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Andy Baran’s Last Article: The Early Days of EGM (part 1 of 2)

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

Andy “Anubis” Baran — a former writer and editor at EGM, EGM2, and Expert Gamer — passed away this past Sunday from pancreatic cancer. His friends and former coworkers shared some memories in an earlier post about Andy (and here’s another from one of his friends/fans), but for this one, we’d like to fulfill a small wish of his.

Several months ago, Andy was preparing a series of stories for Bitmob about his early years in the gaming-magazine industry. He never got to finish them due to his steadily worsening condition, but I do have early drafts of the first few parts he was able to get to.

I’m happy and honored to be able to post Andy’s last articles, cobbled together into a two-part series (they’re long, but worth reading…especially for the juicy insider nuggets that are sure to piss some people off). I know he wanted to share these stories with everyone. Please read on after the jump.

(Part Two here)



Evolution of an Industry, part 1
By Andrew Baran

EGM_covers

Click for an enlarged view.

It’s been awhile, so you may not recognize my name, but longtime Electronic Gaming Monthly readers may have at least heard of Cyberboy, my overused alias. I had the pleasure of 10 years (1991-2001) working at Sendai/Ziff-Davis on nearly their entire range of publications, including EGM. I spent one of the longest tenures on the magazines, during a momentous shift of the video game industry as a whole.

My editorial responsibilities spanned a diverse range, from news to reviews and everything in between. Starting with the NES era and culminating in the days of Xbox, I had the privilege of witnessing a huge cross-section of the industry we all love.

A lot of things change over 10 years, and this can be clearly seen in the business of technology, which directly impacted video games on nearly every front. To put it simply: The company I had joined was nowhere near the company that I had left. Not only did the magazines and the process behind them change, but the entire industry underwent some sort of mystical transformation around us as well.

Welcome to an ongoing series that will showcase the editorial process, a behind-the-scenes look at how one of the most popular gaming magazines for its time evolved and grew. I will also delve into how the industry functioned, a look at how the Internet changed everything, plus the driving forces of technology and fads. I hope to give you a glimpse behind the curtain at the fun, work, and sacrifice that it took to bring the love of all things gaming to the public.

 

EGM was an amazing publication that changed the face of gaming more times than anyone will ever realize, and even in its most primordial form, showcased a level of passion that would make any gamer proud.

When I joined EGM, it was the pivotal magazine for the Sendai Publishing Group, a private company owned by Steve Harris. Alongside the flagship magazine, several other publications — Computer Game Review, Mega Play, and Super Gaming — were also churned out by this team on a monthly (or bi-monthly) basis.

Mega Play

The office was a simple, cluttered affair with about six or seven guys sharing systems around a makeshift collection of desks pushed together. Ed Semrad, our editor-in-chief, had his own office with a glass window that he’d rap upon when he wanted to summon up a member of the team to bitch at.

Our computers had 8-inch monitors, which didn’t even let you see the entire layout that you’d be working on. Martin Alessi, Managing Editor, was a lucky man — he had a 12-inch screen that seemed massive at the time.

Each editor not only played and wrote about games, we’d also create the layout and handle production elements such as picture conversion as well. We didn’t even have proofreaders to check over our work — that was Ed’s nightly role. The sum total number of pages for each issue sometimes reached over 900 during that awful September-December cycle. The size of the magazine was not accomplished without some sacrifice on the part of the staff.

Our storage medium was the almighty optical disc, a bane to every editor. They were finicky, went corrupt, and there were far too few of them to go around. We had no servers, Zip Drives, or any real space on our hard drives. We lived and died by our discs, and losing one could mean redoing a lot of work.

EGM

The first issue of EGM, back in 1989.

EGM’s Fact Files were more picture- and strategy-oriented affairs compared to modern gaming magazines. We considered video games to be a highly visual media and conspired to create a book that would reflect that. Each Fact File was themed to the game itself. Bereft of game art, editors would often make their own logos using rudimentary programs like Typestyler and Pixar Typestry.

EGM was one of the only game mags to have an International section, which allowed us to scoop the competition with stories. Next Wave was our original previews section, and it was built largely using guesswork and company-provided slides. Game Over was a mainstay section which showcased a different game’s ending each month. These three sections were my monthly responsibility, in addition to Fact Files and Review Crew work.

Most months had a Contract Publishing insert, essentially a paid-for ad created by the staff. Some examples include SNK, Atari, and FCI features…and even an Electronics Boutique catalog. Nearly all the early editors had a hand in this section, which was headed up by Ken Williams.

Tricks of the Trade was a popular segment and would be worked on by multiple individuals until Trickman Terry eventually cemented it as his own. Each month, hundreds of letters would pour in — mostly repeats of codes we’d already printed, or once Street Fighter 2 released on the SNES, a plethora of nonexistent boss codes.

The Review Crew was limited to four editors. This was done partially to mimic [Japanese gaming magazine] Famitsu, but also intentionally to foster the personality for each of the reviewers. If you knew everyone’s likes and dislikes, you could gauge your purchase decisions more easily. EGM always had personality.

We didn’t have a lot of room to write, so we often balanced the actual score against what was written. Our reviews were disjointed, simply because we had to convey so much with as little as 20 words. Ed had final say, and he’d often make tweaks to soften the tone. If we slammed a game too hard unanimously, he’d probably write a positive editorial piece to counter any damage done. If the company continued to complain, we’d sometimes write a second review (as we did in the case of Time Killers). Of course, our opinions rarely changed.



Don’t miss part two of Andy’s retrospective, where he talks about April Fool’s jokes, subliminal messages, trade shows, and working in an Internet-less age….


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