Rich Leadbetter Interview

Sega Saturn UK interview infamous video games journo, former Editor & Contributor to the UK’s Official Sega Saturn Magazine, and all round nice bloke! Mr Richard Leadbetter.

Below is the interview as conducted by Mick from SS:UK:

SS:UK Mick:
Hello Mr. Leadbetter, Rich if we may be so bold?
May I begin by saying how grateful we are for this interview, we realise you are a busy man, so without further ado we shall put to you some questions from both our members and the SS-UK staff…

Mick:
Obviously we are particularly interested in you work on Sega Saturn Magazine, but first may we ask what got you into video game journalism in the first place and what publications did you work on prior to SSM?

Rich:

Computer and Video Games Magazine - 1990

Computer and Video Games Magazine – 1990

When I was studying for my A-levels I sent out some speculative review samples to the likes of EMAP and Newsfield – that would’ve been around February 1990.
In June of that year, I had a phone called Julian Rignall on C+VG asking me to interview. A bit of out the blue and rather shocking to an 18-year-old, but somehow I managed to make a decent-enough impression. After that I got some freelance work on the Complete Guide to Consoles and before that was over, I was a full-time C+VG staff member.I spent around 18 months on C+VG, but worked simultaneously on Mean Machines before moving there full-time. After that I worked on Mean Machines Sega and launched the official Sega magazine.

Mick:
What was it like working on an officially licensed magazine, at a time when a then video games giant like Sega was launching a brand new console?

Rich:
To be honest, most of the time you’d hear about it first in Famitsu. Certainly all the rumours about new consoles would appear there first. However, in the Mega Drive days, I’d sometimes get invited to the inner sanctum of Barry Jafrato, who would always show you stuff he wasn’t supposed to show you.
I saw the Nomad there first, the MultiMega (both in prototype form) and got the 32X details from him first too. During the Saturn period, I was working on MAXIMUM so wasn’t really so involved, but Dreamcast was a different story. There were two trips to Japan for that one, and one-on-one access with the heads of Sega was pretty special.

Mick:
Was the apparent ‘hatred’ between SSM and Sega Power genuine, given that they were both fighting for the same side in a very niche market, and have you ever met former SP editor, Dean Mortlock?

Rich:
There was never really any hatred at all, simply the belief that we were putting out the better magazine.
Call it arrogance if you will but at the time Sega Saturn Magazine and the Paul Davies era CVG were created side-by-side by two teams at the top of their game. We loved what we did and we put our all into those magazines.
It doesn’t just go for Sega Power but for virtually every ‘mainstream’ mag Future Publishing has put out – they just aren’t into it like we were and it shows in the quality.

Generally speaking, I think only Lee Nutter bothered to actually read Sega Power, the rest of us just flicked through to see if there were any stories we’d been beaten to.
We had a few chuckles at their expense which tended to go down like a cup of cold sick, but all console wars past and present tend to be somewhat overblown.

Nope, never met Dean Mortlock, by the way, but then I don’t have much to do with Future full-stop, and there’s only editor there (Tim Clark) that I tend to communicate with.

Mick:
The Saturn is rapidly becoming many a nostalgia buff and retro-games enthusiast’s console of choice, were you aware it had such an ardent following, and indeed do you concern yourself with retro-gaming of any variety these days?

Rich:
My Digital Foundry and Eurogamer work makes it difficult to keep up with current releases, let alone retro gaming.
I’ve still not completed Super Mario Galaxy and doubt I ever will at this rate.
I’m not surprised by the Saturn’s popularity though. The releases were incredibly well targeted at a particular niche,
and that section of players are going to be into it until the day they die.

Mick:
The failures of Sega and its Saturn are well documented, but we would like to ask what your personal opinion is/was on the System, and do you have any fond memories relating to the console itself and your dealings with Sega?

Rich:
I liked the ethos behind the Saturn, the last console really dedicated to the old-skool gamer: the sort of person 100% dedicated to a game’s playability over its graphics, obsessed with the Japanese gaming culture, that sort of thing. It came across almost like a love letter to a generation of gaming that was reaching its conclusion.
The machine’s lifespan also coincided with a period where the arcades got their second wind, and I think that helped it too. I also really liked its dogged dedication to 2D performance – those Capcom 2D fighters really were something special.

I had a sort of love/hate relationship with Sega. We got games from them and some exclusive access, but all the best stuff we originated ourselves via Warren Harrod in Japan. Sometimes it was infuriating dealing with them, mostly because the Japanese often gave them nothing.

But then on the other hand, we gave away stuff like disc one of Panzer Dragoon Saga and Christmas NiGHTS and that wouldn’t have been possible without Sega pulling their finger out and fighting our cause with their Japanese masters.
Coming up with the Panzer disc idea was one of my fondest memories. I played through the whole game with a sense of absolute wonder and then realized that the first disc was relatively short and would make for a superb, very special demo.

 

Virtual Hydlide: a game no mag could have been pressured into giving a good review!

Virtual Hydlide: a game no mag could have been pressured into giving a good review!

Mick:
SSM always said proudly that they were never pressurised into boosting game scores. Can you confirm that this was indeed the case, or was there ever pressure from ‘the powers that be’ to add a few % to a review?


Rich:

The way around this was that we’d typically run a bad review in the next issue and let other people (eg Sega Power, Games Master or whoever) do it first.
Bad games – even mediocre games – don’t sell magazines, so we were never that upset about it.

Mick:
During your time at SSM, do you remember any Saturn games or hardware you were privy to that ultimately went unreleased, and indeed do you still own any promo/preview copies of any titles?

Rich:
I’ve still got a bunch of promo games (known as ‘silvers’ as they blank, pressed CDs) somewhere in storage, but they were all production games.

We saw a few Saturn games like Fighting Force and Chill that never appeared but nothing sensational.
Certainly nothing like the preview alpha code of Sonic the Hedgehog on Mega Drive that Ed Lomas nicked from the EMAP office and still owns to this day.

Mick:
How early on were either yourself or SSM as a whole – aware that Sega were making such a balls-up with the Saturn as far as marketing and dealing with developers was concerned?

Rich:
We knew pretty much as soon as PlayStation came out that it was all coming to an end for Sega, though we’d never admit as much.
The word back from developers was damning and third party publishers were getting much better results from PlayStation hardware than they were from the Saturn. The launch pricing was a disaster. But the Sega audience were still there, attracted by something Sega was doing right – the games – and that’s what we concentrated on.You needed to be a certain type of gamer with a certain mentality to be turned on by the Saturn, and happily that was exactly the way we were too.

Mick:
Were you at the time aware of the development of Shenmue or Virtua Fighter 3 on the Saturn to a greater extent than the public were, and have you ever seen any footage or alpha releases of either?

Rich:
Nope, not a bean. We knew that something was brewing with regards VF3 on the Saturn, but that was it. We didn’t know anything about Shenmue at all until the Project Berkley announcement.

Mick:
Do you think that the Saturn would have gone the distance, despite Sega’s cock-ups, if it had seen versions of games like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, and with that in mind what games would you have liked to have seen on the Saturn back in the day?

Rich:
No, the cock-ups were too immense. It would’ve stood a fighting chance in Japan if FFVII was Saturn exclusive, but the western world wouldn’t have paid any attention whatsoever. Sega were simply ill-equipped to market titles like that.

Mick:
The “Jevons’ Method” of controller configuration in the Saturn’s version of Quake was reportedly so-called after SSM journo Dan Jevons suggested it at the developer’s offices…
True or False?

Rich:
Yes, Dan was working at GameFan at the time and then moved on to work for a while at Lobotomy so that story is 100% true. We both petitioned hard to get the support into the Lobotomy games as it was the closest Saturn could do to a ‘mouse look’ style of control.

Mick:
Do you consider the idea of Sega making consumer hardware again, perhaps a new handheld, completely ludicrous, and either way would you personally enjoy seeing the SEGA branding on a console again?

Rich:
Yes it’s completely ludicrous. Sega simply doesn’t have the resources to get back into the hardware market, and I’m guessing that it no longer has the technical wherewithal either. I wouldn’t be hugely excited by a new Sega console. I think they’ve got their work cut-out sorting out the software side of the equation these days, to be honest.

Mick:
What is your favorite current generation console, and in your personal opinion whom would you expect to ultimately win out over the PS3 and XB360?

Rich:
The problem – if you can call it that – with PS3 and Xbox 360 is that they are basically targeting the same gamers with the same style of gaming.
Now, I prefer these offerings to the Wii experience, but there’s very little to differentiate Xbox 360 and PS3. I mean, the vast majority of games that appear come out on both consoles. That being the case, it’s difficult to have a favourite.

Cross-platform games generally offer better performance on 360, while first party PS3 games like Uncharted and Killzone 2 are pushing the technical boundaries of what this generation can offer graphically and that excites me.

In terms of what’s going to ultimately win-out, the chances are that medium term, 360 will be ahead by a few million units, but I wouldn’t underestimate the PS3’s longer term chances. It’s always going to be an awesome Blu-ray player and with a few tweaks, it’ll be a monster media playback portal. And that won’t change 3-4 years from now when it’ll be dirt cheap to buy.

Mick:
Are you still in contact with any of the folks you worked on SSM with, and if so do you know what they are up to now?

Rich:
I don’t hear much from the art crew (Jason McEvoy, Nick Patterson) and I rarely he ar from Lee Nutter or Matt Yeo, but I’m still in regular contact with Dave Kelsall, Gary Cutlack and publisher Andy McVittie.

Lee’s a publisher-type at Future Publishing and his Future-speak press releases never fail to make me chuckle, Cutlack’s living in the Outer Hebrides and sports a mean beard while Dave gets to go to photoshoots of glamour models via his work at Bizarre magazine.
I’m also still in contact with CVG guys like Paul Davies (running his business with Andy McV), Ed Lomas (working on a Doctor Who magazine) and Tom Guise (doing god-knows-what in Australia).

Mick:
Rich, thank you so much for your time, the staff and members at Sega Saturn UK appreciate your taking part in this interview immensely and wish you all the best for the future.

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