PC Zone magazine, a brief history (1993-2010).

Just a few our Editor In Chiefs personal collection (he has about 7 years worth)

Here at this website, we know that we didn’t invent PC Zone.

The reason we know this is simple. We know because long before we started writing about games, in our greasy, acne ridden youth, we all read PC Zone magazine. In its 1990s pomp, PC Zone was a cornerstone of games journalism in the UK and we miss it to this day.

If you’re reading this, we’re guessing you’ve come here because you’re a fan. We hear you. We’re fans too. For legal reasons we can’t give you a recreation of the original magazine, fun though that would be. We’ve had to go our own way and we hope you want to join us for that journey.  

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t love the spirit of the original PC Zone. And we want to honour that always knowledgeable, often hilarious spirit right here on this page. A page devoted to PC Zone – The Mag!

Cast your mind back to 1993. The 16-Bit war was at its zenith. As Nintendo and Sega slugged it out for digital supremacy, kids everywhere asked a simple question. SNES or Mega Drive? If you believed the increasingly bizarre ad campaigns, you’d think that games could only be played via a ROM cartridge. Gaming, they said, was a zero-sum game. Mario or Sonic…

But in the early 1990s an increasingly large gaming sub-culture was crying bullshit at this two-horse race. The Japanese console companies had put the once-dominant UK home computer market in the shade. But Nintendo and Sega hadn’t reckoned with a new platform that was exploding into pixelated life: The PC.

Once consigned to endless word processing and now horribly dated text adventures, the PC of the early 90s was taking flight. Vastly improved graphics rendering, and endlessly customisable hardware setups had given gamers a genuine alternative. When Doom arrived, this new sub-culture took root and has been with us ever since.

This new set of PC Gamers had grown up with now defunct Sinclairs, Amstrads and Commodores. They were people in the teens and early 20s. People who were interested in toilet humour and ultra-violent movies. Magazines about Italian plumbers and blue hedgehogs did little for these folks. So, who would speak for them? Who would satisfy their appetites?

Enter PC Zone Magazine.

Charlie Brooker made a name for himself with his unique acerbic humour

As the first ever title to cater exclusively for PC gamers in the UK, PC Zone magazine was at the epicentre of the desktop gaming revolution. In fact, you could argue that PC Zone magazine was instrumental in actually popularising the genre. Finally, those who preferred Quake to Super Mario 64 had a place to go for their gaming news.

But PC Zone magazine wasn’t just a dry reviews publication designed to sate the nerd population. The 1990s was the pinnacle of what we now call “lad culture”. This distinctly contemporary phenomenon was a heady mixture of girls, games and ground fine humour.

Nowhere was this acerbic and brilliant wit better on display at PC Zone then with the contributions of legendary writer and broadcaster Charlie Brooker. Sick Note and Cybertwat were not only hilarious in their own right, they became part of what made PC Zone magazine different.

The sharp pen of Mr Brooker and the magazine’s desire to push the humour envelope eventually brought controversy to the magazine. This was unsurprising. In a journalistic marketplace full of carefully managed PR and the aforementioned nerd culture PC Zone magazine was always going to stick out. That’s why we loved it.

Illustrating a scathing review of Frontier 2: First Encounters with a turd wrapped in a bow was a classic example. As was the “accidental” inclusion of a pornographic mod of Doom on one of the magazine’s celebrated cover discs. Nothing was more infamous though than Doctor Helmut Werstler’s Cruelty Zoo

The one-page cartoon depicted children brutalising various innocent animals. The good Doctor informs us that this is a new method of controlling the children’s video-game inspired violence. In order to stop them turning into football hooligans, muggers or Glaswegians, Doctor Werstler recommends the children take out their game induced frustrations on the poor animals.

Needless to say, the skit caused outrage. WH Smith even pulled PC Zone magazine from their shelves (oh the shame!) It’s perhaps unfortunate that the whole thing was slightly misconstrued due to the presence of Dr Werstler. It was originally supposed to be Lara Croft fronting the cruelty zoo.

Sick notes and the Cruelty Zoo were among many funny highlights of the unique zone style

As anyone who’s played Tomb Raider knows, the intrepid Ms. Croft has no qualms about heroically butchering any innocent animal that crosses her path. Had she been present on the cartoon it might have made more sense and been possibly less controversial. For some reason though, permission to use Lara’s curves on the page was denied. Can’t imagine why!

As the new millennium dawned the magazine’s more laddish tendencies were tempered somewhat. However, the scoring methodology for games was considerably sharpened. This led to many lesser titles seeing some truly appalling scores (Simon The Sorcerer 3D anyone?) But this tough approach also helped confirm the status of truly great games, such as the paradigm shifting Half-Life 2 (97% in 2004).

As the 2000s wore on and the barrier between PC and Console gaming dissolved, PC Zone magazine saw its light dim. Perhaps the 7th generation of games consoles with the HDDs and online functionality meant that PC gaming no longer enjoyed so many distinctions? Maybe, shorn of Brooker’s pen and with lad culture in decline, the magazine simply didn’t have as many distinctive things to say?

Sadly, even brilliant things do eventually end. When Future Publishing closed PC Zone magazine’s doors in 2010, they left behind some remarkable history. The highs of the late 1990s, the brilliant reviewers, the hilarious columns (Haranguing on the Telephone!), it’s safe to say PC Zone magazine made its mark.

We loved it. You loved it. We all miss it.

We’re not the original PC Zone magazine. Nor would we try to be. But that mag is why we write about games now. You can rest assured that the spirit of that magazine is with us every time we show up for work at this PC Zone. After all, who wouldn’t be inspired to mischief by the sight of Charlie Brooker eating his own arse!

Written by Sam Devereaux, Features Editor