Friday, September 03, 2010

The Death of PC Zone

It is Christmas in 1996. My first PC, a Pentium 133 16Mb RAM with 1.2GB HD was barely 90 days old and I had fervently played Duke Nukem 3D, Warcraft 2, Diablo, Quake and my favourites - X-Wing and Tie-Fighter since the day Mark set it up for me.

In a newsagent, I my eyes were drawn to some flashy words emblazoned across the cover of a PC gaming magazine called PC Zone...

X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter!

"My God! An X-Wing and Tie-Fighter game in one!" I thought. I had to have it. PC Zone issue 47 cost me £6.56*, which was astoundingly expensive but it had a CD-ROM disc, which were cool because I knew only 3 other people beyond myself with CD-ROMs.

The CD-ROM aside, the main purpose to get this was for the X-Wing game info. Gleefully I brought the magazine home to see what wondrous preview would be spread throughout the pages. I quickly flicked through the pages watching out for huge Star Wars spacecraft pictures, or the telltale signature of the green Death Star laser or something equally Star Warsesque. But I didn't find any. "What the hell? Hang on a sec.." so I began to look through a second time, being far more careful now then the reckless abandon I excitedly employed previously. The fruits of my more observant labour paid off and I discovered in the middle of page 26, with one paragraph and 4 tiny thumbnail screenshots [literally thumbnail, that's my thumb covering one in the picture!] was the "exclusive first look".

What a fucking ripoff. I'd have been extremely miffed at being cheated if only for the fact that -The CD-ROM was awesome, it had a demo for the Terminator: Skynet game and loads of other stuff and the magazine itself was brilliant.

One thing stood out within it's pages - a preview of 3D accelerated gaming co-written by Charlie Brooker [yes the Charlie Brooker] which included the first look a new little game called Resident Evil - it's conceivable that Brooker's "love-affair" with zombies began here and led him to create Dead Cert for Channel 4.

I won't say I purchased every issue since then but I have enough issues from the past 14 years to fill a few boxes and I witnessed PC Zone go from a PC gaming comedy magazine written by people with more comedy genius than practical games experience to a magazine written by some quite hilarious characters with a bit more genuine games knowledge. The comedy was always part of the magazine's charm, but sometimes it was it's downfall and created some controversy when Brooker created a comic strip which invited you to go to a zoo to kill animals like Lara Croft, featuring a young boy beating a monkey round the head with a claw hammer. Another faux pas had a picture of a nun stroking a gaming joystick, testing it for "phallusicity".

The magazine kind of grew up with it's readers. The old writers like Brooker and David McCandless left for the "real world" and they were replaced by writers with less adolescent toilet-humour and a bit of a more adult satirical approach. In 2004 the magazine was shockingly sold to Future Publishing, the outfit which also published PC Gamer a rival publication with twice the 'Zone readership. Future imposed stricter budgetary controls, brought in new staff and redesigned the magazine. I think from that point on the writing was on the wall but it was extraordinary that it lasted another 6 years.

In a statement in July, Future Publishing said they were consulting with the four staff members on PC Zone."The team have done a great job in producing a quality magazine over the years, so it's been a difficult decision to make this proposal," the statement read."However, our strategy is to focus on the market leader, PC Gamer, in the PC gaming category."

It's an extraordinary pity because with a decline in the amount of releases of PC games per month and therefore less reviews of games, PC games journalists have begun to do some proper journalism. They speak to more developers about ideas and upcoming games, they invite philosophical debate on the merits of one FPS weapon over another or how much you really want the AI to grow. There was also serious reporting on the latest efforts of games publishers like Activision who screwed over the developer Infinity Ward which imploded and took the future success of Modern Warfare 3 with them in a titanic legal battle. There is discussions on the invasive and disturbing trend Ubisoft have created with their new Digital Rights Management which is preventing me from purchasing and playing Splinter Cell: Conviction. These articles are why people are buying PC magazines now, but sadly a magazine that looks inside and makes you think about games rather than just suggest if you play them or not was obviously not what people wanted in PC Zone as they turned away in droves to seek review scores and download demos from the Internet for free instead. Sad, but understandable in the current climate.

I've just purchased Issue 244, the final issue. It will be an emotional read. I'll read it while on the bog. The final word goes to Brooker...

"PC Zone was a cross between Viz and Which? magazine. It never took anything too seriously, least of all itself. It was also where I learned to write, so if you hate my flippant, manic-depressive 'style', blame PC Zone.

More on this story from The Guardian, BBC News and New Statesmen

Using the historical exchange rate for December 1996 - £6.56 Irish Pounds was £6.61GBP / $10.92USD / €8.64EUR


vaughan said...

So farewell PC ZONE..It alway was the funnier kid brother to PC GAMER , It's humour was always what set it apart from other magazines but Humour wasn't enough in the face of opposition.

Unknown said...

I can't beleive the Colonel referenced the Guardian newspaper, do you want to come out of the closet as a pinko liberal???

Lieutenant General Creedon said...

@ Vaughan: Yes indeed, the told it like it is. PC Gamer never finished a review with the words "Fucking Brilliant!" (as PCZ did for Quake).

@ Cubaboy: You are correct in your analysis of The Guardian and I apologise for having to reference it for the specific news item which this post comments on; unfortunatly The Guardian was one of the only publications that gave it the attention it was due. This was due in part perhaps that writer Charlie Brooker served on the PCZ staff and now writes for The Guardian [his current assignment was actually unknown to me up until 2 days ago]. Because of this I knew that the only place where I could get some infomation was The Guardian, but I was constantly aware that even for an article like that, much of what they were saying was in support of "The Red Adgenda" and could not be entirely trusted so I used other sources to corroborate any facts.

While I would for obvious reasons avoid their commentry on such subjects as Religion, Politcs and the current problems we have with The War on Terrorism - I have on occasion gained insight as to how pinkos think from reading The Guardian's Technology section. After all, if they express fear that our new type of X-Ray satellite could be used to spy on them - then we know they have something to hide.

Rest assured it will not be commonplace and the only link to a news source on this blog is to the world's only fair and balanced real news outlet FOX News.