Having been a gaming journalist for over a decade, Joao Diniz Sanches has seen pretty much everything the game industry has to offer. He once barely escaped being run over by Kazunori Yamauchi, and his likeness can be found, and shot, in Perfect Dark. His career has included being the editor of one of the most respected magazines in the industry, EDGE, and now his knowledge and passion has culminated in the release of his second guide to the video gaming world, which you can win, The Video Gaming Manual is a guide to both modern consoles and the machines of yesteryear. We got a chance to volley some questions in his direction which he dutifully returned.
GameBrit – How did you first get started in the gaming industry?
Joao Diniz Sanches – I was lucky, really. I did a post-graduate magazine journalism course with the intention of getting to work on Edge. When it came to the work placement period, I managed to persuade then editor Jason Brookes to give me a two-week stint on his mag (only took around ten or 15 phone calls, as I recall). A week after the placement they called me back in for an interview and another week later I was on the team. A case of being in the right place at the right time.
GB – What is your first memory of gaming?
JDS – The bio in the book states a 1978 encounter with my cousins’ Philips Videopac G7000 console. This is true and the impact on me was massive but there is also a certain artistic license to this as I distinctly remember playing on a Pong-style clone at home a year or two earlier, but that sounds a little dull so I stuck with the G7000 incident.
GB – What’s your fondest memory from your time at Edge?
JDS – There were too many memorable gaming-related moments to list but with regards to the team dynamic, there was a spontaneous, monumental rubber band fight (which rapidly involved the neighboring Official PlayStation Magazine team) in the early days that will stay with me forever. That and the image of our security guard sat asleep in the games room still holding a GunCon light gun pointed at the screen (Point Blank 2, if memory serves) during one of our all-night deadline stints. You kind of had to be there for both of those.
GB – Are there any games reviewed under your tenure that with hindsight you wish had been scored differently?
JDS – I can’t imagine there is a reviewer who, if they are honest with themselves, would be able to answer ‘no’ to this. Reviews are subjective, and while you try to be as fair and balanced as you can, now and again you have to admit that you didn’t get it quite ‘right’. To give you a specific example, and this ties in with your next question, soon after reviewing GoldenEye 007 I realised there was an almost irrefutable argument for a 10, rather than the 9 it got. That’s the difference between having a week or one/two months to review a game. Sure, the latter is an unrealistic scenario for gaming publications and some games also reveal their worth in a matter of hours, but as a reviewer you’ll often want more time to reflect on a game than the what you’re given.
GB – Were Goldeneye and Metroid Prime strong candidates for a 10?
JDS – Definitely in the case of GoldenEye, as mentioned above (this has also previously been revealed in the mag, in a Top 100 for issue E100). Metroid Prime was exceptional when it appeared, but I can think of a number of arguments against it being 10 material.
GB – Looking back, before EDGE, which games would you have given a 10?
JDS – It’s very difficult to review games retrospectively and do it accurately so I’m going to wimp out of answering this one. Sorry. Certainly, I can think of games that to me were very, very special, and those have been included in the book, but there are too many factors threatening to cloud my judgement with regards to assigning specific scores.
GB – Who has been the most interesting gaming personality you’ve met?
JDS -I could listen to obvious candidates like Miyamoto, Warren Spector, Gabe Newell, Tetsuya Mizuguchi all day long but two of my all-time favourite industry personalities are Jonathan Smith (Traveller’s Tales) and Charles Cecil (Revolution).
GB – Which are your favourite game series/franchises?
JDS – Limiting this to three: Zelda, Metroid, Mario.
GB – What games are you looking forward to playing?
JDS – No massive surprises here, really. Batman Arkham Asylum (haven’t got round to it yet), Modern Warfare 2 (although mainly for single-player), Uncharted 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Zelda: Spirit Tracks, The Last Guardian, Metroid Prime: Other M and Forza Motorsport 3 (my quest to experience this game in a three-screen set-up continues). There are others, like Brutal Legend, New Super Mario Bros, Crackdown 2, RUSE and Assassin’s Creed II which I’m hoping will deliver.
GB – Which is your favourite format?
JDS – A boring response, for which I apologise, but I don’t have a favourite system. I have fond memories of gaming experiences and I guess you associate those with the hardware they played on. If I had to pick the systems with the highest number of those memories then the list would probably read something like the Spectrum, SNES, N64, PS, Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox 360. I’ve had the opportunity to own the leading systems since the MD/SNES days and while as a youngster I would fervently defend my Speccy when in the presence of C64 owners, I’ve thankfully since grown up and no longer have a loyalty to hardware – my focus is on the games. Which, I know, does sound terribly cliche.
GB – Do you think games qualify as art? (Do they need to?)
JDS – I think games are arguably the most exciting form of entertainment around at the moment. I’d say that, for now at least, that’s all they need to be.
GB- Do you think gaming will be seen differently by the wider media in the next ten years?
JDS – Undoubtedly. Already things are considerably better than ten years ago. New generations grow up with gaming as part of their lives, so that regardless of whether they keep with the pastime as they grow up or not, they have the kind of knowledge of the medium that too many mainstream journalists have lacked to date. Also, as the popularity of gaming continues to increase, there will be continued pressure on publications to cover the medium professionally, in many quarters that’s already the case.
GB – You talk about the various gaming formats in your new book, but do you think gaming should ever move towards a single-format model, like DVD & Blu-Ray (with standardised tech licensed and produced by various technology companies)?
JDS – I think it’s entirely possible we’ll get there but we’re a long way off still. And it’s not entirely without its issues, either, because without competition between hardware manufacturers gamers can end up losing (think of the way PSN and Live are pushing each other to evolve at a faster rate than if Sony or Microsoft had the market all to themselves). That said, I think the reality is that years from now you won’t have the hardware at home anyway, you’ll play games by streaming them online, Gaikai style, but in a considerably more advanced form. In that scenario the platform behind the games becomes invisible.
GB – What advice can you give to anyone wanting to work in game journalism?
JDS – Write and write and write. If you’re just starting out in terms of writing, check out the leading sites and magazines, and their best writers with regards to the elements you’ll find in their reviews. There are fundamentals to reviews that should come through as constants, regardless of a writer’s style. Of course, the idea is to analyse their work and then incorporate that into your own style, there’s little point in regurgitating someone else’s voice.
The internet makes it so easy to publish your own work these days that once you have developed your own voice you can point any potential employer to your blog. These days editors are used to being approached by would-be game journalists and are quick to spot those with potential. If you’re passionate about your medium and game journalism, maintaining a blog should be a pleasure, and there’s no better calling card.
The next step is to get commissioned. Many online writers offer initial work free of charge in order to get experience and exposure. I think this can be worth it but don’t go overboard. Target two or three sites first, get published and then use that to work your way up towards the bigger publications. A less popular but still invaluable step would be to secure an internship on a magazine to get some experience. Often, if you’re up to scratch, you can go on to obtain more work with the same publication on a freelance basis and then things can snowball from there.
The competition is considerable and you have to be honest about your ability as a writer and reviewer. If you’re good, then keep hassling the sites and magazines, there are plenty of publications out there looking for good people.
We’d like to thank Joao for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him all the best in the future.