Exploring EMAP's Lost Official Dreamcast Magazine: An Interview With Dave Kelsall

Magazines are an important part of gaming history.

They were the only way that regular people could absorb all the news from the industry and get opinions on games before they spent their hard-earned cash on them. Like much physical media though, they have become increasingly niche as the internet and digital technologies saturate the market. News can be fed right to your phone as it happens, while user and influencer reviews are taken on board just as much, if not more, than the professionally written ones of established journalists.
For many of us who revere retro (and especially Dreamcast, of course), physical media and good-old-fashioned games journalism feels sorely missed. Personally, I can find a place for the old and the new in my life, but when flicking through old magazines I never fail to stumble upon that one thing that made them special - magic.

Okay, I don’t mean magic in the make-believe sense (and most definitely not in the Dynamo sense either), but rather that feeling of holding in your hands the key to a world that is beyond the norm. They were a guide to all of those computers, consoles and games that you had no idea were coming. They held updates on things you were eagerly awaiting, and reviews of games you’d seen in the shop but had no idea if it was worth paying £39.99 for.
When I wrote my first book, Dreamcast: Year One, I took this very specific love of gaming magazines and injected that into the pages - both in the style and also the content. Specifically, I interviewed three people involved in that scene from the time of the Dreamcast; Caspar Field (editor of DC-UK), Ed Lomas (reviews & deputy editor of Official Dreamcast Magazine) and also David Kelsall (graphic designer at Official Saturn Magazine).
The latter of those interviews was more than just a chat about the good old days though, as David had a never-before-seen pitch from the magazine publisher EMAP for the Official Dreamcast Magazine. I therefore decided to share an edited down version of his interview, along with a few of the images he shared with me, in the book itself.

I had always intended to share a longer version of the interview with the images I didn’t use, and as we approach the launch of my campaign to fund Dreamcast: Year Two I figured this was the best time to do that. So here it is!

Andrew Dickinson: David, could you please tell us a little bit about how you got into games journalism?

Dave Kelsall: It’s quite a long story! I’ve always been obsessed with games magazines (and games of course). I used to buy everything available, even books with type-in BASIC listings. I wouldn’t necessarily type them, but I liked to read the code and look at the artwork.

I was on an art trip to London with my Sixth form college and I spotted Julian Rignal (renowned games journalist and editor) sitting in the buffet clutching a camera. He was off to do one of his seaside reports on the latest arcade machines, so I went over to say hi. I didn’t live that far from Ludlow (where Newsfield, the publishers of Crash and Zzap! 64, were based) and so he invited me down to take a look around the offices whenever we were both free.

A few weeks later I went down for a visit and he very kindly showed me around, took me to the pub, and we of course played games. Fast forward a few years and I had just finished my HND in Graphic Design and I was on the train accompanying my girlfriend who was going for an interview in London for a job in the fashion industry. I happened to be reading a copy of Mean Machines and there was an advert in the News section looking for a designer. As I remember it, I turned up to the EMAP offices and enquired about the job. I think I spoke to Julian beforehand and mentioned who I was, and I was promptly shown upstairs and told to design something. They must have liked what I did as I was offered the job the next day and that was the start of a career in magazines, and initially games journalism. I absolutely loved my time there and I only left the games division when EMAP sold it to Dennis. I moved on to other titles within EMAP.

What was the vibe while you worked for the Official Saturn Magazine, considering the console's failure to build a significant user base in the UK?

It was fun! I absolutely loved the Saturn and the opportunity to work on the official Sega Saturn Magazine. We all did. There were some amazing games released for the console, and even though we knew it was massively getting overshadowed by the PlayStation we continued to stay excited about the console and hopefully kept the readers excited as well. I had moved on to new launches toward the end of the magazine’s life, and so I was there at a time when there was still a very positive vibe about the machine.
Was there excitement over at EMAP about the Dreamcast?

Yes, absolutely. We were really excited about pitching for the official title. We knew that they wanted a very different sort of magazine, but we felt that we could deliver it. We thought the Dreamcast was a fantastic machine and felt it delivered the promise of proper arcade quality games. Which it did, didn’t it? I seem to remember thinking the name was a bit naff though. Not naff to me so much, but not great for a console that wanted to become a household name.
What was Sega like as a company around this time?

I personally didn’t have that much contact with Sega. I knew Mark Maslowicz (who was in marketing at Sega Europe) and he was always really good to us. He’d always turn up to the office with a load of games for us to devour. We knew they wanted a magazine that would include a lot of lifestyle elements. I’d say 70% games, and then the rest would be opinion pieces, lifestyle features, reviews of other complimentary media and that sort of stuff.
The wonderful images you have shared constitute part of the EMAP pitch for the Official Dreamcast Magazine. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to find out Sega were putting the magazine out for tender?

Well, the same thing happened with Sega Saturn Magazine, and so we always knew that we’d be pitching for it. I seem to remember there was word that we were unlikely to win it, but I assumed that Future Publishing were going to get it after they had proven themselves with the Official Playstation Magazine. I was never really involved with all this, though. I just had to make it look right and I was hopeful right up until the end!

Were there any particular instructions given about what Sega wanted to see, or did you have free rein over the design choices?

Well, just that it had to look more like a lifestyle consumer magazine and less like a games magazine. The choice of fonts, grids, colour, photography and style were very important. I remember having completely free reign over the design and, looking back, I think it works, but I’ll let your readers be the judge of that!
Could you explain about how the pitch came together?

Hard to remember exactly. I think I was locked in a room and developed lots of ideas until the final look and feel was settled on. We did around 30 pages or so to show the mix and everything was printed out and put together onto boards rather than a traditional dummy that would have the content repeated and made into a 100 page dummy magazine.

Were there any ideas for the magazine going forward, should you have won the pitch?

The idea was to tap into EMAP’s other titles and get the writers from Q, Empire, FHM etc to contribute to the magazine. But I don’t think that was very apparent from the dummy pages we did.
Do you know why Sega decided not to go with your vision?

I guess they just preferred the Dennis pitch. I thought it looked great. I think they wanted a change and Dennis was hungry for it!

What happened after the pitch was rejected?

EMAP didn’t want an unofficial title, so we were packed off to do other projects. Being a massive hoarder I kept any scraps or copies of the pitch that remained. I think I have most of it but possibly older versions with minor differences. I can’t remember exactly what I did next. I think I helped develop some new launches and I put together another doomed pitch for the PlayStation 2 magazine. But that’s another story - and there’s a proper printed dummy for that one!

I ended up working on a title called Internet Magazine which was a consumer/business title about a funny little thing called the World Wide Web. I’ll always remember when we did a page at the back of the magazine urging readers to try out this thing called Google that we’d discovered!
What were your favourite memories of the Dreamcast?

The arcade quality games. Those games were amazing, and still are. This was at a time when you could still see a discernible difference between consoles and they all had a certain look and feel that isn’t so noticeable now. The actual machine looked great. The VMU’s were fun and it was just so… um… SEGA-y!

What was your favourite launch title, and why?

Power Stone. I thought it looked unbelievably good. I’m not a fighting game fan by any means, but I loved the crazy settings and over the top power ups. I couldn’t believe it was running on a home console.
Why do you think that the Dreamcast is still so popular today?

Apart from the fact it was a really great machine, it had a lot of really top class titles that just weren’t available anywhere else. Also, it was Sega’s final home console and it’s a really great system to own and collect games for.

If you’ve enjoyed this, please consider backing the campaign for Dreamcast: Year Two over on Kickstarter (you can find updates on my Twitter page also), where a reprint of Dreamcast: Year One will be available along with a plethora of other physical media to celebrate that golden age of gaming in style. Of course, once the Dreamcast Year Two campaign goes live, we'll be sharing the information here too.
What are your thoughts on the unrealised EMAP take on Official UK Dreamcast Magazine? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

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