Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
So in a fortuitous moment I now have the latest issue of my EGM subscription (October 2010), GameFAN (#4) posted from the US, and GamesTM (#101), which was partial payment for an article I wrote for them. This gets LONG, so use your browser’s search function to skip to your chosen mag: EGM, GameFAN or GamesTM.
With my subsequent words and photos I’m going to savage EGM pretty harshly, since only 2 issues into my sub and I’ve come to the conclusion it is one of the worst magazines on the market – in fact this issue stands as one of the worst single copies of a games magazine I have ever read. To get any lower you’d have to seek out early PS1 mags which attempted to mix lad culture into the mix.
And I want to absolutely clarify something, in case anyone accuses me of having bias.
As I said previously, to have GameFAN posted over here you need spend a lot of money on a single issue – and people can be protective of things that cost them money. But that’s not why I praise GF in comparison to EGM. Likewise with GamesTM, I have no favouritism towards them because they run my articles and pay me handsomely for doing so – in fact I criticise them quite harshly, especially the insidious way they never credit authors to articles. Both magazines have flaws which I acknowledge. To be absolutely certain, there is no hidden agenda which skews my positive commentary towards EGM’s rivals.
But, and I want to be open about this, I am very much biased against EGM, and for the simple reason that I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. Which would be fine if I didn’t pay money for it, but I took the subscription, and now you and everyone else is coming along for the ride until it runs out. After which the magazine can fade into obscurity and die for all I care.
One final point before launching into dissection of each:
There seems to be a mild anti-British trend in the US mags this month. Dave Halverson says British food isn’t very good (but I love Black Pudding!), and Todd Howard in EGM says British women are all ugly. Well, shucks guys. Surely there’s something redeeming about our grim little island? A nice game of cricket perhaps? What about an imperial pint of bitter?
* First the good. It had a great feature on “gaming language” in relation to outlaw culture. A kind of 2-paged version of Hunter S Thompson’s Hell’s Angels for the joypad crowd. It was pure academia, devoid of gaming imagery, and very much like what I used to write for The Escapist and The Gamer’s Quarter. This is perhaps EGM’s only strength – it managed to pull off some impressive “outside the box” features. They’re still not on par with UK magazines such as GamesTM, in terms of sheer conceptual genius, but they’re getting close. They also seem hampered by a 2-3 page limit for features, which means they never reach their full potential, and the entire magazine’s design is godamned awful, no one flicking through is likely to care in the slightest.
* Three page feature on videogames which allow gambling via online services, such as those by Virgin. I’m not interested in this so won’t read it – but this is precisely the kind of intellectual thinking I want to see. TGQ had some great features based around some very conceptually “out there” ideas, and more magazines needs this. I’d say it’s the only thing GameFAN is missing.
And that’s where the EGM praise stops.
* They also had a feature on age ratings for games in the US, and it was such a terrible feature it nullifies whatever praise the previous received. It had great potential, but the end result was a pure waste of space, and is endemic of the blinkered, insular, USA-centric POV EGM suffers from. I don’t care that it’s a US magazine. Games are an international thing, EGM is sold internationally, and both GameFAN and GamesTM feature coverage from all over the world. EGM should be featuring international coverage. Instead of an anaemic 2 pages they should have run it at 4 pages, minimum, with coverage on England’s BBFC ratings for games (done by the British Board of Film Classification) and Japan’s CERO rating system at the very least. They should have looked at how each system impacts the development and publishing of games in each territory. For example Peace Walker was censored in Japan to receive a lower CERO rating. And CERO Z games (adult only) cannot be put on shelves alongside other games, they need their own section. Australia’s rating system is so fucked up I don’t even know where to begin. Germany’s is worse.
Damning of all for this article is the fact the author, Jonathan Metts, basically spent 2 pages saying: “Hey fellow Americans, our system has it’s problems, but maybe this will change in the future?” There was absolutely no critical dissection of the situation, it was feebly written and, why didn’t he examine other countries as a means to finding a solution. Here’s a fact readers: the UK has the best ratings system in the world. It’s numerical, none of this wooly mouthed nonsense about are you a teen or not, it’s quite simple, with the top 2 ratings beings 15 and 18 (pornographic films actually have their own exclusive rating of 18R, meaning it has to be sold in a special store, but I highly doubt games will ever reach that level). It’s also organised by the same board that does films, and the ratings are legally binding meaning stores can't sell to people younger than the shown numbers. This means that games are judged like films and can feature content appropriate to its rating (something Metts complains the US can’t have), and it also means things like the Hot Coffee fiasco don’t happen. That was fucking ridiculous. It had to be re-rated as AO and was pulled from shelves? In the UK it had an 18 rating, the highest rating, the same rating as Yakuza 3 and Dead Rising 2. Not that our ratings system helps in the long run, since developers still cater towards the biggest market (the USA), and many things coming to England fall under the stricter rules of the rest of Europe, unless we get our own unique version (well done German government, well done for nothing).
Still, would you realise all these fascinating things pertaining to global ratings? No, because Jonathan Metts’ article was a pointless, narrow-minded 2-page ramble completely out of touch with the wider world.
* The cover is just bleugh. They used concept art for Halo, which is better than using CG renders, but it still looks like a box of Ribena died on the cover.
* The inner design also sucks. I don’t what else to say because there’s only so many ways you can describe grey walls of text. I think they should colour their pages pink, like the Financial Times, because it’s about as pretty as that – actually the FT is prettier since it at least has that fruity flamingo vibe going on. When I take photos for these blog rants I always try to take pics of the best looking pages.
The best EGM had to offer was the Child of Eden pages, which if the design were any dryer and brittle would shatter in my hands like finely spun glass wire. The magazine is so uniformly hideous I can only assume it’s on purpose, which begs the question of why. I’ve written for low budget mags that can’t help looking like crap, and I’ve worked in-house on some tremendously beautiful magazines like Retro Gamer. Basically aesthetically pleasing design is not difficult – astounding design is difficult, but mere “good” design is easy, unless you’ve got copy editors designing it. Put simply: THERE IS NO DESIGN in EGM. It is simply blocks of text surrounded by the odd image.
Which is another thing, EGM seems to have an obsession with CG renders, like magazines during the early and mid-1990s had. It’s outdated, it’s not palatable, and I can’t stand the sight of it. Just compare the designs of game coverage in EGM against those in the other two. Look at Vanquish, look at Front Mission Evolved. Oh my good, did they actually put 3 CG renders side-by-side in the EGM Front Mission feature? Christ on a bike – who the hell approved that atrocity against mankind’s millennia of art history? The magazine is hideous, almost offensively so. Compare it to GameFAN's coverage of FME - notice how much better it looks.
* But by far the worst fault of this issue is its late, outdated coverage, which is irredeemable. EGM had one summer issue, took a couple months break, and now has October’s issue out. When I first heard this I thought it would be a good idea, give them time to make a really brilliant, thick issue, perhaps double the size like EGM used to have in the past, full of up to date coverage. Except it’s as skinny as it’s ever been (why are American mags so skinny? GameFAN at least makes up for its limited girth with great length and width). Furthermore, besides Child of Eden I can’t think of anything EGM has which GF does not, and most of what’s in EGM was featured IN THE LAST ISSUE of GF. That’s a month out of date. But it gets worse, they’ve got stuff that was in GF from two months ago. My god, Sin and Punishment 2 was reviewed two issues ago in GF, and it was bigger, and it was better designed, and it had interview answers. It makes you question why EGM even bothered, it really is pathetic. Who thought a 2 month old review, shoehorned in along with the rest of the crap, would make for worthwhile content? Fuck’s sake guys, pull it together – I’m paying you money for this horseshit!
The total lack of effort in this issue is insulting, and renders the October 2010 issue irrelevant and waste of good paper. GameFAN may have forgot to put a pullquote in its Castlevania review, but this is reflective of people who are rushing and pushing against their natural limits in an attempt to appease people who probably won’t even appreciate it anyway. You can’t fault their sentiment. EGM comes across as lazy and lacklustre, a dull and soulless product plopped out by committee, but apparently still receiving respect from corners of the community.
Here is your tl;dr
EGM is ugly, it’s boring, it’s too small, the conceptually interesting features feel suffocated and shallow, the writing is insipid and dull, the coverage not only disturbingly insular to all around it, but also late, so pathetically late in some cases I can only assume it was satire, while the opinions are conformist, timid, insular (again) and unnecessarily US-centric, and as a result the magazine feels behind the times, irrelevant, unimportant, crippled and impotent by its own short-sightedness, and utterly, utterly, utterly disposable.
I hope some pissed off employee reads the HG101 blog and out of malicious spite cancels my subscription, because I could be playing games instead of reading and writing about this inconsequential drivel each month.
FUN FACT: you know Matt Cabral who was in issue 2 of GameFAN and then went missing in issue 3? He’s in the October issue of EGM. Did they buy him over, or was he a spy all along, trying to steal Dave’s inner Brain Captain? That makes the second staff member I can think of, after Brady Fiechter who was editor on Halverson's PLAY, who went over to the dark side of EGM. Mutinous land scallops I say!
When talking about anything by Dave Halverson, I always read people asking: is he as mad as ever? And the truth is, yes, I’d say he’s completely insane. But in absolutely the right way, and a way the industry desperately needs. I grew bored reading EGM’s columnists this month (I couldn’t be bothered to finish any of them), but Halverson and his (presumably also unhinged) crew managed to deliver prose and commentary in a way that engages. I don’t agree with everything, but what is written is at least enough to make me stab my finger at the page with a cry of disagreement, whereas with EGM I can hardly be bothered to care. In fairness the Outlaw Culture article in EGM was good, but Michael Thomsen is likely an external freelancer, and would probably have been better served on GF.
GameFAN has energy on both its writing and design.
* Firstly fantastic cover. A guy on a forum said it featured Enslaved and I groaned inside, thinking it would be a CG render, but it actually turned out to be some rather beautiful concept art to go alongside a massive and rather hilarious feature on the game. Well done for making the effort with that. I have never found CG renders to look like anything other than shiny latex. Which I guess is fine if the cover story is a feature on Dominatrixes in videogames, but I’m sure everyone will agree hand drawn art is the way to go.
* Speaking of the Enslaved feature, I’ve no fondness for Ninja Theory. Tameem Antoniades, after his arrogant interview on the Heavenly Sword disc where he said he finally felt vindicated for having worked on older and in his view crappier games, dismissing decades of gaming heritage, put me off anything he works on. I also hate the voice of Andy Serkis, he’s like a poor man’s Dexter Fletcher.
Having said all that, it’s with credit to the writing of Halverson and the design of Duenas that I stuck around to read the entire feature. It looks absolutely gorgeous as the photos show, each page mixing in-game screens with concept art and a travel diary style to create something aesthetically very pleasing. It could be the best looking feature I’ve seen in a long time. More important, Halverson’s crazy, almost Hunter S Thompson-like blending of nightmarish aeroplane rides and abject culture shock when he’s subjected to British TV, food, roads, architecture and other things, evokes a tremendous sense of adventure which I’ve not read since the 32-bit days, when magazines like Future Publishing’s “N64 Magazine” would include a massive diary detailing everything that happened on a press trip to Japan. Little anecdotes about Miyamoto’s shoes, the food they ate on their day off, what it was like trying to catch a taxi, and so on, all made for tremendous reading.
I lived in England, and frequently return, but I will probably never have the chance to make the trip to visit a developer’s studio. Halverson managed to convey as much fun and enjoyment in the reading of the article, as he proclaims you will feel in playing the actual game – furthermore, it heightens the fact this wasn’t a game made in a factory by robots. It was made by real people who eat black pudding, live in a historical city and have a very different cultural background to those of US players, and their daily lives were perfectly and very naturally interwoven with the technical side of the game’s creation. Like I said, this kind of intensely intimate feature is one I haven’t read in years.
Dave says he doesn’t like flying. Well, I don’t care, I want him on a plane every month doing this exact same kind of feature for whatever they have gracing the cover. It made for deliriously good reading.
* They continue to cover indie games, which I will continue to praise until every other multiformat magazine covers them as standard too. They cover Lucha Fury, an exquisitely colourful lucha libre-themed scrolling fighter, plus Retro City Rampage, which they review.
I love how they took a photograph of what I presume is the press kit – made to look like a NES cartridge, with fake cover slips (even one modelled on those hideous Master System box covers). Another mag would have settled for just in-game screens, but they took it one-step further to include photos of cool stuff they received. My complaint: 2 pages? Come on, bulk the mag up to 180 pages like GamesTM and starting pumping these things out at twice the length. Then again I am British and I like my mags like I like my beer, in larger IMPERIAL MEASUREMENTS. There’s also some neato coverage on Clayton Kauzlaric, connected to games like DeathSpank and Voodoo Vince.
* I was pleased by the level headed commentary on Majin. GamesTM was unfairly harsh on the game in previews, making some very discouraging comments on the games designers. Slight concerns regarding the voice over aside, there’s some serious, subdued contemplation here.
* GF’s review of Vanquish (top) absolutely nails why it’s a great game, and is what I’ve come to expect from GF. Compare it to the rather timid preview in EGM (bottom, and yeah, only a preview, which GF had LAST MONTH), where the writer kind of covers the basics but ends up questioning the validity of the game, assuring himself that the developers must be in on the joke of the game’s retro stylings. Bloody hell, they couldn't even be bothered to use the correct font for the title - how generically awful is EGM's two-page design on that? Had I the inclination I’d put scans up with a high enough resolution for you to read both, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: GF's review is a work of absolute gaming poetry, which also name drops PN03.
* The Castlevania review covers the same ground as the one in GamesTM, with similar conclusions, though I prefer the design here. In fairness though, GamesTM has always had a serious look to it, since it was launched some.... Ooh, 7 or 8 years ago?
* Reviews of Front Mission Evolved (only previewed in EGM), Dead Rising 2, Sonic 4, Deathspank, Atelier Rorona, Shank, and Vanquish all put it ahead of EGM and roughly on par with GamesTM for timing. Did EGM drop the ball, or did they send me last month’s issue this month? Because jeez, they might as well have not bothered.
* GameFAN finishes with a double page spread of the office and all the cool omake they’ve collected. Click the photo for a larger version. Much like reading the mag itself, looks like a lot of fun over there.
* Poor cover. It looks like mish-mash between CG and concept art, but it looks a bit bleurgh. Not ugly like the EGM cover, but definitely a little too mainstream for my taste. But then I know what cover meetings at Imagine Publishing are like. The designer on my mag, she used to walk out of them in tears, so when a cover looks bad, it’s probably management trying to appease advertisers.
* 180 pages of densely written, intellectual gaming commentary. Design is dry, but otherwise I know damn well how hard those poor, underpaid bastards work to make that magazine. The company CEO wallows in money, while his staff writers earn £12,000 ($19,000) to bleed out each of those 180 pages (circa 2006, the previous chief editor on GamesTM was on about £20,000 / $31,000, I believe). So I always appreciate the work on display.
* Good coverage of Child of Eden, though not as much as EGM. And they still manage to make the design look better than EGM, while using less screens.
* Excellent and very candid interview with Metroid series co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto regarding Metroid Other M, conducted by deputy editor Ash Day.
It’s probably one of the best Metroid interviews I’ve read, and I don’t compliment Ash lightly – he was my biggest occupational competitor when we started together as junior writers at Imagine Publishing (a hot-blooded rivalry that took many years to cool into friendship), plus we shared a flat for 6 months Joey and Chandler style, except the less said about “the trashbag incident” the better. So when I move myself to say a piece of his writing is some of the best I've read - it is in my view nothing less than that.
* This issue features the last Kongetsu column by Tim Rogers. A lot of people don’t get Tim. I don’t even know if Tim gets Tim, and maybe I don’t even get Tim, but I have always had time for his Kongetsu column. If GamesTM ever put them in a standalone almanac, I would totally call Ash and pester him for a free copy. Tim Rogers is a strange but fascinating enigma who will probably only ever be understood after his death if he is ever understood at all. He is someone who, unbeknownst to himself, has earned a couple of beers on my tab for his work (whether it was truth or outlandish lies of the absurdist kind), so I am sad to see him go. Good luck Tim Breshnevski - there is no longer any need to live under your pseudonym. Let the world know who you really are.
* There’s coverage of Eric Chahi’s new game, From Dust, which I’ve not seen in any other mag.
* GamesTM has always been about really clever, meaty, long features, and my favourite in a long time has to be this month’s BEYOND THE FRINGE. It examines how games made in places like South America and Eastern Europe can infuse a game with an exotic quality.
Honestly, this was not my feature (I did something else), but it was the kind of feature I would want to write. The absolute bastards have omitted the author’s name, so I don’t who wrote it, but wherever you, whoever you are, well done – that was a cracking article, and I’m especially pleased to see Poland getting its fair mentioning on the international gaming stage. Compare this feature with EGM, which didn’t even name drop ratings systems which exist outside of the USA. I’m sure if you asked EGM’s editor about games in South America he’d reply with something along the lines of: “What, you means games developed in the southern US states which border Mexico?”
Ok, Ok, I’ll stop taking the piss out of EGM, but come on, they’re making it too easy for me.
* Design wise GamesTM has always been rather a rather sober affair, except the Retro Section. Which, as always, is quite pretty in a mild, subdued kind of way. The best feature this month is on Nintendo’s toy making period prior to the Famicom and Game&Watch series, and it stands in my view as one of the most historically important articles ever published in a videogame magazine.
How many mags have you read where they do a history feature on Nintendo, maybe cover Hanafuda, the love hotels, one or two toys, before jumping into the games section? This is 6 pages of nothing but the toys they manufactured, many of which I had NEVER heard of, and featuring some stunning photography. Apparently the guy who wrote it was showcasing photos from his personal collection on Facebook, and eventually got in touch with GamesTM. The bloated porcine cads have again removed the author’s name, otherwise I would find and link you to his Facebook page to see more photos in a higher res. If you know it, please post in the comments. Such a good feature – it’s a shame only GTM readers will see it. Maybe I’ll scan a hi-res version and put it here illegally. It really is an astounding piece of games journalism – and I use that word sincerely. It’s proper investigative journalism.
While I'm rambling though, I want to comment on GamesTM’s insidious, ominious, disturbing, vulgar, backwards, evolutionary dead-ended and frankly, retarded practice of removing an author’s name from articles. And if my politically incorrect terminology to describe the politics at GamesTM offends you, well GOOD. Because GamesTM’s behaviour offends me, and as long as everyone is offended with each other, and we can start flinging shit like a bunch of maladjusted gorillas, then my mission is complete. Pro tip: fling in the direction of GamesTM’s upper management – I say aim for the eyes.
EDGE and GamesTM’s practice of making an author anonymous is the worst thing that could ever happen to videogame writing – and I hope to god it comes to an end at some point. It was not always like this, and during my tenure during 2006 all features were credited to their authors, until upper management decided they wanted a homogenised uniform front, and the perception of the mag as a single entity. This is wholly wrong, on every level.
There are 2 things every writer should have: suitable monetary compensation for the value of their labour (and if this makes me a communist then the capitalist swine of the world can choke on my indignation), plus full named credit. GamesTM certainly pays me, but they hide my name, which is so infuriating I once managed to sneak my surname into the starting letters of the first 11 words in my Jeremy Blaustein feature. Hoho, my genius astounds me at times!
In the adult world, of serious writing, names like Lester Bangs, Hunter Thompson and Roger Ebert are used to promote writing. Even Stuart Campbell and Kierron Gillen’s names will provoke interest in gaming circles. So how can other names grow when they are hidden from public view in high profile mags like EDGE and GTM? My compatriots in America have at least perfected an understanding of how to treat writers and have them named – if only for accountability. When will the UK follow? Do writers in Time Magazine have their name removed? Empire magazine? The New York Times? Actually, does anything other than GamesTM and EDGE hide the names of the authors? It beggars belief.