cyoa049.jpg Being a packrat is a dangerous thing. Don't worry -- my place is not a mess, overrun with stacks of magazines to the point where you can't navigate it anymore. Everything's still nice and neat; I can still keep a facade of normalcy as long as I don't show guests my home office/ferret habitat/magazine room.

But I've worried that I'm picking up a new hobby, one that I don't really need right now. I stop by used bookstores almost whenever I pass one, and lately I've been buying whatever $1 Choose Your Own Adventure books they have.

I do this for the same reasons I collect magazines and collected video games before that -- part nostalgia (I devoured these things as a grade-schooler), part gotta-catch-em-all psychology, part sheer nerddom. Now I'm even starting to peruse eBay and AbeBooks for deals on CYOA and other gamebook series. (I have a strict policy -- don't pay more than a buck for anything -- and so far it seems workable.)

Is this the plight of the geek? The desire to collect stuff of no vital value? Where does it end? In my case, it ends once I run out of shelf space -- which, sadly, I still have a lot of. Could be worse, I suppose -- I could have a taste for all those $60-and-up anime figurines I write about all the time for my magazine. As shelf filler, gamebooks give you far more bang for the buck. (PS: You got any extras, drop me a line at [email protected] Wait, don't. You'll just be encouraging me if you do!)

Anyway, click on for my views on all the new US game mags of the past fortnight. Big things are happening this month (except to book sizes, those are still small) -- nearly all the mags are livid with GTA4 coverage, but one stood out above the rest...

Electronic Gaming Monthly April 2008 (Podcast)

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Cover: Grand Theft Auto IV

This is the first EGM that reflects the new editorial changes around the Ziff offices. All the editors in ZD-land -- sorry, the 1UP Network -- have been consolidated into "one super-mega editorial team" that contributes stuff to every outlet. It's basically the same folks, but now the masthead has a voluminous cast of Seniors and Executives and Group whatnots, so it's a little hard to tell who's atop one another any longer, so to speak.

This is also the issue where letter grades debut, which I commented on a bit last week -- I understand the motive (to help ensure that both the writers and the readers understand where the "average" is on the scale), but I'm not sure this is the most pressing issue facing EGM's three-person review system, which -- just like the Famitsu cross-review system it copied 19 years ago -- is showing its age in the modern game marketplace.

Otherwise, things are quite lovely this issue. Every mag is doing their next-to-final GTA4 previews this month, but EGM's is the best for getting Dan Houser to talk outside of the PR-mode he's always been in for previous coverage. It also has a couple amusing sidebars, one with the Dutch hacker who found Hot Coffee first and another outlining the influences GTA3 has had in and out of the industry, complete with assorted dev quotes.

I am increasingly taking a shine to the way EGM does industry pieces, the way that pretty much no news article is throwaway any longer -- at the very least, it's either something wholly original (like the 3-page bit in this issue where an ex-ESRB game rater offers his suggestions on how to "fix the system" and ESRB head Patricia Vance rebuts him in a long, caustically-worded sidebar) or dotted with quotes from a pool of devs that I suppose are EGM's equivalent to the pundits that news channels seem to summon out of thin air whenever something requires commentary. It's interesting to read, and my only complaint is the same as always -- that print mags are too small anymore to have more than one or two of these pieces in a go.

Games for Windows: The Official Magazine April/May 2008 (Podcast)

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Cover: The Sims 3

Speaking of shrinking print mags, GFW is apparently shifting frequency to ten issues a year, skipping the advertising-sparse months of May and August. I'm assuming that outstanding subscriptions will be extended accordingly. It's naturally impossible to tell how permanent this is, but it's not a very encouraging sign. PC Gamer is leaps and bounds better than it was even a couple years ago, but GFW's charms are still unique in my eyes, and I want more of it.

I'm sure the fact that PC gaming is dead... er, wait, I mean kind of slow... doesn't help much, either. The industry's loss is my gain, though, because except for the cover feature and the reviews section, this issue is almost entirely original news or features. It's all good stuff, too -- bits on the maturation of writing in games, the presence and meaning of death in games, a history of game packaging trends, and a roundtable where GFW asks 17 developers what they'd wish for if a genie allowed them to solve any game creation-related problem in an instant.

To put it another way, this issue of GFW is convincing me that the mag is turning into Computer Games in all the good ways. Hopefully it won't begin copying CGM's missteps this summer.

Game Informer April 2008

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Cover: Alpha Protocol

We now know the face of next-gen role-playing games, and that face is Adam Sandler's. The feature inside is typical GI, and I know I sound like a broken record about GI's features by this point -- the text is stylistically similar to something IGN would post and it's a much better use of my time to look up all the game facts on the forum threads instead of wade through it. The sub-feature on the new Aerosmith-themed Guitar Hero is better, as is the annual Game Infarcer section (hmm, I just realized GamePro didn't do their LamePro schtick in their April issue this year... shame).

The Connect section is also a little light this month, including one spread titled "PC Customization" that is basically free advertising for Alienware. What the 'ey? Buying an Alienware PC is what you do when you can't be bothered to customize your PC! (Admittedly, the feature does have actual customization tips in the text, but many likely won't notice this because the piece is illustrated with nothing but selections from Alienware's catalog.)

Official Xbox Magazine April 2008 (Podcast)

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Cover: Fallout 3

The cover preview-feature is nice and thoughtful; a lovely status report on the game, if you will. The roundup on upcoming XBLA stuff ain't bad, either. Otherwise, this issue's heavy on the usual reviews and previews.

The ad situation seems kinda sparse right now in Xbox-land, too -- there's a ton of in-house ads, and the old Halo 3 advertisement has popped up out of nowhere for a return appeareance. There's a half-page spot for independent console repair outfit 360 Pros, which is the first ad I've seen of its type in a very long time within the confines of a game mag.

PlayStation: The Official Magazine April 2008

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Cover: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Kind of the same old over here -- the small staff behind P:TOM have put together a mag that's mostly previews and reviews, without a heck of a lot much else (although the little community bits in the back are nice). I'm still looking forward to better things.

Game Developer March 2008

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Cover: Call of Duty 4

I forgot to mention the February '08 issue here, which I apologize about. I don't know if this began last month offhand [EDITOR: It started in March, starts its 'official' run in May], but this number has a new back-page feature, a humor page called "Arrested Development" that's actually pretty funny -- this one parodies game-industry books by introducing titles like Making Money with GameCube Ports: A Fast and Easy Guide to the Wealth You've Always Wanted.

Ths issue also includes a piece on some tech stuff by Jay Koottarappallil, which is frankly the greatest name I've ever heard. He ought to be an action-movie star.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also executive editor at PiQ magazine.]