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Friday 28 April 2023

Magazine Madness 17: Parallel Worlds Issue #04

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickstarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.


The fourth issue of Parallel Worlds magazine was published in the winter of 2020. As with previous issues, beginning with the
inaugural issue, Parallel Worlds Issue #01 published in 2019, it contains no gaming content as such, but rather discusses and aspects of not just the hobby, but different hobbies—board games, roleplaying games, computer games, films, and more. Unlike like later issues, for example, Parallel Worlds Issue #21 and Parallel Worlds Issue #22, this fourth issue is a fairly unbalanced issue, with relatively little, direct gaming content in favour of focusing on computer games and films. Further, the standard of writing is better, which when combined with its selection of interesting articles and brevity serves to make it overall an engaging, even sometimes thoughtful read. Of course, Parallel Worlds Issue #04 is readily available in print, but all of the issues of Parallel Worlds, published by Parallel Publishing can also be purchased in digital format, because it is very much not back in the day of classic White Dwarf, but here and now.

Parallel Worlds Issue #04 opens with its editorial from Tom Grundy, briefly mentioning the importance of escaping into the fantasy of a new book, film, or video during the winter, before giving an overview of the issue’s contents. It is followed by the first of several articles in the issue dedicated to computer games. This is the issue’s ‘Interview’ with Julian Gollop, designer and programmer of the classic, turn-based strategy games, Laser Squad and UFO: Enemy Unknown. Timed with the then release of Phoenix Point, this is a relatively short piece which looks back at the creation process of UFO: Enemy Unknown in particular and how that has developed with the then new game. It would have been useful perhaps if there had been some more information on the designer’s earlier titles, perhaps to give context for younger readers, but otherwise an enjoyable read. Aliens are the subject of the second article dedicated to computer games. In Louis Colvert’s Thinkpiece, ‘Why Aren’t Aliens In Video Games More… Alien?’, the author explores the role and expectations of the alien in our most modern form of fiction—the video game. Drawing from a number of different titles, Halo and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee in particular, he notes how the design of the aliens have been used to reinforce and subvert the expectations of the players. In Halo, the size and speed of the aliens often reflects what expect of the animal world—larger aliens are slower, hit harder, and take more damage, whereas with the smaller ones, the reverse is true. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee has alien creatures which are human-like in all but appearance, meaning that in telling a story around slavery it can draw parallels with our own history. Ultimately, the near familiarity of how these aliens act is how we are best able to interact with them in game.

Under ‘Video Games’, Parallel Worlds Issue #04 continues its computer game strand with Ben Potts’ ‘Anthem: The game that nearly was’ examines the perceived failure and difficulties of Bioware’s Anthem, drawing parallels in terms of development with Destiny and Destiny 2 and highlighting the anticipation for the game following its 2017 demo versus the disappointment upon its release. That was in 2019 of course, and Anthem can be seen as a failure now, since development on the game ceased in 2021. Nevertheless, the article is another interesting read, and contrasts nicely with the piece that follows by Thomas Turnbull-Ross. ‘Lambda Cubed: The continuing mystery of Half-Life 3’ sets up and then explores the anticipation, even then a decade old, for the eagerly awaited, but yet to appear, third part in the Half-Life series from Valve. Even several years on from the article, fans will have to be satisfied with a sequel of sorts, Half-Life: Alyx, though that, of course, is unlikely. Consequently, this article has not really dated!

The ‘TV & Film’ articles in the issue open with ‘Star Wars Rebels: A Love letter To The Fans’ which examines the animated series and how it fits into Star Wars canon. Exploring the links to what is now known as ‘Legends’, but which was previously known as ‘The Expanded Universe’, the article highlights how much fan service it delivered, how it delved into and developed the lore, and some of the stories it told. It is clear that its author, Louis Colvert, is a fan, and he very much sells the series. Fans of Star Wars Rebels will enjoy the article, whilst anyone else should be intrigued enough to want go and watch it. Next, Jane Clewett provides thumbnail reviews of various genre films, such as Us, Midsommar, and It Chapter Two in ‘2019 in horror cinema’, which are decent enough. More interesting is ‘Let’s Talk About... Ad Astra’, which is a follow on from Parallel Worlds Issue #03 and its ‘Let’s Talk About... The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’. This is a discussion piece, a two-hander between Tom Grundy and Jane Clewett about their reaction to the film and their thoughts about it. This article is shorter, but it highlights the odd nature of the film and disparity of its story elements.

The issue includes three entries under the ‘Tabletop Games’ label. First, ‘We Found a Body’ launches the first in a series of ‘The Generic Adventure Module’ which explore particular plot types which can be added to a game. In this case, Allen Stroud adds a corpse and accompanying mystery. Graphically, it suggests that this is for a modern game, but the article is broad enough to suggest otherwise, in turn examining ways in which the body can be introduced, forensics applied, suspected questioned, and the death investigated. This is all from a point of setting up a good story and whilst it could have been more detailed, the advice is sound and the article lays the groundwork for future articles to come. It is followed by Christopher Jarvis’ review of Zombie Kidz, which is given high praise. The trio is rounded out the ‘Mini of the Month’, this time by Allen Stroud. The regular article, this time devoted to ‘Grak, warlord of the Clan’, an orc miniature that he purchased at Gen Con UK, benefits greatly from being a page in length rather the two in earlier issues, but is very much a nostalgia piece, since the convention and the miniature date from 1995.

Ant Jones and Tom Grundy follow up Allen Stroud’s ‘Diamonds in the Rough: Read Adventurous!’ on self-published novels in Parallel Worlds Issue #03 with ‘Self-Pub Review’, a trio of reviews of three self-published books. These are all good and sound interesting reads from the reviews. With half of the article devoted to its award winners, Allen Stroud’s ‘Fantasy Con Glasgow’ is never given sufficient space to make the event come alive or sound interesting as other entries in the ‘Events’ department in previous issues managed to do. Rounding out the issue are two pieces of short, ‘Original Fiction’. They consist of ‘Lazaraki Chronicles’, a horror piece by Connor Edles, and a Science Fiction piece, ‘Red 14’ by Ben Potts. These are decent enough.

Physically, Parallel Worlds #04 is printed in full colour, on very sturdy paper, which gives it a high-quality feel. Unlike in previous issues, it not does suffer from a lot of empty space and the articles are compact rather than stretched out. Consequently, the issue does not feel as empty as was the case with the first three issues.

Parallel Worlds Issue #04 is the best issue yet. It has more content, the less interesting articles take up decidedly less space, and there are more interesting articles to read. ‘We Found a Body’ is good, as is, again ‘Let’s Talk About... Ad Astra’, and also ‘Star Wars Rebels: A Love letter To The Fans’. Yet as much as there is more interesting content in the pages of the issue to read, it is unbalanced. The tabletop gaming content does not come off as a poor second or third so much as a poor fourth or fifth. Three articles, one of which is a review (and compare that to the fact that three books are reviewed to one game) and another a nostalgia piece about a twenty-five year old miniature, compared to four computer game articles and three film and television articles, all lengthier articles, do not feel enough for magazine which was at the time being pitched to sell in game shops. ‘We Found a Body’ is a good start, but Parallel Worlds needs more gaming content to balance everything else out. In the meantime, Parallel Worlds #04 is still a decent read.

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