Wednesday, July 21, 2010

GameFAN #2 vs EGM #2

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.


  1. I'm also a copy editor, so it pleases me to see someone else say that solid writing (and editing) matters. It's not very often that gets brought up vis-a-vis games magazines.

  2. It's nice to see GameFan and EGM finally kick back up. It's also nice to see that GameFan still follows the kick-ass design and coverage like they brought in the 90's. Not nice is EGM's 'still' bland design and layout. Just look at that Castlevania coverage, two pages of mostly empty space of a useless screenshot that serves no real purpose.

    I know I gave up EGM for GameFan back in the late 90's, I was always dissappointed in EGM at the turn of the century, they suddenly never failed to dissappoint to the point where I couldn't even stomach picking up a copy on the rack just to look at the content inside of it.

    At least in GameFan, they show that there is a love for games all over the place.

    Nice to see GF covering Deathsmiles. I saw that game on the shelves the other day but had no idea about it. At least 'someone' is covering it.

  3. I felt these EXACT same things... pretty much word for word as Sketcz, and in fact, you posting here makes the blog entry I had planned on this redundant.

    I would make the additional comment that I do want to read 'state of the industry' sorts of articles like the Metacritic or unionisation articles... sometimes you gotta take the blinders off for a moment... but I don't HAVE to have that stuff in GameFan.

    As I posted myself, with the first issues I kinda saw GF and EGM running neck and neck in my affections with EGM being actually higher quality technically (though the Street Fighter article was a horror). NOW, I much prefer GameFan. I play video games to have fun, and to me GF far and away displays that spirit and EGM seems too much about 'the business'... almost cynically so. Which sucks because there are lots of outlets that already take that tone.

  4. Couldn't have said it better myself. I have been with EGM since issue #2 and have always been loyal to them. But now it seems this isn't the same EGM I would get caught reading in 8th grade math class. Looks like GameFan has found another subscriber, and I am going to give EGM a year to figure out what they are doing wrong, then I am jumping ship. Sorry EGM, I miss who you used to be. :(

  5. Nice observations: I was just thinkin to myself how boring as hell EGM and Gamepro are. I mean, it's admirable that they are doing something other than GameFAN's look at all these pretty colors (and they are pretty), but neither the drab industry-insider outlook nor the super shallow "here's a bunch of shiny pictures accompanied by words that don't make sense" capture the awesomeness that is video games.

    I think it comes down to there just aren't enough good writers who can expound on games in cool ways, and the ones who can are stifled by what the publication expects of them.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I thought the first issue of GameFan as kinda bad, but the second one is much better. And I ended up picking a copy of it and haven't grabbed the 2nd EGM, even though I'm flipped through it, which I think speaks for itself. I'm still iffy on subscribing to GameFan, and I still think the whole thing would be better if Halverson kept his feet out of it and let the other writers at it, because I think he is insane. But there is a lot more passion to it, more interesting coverage, and it's more attractive looking. They can still get rid of the useless MovieFan section, though.

  8. Halverson sounds like he is on the verge of ditching the MovieFan section.

  9. The magazine is very much a throwback to another period. I will never forget seeing Halverson's preview to Symphony of the Night, it was a work of art. The layout in the new GameFan is right on the money. The Deathsmiles review looks fantastic, like a surge of import nostalgia when all things Japanese were new and amazing to me.
    I will be subscribing, but I want to see them make it to issue 3 first. I am nervous to subscribe to another one of Halverson's publications, I keep thinking they will take my money and run like Play magazine did when business ran dry.
    I also have to agree with Discoalucard, MovieFan is garbage. I want a gaming magazine that reads one way through with minimal movie coverage. I don't need a massive article on Satoshi Kon. Even with this complaint, the new GameFan returned me to the days of youth when I read wild claims by Nick Rox that Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo was the best game ever and the Dreamcast would win the console war.
    Good stuff overall, I hope they keep the magazine afloat.

  10. Joseph Joestar deleted his message? I wonder what it said...

    Yeah. I haven't even bothered to read the movie section, other than to flick through and think: "Oh, cool, they have a page on Japanese films?"

    As for subscribing, GameFAN's website is dead.

    Which has led to some speculating that it won't make issue 3. But I'm still hopeful.

    As for Halverson, the only other prominent writer on there is Valerie Dahmersdottir, and her writing leaves a lot to be desired.

    I do miss the Nick des Barres / Casey Loe dynamic of PLAY. My concern is that GameFAN doesn't have as strong a writing team...

  11. Sketcz:

    Eh, I just posted without fully digesting the topic, and didn't want to come off as a total schmuck (just half of one).

    I enjoyed reading this blog post a lot; I haven't had the chance to read EGM issue 2 yet, but it sounds kind of like I feared...that they're playing it safe (I mean, aside from the "Fuck You, Metacritic" article). I'm not a huge fan of the new GameFan format vs. the old (too much like Play), but like you say it at least focuses on the subject matter in a different way to where you have a more of a reason to buy it.

    Part of what made GameFan a must-buy for me was that for most of its lifespan there was no internet to get pictures and information about exotic, weird games, and GameFan had that in spades. You had the thumbnail-sized blurbs (or occasional two-page spreads) in EGM and EGM2, and once in a blue moon an "Overseas Prospects" article in Gamepro, but for the most part it was GameFan all the way. Now you can just look stuff up for the most part, but it's not quite the same as the hyperbolic, caffeinated ramblings of an old-school GameFan. I can't think of anything recent (either print or digital) that would make me want to run out and buy something like say, the Gunstar Heroes article did. I'm just getting old though.

    BTW, they've got the magazine for sale at a lot of stores down/around here, so if anyone needs to track down a copy give me a holler and I can grab one for you.

    Secondly, anyone else get the impression that Tim Rogers read a lot of GameFan in middle school?

  12. I enjoyed this article.

    I was never a regular reader of Gamefan, but the scans you posted reminded me of a time when the gaming press was more interested talking about games than insidery business shit.

    I mean look, I understand that gaming is big business, but does every gaming podcast/website need to keep us abreast of the activision/infinity ward corporate saga? Why do I even know the name Bobby Kotick? When the hell did Bobby Kotick ever make a game!?

    There's a market for insidery business shit. But I suspect that market is substantially smaller than the gaming press appreciates. I have enough business drama in my work life. I mean, when did the press start treating gamers like shareholders? If I'm opening a gaming magazine or listening to a gaming podcast, I want to hear about games: how they look, how they sound, how they play, and whether the story was engrossing. If I cared about whether EA's new DLC model is going help it achieve its quarterly forecasts I'd read the Wall Street Journal.

  13. I feel there's still a strong need for an industry-driven mag, like Next Generation was in the past. EGM seems to be aiming for that, although it's not quite there. Edge seems to have a lot of industry articles, although the last few times I picked it up it seems mostly focused on small UK devs.

  14. The only time Gamefan steered me wrong was when E. Storm was so hot on that goddamn Hermie Hopperhead game. Saying that it was the step beyond Super Mario World and all this horseshit. Then 10 years after the fact I played it on emulator and sure as shit wasn't blown away.

    Is Chief Hambleton back on board for the new mag?

  15. EDGE sucks, glad someone said it. I was bugged for months to pick up a copy and the first thing I thought after reading ten pages was that I could write better articles on a Scribblenauts input while TAS.

    It's heartening to know that someone felt the same way while reading the new GameFan. I pretty much agree with your entire well-crafted analysis. I picked it up at random while on my way to my recent soul-crushing employment as a call center employee for something to read in my downtime and was so swept up in its fractured world yet I couldn't quite put my finger on the WHY of it all but you effortlessly nailed it: it describes an appreciative video game world that I forgot existed.

    And after reading it you think to yourself "of course Treasure is the greatest video game developer everybody knows that" and then the next day you're walking past some slackjaws at the madison square Gamestop punching each other in the arm and trading gay jokes while picking up a new copy of Halo 3 with their mom's credit card. And then you get sad.

    But on the toilet later that day you pick up the GameFan and read the same exact article over again and think to yourself "of course Treasure is the greatest video game developer everyone knows that."

  16. @Ink Busy: Treasure isn't the greatest video game developer, maybe like third behind Konami and Nintendo, but greatest developers they are not.

    And for the record, Halo sucks. It sucks more than a Dan Brown novel but a little less than beat poetry, if that makes any sense to you at all.

  17. I'm with you somewhat Zack, I think my point was more the fantastical and somewhat irrational feel of the magazine and its sweeping generalizations having the ability to worm their way into your internal meditations...

    But all the same, opinions are like assholes and such. Except Halo sucking balls happens to be a verifiable fact. Sometimes I think its the greatest trick the devil ever pulled.

    All the same, I stick to my guns somewhat on the Treasure comment...considering they made my favorite game of all time - Guardian Heroes - I'll continue to spout my Treasure blowjob fountain.

  18. if anybody has any news on issue of 3 of gamefan lemme know? i really hope its not already dead otherwise i have no idea what if a video game is even worth my time anymore. ive been reading back issues of gamefan from 96 and the new issues remind me of those days a bit

    or if someone has a copy of the 1st issue for sale im still trying to get a hold of it! i can paypal hit me up at

  19. Hey guys, Gamefan's website is back up.

    Also, I talked to the graphic artist behind Gamefan about the mag's future and here's what he had to say:

    Me: "Is Gamefan Issue 3 still coming out? I'm asking this because Gamefan's website is currently down."

    Rob Duenas: "yes, the website has nuthing to do with our printing, the cats we were working with decided to pull out and took the site with them, cant get into it but have been busy working to deal with it, with E3 and comic con within a few weeks of eachother its been a shit storm of work hell. Issue will be out in a couple weeks or so, already done. Now i go find a new designer..."

  20. Hey all, great coverage btw, the GF Site is back up and issue 03 previews up too. Sorry for the trouble but uh, website management is like last on the priorities right now. Were not dead, just workin way too much...

  21. Excellent, glad to hear it. I've got $18 waiting in PayPal for one of my mules to smuggle it across the Atlantic as and when it hits.

  22. Hey Sketcz, could you email me at

  23. I read gamefan #2 with youtube in hand checking out all the games I had nver heard about. I bought the june issue in september though. Best buy didn't have any of the later publications. I don't know the story but if they're cancelled I'm goin to be pissed. I'm trying to figure out how to subscribe because needless to say I feel very much the same as this article.