I now have both the second issue of GameFAN and the second issue of EGM. And personally, I prefer GameFAN. By a long way I’m afraid. Which is rather annoying since I’d subscribed to EGM. Blast! (Thanks to ‘The Glider’ on ntsc-uk for the GameFAN photo) Most photos here are of GameFAN, click for a bigger image - though I've obscured the text.
When EGM arrived a few days ago I was rather disappointed. The features were good, but absolutely none of the game coverage interested me at all. Which isn't to say there aren't interesting games out there, just that EGM has chosen to focus on what's nauseatingly mainstream and, to me, boring as hell.
Out of roughly 86 editorial pages (ignoring covers, adverts and junk like the contents - but including art pages for each DPS), at least 40 of them I have no interest in, don't want to have an interest in, and won't be reading. I haven’t liked Mortal Kombat since 1995, but at least the feature is interesting and well written enough to warrant reading, as are the other features and columns.
But really, I couldn't care less about the game coverage: CoD, Rockband, Killzone, Assassin's Creed, LBP, Madden, Rage, CV: LoS, Bulletstorm, Final Fantasy 14, FEAR, Crackdowm, WoW, SM Galaxy, Prince of Persia, Red Dead Redemption, Alan Wake (OK, maybe I'm interested in this, only to compare it to Deadly Premonition, but DP isn't even mentioned in the copy), Skate 3, Modnation Racers, Trauma Centre, Split Second and Back Breaker. These are loathsomely boring to me.
This reminds me of the time I subscribed to EDGE without knowing what EDGE was (everyone said it was the best magazine available, when really it sanctimonious garbage). As a result I spent a year thinking that I no longer liked videogames and that there was nothing which appealed to me. I almost took up snooker as a hobby instead.
As it stands I'm only reading EGM for the features, for example on whether gaming needs to start forming labour unions, variable price structuring, faster internet protocol standards, integration of 3D technology in modern consumer products, plus psychology of human addiction and other such features. Unfortunately as you can tell, this list reads like something out of the Financial Times. It’s academia heavy. There is no real indie coverage (and by this I mean covering the plethora of games released every minute of every day - more than I could ever play), there’s no import coverage at all, there’s nothing niche or obscure.
I don’t want to say it isn’t fun, because I don’t always want fun, but it certainly isn’t pleasurable. If this continues I won’t be re-subscribing in 6 months.
Which brings me on to GameFAN.
GameFAN is like a consensual hallucinogenic illusion between yourself, Dave Halverson, and everyone else who reads the magazine. I love it as much as I can love any inanimate form of media or object. I love it for the same reason I loved PLAY before it.
They both portray the gaming world as I would want it to be, even if that’s not how it actually is. When Nick des Barres described Folklore as one of the most important games released that year, or Dave spoke about Purgatory Kabuki as if it were the perfect manga/game crossover, I wanted to believe this though I knew it wasn’t true. I loved Folklore but it was ignored by the masses and critics alike, while Purgatory Kabuki was awful. But the illusion created by the magazine was pleasurable enough to outweigh the discrepancies of reality.
Let’s examine the current issue: it features Sin and Punishment 2 on its cover. Over the years how many Treasure games have featured on magazine covers in the west? (discounting the EDGE 200 cover special, because when you fire a shotgun you’re bound to hit something good). Very few - in fact I can only think of GameFAN’s covers showing love to Treasure. Maybe other mags did too. Along with S&P2 cover is a review by Halverson which verges on poetry, followed by a 3-page love-in with Treasure themselves. The questions being as delightful as the answers they garnered - if you threw baby oil into the mix the interview would have looked like Turkish wrestling, it was so intimate. They have a reasonable amount of indie coverage compared to EGM’s none. They’ve also got a cool-as-hell Aksys poster which, on the reverse, features Kunio and other games being published by Aksys. And they've got import coverage.
They’re covering fascinating games, even if they are behind schedule. I won’t play half of these, but I sure as hell want to read about them: Nier, 3D Dot Heroes, Monster Hunter Tri, Agarest, Arc Rise Fantasia, Trinity Universe, Cave Story (with interview), Ninety Nine Nights 2, DEATHSMILES, let me say that again, DEATHSMILES (and Halvey’s review is pretty damn awesome, even if doesn’t quite grasp/explain the games technicalities - and spells shmup wrong), The Red Star, Sam and Max, What did I do to deserve this my Lord 2, Again (cool FMV-style DS detective game), Shin Megami Tensei. Oh, and Deathsmiles. I was especially pleased to see Again on DS, since this slipped by me totally.
Plus the art design is, to me, absolutely perfect. I keep reading forums where people complain about the art design, and this scares me, because right now it’s really is perfect, better than PLAY’s design even, and I really don’t want it to change. Look at all the screenshots for Afro Samurai in the Bandai interview. I have no interest in Backbreaker as a game, but Jesus that’s a beautiful DPS - they even managed to fit in a mini screen-border. I love screenshot borders, they’re like sex for the eyeballs. Mario Galaxy 2 has a montage showing how a series of events and animation play out - I thought these had died with the old GameFAN, and I am SO glad to see them return. Although I’ve little interest in SMG as a game, I can see these screens and think, huh, so that’s how it rolls. At least it saves me checking out Youtube. Cave Story is exquisite and the design respects the sprites and pixel ratios. Deathsmiles is another fantastic DPS, and the screens give me a feeling for the game. Sin and Punishment makes copious use of Suzuki’s beautiful renditions. Agarest War is bright and colourful. Whatever they’re paying their designer, it’s not enough.
If I made a magazine, it would look like this. GameFAN is a work of coffee-table beauty. Excuse the poor lighting in my photos - I’ve intentionally made the text unreadable.
If a magazine is going to show any screenshots at all, it should be to give the readers a feeling of how the game plays - to attempt some kind of arty bullshit with empty space and over large CG shots, which tells the reader nothing about what he’ll see in the game, renders your design irrelevant and pointless. You might as well leave your text on a white background with no imagery, or overlay it onto photographs of dancing pandas. Look at the EGM DPS of Castlevania. What the hell is this crap? I have no idea what it’s trying to show me, it tells me nothing about the game, and so I’ve no interest in reading the text at all. If they didn’t have gameplay shots, they might as well just say: we have no idea what the game is about, here’s a recycled press release along with some speculation on our part. Copious screenshots or die, I say to print magazines. Otherwise I’m going online to read HG101.
The fact that people seem to like useless design, and frown on GameFAN’s use of screenshots worries me. GameFAN’s design at least serves a purpose, of enticing me to read and telling me what I can expect when I play the game. EGM? Like I said, might as well put photos of dancing pandas, because they tell me nothing of the games.
As for the actual writing, I have to admit, EGM is better from a technical point of view. My profession is sub-editor (not that you’d know from my blog posts), and Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is my bible, so I understand the technicalities of the English language. And EGM does a good job of being intelligent. I wrote the GamesTM review for Agarest War, and so I was curious to read GameFAN’s. Unfortunately Valerie Dahmersdottir is a terrible writer, and the review was so vacuous as to be laughable. And yet I still prefer GameFAN, despite its warts and frat-boy writing. And I would still rather pay money for it than EGM.
EGM is like the dowdy headmaster of a private boarding school giving you a stern lecture and threatening you with the cane. Just look at the article on unionisation. It was intelligent and made an important statement about the sorry, fucked up state the industry is in. Much like their Metacritic feature from the month before. These features tell us that the industry is controlled by a few, greedy megacorporations like Activision and EA, and basically the entire show is being run by a bunch of bastardly swine which need the guillotine. As for EGM’s sycophantic Jaffe interview, it made me want to gag. The magazine makes me dislike my hobby, because it paints it in the drab hues of reality (except for Dan Hsu, who seems delusional with how great being a games journalist is - despite it absolutely sucking).
The thing is, I deal with the crappy reality of every day life, oddly enough, every day of my life. And although EGM’s unionisation article has opened my eyes, I’d rather they were closed. I don’t want to know that everything sucks and everyone is being screwed out of money. I don’t play Activision’s games anyway, so to hell with that whole crowd. I would rather choose ignorance and blindness, wrapped up in the passionate 2D rantings of Japan-loving madmen. Video games are my escape from a day job, from taxes, from laundry, from watching the news and seeing the world as a grey androgynous blob of poverty and political and economic upheaval. Games are my drug of choice, and I want my reading material to reflect this.
Reading GameFAN is like finding Dave Halverson knocking on your front door, with a pack of brewskies in one hand and a Dreamcast under his arm, saying: “Duuuude, you gotta check out this hot new import I picked up. It’s got 2D flying demon ninjas like something out of a John Woo film! And afterwards, we can play this cool doujin shmup for my PC98.” He’s a throwback to another time which only existed in a parallel dimension. And considering he writes so much copy for GameFAN, the next 65 pages is pretty much you and him shooting the breeze about how cool hand-drawn sprites are and why Treasure is king. While his buddies chatter in the background about RPGs and indie stuff and scantily clad women.
I know that Sin and Punishment 2 will never sell well, and that a lot of these high-scoring games aren’t as great as they’re made out to be (Infinite Space for me is a 4, despite the high hopes I had), and that no matter how hard Dave fights for it the 2D shooter and indeed 2D will never be popular again, and that the mainstream will always ignore indies, and that people want bland page design. But god damn, I love being in the world that exists inside Dave’s mind for those 65 pages. It’s not real, but to hell with it, I want it to be real. It’s giddy with a joy I’ve not felt for around a decade.
GameFAN is pure absolute pandering to a niche of overlooked, often ignored, underloved, old-school hardcore game nerds; a mutually accepted LSD trip with Dave as your brain-captain. It lacks the faux intellectuality that we as gamers find thrust upon us today, and as I age physically, I am drawn to and desire simpler forms of discourse which recount the happier days of my youth. And yeah, I reckon I’m going to pay another $18 next month to have someone ship it across the Atlantic for me. It’s the only way to fly, man, and it makes me feel good about what I enjoy.
Assuming they still exist... Seeing as their website is dead.