Community: Sega Saturn Magazine – The Pinnacle of Games Journalism

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Former LFG stalwart James Paton returns to tell us about what, in his view, was the pinnacle of gaming journalism – Sega Saturn Magazine…

Inspired by Mr Boreham’s discussion on the demise of Xbox World, I felt prompted to concoct a short piece discussing why I have always felt, and presumably always will feel, that the UK’s Official Sega Saturn Magazine was in fact the finest piece of editorial work that the videogames industry is likely to see. Whilst, of course, it doesn’t quite have the relevance to LFG in the same way that Bill’s discussion does, I felt it was still important enough to share my love for this particular magazine, which might very well be the primary reason as to why I make vain attempts to write about videogames at all.

Now, Sega Saturn Magazine (SSM) wasn’t always this special to me, in fact, in its early days, I never read it at all, it wasn’t until issue 13 (November 1996) that I finally bought myself a copy, and was hooked immediately, purchasing every single issue of the magazine right up until the finale in November 1998. There had been something of a personnel change at the helm of the magazine, and it was this that instilled the greatest of all videogame journalists into the role of Editor, this man being none other than the legendary Richard “The Master” Leadbetter (prior to this, he was already filling the role of Managing Editor/Omnipresent God). Of course, it might just have been the fact that November 1996 was the month that I also bought my Sega Saturn console, of course, that’s probably just a coincidence though. Right?

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Looking back at this pivotal issue, it can still raise a chuckle when Radion Automatic responds to a reader’s letters by telling him that he’s “a severely dangerous individual”, or a reader who claims that the writer of a letter (from a previous issue) should have his Saturn taken away from him by the “computer equivalent of Social Services”. Or how about Rob Bright referring to Lara Croft as being “high maintenance” in his extensive preview of the first Tomb Raider game, it was also reviewed in the same issue, though strangely, this was done by Rad instead. These two fine gentlemen scarpered after issue 14, which left the magazine in dire need of both a new Deputy Editor and a Staff Writer, which saw Dave Kelsall fill in the Deputy role, whilst the great Lee Nutter joined the motley crew from regions unknown, though Dave would soon make way for Matt Yeo come issue 18, making the circle complete (or something like that). Oh, I should also point out that Dave didn’t leave (well, not until the following issue) he just switched roles back to Art Editor, from which he proceeded to climb up the corporate ladder at Emap Publishing.

It’s strange looking back over the history of this incredible magazine, seeing all of the games that the team reported on, stunning looking and innovative titles that either made it to the console or were lost along the way, or the 3D accelerator card that Sega had planned on launching for the console to enable Model 3 board 3D performance so that Virtua Fighter 3 could have made it onto the machine, which would surely have found itself a second wind from its substantial boost in performance capabilities. Not only would the mag have had a more extended run, but we would surely have had ourselves a superior home port of the AM2 classic than what landed on the Dreamcast for launch.

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Under Richard Leadbetter’s stewardship, the magazine secured interview opportunities with the likes of Lobotomy Software on the Quake conversion, or the release of Duke Nukem 3D (which netted a stunning 97% rating from the mag), and a raft of in-depth features and reviews which surely rank its material as being among the most in-depth and hugely enjoyable ever written by man. Yet more than this, there is something special about the last seven issues, across this time it was obvious that the Saturn was dying a death, particularly towards the end when a great deal of the material focused on the impending release of the Dreamcast, it cemented a bond between the reader and the editorial team, starting with Richard Leadbetter’s stunning revelation that he was in fact the father of amateur Jedi, Matt Yeo. It also turned out that Gary Cutlack was an alien from the planet Teflon and Lee Nutter was finally beginning to grasp the English language.

Issue 31, adorned by the first disc of Panzer Dragoon Saga, was also home to a removable lonely hearts section (Richard Leadbetter’s Lonely Heart Club Magazine) which the team urged readers to cut out and stick to lamp-posts, windows and almost anywhere else in the hopes of securing the guys girlfriends to entice them away from gaming for a while. The “fun loving male” that is Lee Nutter’s ideal partner being listed as “as long as it’s got a back-bone, he’ll do it”, and Nick Paterson (Deputy Art Editor), the “broad minded male” in search of “girls, models, hippy chicks, uber-babes, bored housewives, divorcees, gymnasts and athletes” in “London/anywhere”. Hmmm…looks like a common theme, no wonder the more intelligent teenage boy found the publication so appealing, these guys were just like me! I mean…him.

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I could list every comedic moment from the tail-end of the publication’s life to prove once and for all that SSM is the greatest videogame magazine that you could ever read, but I won’t, so you’ll probably just have to take my word for it. A guide to skiving, several Star Wars references and an utterly brilliant “Are You a Monster?” quiz later, the dream was over, the magazine, having prepped a transition to become the ultimate source of Dreamcast related knowledge got canned by Emap. Sadly, SSM as it was, simply wasn’t pulling in the required advertising revenue to keep it afloat, and unfortunately for us, when Sega’s great white hope did launch in 1999, we were instead treated to a dull, fashion conscious excuse for a gaming magazine. It was clearly targeted towards PlayStation owners in an attempt to entice them across from the dark side, it didn’t work, and the Dreamcast soon followed its brilliant predecessor to an early, and undeserved grave. Oh well, it sure was fun while it lasted though!

Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to finally say thank you to; Richard Leadbetter, Matt Yeo, Jason McEvoy, Nick Paterson, Lee Nutter and Gary Cutlack for all of their hard work and dedication to the cause. Now, guys, any chance of a reunion?

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James Paton @TheBlackPage81

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