Is this really the best you can do?

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Morden
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Is this really the best you can do?

Post by Morden » Mon Mar 05, 2012 4:38 pm

Ok, so here's the deal. As much as I like the idea of a magazine dedicated almost completely to retro games, for a while now I've been observing a recurring trend which I'm not a huge fan of. Before I get to the point, if you're reading this and you're thinking to yourself "Oh man! here we go, a hater! Let's destroy him with anti-hater one-liners and drown his criticism in a sea of unconditional Retro Gamer fan love", let me stop you in your tracks. I've been buying Retro Gamer for years, which, as far as I'm concerned, entitles me to give its creators a piece of my mind, and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

I'm yet to get my copy of issue #100, but it was this issue, or rather its table of contents from the RetroGamer.net website, which caused this message to be typed in. As a magazine publisher, you're all aware of big numbers, magazine anniversaries, etc. I'm quite sure that issue #100 didn't catch you all by surprise. While I think the inclusion of Retro Gamer #1 is a nice touch, and a great gift to all those who've missed it, what's up with all the recycling?

Yes, that's my main complaint. Over the years, on countless occasions I've seen numerous topics being discussed on the pages of your magazine over and over again. I understand, that people like reading about certain games, but how many times am I supposed to read about the making of Sonic? How many times do I have to read about how the idea for Pac-Man came about? He's a pizza. We get it. It's not that I don't love these characters. I do, really, but Retro Gamer isn't the only magazine in the world which ran those stories, and running them multiple times doesn't really change the past, does it?

One hundred issues. Wow. That really is something. I'm trying to imagine how this issue came to be and who was responsible for the choice of articles. "Let's give our readers something special. We've hit #100 after all!" A celebration of "Elite"? Why not. It's not like it was a cover story of issue #47. Oh, wait ...

That, of course, is one example, but not too long ago we had an issue with tons of information on Sonic, not to mention the slightly older #26. Sure, we might get a single bit of information that wasn't discussed before in Retro Gamer, but like I said, RG isn't the only magazine that ever thought of asking Yuji Naka about how he made his game. Oh, and we had the history of GTA before, but this time it's "the making of", so that must be completely different.

By now you've probably picked up on my disappointment, but I'm sure this situation is like one of the most common break-up scenarios, when the girl tells you it's not you, it's her. The magazine is doing fine, obviously, so it must be me. I just wished for something more, if not from the magazine as a whole, from the issue #100 alone.

I will however reserve my final judgement for after I've read the thing. Who knows? Maybe the list of classic gaming moments will buy you a pass? Are you planning on making any other lists? Like the most iconic heroes in gaming, or top ten shower scenes, or cutest girls in games, or top ten game smokers, or ... Ok, now just I'm being mean.

The point of this rant is this: After #100 issues, you've established yourselves as a retro force in the gaming magazine world. You obviously have good enough contacts with foreign developers and gaming is a huge world to explore. Do you really have to keep going back to those "crowd-pleasers"?

Oh, and one more thing, or two things maybe. I've always wondered about one particular section of your magazine. "The Unconverted" to be exact. Seems to me like you're simply plowing through MAME romsets. How about a picture of the person who wrote the article holding up an actual PCB? Or how about a new column, "The Unemulated"? Anyone can get a ton of ROMs these days, faster than you can say "is this even legal?", but not everyone can play those unemulated titles, and there are a few. I for one would like to read about those in your magazine.

Also, Iain Lee should get his own magazine and call it BBC Micro. In this magazine, he'd write about how superior BBC Micro games are to their counterparts on other platforms. He could also write about more random stuff, like hitting kids over the head with a bible, and with luck, while running his BBC Micro mag, he wouldn't have the time to spare and his column in Retro Gamer would cease to exist, but that's neither here nor there.

P.S. - I love how in one issue you can answer a letter with "Oh, we didn't know game ABC existed, because we've never owned platform XYZ" just to write about the said game two issues later, after you've researched it. Good stuff.

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Darran@Retro Gamer
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by Darran@Retro Gamer » Mon Mar 05, 2012 5:49 pm

So let me get this straight? You've not actually read the issue, but you're going to go off on one anyway ;)
Good stuff.

Seriously though, you're entitled to your opinion. So I'll try and address your points where I can.

Not everyone has every single issue of Retro Gamer, we have an influx of new readers, who want to read stuff about the things they used to enjoy when they were young. This invariably means that we have to cover. Oh I don't know, popular franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog, the Spectrum, Elite, Nintendo, Mario, and so on and so on.

Now if we were simply writing the same thing time after time, then you're right, things would get dull pretty quickly and readers would get annoyed, as you have every right to be at this moment.

We don't do that though, we try and approach articles from new angles, so that new readers have something to enjoy, and older readers like yourself have something new to read. The fact of the matter is we've never had David Braben dissect Elite like he has in the current issue, just as we've never run an interview with Yuji Naka where he discusses the creation of Sonic the Hedgehog. With those points in mind, I felt that had worth to the reader.

Now it's quite possible that you know about this things, and most people on this forum are quite learned in these matters, but there will be just as many people who aren't aware of them, and will want to know about them. Time and time again I've stressed that Retro Gamer is about trying to keep an insane amount of people with different tastes happy and it's a very hard thing to maintain. We don't get it right every issue, but we certainly don't churn out the same information either. People aren't stupid and if we did try to simply trot out the same old tired story every few months, we'd have been seen through a long, long time ago, and wouldn't be increasing in readership like we currently are.

Retro Gamer has been going for 8 years and ultimately popular games/machines/franchises are going to be covered, it's the nature of the beast and it's the same in any specialist magazine you can think of. In that respect Retro Gamer is no different. We have an old guard to keep happy and new readers, who may not have access to past issues, and we try and address these issues as best we can.

The last time we covered Elite was as you correctly put, in issue 47. That was over 4 years ago. Do you really think a game as ground-breaking and important as Elite, shouldn't be covered again in that space of time, in a different way?. If you truly do feel that, then that's a shame.

Also there are a lot of people who write for RG. Just because I haven't played a game, it doesn't mean one of our freelancers hasn't. That makes it quite easy to have articles written on stuff we admit to knowing nothing about in an earlier issue . Alternatively we can play a game on and off and then write about it 2 months later once we've researched the game and played it.

I really don't mind it if people have a problem with the magazine, listening to feedback like this and trying to solve it is one of the reasons why the magazine is still going. Ultimately though, we're a magazine about celebrating retro games and some games will inevitably get covered more than others. It's that simple.

I do appreciate the fact that you've taken the time to write about something you're clearly passionate about though, so let's throw the ball back in your court. Tell me some of the things you think we should be covering. I'll do what I can to ensure that they appear in an upcoming issue.

Darran

PS I like the idea about the unemulated, although taking screenshots might be a bit tricky...
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markopoloman
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by markopoloman » Mon Mar 05, 2012 6:01 pm

Interesting points made and nice reply Darran.

I really think Morden should have at least waited until he received issue 100 before posting that huge list. I've been reading since issue 2 (now issue 1 :D ) and I really can't remember seeing a copied article. Same game - yes, but not the same angle.
Issue 100 has plenty of new stuff, and the stuff that you mention is actually included in that!

Read, enjoy, comment. I look forward to a constructive reply once you've read it...................
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by Sparks43 » Mon Mar 05, 2012 6:06 pm

Darran@Retro Gamer wrote: The last time we covered Elite was as you correctly put, in issue 47. That was over 4 years ago. Do you really think a game as ground-breaking and important as Elite, shouldn't be covered again in that space of time, in a different way?. If you truly do feel that, then that's a shame.

So Boulder Dash will be getting a full 20 page write up to put right what was wrong with issue 53?

Do you take submissions for inclusion in the Mag? as i would like to do an article from a fans perspective.


In relation to the Op quite a lot of what is written in RG i disagree with, but because it is done by people with the same love of games that i have i respect their opinions.

Recently i took part in an 8bit podcast and in addition to my own notes i brought a few copies of Rg with me because for the most part the Spectrum/c64 coverage is excellent(Although the Speccy is much better then the C64 imo)
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Darran@Retro Gamer
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by Darran@Retro Gamer » Mon Mar 05, 2012 6:08 pm

Sparks43 wrote:
Darran@Retro Gamer wrote: The last time we covered Elite was as you correctly put, in issue 47. That was over 4 years ago. Do you really think a game as ground-breaking and important as Elite, shouldn't be covered again in that space of time, in a different way?. If you truly do feel that, then that's a shame.

So Boulder Dash will be getting a full 20 page write up to put right what was wrong with issue 53?

Do you take submissions for inclusion in the Mag? as i would like to do an article from a fans perspective.


In relation to the Op quite a lot of what is written in RG i disagree with, but because it is done by people with the same love of games that i have i respect their opinions.

Recently i took part in an 8bit podcast and in addition to my own notes i brought a few copies of Rg with me because for the most part the Spectrum/c64 coverage is excellent(Although the Speccy is much better then the C64 imo)
http://www.arcadeandretro.com
We're always looking for submissions, especially if they're on new subjects. Some of our current writers started off as readers on the forum.
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Morden
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by Morden » Mon Mar 05, 2012 6:46 pm

Like I said, I'm reserving my final judgement for after I've read the issue, but when I saw the list of articles, I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed. It's the big one hundred, so I was expecting something spectacular, but the article titles alone felt like "same old, same old", and that's not an impression such a milestone issue should give. Having said that, I'm well aware that there are people, who haven't read those stories before. Good for them, not so good for me.

I'd also like to note that my complaints weren't limited to just one issue, that's why I mentioned a recurring trend. I know that one story can be told in a variety of ways and from different perspectives and I wasn't accusing Retro Gamer of printing the same stories, word for word. It's the focus on certain themes, games or platforms that get more attention than the rest.

While we're at it, I can name a few more things. By now I've noticed how much you love your UK gaming history, with the Spectrum and the Micro and the Amstrad, etc. It's only natural that people write about things they know and have experienced. However, widening the scope wouldn't hurt. For example, the whole Atari 8-bit computer lineup got very little attention simply because those platforms weren't that popular in the UK. At the same time I've read about three articles on Cave, two on Treasure, two on Gunstar Heroes and so on. You put so much emphasis on certain [smaller] subjects, while an occasional feature is enough to cover the Atari 8-bit family.

This, of course, goes back the need of having knowledgeable who know the subject or have researched it enough to write about it with confidence, but it's 2012 and we all have fast internet connections, cheap international calling plans and all it takes is to do something new and diversify a bit more.

I'm glad to hear you're interested in "The Unemulated" idea, because, if I can say so myself, it's a good one. And it's not as cheap as fast write-ups on MAME roms, and that's both figuratively and literally. Capturing screenshots isn't much of a problem, really. A regular arcade board in JAMMA standard outputs RGB video signal. The same signal any console with RGB support will output. All you need is a device that allows you to capture image from a RGB / SCART source. There are many ways to go about it, but the cheapest and perhaps most effective is to get a standalone DVD player with the ability to record from external inputs [usually, DVD recorders will record from composite, RGB and in some cases S-Video, and obviously from the internal tuner, in case you want to record your favorite show]. DVD recorders can record either to disc [DVD-R and RW] or an internal HD. If you go with DVD, you get a video file with easily extractable frames. RGB signal will give you quality close to that of an emulator, or at least enough for print. After all, people did manage to overcome these limitation before fully digital DTP. You're on a 100th issue of a retro magazine. I'm sure you have the resources needed to put together something that works. I have, and I don't even run a mag, so it mustn't be hard.

What I'd like to see is for you, as a magazine, to make some less obvious choices. I consider myself a mature reader, and with that said, I can tell you I've seen my share of games. Saturn does not start and end with Sega Rally, Panzer Dragoon, NiGHTS, Virtua Fighter 2, Guardian Heroes and those other five games anyone can name. Unfortunately, the internet works in mysterious ways, and you either hear about those games, or those precious "holy grails" like Radiant Silvergun or Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru. People tend to know them, because they're expensive. But anyone will tell you they're the best, because they must be. That's just an example, but I feel like Retro Gamer has become one of those internet lists of noteworthy games, which gets copied from website to website and suddenly those hidden gems become the only titles anyone's talking about, besides the obvious choices. I'm not sure if anyone understands what I'm trying to say here, but console and computer game libraries are slightly bigger than that. That's all.

What else? Get out more. Is there an arcade somewhere nearby? Grab that Canon EOS and go down there. Shoot some pictures, tell a story. Don't sit in front of a computer screen playing MAME, because that doesn't really convey the spirit of retro gaming. Don't be afraid to touch that arcade stick, no matter who's been touching it and where his hands have been. Your readers might appreciate a legit arcade story and your local arcade will certainly appreciate your business. Times are tough for the arcades. Support them.

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Darran@Retro Gamer
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by Darran@Retro Gamer » Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:07 pm

It sounds like you're a hardcore gamer with hardcore tastes, so it's hardly surprising that you're not happy with certain elements of the magazine at the moment, which is fair enough. You mention going out to arcades. I don't know what the scene is like where you are (I'm assuming you're not in the UK) but arcades are as dead as dead can be here. We're based in bournemouth a seaside resort, and we're near to a lot of other resorts that had booming arcades in the late eighties and early nineties. They're all gone now, filled with fruitmachines and rubbish guitar hero games. When RG did cover the small oasises that did exist in the UK (many years ago now) unscrupulous dealers bought the machines for profit or their own private collections.

If you want to see a feature where we go to our local arcades and play Outrun 2, Need for Speed whatever and penny falls, then sure, we can do that, but I'm betting you'd be happier with those 5 Saturn games we always cover.

The Atari 8-bit stuff is a good call. We've covered it many moons again, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to look at them in more detail. We've got a good American freelancer who knows his Atari stuff, so can easily oblige there. He's also in the process of a feature that will investigate the machines of the 50s and 60s. Hopefully that will be of interest?

I won't say that we don't cover popular stuff, because we do, of course we do, but there is plenty of information in RG that simply doesn't exist anywhere else. Not even online. One of the biggest issues with overseas content is finding writers, many of our writers are UK centric, so they cover stuff they know. We're getting more US contact and Japanese ones (Sorrel Tilley regularly gets us great monthly Japanese features now) but it has been a slow thing. That's not to saw we won't keep looking though. After all, if we were content to simply wallow in nostalgia the magazine would have died a long time ago.

Do you work in magazines yourself? I only ask, because some of your requests, or what you expect a magazine like Retro Gamer to achieve, just aren't possible in a niche publication like Retro Gamer, budget etc, two memebers of staff. That's not to say we won't keep trying though. We do aim to listen to feedback and we always try to improve on it. The fact I'm answering your questions in my own personal time should hopefully show that.
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r0jaws
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by r0jaws » Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:12 pm

Got to ask, what Arcades? I haven't seen a full on Arcade with classic titles in quite a while, and I've recently been to Blackpool and Margate.

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Morden
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by Morden » Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:57 pm

I'm sorry to hear that. I thought the arcades were in a better shape in the UK. Seems like they're not. Or at least not in Bournemouth. As for being a hardcore gamer, I don't consider myself one, but I've been around games long enough to learn to appreciate them. Appreciate them beyond those top tens and twenty-fives. I enjoy the quirkiness of Japanese titles but I also won't turn my back on a western game, and why would I? I grew up with those.

At this point in my life, I find it hard to get excited about new releases, especially when you only get a part of the game and the rest you have to purchase in the form of downloadable content, but at the same time I try not to dwell on the negative. Games are supposed to be fun, and fortunately, I still have the right to vote with my wallet.

No, I do not work in magazines, even though I have written a feature or two, on occasion. I'm not saying you should bend your magazine to the shapes I dictate. I just voiced my concerns in a, hopefully, constructive way. Criticism is worth more than a pat on the back, because it allows you to further improve your publication, and that's the only thing any paying customer wants. And I pay for my Retro Gamer.

The only thing I can suggest is to broaden your horizons. You're fortunate enough to be publishing a magazine in English. Most of the world speaks it, some better than others. I'm fairly certain Sorrel Tilley isn't the only Japan based person who'd be willing to contribute to a magazine with worldwide appeal. Japan is an endless source of retro gaming material, so maybe that's something you should pursue? They still have densely populated arcades, too. And yes, I know, finding writers might be harder than just offering someone a bit of space and compensation. Still, this might be something worth focusing on in the long run.

When I wrote my initial message, I wasn't sure what kind of reply to expect. I'm glad I got an answer from someone, who wasn't quick to dismiss what I had to say and tell me to stop buying the thing if I don't enjoy it, so thanks for that. I also hope I didn't come across as arrogant or simply whiny, because that was not my intention. Sometimes it's hard to express what you want. It's much easier to name the things you have a problem with. I did that. Perhaps with far too few thoughts on what exactly I'd like to see happening.

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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by DreamcastRIP » Mon Mar 05, 2012 8:03 pm

Fascinating topic this. I must admit that after first seeing the title, "Is this really the best you can do?", I feared the worst but it's turned into something really quite constructive. :D
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by Jet Pilot » Mon Mar 05, 2012 11:36 pm

Darran@Retro Gamer wrote:You mention going out to arcades. I don't know what the scene is like where you are (I'm assuming you're not in the UK) but arcades are as dead as dead can be here.
It's settled then. A Retro Gamer staff field trip to New Hampshire USA!

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zapiy
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by zapiy » Tue Mar 06, 2012 2:48 am

What a fantastic topic. I am standing in both of your courts as I think you both have some fantastic points to make. Well thought out and put down in words.
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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by fredghostmaster » Tue Mar 06, 2012 3:27 am

Can't say I agree with many of the points the OP has made. It is a UK based magazine so it's going to have a reasonable emphasis on the UK scene. I do like his idea of "The Unemulated" though, be good to see this happen one day. Theres plenty in each issue of interest to me even though I'm not interested in a lot of the 90's stuff. Something for everyone.

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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by psj3809 » Tue Mar 06, 2012 4:08 am

Must admit i'm happy with the 'crowd pleasers' and have no interest in what games are popular in Poland or some rare Japanese RPG which i cant understand.

Would love to see more 'lists' of games though, not the famous names but 'games you might not have heard of but should try....' on whatever system. I'm surprised theres not more arcade/Mame type reviews, sure many of us here have MAME, have about 4000 roms but we're missing some classics as we keep sticking to the 'big names'.

But as people have said its difficult to please everyone, some people want hardcore techy stuff in the mag, others want 4 pages of a type-in.

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Re: Is this really the best you can do?

Post by BzyRes » Tue Mar 06, 2012 4:23 am

I think an article about 8-bit scene in Poland [or in Romania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, you name it] would be more pleasant than Iain Lee mumbling in his column every month. Broaden your horizon, even literally.
Last edited by BzyRes on Tue Mar 06, 2012 4:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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