If you were a hardcore gamer in the 90s you read GameFan Magazine (formally Diehard GameFan). It?s my absolute favorite publication, warts and all. I recently discovered it?s been resurrected as Internet-only Diehard GameFan (www.diehardgamefan.com
). I was stunned and just had to know what the hell is going on. Why in the f uck would someone attempt to resurrect the greatest magazine of all time? It?s like getting the Beatles back together sans the Fab 4. Instead of immediately dismissing the new version of GameFan I decided to speak with Alexander (Alex) Lucard, Editor-In-Chief of the new Diehard GameFan. He definitely pulls no punches, check this out game fans!
Rob F (RF): Give us a snapshot of the new GameFan and tell us a bit about yourself, how the new GameFan came to be, and what you hope to accomplish with it.
Alexander Lucard (AL): Wow. That's a big first question, so I'm going to break it up a bit. The new Diehard GameFan came about almost by accident. Basically I was dicking around, and learned that the trademarks for "Diehard GameFan" and the URL were vacant. I emailed Dave Halverson, Editor-In-Chief of Play magazine (Ed. Note: Halverson founded GameFan, Gamers Republic and Play) to see if he had a problem with me picking them up. A month later, and I still hadn't heard back from him so I decided "Better me than IGN or Ziff-Davis" and purchased the rights for about $250 when all was said and done. I rounded up a bunch of people in the industry that I respected greatly or was friends with and pitched the idea of bringing back Diehard GameFan. I really wanted to do a site that did rate things on a scale from Good to Excellent. The industry has gotten to the point where we accept a three one paragraph reviews and a score as enough detail to put 50-60 dollars down on a title, and that's not responsible journalism to me. About thirty of us decided to make it happen and we went about making the site. A month later Dave Halverson emailed me pretty angry about their being a new Diehard GameFan, until he learned I had the legal rights and took at look at the content. The next day he apologized and offered to help any way that he could, because he liked where we were going. Dave even offered to fund us as a for-profit company and make it a mix of the new staff and the old staff, but because a lot of the current staff actually work in the video game industry we felt it would be a conflict of interest and ethics for us to make any money of the Diehard GameFan 2.0. Still, Dave's been a great guy towards the new crew and especially me and I appreciate all the advice he's given me.
RF: That's pretty incredible and only $250. That's interesting that he was so pissed off. As far as I knew, he made his exit while GameFan was still being produced. Also, I was under the impression that your staff wrote for other websites/publications, is that what you mean by working in the industry?
AL: Well as Dave put it, he was afraid we were a bunch of amateurs that would tarnish the name. His second email to me was very cordial and apologetic. I can totally understand his worry. I mean what if I had turned out to be a sixteen year old without control of my caps lock. After that first exchange, he was one of the nicer guys I've talked to in the journalism side of the industry. He really just wanted to make sure we weren't chuckleheads. That and he didn't know his legal rights and ownership had expired!
RF: That's kind of ironic, considering GameFan was made up of amateurs, at least initially, including Nick Rox, who was like 15 at the time.
AL: It's that personal pride thing. I know I'm very sensitive when I see people using my name as a character for their erotic slash vampire fan fiction, so I could relate.
RF: So basically, you saw that the name was available and decided to "do" a new GameFan. Did it weigh on your mind at all that two other mags comprised of some old GameFan staff (GameGo! and Hardcore Gamer) tried and pretty much failed? When I first discovered the new Diehard GameFan I was like, "why?"
AL: Well GameGo! and Hardcore Gamer were a very different direction and mindset for our staff. Wasn't GameGo!?s old slogan "The games you SHOULD be playing?" That's a little too elitist for my liking. I also hate the term hardcore to describe passionate gamers as back in the 16 bit era it meant "Hey! I can beat Blazing Lazers without using a continue". Today it's "OMG! I AM A TOTAL FANBOY FOR SYSTEM X! ALL OF YOU SYSTEM Y FANS R FAGGOTS!" and other immature vitriol that gets laid out on message boards. For me as a kid, Diehard GameFan is what got me really into gaming. It introduced me to indie titles and import gaming and niche things. Diehard GameFan covered the things the bigger mags didn't because those indie companies weren't doing swag or payoffs or paying for ads. They were passionate about educating gamers at first about new things, while the latter two magazines seem to want to throw in their reader's face that they knew some game said reader didn't and that this somehow made them cooler. I have a problem with that. A big one. That's why the current site reviews a lot of niche games. You can go to any website and find a review of GTA IV. It's mainstream. But can you find World Heroes collection or Baroque the day they go on sale? No...probably not. That's what we try to fill the gap with. Educate without some sort of superiority complex. I remember a few years ago I did my top 30 scary video games and my #1 pick was a game that never made it to the US that I adored when I lived back in England called Hell Night (Dark Messiah in Japan). I received a ton of emails from people saying that they were going to email Atlus and Konami to try and get it ported here and thanking them for being a source of the obscure and/or rare. And then one email who said it was at #1 because I wanted to prove how hardcore I was because I was an import gamer. Even though you know...it wasn't an import title for me. it was a British PSX game and I was living in London at the time!
Basically, my professional writing career has been as a folklorist and more of a scholarly bent and I'd like for readers to realize this is where they can go for substantive critical analysis of games rather than something that grades a game on emotion first and quality second.
RF: In your about section it's stated "Like the original (GameFan), we seek to bring back true journalism to gaming." I could be wrong, I didn't start reading until 93/94, but I didn't think this was the focus of the original. Am I taking this out of context? And more importantly, is the old GameFan the measuring stick for journalism, gaming or otherwise? I enjoyed their passion and thorough coverage, but didn't read for their journalistic chops, if you look back, some of the writing was awful.
AL: Oh my God yes. Some of it was. Six pages extolling the virtues of BATTLE MONSTERS for the Sega Saturn? Holy crap, I'm all for having an opinion and being proud of it, but wow. I mean...Battle Monsters! That's like nominating Time Killers as the best fighting game ever.
RF: So basically, you're trying to bring truth and passion back, more than true journalism. From what I've read, your writers are generally superior to early GameFan.
AL: Definitely. You have to remember that Bebito (my head of PR and best friend on the site) and I read these mags as kids, so we have very rose tinted memories of Diehard GameFan compared to say Game Informer where I sat at the table next to them near Plymouth MN hearing one of them brag about reviewing a game without even playing it. Or Shoe (Ed. Note: Dan Hsu, former EIC of EGM) from EGM extolling how OTHER companies take bribes and payoffs but how EGM doesn't even though you know...1UP gave Shining Soul a 9.0 the same week they were doing a praise Shining Force series of feature with some of it cut and pasted out of an old article I wrote in 2003. Compared to that type of "professionalism" Diehard GameFan was real journalism. They muck raked, weren't afraid to make enemies with publishers or developers, and had that whole truth and passion thing. Diehard GameFan 1.0 was the Woodward and Bernstein (sic) of VG journalism. At least they were for teenage me.
And thank you for the compliment on our writing. I'd like to think I've got the best staff out there in the industry right now, but it's all opinion. So that kind of a compliment coming from another gaming site is very flattering. Again, thank you.
RF: Speaking of other game journalists, Also from your about section "With our comprehensive review scheme, groundbreaking and entertaining features, and a level of in depth journalism that has long been lost from the industry, we hope to provide all sides of the gaming industry with the level of respect it deserves." While I agree a large amount of the game "journalists" are awful, there are a few truly respectable gents out there, N'Gai Croal and Steve Totilo come to mind. More than that, please go into your review scheme (Dave Halverson's mag Play also adopted this scheme), your groundbreaking features, etc.
AL: Well our review method is one I came up with way back in 2001 and we tweaked it back in 2003-4 for 411mania and it has kind of caught on to any sites I've been an editor for. Basically we divide a game up into ten categories and take a look at each one so that the reader can get an in-depth look at the different facets of the game instead of say, a page extolling graphics and a sentence on a buggy near unplayable engine. In the old days we rated the games from 1-10 and it was the first review style that forced writers to use 5 as the average marker instead of 7 which for a long time was an industry standard set by EGM and Gamespot to appease their advertising overlords. With Diehard GameFan we wanted to try something new and that was get rid of any sort of score whatsoever. The average gamer at this point is kind of settled into just reading a number of letter and letting that be the determining factor for their purchase point. Without an actual quantifiable figure like that, it forces the reader to go through the entire review and actually think for themselves as well as learn about the game, which is again something the corporate side of gaming sites don't want you to do. If they're a for-profit site, they're (and by that I mean most. Not all. Forgive the generalization here) not about educating the gamer, they're about raking in money for the publishers and developers. With Diehard GameFan? We're a not-for-profit. That means none of us make money from the site and we all have worked in the industry at some point as something other than journalists. That way you're getting a solid review from people who have done marketing or coding or play testing or ran the official website for a publisher and so on. And God, that makes me sound full of myself and my staff, so I do apologize for that. Basically, our reviews are for the people that want more than just a vague brief description of a game that doesn't give you much detail to go on. I realize the average gamer doesn't really go "I could sure go for a 7 page review of Castle Shikigami 3 telling me all the weird little in jokes especially it's relationship to the old Time Girl game for the Sega CD and how it's connected to that." But for the gamer that does want something like that, here we are. We're not saying we're the best. Again that's opinion. What we are saying is that we really do go into in-depth analysis of games, and if that's what you've been looking for, hopefully we keep you coming back for more. If not, thanks for at least checking us out. As for our features, we try to score interviews with the developers and creators of yesteryear and spend a lot of time on the history of games and stuff that sounds kind of stuffy. Our next two features are "The 7 games you play in hell" which covers 7 games we love as a staff but are crazy difficult (My contribution is on Wizardry IV) and then "My. Best. Game. Ever." where various staff members say just that - what their favorite game is. With this one we hope to show what our individualities are and help readers find a writer on the site that best jibes with their own tastes and dislikes
RF: Nice! Last but not least, Is this a part-time gig or is this something you and the staff do for a living? And what are your plans, best case for GameFan? Back to print? I only ask "for living", because not-for-profits have to pay folks too.
AL: No. It's not what any of us do for a living. It's all meant to be fun first and foremost. I don't think I could personally take money for the site and feel right about it. We all just throw something together when we want to about what we want to. Or if a company sends us a game and asks us to review it. As for print - that offer was made to us and as a whole we turned it down. Although it's nice to be in print, it's just not where news is going. These days by the time something is in print for gaming, everyone already knows about it from the web. I can't tell you how many times I've been told by the Pokemon Company something exclusive that they asked me to put in Pokemon Magazine, but by the time it hits print the hardcore snoopy fan sites already know.
RF: I think the readers have a great picture of the new GameFan, but is there anything else you'd like to say to them, especially the folks (like me) that grew up on GameFan?
AL: Heh. Hopefully you fans of Diehard GameFan 1.0 don't think we're sullying the good name of the original. I grew up on it myself and it was a treat as a kid when ECM or Eggo would write me back about something that I had babbled to one of them about. I'm still really flattered that Halverson was kind and respectful enough to pass the torch to us and hopefully the people that come to the site will respect what we're doing, even if it's not their cup of tea.
RF: Thanks so much Alex.