February 4th, 2010
Back in April last year I heavily criticised endearing Australian multiplatform games magazine, Hyper, while simultaneously throwing praise to side-line act Pixel Hunt. Pixel Hunt is worthy comparison to Hyper. I mean, it’s free, conservative games writing brought to you by Hyper contributors with enough leeway to go rogue without the uncomfortable snapback of their part-time employers. In particular, I commented on Pixel Hunt’s skew for a more progressive, supposedly analytical approach to games writing.
My comments were made under the observation of the magazine’s steady progression towards a more feature-rich, analysis-heavy format that could, in a few issues, develop it into an authority, you know, something worth repeated reading in this competitive field of non-commercial games writing. Unfortunately, I feel that since then the promise has disappeared as the magazine settles down into a familiar template. Yeah, I’m sure you know the one.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the comments made by Dylan Burns (editor) in his opening editorial to issue #10 “Our team of writers is, I believe, amongst the most passionate in this country”. They’re talented too. Really clean writers which I appreciate, even though it’s not my most preferred style as a reader. Yet despite all the talent and good writers they house, the format is suffocation.
I’m kinda tired of harping on the inherent flaws of the writing format adopted by the enthusiast and professional media alike (you’ve probably heard me talk about it before, anyways), so let’s just bang out a list, it’ll be easier:
- Pixel Hunt is bloated by an unhealthy number of reviews
- 85-95% of the content in each review tells the reader what happens in the game rather than explaining how the game is good/bad or how the game achieves a desired effect, what effect the game had on the player or just any general insight, some reviewers are better than others in this regard
- Considering the late release of the magazine in respects to rival formats, marketing, demos and the release of the games themselves, most readers are likely to already know what happens in the game, and considering this part constitutes the majority of the magazine’s content, there is little reason to bother reading it at all
- The amount of space given to the editorials is criminal, which is why they all cover very simplistic arguments
- The features are the magazine’s primary selling point* and more attention needs to be paid here
- Most of the writers sound the same (this is obviously subjective, Hyper has always suffered the same problem, I feel)
None of this is designed to offend, but rather explain my own discontent with the magazine, because I believe that it’s capable of much more. Hmm, let’s take another online magazine, Retroaction, as a counter example to Pixel Hunt:
Retroaction is a new, retro/indie games e-magazine run by a handful of retro game enthusiasts, most of which have little writing experience. Although the quality of writing has improved in leaps and bounds since the first issue (they’re up to their 3rd, so far), it’s still downright atrocious at times. Furthermore, Retroaction’s reviews are almost entirely full of information with very little evaluation to speak of, and most of the appraisal is glowing or at least generous. Did I mention that the layout and visual design leaves a little to be desired too? Yet despite the lacking amenities, I often come back to re-read articles in Retroaction because they’re original and therefore insightful, even within the retro/indie games niche. A two part feature on the ZX Spectrum’s Russian knock-offs and resulting indie development scene over the past 20 years is not only interesting, it’s material that can’t easily be found anywhere else. A lack of analysis in the reviews isn’t imperative to Retroaction, unlike with Pixel Hunt, because the information, the “here’s what happens in the game part”, is sufficient on its own, because the games themselves are largely unheard of in the mainstream**.
Conformity does not equate to incentive and it’s for this reason, for Pixel Hunt’s pursuit of the status quo of enthusiast writing, that my interest (and prior recommendation) has diminished.
On the other hand, I hope that my criticisms haven’t dissuaded you too much, because as it turns out I actually contributed an article to the latest issue (issue #10, download here, 38mbs). With a dash of irony though, I was wrongly credited. (And no, before you ask, the error didn’t spur me on to write this piece). I wrote the article on Dragon Quest IV at the end of the magazine, NOT Daniel Golding. You might know Daniel as the guy who gained rapturous attention after mapping out the self-important “Brainysphere”. You could’ve fooled me though, as I read half way into the article before realising I’d written it myself, and there I was feeling envious and all, shucks. I’m surprised though, honestly, it really blends in with the rest of the content, which is strange given that the nature of the writing isn’t usually part of my shtick. So check it out for that reason, or to spot the unedited spelling error…
*Can it be considered a selling point if it’s free? Probably not. Either way, the features are generally good.
**I’m starting to understand now why the majority of blogs in my RSS feed reader are retro or alternative-based. Conventional games writing is simply that (however, it can be analysis-rich AND progressive, as is the case with much of Eurogamer‘s content, for example), and even within the bloggosphere, good analysis is scattered, whereas the retro and alternative coverage is often always interesting.