A Brief History of All Things Mean Machines
To chart the history of Mean Machines, you have to go way back into the 1980's, when the C64 and Spectrum home computers were the hippest gaming platforms on the planet.
Back In 1985, Julian Rignall, at this point only famous for being a keen Defender player (he held the UK high score for a while), joined Ludlow-based Zzap!64, published by Newsfield. He eventually worked his way up the ladder to Chief Editor, gaining a considerable amount of kudos with the videogaming public along the way. He joined EMAP in 1988 and started working on their flagship videogames publication, Computer and Videogames (the world's longest running multi-format videogames magazine, no less).
Mean Machines itself started life as a console-only section within the pages of CVG . First featured in the October 1987 issue of the magazine, the section mainly covered the 8-bit systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Sega's Master System, with the odd reference to the NEC PC Engine. It soon became apparent that consoles were taking off in a big way, and that they were muscling in on territory traditionally covered by the still-dominant Atari ST and Commedore Amiga. Although CVG gave more space to console reviews (and even started off an exclusive 'Mean Machines Megaclub'), the need for a proper, multi-format console magazine was too much to ignore, and Rignall along with designer Gary Harrod and EMAP bigwig Graham Taylor (not the football manager) put forward the idea in July 1990. It seemed sensible to expand on the current console section of CVG, and Mean Machines was born.
As with most new publications, a pilot issue was created called Issue Zero. This was to show the money-men at EMAP what kind of product their cash would be funding. Issue Zero was never sold in newsagents and only ten copies were originally produced, but a reprint was given away free with Issue 15. Naturally, they saw the potential and the magazine was given the green light, with the first issue arriving in October 1990.
We’ve been in this business since the 1980’s so we have first-hand knowledge and experience of the development in some of the classic gaming titles. The future of gaming is unclear however the development of games from early platforms such as the SEGA Megadrive to the more recent Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation, it is certain that the future of gaming remains bright.
The Birth of a Legend
The magazine got off to a blazing start, and within a few issues was the best selling multi-format videogames publication in the UK. Following the lead of parent magazine CVG, Mean Machines covered both domestic and imported releases, meaning that the magazine could review titles that were months away from UK release, giving it a considerable edge over the competition (Sega Power only reviewed official releases, for example). At the time, import gaming was much more popular than it is now (increased territory lockouts and swifter UK release dates have made import gaming a relatively niche pastime today) but it was still a brave choice to cater for import gamers by focusing on games that were still months away from being officially released in this country.
Originally, the Megadrive, Master System, NES, Gameboy and Amstrad consoles were covered. The Amstrad soon died a painful death due to consumer apathy, and the SNES took its place amongst the line-up, making MM, in review terms at least, a Sega and Nintendo only magazine. Although these consoles were the main focus of the magazine, space was also given to other, niche machines like the NeoGeo and PC Engine.
These days it's hard to imagine a world without the internet. Any 'exclusive news' in today's magazines has usually been plastered all over the net for weeks. Magazines by their very nature are behind the times - they're usually written weeks before they're published. But regardless of this, back in 1990 videogames magazines like Mean Machines were your first contact with breaking events as there was simply no other medium to get the latest news to the public. I suppose that was a huge part of Mean Machines' appeal - when you picked up off the newstand, you were buying a piece of cutting-edge news. The same could be said of any videogames magazine back in 1990, but MM did it so much better.
Breaking Up is So Hard To Do
As the UK videogames market grew and grew, it became obvious that there were only two companies in it: Sega and Nintendo. Coming to the not-unreasonable conclusion that the general public either owned a Sega console or a Nintendo console, Rignall and the MM team made the bold move of splitting the magazine in two to create Mean Machines Sega and Nintendo Magazine System.
Opinion was as divided as the magazine. Readers who owned both a Sega and Nintendo console (like myself) found themselves having to buy two magazines instead of one. On the positive side, each magazine could devote more space to the respective platforms and Rignall still managed to write for both magazines, but generally the move was viewed as a negative one by 'hardcore' Mean Machines fans. After the split, the magic that made the publication such an enjoyable read seemed to vanish. Maybe it was the introduction of new staff members, or maybe it was the need to 'mature' a little in the fact of a growing videogames market. Whatever the reason, the true spirit of Mean Machines died when the magazine was split.
However, for EMAP the gamble paid off and sales figures for both MM Sega and NMS eclipsed those of the original Mean Machines.
Mean Machines Sega soldiered on until the 32-bit era and gave some excellent coverage of Sega's new Saturn console. However after over fifty issues the magazine was incorporated into Official Sega Saturn Magazine (which had previously been known as EMAP's 'Official Sega Magazine'). Angus Swan was the editor at when the magazine closed and as a result ranks as one of the longest-serving Mean Machines staff members of all time.
Nintendo Magazine System was eventually rebranded as Official Nintendo Magazine and only ceased publication very recently, when the Nintendo licence was given to Future, who published a completely different official magazine.
The last Mean Machines magazine was Mean Machines Playstation (and it was only Mean Machines in name - by this point, the magazine had become little more than a kiddies comic). This soon folded after a pitiful six issues and simply couldn't compete with the massive success of Future's Official Playstation Magazine.
The History of the Mean Machines Archive
Picture the scene. A twenty-something social recluse called Damien McFerran is sitting at work, bored to his tiny-tits and wondering why he can't find anything on the net relating to his boyhood heroes - Rignall, Leadbetter, Harrod, etc. He then comes up with a spiffing idea - he would create a Mean Machines site of his very own! Hurrah!
So, in 2003, Damien built the original Mean Machines Archive. It was a fairly low-key and amateur effort hosted on pop-up hell Lycos Tripod, the most notable thing was the spreadsheet of review scores for the first 24 issues and a brief history of the publication. However, things moved up a gear when a mole within EMAP alerted Damien that Angus 'Gus' Swan was still working there, and provided an email address. Contact was made and Gus kindly agreed to answer some questions about this time at MM. Then Richard Leadbetter got in touch. Then Oz Browne. Then...well, you get the picture. The final piece of the puzzle was none other than the mullet-master himself, Jaz Rignall. Emailing in from his US penthouse retreat, the former editor agreed to an interview.
By this time the Archive was getting a modest number of hits and it was featured in leading UK multiformat magazine GamesTM, and later in Retro Gamer - the UK's only dedicated retro magazine. Mentions were also made at leading websites Insert Credit and UK Resistance. The fame was spreading.
The best was yet to come. In 2005, a strapping young man by the name of Daz Calvert got in touch with Damien about a letter his mate had written into the magazine back in the days. Being so impressed that Damien produced this Double Dragon Blooper and a childhood fan of Mean Machines himself he expressed an interest in helping out with the site. Within the space of a few months this painfully talented chap made the Archive database-driven, secured a decent hosting package and a proper domain name for the site. Damien was so chuffed he offered Daz a bag of crisps and a bottle of half-drunk Panda Pop, but Daz drove a hard bargain and was eventually welcomed on board as co-owner of the Archive. The golden age of the Mean Machines Archive had begun.
To coincide with the launch of the Nintendo Wii in late 2006 a spin-off site was launched called the Virtual Console Archive by the enterprising duo. Inspired by their childhood heroes from Mean Machines the pair took on the monikers 'Damo' and 'Daz' and began reviewing the latest Virtual Console releases themselves. Gary Harrod even created the pair their own super deformed manga avatars! in 2009 the site rebranded as Nintendo Life and is now known all over the world for it's awesomeness.
The Mean Machines Archive continues to evolve - the reviews archive is being built up with additional reviews from Mean Machines Sega, Nintendo Magazine System and C+VG. In addition a forum has been added and the media vault continues to expand at a rapid rate with whatever titbits we can find from magazines of yesteryear. We hope you like what you see!