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MAXIMUM THE VIDEO GAME MAGAZINE: Hardest of the hardcore

MAXIMUM The Video Game Magazine: Hardcore Dreaming.

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MAXIMUM was the brainchild of Richard Leadbetter and Gary Harrod both of whom were at the time part of EMAP’s reputable canon of video gaming publications.

There are many who believe that it was a take on Future Publishing’s EDGE magazine however once you sit down and read the first issue this idea quickly dissipates. Regardless of this MAXIMUM was never going to succeed as was originally intended by its publisher, for this much is certain.

At around the time the magazine launched in October ’95 there had already occurred a paradigm shift in market trends. Sony had marketed their new Playstation in such a way that it appealed to young adult audiences thanks in part to games like the clubber’s favourite Wipeout, and the faithful arcade conversion of Ridge Racer.
They had initiated a trend that would change the course of gaming forever; one in which video games would lose its stereotypical image of spotty kids and bedroom coders instead replaced by a greater emphasis on the medium’s potential to break mainstream barriers.

With this causal shift came a change in the type of games people would purchase. These young adults to which the Playstation was marketed usually had jobs and maybe a family to support having themselves been brought up on earlier generations of video game. The first successful introduction of marketable 3D computer imagery for the home consoles increased tendencies to buy games that ‘looked prettier’, though the potential brought about by these revelations only compounded what was already a concern in the growing disparity of gameplay and graphics.

MAXIMUM seemingly represented an honourable attempt to justify what even fewer gamers now looked for. It was a voice that merely represented the belief that gameplay should supersede graphical and (at the majority of times) even technological prowess, especially in the console market where hardware was largely standardised for a set number of years.
The very first issue makes it clear from the offset that what they were attempting to do could never succeed now that the wheels of Sony’s grand scheme had already been set in motion:
“Let’s get something straight right away. Although we’re into new technology, we aren’t concerned about technical specifications, amounts of polygons per second or anything like that. We are into gameplay – in a big way.” (Leadbetter in MAXIMUM Issue 1; 1995: 3)

Haunting words given that MAXIMUM was ever the contradiction in many ways. No matter how refreshing its vision may have seemed it remained ultimately flawed in that whilst they attempted to create a brand befitting the onset of 32bit consoles, how the magazine was produced and marketed was totally at odds with this new shift in market forces:
“We were extremely anal about every aspect [of MAXIMUM]. Gary would spend far too much time on the design, screenshots had to be perfect. We’d even take high resolution screenshots of low resolution games to ensure that every pixel was captured”. (MeanMachinesArchive)

Leadbetter and Harrod slaved tirelessly over each issue in true hardcore fashion yet the market at which they were aiming if it had even existed, disappeared with the onslaught of Sony’s marketing machine.
Indeed the fact that sales of MAXIMUM slumped after having used two Sega games as cover fronts only serves to reinforce this together with the irony of having had the first issue (which was quite successful having sold 20,000 – 25,000 at the £3.50 price point) feature Sony’s standard bearer.
Sega’s tradition of entry into the market had ended before it had even begun the 32bit race, something Leadbetter has since come to realise:
“The initial pages we produced were amazing and we should have used those to pitch for the Official PlayStation licence. Instead, Gary Harrod and I were obsessed with producing the ultimate multiformat magazine…”

As mentioned there is some debate surrounding the magazine’s positioning relative to its nearest ‘rival’: EDGE (which was first released in 1993 under the auspices of Steve Jarrat and a certain Tony Mott (known as ‘Motty’ to gracious fans). While in all likelihood the intention of business suits over at EMAP, the same cannot be said of Leadbetter and Harrod who undertook to making it very much their own. Having said this EDGE was and still is an altogether different beast; a format unto its own that few have attempted to challenge and the reason why I shall be covering the magazine last but by no means least.

Sadly, the pages of MAXIMUM will never be read by a huge number of people and thus it seems like an altogether wasted effort, however what cannot be doubted by those lucky few who have was how the magazine was lovingly put together. It’s almost as if the amount of pain and suffering they went through to get the magazine out can be felt by its reader at every turn of those ‘immaculate’ pages. The fervour that is instantly apparent will forever be etched into the minds of those who have sampled its many delights even if, though undeservedly, yet another memorable chapter in EMAP’s illustrious past.

By having ended so abruptly after just seven issues it created almost mythical status among the cognoscenti, and in doing so guaranteed that in years to come people who would perhaps even by chance happen upon its pages, would turn around and say (whether true or not): “wow, they don’t make them like they used to…….do they?”

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CLOSER LOOK:
What’s immediately striking about MAXIMUM are its pages or rather the sheer number of them. Issue 1 was a 163 page ‘bible’. Now this may not seem like much until you realise that this was the work of only three people (after the first three issues more had to be recruited because of the sheer amount of work involved):
“We could have rushed it and put out crap, but to us there was no point in doing that. The obsession with quality was mind-blowing – almost literally. For the first three issues there was only three staff on a 164pp magazine. Absolute madness.”

When you turned a page you’d be forgiven for thinking that what you saw was a typical advert when in fact it was one of the many in-depth spreads that usually reserved around eleven or so pages to each and every game:

“When artwork was cut out, the cut-outs were pixel-perfect. We went to incredible lengths to source proper artwork for the games. The targets we set for ourselves were simply too high, absolutely unattainable for a monthly magazine. And to be honest, those standards were on the whole quite spectacularly pointless as 99% of the readers wouldn’t/couldn’t tell the difference any way. But we were kind of blind to that such was our dedication.”

If this wasn’t enough the pair were even tasked with having to complete every one of the games in their possession as Leadbetter states: “We’d try to complete every game to show the best possible bits (and to show the readers that we wouldn’t just take shots from level one of each game, as most mags at the time)”.

It was and still is quite shocking that their dedication had gone totally unrewarded, or so it seemed at the time – one can only imagine what they must have felt even if I often find myself overcome by a strange mix of guilt and fascination every time I read through its pages.

There are but a few benefits that came about from this endeavour apart from Leadbetter’s return to The Official Sega Saturn Magazine, and this was in regards to something he had himself earlier stated: “Our aim was to produce something different – we reasoned that most people only bought two or three games per month, so we would concentrate on the best titles that month on each format, but produce mammoth, collectable features in a super-deluxe package.”

MAXIMUM is very much a collectable item commanding decent prices on Ebay just as Radiant Silvergun had done due to its relative obscurity. Whether this was the intention of Leadbetter is now irrelevant given that apart from this, it had now gained an even greater accolade by having succeeded where now no other publication would ever have the chance to.
What I refer to of course is the magazine’s enduring legacy as not only having been part of a lost generation of magazines prior to the influence of the internet but, together with the Official Sega Saturn Magazine, perhaps THE very last.
The era of CVG, Zzap!64, Crash, Mean Machines, The Official Sega Saturn Magazine, Amiga Power and so forth are long gone and there should be no hope that they’ll ever return to an earlier time; a time in which their jovial and unique idiosyncratic approach to games coverage had made them truly memorable from start to end – a claim that today’s magazines can never make. Toops.

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-Special thanks to gatefever for helping me to complete my collection of MAXIMUM (as I was missing issues 5 and 6) and also to MeanMachinesArchive:

-Note that I always refer to EDGE and MAXIMUM in such a way as a mark of respect – I have been reading EDGE since issue 2 and these are the only publications to which I refer to in capital letters.

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COMING NEXT:

The one that fell by the wayside: ‘Arcade Magazine’.


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