Gearheads of War Interviews Dan "Shoe" Hsu

Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 02:06:20 AM EST

Gearheads of War has given me the privilege of interviewing some of my favorite gaming journalists around.  1up's infamous Luke Smith and the always entertaining OXM's Ryan McCaffrey.  

That continues today with one of the most important people in gaming journalism because of his magazine's prominent position and reputation.  Dan "Shoe" Hsu is the editor-in-chief of the best gaming magazine (IMHO) around, Electronic Gaming Monthly.  I look forward to getting my EGM every month because I've always loved the writing style and the format of the mag.  EGM is quite popular for hardcore gamers.  The casual-gaming types will likely have gaming experiences with poker online. It's one of the only magazines I read from cover to cover even if something doesn't interest me.  Other magazines I'll skip over most games for systems I don't own.

Gearheads of War:  Shoe, let me start this off by saying that I'm a huge fan of your magazine and what you do editorially.  I believe it's the top video game magazine on the planet and I look forward to it arriving in my mailbox every month.  I just wanted to be open about my admiration right at the beginning.  You recently just got back from E3.  Tell me the game that kind of left you speechless and anxiously awaiting its arrival and why? (no saying Jenga here - heh)

Shoe: Tyler, let me start off by saying you are a big suck-up! I'm just teasing...thanks very much for the compliments. It's really a team effort. I can't take too much credit for the magazine because it's the writers, editors, and art team that do all the real work around here. Plus, I think you like our magazine a bit more than the average person just because we called your brother a dick. ;)

At E3, the two games that impressed me the most were Mass Effect and Call of Duty 4. Mass Effect just looks so real (in that fictional sci-fi way)--at times, I felt like I was watching a big-budget movie, not playing a game. I think it has the potential to blow away Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which I enjoyed very much. Call of Duty 4 was like Call of Duty 2, with modern weapons, on crack. It was intensely exciting to play, and I didn't want to stop after my short demo was over. I must also say the rail-grinding bits of Ratchet and Clank Future looked amazing! And Mario Galaxy was so fun to play, from what little hands-on time I had with it.

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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
  2. Halo
  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! :)


Tags: dan shoe hsu (all tags)

Comments Disabled | 19 comments

  •  awesome interview (none / 0)

    everything the man writes is interesting and more importantly relevant to gamers.

    Not all who wander are lost

    by Zoso Fan on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 02:25:45 AM EST

  •  Nice Read (none / 0)

    For those who haven't already, make sure to checkout Dan's Gears review. Most confusing review ever when first read it, he gave the game 10 out of 10 and then continued to pin point each and every problem the game has in depth. It makes perfect sense now that I've played the game for several months straight.
    •  Thanks Naveeda. will do! (none / 0)

      •  Yep, I remember reading (none / 0)

        it and I also remember completely understanding where Dan was coming from.  I think that is where I "get" Cliffy's game design.  Gears, more than any game I know, has mastered that 30 seconds of fun over and over again that Jaime Griesemer (Bungie) mentioned about 5 years ago when discussing the design of Halo:CE.

        This is the three sentence review I gave Gears in my first post here last December.

        Gears of War is old school gaming with TREMENDOUS cinematic flair. I feel like I can sense Cliffy's love for the classics as I play through it.  I don't know that I could give it a bigger compliment.
    •  Excellent (none / 0)

      Point. Reading this now, I fully understand it, but if I had read it when the game first came out or prior to emergence day I would have been as lost as the tv series.
  •  Great interview papi! (none / 0)

    As soon as I saw you had posted another one, I knew I was in for a treat.

    I don't read 1Up unless an article is linked from another site simply because, for my tastes, the design of their homepage is a dog's breakfast.  I am a neat and tidy person and I just can't get past the mix of community member pages and 1Up staff stuff. (Also, I don't buy the print magazine because it costs a fortune to have it sent out here).  I mention this because I don't know if the editors at 1Up are addressing the issues I discuss below, or not.  

    I remember clearly when Penny Arcade highlighted Mr. Hsu and his work in the comic pasted below.  I was hoping that that somebody was going to start holding people in the industry accountable for what they say and do, though I wasn't as optimistic as even the somewhat cynical comic portrays.  

    Gaming news sites are providing a number of very helpful services. However, recently, I have felt that the journalists need to call people on their BS more readily.

    Let me provide two simple, very specific instances where I feel the press completely failed at their professional tasks.  First, the coverage of the announcements (the launch dates) of the Xbox 360 and the PS3 at that time and now.  When Microsoft came out and stated their launch date, Sony immediately stated they would launch about 6 months later.  For Sony that was a complete impossibility, no developers had dev kits or even specs and yet they were going to be launching the system in what was it, 9 months?  I remember the instance clearly because I scoured the web for any sign of anyone calling "foul" on that.  Indeed, none of the sites that I checked even bothered to say "Sony says  they will launch the system on such-and such a date".  Everywhere I checked it said "PS3 Launch blah blah blah" as if that were the date it would actually launch.  Peter Moore was the first to mention that the plastic housing for the PS3 didn't even have air vent holes.  At the time, as far as I was concerneed, he was the only one that was very cautiously suggesting to everyone that Sony had a big job ahead of them. In my opinion, if there is any "New journalism" to happen, the journalists need to start calling BS, or at least reporting the BS as a claim that someone is making not as actual fact.

    The second example I want to highlight just happened at this E3 in a similar fashion.  Sony announced a "price cut" and none of the sites I visited discussed it as anything other than what Sony described it as being - a price cut.  It wasn't until Peter Moore made the comment that it was more like a "feature increase" instead of a "price cut" that news sites started even considering the language that Sony chose to describe their firesale.

    See, in my mind, that reporting isn't the job of the spin masters.  It is the job of the games journalists. When it comes to vaporware, news sites do a pretty good job of reminding everyone how long Duke Nukem as been in development.  When it comes to comparing who said what, and what actually happened, very little is written.  It would make hugely entertaining features too, because there is so much BS in this industry.  

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2006/01/20

  •  AWESOME! (none / 0)

    Dan is a hero of mine so this surprise is frickin awesome. I'll have to read the whole thing at work....;)

    "As for FFF we'll see how my social life unfolds that night. Which basically means i'll be gaming lol" -Boxin

    by SweetTea023 on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 08:36:02 AM EST

  •  Well done Papi! (none / 0)

    Also, many thanks to Dan Hsu for being such a good guest on our site.  It's a great interview with a good focus on the game industry.  

    Hope we can get a few more interviews like this again.

    Cheers!

    Ready to finish all the Fights!

    by Damn Boris on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 08:55:29 AM EST

  •  LOL (none / 0)

    i love my brother "i will read it at work" WTF????????

    I'm a pretty normal guy. I do one weird thing. I like to go in woman's room for number 2.

    by Wangler1316 on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 11:46:03 AM EST

  •  Great interview (none / 0)

    papi. I think I may go subscribe to EGM...
  •  Ya he is in my top 5 (none / 0)

    list of people I want to meet...Luke Smith reigns supreme. (in the gaming world)

    "As for FFF we'll see how my social life unfolds that night. Which basically means i'll be gaming lol" -Boxin

    by SweetTea023 on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 07:43:34 PM EST

  •  YEAH!!!! (none / 0)

    Good job Papi, that was a nice interview,CALL OF DUTY 4!!!

    "Si, Yes i do tiles, i kill the nappy haird hoes too, yes i do tiles to, siiiiiii" gamertag = DesertFoXel

    by FyroFoX on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 10:21:40 PM EST

  •  Fantastic interview, papi! (none / 0)

    Hsu is a trip.  Good insights & great read.  Keep it coming, Tyler!

    Friends don't let friends two-piece.

    by Blankman on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 10:59:33 PM EST

Comments Disabled | 19 comments