A Diamond in the rough...
As I type this the last of the current design of this famous magazine has just hit the newstands up and down this land.
For the UK crowd the name and logo should be no real suprise, it's steeped in retro gaming history however there's more to this mag than meets the eye, much like the Transformer lover that was in charge of writing this feature. Enjoy!
Finally the fans of this programme had something else to get their gaming teeth into. A monthly publication that could talk about things in greater detail, show you more of those actual games, throw reviews of every title for all the formats at the reader as well as allow you to connect with some of the people behind the TV show itself and through the readers letters pages join in with fellow fans of the show. If the GM brand was popular before now it was about to hit it’s stride but in a market filled to the brim with magazines would it work? Would people stick with it past the TV show’s demise and most importantly of all was it any good and how would history judge it’s original impact and legacy?
I won’t go into all of these questions much because the TV show itself was completely different to the paper offering I want to chat about today and also because that will be talked about in huge depth on my other regular feature of 'Retro on your TV'. I also wont go into the distant history of the GamesMaster magazine itself as again that’s a whole different story but suffice it to say that although other Gaming Television shows tried the magazine path only 1 made it. This one! Now in 2014 that brand is not only still around but going strong.
On the eve of a brand new look for the magazine I had a nice chat with the outgoing editor of the GamesMaster magazine of today and asked him about the past, the present and future concerns regarding what this writer considers to be the ultimate form of videogame representation and information archiving, Videogame magazines.
Let’s do this!
Memories of Magazines past...
It was a cold Winters day, I remember it well, mainly because at the time I was working at a newsagent and my actual job was to take in and put out the newspapers and magazines but even though I knew it was coming I had no idea exactly when so on that said fateful day at 6.30 in the morning my world changed forever.
It was finally here, after looking at the advertisements in other magazines for what felt like ages the very first issue of GamesMaster magazine was here and people let me tell you it was glorious. You have to understand that in 1993 when Issue 1 of this publication launched magazines were a very big deal, by that I mean that they were massive in both page size and important to the games industry as the number one medium to inform as well as entertain those of us who loved videogames.
Unlike any other magazine that came before or indeed since this was something extra special because it was the magazine spin-off from a TV show, in the UK this was something never really seen on this scale, back then only comics would have outside media cross over’s and the odd film.
For a whole year the television show hosted by Dominik Diamond was the talk of the gaming world, if you even remotely considered yourself a gamer your butt was glued to a seat or the floor space directly in front of your TV set once a week to share in the crazy fun he and his band of friends got upto.
A journey through time and space, but mainly through paper...
RGG: Tell everyone at RGG who you are and what you do at GamesMaster magazine.
MATTHEW: Hi, my name’s Matthew Pellett and I’m Editor of GamesMaster magazine.
RGG: Honest truth, before you worked for GM did you buy the magazine? If so what’s the first issue you remember owning? Also were there any other gaming magazines you used to read or buy? If so can you tell us about them as well please, feel free to go into as much detail as possible.
MATTHEW: Honestly, I did. I can’t remember the exact issue, but I’ve a feeling it was possibly 44, which was a Resident Evil cover. I remember buying it lots in the tail end of the nineties – when the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VIII and Dino Crisis were on the cover. Heck, I remember sitting in bed reading the Grim Fandango review and cursing my lack of a PC that could run it, and even clipping out the CHEAT! entry form and sending in my tips for the MGS demo that was bundled with the Official PlayStation mag.
I don’t think they ever did print my cheat, the cads (it involved crawling into the base and then back out again to grab a rocket launcher from the back of a truck – ah, I easily sank over 30 hours into that demo), but my dad read the form before I sent it in and told me my grammar wasn’t up to scratch because it needed to say ‘the snake’ or ‘snakes’, not ‘snake’. I promptly told him that the character’s name was Snake and that he was talking nonsense and that I’d prove my superior language skills by one day becoming the Editor of GM and shaming him for his error. Okay, I didn’t really predict that I’d join the mag one day (pipe dream or what?), but the argument did happen.
GM was just one of the many mags I bought. In my mid-teens I bought pretty much everything going, starting with the Saturn mags before progressing to the PlayStation ones. I remember being very excited about the PS2 launch (I got my first job when I was 14 to save up for the console prior to launch) and spending tons of money on the mags. PSW was a classic mag (free memory card with issue one? Thanks very much!). I used to buy all my games from GamePlay back when you had to ring up and order them because they advertised in the Official Sega Saturn mag and were the cheapest retailer going.
Official PlayStation was another love of mine – again, starting around ’98. P2, Play, PowerStation… man, I spent a lot. Of course, come uni I was subscribing to EDGE and GamesTM as well.
But I can pinpoint the exact mag that changed it all for me, and that was NGC issue 68, in 2002. I know that because I value it so much I keep it on my desk. NGC, and as I later came to appreciate when I got my hands on them – N64 before it and NGamer after it, was a very special mag. It shaped who I am, without question, and it made me want to get in this business. A group of fans on the old GamesRadar forums worshipped it, and many of us have since become very close friends. But I’m incredibly lucky in that I can consider many of the mag’s staff as friends, now, as well. The editor of my first issue, Tim Weaver, actually hired me out of uni and brought me into the business on Xbox World 360, in 2007, and since then I’ve become very good friends with the likes of Miriam McDonald and Geraint Evans and Jes Bickham and so on. To quote John Cusack in High Fideilty, “Some people never got over Vietnam or the night their band opened for Nirvana. I guess I never got over Charlie.” Only, replace Charlie with NGC… The pillars of that mag – the idea of mag personalities and clever humour and of picking games apart deeper than anyone else are ideas I now get to roll into GM, and hopefully people might feel the same way about the mag we make as I did about the mag I used to buy twelve years ago.
RGG: People in the know are aware of the origin of the original GM magazine but for those living in space for more than twenty years can you sum up the heritage of this world famous publication?
MATTHEW: Obviously I wasn’t around back then! But, of course, GamesMaster started life as a television show starring the brilliant Dominik Diamond and the late, great Sir Patrick Moore back in 1992. A year later the magazine appeared and the rest and while the show sadly ended in 1998 we kept going and going and going.
RGG: Silly question but were you a fan of the programme? When you answer YES can you tell us what made it so special in your eyes?
MATTHEW: I was indeed, though I was perhaps too young at the time to get all of Diamond’s jokes… From ‘92 to ’98 I was 7-13, so for its entire run I was wholly dependent on parents (and Santa) for my gaming fixes – and when I was young I think my family didn’t want me to have a dedicated gaming machine, so I was one of the last in my school to get one. Don’t get me wrong – they didn’t hold out *forever* - but there was a time when I was fascinated by games and could only see them either when I went round a friend’s or when I watched GM. And, as we were all young, my friends only had a few games, so GM let me see all the wonders that were out there in the big, wide world.
Megadrive V Snes? What about Paper V Website?
RGG: Some people would say that magazines are as much retro as the games they cover will eventually become, would you agree that magazines need to have more attention thrust on them from retro gaming websites? If so explain your thoughts on the matter please
MATTHEW: It would be nice if we did get more attention! Mags straddle generations, as far as I am concerned. They’re these time capsules of certain points in our lives that we keep in the bottom of our cupboards and sometimes choose to pick up and flick through to remember ‘the good old times’. Now, I reckon the same can be true of internet content too if it’s preserved correctly (is Hamster Dance still a thing? In its original form that’s the perfect example of a time capsule, right there), but with mags there’s no stealth editing or updating its content – what you got is what you got, permanently.
I can now pick up an old magazine and appreciate it as a piece of standalone entertainment as well as a source of information and nostalgia. So, yes, I think we are retro – but retro should never be mistaken for obsolete. Retro is incredibly ‘in’ now thanks to Virtual Consoles and the like...
RGG: How has the internet harmed the traditional print publication and how do you talented young studs and ladies combat the ever increasing public website consumption.
MATTHEW: We sit and cry and shake our fist at websites? In all seriousness, it’s no secret that mag sales are nowhere near what they used to be. But do you know what? For those of us on the front lines, there’s no better motivator to sweat blood and tears than that. We know that our readers and dedicated, and that to keep them happy we have to make the very best content we can. There’s no room for complacency: if we don’t do a good job, people will go elsewhere. So from that point of view, it’s good for the quality of the magazine. I challenge anybody to compare the quality of writing now to the quality a couple of decades ago on a cover-to-cover basis. For the most part, I think you’ll find today's mags are better. Now, that’s probably going to be an unpopular opinion and there were some incredible, incredible writers ‘back in the day’ – the likes of Martin Kitts or Charlie Brooker or Kieron Gillen – but on an overall, front-to-back cover comparison, I’d wager today’s mags are of a higher technical standard because there’s no room for error these days.
The internet has harmed mags in that it’s dragged readers away, and that’s a shame. But it’s done a lot of good, too. First up, it’s given more writers a voice and a chance to get their work out there, and there are some amazing, amazing people who’ve become very successful as a result. It’s also made the magazine making process easier – we no longer have to wait for images to arrive through the post on a disc – we can now download them in seconds from GamesPress. We can email people across the globe for information. We can Tweet devs and make sure that we’re on top of all the news at the moment it breaks. And in many cases, we can expand on the mags that we do make with extra online stories and content: so we’re able to keep our readers in the loop with daily updates and feedback about certain games while they wait for their next fix of the monthly mag.
The worth of magazine content should never be underestimated, however. A good story may stay on the front page of a website for a few hours or a day or two before it drops into the archive abyss, rarely to be read again. A cover story for a magazine will stay on shelves and in people's homes for at least a month. And because there's finite space in an issue, every game and every story has to earn its place in the magazine. You won't find us filling space with dull sales analysis or regurgitated press releases with click-chasing headlines.
RGG: Here at RGG we feel that magazines offer not only more detailed articles regarding games and consoles but that they provide an archive source for future generations to study without resorting to sites like Wikipedia which are usually badly written and often wrong, how does it feel to be a part of that history for you and the team now?
MATTHEW: It’s an incredibly humbling privilege if we are seen in that way. There’s a lot of rubbish online, of course, but there’s also a lot of gold. I set myself a challenge of trying to put content in the magazine that is special, but the bar’s being raised all the time. Go look at Christian Donlan’s work on Eurogamer, for example, or Keith Stuart’s on The Guardian, to find examples of people writing content any magazine editor would want to throw money at to secure for their titles. Certainly, going back to the time capsule analogy, a magazine offers a better sense of time and place for future generations to understand. Website archives are often a mess, and it can be very hard to get a feel for a particular month or year from anything other than a feature summing up said month or year. If I go away for a week I struggle enough trying to get a feel for what I’ve missed by digging through news archives for just seven days…
RGG: Are you aware of the record for UK publication C&VG magazine regarding it’s length of time on the newsstands and are you confident of beating it? If not then now do you feel the pressure, if so how will being a part of the longest running multi-format games magazine feel?
MATTHEW: 23 years before it closed, right? We’ll beat it. GM’s 21 already and we’re going strong. I’ve no doubt in my mind we’ll become the longest running. The pressure’s good – it drives us all to do everything we can. Of course it’ll be great to be working on the longest running mag, but it won’t mean a thing if we’re not immensely proud of what we made. So long as we can send each issue to printers knowing we’ve made something awesome I’ll be happy, regardless of our brand’s age.
What about the creator? The scoop on Matthew
RGG: During your time in publishing you must have seen or experienced some crazy things, can you tell us any cool stories?
MATTHEW: I get the feeling all the crazy, cool things went down before I joined the business in 2007! I’ve got to meet some amazing people in some great places, which has been fantastic. The craziest thing that springs to mind is a tragedy: my one and only press trip in Japan was in June 2008, and we were in Akihabara during the Akihabara massacre. There was no drama in terms of danger to us – we missed it by about 20 minutes or so – but it was an awful, awful situation to witness.
The craziest things often involve having to make the best of a bad situation. My E3 2012 stay in a hostel was ‘interesting’ and possibly shaved some years off my life. Thankfully I buddied up with the Ginx TV team (Aoife is now on the Official Xbox Magazine) and we all got through it, but there were definitely some interesting stains in the room/bugs in the shower and, a few months later, bodies in the water tank on the roof.
RGG: Whats your personal favourite retro games computer or console and why?
MATTHEW: Just picking a single console is hard – I've too many happy memories with them all! Special mention must go to the PlayStation 2 though: at the start of 2000 (February, to be exact), when I was just 14 years old, I got a job in a garden centre near to my home in order to save up enough money to buy the console when it arrived in the UK. I was on £1.50-something an hour, possibly even less (it had climbed to a mighty £1.84 an hour when I left in September 2001 to go join WHSmith - fact), so it took me a hell of a long time, but when I finally got to buy a PlayStation 2 in its launch week (yep, I remember those carbon-copy pre-order forms) I felt on top of the world. For that first month I only had TimeSplitters, and it was all I needed. I mean, c'mon - Robofish! Then, Santa brought me SSX at Christmas and it was like I'd gone to heaven. Happy days…
RGG: It’s late at night and whilst your working on an article for a deadline suddenly the door bursts open and in jumps Dominik Diamond and his lovely assistants, they whisk you off to a remote island for a well deserved holiday and whilst your there they grant you the wish of all wishes…. You can ask for ANY 5 games of your choice to play whilst you relax and soak up the sun, which games would you choose?
MATTHEW: I should probably same something clever to hint at my mad encyclopedia of gaming knowledge, such as Boktai: The Sun is in your Hands.
Okay, time to be serious – ignoring problems such as screen glare and provided Dom and the assistants were up for gaming I’d pick:
1) Super Monkey Ball
2) Super Bomberman
3) Worms Armageddon
4) Vib Ribbon (no limit to the CDs I can bring, right?)
5) Xenoblade Chronicles – bought it new at launch and still not got round to playing it, so would be a good chance for me to do so.
How’s long’s this vacation, again? Just to clarify – they’re not my favourite five games, but they’re the ones I’d pick for that situation.
RGG: If you were not working for GM what other job would you want to do, inside or outside the industry and why?
MATTHEW: So, I’d be happy being a novelist, of course! Successful enough to pay the mortgage – not asking to be Stephen King-famous or anything. (Though I’d probably be sad if I wasn’t.) But I think I’d really enjoy working with animals in some capacity. Not as a vet – my sister’s a vet but I couldn’t cope with the heartbreak – but perhaps at a zoo or as part of a conservation program.
RGG: People NEED to buy and read GM magazine because…….
MATTHEW: It will surprise you. People *think* they know what the mag’s like because they saw an issue a few years ago, but it’s changed a lot and all for the better. In fact – bit of an exclusive here – it’s changing even more, as the team’s currently working on our grand redesign. Our mag out 30 Jan is the final ‘old-style’ GM – from 27 Feb and beyond we’re rocking a brand new look.
Nearing the end, do we get a golden Joystick?
RGG: Regarding retro gaming what is YOUR personal definition of what makes a game retro, it seems nobody can agree so we like to ask everyone this question.
MATTHEW: Something that doesn’t feel part of *this* generation, in my opinion – but with generations defined as blocks of time rather than, say, a console cycle. We’ve got PS4s now but that doesn’t suddenly make Gran Turismo 6 and Beyond Retro, of course! In some rare cases a new game can be considered retro purely through style (Nidhogg is a prime example).
RGG: We hope you enjoyed answering these questions however not to leave any stone un-turned is there anything we didn’t ask you that you wish we had? If so what would that have been and what would your answer have been?
MATTHEW: What were some of my favourite retro memories?
We had an Acorn 3000 when I was a young thing and so my first gaming experiences were with Lemmings, Zool, Chocks Away, Chuck Rock, James Pond (1, not 2) and a whole ton of games that people probably won't remember: Pandora's Box (I cannot praise this game enough), Grievous Bodily 'Arm (fun Streets of Rage style game), Mad Professor Mariarti (a lovely puzzle platformer), Twinworld, SWIV, and one of the finest games I've ever played in Cataclysm. It's been 20 years though, so I *may* be wearing rose-tinted specs but I'd like to think I'm not and that they'd stand the test of time.
If you ever bump into me and ask me to single out my one retro game I want brought back I'd pick Puggsy by Traveller's Tales. I'm pretty sure the studio knows me as 'that journo who keeps asking about Puggsy in every interview'. I'll keep fighting that war though...
RGG: Mario or Sonic…. And why?
MATTHEW: That’s the beauty of multi-format – you can have both. Well, technically our sister mag Official Nintendo Mag can have both now, too, but… shhh.
These days it's not really a fair fight though is it? The plumber is the only choice.
RGG: Lastly would any of your team like to spend a day playing games round Megatron’s_Fury’s house in his Games Room, he has nearly 5,000 games and 70 consoles plus about 2,000 games magazines so there’s plenty to do, also he promises to make sure the fridge is stocked. No pressure to say yes but if you say no….He may cry!!!
MATTHEW: Uh, where’s this house? Do we need to listen out for the telltale revs of a chainsaw? (....maybe - Meg's)
It doesn't have to be old to be retro, the present is the new past!
So there you have it folks, some great insights into both the modern day magazine and the head honcho directing the dream (Until that promotion kicks in that is, congrats by the way Matthew).
I'm sure by now some of you may be wondering why a retro website even did this feature and it's a valid if silly question because the first response to that would simply be...Why the hell not? GamesMaster magazine quite clearly is still retro relevant because of it's heritage, where it came from, but there's so many more reasons why this article had to be written and why we had to reach out to the current editor for a good old natter.
Some of you round these parts will know how I feel about magazines from talking to me or seeing what I post on numerous websites on the internet including the forum we have here at RGG. With luck that alone is enough for you but I would like to take what Mathew has said about magazines and add on my points regarding this aspect of why the publication in question here is as important today as it was way back in 1993, probably more so.
The simple truth is that we live in a digital age and it's fantastic, look at how easily and quickly we can reach out and connect with each other, vast amounts of interactions per second meaning that the initial gaming community spawned from kids in bedrooms, playgrounds and the like all those decades ago has now been utterly surpassed in every possible way. Screenshots replaced by moving image, text by speech. No more waiting 30 days for the next wave of news the future is now, here, in the present and it's all yours, all you need to do is reach out and touch. Everything is better and we all won.
Or is it? And did we?
Let's look at what we lost shall we?
There are no more surprises anymore, no need to wait for a trade show anywhere because somewhere in the world someone will leak everything you could ever want to know at a moments notice, a magazine doesn't work that way, each page turn is a thing of mystery and wonder with no narration to spoil anything it's all at the readers pace, it's your mystery to solve. Turning a page to me is like opening a present, what will it be? Nothing beats this feeling at all.
At one point in time there were in the UK as many as 60 publications regarding videogames and that sure did seem like a lot. They each threw exclusives at you and temptation to buy them all was massive because you didn't want to miss out on anything but compare that to the many thousands of websites each trying to be the one that breaks a story or has the first review. This massive increase of market saturation has in so many ways actually harmed the very industry it wants to promote, turning every small announcement into a ratings war of site advertising clicks and adverts that pop up right when you don't want them, adverts that either don't appear or work the same way in print.
Magazines introduced a lovely feeling of reward for patience when it came to gaming, every month you would have a solid amount of time to digest all that information by reading through everything and not just looking at the pictures, there's a reason most websites (and I do mean most) have very little text and prefer images or video to do the journalistic work for them. For me this is sloppy and shoddy and is at best the direct comparison to a DJ over a musician, one takes shortcuts, the other makes real music. In this digital age everything is fast, loud and in your face and then almost the next day it's worthless because another similar gossip fuelled grand statement has taken it's place.
Moderators have become the new editor standard or most probably the new version of a letters page staff writer in that they are the ones who direct the flow of accepted conversations however unlike a magazine's staff they never respond to you directly like they care. In my experience most moderators are quite simply lacking in both manners and often subject knowledge, wielding those ban hammers as a substitute for something missing in their life. Harsh but fair I think.
So how is GamesMaster still retro?
It's really very simple boys and girls. Ask anyone and they will tell you that the greatest accepted period in gaming's history was that of the Golden Era, namely the 8-bit through 16-bit systems. Right now in the UK only 1 magazine from this period remains, a magazine born from the likes of games we won't ever see again, this magazine. GamesMaster.
Because of it's massive life cycle it draws upon all that archived data to provide retro content for modern gamers every single issue, from 'Timeline' History articles that chronicle the life of a franchise to double page features on the classic consoles and computers of days gone by. There is always something to help inform and entertain both those already in the know and those wanting to dip their toes into a whole sub-culture of gaming. Sure other publications such as GamesTm and RetroGamer have these however Retrogamer is built from the ground up around pure retro content so it's not a fair comparison and GamesTm although fantastic doesn't have 21 years of archive history to draw from, not yet anyway.
But there's more people, GamesMaster is very much cut from the old way of thinking cloth in that it's readers letters page is both fun to read and actively encourages old style submissions, you can send in or e-mail drawings of game related characters and better still pictures of things you have yourself such as merchandise or custom made gaming items, cos-play etc. Readers can now connect and identify with the magazine makers by showcasing unique items such as birthday cakes, pet's dressed up as something from zelda etc and my personal favourite the Gamers Crib. I have to admit that I have been tempted to show off my man cave several times however so far all I have been brave enough to send them is a picture of my full sized Hyrule Sword & Shield.
Of course the magazine is completely modern in that it knows that new games pay the bills but it's great that so much space is dedicated to real reader interaction that works in perfect tandem with their facebook page, old school and new tech working in perfect harmony. Take note other magazines, this is how it's done properly.
After speaking to Matthew about the magazine it's clear that the direction they have is focused on actively engaging with their online community whilst still keeping true to their traditional readers and it's something I massively respect and admire. I am myself notorious for being hard to please so if this statement is worth anything at all it was my absolute pleasure to be so thoroughly impressed with what I saw and heard here. Matthew himself has just been given the top job at the official Playstation magazine and to him everyone here at RGG wishes him the absolute very best. His reign as editor of GamesMaster was a very good one indeed, building on the great work already done before and adding very obvious improvements and touches that the new person will most certainly benefit from. The torch has been passed.
RetroGameGeeks Final Thoughts...
If you look around this last text box you will see images from some of my most recent copies of the magazine being showcased in this feature, I'm not just a website writer who thought he would get an interview for the sake of it. I went after this guy specifically because great work should be recognised and publicly applauded, partner that truth with my love for printed gaming media and a love for a weekly TV show that became a magazine that turned into an institution and it's now very obvious why GamesMaster is not only something that is retro relevant now but always has been and always will be.
The preservation of what came before is both my battleground and the calling of my heart, the written word has and always shall be the only way to keep all those special moments preserved for the next generation to learn from in a true, pure un-edited by ignorance form and in this fight people like us are not alone, Matthew will stand with us as will those who work so hard each and every single day on publications such as GamesMaster to keep the old ways, the better ways alive.
My job, Your job....Our job is to make sure we continue to buy each issue and most importantly encourage others to do the same. I shall look forward to watching them beat the record set by C&VG at which point we shall return to celebrate a truly remarkable moment indeed. My thanks go to all those who took the time to read this feature and especially to the team who produce gold every 30 days.
And they say alchemy doesn't exist!