When I was younger the ratio of shite to quality was much lower, and I had quite a few monthly subscriptions. Foremost among this elite group was the Commodore Amiga magazine Amiga Power, which I read religiously between 1991 and 1996 and still think of fondly. Written with a certain wit and intelligence which other games magazines don't have (writers were hired on the basis of writing skill rather than games knowledge, on the basis that it's easier to learn about games than to learn how to write), it's the kind of magazine that you could enjoy even if you didn't have any interest in the subject matter. The kind of games magazine that would write reviews of joysticks in-character as the Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse, make up 'Stupendous Tales' features exploring the sinister cult of spectators who can be seen in the background of fighting games like Streetfighter II (known as the "Behind Men"), and publish game write-ups so cuttingly disdainful that game companies would regularly try to sue. (AP's 'unique' sense of humour can be sampled on the myriad tribute pages, written by original mag contributors, here.) Some of this was down to the nature of Amiga owners, who in the early part of the 1990s were already a rather eccentric breed and who by the middle part of the decade could only be described as perverse - what with the SNES, Playstations and PCs readily available. As Cam Wistanley remarks:
"We never had to make up any letters because we could always get enough proper good ones. You never voted with your money by not buying us simply because we talked bollocks, never went on sale on time or produced slightly biffy cover disks. We succeeded because the Amiga owner was from that breed of slightly odd ZX Spectrum owner and therefore appreciated entertainment over information.
PC owners seem to be the other way round, which is why a PC POWER would never have worked - too many people would have written in to say 'Why must you waste space on features about the links between JFK and the Rwandan massacres? Couldn't you devote that space more sensibly to a roundup of modems?'
And then we'd have had to kill them."
One of AP's best features was Kangaroo Court, a monthly column in which game design "crimes" were detailed, a case for the prosecution made in a witty and entertaining manner, and a sentence (e.g. "execution by underwater spear-gun firing squad") prescribed. It only ran for 10 issues; the list of "crimes" covered will be well familiar to anybody who used to play computer games in the 1990s, and included:
- "Loading...please wait" messages;
- The Invisible Killer ("Having areas in your game where the player is killed without warning by something they couldn't see before it hit them, and then are expected to complete the game by finding all these areas (by dying, obviously) and then remembering where they are.");
- Slip Slidin' Away ("Including in your game a so-called 'slippy-slidey ice world,' where normal inertia is greatly exaggerated to provide a more 'realistic' simulation of a character walking on an icy or snow-covered surface."); and
- The Cheese Plant, then, maybe? ("Attempting to improve a game's presentation by replacing its menu screens with confusing, badly-drawn illustrations, areas of which you must click on to activate the various options.")
What would be Kangaroo Court candidates for me? I can think of a few:
- It is an orc, but it is not an orc: Creatures in fantasy games that are to all intents and purposes orcs (or goblins, or elves, or dragons) except with another name, as if that's enough to make them original. Example: Eladrin in D&D 4e, who let's face it, are just elves, but not elves.
- This is kewl and awesome: When it's obvious that the game designers are practically orgasming in their pants over the sheer brilliance of their own creation. Example: almost anything ever written about the drow.
- If only real life could be like this: Wankfest utopian fantasy settings which are essentially thinly veiled political whinges. Example: Blue Rose.
- This is what real imagination looks like: Excessive weirdness for the sheer sake of appearing creative. Examples: the setting for Reign; the Duck people from Glorantha.
- This is an indie game, so it uses dice pools: Self explanatory, really.
There would have to be suitable sentences meted out by the RPG Kangaroo Court, of course. Underwater spear gun execution for the more minor offences.