon Ball Z inside the table of contents and one department of the news section -- the logo, a character from the game, and the word "ADVERTISEMENT", all in a space the size of a business card. Weird.

Game Developer Presents Fall 2006 Game Career Guide


The one-off of the moment this time around is Game Developer's fifth annual career special, filled with features on breaking in, taking classes, and not going to DeVry and making an idiot of yourself. Highlights include a "day in the life" at Neversoft, Ubisoft, and Rockstar San Diego, as well as extensive coverage of student games and how to make one that isn't stupid.

For non-industry dorks: The main draw may be all the help-wanted ads you won't see anywhere else, from outfits like Nintendo, LucasArts, Insomniac Games, and all manner of developers great and small.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He owns enough magazines to smother himself with should the need arise, and his secret fantasy is for someone flush with game-publisher stock options to give him a monthly stipend so he can spend a year researching their full history and finishing the site. In his "off" time he is an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]