Promised I'd do more on the Cafepress thing today, but have another dog to kick around first:
Got my hands on a copy of the redesigned issue of PC GAMER, which is a thing of glory indeed. Subscribers should be getting it as I write. Hits the shelves on Friday, but wouldn't surprise me if some people could pick it up on Thursday knowing the way magazine distribution works.
For the silent, lurking, audience of the blog who don't really know me from Adam Oxford, PC GAMER was my magazine beau for the five years I worked on it. I never loved it in the way I loved Amiga Power - unconditionally, dumbly, fannishly - but I was hopelessly devoted to it since I made it, put myself into it and was a part of making it work as well I did. I loved it in a more mature, adult way, basically - and it helped that for all its infinite flaws, it was at its heart what I believed the videogame magazines should be (Long form reviews, criticism lead, first-person friendly, not confusing "intelligent" with "seriousness", not confusing "Fun" with "dumb"). And for two of those five years, it was literally my sole creative output. Wherever GAMER was, so was I.
In all the time I was at Gamer, it was never redesigned. Which is insane. It had over six years of a look with only relatively minor tweaks and rolling editorial drift, but was basically the same thing. Even when the design was new back in 98, it was at best clunkily effective - dynamic, but style-less. To begin with it grated - when other magazines got lush redesigns or had the money available for all the frippery, like decent paper stocks, GAMER was treated like a workhorse. Eventually, I took pride in it, even over-stated it, with "GAMER is the ugliest games magazine in existence. Fuck you" being pretty much my internal - and occasionally external - mantra.
(Which wasn't true. Gamer had moments of extreme prettiness. The Art department have never been anything but excellent, and when GAMER looked rubbish, it was always for things beyond their control. But that was hard to fit into a teeth-gritting mantra.)
After this redesign, GAMER is no longer ugly. It's actually strikingly new, while simultaneously classical. While when most magazines when trying to look stylish lean towards Edge's cold minimalism, what the two Marks have done is found another way entirely. Bits of it is old-stuff rediscovered (when was the last time you saw anything centre-justified in a magazine? People seem to have forgot the authority that simple action gives). Bits of it is an embracing of what's poissible now (The resolution of shots in PCs now are just wasted printing in tiny inch-by-inch boxes). Bits turn brutal utilitarianism into style (Often in magazines you find you want to write about something but have no screenshots. However, since the design insists on screenies, you're screwed and simply have to bury it in a side-bar somewhere. They've found a few easy ways around it, and it sings). Speaking generally, it's about freedom. It's a magazine where the design is modular enough to do anything with, but with enough variations that it doesn't feel formulaic.
Also, for the first time since it left, it feels like an excellent magazine that isn't *my* life anymore. All the dumb stuff GAMER excels at is still there, but they've found a whole selection of new jokes linked to their lives in the office. It seems like a gang again. It's got the density of jokes buried around the pages which comes from a decent office interaction, and is extremely difficult to fake (All games magazines try - you can check if it's for real by looking in the small areas. If there's funny stuff HIDDEN instead of being obvious, it's a good sign). But it's all them, which is a glorious thing to see.
It puts me in the position something akin to that Jon Smith was in when I joined GAMER. An excellent old-time freelancer brought in for certain tasks that he excelled at, but not actually part of the direct team anymore - except for the long-time resonance his name had with the Readers. Which is exactly how it should be - I don't work on the magazine anymore, so can't provide it with character. That's the staffer's job, as only they can do it in the required density.
For example, the time when GAMER was worst over the six years was between 107-120 or so, when anything unpredictable was brought to the table by Richard Cobbett who was writing insane material that almost managed to distract everyone from the fact no-one else was exactly kicking out the JAMs. Almost, but not quite - as since he was only working on individual pieces, his influence couldn't permeate through the magazine as a whole, and it felt sad and tired.
But now between Craig and Tim, it's genuinely firing up again. Wherever there can be a joke, there is a joke. Where there can be an insightful aside, they take you to one corner and pass on that wisdom. What should be rubbish features become entertainment purely through their fearless and hilarious execution (The "Game collection for £50" feature, for example). What are brilliant ideas for features are taken even higher by wicked glea (Tim's article on the economic slump in Star Wars Galaxy is informative and surprising even in concept. But sticking Admiral Ackbar heads on the graphs takes it to a whole new place). There's more room and time to be clever - the modular system allows wierd shit easier expression, and reducing the amount of work on stuff that really shouldn't *be* much work frees up more time to actually do more interesting material.
Which includes, but isn't limited to, the Extra Life section which is where the redesign dovetails with my own rambling New Games Journalism stuff, and will hopefully show that I wasn't really talking about *just* ridiculously heavyweight Hemingway-typoing stuff (As well as dealing with more expected stuff, like better coverage of the Mod scene). You'll find my first two conscious attempts at writing post-Bow-Nigger pieces, the long-awaited Zangband piece Confessions of a Dungeon Hacker (Which I've been convulsively giggling over when anyone asks about it on State. I like pretending I can't believe I got away with it but... y'know... re-reading it in the magazine, I can't believe we ever thought it was controversial) and a little look at a thing I like to call Planescape Torment. I don't quite manage to answer the dilemma that Bow Nigger posed me - how someone who's only really interested in the single-player experience can react to form of writing that seems primarily about the multiplayer - but certainly on the way to reworking the analytical tradition. I'm also on lead review duties with the Thief ("3" - Ed) review, which I've re-read in the Bath and am quietly pleased with.
That's my pitch for it anyway. It's the first twenty-first century games mag. It's not perfect by a long way - living things never are, and a magazine has to die before it gains the saintly aura of YS/AP/Zero - but it's the biggest step in the right direction I've seen in my time in the industry. And if you want to see the slightly more corporate take on it, including some example pages, wander over to here and browse.
Anyway: It'll be out shortly. It's in a gold bag, coming with two free mini-books - a Tips thing and Owain Bennalack's 15,000 words or so history of the Modern PC Game. If you buy PC GAMER, buy it, thicko. If you bought PC GAMER, and stopped out of boredom, try it again and see how things changed. And if you've never bought PC GAMER, and love PC games, stop being so mean and cough up for once.
And if you hate it, I quit.