PSM3's final farewell
19th Jan 2013 | 12:00
I've worked on PSM3 for twelve years. Twelve years. That's a third of my life. It's shocking to type. When I joined PSM2 in September 2000, George Bush was yet to become US president, Craig David's '7 days' dominated the charts and Big Brother pioneered a novel format called 'reality TV'.
As time passed, I had a child. Got married. Bought a house. Folk who'd bought the first issue of PSM2 as a ten-year old would now be in their early 20s. It sounds dramatic, but we grew up, and grew old, with games; and that not only shapes our views and hopes for the medium today, but also the lens through which we view the entire world.
That's why, when Hideo Kojima takes you back to Shadow Moses in MGS4 on PS3, ten years after the PS1 original, it's not about nostalgia, fan service, or how graphics have evolved - well, not just that - but an invitation to reflect on your actual life ten years earlier, and confront the reality of change. That's what endings do. Allow you to evaluate the journey.
In my case, it was paying 300 Baht an hour to play a pirated version of MGS in a ramshackle internet café in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand, after reading a gushing review in Edge magazine. Truth told, I didn't really enjoy it, and kept pressing q in panic as Snake break-danced between kneeling and lying on the floor, soaking up bullets like a bath mat.
I went back to my cruddy hut, wrung out my fisherman's pants and had a tepid saltwater shower, contemplating whether I'd done the right thing going travelling, and - without being too dramatic - what I was going to do with my life.
Ten years later, I returned to Shadow Moses. Except this time, I was sat at a desk in Konami's absurdly decadent 'Super Campus' - complete with its own wind turbines, tennis courts and acres of rolling fields -
in Nasu, Japan. I was one of the first ten journalists in the world to finish MGS4, as MGS creator Hideo Kojima roamed about, smiling, joking and holding court at dinner. I've never given much thought to the ten years in-between, or their sharp contrast - but I guess it's the story of PSM3: a magazine launched with the motto 'Longer. Harder. Faster', that strived to bring you closer to the best games.
I remember my first day on PSM2. It was two days after deadline on the launch issue, and the team had just worked a 30-hour shift. Fellow staff writer Joel had slept on a beanbag, and editor Marcus did his best to be polite and keep me busy, despite looking ready to kill. Perhaps to keep me out of the way, I was sent - oddly - back to my hometown of Newport to see Activision's game line-up.
I arrived back for issue 2, and wrote my first PSM2 preview: Star Wars: Starfighter. From that point on, time accelerated. A life lived between the highs and lows of a permanent four-week deadline cycle. Rinse. Repeat. In amid playing games, loving games, arguing about games, writing about games and seeing games, I think four years of my life passed - the halcyon days of PS2. The highlights - and lowlights - are best captured in our 'goodbye' feature.
The Real PSM
At one extreme, you'd be sinking ten hours into a dire Japanese RPG, smashing out sharp words to sharper deadlines and worrying about your diabolical finances; at the other, taking a helicopter ride above Paris with Rockstar boss Dan Houser, gasping in horror as his chopper almost crash landed on the auto-route. But the real PSM occurred in the office, at the keyboard, in passionate pub conversations or in heated lunchtime games of TimeSplitters 2. No joke, we used to play split-screen 'Splitters 2 so intently, you couldn't risk blinking. I'd sit at my desk all afternoon with eyes stinging and watering. It was fun, but it was hard work, and everything PSM3 is, or was, is due to the brilliance of that early team of Marcus, Chris, Joel, Jonnie and Duncan.
You never realise something's good until it's gone, and as the team slowly broke up - with myself, and later Milf, the only constant - it took a while for us to rediscover that dynamic, until issue 47ish onward, with Dan G, Nathan Irvine and Andy Kelly.
A 'second' PSM2 was born, rallying around the same principles in new games. After SSX and TimeSplitters 2, we succumbed to PES. We played PES every lunch hour for five years: an obsession echoed across the games industry. In the glory days of the PES Media Cup, a big industry tournament for games journalists, the competition was absurdly intense. I remember playing the editor of a rival magazine, as his colleagues stood and heckled me all match. Ever the big man, I finished the game, calmly put down the pad and promptly offered them all out - pointing to each in turn and shouting 'You're a pr*ck, you're a pr*ck and you're a pr*ck and all".
Spirit of Champions
Insane? Sure. But it mattered, and I was as proud reaching the final of the Media Cup one year, as seeing PSM2's Nathan Irvine win the European journalist cup years later. It's almost farcical, but while PSM2's words - hopefully - walked-the-walked in reflecting our passion, so did its writers.
I recall beating the Official PlayStation Magazine 9-1 in two-player co-op and - like the big men we were - PhotoShopping our heads with crowns and goading them all afternoon. 'PES kings' became legend, as did a DV tape of a victory labelled 'Fistful of Dellas', and the words we used to describe the gameplay like a Mr Driller, Captain Pan Hands and Jimmy Ghost Legs. That's what passion does: makes you go gently mad.
Regrets? We probably over, or under, rated too many games that later turned out to be classics/a bit 'meh', but that's the balancing act of writing honest words about complex games to tight deadlines. Do we review Skyrim after a 'mere' 50 hours - or play 200 hours and make you wait an extra month for the review, which might not read that differently? I wish we'd paid a bit less credence to the words of certain PRs who promised all the surely-too-glaring-to-release bugs in their big budget games would be fixed, but - hey - you live and learn. I hope we did.
As the modern industry lapses into a self-reflective moral maze, I look back at all the hours that the PSM3 team - and its many, many brilliant writers - spent playing games and striving to say the right thing, that I feel proud and vaguely ashamed that game critics are now so desperate to explain themselves to an, often, increasingly impossible-to-please audience. We've not always got it right, but I've always asked the same of our writers: play the game to completion (trickier in the case of 200 hour RPGs) express your views with honesty and integrity in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity and - above all - makes me feel like I've played it too.
An Honest Living
Sure, the review process often faces polluting factors, but if you express your feelings clearly and honestly, only the pact between writer and reader matter. That's what keeps you honest. The truth will always out. You can't ask someone to agree with your opinion, but you can be expected to express yours clearly, and entertainingly. Every time we've sent a review that didn't fulfil its pact to the reader - albeit through deadline, fatigue or unwitting oversight - a part of me shivered. I hope you've enjoyed our reviews with the same honesty and passion as their creation. Expressing your opinion is the greatest privilege of this absurd, gruelling, oft demoralizing but brilliant job.
I've interviewed far, far too many brilliant people. Developers whose passion made me ashamed of the
- hopefully - rare occasion we printed a factual error or slated their game without diligent articulation. Highlights? Lorne Lanning, who gave the best demo of Oddworld Abe's Odyssey on Xbox, only for me to confess that I'd be put in the room by mistake by a disinterested PR. Lorne cracked his handsome smile, and five minutes after I'd left, chased me out of the room to give me an Oddworld badge.
Also: Hideo Kojima, for always being an attentive interviewee and saying something interesting. Ex-FIFA producer Danny Isaac for explaining why PES was essentially a series of Street Fighter 2 battles on multiple 2D planes. Current FIFA producer Gary Paterson for being such an engaging, thoughtful football fan and thinker. BioShock creator Ken Levine, for engaging with our absurdly pretentious questions for one hour, and ringing back to speak for another hour after we were cut short in a PR mix up. SSX producer Todd Batty, for his vision and conviction - when everyone else doubted the SSX remake, we'd met him... and didn't.
Made With Passion
On a human level, thanks to everyone who's worked on PSM3, whose gone over and above in pursuit of getting things 'right', and who's had to explain their presence in work at 10.57pm to a loved one. I've lost track of the amount of times we've sat in meeting rooms, or over computer screens, re-working a feature for the sixth time to make that little bit better - or even starting again - and for that, I'm truly thankful for your patience. I've always been amazed, and fiercely proud, of all the passion that's gone into PSM3, and I'd like to thank everyone who's tolerated my indecision, in the hope something red hot will turn up at the last moment, or maniac dedication to quality.
I'm duty bound, and humbled, to thank you, the reader of PSM3. Whether you've been here since the start, or if - through quirk of fate - this is your first issue (unlucky!), I'd like to thank you for making all this possible. From the early days of Pro Dojo, to our lively Letters page and inventive competition entries, the PSM3 community has been an endless source of pride - a sanctuary of sane, passionate gamers, safe from the extremity of many modern gaming sites. You've made PSM3 what it is, and recent inspiring features like 'Why We Play' (PSM3 #160) wouldn't be possible without you. I'm humbled by your dedication, and it's been an honour to serve.
So, that's that. I've tried to delay writing it, since the wounds are raw, and in typical PSM3 fashion, we work better with the walls crumbling around us. The closure of PSM3, and sister-mag XBW, ends a chapter in our company's history: the death of the independent single-format videogame magazine. If you'll excuse my possibly sentimental myopia, for all the indulgence of PSM2's early issues - and regulars like 'Mr T Pities You', 'Ken Kuturagi's Front Room of the Future' and 'No Place Like Home' - video game journalism shouldn't turn its back on fun.
Maybe this is the last rasp of a killer with no more wet work, but I'll a miss a world of ludicrous pun-captions, Jonnie Bryant's face PhotoShopped onto a pea (for one-month-only column Jolly Green Bryant) and 'exclusive' first screens of Killzone 2 - drawn in crayon. Yes, that happened. The internet is quite brilliant at so many things, but the need to have to say something daily, doesn't mean that you should - since endless stories about RPG Game DLC IV aren't going to keep people engaged with this brilliant medium, with so much scope for fun. A magazine thrives when team personality, design and clarity of expression collide, and I hope that isn't lost in the oil-rush for SEO clicks, or the current technical restrictions of the net.
Let The Wookie Win
And, yeah, truth told, magazines just can't do a lot of things as well - so shilling month-old news for £5 one month late just isn't going to cut it. And hasn't for years - hence the shift in focus over the last 12 months of PSM3. I'm only sorry we couldn't bring you quite the depth of polarizing madness and personality we used too, but we're fiercely proud of the way we've focused on features and stories.
Over the last year, no one has done a better job of telling you the shape of things to come, and why - when this age of mediocre sequels on ageing consoles has past - games are about to be brilliant, and provocative, once more. We won't be there to share it, but we hope the spirit of PSM3 lives on. Think of us like Yoda, Obi Wan and Anakin, twinkling like blue ghosts over Darth Vader's blazing corpse, the next time you experience a gaming moment, perhaps even on PS4, that's truly special - only not with Hayden Christensen's face, or that rubbish new end music; we've got principles, after all.
So there we go, indulgent to the last. I'd often sit at award ceremonies, and get upset that PSM3 was so spectacularly ignored. We told fabulous stories, but never felt we were getting the credit. Truth told, we just weren't high profile enough, or not quite good enough to win. But perhaps that's missing the point. Our reward is that we got to tell another story, until there were no more left to tell. We depart with sadness, not regret - and hope that, through you, the PSM3 spirit lives on.
We've always tried to steer you toward superior experiences, and revelled in exploring their depths - even if that placed us in a lonely minority. That's us, for better or worse: the 0.5% of PS2 owners who bought Ico, the madmen who finished GTA: San Andreas or are willing to give PES 2013 the benefit of the doubt, despite every friend banging on about FIFA.
I've worked on PSM3 for twelve years, and it's been a pleasure to share these final moments. I'll leave you, of course, with my fondest scene from MGS4 - that we (well, largely me) voted PSM3's defining moment. I don't care whether you want to play the role of Big Boss, or Solid Snake - or even if you much care for MGS4 - but this is our shared cigar. The moment we all took stock. And this was good. Wasn't it?