No Magazines, No Life (Not Anymore)

Magazines are dead.

I write this first line as someone who loves magazines to death — I used to run a site called The Magaziner, after all — and who looks forward to picking up the latest issue of Monocle each and every month. But they really are dying, aren’t they.

The latest sign for me was the conversion of the iPad edition of Entertainment Weekly from a properly produced iPad edition to something that is nothing more than a PDF. Yet another magazine I can’t read on my iPad anymore (I despise reading magazines this way, constantly zooming in and out on each page).

For me, the arrival of the iPad and of iPad editions of magazines was a godsend while I was living in Tokyo. Finally, a way to read western magazines without having to pay 2-3 times the cover price. Also, I quite liked taking in magazines imagery on a bright screen, and the monthly subscriptions were a great deal. I used to subscribe to a stack of magazines — to a point where it was difficult to get through all of them each month. Until last week, I still only subscribed to two: Wired and Entertainment Weekly.

But this isn’t just about digital editions. Looking at what you see in terms of mainstream magazines on the newsstands, most of them are nothing more than floppy pamphlets — Monocle is of course the exception, and it’s why I buy it (and it’s not exactly mainstream in the sense that there are only a very limited number of shops in Montreal that carry it). I looked at a recent issue of Rolling Stone — a magazine to which I had a physical subscription for years when I was younger, and then subscribed to on iPad until they switched it to a PDF-like edition — and it was barely larger than a comic book. Sure, there are still a lot of beautifully produced magazines on the indie side, but they tend to be high-priced and do not enjoy print runs that can sustain the industry.

Am I just old and cranky? Sure, probably.

When I did a Twitter rant recently about the changes in the iPad edition of Entertainment Weekly, a friend of mine commented that she was surprised I didn’t just read these magazines from their websites. I replied that I still have a love and appreciation for a properly edited and curated “container” (not a sexy way to describe magazines, but you get what I’m saying), but I think she’s right. If I can no longer get proper iPad editions of magazines, and I’m not interested in paying for flimsy physical pamphlets, then that’s probably what I should do.

What about Wired? It still has a great iPad edition after all. But in recent months I’ve found myself skimming more and more in each issue, to a point where I should probably just read the articles that do interest me on the web.

Magazines are dead. To me at least.

Deus Ex GO

The GO series of games from Square Enix Montreal has been fantastic so far, and I’ve been anxiously waiting for the release of this latest one, based on the Deus Ex franchise (another series I quite like). It’s pretty much what you’d expect it to be like, an extension/evolution of what we saw with Lara Croft GO, but with a bunch of Deus Ex-like hack items peppered in throughout the levels as puzzle elements. I’m not really that far in yet (blame the fact that I’m playing so many games right now), but I’m definitely happy to be playing this (on iPad), even if some levels are already starting to break my head (but that’s because I tend to suck at puzzle games).

Rival Books of Aster

I am absolutely falling in love with a new collectible card game on iOS called Rival Books of Aster that just came out (although it seems like it’s currently only available in the Canadian App Store). The gameplay is sort of a cross between Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, while still feeling original. The first thing that I found striking though was the overall aesthetic, which includes the card art, all coming off as medieval in style, and quite different from what we usually see from these games. It features a really nice tutorial to teach you how to play, which I’m now getting to the end (the last four steps are to play full matches with a deck based on each of the 4 Houses in the game). Really looking forward to playing much more of this, and I hope I’ll get some friends on board as well. Funny thing is, I hadn’t heard anything about this game, and was led to it by a promotional tweet in my timeline.

OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo

I really like the idea behind Cartoon Network’s new game, of creating a new series but starting out with a game, not a proper animated cartoon show – this Wired piece explains what they’re up to with this. I was excited to give OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo a try, and I gotta say, it’s pretty fun so far – although as with any touch game (I’m playing on iPad) where you control a character onscreen, it would be so much better with a proper controller. The world is super fun and colorful, and I found myself laughing a bunch of times while playing. I like being introduced to a new cartoon world through a game, instead of always just playing game adaptations of cartoon shows. I wouldn’t mind seeing more stuff like this, and at the same time, I’m looking forward to seeing more stuff that revolves around the OK K.O. world.

Super Hexagon

Even though it’s all everyone was talking about when it originally came out, for some reason I never got around to playing Super Hexagon. I finally got around to playing it recently (on iPad), and even though I am absolutely dumbfounded as to how I see on my friends list times as high as 70-90 seconds, I can see the genius in the simplicity of the gameplay. The addictive element is that you can immediately restart with no wait, so even though I’m barely reaching 10 seconds, I just keep trying, and trying, and trying…

Pocket Mortys

You like Pokémon games? You like Rick and Morty? Well have I got the game for you. I’ve personally never played a Pokémon game – have never been interested in playing one, and have no nostalgia for the series – but I do know what they’re all about, and so it’s pretty funny to see what they did with this iOS game, taking the same gameplay elements of fighting creatures and collecting them, but substituting the Pokémon for other dimensional Mortys instead. Sure, it’s not groundbreaking or anything, but it’s fun – and funny – as hell.

Clash Royale

I’ve dabbled in Clash of Clans, and it never really grabbed me, but I was curious to check out Supercell’s new spinoff game, Clash Royale – what can I say, I tend to be a sucker when the word “card” is mentioned. I’ve played a bunch so far, and I’m still having a lot of fun with it. Sure, it’s simple gameplay – you put together a deck of 8 cards, each representing a soldier that fights for you, and then go to battle. Battles are just you sending out your soldiers when you have enough energy to cast them, and then, like in a tower defence game, they just automatically head towards the nearest enemy or target tower – the goal is to destroy the enemy’s towers. The battles are quick, and just plain ol’ fun. The free-to-play elements have hit now though, so I can’t open all of the chests that I win in battles unless waiting 3 hours or using gems (the chest contain new cards, that either add new soldiers, or that you amass to level up your current soldiers). But so far it’s not bothering me that much.

Lifeline

This game happens to be free this week on the App Store, but I bought it over the holidays, and my wife and I ended up having quite a bit of fun with it – in fact, we bought the bundle that includes all 3 games in the series. It’s a text adventure game, to which you are offered binary choices, but what it does differently is that on your playthrough, you’re expected to wait for the character to do something and then get back to you. Although a neat idea, this in fact became a bit annoying, because we both just wanted to play through the game. It was designed to also be played on iWatch – or that might have been the lead platform – so it might be something that works better that way, as you play tiny bits throughout the day, or on your iPhone (we were playing on iPad). But once you’ve died at least once, not only can you go back and go try different branches, but you can also remove the wait time, and so just play straight through. The story is definitely fun – you’re an astronaut who crash lands on a planet – and I look forward to playing the other games in the series.

Magic: The Gathering – Puzzle Quest

I’ve been playing Magic pretty much since its inception, and I was a huge fan of the original Puzzle Quest game, so seeing that there was a game (on iOS) out that combines the two, I was wondering if this would be the Reese’s Pieces of games. Well, it sure is fun, that’s for sure. I really like how they integrated the Magic spells/creatures with the match-3 play of Puzzle Quest – in terms of the gameplay and strategy, I’ll say it becomes a much better game, because there’s more to think about in terms of what spells you want to cast (you can’t exactly select them, but as you draw them, you can arrange the order in which they will be cast, which becomes very important). The only thing I miss is the inclusion of some sort of storyline to tie it all together – sure, the campaign in the original Puzzle Quest wasn’t incredible or anything, but I liked having that context for all the battles.

Losing Your Edge

This is the lost post I referred to recently, which to my surprise suddenly popped up again in my draft folder, and so I’ve decided to share it as is, along with a little update at the end.

The Magaziner returns. Sorta.

In recent weeks, I’ve been feeling the itch to bring back The Magaziner in one form or another – and for those of you who have no idea what I’m referring to, it’s a site I ran that was dedicated to the love of magazines, with a slight focus on digital titles/editions. Problem is, earlier this year I let the original domain expire – I did check to see if it was still available, but it wasn’t.

Oh well.

But, I still feel like sounding off on magazines again, since my love for the medium is still strong, and so – for now – I’ll just do it here in the form of irregular posts.

Let’s talk about Edge magazine, and its new digital strategy as of its latest issue.

First off, Edge is what I would describe as the best and smartest magazine out there covering the world of games. It covers the medium in all seriousness, and is a publication that is read by many in the industry. It’s published in the UK through Future. I’ve been reading it for years – can’t quite remember what my first issue was – and although I used to buy it in print (at a ridiculous price from a shop in Tokyo’s Akihabara district), when they launched a proper iPad edition – and by this I mean a digital edition formatted for iPad, that they described as an “interactive” edition – that’s how I continued reading it. As of the latest issue, that “interactive” edition is no more.

What has happened is that what you get now is basically a glorified PDF version of the print edition, with a few highlighted links to look up a gallery of screenshots or to watch a video. On iPads designed for mortals (i.e. not the new iPad Pro), this means that you can’t read the text in regular page view, and so need to constantly zoom in and out of pages. Oh, and now it won’t even save your spot when you’re reading, so every time you come back to the issue, you’re at the front page, and need to manually find your spot again.

Why revert back to such a primitive edition? I’m sure it was a business decision, not wanting to absorb the cost of designing that iPad edition, but not only does it leave us with a fantastically unsatisfying reading experience, they haven’t even lowered the cost of the digital edition.

The content itself is still great – in the latest issue I really enjoyed the interview with Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata, the profile of Square Enix’s new RPG Factory studio, and the piece on adventure game studio Revolution Software, but because of the awful reading experience, I found myself skimming over most of it.

I’ve already cancelled my digital subscription, and I don’t expect I’ll be buying the print edition as it’s not readily available here, and would cost import prices if I did find a copy. If I am still able to read some of it, it will be because the studio where I work subscribes to it.

Update: Since I wrote this, to my dismay, another one of my regular magazine reads has followed the same route, and it’s even worse than with Edge. As of its latest issue (with Star Wars on the cover), Rolling Stone has done the same thing, getting rid of its iPad-formatted interactive design and instead releasing a PDF-like replication of the print edition. But what’s worse is that it’s even more unreadable than Edge, because you can’t even zoom in on the pages, and so if you find the text to be too tiny to read, tough luck. I immediately cancelled my subscription, but really, I’m just shocked to see a backward trend like this of giving up on digital editions. I’m sure it’s all driven by sales and cost cutting (not wanting to invest in designing a separate edition), but it is having the effect of making me leave those titles, since I’m not interested in the print editions (I only like print magazines if they use nice paper, have a special format, etc.)