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Analysis: What The (Game) Papers Say - September 2009, Pt. 2

Game magazine veteran Kevin 'Magweasel' Gifford continues his 'What The (Game) Papers Say' round-ups -- and following an initial September entry, he looks at the rest of the major g
[Game magazine veteran Kevin 'Magweasel' Gifford continues his 'What The (Game) Papers Say' round-ups -- and following an initial September entry, he looks at the rest of the major game magazines released this month.] This month's Game Informer marks the last before what promises to be an extensive redesign, the first full-on one the magazine's undertaken since acquiring its current wide-body dimensions in late 2000. I'll talk more about that below, but before that, another thing that's struck me lately. I've commonly made the accusation in this column (either directly or in some underhanded fashion) that Game Informer puts bald space-marine dudes on their cover every issue. Is this impression backed up by facts, though? I decided to take another look at the past year of GI covers (below), and reflecting back, I think the impression -- while not entirely false -- is aggrandized through no fault of GI's. It's true that half of the covers feature what could be called action-movie stereotypes -- rugged, strong, often-armored males brandishing weapons. But you could say the same about Official Xbox Magazine, too, not to mention GamePro. That's the way "AAA" video game projects themselves trend these days, after all. Why was this trend toward putting the "bald space marine" on the cover more identified with GI in my mind, then? A few reasons come to mind. GI covers have far less text than anything else on the newsstand, letting the cover art tell the story by itself; this makes the subject character the first thing you notice.
Also, the sort of games that become "world exclusives" on GI are almost always high-budget action/FPS titles. Such games usually aim for a gritty, realistic look, which -- when placed on a magazine cover -- tends to make all of them look the same from a distance. This is especially obvious in the above pic, where the Beatles Rock Band cover and its bright, toon-ish approach sticks out like an albino otter compared to the other 11 issues. When I look at the cover of a Future mag, it's usually the cover lines, the title of the game or (in the case of PC Gamer) some humorous one-liner that sticks in my mind. With GI, it's always the image of the video game's main character -- and in modern video games, that's more-often-than-not going to be a dude with a gun and maybe some cool space armor. If GI's covers are repetitive, that simply means the mainstream game industry itself is repetitive. All this talk begs another question, one that's bugged me for a bit: Does a game debuting on the cover of GI, one of the largest-circ publications in the country, inherently lead to better sales? That's a much broader question, though, and it deserves a column by itself. For now, let's take a look at the rest of the mags that hit my mailbox over the past fortnight: Edge October 2009
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Cover: PS3 Slim (newsstand), LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias (subscriber) This is the second time the newsstand edition of Edge has a cover I think is nicer-looking than the subscriber version. I can't find the newsstand cover online anywhere at the moment, but take my word for it -- it looks refined and well-designed, the way that all Edge's hardware-oriented covers tend to be, while the subscriber version looks more like it oughta be on Nintendo Power. (Not a slight upon Nintendo Power; I just mean it's un-Edge-like.) Both features are very good, however, as is Edge's exhaustive approach to covering Halo 3 ODST. A profile of Jenova Chen, the co-creator of titles like Flow on PSN, is so Edge-like and artsy-fartsy that it's sure to give Edge haters all the ammunition they need for the rest of the year, but it's nonetheless good reading if you like meandering peeks behind the design process. That theme's continued in a dev roundtable tackling how open-world games are changing the role of scriptwriter in the business. (If this is all too hoitie-toitie for you, you can quickly turn the page to this issue's top-50-iPhone-games roundup, the first time I've seen Edge do a "best XX things" feature in recent memory.) That wraps up the highlights for this issue, save for the 2/10 awarded to the GI Joe video game that appeared on the cover of GamePro a while back. By the way, at 196 pages, this is one of the largest video-game mag issues period I've seen in a long time. The number of pages, plus the high-quality paper stock Edge uses, makes this thing as thick as EGM during the glory years of the mid-1990s. About 80 of thoes pages, though, are devoted to ad-supported developer content -- partly a region-specific look at dev outfits in Ontario, partly a more general "how to get into games" info-blast. Not content appealing to everyone, I suppose, but still, kudos to Edge for pulling off a mag this size in 2009. Game Informer October 2009
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Cover: Crackdown 2 There's a spread in this issue touting the redesign in the works, and while most of the Internet was excited because they'll be using the occasion to reveal Warren Spector's Epic Mickey project (there's a lovely retrospective interview with Spector in the back pages this month, by the way), I'm more interested in the tiny glimpses of internal pages the staff inserted into the teaser. The pages are too small and blurred to say anything in detail, but staring intently at them makes me want to say that the redesign incorporates a fair bit more white space and uniformity in the rank-and-file pages than what we see currently. That, combined with the new logo, makes me wonder if GI is going for the European-style "clean look" that Simon Cox brought to all of the Ziff mags a few years ago. I may be completely wrong, but it's exciting either way, and I look forward to great surprises. As for actual content, I like the cover feature this time around a great deal more than last month's. It's an early first look and therefore the text mostly discusses what will be instead of what is, but the devs they talk to are intelligent, interesting, and not afraid to tackle touchy questions, such as how much of Crackdown 1's success had to do with the Halo 3 beta bundling. The bit on Enslaved that follows is a bit less flashy but has the advantage of featuring Andy Serkis, who I didn't know was involved before reading. Retro Gamer Issue 68
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Cover: Asteroids It's funny, sometimes, to imagine a world where modern design sensibilities existed in 1979. If so, we would've seen covers like these back then, no doubt. I can't get enough of it. The cover feature is not new stuff if you are a hardcore retro-phile, but who cares -- it's got lovely development sketches and tons of other neat details. The feature on Tiger's Game.com also brought back great memories. Great ones. I mean it. PC Gamer November 2009
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Cover: Wolfenstein A review of Wolfenstein is pretty out-of-date by the time of this writing, the game having come out back in mid-August. Wolfenstein doesn't even get the highest review rating this issue, either. But this isn't a review so much as an 8-page celebration of the game and its summer film-like qualities. It matches PC Gamer's current philosophy well -- don't worry about being first or flashiest; just offer the thing that's the most fun to read. The back page, which prints an assortment of quotes and asks readers to guess whether they're from Osama bin Laden or the Left 4 Dead 2 boycotters, actually beats anything I read in PC Zone this month. On that note: PC Zone October 2009
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Cover: Aliens vs. Predator Then again, this month's PC Zone describes a certain classic game as having "a soundtrack that sounds like R2-D2 wanking," which is the best one-liner I've read in games media all summer. There's also a funny-'cos-it's-too,-too-true column devoted to bluffing your way through game media writing -- basically, learn one fact about every game, tell people your favorite title ever is Psychonauts (or Giants: Citizen Kabuto), and give everything 72%. I'm having trouble deciding which publication wins this month. Two Very, Very Special Mags
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Nintendo Power's 2010 Calendar (on newsstands now) is exactly what it promises to be: A Nintendo-themed calendar for 2009 and 2010, complete with a bunch of ridiculous stickers and some posters just in case you think the dining room walls need some more class. I'll use it, anyway. Out of nowhere, I got issue #11 of Video Game Collector in the mail yesterday, the first new edition since October of 2008. I respect the effort they go through, but it's still mostly checklists and boring text and doesn't hold a candle to Retro Gamer. Hang in there, though! [Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site covering magazines and other esoteric aspects of the game industry. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]

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