It’s taken me a little while to get issue 3, but here are my thoughts. Also, an interesting revelation about EGM.
Actually, it’s not hugely interesting, but I was told that EGM only made one summer issue, with the next due in October – presumably with the new start-up mag they wanted to take their time cementing in those first few issues. I speak from experience when I say that completing an issue of a monthly games magazine is a punishing exercise. I guess this just means my 6 issue sub is going to last that little bit longer.
I do have the 3rd issue of GameFAN though, and while they’ve clearly been working overtime to get it finished and printed, I think they’re finding their feet. For a start the rear MovieFAN cover is no longer – which is great. But I’m also extremely pleased to say they haven’t scrapped non-game coverage altogether. I know a lot of people have commented on wanting a games only publication, but for me, I’m not only interested in games. I love movies, anime, manga, comics, books, artbooks, OSTs, music, model figures, yacht sailing and all manner of other stuuf, and all of these things have cross-over potential with games. Well, maybe not yacht sailing, but over the years it’s always been a pleasure to read about what my geeknocratic comrades were enjoying in the world of videos et cetera. How awesome would it be if in a later issue of GameFAN they covered Valkyria Chronicles 2 and 3 for review and preview, and in the back of the mag examined the anime and manga which were based on the first game, and how these came to influence the second game (since the game sequel was mainly greenlighted based on the success of the anime, not VC1). Whatever they do, the non-game coverage isn’t intrusive and has great potential – so I’m pleased it’s still there.
Another big change is the removal of the Viewpoint section with dual reviews, replaced instead by a more standard reviews section. I actually really liked the dual review structure, since it’s always valuable to have counter points to someone’s positive or negative views. Many times the two agreed though, and as Halverson said in issue 2, they’ll axe Viewpoint in the future but will run counter-points if staff disagree on a game to a large degree. It’d be great to see two highly opposing opinions clashing over a contentious title – diversity of opinion is a healthy sign, especially when PR people hassle you about reviews (and believe me they will, since their salary is augmented by the Metacritic scores you help shape).
As always the design is top notch, as you can see from these photos. Take Deathspank for example, I have no interest in the game personally, but the design drew me in and I took the time to read about it – in other mags, such as EDGE, the design is so brittle and unrewarding to the reader’s eyes, I don’t even want to read about the things I like. Every non-advertising page should enthral me, not put me off.
In today’s world it’s impossible to avoid art assets provided by PR companies – just sign up to GamesPress.com and you will find every PR provided image and piece of artwork made available in both the USA and Europe. It’s easier to use PR assets than create your own screenshots. Inevitably you will find some of the same screens here as in other mags, but at least GameFAN tries to distance itself from the identical crowds. It’s refreshing to see an actual attempt being made at in-house creation of imagery. The rows of sequential screenshots are a sign of this, and their demise in magazines I believe could be more to do with the increased reliance on PR imagery rather than designers not liking them. The fact they even exist in GameFAN shows that someone took the time to actually grab images, in order, and make use of them.
I loved the sequential row of images for the purple dragon fight running along the bottom of the Metroid M page, and the entire thing came together with the text to give a genuine feeling of how the game plays. I’m not entirely convinced by the increase from the second issue in the number of 45 degree angled features, since as you can see in the Dragon Quest review you lose some of the imagery – but even so, I can only think of one other magazine, Retro Gamer, which has as appealing a design as here. When did everyone else stop enjoying colour?
The issue focuses on E3 with a series of editor profiles (man, don’t you love how in American mags everyone is an editor, as if to show you they’re considered valuable to the project? In the UK most of us are branded simply as “the staff” and treated like so much processed meat. Except for deputy editors, who take on the role of full-time editors except with less pay).
It’s a bit disconcerting to read up on E3 with the Tokyo Game Show featuring on the net right now, and my only criticism with the magazine is I seem to come to the party late and they’re still playing catch-up with their breakneck-speed relaunch. When coverage on a game, such as Vanquish, is only a page, is it due to the developer not providing content, or because of the hectic time frame? PLAY had some of the most impressive coverage of Platinum Games’ Bayonetta, long before it was released, which really psyched me up for launch day. Here’s hoping for something similar with Platinum’s Vanquish.
As for the issue relaunch, they seem to have lost 2 members of staff since last issue (Matt Cabral and Steve Haske who aren’t in the credits), and replaced them with Frank Schneider, and now officially Valerie D who I spoke about last month. Most curious to find a shift so soon – though I’m not sure if they’re all based in the same office.
* While the Vanquish preview was a little short they had a big write up on Quantum Theory (also a cover-based shooter, it’ll be interesting to see these 2 games go head to head), and more significantly an interview with the game’s director, Makoto Shibata, which pretty much epitomises the whole problem we have right now with Japan’s declining confidence. While the director spoke with pride about his creation, he was adamant that he didn’t want the world to think it was a Japanese game or by Japanese people.
“Don’t look at Quantum Theory as a Japanese game, or a game with Japanese design sense.”
That’s a direct printed quote, and I find it both astounding and disturbing that a Japanese director would so desperately make a plea for people not to consider the game’s origin. Why? Although I realise it could have been edited, and might be out of context, we’re seeing the same thing all over the industry. For no good reason, the Japanese appear to be ashamed of themselves, even outsourcing key franchises to the west in order to attain that intangible “western feeling”. Sandlot are handing over development of the latest Earth Defence Force to the guys behind Matt Hazard – with catastrophic results. I mean, one shovelware company which struck it lucky with a fantastic low-budget series (and my love for the EDF games is both sincere and epic – they were one of the highlights of the previous decade), are farming it out to another shovelware company for god knows what reason. And the Matt Hazard guys, as could be expected, have failed epically in understanding what made EDF great. There’s no local co-op, there’s all manner of unnecessary graphical improvements, they’ve toned down the “global Earth” aspect of previous titles, but hey, they are implementing fancy rendering and an online mode at the expense of everything else. Whoopee.
Regardless of what you think of the quality of Quantum Theory, it’s worrying that the developer seems so pre-occupied with the game appearing “non-Japanese”. I would say any faults raised with the game itself might be a symptom of this myopic attitude and unnecessary self-loathing.
* Pixel art at the correct ratios – look at the Scott Pilgrim artwork. Not a distorted pixel on it. The relaunched Retro Gamer is another mag which did justice to pixel art, but I’ve seen countless other magazines resize it disproportionately, resulting in a creepy wave-like effect.
* The Kane and Lynch 2 preview. Something I liked with PLAY, and something I try to do with these blog posts, is that you go in expecting what you see, but what you get is something entirely different (PLAY’s review of Folklore was actually an examination of the games industry and Japan being ignored by the west). While K&L2’s preview does include previewy bits, it’s also a fascinating examination of visual fidelity in games, and the inevitable peak we’ve reached in terms of graphics, which will now hopefully be followed by artistically interesting experiments, such as K&L2’s camera filters. The best thing for me about the demo was how much atmosphere these filters created. It actually elevated the game above photo-realism in terms of how tangible everything felt. I won’t buy the game due how the original title resulted in someone getting fired for giving it a low score, and I find it bizarre that while I can take a cop hostage and execute him, and while I can shoot and kill civilians, I am not allowed to take a civilian hostage even though you can let hostages go free (what ridiculous hypocrisy), but I agree fully with the assessment that this is a great example of where the industry can go in terms of graphics.
* It was interesting to read Halverson’s follow-up Splatterhouse feature, now that it’s been moved in-house at Bandai-Namco, especially after he covered the Bottlerocket developed version so extensively in PLAY.
* Increased indie developer coverage.
* Kyle Stiff’s prediction for a current gen RPG Maker where you can share creations online ala Little Big Planet – hell yeah, I’ve been having that dream myself for a while now (Chef Island will be finished some day). Either that, or I hope the DS version of RPG Maker gets localised/fan translated. Technically I could put my PS1 RPG Maker saves online, but man, where the hell do I buy a cheap Dexdrive?
* Dave Halverson telling people to try a week off the grid. I concur. Switch off your internet ready mobile phones which are permanently on Facebook, and go sailing or hunting or picnicking or something. Quick, before Autumn is upon us.
* Frank S’ dislike of Resident Evil 3 (it was a perfectly good game I thought, and along with Code Veronica one which I preferred over Resident Evil 4 – but that’s a debate for another blog entry), and his dislike of Goldeneye, which I think still has some structurally clever level designs. Still, he had the funniest editorial of the lot, and I fully agree with his lack of belief in motion sensing technology being the future (E3 page), so I can’t criticise too harshly. I’m glad a few others are having doubts over Move and Kinect.
* E3 preview and full review of Dragon Quest IX in same issue (pages 53 and 92). In their defence, this is so easy to do and can be expected when you’re rushing, and I’ve been on publications myself which have done this and we didn’t notice until after printing. For readers who don’t know, magazines are actually created in chunks (normally 5-6 sections laid out on a flat plan), with news being done last to ensure relevance, and features done long in advance. Months blur into each other and it’s easy to forget what was written in week 1 when you’re rushing to finishing the mag in week 4.
* Only 2 sentences on Valkyria Chronicles 2. Hopefully it gets championed in future issues. It’s been released, I’ve been playing it, and it’s ace. With Ys 7’s release, the PSP is on RPG FIRE right now.
Being the E3 issue there’s a lot of coverage on a lot of different things, and some of it will already be known if you’re the kind of gamer who frequents HG101, but it’s nice to be reminded of things like El Shaddai, the new Rayman game (which proves 2D will never die), and the next Parasite Eve instalment. There’s also a healthy selection of interviews (one of which was extremely eye opening, as I mentioned above), plus increased indie coverage (which is always a good sign).
I’ve only read about half the issue, but I’m really enjoying the crazy ride on this magazine, much as I did with PLAY. I’ve seen criticism on other forums, but despite any of the faults others raise I’m still having fun reading it, and in turn I’m enjoying my hobby that little bit more. It’s unpredictable and I don’t know how long it will last, but I’m hoping once they settle into a groove they end up being the same irrepressible force that PLAY was and continue for a long while.
As they say: “Print’s not dead yet.”