Earlier this week, the gaming world was hit by the tragic news that legendary British games journalist and graphic designer Jason Brookes had passed away after a long battle with cancer at the age of 52.
His name might not be instantly familiar to some of our younger readers, but Brookes was involved with some of the most influential gaming magazines of the '90s and '00s; Nintendo fans will know his name from Super Play, the UK's first SNES magazine and a publication which championed import gaming and all facets of Japanese culture.
Starting out with the fanzine Electric Brain, Brookes would join Super Play before moving onto EDGE magazine – which is still in circulation today – where he would eventually become editor, presiding over what was arguably one of the most exciting periods of its history, covering the launches of systems like the PlayStation, Saturn and N64 and interviewing the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Howard Lincoln and Gunpei Yokoi.
He would later move to the US as Future's first American correspondent, as well as working on the likes of Japanese magazine LOGiN and Ziff-Davies' GMR magazine, amongst others. A massive fan of Japan and Japanese culture, he would later assume the role of Foreign Correspondent for Enterbrain, Inc, the publisher of Weekly Famitsu. He also contributed to Tony Mott's 2010 book, 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die, and Bitmap Books' SNES Visual Compendium. Outside of games, he helped launched the dance music magazine Revolution in 1999. More recently, he was working towards a Masters degree in Illustration at the University of Gloucester and was still attending classes until just a week before his passing.
We've pulled together some thoughts about the great man here, taken from the people who worked with him and knew him best over the past few decades. You might also want to check out our exclusive interview with him from 2017.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi - Creator of Rez, Lumines & Child of Eden
Jason, I don’t want to believe it, but it seems you have already gone. So, so sad. I’ve been thinking of you every day. It’s been over 20 years since we met and we shared tons of memories and inspiring moments together.
I will never forget my first visit to Bath, England, where you took me to drive in your convertible Speedster. That was and still is a dreamy and wonderful memory for me. I will never forget the beautiful country hillside roads with your smile and voice as we sped through the hills.
You are a part of Rez, always and absolutely. You gave me so much great inspiration. I am forever thankful that I could share my first Burning Man experience with you as well my friend.
Finally, I want you to know I will never never forget your kindness in March of 2011, right after the huge earthquake in Japan, I was stranded in San Francisco for a few days, and I was so messed up, but you took me to the aquarium in San Francisco to cheer me up. "Don’t worry Tetsuya, it may take a little bit of time to recover, but it will. Keep your chin up."
I wanted to say the same words to you. I will never forget you, and thank you, love you, bro.
See you in the next life, man.
James Mielke - Co-Founder & Creative Director, Tigertron
I’d worked with Jason since the days of GMR magazine. My boss, Simon Cox, always gave him carte blanche on whatever assignments we had for him. Their friendship went back (at least) to their days when they both worked on EDGE.
He was always omnipresent in my early days of games journalism, and over time I learned how easy-going and friendly he was. He went out of his way to send me a private note expressing appreciation for the soundtrack I’d curated for Lumines Electronic Symphony, with him having experienced firsthand the acid house revolution of the early '90s and sharing a mutual appreciation for electronic music with me.
I didn’t see him often, on average once every other year or so, but when I learned he was ill it was deeply upsetting to discover. Throughout it all he never once complained, never acted the victim, and still maintained his relaxed, generous, kind nature. He introduced me to some developers whose game he really liked and thought that I would also like (it was Demon’s Tilt, and I loved it), and wanted to spread the word about.
To the very end, he was thinking of others, with kindness. If only everyone were so selfless.
Simon Cox - Former Future US Editorial Director / EDGE Deputy Editor
His perfectionism and attention to detail were his absolute superpower and at times – even he would admit – his Achilles' heel. It was certainly part of what made EDGE the magazine it is today – beautifully designed, but with a velvet rope that only quality games could pass, and with an attention to detail that drove art directors and writers insane while demanding their very best, even as deadlines slipped. The result was that a pat on the back from Jason Brookes meant something. But – and this is important – he wasn’t a tyrant. Far from it.
Jason was a gentle soul, endlessly forgiving and encouraging and effortlessly charming. Everyone who met him, or had any contact with the man, fell a little bit in love with him. He just had this way about him. If I had to liken him to someone everyone might know, I’d pick Paul Newman. He had that same ability to disarm and comfort, no matter the circumstances – and that meant lifelong friendships – including with many industry figures.
One such figure is Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Sega Rally, Lumines and Rez fame, whom he attended the Burning Man festival with and whose psychedelic, often stunningly beautiful projects were a perfect match for Jason’s twin loves of electronic music and space-age design. Jason always made it a point to visit Mizuguchi-san and 17-Bit Studios boss, Jake Kazdal, whenever he visited Japan and those nights would begin with a meeting of minds at the game studio, and end with hugged goodbyes outside a dance club at 5AM, with everyone the worse for wear.
Along with games and design, dance music was another of Jason’s loves and obsessions, and the EDGE office during his tenure was always bouncing and thumping to the sound of whatever latest Paul Oakenfold or Leftfield CD was parked in the sound system. This, of course, was a perfect match for the new era that PlayStation ushered in, where games for the first time became this nexus of art, music and design that was a part of – not separate from – the wider culture.
You honestly couldn’t have designed a more perfect editor for a magazine like EDGE if you’d tried.
Jake Kazdal - Founder, 17-Bit Games
I first met Jason Brookes while working on Rez with Tetsuya Mizuguchi in Tokyo in the spring of 2001. They were old friends, and Jason and his best friend Simon Cox were in town for Tokyo Game Show and came by to check out what we were working on. Jason was a huge trance music fan – and a huge Sega fan – and was very excited to see this crazy game we were tinkering away on. In fact, Simon came up with the name Rez that very trip! Mizuguchi-san loved it and it was quickly decided we would change the name officially. Jason had written a big expose on Mizuguchi at AM3 in EDGE in early 1998, literally weeks before I had the chance to meet Mizuguchi at E3. By the time I met Mizuguchi-san in person soon after, I had already learned a huge deal about him and was able to connect with him very quickly, and was hired soon after just as he was starting his new CS4/RD9/United Game Artists group.
Jason and I hit it off quickly, and he stayed behind after TGS to explore the city and hang out some. My good friend Takamasa Shichisawa was an art director on the Gran Turismo franchise, and he invited us both to the Gran Turismo 3 launch party not far away from my studio. Takamasa (known to everyone as Nana, which is the other way of saying 7, along with Shichi, part of his surname) was also a huge trance music fan, and the entire party was DJ’d by some of the top psy-trance DJs in Tokyo at the time who had contributed to the Japanese soundtrack, which is very different from the western soundtrack. We had an absolute blast, and the three of us closed out the party with a long walk through a gorgeous Japanese garden the next morning, and became fast friends.
As the years went by, I made a point of seeing Jason every time I visited San Francisco, and he visited me in Tokyo as well. We always hit it off so well, with so much in common in our shared passions. I introduced him to Gio Fazio, aka MAKYO, a club DJ and tribal dub producer who I was (and still am) a huge fan of. Gio did most of the soundtrack for my first indie game Skulls of the Shogun, and Jason went on to design some of his album covers, and the two of them became good friends as well. Jason was so effortless for me to communicate with; a reserved, polite man with an incredible twinkle in his eye, who when in small groups of close friends would become very animated and passionate about his favourite things – music, classic gaming, trance music and dance culture, all these things we shared and could excitedly jabber on about for days in a row when we hung out.
For years after I left Tokyo, I would always spend at least a couple of nights with Jason at his place in the Upper Haight in San Francisco during GDC every year. Mostly we’d just cruise the neighbourhood, excitedly catching up on all things music and games, eating at his favourite restaurants, just constantly grinning and discussing the finer points of our incredibly common interests. We would always spend the Saturday after the show ended doing a marathon hike through Golden Gate Park; he lived next to it almost the whole time he was in SF and knew it like the back of his hand, he loved it there so much. Simon lived close by and the two of them were like brothers, for better and for worse. Hanging out with both of them brought so much happiness to my heart, listening to them squabble was always a great laugh. He missed his family in the UK and France, but truly was a San Franciscan at heart. It became such a tradition I looked forward to it all year. When the Nintendo Switch shipped in the US during GDC, we opened it together at his house and we went into the park and played in the woods at his favourite hidden little hippy shrine; it was one of my favourite days on this planet.
He could dive into the tiniest details on his favourite graphic design, his favourite games from yesteryear, and began to really focus on combining his love of the two. He began studying graphic design constantly, and made his own clothing line, drawing heavy inspiration from both club culture and classic gaming, particularly the 16-bit era of Japanese games. His skill set quickly improved, and his attention to detail he was so well known for during his EDGE years (and before that as well) really began to shine. I was always amazed at his subtle understanding of shape, colour and composition. He would commit entirely to these compositions and designs, sometimes tuning them and experiment with them for weeks, even months. He was such a perfectionist, but it led to simple, stunning works that always impressed completely.
Jason’s long journey towards finding his true happy place in the world was just really coming to a head when he began to feel sick, and by the time he went back to England to spend time with his parents after almost two decades in San Francisco, he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. We stayed in regular contact, but it didn’t look good. Jason was upbeat and positive as ever, attempting all kinds of bleeding-edge treatment options in Germany and elsewhere. He mentioned coming to Kyoto one last time to visit me and it was then I knew I probably wouldn’t see my dear friend again. We kept in touch, and he was always positive and hopeful, reading constantly about the condition, experimenting with diet and alternative treatments, but it didn’t get any better. His last message on Facebook, the day he died, was to Mizuguchi-san and myself, which I find highly uncanny. Full circle I guess. Simon solemnly informed me he had passed, peacefully, and I’m still spinning days later.
Jason was one of the most beautiful, passionate, particular, intelligent, stubborn, focused, interesting people I have ever met. Every minute I spent with him was always energizing, exciting, inspiring and joyful. Our sparse but intense regular visits were always a highlight of my year; I loved the man like a brother. I still can’t believe he’s gone. He was a passionate, restless creative wanderer, who leaves us far too soon. I’ll miss him like hell. I hope you find the most spiritual psychedelic festival ever, up there in the stars my dear, dear friend.
Goodbye Jason. Thank you.
Keith Stuart - Bestselling Author and Acting Guardian Games Editor / Former EDGE Staff Writer
I am extremely grateful that my first job in journalism was with Jason Brookes. He was very different to most of the other video game writers and editors at the time. Cool, tanned and handsome, he looked decidedly out of place in the ramshackle Future offices of the mid-1990s, where each magazine area resembled a teenage boy's bedroom. He was fantastically self-assured, but also incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about games, especially Japanese games – he had a way of communicating their qualities that was utterly unique; like a music professor disassembling a Bach concerto. He taught me how to write in a human way about poly counts, texture-mapping and collision detection, and he also taught me how to interrogate the games industry and its sacred figures.
Working with him was sometimes exhausting and frustrating, but I learned so much. He expected a lot of his staff and we were desperate to get it right. There were a lot of late nights and chaotic deadlines, but then we'd open the magazine at the end of it and realise what all the effort was for. Even in the midst of sending a week-late magazine to the printers, he was calm. He was always calm. He was calm when he got famously prank-called by Charlie Brooker – a moment that would have humiliated lesser men. He was calm when I wrote an email to him complaining about the endless missed deadlines and late nights, and criticising his management, and then, thanks to a new unfamiliar email app, accidentally sent it to every editor in Future.
I only worked with him for two years, but almost everything I learned about rigorous, interesting, authoritative consumer journalism, I learned in that bright, intense and fascinating period. He was a true one-off.
Zuby Ahmed - Associate Professor in Games Design, Birmingham City University
I'm shocked and devastated by this; Jason had a massive impact on my life as a gamer and also upon my professional career. There are so many memories to pick from, but one of my fondest was the time I met him in Manchester outside the Coin Exchange back in 1991 when I brought his PC Engine CD-ROM drive, and that was the start of our beautiful friendship, where we would contact each other weekly (and sometimes daily) to talk games, from PC Engine to SNES to Saturn, PS1, N64, and then PS2. We would also talk music, from trance to chill-out! He introduced me to some life-long 'choons'!
There was the time he called me in 1994 and 1996 to get my ass down to EDGE to pick up my PS1 and my N64 respectively (he ran a small import business on the side). The N64 day was awesome as we played Super Mario 64 in the office for ages, just making Mario run and jump into the tree outside Peach's castle. Then in the evening, we went out and had a big night out to see Paul Oakenfold DJ; can't remember the name of the club, but what an all-nighter!
Then there was when he Fed-Exed me his roll-o-decks of Game Industry contacts, with the proviso that I send it him back the next day, so I could grab a list of key contacts to hit up for a job in the Games Industry. This lead to my first gig in Game Dev, being offered a job by Martin Kenwright, working at Digital Image Design. The next year, I organised Jason to come up to D.I.D. and he did a whole piece on Martin and the company. Again this was wrapped around a great catch-up night out. I owe Jason my start in dev.
I am truly gutted by the news. I don't know what else to say.
Masao Ogino - Senior Environmental Artist, Remedy Games
I actually saw Jason in person only once. Before we met, I was reading his articles on Famitsu.com, a website version of Japanese video game magazine, and was interested in his point of view in video
games and his passion about Japanese games, so I contacted him. We mostly talked on Facebook.
In 2013, I was on holiday in California and had a chance to see him in San Francisco. Jason was really nice to me. We had a fun talk. Since we were old school games fans, we found out that our tastes of games were quite similar, such as Darius and R-TYPE, even some latest games and music like Underworld. After that, I found out that he wrote an article about D, a cinematic horror adventure game directed by Kenji Eno. D is one of games that I was inspired and decided to go to the game industry. I was glad that he wrote about it.
At the time, I was looking for a job outside of Japan, hopefully in North America or Europe. He inspired me a lot because he was also living abroad and had experienced some of the same challenges.
I was glad that he congratulated the release of CONTROL, an action adventure game from Remedy that I worked on which came out this year (I've just noticed that we met exactly 6 years ago from the release of the game). Actually, those were his last words to me.
I wish I could have more chance to see him and share more thoughts of video games. Thank you and rest in peace Jason.
Joao Diniz Sanches - Former EDGE Staffer / Editor
There’s a bond shared by individuals in high-pressure environments that is hard to quantify, yet harder to break. We weren’t a SWAT squad, we weren’t a search and rescue team, we weren’t a cardio-vascular surgery unit – just a group of young guys putting a video game magazine together. But the communal intensity experienced 13 times a year was no less genuine. Because there are magazine deadlines… and then there were Jason Brookes EDGE magazine deadlines. Final production weeks of 95+ hours, capped by 28-hour straight marathons to meet the oft-extended print deadline, month in, month out, are only sustainable if the team is working in unison, fully supporting the vision of the person in charge.
That singular focus wasn’t entirely consequence-free. It took some 15 phone calls to pin Jason down on a week’s work experience back in 1997 (and when I turned up he’d gone on holiday, forgetting to inform the team I was coming); my subsequent job interview for a writer’s position essentially consisted of me making my case while following him around Sainsbury’s in search of microwavable curry to feed us through that issue’s deadline; and no-one present at the time is likely to forget the 20-or so hours it once took him to perfect the coverlines (and missing the print deadline in the process).
But what may have looked to the outside world as poor organisation and hopeless mismanagement was instead the consequence of a passion and drive for perfection pursued at the cost of almost anything else. Jason’s devotion to video games – and his deep appreciation of their artistic and technical merits – was rivalled only by a desire to publish the best possible magazine every four weeks.
That perfectionism – instilled by launch editor Steve Jarratt and subsequently echoed by his successors – proved one of many invaluable lessons for this then fresh video game ‘journalist’, yet should neither sum up or, worse, mask the character of an atypically warm and gentle soul. A man effortlessly straddling both 1960s sensibility and 1990s spirituality, while fully embracing future tech (for a while he appeared to be on a one-man mission to establish Sony’s MiniDisc as the de facto audio medium in the UK – and may well have been instrumental in keeping the format going longer than it would have domestically given the number of players he bought on his Japan trips).
Our paths post-EDGE didn’t cross often, but I like to think that initial bond remained. On the few occasions we met/communicated, I was pleased to note a man who had matured without losing his infectious passion for life, art, music and games. And always with the smile that during our EDGE days had disarmed many a disgruntled PR or secured an exclusive. That’s the Jason I’ll remember.