Feature: The Making of Super Play Magazine
Posted by Damien McFerran
Naturally, during the course of a magazine's history staff changes are inevitable, and Bielby was to vacate the editor's seat after 12 issues to move into other projects. I loved and enjoyed Super Play, it was time to move on. Anyway, I left it in safe hands." As we've already mentioned, those safe hands belonged to none other than James Leach, already something of a veteran at Future by this point.
"I’d been working as Deputy Editor on GamesMaster since it launched," Leach explains. "The magazine covered all the major games platforms, so I’d kept my beady eye on the SNES world during my time there. Then one day I was marched into an office and ordered to edit Super Play. It was arguably the coolest mag Future published, and had a great team. I was therefore delighted, and danced a sort of Spice Girls-y jig later than evening."
Leach would edit the magazine until issue 30, when Super Play's third (and final) boss took over. Alison Harper's reign would last for another seventeen issues, and during all that time the quality of the publication never faltered once. Sadly all good things must come to an end, and by the middle of the '90s it was clear to even the most stubborn Nintendo fanatic that the Super NES was on borrowed time. The N64 (then known as the Ultra 64) was looming on the horizon, and the effect on Super Play's long-term chances was predictably dire.
Many key staff members had moved on by this point in time, and Overton recalls the day he had to vacate his desk. "I didn’t want to move but Super Play was coming to a natural end," he says. "I guess you could see it in the releases the UK was getting and the lack of stuff on the horizon so, despite me trying to last it out until we could transition it to the N64, the powers that be moved me off to GamesMaster magazine — which, in reality, was just upstairs in the same building. It was a good team but I didn’t have any interest in it and fortunately, in the end, it was just a stop-gap before N64 Magazine came along. In hindsight, it was probably the best thing. N64 was able to start anew and make its own identity." Indeed, many hardcore Super Play fans consider the magazine that accompanied Nintendo's 64-bit console to be the spiritual successor to Super Play — but that's another story entirely.
"Super Play is thought of fondly because the writing was great and what came over was that we really did love the games we covered"
Like so many magazines of the era, Super Play was a breeding ground of industry talent and many of its former staffers can now be found in high places. Overton only recently parted company with UK studio Rare after a decade of employment, and Davies is in charge at highly respected video game PR resource site Games Press. Beilby has enjoyed an incredibly productive career, too. "I left Super Play to launch PC Gamer, then went to the US to do the American version of that, then came back to launch .net magazine and UK sci-fi publication SFX. As you might have guessed, launching magazines is one of my things."
Although it seems like a trite question to ask at the conclusion of a feature which (hopefully) has explained the magazine's intrinsic appeal, but we have to ask: why is Super Play so fondly remembered today? "I like to think that while Helen’s Anime World and stuff like the RPG Fantasy Quest pages gave an insight into a games world that no other UK games were covering at that time, Super Play is thought of fondly because the writing was great and what came over was that we really did love the games we covered." comments Overton.
"Super Play didn’t try to be all things to all people," adds James Leach. "The more specifically you target an audience, the happier that audience is. However the audience needs to be big enough to sustain you. Luckily we had enough people who liked us, and wanted us to be different and weird and cover odd Japanese stuff which nobody outside the country had ever heard of. I think people liked that quirkiness. Plus it looked distinctive and different, too. There was a lot of white on the pages, at a time when most mags were garishly printed on full colour backgrounds. And also there were some very humorous writers working on it – I’d like to think that people remember Super Play as being funny, too. Certainly it was meant to be."
"I’d like to think that people remember Super Play as being funny, too. Certainly it was meant to be"
"I think what made it unique is what makes so many of the best magazines unique: they do more than was expected of them, pursue interesting avenues other magazines might not think of, provide an individual rather than generic take on whatever it is they're writing about," contributes launch editor Beilby. "With Super Play, in particular, I think it was that whole Japanese thing that made it, the excitement of this weird and wonderful new culture we were writing about. Today, Japan can still feel a bit odd, but anime, the internet and generations of Japanese games mean that when you visit there, a lot of it is surprisingly familiar. Back in 1993, not so much. I think that's where we got lucky with Super Play."