I’m going to hit the rewind button back to roughly 15 years ago.
OK. We’re there. There I am, sitting in my room in front of my PlayStation and Nintendo 64. A magazine rests on my lap. It’s decorated with colorful maps, edgy designs, and contains multiple in-depth strategy guides.
The name looks familiar on the cover. It says EGM, but it has a “2” on the top right corner of it; like a square root of a number. Yup, it’s Electronic Gaming Monthly’s spin-off magazine, EGM².
Fast forward to today.
While EGM is a phenomenal monthly gaming magazine that covers the latest news, previews, and reviews, its sister mag was lovable too. It encompassed the opposite. Its focus was to help their readers master games with numerous walkthroughs, detailed maps, and thousands of codes. (Note: Prior to my subscription, they did do previews, but also covered heavily on imported games – which eventually they brought back later).
The best thing about these books is that they inspired me to write about games. It’s where I began writing my own walkthroughs because I wanted to be just like editors. I wanted to beat games so I could help other people get through them with ease.
I know what you’re going to ask. Why was EGM² so special to me, besides pressuring me to write?
Well, if you take a look back to the time frame of these moments, magazines were a boomin’ business. Print was far more alive than it is currently. GameFAQs didn’t really kick off yet (though it was starting to), and people still considered magazines the number one source for anything games related. Even better, EGM² did multiple guides each month and was more affordable than purchasing an official strategy guide for each title.
When I wrote my first walkthrough, I found out how much effort was needed to create one. It was then I fully recognized that these guys (and gals) put a lot of hard-earned work into their product. Writing a review is one thing, but writing a guide requires a one-hundred percent completion of a game while searching every last inch of its secrets. It’s a step-by-step process in order to get the gamer from the beginning to the end. This includes every puzzle, every weapon, every attribute, every class, every spell, every dungeon, every boss, every…You you get the idea. (Note: If you do enjoy writing walkthroughs or have an itch to begin the habit, I have written some tips for constructing a walkthrough a couple years ago on here).
Each mag had their traditional April Fools’ joke, and EGM²’s 1998 hoax got me good. The staff illustrated a fake screenshot of Akuma (from Street Fighter) as a playable character in Resident Evil 2. It looked so real. The warrior shot fireballs through his hands around the Raccoon City Police Department. To me, no one has ever topped the fiddle to this day.
Click page two for EGM²'s transition into Expert Gamer.
Time to change
As the month of August of 1998 arrived, EGM² was closing in on their 50th issue. When it arrived, they brought a big surprise to its readers: They changed the name of their magazine to Expert Gamer (abbreviated XG). Though everyone says it’s never a good idea to redesign your company logo or shift a new name, it was a perfect fit for them. They were no longer known as “the other EGM” – they distinctively thrived on bringing forth the best damn strategy guides out there.
I have to admit, I was skeptical about the conversion at first (since I was subscribing to both EGMs at the time). Did they need a new name? Were they straying away from EGM? Probably not, but their new neat and slick design was more organized and easier to navigate through. (Note:If you ask Dan “Shoe” Hsu, they were all in the same offices back in Illinois).
Another terrific element of Expert Gamer’s early months is that I noticed the issues began to get thicker and bigger (contrary to what we see today). The guides were gigantic. I sat there thinking, “Damn. These guys aren’t messing around.” They really did try their best to be the number one source of game strategies, and as a fan, I’d back them up for proclaiming such deeds.
The most interactive part of Expert Gamer was the Gamers’ Forum. Yes, it was snail mail (and E-Mail), but much like EGM, if your letter was chosen as the Letter of the Month, you won a free controller for whatever system you pleased.
There were constant requests for nude codes in Tomb Raider (and Street Fighter). The editors questioned the readers as to why they would want to see Zangief naked.Similarly, a revival code for Aeris in Final Fantasy 7 was frequently demanded as well. This also consisted of What Ifs and Trash Talk readers thought of. These were cool and original phrases you could brainstorm in hope to have them printed in the magazine.
Likewise, you could send in codes for their Tricks of the Trade column and were offered a free GameShark. Remember, this was ancient times where I didn’t have access to the Internet, nor could I just type in the Google bar on the top right of my screen and search for cheats.
It was magical because waiting for each issue elevated my expectations and anticipation for new information.
With that said, many of the staff eventually moved on to other things, and the whole team reformed significantly. It was around 2001 the pages and writers seem to decrease, but they still produced top-notch walkthroughs and tips. GameFAQs and the Web were growing popular for material, and the thing that hurt Expert Gamer the most was the fact that the guides online were free and easily accessible.
Still, the artists and writers did a fantastic job. To me, it was more comprehensive and attractive than simple text FAQs. The sad part is, now with digital cameras and YouTube, anyone with a computer can do the same.
Click page three for EGM²'s second transformation, GameNOW.
Here we come now, GameNOW
Expert Gamer marked its final issue in number 88. It distressed me because I was witnessing how technology was taking over in this period. It was time to change their name (and purpose) yet again.
Gone was XG, and in came GameNOW.
GN debuted with a completely revamped design and included reviews, news, previews, index of codes, and strategies. EGM already delivered this, so I thought it was irrelevant to compete with its sister mag.
But they weren’t necessarily running against them; their demographics were that of a younger audience. And it was different. They brought so many new features that intrigued me.
First, they ditched the idea of the traditional number grade for their game reviews. Instead, they used letters. This is something 1UP perhaps was influenced by. And what’s great was their decision to add a column for the best games (the A+ Club) and the worst titles (the F Troupe). Believe me, if a game sucked big time, they would let us know. They weren’t friendly or afraid of slapping an F onto games that deserved it. Particularly, I loved the Pro in the sidebar for the Shrek Super Party review: “Um, the box art is kind of cool.”
Other new features that were born into GameNOW were the HOT or NOT column. This basically entailed the sweet (and crappy) things that were trending in the world of games, movies, and even music.
Even better, the GamerDex presented unique ideas of what fans thought of. It categorized and fashioned a class of certain gamers.
I’ll give you an example:
A 16-Bit Gamer
· Mainstream system of choice: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis.
· Hardcore system of choice: Turbo Grafx-16.
· Greatest ally: Sprite artists.
· Fiercest enemy: Graphics hound.
· Mating call: “Stay 2D, man!”
· Diet: Sonic ice cream bars.
· Fondest Memory: Encountering the first giant sprite boss in Contra 3: Alien Wars.
· Evolves into: Virtual Console Gamer.
· Dreaming of: The reopening of Nintendo’s console repair shop.
· Rarity: Common.
Gamers’ Forum evolved into Rants & Raves. What’s downright hysterical is the editors had a tendency to “zing” its readers – in other words, they would sarcastically answer questions or talk smack back to them. It wasn’t like they were picking on them (well, they were), but they gave more life into the letters piece and made it more entertaining. I chuckled with laughter, and that’s what mattered. I wanted to keep reading. Heck, I wanted to be "zinged."
If there’s anything worth noting on the Rants & Raves, it’s the notorious Final Fantasy 8 picture. Many readers were annoyed and requested the staff to stop showing the image of Square’s prominent RPG, but they couldn’t resist. It started in Expert Gamer and eventually was printed on the side stub of the issues (and was put on a full page on GN's last issue).
The doors officially closed on GameNOW at issue number 27 (January 2004). Technology was kicking print while it was already down. People can just read EGMi on their phone now, and honestly, I don’t really see how print can succeed anymore.
Click page four for my final thoughts, and a special thanks to the editors of all three magazines.
You know how I got these scars?
It’s unfortunate, because I grew up subscribing to so many publications. I was worse than a girl. I still have the collections stashed in a box, and every now and then I pick up and read them. The moment you put it in your hands brings back enchanted memories from my youth.
EGM²/Expert Gamer/GameNOW (whatever you want to call it) scarred me for life. It elevated my passion for video games. It made me keep writing. It gave me more of a personality and style in terms of writing. I still wish I could’ve at least took a trip to their offices before the Internet came in and dominated.
But since that alteration, I can still hold my memory (and collection) forever, both physically and emotionally. They can’t be altered, they can’t be stored on a thumb drive, and they can’t be erased.
And if I so happen to lose them, they still remain in my possession. That is, in my mind, my reminiscence with it, and within my heart.
Thank you to the following staff of EGM², Expert Gamer, and GameNOW:
· Howard Grossman
· Nelson Taruc
· Benjamin Durbin
· James Mazurek
· Dan Leahy
· Phil Theobald
· Tom Bryon
· Andrew Burwell
· Nicole Tanner
· Miguel Lopez
· Kenneth “Slim” Miller
· Carey Wise
· Tim Blum
· Jo-El M. Damin
· Ethan Einhorn
· Scott Augustyn
· Carrie Shepherd
· Mike Vallas
· Terry Minnich
· Tim Davis
· Justyn Harkyn
· Dave Malec
· John Riccardi
· Todd Zuniga
· Mark Hain
· Andrew Baran
And the rest of the team, EGM, and all the other print outlets for gaming.
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