Hey folks, it's been a while since I've written a Patreon exclusive thing, so I'm finally back to fill the void. Today, we're going to be doing something different. Today, instead of talking about a game, I'm going to be talking about a game magazine.
There used to be a retro game store near where I lived called A Gamer's Paradise. I didn't really buy any retro games (besides Hotel Dusk) because I was too focused on the games I already had, but I went there occasionally to look at all the cool stuff. I did buy some gaming magazines the few times I browsed, though.
Then one day, something happened to the building the store was in. I think it was condemned? Anyway, the store disappeared. I thought it closed down, but a random tweet I saw a few days ago revealed that it actually relocated to and is in fact near where I'm moving to. Seeing that tweet also reminded me, "hey, I never took the time to look at those magazines I bought." So, in the quest for Content(TM), we're looking at one of those today.
This is the fourth issue of Old School Gamer Magazine, which is obviously a retro inclined magazine. You can access the digital versions of the magazine for free, so if you wanna read along, link's right there. The general theme of issue magazine is RPGs, so I feel that I'm at home with this one. The magazine also comes with a poster version of the cover. I guess it looks alright, but I wouldn't hang it on my wall.
The first article is "A Selected History of RPGs" by Todd Friedman, who is not to be confused with the lawyer of the same name that overtakes him in search results. So, "selected history" is a pretty right term for this. The first thing discussed is Dungeons and Dragons, which does form the backbone of RPGs though I feel that it would have been important to bring up how it spun off from wargames - which, may as well be RPGs within a historical setting.
I honestly admire Freidman's attempt at arguing that the Legend of Zelda is an action RPG. What I don't admire is that for whatever reason, Magic: The Gathering is included in this selected history. My man doesn't even make an attempt to explain how it's an RPG in any way.
Overall, an okay article. Personally, I feel that the best way to kick off the issue would have been to talk about "what makes an RPG," especially since the definition seems somewhat muddy in Freidman's portrayal.
In fact, the following article, by Jason Russell, does exactly that. And like, honestly, he also provides his own take on a selected history that feels more focused. Really, this magazine should have opened with his article.
The next article, by Bill Lange, is actually a preview of and an interview with the developers behind Nox Archaist, a tile-based RPG that's actually being developed on the Apple II. See, this is really the kinda shit I'd want to see from a retro magazine: talking about old stuff or new stuff styled after old stuff that I've never heard of. Like if the whole thing was talking about Final Fantasy VII, I'd be like, get the fuck out of here, we all know what FF VII is. Anyway, Nox Archaist is actually still in development, so hey, if you're a retro gaming enthusiast with a love of early Ultima games, this may be something to look out for. Good interview, good subject, good shit.
Continuing this trend was a look at Cadash by Michael Thomasso. Cadash is a platformer action RPG that could be played in arcades, with up to four players being able to play on connected machines. Besides the main arcade port, Thomasso also brings up a quick overview of the ports of the game that makes the experience radically different. Again, interesting subject, love this stuff.
There's an article on Wizardry by Kevin Butler that presents itself as a personal history with the franchise. However, it really isn't that. After the first few paragraphs the article became "I did this, and then this," ending with a few paragraphs on the programming behind the game. It's one of those things you read and end up wishing that the author went in a different direction. Like, I'd want to hear about his own experiences with Wizardry with personal reflections on the subject matter. I may be a bit biased because Boss Fight Books does that and those books are my shit.
Speaking of which, there's a brief review on Boss Fight Books in here, though it feels more like an ad, so let's talk about ads. Given the nature of Old School Gamer Magazine, there aren't really any big companies advertising on here. Instead, you've got ads from a bunch of small businesses that target retro gamers as well as a bunch of ads for conventions. While I think it has as many ads as an issue of Game Informer, there's definitely a different feel presented with the ads here than if you were to read a more mainstream magazine.
Going on, Antoine Clerc-Renaud provides a history of JRPGs. So, according to the article there was a sort of "Dark Age of JRPGs" shortly before the first Dragon Quest released, where people seemed to throw stuff at the wall. I had no idea this was a thing, though PC Gamer and HG101 seems to corroborate on it. Personally, I wouldn't consider as a dark age and more of an age of experimentation. A listed example of a JRPG from this period is Spy Daisakusen, which was a JRPG set in modern (at a time) times where you played as a spy. There was also Seduction of Condominium Wives, where you played as a condom salesman that fucked married women; whole thing comes off as the unknown great grandfather of those hentai RPG Maker games on Steam.
The section also gives props to Black Onyx, a game that was actually developed by a Dutch guy. However, while it was popular, I feel that calling it "a first hit" is a bit of a stretch. In the very same year - in fact, months after Black Onyx - the Tower of Druaga was released, which in turn inspired the creation of three other games that can be seen as laying the groundwork of action RPGs, which is kind of a big deal. Glad to spend a few paragraphs praising a Dutch guy in a history article about Japanese games.
The rest of the article is standard JRPG history stuff that some Youtuber would spout. JRPGs were good from the SNES to PS2, then everybody stopped giving a shit about JRPGs until around the time the PS4 showed up. Yada yada.
So, reading this actually left me wondering: what is the Japanese perspective on the history of JRPGs? For the most part, the history I've heard of are accounts by western sources. Like hey, was there an actual slump in JRPGs before the PS4 rolled in, or is this an entirely American perspective? Hmm, some food for thought.
Anyway, Brett Weiss wrote an article on Dungeons and Dragons and its history and it's just really whatever. Some of the previous articles already touched upon the history of DnD, so I'm just kinda indifferent. Plus, just hearing about the concept of DnD is boring to me. I like to hear stories of people actually playing DnD, I like the experiences and this is just not delivering.
We're finally away from the RPG theming of this issue. We kick this off with... an article by Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies? Huh. Anyway, he gives a quick rundown of people currently holding Twin Galaxies and Guinness records, which is kinda neat to see the head honcho of the organization do. Though, as somebody that follows the speedrunning community, Twin Galaxies just kinda seems like a relic, at best, especially after that whole Todd Rogers thing.
Then there are two articles back to back interviewing the people behind two completely separate classic game loot crates. I dunno, seems like a waste for there to be multiples of these. They're both still running though, so they must be doing something right.
These two articles and a few others are part of a "review" section, but they feel less like reviews but more like ads. The one that feels most like a review is Todd Freidman's look at the "Super Retro-cade," a plug-and-play console with a bunch of games pre-loaded on it which... also has no visuals besides the logo. So yeah, this is easily the weakest section of the whole thing.
There's a sizable section dedicated to conventions, with multiple contributors to the magazine writing about their own experiences. Brian Szarek goes above and beyond by interviewing Matt Fleitz, an organizer of Louisville Arcade Expo. It's kinda neat to read about, especially since I'm going to my first ever convention in a week. I dunno, if you're going to Lvl Up Expo in Las Vegas we can hang out, maybe.
And then Ken Horowitz is out here talking about one of my favorite subjects, game preservation! He talks about his own experiences trying to document the history of Sega specifically and his attempts to rally people around the cause and why it's important to gaming culture. Compared to a lot of articles in this issue, you can really feel the passion the guy has for this subject.
The article is also subjected to some weird formatting in that one paragraph is interrupted and continued on another page... which is also sandwiched between two pages of ads, which feels really off. I forget how often this happens in magazines, Game Informer's usually good about getting everything that needs to be said on one page, or at least, doesn't throw in ads in the middle of features. The last part of the article shares the same page as a review of Man vs. Snake, a documentary movie on a little game called Nibbler. It's the lesser of Donkey Kong, the lesser of the King of Kong, so it's interesting to find coverage of it here. I like documentaries, so maybe I'll try to watch that sometime.
There's a feature by Adam Pratt looking at the history of arcade games in the 1990s which is a pretty alright read. It's easily the longest article in the magazine and is the most in-depth. A nice feature to end things off on...
However, the magazine actually ends on a topic more unusual. Leonard Herman, in response to the Nintendo Labo, writes about the odd history of piano keyboards used as video game console add-ons. Interestingly, the first piano console add-on was also cardboard like the Labo and was the Videopac Musician, which was an add-on for the European version of the Odyssey2. This article's actually a pretty interesting way to end this issue off on because it's a really left-field topic that's actually pretty detailed. It's good shit.
Well, the magazine technically ends with a collection of prices on Sgea32X and SegaCD games, which is an extremely niche yet not as interesting way to end things, so I ignored it.
Overall, a very okay read. The latter part of this issue had a nice variety of things to talk about that were interesting, while the actual RPG themed section of the magazine was a bit all over the place with regards to quality. Like seriously, I don't want to hear about Dungeons and Dragons, I want to hear about the stories you have playing it.
Besides the times I've mentioned, the visual design of the magazine is kinda eh? Most of the articles are pretty light on visual elements, which wouldn't be a big deal if the ads that get included alongside them are so flashy. The strongest article in visual appeal is probably the convention article because it has a whole bunch of photos showing off the different conventions.
Of course, I have to remember that this is an early issue of Old School Gamer Magazine, so maybe they got things figured out in later issues. I think I have... one more Old School Gamer Magazine, I think? It might be something else, actually. Well, hopefully I'll find more at the store for more Content(TM).