In memoriam for the death of EGM, I hunted down a whole bunch of old issues of EGM through *ahem* various means, so I figured I’d go through some of those magazines and go through the evolution of the magazine. So, we’re going to begin at the beginning, Electronic Gaming Monthly #1.
Some quick background – EGM was originally put out by Sendai Publications, and was born out of a series of annual game buyers guides. This lead to the magazine. The journey begins below the cut.
Alrighty then. Our Editor In Chief is Steve Harris, Production Manager is Jeff Peters, Art Director is James Sommerville, Copy Editor is Amy Laurer. For the consoles we’ve got 2 staff reviewers per console, Donn Nauert and David Siller for the Nintendo, Ed Semrad and Parry Rogers for the Sega Master System, and Frank Eva and Lloyd Meton for the Atari 7600. The various PCs have one reviewer per structure – Brad Andrews for the Amiga, David Harris for the IBM, Brent Walker for the Apple, and John Styles for the Commodore platform. “Strategy Consultants” are Donn Nauert, Jay Moon, Sherri Harris and the “U.S. National Video Games Team” – whatever that is. Now that we’ve got the cast out of the way, let’s get on with the magazine.
Press Start: Basically this consists of press releases from various manufacturers like Beechu Joysticks (3rd party joystick manufacturer) and Eclectic Products (makes home arcade cabinets for consoles like the NES and Master System).
Letters section: Surprise, issue one of a magazine and they’re already getting letters. Yeah, they’re being carried over from the Buyer’s Guide, but still, most magazines don’t have a letter’s section until the second issue or later.
At the Arcades: Column on games either coming to arcades or already at arcades. This time they’re covering “Hard Drivin'” from Atari, a first person racing game with, going from the graphics they’ve got, 3D polygonal graphics, which nowadays don’t look that hot, but for the time (and I remember the time) they look really spectacular. Of particular note is that the game supports racing the ghost of the racer with the best time – his or her run on the track is recorded and you can choose to race against that run – if you beat him, your run is recorded and his is erased (as you are the best). Now, what the article doesn’t mention is that there are only two tracks. Still, I’m calling this game notable for including ghost support in a 3D arcade racing game.
Quartermann: Q-Mann’s rumormongering debut. The rumors being covered are the Tengen/Atari vs. Nintendo lawsuit (1-0), as well as the rumors that Tengen has cracked Nintendo’s authentication scheme so they can manufacture their own 3rd party NES cartridges (2-0), Sega pursuing the license for Ultima V to get it on the Sega Master System instead of the NES (2-1), the debut of the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive (3-1) as well as the Super Famicom/SNES, European manufacturer Konix launching the Slipstream gaming system and Q-Mann’s skepticism of their claims both for the launch and what the system can do. (4-1), and the first rumors of Mattel’s glove peripheral for the NES – which would become the Power Glove (5-1). Not bad for the Q-Mann’s first outing. Five Panned
Preview ’89: Basically a lineup of various companies top outings for ’89. I’m not going to go in-depth on the releases, and instead give the state of the companies – Data East (bankrupt), Acclaim (Bankrupt), Taito (bought out by Square-Enix), Jaleco (still alive), Konami/Ultra (still alive, though they dropped the Ultra brand), Capcom (Still Alive), Mindscape (still alive), Tradewest (Owned by Midway, so their future is in doubt), SNK (still alive).
16-Bit Sizzler: Basically, it’s a rundown on the specifications of the SNES, Sega Genesis, and PC Engine, oh, and the Konix Slipstream, after they got a look at the systems at CES, as well as some of the software lineups for those systems, as well as the specifications. The notable bit of this that SNES has Backwards compatibility with the NES listed on their specifications, as well as notes on the original Gameboy.
Dare to Compare: Basically, the concept of this article is putting two games side by side and comparing them. However, this won’t be a comparison of two versions of the same game for different systems, as at this point Nintendo was basically banning publishers from porting NES games to other systems and other things that would later lead to Sega’s anti-trust lawsuit against Nintendo (in case you didn’t know, once upon a time Nintendo was Evil). Instead they’re comparing two games of a similar genre for the same platform. This time we’re comparing Tecmo Bowl and John Elway’s Quarterback by Tradewest. Being that Tecmo Bowl is loved and generally remebered fondly by thousands of gamers and I didn’t know John Elway’s Quarterback existed until now. The games are compared on Realism, Graphics, Sound, Computer Opponent (the AI), Two Player, and Bells & Whistles (misc. other stuff). Overall Tecmo Bowl came on top (surprise, surprise), with the exception of the Two Player Category which Quarterback wins on having more plays, and on the teams being exactly the same, rather than in Tecmo Bowl, where some teams are better than others. I have to disagree with them on that point, but that’s just me.
Taxan Videodiction: Basically, this is a 4-page ad suppliment from Taxan that looks a helluva lot like an article, complete with the layout and borders. This would never fly in EGM in it’s later days.
Reviews: Now we come to the semi-meat of the magazine. From what I can tell about the review system, there are three different possibilities for review scores, “Direct Hit”, “Hit”, and “Near Hit”. No particularly negative scores, nothing that screams “Don’t Play This Game.” Also, reviews aren’t signed or credited to a specific reviewer or group of reviewers. Instead, they do the review of the game, and at the bottom of the review where they have the rating, they have a brief quote from one of the reviewers of the relevant review team saying something about the game, but not a snippit from the review. It’s kind of confusing. With that said, let’s give the rundown.
- 1943 – The Battle of Midway (Capcom) – The latest installment of the 194X series of shooters from Capcom. The game is harder than 1942, and also apparently uses a password system to continue, as opposed to other shooters like, say, Gradius, which if you get a game over you have to start over from the very beginning. “Direct Hit”
- Racket Attack (Jaleco) – Tennis game. The review is fairly complementary, only gets a “Hit” though. From my prior experiences with Jaleco games (the Bases Loaded series), I’m suspecting that the AI in the game is a stone bitch to beat.
- Ultima – Exodus (FCI) – Port of Ultima III to the NES. First 3rd party NES game in the US to have a battery backup safe function (Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior weren’t available stateside yet). Gets a “Hit”. I recall that this games is fairly grindy.
- Bubble Bobble (Taito) – Puzzle Platformer Thingie – got a franchise and the main characters later went on to be the mascots for the Bust A Move series. You’ve got to beat it twice or in two-player mode to get a “Happy Ending”. Got a “Direct Hit”.
- Bump ‘n Jump (Vic Tokai) – A sort of top down racing game, arcade port. I’m not a fan of this kind of racing game – the graphics just didn’t give you enough view ahead to plan your moves right, leading to a lot of trial and error. Got a “Hit”.
Sega Master System:
- Y’s (Sega) – Another classic franchise gets it’s start on a console stateside. I haven’t played this series, but I plan on picking up Y’s Book 1 & 2 for the DS as I’ve heard very good things about it. Got a “Hit”.
- Rastan (Taito) – It’s a hack-and-slash fantasy platformer. Haven’t played this one either. Mixing the magic potions of healing and Harmful Poisons Of Death (TM) could be just as annoying as in the original version of Super Mario Brothers 2 with the Instant Death Mushrooms. Got a “Hit”.
- Time Soldiers (Sega) – An Ikari Warriors-style top down shooter with time travel. The game gets a “Near Hit” – but oddly the review doesn’t get to the negative points until the very end of the review, and even then for only one paragraph, so I don’t quite understand how bad it is.
- Hat Trick (Atari) – 1-on-1 hockey game. The review looks fairly negative, but gets a “Hit”.
Then, oddly, they briefly toss the order out the window, to go to the game of the month, which is Tengen’s release of Tetris for the NES, which is making it’s debut in the US. I presume we all know Tetris and that this definitely deserves this award. A little trivia fact – this is the game that sparked the lawsuit between Tengen/Atari and Nintendo, as Nintendo was planning their own Tetris release as well, though Tengen’s version had two-player and Nintendo’s version didn’t. The lawsuit lead to Tengen cracking Nintendo’s authentication scheme for the NES, and releasing unofficial NES games with a different cartridge design, which also lead to, among other things, the Wisdom Tree games.
Moving on to PC Games (IBM, Amiga, C-64, etc.):
- F-19 Stealth Fighter (Micropose) – A very in-depth combat flight-sim. Gets a “Direct Hit”.
- Zak McKracken (Lucasfilm Games) – Adventure game from Lucasfilm, basically one of their first wave of adventure games – this was released after Maniac Mansion. “Hit”
- Hybris (Discovery Software) – Top down shooter. Apparently is not to hard, but not too easy either – just right. “Direct Hit”
- Double Dragon (Arcadia-Tradewest) – In theory we’re all familiar with the Double Dragon series of games, or at least the first one. The game gets a “Hit” but the presense or lack thereof of two-player isn’t mentioned as being a part of that (Two-player isn’t mentioned at all).
- Sword of Sodan (Discovery Software) – Altered Beast-style fantasy beat-em-up – gets a “Direct Hit” despite the game having apparently some major problems with the control before you get accustomed to them and supposedly it improves after that. Still, you’d think that’d just get a “Hit”.
- Offshore Warrior (Titus Software) – Tell me if this concept makes sense to you: pacifist enviromentalists take over the world, and while they do away with war, they tone down most standard combat sports and otherwise “violent” sports (hockey and football). To channel the violent impulses that no longer have output in those methods, the Offshore Warrior league has been founded, which is basically speedboat races with vehicular combat – a bloodsport. I am not making this up. The game’s apparently got problems with the control (missiles fire from the opposite direction you’re turning in) and it’s got an artificial difficulty problem (later races are made harder by simply adding more opponents and missles). Gets a “Near Hit”.
Finally we get an arcade high-score list from the Amusement Players Association to wrap up the issue.
Overall, the magazine has no similarities whatsoever with the magazine as it would later be known with two exceptions. Quartermann’s column and the presense of Ed Semrad on the staff. That’s pretty much it. However, this is the first issue, we’ll give it time.