Gearheads: Was there a game that you were really high on that disappointed you?
Shoe: Everyone kept telling me about how great Burnout Paradise was, but when I got to play it...I wasn't disappointed necessarily, just worried. I loved the previous games' controls and being able to barrel through other cars like they were made out of paper. Now, the handling (specifically, the handbraking) and the car physics seem much more realistic: When you crash into a car, you don't just keep moving through it at full speed...you actually crash as well. I'm not sure I like these specific changes, but I am certainly excited about the open-city, play-anywhere format.
I was also a little worried, maybe a little down, on Halo Wars. There was nothing specifically wrong with it. It's delivering exactly what it's supposed to deliver: Halo in a real-time-strategy setting. But being an RTS fan, I was hoping for something really new and innovative. Right now, it's solid, almost predictable. I hope to see more of this game soon.
Gearheads: How did you like the new format and do you think E3 will survive over the long run in the new way?
Shoe: I hated the new format. I would say I worked three times harder than in previous years, to see three times fewer games. The logistics were a mess, and who thought of having the companies do their press conferences at the same time as the first day of suite appointments? I don't want it to go back to the old way--that was too chaotic, noisy, and expensive for the game companies. But I hope E3's organizers can find a happy medium somehow, because I like having the show around.
Gearheads: What does a monthly magazine have to do to compete in the arena of news when the gaming Internet is all over any breaking news?
Shoe: We're always finding ways to stay relevant, from being more selective about what we cover, to getting aggressive on exclusives, to covering the stories the Internet isn't necessarily covering. You like the magazine...and you run a website! So we must be doing something right. :)
Gearheads: Do you think traditional print like magazines and newspapers are going to survive in the face of the Internet providing the new medium for people?
Shoe: Yes. In fact, a recent study showed that most under-20 "youngsters" (as I call them, being an old man) still enjoy reading magazines, despite the proliferation of the Internet. Our circulation is still healthy, so we're not worried about surviving or not.
Gearheads: What is your philosophy on gaming journalism as a profession?
Shoe: I love it. I am very fortunate to be in a business that covers my favorite hobby. In fact, I'm bemoaning how long this interview is--it's keeping me from playing games right now! ;) It is a career path, however, that many people don't look at with much respect. Part of that is because videogames don't get that much respect to begin with (many people look at it as a child's activity). And part of it is because people in this profession don't treat it very seriously. I've met so many gaming "journalists" that love the business because of the perks...getting wined and dined, accepting gifts and free travel and such. The problem there is because we have so many young, inexperience people in this field who don't really know any better, or who don't have the right structure and surroundings to guide them down the right path. I guarantee if you were fresh out of college and became a reporter at CNN or Newsweek or NBC, you'd learn in a hurry what it'd take to behave as a proper journalist.
Gearheads: Do you think that gaming journalism has gotten too cynical or is it a reflection of the audience that it is speaking to?
Shoe: That's hard to say. Some particular journalists are cynical by nature. Some have grown cynical over the years. Some are cynical because a cynical audience demands it--there are a lot of gamers who are ready to cry "fanboy!" or "bias!" if they see any journalists liking anything.
Gearheads: Several times you've made reference in editorials in EGM that the magazine doesn't promise anything to receive an exclusive. When you look around at the competition and realize that they're more willing to compromise their editorial integrity to get some exclusives, does that ever make you want to rethink the way EGM does things in order to be more competitive? In other words, are you fighting a losing battle trying to maintain the magazine's integrity because others are willing to bend in certain directions?
Shoe: I don't want to give the impression that this is a common occurrence. I don't believe it is, but it absolutely happens in our industry. But it won't change the way I do things. If my employers wanted me to compromise my integrity to make more money by getting better exclusives or more ads, I'd quit. Thank god I work for a company that keeps a distinct line drawn between church and state (editorial vs. advertising)...one that taught me from the start that you write for the readers, not the advertisers (so I have the right "structure and surroundings," referring back to what I wrote earlier). It's just not worth it to me to do it any other way. I'd rather run EGM down the shitter than sell out.
Gearheads: Are gaming journalists supposed to be objective or is that an antiquated idea that doesn't apply to this profession because it's more about entertaining?
Shoe: Depends on what you're talking about. If you're doing a news report, then absolutely you should be objective. Otherwise, you're not doing your job. If you're writing a review, however, you should try to be objective, but it's impossible to be that completely. Why? Because games are fun by nature, and "fun" is a subjective thing. You can't say something is objectively "fun" or not, because what's fun for one guy is not fun for another. Game reviewing is opinionated by nature. And a true, objective journalist is not supposed to be opinionated. So it's not as black and white as some people think.
Gearheads: As a follow-up to the last question, some of the editors are known for being console fanboys. I won't name names, but do you think that being a journalist and a fanboy can co-exist?
Shoe: Again, it depends on what you're talking about. If you're running a console-specific magazine or website, I'd say it'd be nice if you weren't a fanboy, but it wouldn't hurt, either. A Nintendo fanboy, for example, can have a lot of fun running a fansite for other like-minded fanboys. And people may tend to spend more time on certain systems over others. For example, my Xbox 360 probably gets the most play right now, because I like online gaming and I'm a self-admitted Achievement junkie. But that doesn't make me a fanboy, provided I can still be objective when looking at the market as a whole. When I pick covers for EGM, or when I'm reviewing games--anything that I do for the magazine--I have to be fair and unbiased to all companies and consoles.
Gearheads: Would you ever consider keeping certain reporters off certain stories if you know that they are predisposed to having biases either for or against a company or game?
Shoe: One of our own editors has been accused of being a fanboy before, because he's made some silly comments before that seem to contradict popular opinion (he likes to push people's buttons, acting as devil's advocate a lot). But if I really thought he was a fanboy and was unable to do his job properly, I'd have to let him go. I wouldn't risk that damage to the magazine's reputation. But I know him and I know his work, and he's very fair and objective. I don't have any concerns about where his head is when he writes for us. I have to take message-board accusations with a grain of salt anyways. Some people think I'm an Xbox fanboy because I like Halo and have put the series on the cover so often, not taking into account that 1.) those covers do very well for us, sales-wise, and 2.) we try to have a balanced number of covers, but other companies are typically more difficult to work with. I'd love to have Super Smash Bros. on the cover, for example. But Nintendo's not that cooperative of a company! So just because we don't have a Smash Bros. cover doesn't mean we're anti-Nintendo....
Gearheads: You write quite a few reviews. How do you break down what three people will write the review for which games? How does that process work?
Shoe: It depends on your experience, mostly. We don't want someone who doesn't understand the sport of football to review Madden, for example. If you've played a lot of strategy games, you're more likely to be put on a strategy-game review, because you are familiar with the genre and have better perspective there.
Gearheads: Who inspires you as a writer/journalist?
Shoe: Crispin Boyer, our senior editor. He is an amazing writer.
Gearheads: What were some of your favorite reviews that you've written?
Shoe: Off the top of my head, I'd say my longer Gears of War review on 1UP.com, just because it caused a lot of controversy while receiving a lot of really positive feedback from many readers who felt exactly the way I did about the game. Also, one of my old-time favorites was Speed Racer. I wrote that review to the tune of the TV show song. "Here it comes! Here comes Speed Racer! It's not a very good game...."
Gearheads: How did you arrive at the current EGM process for reviews - you know three editors/writers contributing a score?
Shoe: It was a process that was there way before I arrived at the magazine (but back in the old days, it was four reviewers per game--we eventually had to drop one because modern games were taking longer to play and it was taking up way too much manpower and time). I believe the four-reviewer format was inspired by Japanese gaming mag Famitsu.
Gearheads: Has there been any games that you've ever come back to after reviewing and thinking that you were either too high or too low on a score? Did you ever think about having a "re-visiting" section of the magazine in order to address the occasional game that falls into this category?
Shoe: We don't want to revisit a game, because sure, after time, you can always rethink what score you gave something. That'd create a mess! And standards change all the time. What was really exciting five years ago may be old news now, so what's the point in re-evaluating every game we've reviewed? I'd rather we spent that time and space covering new games. I think every reviewer has, at one point in his life, looked back and wondered if he gave too high or low of a score, but I don't feel that's the right way to look at it. What you gave the game at the time when you played it was probably the right score...at that time. Because that's when other people are playing the game as well. No one's going back to my "10" for Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 and wondering if that score still works by today's standards. :)
Gearheads: Dennis Dyack took part in a now infamous podcast on EGM Live, claiming that previews shouldn't exist anymore. Did he make some good points in your eyes or was that just sour grapes?
Shoe: I think that was pure insanity, mixed with a bit of personal emotions. Dyack certainly didn't seem to mind when IGN had some positive previews of Too Human a couple of months later. He can't decide he likes previews when they put his game in a good light, then dislikes them when they're critical. But to his defense, I think he's more trying to say that, if we do point out bad things in a preview that get fixed down the line, the original writer could look dumb. I don't agree. As long as we're clear the preview is just that: a preview--and we all understand things can change by the time a game's shipped--then journalists need to be free to write about whatever they want. Otherwise, you can expect a lot of boring, "safe" and conservative previews.
Gearheads: My final question is for you to name your top five games of all-time and top five games from the past decade (only if they differ).
Shoe: Who'd have thunk that this would be the toughest question of the interview? OK...I'm going to approach these from the point of view of when I first played them, not by today's standards. For example, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is technically the better game, but Pandora Tomorrow made a much bigger impact on me when that first came out, because its multiplayer was so new and radical at the time. And also, I'll refrain from cheating by not listing Super Mario Bros. All-Stars anywhere. :)
Top five of all time:
5. Final Fantasy III (SNES...so not the original Japanese "3" but the American "3")
4. Super Mario Bros.
3. The Legend of Zelda
2. Street Fighter II
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
Top five from the recent decade:
5. God of War
4. Grand Theft Auto III
3. Soul Calibur
1. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (multiplayer)
Please note: I reserve the right to change this list! It's hard to remember all the games I've played in my lifetime. I'm just going with the games that popped into my mind immediately--I'm sure I've forgotten something significant. And if I could count PC games, I'd have to mention: Bard's Tale (the original), Ultima IV, Heroes of Might and Magic, Civilization, Dark Reign, Duke Nukem 3D, WarCraft II, and Doom.
Gearheads: Thank you so much for taking the time. I understand that you're extremely busy and that deadlines are always hectic. Keep up the great work. EGM is like Christmas in my mailbox every month. And I'm not just blowing smoke up your ass. Hopefully we'll catch you for our Friday Night FragFest sometime in the near future.
Shoe: Thanks for having me on! And I'm so rusty at Gears of War now, I think I'd have to politely pass on that challenge. Yeah, that's right...I'm scared! :)