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Closer Look: The Official Sega Saturn Magazine

*Hey there. I decided to put this post back up that I recently ‘de-listed’ from the previous blog. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

The Official Sega Saturn Magazine (セガ セガサターン sometimes referred to simply as SSM) launched in the mid 90s with significant backing thanks mainly to its links to EMAP’s Mean Machines and Computer and Video Games (CVG). Though the first issue was released in 95, it was the spiritual successor to Mean Machines Sega which had launched some years earlier.

The magazine was a great laugh and not only was it my personal favourite from the magazines around this time, but possibly of all time.
Never one to take itself seriously it was very much a part of EMAP’s network of mags in that stories, gaming issues, jokes and gags in one magazine subsequently became well-known in sister publications. For instance CVG would play an April Fool every year though the effects would permeate throughout EMAP’s network of publications, creating topics of discussion in the letter pages.
Notable examples include the nude Tomb Raider cheat in which players had to press a series of buttons to the tune of The Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ song, as well as Ultimate Fighting Universe which funnily enough very much described M.U.G.E.N, 2 years before Elecbyte even started work on it.

Hilarity knew no bounds in SSM

CVG had caused many kids to go to mental asylums

Not only was the magazine serious when it came to hardcore Japanese games coverage and great fun the rest of the time, it will perhaps be best remembered because of the amount of effort the team would put into promoting top class titles.
The best example in which the team went ‘beyond what would be expected’ was in helping to promote Lobotomy Software’s Exhumed (known as PowerSlave in the US). As Rich even admits “We got behind Lobotomy in a big way”.

Exhumed was one of the very best games on the system and it was well-known that Lobotomy were grateful for the amount of coverage they got from within the magazine, so much so in fact that the editor Richard Leadbetter featured in the end credits as well as the end credits of their last two Saturn games (Duke Nukem 3D and Quake).

This highlighted an endearing quality about the team for even though SSM had been aware from a fairly early stage that the battle had already been lost to Sony’s Playstation, they had at least succeeded in promoting the system’s very best games and by doing so had lavished them with the type of success they would not otherwise have received (and not necessarily based only on financial success) .
They weren’t hyping games for the sake of it rather that because of the Saturn’s dwindling market share, companies like Lobotomy Software who worked wonders with the Saturn’s architecture deserved to succeed, all the while doing a great service to their readership by informing them of such games.

Sheer dedication from the team

In this sense I have to be frank in saying that if it hadn’t been for SSM’s excellent coverage of certain though sometimes obscure titles, I would not have even considered buying many of them.
Exhumed, X-Men Versus Street Fighter, Marvel Superheroes Versus Street Fighter (both with 4MB RAM cartridge), Radiant Silvergun, Guardian Heroes, Shining The Holy Ark, Silhouette Mirage, Grandia and countless others I would probably have missed out on were it not for SSM.
Radiant Silvergun is probably the most enduring in that even though sales were limited to Japanese territory, it is regarded by many as the greatest vertical shooter of all time.

Coverage of fairly obscure devcos such as Treasure, Climax and Gamearts became normal especially when considering that many of their games were never released into the UK or even the American market.
SSM were Treasure fanboys and even though Treasure had already released a slew of brilliant games on the MD, SSM was suitably placed to continue that tradition. They certainly made myself others and one!

From around the mid to latter stages of the magazine’s life there featured a section named ‘and finally…’ It started off fairly ‘constrained’ profiling different female protagonists every month, but gradually over time the articles became more and more risqué. Here’s a few of them (forgive stains):

Tina SSM 07/98

Morrigan SSM 08/98

Sakura SSM 01/98

Chun Li SSM 04/98

What was sad was that after having created such an amazing magazine many people eagerly awaited to find out whether EMAP would get the rights to Sega’s Dreamcast, but alas it was not to be. Thus the story ends with magazines that just totally lacked everything previous generations and their respective readers thrived on.

SSM and MAXIMUM were probably the very last magazines of that generation. They had like their forebears captivated kids and adults alike making it part of their gaming lives, and for some the most enjoyable part of gaming.
Sounds weird I know but I would go so far as to say that at times I regarded those pages as more enjoyable than the actual games. Magazines such as these were many things.

They added an extra layer of entertainment before you had even opened the lid to insert the disc, while at the same time you had grown to know people like Rich over the span of many years coming to trust not only his but the magazine’s overall judgement on games. Their humourous coverage would very often continue in the back of your mind while playing the games in question – it was indispensable in many ways.

From this point of time onward it was downhill for most magazine publications (possible exception being EDGE). It was the dawn of the Internet Age upon which people’s insatiable lust for information now revolved around. GamesMaster and even CVG – the longest running magazine of its kind in the world (some mistakenly believe it is the oldest but CVG would always state that there were older publications in the US) suffered badly and as a result the quality of magazine journalism began a similar downhill slide.

Now I understand that some may attribute this to nostalgia but it’s not quite that simple because if you simply grab any one of the magazines that are on the shelves at the minute they have no ‘aura’ about them. Remember this was the time before most people could quickly type into Google or Wikipedia whatever it was they needed to know. Those magazines were the only means by which games-related news got to gamers and what we find is that like the audience they were targeting, they had evolved in such a way that they too wanted to have fun at the same time.

The main reason undoubtedly, is due to these market shifts from having catered for a young audience to an adult audience; people with jobs and greater levels of spending power. Magazines simply could not continue to write in the manner in which they had been accustomed to for the last decade or so prior to the shift – though with one exception.

SSM will always be remembered for having retained not only its own identity, but the identity of having derived from a rich heritage of earlier publications forever synonymous with youth. It was but the last bastion of hope for previous generations now dead and buried, though not altogether forgotten by those who have reluctantly acquiesced to this newest of video gaming landscapes.

The Team:

Richard Leadbetter (Editor) 

Rich was and still is a legend who not only contributed to Mean Machines and CVG, but also helped to co-found the few issues of the famed MAXIMUM (find our feature here).
He then went on to publish Playstation World (PSW) but of course we all know he was simply working undercover trying to break Sony from within. There is already a sizeable amount of information on Rich at the MeanMachines Archive – because he did actually contribute to the mag from the very first issue! MeanMachinesArchive

Rich together with Gary Harrod now run Digital Foundry, innovators of HD video content for such media companies as Criterion Games, Crytek, Microsoft and Future Publishing. Our Rich interview here. Our Lobotomy History video here.
 
Lee Nutter (Senior Staff Writer)

Who could forget Nutter? The crazier of the two but both single-minded in their approach to not only cussing the Playstation … but Saturn Power. Yes I apologise I got the first issue of Saturn Power headed by Future Publishing’s Dean Morlock, who himself regularly contributed to GamesMaster Magazine and probably EDGE as one of the anonymous writers/reviewers. However little did I know how crap this magazine would turn out to be.

Leadbetter and Nutter would constantly berate the Saturn Power editorial who in turn used the age-old excuse that their magazine wasn’t officially endorsed by Sega and so they suffered because of it. I also bought the final issue of Saturn Power in which Dean wrote a scathing farewell aimed partly at SSM. I’m sure Lee’s gran was very proud!
Lee Nutter was the Associate Publisher for The Official Nintendo Magazine
 
Gary Cutlack (Staff Writer)

Gary is certainly a character. I’m not sure but I think he joined at around issue 20/21 or so as a staff writer due to his ‘notoriety’, though he may have come in earlier working behind the scenes.
Apart from disagreeing with his review of Discworld 2, Gary was very quick to make his mark within the team and was an all-round likeable guy.

Gary still heads the SEGA ‘automated defence system’ called UK:Resistance, which is the first port of call for the Sonic fanboy cognoscenti (myself included) who keep the Sega spirit alive and well. Wiki entry. Gary now writes for Kotaku.
 
 
Jason McEvoy (Art Editor)

Looking back through the magazine I notice many neat touches here and there, made even better by the gradual inclusion of more and more Japanese artwork (due to the death of the home market they focused on import titles). A lot of it boiled down to these last two.

Having taken for granted the fact that I would receive a high quality mag every month, I didn’t even notice these little artistic touches. Jason is supposed to have been good friends with Dean Mortlock – hey I don’t have anything against Dean (remember I bought GM as well) but it was just unlucky he was up against this lot! He was otherwise destined for Saturn Power.

 
Matt Yeo (Deputy Editor)

As deputy editor Matt will have added considerably to the whole magazine. Matt is now the Managing Director of Skyjack Publishing and Bulletproof Comics
 
 
 
 
 
Nick Paterson (Deputy Art Editor)

Another member of the art crew. I haven’t been able to track what Nick got up to after having left SSM.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Other notable contributors:
Ed Lomas (CVG)
Tom Guise (CVG)
Dave Kelsall (CVG)
Sam Hickman (Mean Machines)
Gary Harrod (Mean Machines)
Angus Swan (Mean Machines)
Rad Automatic (Mean Machines)
Phil Dawson (Tips page)
Warren Harrod (Japan Editor)
Steve Merret
Daniel Jevons ‘Manual’
Jason French
Yas Hunter
Dean Mortlock (in his dreams)

Final Ever Issue

Waah!

Did I cry? – Did I hell! 😉

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “Closer Look: The Official Sega Saturn Magazine

  1. Fantastic little article. I still read these magazines and I agree that there is nothing like it around these days and that nothing around at the time was as charming. A brilliant, witty and truly informative magazine. I was very moved by the sega rally ‘Game over… Yeah!’ Thats when it really hit home that SSM was no more and the rest of my life would have to be subject to a less worth-while exsitence.

    Well, I’m still here but the world is far worse-off for its loss. Brilliant before nostalgia made it even more so.

    Gary

    Posted by Gary Cartwright | August 31, 2010, 9:38 pm
  2. Sorry to say this but I found Saturn Power to be a much more enjoyable magazine. Even though I actually had a subscription to SSM back in the day.

    I found SSM to ramble too long about nothing in many of their articles from what I remember.

    Posted by TMX | September 12, 2010, 6:08 pm
  3. I have never heard about this magazine, looks really funny though 😀

    Posted by Raina Audron | November 20, 2012, 8:53 am

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  1. Pingback: IN THE SPOTLIGHT: RICHARD LEADBETTER! « Toops's Blog - February 18, 2010

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