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Posted on Dec 12, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

The Gaming Magazine Revolution

Jim H. Moreno

As the winter season marks the ending of one year and an approaching fresh new one, likewise have two recent additions to the online world also marked the demise of one form of media, and heralded the birth of another. Well, maybe in not as drastic a measure as I imply. However, with the launch of AFK Magazine and GamerZines comes the strongest argument for their form of online media to date, while also possibly sledgehammering in that proverbial ‘nail in the coffin’ for traditional printed media. What makes this much more exciting is that this revolution is taking place in the world of gaming, something that many of us gamers heard from droning mothers ‘would never amount to anything’. Ahh, sweet vindication at last!

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Officially announced in October 2006, AFK Magazine is the newest online effort of Karmik Studios, who also created and host the online MMORPG radio station Split Infinity Radio. AFK Magazine will also follow suit, being primarily a digital magazine aimed at the MMORPG community, yet at the same time billing itself as a ‘Step Beyond Gaming’. If I may, it’s one small step for gaming, one giant leap towards the future of how people will soon receive and read, well, anything.

How so? I’m glad you asked. AFK Magazine opens up directly in your browser, for starters. Yep, no downloading nuthin’. Once at their website, clicking on the large View Magazine Now button opens up the full magazine right in your browser. It’s here that things get interesting, and you begin to realize how the times they are a’changin’. If reading webzines is new to you, no worries, just click on the Help tab above the magazine cover for a handy dandy tutorial and explanation of the features available. If you are not new, jump right into the intuitive clicking-and-dragging to open the magazine and start reading. Another tab titled Content will slide out a drop-down menu for easy access to a particular section within the digimags’ 130 pages.

Hey, where’s that music coming from?! Yes, that’s right, it’s coming from the digimag. Instant music to go along with my reading pleasure – wow! Now that’s groovy! Right now there’s only one tune that cycles through play, and it’s rather short. But the implications here are ear-opening. A magazine that comes with audio. Let that sink in for a moment. When you’ve heard enough, just click on the Music tab at top to turn it off.

The digimag also comes in two versions: one with low-res images for <gasp!> dial-up users, and one with hi-res images for the civilized world. One other very nice personal touch added is the graph zoom feature. Not sure what they call it, that’s just my name for it. Click on a certain paragraph or photo in any article, and the view zooms up close to and centers that paragraph or photo on the screen for better viewing. Another click unzooms the view back to the original position. Or, you can just use the scroll wheel on your mouse to zoom in increments. Either way, totally far out.

Just one very minor item I found missing is the lack of hyperlinks. There are website URL’s listed throughout the digimag, on advertisements and in articles, but clicking on the text does not open that website up in my browser, as I expected. There’s also no way that I see to select, copy and paste URL’s from the digimag into the browser. I mean, c’mon, do you expect me to actually have to type in the URL? I’m a writer, for frak’s sake, and that’s so 1999. No, really, no worries there. I just bet, if the digimag is any indication of the publishers’ and editors’ state of mind, they are aware of and working on correcting this.

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Cranberry Publishing’s first digimag on the GamerZines website was 360Zine, an emagazine covering all things XBox 360, which went live last month. Hot on the cyber-heels of that digimag came PCGZine, and as you probably guess, deals with all gaming genres on the computer. The first 42-page issue features articles on World of Warcraft, Command & Conquer 3, and Medieval II, among many others. Not stopping there, PCGZine also covers some geek stuff, like an in depth look at the upcoming DirectX10, and gives those interested in behind-the-scenes gaming news their fix with an interview of David Rutter, a development studio manager responsible for Championship Manager 2007. As is often said about games that have the potential to overthrow an earlier game in their genre: could PCGZine be the PC Gamer killer? The bar has certainly been raised, that much is for sure.

Here’s how PCGZine has done it. Differing from AFK Magazine, this digimag comes as an Adobe download in .pdf format, weighing in at about 26MB. Once opened, the digimag pushes itself up to cover your entire monitor viewing area, laying out the contents in a clear and coloful array before your eyes. Unlike traditional print magazines that have their contents displayed down two pages seperated by the spine of the magazine, PCGZine‘s pages are written on and displayed as one page per screen, so to speak. The major advantage being that readers get the full article and large pics both across the width and breadth of their monitors, with no sinking crease hindering the display like in print magazines. If you have a nice (or better) 21" LCD monitor like I do, it’s quite a very nice and welcome sight to behold.

Page manipulation is done simply by clicking on the current page to turn to the next one, or by using the menu bars at top and bottom to zoom in and out, print the current page, or jump to another section. Clicking on website URL’s open up your browser and take you to that page. There’s even a toggle from full-page view to windowed view, in case you need access to your desktop or anything else underneath. But wait, it gets better! Not only does PCGZine also have sound, like AFK Magazine, it also has video! About every third page has a small PIP (picture-in-picture) of some 10-20 second video related to the current page, mainly advertisements in this issue for World of Warcraft, Battlestations Midway, Warhammer Mark of Chaos and others. Simply outstanding! Each video only plays once, with a Replay option available. Each video also loaded up quickly and played flawlessly during my first and subsequent viewing.

As with AFK Magazine, I can only list one very minor itrritation concerning PCGZine. Some of the articles have screenshots with the message ‘Roll over screen for annotations’ above them. I’m guessing there were supposed to be tooltip-like popup to see once the mouse cursor hovered over an item in the screenshot. That didn’t work for me, not on any of the screens. I don’t know if was something with me using Adobe Reader to view the digimag, or if perhaps that function is simply broken. Either way, it took nothing away from my reading, watching and listening pleasure.

So, what do these new forms of media mean to the genre as a whole? I for one cannot say. What I do envision, though, is that there will be some major changes to the way print and online magazines do business from now on. Let’s use the digital version of our beloved Armchair General magazine for example, which I get in lieu of the printed version each issue. Imagine just how groovy it would be if the Editor’s Letter also came in an audio file, so we could read and hear Jerry Morelock’s words. Or, how about a slideshow of John Antal’s Interactive ICS, complete with battle sounds and Simon Pugh-Jones’ fantastic photography in full screen? Quotes from military history made clickable, opening a .wav file of the actual quoter speaking his or her own words? The possibilities are so wide-ranging and far-reaching as to be veritably limitless. I can also see newspaper websites teaming up with their local TV news station websites to provide outstanding written and visual news coverage. What about reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings online, and having a small video available to play from Jackson’s movie version? Comic books, graphic novels, National Geographic, Playboy – well, you see what I mean?

I think AFK Magazine and GamerZines have started something new and very much improved for the future of gaming magazines and the online media world overall. Will their creativity cause ripples or waves across cyberspace? I for one will be paying close attention to see how others answer. One day, we will see a paperless society. Since both these digimags profiled here are also free (did I fail to mention they’re FREE?!), maybe we’ll also see that trend widely adopted, too. I can dream, can’t I?

Stay Alert, Stay Alive!

Jim H. Moreno

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1 Comment

  1. I use to love gaming magazines when i was a kid!

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