Tina K. Russell

January 7, 2009

Remembering EGM

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:46 pm

EGM Closed; 1Up Sold | Edge Online
Ziff Davis, a veteran player in games magazine and website publishing, has quit the business, closing long-running consumer mag EGM and selling its games web properties to UGO Entertainment and its parent Hearst.

EGM has been published for 20 years. In the 1990s it increased frequency to twice a month, via EGM2, and has been publishing online sites since the early 1990s. In the last few years, debt-stricken Ziff has closed numerous games pubs including Games for Windows.

This breaks my heart. I knew EGM was in trouble, and that a gaming news outlet that operates but once a month is hardly tenable these days, but… I’ve heard many stories of “I can’t believe this cultural institution I’ve grown up with is gone after 20 good years,” but I never prepared to say goodbye to mine.

I read my first issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly back when I was a little kid. Back then, I only played videogames twice a year; my parents would rent a Genesis and some Sonic games for my birthday, and for my brother’s birthday (which was, fortunately, sufficiently far apart).

You can imagine, of course, that this elevated the Sega Genesis to an almost mythical status for us, a kind of legendary civilization that rises from the water but twice a year. So, if I saw an issue of EGM (especially if it had Sonic on the cover, which was often) on a grocery store shelf, I’d plead with my mom for it. Every once in a while, she’d grant my wish (despite thinking of EGM, with its raunchy game ads and occasional sexy rendered ladies, doubtlessly as part of the American institution of the too-short childhood), and I’d walk home with a cherished knickknack, a kind of souvenir from this legendary civilization.

Actually, first it wasn’t EGM, it was GamePro, and later an issue or two of GameFan. (I still have that issue of GamePro; it was their famous Sonic 2 preview issue, featuring screenshots of several levels that were eventually scrapped. Also, in the pictorials, I wondered who that raccoon next to Sonic was. Even after learning he was a fox, I resolutely refused to believe he had two tails. That’s just silly.) In time, it was all EGM.

EGM had the right balance of snark and professionalism. Unlike other game mags, which featured a colorful cast of fantasy creatures as their supposed editors (GameFan actually did a regular comic feature on the adventures of their intrepid reviewers; barf), EGM used real faces and names… mostly. (When a reader suspected them of being too good-looking, an editor responded, “trust me, if our pictures were fake, we would have found better-looking models.”) They had one exception to keep the fantasy alive: the mysterious, fighting-game-obsessed ninja from parts unknown: Sushi-X.

EGM gave each game four scores instead of one, and you could read what each reviewer thought. The reviewers had their own profiles and short messages in each issue, so you could pick whichever one you felt the most kinship with. EGM ran editorials on the maturing of the games industry, the introduction of violence and sex into the mix, and the undue influence of advertising dollars. (EGM‘s editorials in recent years have been one of the last bastions of defense against the widescale selling-out of the enthusiast press, and its reviews have been refreshingly harsh, refusing to hand out the all-too-common “courtesy sevens” for games that should have tried harder.) You also, as I remember, grew fond of the magazine’s editors, who were all good writers. You felt like you were hanging out at the arcade with them. (In fact, they were the first generation of great game writers, having started at the industry’s outset and laying claim to having played nearly every release “from Pong on.”) I was suddenly interested in playing the incomprehensibly named Super Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyperfighting, despite not having heard of it before. (I did play it eventually, and I just didn’t get it; those who did can now enjoy the acclaimed remake, lovingly monikered with the equally, endearingly absurd name of Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix.) I wanted to discuss with them why I thought the hero I grew up with (Sonic) was better than the hero they grew up with (some plumber who stomps on turtles). I wanted to sit around with them with pizza, Cherry Coke, and a few rounds of Saturn Bomberman. I was unsurprised when they reported that a sick child, through the Make-a-Wish foundation, chose to spend a day hanging out with the EGM crew. It was a sound choice.

They were heroes to me, breaking through the pomp of day-to-day videogame blather to reveal the creamy insides of compelling gameplay and fascinating, real-time stories. In issue #100, which I think was 1996, they presented a “top 100 games of all time” list, giving recognition to a wide array of games in many genres, all ranked with the rule that no points are awarded for fondness or historical importance; these are the game’s we’d take with us “if we were abducted by aliens.” This was the master list of pure fun, and at the top sat none other than Alexei Pajitnov’s Tetris. (Modern top-100 lists tend to guage subjectively, based on when the games came out; this inevitably results in a useless list topped every time by Super Mario Bros., for its yet-unmatched leap into the future of gaming. Still, Super Mario Bros. came out when the game market had crashed after being flooded by terrible Atari knock-off cartridges from companies desperate to cash in on what they saw as a fad; it’s hard to compete with Super Mario Bros. when it’s being contrasted with the crap that immediately preceeded it.)

The top 100 list gave slots to Sonic 2 and Sonic CD, to my pleasure, and also gave a joint entry to Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and Kirby’s Avalanche. It noted that both these titles were localizations of the popular Japanese puzzle game Puyo Puyo, beginning my childhood fascination with the series that would surprise and confuse my schoolmates. The list, to my dismay, included Blast Corps, a game that my brother liked but I did not; he relished the challenge, while I felt it was simply issuing you nearly impossible and uniformly boring challenges, and then rewarding you with even more difficult and boring challenges. (Little did I know that developer Rare’s games would only become even more so over time.) I could win the argument, though: the list also included Ms. Pac-Man, a a pizza-parlor favorite of me and kids everywhere, giving it a better spot.

Issue #102, which I recieved that Christmas in my stocking, introduced me to the world of videogame history; despite some inaccuracy, it was a fascinating look into the formative story of our industry, and it began my interest in the topic. Another issue had the Sonic Adventure cover story, which I pleaded with my mom for, and I then brought it to summer camp to flip through occasionally to comfort myself as well as to use it to inform my fellow campers how awesome the next year would be for Sega, defending the corporate giant from those who thought its hardware days were over following the Saturn’s woes. The story had many odd mistakes, such as saying that the game take place “on Earth, not Sonic’s homeworld of Mobius” (this sort of thing stokes an enormous fan debate, but the long and short of it is that Sonic and friends live on Earth, and it’s called “Earth,” but it’s different from our Earth), and that it took place in South America (really, it contained “the Mystic Ruins,” inspired by a trip to Aztec, Maya, and Inca ruins that the developers took before ever revealing the project). But, I forgave the mistakes, on account of the awesome visual spreads and the fact that I now had something to put under my pillow as I slept, something to remind me of my fandom back home.

Eventually, EGM‘s intrepid marketers selected me to recieve a free subscription (I don’t know what I did!), and so I have many issues saved up from the late 90s and early 2000s, for about two years or so. I fell in love with the “Hsu and Chan” comics that poked fun at the industry’s odd habits and shortcomings. (In one, our heroes, small-time game developers, try to upstage Gran Turismo 2 with an “ultra-realistic driving game” of their own: it includes such realistic touches as the “pounding on the hood and swearing” mini-game and the “try to get one last ride to Vegas outta this jalopy” challenge.) I cherished looks at games like Jet Grind Radio and Skies of Arcadia that would live on to be under-appreciated classics.

I’m sure if I went back and looked at my old issues of EGM, today, my fawning wouldn’t gush quite so freely. The rose-tinted specs would be off, and I’d see the relentless assault of immature ads, the even flow of courtesy sevens, and the excessive lightness of their approach to a serious (and seriously entertaining) medium. In retrospect, and I’ve known this for only a few years now, the real gift that EGM passed onto me was its gift of words.

EGM taught me to talk. It tought me to be snarky. It taught me to be unrelenting in my criticism but forgiving in my outlook. It taught me to laugh at the bad and see through to the good. It taught me to use big words in elegant ways that imply what they mean. It taught me the most important lesson of all: never forget, even and especially when your health is running low, your last save point was an hour back, and you’re about to fight the toughest end boss so far, that it’s all just a game.

Thanks, EGM. In my book, you’ve earned a perfect 10.

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2 Comments »

  1. Sadly it was Nintendo Power for me when I was younger, and the only EGM issues I own are from 2006-07, back when they were in their “LOL we’re immature yet WE’RE ALSO COOL” phase when Dan Hsu was EIC.

    I never got to read how James Mielke handled EGM when Shoe left, but there’s probably loads of issues of the 01/09 EGM somewhere.

    And somewhere there’s also the last GFW magazine, I intended to get that when it closed down. That was also a good read even though I only picked up a few issues.

    The problem is that print media for an enthusiast press is somewhat redundant these days thanks to the internet. I heard EGM and other magazines circumvented this by going more towards behind-the-scenes, critical thinking articles towards the end, and that’s probably the best way to go.

    Comment by TonicBH — January 7, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

  2. Tina
    This is such a well written article. Video games are not a part of my life but you conveyed so much personal passion in this article that I enjoyed reading through it. It was also enlightening to read the history of this literary endeavor and what made it superior to the others.

    Comment by John — January 7, 2009 @ 11:11 pm


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