[Kevin Gifford takes an an analytical look at the latest video game magazines released in the last couple of weeks -- typically the busiest period of the year for print magazines -- from Game Informer to EGM to Edge.]
After some time off, I'm ready to sit down and tackle the rather worrisome stack of mags on my desk, though -- and what would be right on top but the new Game Informer, the one that's got three different covers by Sam Spratt that advertise the "best characters of the past decade" feature on the inside. It's the first time I can think of GI doing a non-"world exclusive" cover, and making it something a lot more original and compelling than "Top 50 Holiday Games" or the like.
The feature it touts is pretty neat, too, giving 2-300 words each to their 30 character choices and also devoting a few pages to the best "storytellers" of the aughts -- Dan Houser, Ken Levine, and so forth. No Japanese folks at all made that list, which I find both interesting and sadly understandable.
The new issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly is still just as thin as the last one at 82 pages, but it's also just as in-depth as always, with several pages inside that are nothing but text -- a rarity in magazines these days period, to say nothing of game mags. Tim Schafer is the big interview this month, which is a great choice, because when he isn't being funny he's happily going on about the insights he's learned through his very odd career.
GamePro, meanwhile, is still in the transition stage with its December issue -- they didn't officially announce new hire Julian Rignall until last week, after all, so it'll be a bit until we see his influence in the pages. The theme here is dark, brooding suspense, with the editors again turning to psychologists and the like for insights into what makes horror games work.
EGM, by the way, has pretty hefty page stock, which means it's thicker than GP despite having fewer pages overall -- and yet, to my untrained eye, it seems like GP is printed better, featuring glossier pages and brighter colors. Judgment calls like that can depend very heavily on individual physical issues, though, so I wouldn't try to interpret too much from this.
GameFan, now at issue number four (and still not offering subscriptions, it looks like), continues to merrily skip down a path of its own crazy choosing. Enslaved takes up more real estate this issue than any other individual game, although Castlevania: Lords of Shadow -- a six-page review that's maybe 500 words, the rest of the space being occupied by amazingly complex screenshot collages -- has a pretty big impact in your mind as well.
There's also a spread of pics from GameFan's editorial office, and as you'd expect, it could easily double as a Halverson-curated museum of game history. I want his Wonder Dog plush.
The November issue of Edge is a snapshot in history, I think -- given that it features (a) a cover story about a game whose developer is now under threat of closure by (b) the big-name industry head who's interviewed a few pages later. (Bobby Kotick's comments on dev autonomy in this piece were no doubt a little difficult for the editors to swallow at the point he uttered them for this interview, and at this point they seem more two-faced than, uh, Two-Face.)
Kotick's 4-page interview, combined with talks with Keiji Inafune (before he promptly left Capcom) and a couple folks behind failed APB developer Realtime Worlds, make this one of the more depressing Edges in recent memory. By comparison, December's issue is far cheerier, with a noted spotlight on indie projects -- Retro City Rampage gets four pages, Child of Eden gets eight, and there's also a roundup of neat titles from the XBL Indie Channel that's worth reading.
@Gamer, as you'd expect for this time of year, chiefly concentrates on holiday-era game previews and reviews. The mag gets points for covering the Tokyo Game Show and not using it as a soapbox to describe everything wrong with the Japan game industry, though -- something that's been in fashion among US and UK mags for the past few years.
Rambi the rhino looks very annoyed at something in the December edition of Nintendo Power, and now that I've noticed him, I hardly even remember that Donkey and Diddy Kong are supposed to be the main subjects of the cover. Weird how your eyes play tricks on you like that sometimes. The Holiday issue, meanwhile, is mostly coverage of Japan stuff like KH:COD and Okamiden, with an interview with the Cave Story guy the main highlight.
It's a sign of the times when it comes to the Wii game scene at the moment, perhaps, but I couldn't help but note the amount of non-paid ads (2 pages advertising other Future mags, 3 pages of ESRB filler ads) in both issues. In the holiday season, no less. That ocarina manufacturer needs to shell out for a spread ad already.
PC Gamer first put Duke Nukem Forever on the cover in November '97. "We're not fortune tellers," they wrote at the time, "but we have every confidence that Duke Nukem Forever will be one of the biggest -- and perhaps the best -- titles of 1998."
13 years later, the editors feel assured enough that it's actually coming out that they're trying it again. But, despite the fact that 2K and Gearbox agreed to a hands-on preview, they refused to release any new screenshots to PC Gamer for the feature. So, instead, they had courtroom illustrator Suzanne Rachel Forbes come along with them to Gearbox. The results are incredibly hilarious and definitely worth looking at -- the intricately-detailed portrait of 2K's PR manager as he watches the PCG editor play a scene that involves two chicks and a pool table is particularly nice.
I applaud any effort to make a preview feature original, and this one sure did it for me.
For its December book, PlayStation: The Official Magazine goes all in with God of War, doing interviews with the directors of all five games in the series (have there really been five? I'm getting old) and taking a very fond, GamePro-like look back at the franchise. The Holiday issue's Infamous 2 cover isn't as interesting to me, but their take on the holiday buyer's guide -- profiling the editor team and trying to come up with the best gifts for each one -- is pretty neat.
I haven't gotten the last 2010 edition of Official Xbox Magazine yet, but the December one is probably the most orthodox one out of this roundup, consisting mainly of reviews as it does. There's a funny piece on game-themed Halloween costumes, as well as a less intentionally funny one about game-themed fanfiction. (It beats another Halo book excerpt...)
I doggedly continue to not know a lot about MMORPGs, so I'll lump these two mags together. World of Warcraft Official Magazine still looks really pretty; Beckett Massive Online Gamer still looks like a bunch of screenshots cobbled together.
For the past two issues, Retro Gamer has experimented with interactive (sort of) covers. Issue 82 takes an Advent calender-style approach, featuring little year-labeled windows that each have a scene from a Mario game behind them, and Issue 83 has a fold-out DK cover that (as you can see) is kind of a pain to keep in one piece when you're trying to scan the magazine -- or read it, for that matter. Top bits include a making-of for Harvest Moon and a pretty in-depth look at software protection schemes on old platforms -- a lot more interesting than it sounds.
Retro Gamer's also got Volume 2 of the Videogames Hardware Handbook on newsstands right now. It's all repurposed content from old Retro Gamers, but as a Christmas present, it's a pretty smart (and cheap-but-not-chintzy) idea.
And lest I forget, Game Developer has my pick for best cover art of the roundup. What do you reckon?
Writer Azurelore Korrigan also contributes a pretty neat feature to this book, hyper-analyzing the first stage of Castlevania III and explaining why it's pretty poorly designed.
[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.]