Angus Swan - Staff Writer
What are you up to at the moment?
Currently I manage a team of business analysts and project managers within the IT dept at Emap. Sounds boring but we get to design and build Emap's websites for the most part, including Zoo and MCN.
I wrote freelance for a while after leaving the mags, including doing Heat magazine's games reviews for about a year before it turned into 'Posh n Becks Weekly'.
How did you get involved in Mean Machines?
I saw the advert in Mean Machines looking for writers (i think it was the Parodius issue) and thought, yeah, why not? I sent in a review like everyone else (Jaz said there was about 700 applicants, but 99% of them were shit). It was for an obscure game called 'Wani Wani World' that I hired from the local video shop for the night. I got selected, came down to London for the interview and...didn't get the job. Rob Bright pipped me to it.
But two months later Jaz called again and said they needed more staff, and offered me it straight. The pay offered was truly pitiful, but I said yes, and came down to London end of July 1992 - just in time to work on the last issue of Mean Machines proper.
I heard later that after my first interview they nearly threw my details away because they asked me to write a review of 'Super Tennis' on the spot as a test and it was bizarre and incoherent. However, Radion Automatic persuaded them it was because I was unfamiliar with the PC word processor (pre-Windows) and it was that rather than my poor grammar (I graduated the following month with 1st Class honours in English Literature and Language).
What was it like to work on the magazine?
Back in '92 I think working on a games mag was every 12-year old boy's dream job. It was a dream job! Working on any magazine is a huge amount of fun, mixed in with pressure and the odd bit of bollocks (usually coming from management or PR people pissed off with your comments). It was a great laugh for the first couple of years, and when I got to edit Mean Machines Sega it was rewarding in a different sense - more demanding but really satisfying. I still think being a magazine editor is one of the best job's anyone can have.
The only tedious bit was reviewing shit games. My first game ever was 'Hook' on the Super Nintendo and then 'Blues Brothers' on the NES. I thought it was so incredibly boring, but initially you don't have any confidence in your opinion as there are all of these 'experts' about and they are expecting you to have an opinion.
I could give you 100 great moments I had there over the 5 years: the epic Streetfighter battles (these would take about a hour each afternoon just to decide which off the staff writer's would have to do the chocolate run to the corner shop behind the office). There was the time Tom Guise got a letter from Anthony Hopkins lawyers after he did a piss-take of him in his 'Tom's Island' column in Megatech. Julian's Mario Kart tactics - no other game was so intensely, competitively played in the office. And the big stuff - like travelling all the way to Japan to get a glimpse of the first Resident Evil, the Sony parties at E3, getting import machines on the first day of release...
You still work for Emap. How has the company changed in the past decade?
Emap's changed a lot. Of course, it's not interested in video games, although it retains Nintendo Magazine. It's a much bigger company, and it's growth has been largely, but not exclusively outside of magazines; in radio, business events and digital television. If you look at the magazines it has launched or nurtured in the last 5 years: FHM, Heat, Closer, Zoo - you begin to see what it's priorities are. But it does still have a chaotic side, which still infuriates and delights me.
What are your thoughts on the recent 'fall of Sega'?
Well, I wasn't a disinterested party. Back in 1995-97 I was editing a Sega magazine and it was not the bitchy comments in Sega Power editorials that were keeping me awake at night. As Sega went out of fashion so did reading my magazine and ultimately that led to the two Sega magazines being combined at Emap. All the while it was like seeing an impending car crash in slow motion.
I think we got the first premonitions of doom with the 32X and Mega CD. We had to go over to Sega and See this shit and then do our best as Sega cheerleaders to give it a positive spin. But we were very excited about the Saturn, and genuinely enthusiastic about its prospects.
But after it launched the news coming from the stores was not good. I think I knew the writing was on the wall with the launch of Tomb Raider. The PlayStation version was so clearly technically better, despite Core's very cosy relationship with Sega. Logically, Sega should have got out of hardware then, but emotionally we didn't want them too.
I also think a lot of Sega's mistakes can be traced to America: as a lot of gaming's mistakes are. I think a lot of American programmers/game designers want to work in movies but are just to fat and spotty to make it. So they produce overblown interactive experiences instead.
In the case of the Saturn, Sega ploughed a lot of money into shit experimental games and interactive movies in America and not enough into what it's customers really wanted: which was the AM division output.
With the Dreamcast, I think Sega knew the damage had been done to its reputation so it was on a hiding to nothing, whatever it did. I think the one thing that really failed in the novel approach they took was the '2nd party developers'; Argonaut, Red Lemon etc. Sega were relying on them to produce a new line in original masterpieces but...well they didn't, if they produced anything at all.
During the Dreamcast era I was pretty underwhelmed with what came out of either Sonic Team or the AM divisions, and also from Treasure who were not Sega-specific but had done such good work in the past. I think Sega was too small a company to fulfil all its aspirations as a hardware manufacturer, software developer, arcade machine builder and theme park proprietor.
And I also think Sega's style of game, the ephemeral, instant gratification experience that was born in classic games like Space Harrier and Outrun has been overtaken by complex, slower narrative-based games.
Do you keep in touch with any of the other ex-MM/Emap staffers?
It has been a while actually, but I used to bump into Dave Kelsall, ex Art Editor, who stayed at Emap to design Internet Magazine. Also, Andy McVittie who was my first boss as Production editor, who also still works for Emap. It's been a couple of years since I met the rest.
What's your current console of choice?
Hmm, I'm quite bored with the current output. I think there's a dearth of originality out there and I am really waiting for someone to produce something that justifies my buying and installing that network adaptor. I think the last full price game I bought was Metroid Prime (brilliant) and the last bargain one Manhunt (overhyped crap). Games I go back to: Pikmin and Advance Wars. Looking forward to Burnout 3, GTA:SA and Starwars Battlefront. Best game of all time: Nights.
Did you sell many of those Sonic t-shirts that Julian Rignall made you advertise?
I don't have a fucking clue about the T-Shirt sales. I actually choose the blue one, I thought it was 'artistic'. I do know that a spin-off video we did called 'Mean Machines Sega:101 Top Tips' sold fuck all, but it's the one and only time I've been in a Soho edit suite, and the woman who did the voiceover for that, trivia fans, was the voice of the computer in the original 'Alien'.