July 03, 2005

Aye, those were the days, etc.

I was going through my old issues of PC Review, that grand old British mag wot had it all, back in '93, all those things people are currently yearning for in their games mags: classy design, solid writers who could write engaging reviews, topped off with features about a wide range of games. Of course, it helped somewhat that Doom had yet to be released and adventure games were the high tech of the day.

This was the mag whose one reviewer became famous for the fatally quotable if a better adventure comes out this year I'll eat my rubber trousers. (Pretty spot-on, though; the game was Day of the Tentacle.) Their winner recipe was having a woman for an editor whose favorite games were SimCity and Lemmings. She oversaw a stable of writers which included several strategy and chess players; Simon Shaw, Ciaran Brennan, Steve Cooke... In 93, the already thoroughly-solid writers were joined by Cal Jones, who was able to top it off with a sense for jokes like he's afraid of women (silly man); or, when presented with a party-based RPG, naming the characters after office staff— you get the idea. It was unprecedented.

Alas, before soon the graphic design was `upgraded' to be more busy, and in mid-95, some refugee from the rapidly dying Amiga mags was made editor. He promptly put out an issue with `SEX' on the cover. Sigh.

I'd assumed I'd stopped reading it in 97 or something, but in fact, my subscription ran until January 99. And in retrospect, I found reviews of Fallout and Thief which had completely passed me by the first time around. I quickly realized, this was because the reviews were in fact really blandly written. Now, in the '93 run of PC Review, even a so-so RPG might receive a three-page review, and it would be worth reading. You'd walk away feeling genuinely informed. In the '98 run, even though it was no longer running horrible groan-inducing features, it managed to make every game seem the same even when talking about Thief. Thief, for Shub's sake.

I could go on about the wonderful features of '93-era PC Review, such as the `two minutes' and `alternatively' boxes, but you really had to be there. So I'll just fast-forward to the obligatory where are they now?

Well, editor Christina Erskine and Ciaran Brennan appear to be running a games PR agency called Bastion, while Cal Jones seems to have disappeared off the surface of the net around '98. And I guess that pretty much answers why games mags are crap: the good writers would get the same paycheck with much less hassle by switching to a job where competence actually matters.


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