Sunday, February 10, 2013

Power Play - One of Germany's greatest game mags is back (sort of)

I don't check the games corner in the newspaper shops very often these days, but today I've been reminded that it can be worth to pop in every once in a while. Started in 1988 as a companion booklet to Happy Computer, Power Play was one of the earliest German computer and video game periodicals. Together with almost all other old mags in the country, it was discontinued around the turn of the century, but now it's back! Well... sort of. Although the cover bears the enchanting label "N°01 2013," at the time being the new Power Play unfortunately is only a one-off special of the general computing magazine Chip.

The good news is, this isn't a mere resurrection in name only, but actually put together by some of its founding fathers and other veterans of the trade - compare the list of contributors below with the people I've mentioned in my earlier look at some ancient German mags.

With almost everyone's age on the team being beyond 40, the publication focuses on games with a history - be it retro remakes, sequels of long-lived series or games that follow design philosophy of old.

The mag itself takes a very mature (in the real sense) stance towards the medium. With several making-of features and developer interviews (Richard Garriot, Chris Hülsbeck, Ron Gilbert and many others) there is a strong focus on "proper" journalism. Thanks to the bundled experience, the quality of the writing is superior to any other mag out there (please pardon my wooden English translations of the quotes in this post). Several contributors get their own column, which they mostly use to bitch about recent negative trends like achievement exploitation, the oversaturation on the iOS app store, or soulless cash-ins on beloved franchises, as Heinrich Lenhardt writes on Lord of Ultima: "It doesn't play one bit like something one would expect with the name Ultima. The damage to its image shouldn't be underestimated. As EA is now trying to bake a modern follow-up to Ultima IV with Ultima Forever, part of the fan base will be somewhat reserved due to the adulteration in Lord of Ultima."

The new Power Play also does reviews, but ditches the ridiculous percent rating system that is still dominating the German games journalism landscape in favor of a personal 5-star rating. The choice of titles to review is also very selective: "Our team of reviewers is proud of its Midlife-Crisis-worthy average age. We hope for a higher compatibility to the taste of a mature readership. (...) An obscure indie game with retro style elements or the remake of a classic may be more exciting to our reviewers than the generic sequel of a popular series."

The 2-page reviews all contain an overview of the history of the franchise or its designer, and a selection of three quoted opinions from other (online-)publications. About a third of the reviews is squeezed onto a single page, where those are missing.

Fifa 2013 - the longest review - is accompanied with a collection of 11 soccer game milestones.

The mag ends with a retro section proper, which contains company profiles of Super Fighter Team and Psygnosis, an overview of the Commodore Amiga's career, a making of about Q*Bert and a number of retro reviews - now without any assigned score, but interesting quotes the authors (and some of their German colleagues) wrote about the game back in the day.

All in all, stumbling over the mag has been a very pleasant surprise, the writing is top notch, and the selection of topics is perfect to the taste of a Hardcore Gaming 101 editor/reader (the only slip-up being the interview with the German alternative rock band The Donots, which apparently just happens to like video games).

The mag comes with a DVD, but distributing the contained freeware games, demos and tools this way now really feels anachronistic. It has also a video show moderated by Lenhardt that contains a few neat features like a visit at Chris Hülsbeck's studio and a tongue-in-cheek comparison of Fifa 2013 and the 1983 C64 game International Soccer, alongside trailers for Wreck-It Ralph, the reality TV-style retro tournament movie Brot und Spiele (another one of those, ugh!), Chris Robert's new space sim Star Citizen/Squadron 42, but that doesn't even run in regular DVD players, and they would've been better off just posting it online to keep the costs low.

The price of €8,90 for 130 pages might seem a bit prohibitive (or am I that out of touch with the price range of print mags these days?), but I cannot but urge any German-speaking reader to make that purchase - who knows when we'll ever see such a well-written, well-composed magazine again? (Actually, the editorial hints that more issues might be a possibility if this proves successful, so buy, buy, buy!)


  1. "[...]ditches the ridiculous percent rating system that is still dominating the German games journalism landscape in favor of a personal 5-star rating."

    Why is that better?

    1. Because with the xx/100 system, reviewers tend to bunch everything into the top 50 or so percent (With anything below 70% deemed complete crap - which is ridiculous). With a 5 star system, you have less room to provide a score, so you get the entire range.

  2. It's exactly twenty times better. Now games are only one star away from being as serious as movies at

    Still needs five times improvement to get as serious as lit, though...

  3. They also credit their writers, which is excellent. (Yes, I will beat that horse until there's only the bones)

  4. I grew up reading german magazines like the early "Video Games" (affiliated with "Power Play") then "Man!ac" and even some "PC-Player" which were some of the few better ones around then. Nice to see some of these veteran authors together again, although I don't really read printmags anymore. So far the only really mature german publication I know of is "Gee" (I've read a few issues, which were quite good).
    Also: I actually prefer 4-item-ratings (excellent, good, mediocre and bad) or none at all. But 5-stars (hope they don't do halves) is a lot better than anything else.