Retronauts Volume III Episode 18: Video Game Media

This week on Retronauts, the podcast about old video games… we don’t even talk about games! Or hardware! Or anything interactive! Instead, we talk about something just as retro: these floppy bundles of paper that would have information about games! (Yes, yes, har-har). From backer Daniel Turner we have nearly two hours of talk featuring a (very American) rundown of notable game magazines from the usual scope of Retronauts (very ‘90s). That means plenty of chatting about about GamePro, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Video Games & Computer Entertainment, and of course, DieHard GameFan, among many others.
We all enjoyed game magazines for different reasons, but one of the common themes brought up was that of personality — sure, for a while, it was great when magazines would shotgun previews and import news onto page spreads, but once magazines like Game Players transformed themselves into more jovial, freewheeling publications and made the editors seem like the regular people they were (are!), it’s like the clarity of our memories shot up tenfold. Go figure.
But we just don’t talk about magazines — tangents include tip-focused paperbacks and game company newsletters, as well. In the second part of the show, we talk about some of the earliest and most notable game websites (or AOL portals, depending), including a little site called 1UP. Returning guest Matt Leone is with us to help explain and share in the nostalgia-go-round that is this episode. And if you’re wanting to join us, you can find many of the magazines we talked about on sites like Retromags.

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24 Responses to Retronauts Volume III Episode 18: Video Game Media

  1. Rhett Lauffenburger

    great topic idea, guys! EGM was probably the only magazine I used to read cover to cover, and I’m still sad about losing I’m getting used to US Gamer, but it’s not quite the same.

  2. Woo-hoo! I’m really going to enjoy this one.

  3. Aaron Schafer

    Cool topic, guys.

    I was never a huge reader of video game magazines; I would read them on and off if I could get my mom to buy me one at the grocery store or something as a kid, but I never had a subscription of any sort. In fact, the first subscription to a gaming mag I ever had was Game Informer a couple years ago, when I signed up for whatever rewards program it was GameStop had at the time. (I quickly figured out it was an industry mag and, as such, had to be read through a certain filter, and then, about two months later, just stopped reading it altogether.)

    Probably my strongest memories of any gaming magazine would be things like poring over my friend Mike’s Nintendo Powers, the two of us drooling over the pre-release screenshots of the original Final Fantasy, thinking it looked like the coolest thing ever, and how awesome it would be if one of us actually managed to win a crystal orb in that contest they were holding. Or, in the early- to mid-90s, reading GamePro — I think; was GamePro the one with the little head mascot that looked like the guy from Atomic Warheads candy? — on a fairly regular basis, really the first time in my life I had had such an opportunity. The Mortal Kombat movie was coming out around that time, and I can remember all the slightly breathless coverage, including Christopher Lambert giving an interview talking about how faithful Raiden was going to be to the games. I also remember thinking, even at the time, that Raiden really should have been played by David Carradine, who was enjoying a bit of a renaissance in public awareness due to having a new Kung Fu-themed show on, I think, the WB network at the time. I think it was on around the same time the Hercules television show was just getting started, though I wouldn’t swear to that.

    Another strangely tangential memory of GamePro: the only review I specifically remember from that magazine was their Earthbound review, which I’m fairly certain was just crazily, over-the-top negative. I think the game got something along the lines of a 2 out of 10, with the graphics in particular being singled out as looking closer to bad NES-era graphics than what we should have expected of a latter-day SNES game. I think the naming convention of the towns was also a bone of contention, with Onett, Twoson, and Threed being too childish to bear for the reviewer. The review was so bad it was actually years before I ever gave Earthbound a chance; when I finally did, I couldn’t believe what I had missed out on thanks to that bizarrely negative review. I wish I could find that review to confirm my memory, but the best I can find is an old Role-player’s Realm feature on the game someone helpfully archived at earthbound central.

  4. lordjoeman

    Oh man, I have a storage closet full of video game mags in my parents’ basement. Devoured every magazine I could find back in the day, though the fanboy in me still maintains they were all “biased” against Nintendo.

    The devolution of Next Generation always interested me. It started as this impossibly pompous high-brow look at video games, and some of its in-depth features still stand out to me — I remember long interviews about the Jaguar and Tom Zito at Digital Pictures that were bonkers in retrospect.

    Great topic, Retronauts! So…um…are you guys gonna do another year of Retronauts? The original Kickstarter launched this week last year.

  5. Excellent episode. Great overview of the many forms of gaming media that came out from 80’s to now. I can’t believe you even mentioned the Sunsoft letter–hardcore!

    One item of mention was the Turbografx-16 VHS video that was mailed for free that showcased their upcoming games (that and the free Turbo Touch 360 shows the amount of disposable income companies had back then). That video completely fueled my hype for that system, mostly because it also showed a bunch of games for the PC Engine that some “bros” claimed was “totally rad!”

    But Valley-speak aside, all of your perspectives towards each magazine honestly reflects almost exactly the way I felt about them. From the soulless Game Players 80’s mags to (I also can’t believe you mentioned) the zany PC Accelerator, your coverage was in-depth and entertaining.

    Protip: Here is a no holds barred remembering of GameFan which blew my mind and I would imagine will probably do the same to Matt.

  6. Wonderful, wonderful episode guys. I don’t know where I’d be without the gaming magazines of the 90’s. I probably wouldn’t be as good a reader as I am today! Like you guys, I too learned words I had never heard before by reading these magazines.

    My closet is stacked full of magazines like NextGen, GamePro, Tips and Tricks, Nintendo Power, PSM, OPM, and, quite possibly my favorite (and so tragically short lived) was 1up’s GMR magazine. Jeff Green’s ‘Game Geezer’ editorials in the back were among the best columns in any game magazine.

    They say nostalgia makes us look back more fondly on things that weren’t in actuality so nice, but there was something a lot more inciting about games media back in the halcyon magazine days. Every scrap of news was interesting, because you had to wait 30 days (or more!) to get the next batch of information. So every issue was a cover to cover affair.

    Now today there is so much news flooded to my RSS every day that I barely bother to read a tenth of it, if even that! Myabe I’m missing out on something I would’ve otherwise found interesting. Who knows! There isn’t enough time in a lifetime to go through all of that stuff today.

    Oh well, as said, it’s probably better today, with the access of information to anyone, with it being able to come from anywhere, but, nothing today compares to opening your mailbox to a pile of magazines.

    Thanks guys!

  7. Daniel Turner

    Thank you, guys. This episode was wonderful.

    I echo many of the sentiments others already have said. Game magazines in the 80s and 90s were really special. Something about them and the state gaming at the time made each new issue feel like a gift. I could read and re-read the same issues several times. And that new magazine smell…oh I miss it.

    I really feel this kickstarter season of episodes is as good or better than any other single season of Retronauts. And, while I’m certainly a bit biased here, that was just about the best episode of Retronauts I’ve listened to.

    Hoping you guys end up doing another season. Would absolutely contribute to another kickstarter campaign. Retronauts is a treasure.

  8. Interesting that you mentioned in some detail that Christmas ’90 issue of EGM that provided such detail about the Super Famicom release of Super Mario World. I think it was my brother showing me that issue that converted me from a causal video game player to the ‘hard core’ -the year of ’91 saw deep investments in the TurboGrafx-16, Genesis and finally the SNES launch. But it was devouring those issues of EGM and GamePro during work hours that made the hobby a genuine passion.

    And yet, all that being said, the first magazine that I came across that was devoted to video games, and I bought nearly every issue of from the premier onward, was JoyStik. Looking back on it now, that magazine’s design couldn’t have been more aggressively 80s if it was staffed by the members of Devo and edited by Max Headroom. It was much more arcade-centric than console focused, though it was the magazine that made me aware of the Atari 5200, and built hype for the ColecoVision. Some of those photos you find in JoyStik take on new meaning in a post King of Kong world; some very familiar names and faces. I managed to find a physical copy of the DK jr issues at a thrift shop some years later, but I think the entire run of JoyStik has been scanned and can be found online now.

    • Zach Adams

      JoyStik was what I came here to mention, oddly enough. I remember that magazine vividly from when I was six or seven; I didn’t really have anything approaching the skills to execute the patterns they described, but I thought it was awesome that half the point of the magazine was to show you what you needed to do to play a near-perfect game of Dig Dug. I also loved the super-detailed inflated pictures of all the sprites…though some of them were inflated to the point that I had no idea WTF they were supposed to look like at that size and standing still. (Particularly the Humanoids in Defender, which at magazine size, with space between pixels, look not even a little like a person.)

  9. Joel S

    When I read the episode title on my iPod I kinda expected this to be an episode about video game storage mediums, which I guess would be a pretty weird theme, but reminded me of an old computer game, I think it may have been for the Spectrum, that came on a cassette where the data was on one side, and there was regular audio on the other, which was intended to sync up with the gameplay once you started. It was some kind of quick time event-ish sci-fi game that I can’t remember the name of anymore.

    When it comes to game press there’s this weird website I’ve been wondering about for years, called Coming Soon Magazine, available at, it hasn’t been updated since 2000, and even then the last coverage is of E3 1997. I didn’t know about it when it was active, and I have no idea if it ever had a print equivalent or something, and the little that remains of their editorial content doesn’t seem to be of terribly high quality, but none the less I find that site incredibly fascinating. Is that a page or magazine any of you know anything about?

  10. Mega_Matt

    I could be wrong but I thought Bill Donohue moved on to PSM after Ultra Game Players?

    Great episode guys. Very nostalgic for me. You hit on all the magazines I was into when I was younger.

  11. Seth

    I found some UGP content online at one point, because I was starting to think I had just imagined the whole magazine since my terrible friends don’t remember it at all. At the time I loved every part of it, mostly the humor and personality. But sadly, I didn’t find it had aged too well. Maybe because most of YouTube “nerd humor” today is a pale imitation, but it seems very dated now.

  12. Great episode. Makes me regret losing all my Nintendo Powers. We subscribed from about issue 3 (the live action Zelda cover) through the N64 era or so. I had a brief subscription to OPM and EGM but never really got a big collection of either.

    I assume the guest that couldn’t make the show was the Mag Weasel himself, Frank Gifford? I’d still love for him to Skype into the show at some point to talk about pretty much anything. Matt was no slouch in this episode though, kudos to him.

  13. Boatie

    All this talk of great fansites and websites makes me nostalgic and want to read it now! Any recommendations for sites like The GIA these days? I read and like Hardcore Gaming 101 and Rock Paper Shotgun

  14. FcsevenXIII

    This was a great episode. It brought back some great memories.

  15. I really loved this episode guys, especially once you moved into the early gaming website era. I enjoyed hearing about all the gaming magazines too, but that subject has been covered often. I feel like the early web days rarely get spoken about, so it was great to hear it.

    I never expected to hear something as obscure as Camp Hyrule pop up on this. I spent way too much of my youth hanging out on Nintendo Power Source, both it’s AOL hub and once it migrated to the web. I still have a handful of internet pals I’ve kept in touch with over all those years that I met through NPS.

    I knew Jeremy did some work for TheGIA but never realized that he did the artwork! I can remember they had some sort of contest about redesigning those two characters at some point. I submitted an entry to it, and I can remember sitting at my drawing table looking at a print out of those two characters and thinking “how can I really do this better?” (I didn’t). Pretty cool to look back and realize I was looking at your artwork.

    I’m actually somewhat surprised CapScott’s wasn’t brought up once you guys really started rolling along and name dropping all these sites, but you guys covered tons of ground.

    This episode was lots of fun. Thanks for putting it together.

  16. Robert O.

    Good show guys even if it got me alittle sad thinking about how much i miss the days of coming home from school to find a gaming mag sitting on my bed where my mom would leave it as as a suprise. The only mag i ever got in the mail as a kid was Nintendo Power but the weird thing was i never signed up for but remember getting it for years and it wasnt till a few years ago i found out my grandma was in some magazine sweepstakes scam so she was ordering it for me to get more sweepstakes entries but she never told anyone about it.

  17. mrplaid

    Great episode. Really glad you guys brought up Ultra Game Players. All of the stupid in-jokes and subversive humor really made it feel like a predecessor to Giant Bomb, which I adore today. It would really be cool to hear from some of those guys that used to work on that magazine today.

  18. Zach Adams

    When I was 11-12, I remember VG&CE feeling much more like it was an ‘industry magazine’ (which it wasn’t, of course, and that’s obvious in retrospect) than a magazine actually FOR gamers. I liked it a lot, but I didn’t see it often (basically only Waldenbooks carried it in my part of Texas, the grocery stores and gas stations stuck to EGM and Gamepro.) I think I bought Game Players twice, and regretted it both times.

    On the subject of industry mags, my uncle was with a distributor in the pre-crash era, servicing jukeboxes and arcade machines in non-arcade settings (7-Eleven, bars, etc.) all over town. He used to lend me his Play Meter every month for a week or so; it went WAY over my head (I would’ve been five or six at the time), but it was cool to see what was coming out in six months, find out what was REALLY the most popular game in terms of money, and see ads targeted at owners rather than gamers. (I remember being super excited for MACH 2 and I Robot…)