Blast from the Past: Julian ‘Jazza’ Rignall Interview

As I’ve mentioned in the past this site, my user name and friendship  were forged in the fires of the GamesAnimal forums. As members we had a direct line to one of the key personalities of nineties gaming television and as such would often bound questions about covering gaming, Gamesmaster, ‘That’ Round of Mario 64 etc… No-one could say that Dave was modest, but as he made a career out of being ‘great’ it’s hard to expect him to expect others to think less. Anyways, in the latter days there was an interview conducted with fellow Gaming Royalty, Julian ‘Jazza’ Rignall. We were asked for questions that he would be asked and the interview was posted on the now – sadly dead – Gamesanimal web site, which I found while trying to track down the history of The Lolocaust. I’ve decided to re-publish the interview here, for the world to enjoy.* Also there is a question in there that I asked – written VERY quickly with no actual thought gone into it and I am not proud of it**… it sounded a LOT better in my head that’s for sure. 

Julian Rignall Talks To GamesAnimal

Towards the end of 2004, it was requested (or was that demanded?) by the members of the forums, that I should try and get in touch with an old colleague of mine, Julian ‘Jazza’ Rignall and find out what he is doing these days.

A videogaming icon to many in the late 80s and very early 90s, largely for his work as Editor of the now long since closed Mean Machines magazine, Julian was for many, the figurehead of the 2D pixel revolution that has since become the multi-media monster that it is today. For others he was simply the reason that they wanted to work in the games industry. The inspiration behind many a young writers move into videogames journalism. Although our careers only really touched briefly during the early 90s, before Julian famously moved to America to work for Virgin, I did have the priviledge to meet, work and chat with Jazza on a number of occasions, and so it was with some relish that I took up the challenge to track down my fellow games legend and if nothing else catch up on old times. So, armed with a note pad full of questions, many of which were posed by the GamesAnimal members themselves, that is exactly what I did.

Although I couldn’t get him to send me any recent images (before you ask), he was more than happy to hear that he is still held in such high regard within the UK games community, and was delighted to fill in the gaps on his recent whereabouts and answer the multitude of gaming questions I put before him. What you are about to read is the record of an exclusive and very rare recent conversation between The GamesAnimal and Jazza. Enjoy.

Can you please fill in some blanks for everyone? What have you been up to since leaving Mean Machines? A potted history of The Life of Jazza if you like…

Virgin Interactive Entertainment (Virgin Games as it was originally called) was where I went after Mean Machines. Spent almost three years working there until I got my Green Card, whereupon I moved up to San Francisco to join Imagine Publishing (run by ex-Future owner and ex-ZZAP! 64 launch editor Chris Anderson). There I was instrumental in putting together and launching, which I’m proud to say survived the dot-com bust and is still one of the best videogame web sites out there.

Following that, I worked at managing the editorial team there, which was absolutely horrible and absolutely hilarious all rolled into one. I basically had to endure the worst kind of corporate bollocks imaginable (such as, “can you write me a plan of the plan you’re creating?” – no kidding). I’m in the process of writing all about it – it’s pretty funny stuff. Then more recently I did a few years of freelancing/arsing around (well, playing a lot of games hehehe) and most recently rejoined the full-time workforce with an advertising agency that creates a variety of catalogues for some of the biggest retailers in the states.

After years of high-stress jobs where I’ve managed teams of up to 100 people, it’s been really nice having a very straightforward, almost stress-free 9-to-5 job where I can work to live, rather than live to work, which I’ve done for most of my life. Oddly enough, I’m happier now than I have been in a long time. For a long time my life was my job, and that’s not a good thing. Not unless you’re working for yourself.

As an Editor at the time it seemed quite exciting that ‘one of our own’ was snapped up by a company like Virgin. Was it a dream move for you?

Yeah. I always wanted to live in the States, so it was an amazing opportunity. It turned out to be very tough for the first few years. I hated Orange County with a passion (the place south of LA where Virgin was based), and working at Virgin was absolutely nothing like I thought it would be. It was and still is – and probably always will be – the definitive example of how not to run a games publishing company. Weak leadership, people wasting literally millions of dollars a day, employees more interested in building little empires within the company than actually making games, unbelievable political battles, people unable to do the job they were hired to do due to personality conflicts that were not resolved by management… Still, it was an amazing learning experience. One day I’ll write about that too.

Does he still have spikey hair? If not, why not? Mizzie – GamesAnimal Forum Member

Kinda. I’ve adopted the San Francisco just-got-out-of-bed hairstyle. To be honest, I’m just grateful that at my advancing years, I’ve still got hair to get out of bed with. And indeed that I can still get out of bed.

Last time we spoke was in LA around 1998. At the time you told me You were enjoying shooting guns as a hobby. How else has life in the US changed you?

I’ve lived out here for just over a decade now, so I’m very much out of touch with what’s cool and current in the UK. I still watch BBC news and whatnot and follow things on an international level, but I have no real idea what’s really popular and important to people on a day-to-day level. The only thing I really keep in touch with is footy, which I can do very easily because we have a TV channel that shows all the UK footy games. I suppose I’ve become very American, because what happens here these days has real meaning and impact on my life, whereas England is just a memory. Makes me feel very odd and sad saying that, but this is where I live now so while you’re in Rome and all that…

Speaking of “while in Rome”, I still do target practice. I have an awesome semi-automatic 9mm Police SWAT rifle that is great fun to shoot with. Weeeee-hoooooo, he said shootin’ his fire-irons into the air and waving his 10-gallon hat.

So, have you swapped your Rugby shirts for Hockey shirts?

I swapped my rugby shirts for the hooded tops that are essential to combat San Francisco’s unbelievably changeable weather. You can be in one part of town and it’s like 85 degrees in bright sunshine, and then go three miles west and it’s 50 degrees in the freezing fog. The weather never ceases to amaze me in this part of the world. You can always spot the tourists – they’re the poor bastards wearing shorts freezing their arses off standing on street corners because they thought California was always hot.

What are your favourite games today? Smoothy – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

I absolutely love Gran Turismo. It’s without doubt my all-time favorite game. Absolutely love it to bits. The newest version looks incredible, and it contains sooo many of my favorite cars, I just can’t wait. I was so pissed off when it got delayed again. Bastards! Over the past few years, I’ve poured an unbelievable amount of time into Asheron’s Call. I would have never believed a game – particularly an MMORPG – could keep me entertained for so many years (and I mean YEARS), but it did. It’s looking pretty out-of-date these days, but it’s still fun to play. I’m looking forward to the new expansion pack which will hopefully provide the update it needs.

A couple of weeks ago, I started playing WoW, and man is that absolutely amazing. I’m already completely hooked. It’s like the best bits of EQ and AC and a bunch of other fantastic ideas rolled into an awesome MMORPG. Other games I’ve been enjoying recently are UT 2004, Halo 2, Bards Tale and Burnout 3. Oh, and Magic the Gathering Online. I’ve been playing the card game for over a decade now, and think it’s probably the greatest non-computer game ever created. The online version is just as fun – although it gets expensive if you want to play with all the most fun cards.

Back in the early 90s I used to play almost six hours every day, even more if I was reviewing. These days though I find I have much less time on my hands. How many hours a day do you play these days?

I still play for ridiculous amounts of time. I guess 3+ hours each night at least online playing WoW, AC or MTGO. Last year when I was working from home, I was doing like 12+ hours a day on AC. Yoink!

What the hell happened to my drawing of Link I sent in? (took me ages man). JWDVD – GamesAnimal Forum Member

It’s probably in the last few bags of mail I still have yet to open. I’ll get to it eventually, don’t you worry. When I find it, I’ll send you a no-prize for your efforts. =)

What would you consider to be your proudest achievements during your professional gaming career?

Winning the Editor of the Year at the yearly British games industry dinner was a very memorable experience. IGN also won a bunch of high-profile awards which was also very cool. But what makes me most proud is that I was part of a team that created magazines that really seemed to resonate with our generation. The fact that they’re still remembered today is just amazing to me. It was definitely awesome to have been able to play a small part in helping shape the early videogames magazine business.

What would you consider to be your proudest achievements in your personal life?

I’m very proud of my DJ skills, which I’ve honed over the last six years. I’m pretty accomplished these days and have played out in SF numerous times. But really, a lot of my favorite personal achievements are really professional ones – that’s what happens when your work life and home life become so blurred they’re one thing.

JAZZA!! OMG OMG OMG OMG!! Erm, questions, questions..Oh, what can you ask an Idol? Oh i know! What does it feel like knowing that he is still idolised by a bunch of 20 something slacker types! Bouncybhall – GamesAnimal Forum Member

I’ve been out of the games industry as a professional for about four years now, and away from the UK for almost 11 years, so it feels really good that people still remember the stuff I was involved in. I’d love the chance to create a new magazine for older gamers – I think there’s a market for it, and I don’t think there are many magazines quite getting the content, tone and style right for the 25+ gamer. In other words, I’d love to be able to do a next-generation Mean Machines. Since we’d be aiming at an older audience, we could be a lot funnier, and a lot more evil, since we wouldn’t have to make it PG13. Aaaaaah fuck it. Perhaps I should just go ahead and do or something…

Do you find your gaming ‘celebrity’ an advantage or an obstacle these days? For example, I find it very hard to post on forums or play online unless I do so incognito. Do you find having a ‘big name’ a little claustrophobic?

I always operate online under a pseudonym. I think most people do. What I’ve found over the years is that the persona I created for the mags I worked on (which was based on, but not the same as my real personality) was sometimes misinterpreted by people, and they’d approach me with a really odd attitude, or say inflammatory things to me expecting a certain response. That’s still the main reason why I remain incognito online – I just don’t want to end up in some weird argument with someone who still has a problem with something I wrote 15 years ago.

I think there would’ve been a very very small number of people who could’ve forseen Nintendo and SEGA both falling on hard times and Sony taking over as the no.1 console manufacturer. What does he see as the future of the industry over the next 10 years? Do you see Microsoft dominating just like they dominate the PC (home & at work) market? Smoothy – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

Sega hit trouble the moment they launched the 32X. At that point it was evident that they weren’t paying attention to the market. Their timing was spectacularly awful, and it came as no surprise to see Saturn die a swift death. After the Megadrive, they seemed to develop an uncanny ability to launch machines that didn’t so much bridge the generational gap, but fall into the gaping chasm between them. ie, a machine that was more powerful than the outgoing systems, but less powerful than the incoming systems. Poor Sega. Still, they make good games, so I’m glad they’re still around.

Nintendo are a victim of his or her own greed. Charging developers ridiculous amount of money for years to make cartridges for their machine was always going to cause people to jump ship the second something else came along. That said, Nintendo owns the handheld market, and probably will do for the foreseeable future. PSP looks good, but it’s a grown-ups toy. Nintendo’s machines have much more of a broad appeal I think.

In terms of set-top boxes, I think Sony has it pretty much tied up now. Microsoft can throw as much money as they want at the marketplace, but I don’t think they’ll dislodge Sony. As it always has and always will be, it’s all about the software, and Sony has too much good stuff. I have a Cube, Xbox and PS2. I’ve been bitterly disappointed with the Cube, and Halo 2 is the only Xbox game I’ve bought this year.

PSP, hit or miss? Why?

Big hit with grown-ups. Lovely, sophisticated, adult PS2 games in the palm of your hand on a nice bright fat screen with super sound. Take THAT Mr Bleepy-Bloopy cartoony Gameboy.

Gizmondo, hit or miss? Why?

Miss. Why buy this when you can buy a proper hand-held PC that does more, is more expandable and is infinitely more useful than this tacked-together item?

Phantom, hit or miss? Why?

Firstly, does this machine even really exist? Nobody seems to have ever seen one working, or even turned on. And even if it does exist, why bother? They could have made the system and technology work with PCs and they would have had an instant market. Instead they create yet another Xbox-style machine, only this time without the heavyweight marketing funding of Microsoft. Just one look at their website sums it up. No serious hardware manufacturer should ever have blank pages with “coming soon” written up on it. That kind of crap is acceptable on little Jimmy’s l33t Ga/\/\1Ng site, but not on a company whose machine is supposed to be out next month.

How do you feel about the demise of CVG? Smoothy – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

Sad. CVG had been screwed up since the early 90’s. I really wanted to do something different with it back in the day when I was at EMAP, but I wasn’t allowed to. Basically, what happened at EMAP was that instead of money being put into the much-needed redesign of CVG, Mean Machines and NMS and launching what would have been a competitor to Edge magazine (I worked on a dummy issue it with an amazing designer called Dave Kelsall and it would have been absolutely killaaaahhh – it was called Tekno), it was wasted on a home theatre magazine. Right. Let’s launch a high-end home electronics magazine right in the middle of a recession, and let’s use a division that creates gaming magazines to produce it. The mag tanked after like two issues and a huge investment. Meanwhile CVG, Mean Machines et al were run into the ground with no investment and no redesign, and within a year or so, EMAP’s grip on the market was slacker than a drunk man’s willy. I was already long gone.

Do you miss your days on Mean Machines? Mizzie – GamesAnimal Forum Member

Yes. Definitely. The team we had was just incredible, and the office humor and camaraderie was just awesome, unlike anything else I’ve experienced in my professional career. The Mean Machines’ humor you saw in the magazine just flowed out of what was happening every day at the office. Truly amazing. What I don’t miss are the long hours. I put my heart and soul into Mean Machines, and by the time I left I was very burned out. We were paid reasonably well, but we were always understaffed and overworked due to Mean Machine’s’ managers being incredibly penny-pinching and tight with funds to maximize profits often at the expense of people’s well-being.

Tell us a funny story from your life at the helm of one of the UK’s best loved games mags?

Calling for an ambulance about 30 minutes after a Christmas party had started because Oz the designer had drunk about three pints and 10 shots one after the other, and then promptly collapsed. Doesn’t sound funny, but watching someone go from sober to literally paralytic in about 25 minutes was a sight to see.

What games machines do you use mostly at home?

If you don’t count my PC, then PS2 is by far the most-used machine. Question 21 What games mags do you read today? None. is pretty much my biggest source of gaming news, plus friends from the industry. By the time most game mags come out, I’ve already read about it, looked at the screenshots and watched the video. Plus I find most American magazines indeterminably dull. They’re so shit-scared of upsetting the advertisers, they wouldn’t say boo to a (Gertie) goose. If anyone gets that reference, they get a no-prize from me. I noticed that in the UK these days, mags are all about the free DVD on the cover. To quote a great friend of mine, “You could put a dog turd out with a free DVD on it, and it’d still sell”. Seems like a good few people do.

Quickies… C64 or Speccy?

C64 by a country mile. Speccy had some good games on it, but it never got close to the sheer brilliance of the C64, which had proper graphics and sound compared to the Speccy’s sad squeaks and attribute clash.

ST or Amiga?

Amiga. Similar reasons to the above.

Mega Drive or SNES?

There were some greeeeeaaat games on the SNES, but at the end of the day, the Megadrive’s games library just appealed to me more. PGA Tour Golf is a game that I still play today – especially when my best friend from Southern California visits. I have a 1994 copy of the game that STILL has our chars and stats from that period. I can’t believe the battery has lasted that long, and I can’t believe we still have so much fun playing it. Something about PGA’s controls make it THE perfect late-night-under-the-influence head-to-head game.

PlayStation or Saturn?

I’ll take the machine with the games library please.

Jaguar or 3DO?

Hmmm. Turd or dog poo?

PS2 or XBox?

PS2 without a shadow of a doubt. Xbox has the technical edge, but I’ve always loved Playstation games a bunch more. Currently my collection is around 5 PS2 games to every one Xbox game.

Would you ever consider a return to the uk games mag industry? JWDVD – GamesAnimal Forum Member

I’d never say never, but I can’t see myself doing it. I might well make a return online as a grizzled old git. Depends if I can get my arse in gear and actually start writing about games again.

What the hell happened to Gary Harrod? JWDVD – GamesAnimal Forum Member

Last time I heard from him, it was 1997 and he was out here in the states working on a games mag in Southern California. It went bust, and he went back to England. Not heard from him since.

Who came up with Mean Yob and who wrote his replies? He was hilarious – we need more things like that in today’s magazines. Andi – GamesAnimal Forum Member

Guilty as charged, your honor. Writing Mean Yob was one of my favorite things I ever did while working in the magazine industry. Fun fun fun. Oh, and the Mean Machines editorial page in general (anyone remember “Insult Corner”) was always a blast, and definitely had some very funny things hidden in there. I can’t believe we got away with some of the stuff we wrote, but then, we were always very careful to make sure they were double entendres so when parents rang up to complain, we could proclaim innocence (something that happened on a few occasions).

Who has been most influential to you during your career?

We always scrutinized what the competition was doing, and tried to outdo them – so in that sense, anyone who was working at a rival magazine had a very strong influence on my career. In the early days, Chris Anderson and Roger Keen were both highly influential in helping me hone my writing skills.

Do you still regard gameplay as being far more important than graphics, especially when graphics chips in PCs and consoles are now big business? Smoothy – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

Of course, gameplay is still the king, but the audio-visual experience runs it a close second. Bottom line, it’s all about integrating the three of them to best effect. Games have been around for years now, and people have seen what works and what does not. It’s not like people are really pioneering these days – it’s pretty much all about evolving existing games and genres. In that sense, I think that certain standards have been reached that people expect to be met. It’s like acting. Nobody expects to see crappy lighting, terrible dialogue and camerawork in a movie, and nobody expects to see bad graphics, hear crap sounds or suffer poorly-designed gameplay. Of course, that still happens, but I think that the reaaallly bad stuff is few and far between. The “average” quality of a game has improved enormously over the last 10 years.

When was the last time you were really impressed by a game?

Only the other day when I had my first major high-speed collision in Burnout 3. I couldn’t believe how much stuff was going on. And a few nights ago when I played WoW and took my first flight somewhere. That was awesome. WoW is totally blowing me away at the moment. I’m sooooo happy that after 25 years of playing games, there’s still stuff coming out that can make me just as excited as I felt the first time I booted up Impossible Mission, Toy Bizarre, Bruce Lee etc etc etc.

What are your thoughts on the gaming sector of the magazine industry these days as a whole? Does it differ from what it was 10-20 years ago when you were in the industry? Is it good news or bad news that Future and Paragon own pretty much all of the gaming magazines, including some that he has had a hand in (CVG and Nintendo Magazine come to mind)? Smoothy – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

I picked up a copy of GAMER magazine the other day, and I thought that was pretty good. It’s hilarious seeing large “retro” sections in magazines and seeing what you wrote and played being talked about in a kind of semi-historical sense. That said, I don’t really read games mags any more – the net has made them redundant as far as I’m concerned. These days, what’s free on the cover seems to be a lot more important than what’s on the inside. I’ll put my hand up and admit that I was one of the people that set the games magazine industry down that horrible road. Anyone remember the free holograms we gave away on the cover of CVG, and the demo tapes we gave away on ZZAP! 64? Oh, and the st00pid little placcy Jazzas on Mean Machines? Hehehe. Little did we know what horrible monster we were letting out of the bag. Nowadays if there’s not something “free” on the cover, it doesn’t sell. Sad.

What are your memories of appearing on the GamesMaster TV shows?

Fun stuff. It was always insane – they’d get us in a studio, and we’d do weeks and weeks worth of reviews in the space of a few hours, one after the other. Could get a bit tiring, and towards the end, it was difficult to not sound like an automatic gaming cliché machine.

Will you ever post on the forums? Smoothy – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

Yeah. I should come and register and have some fun. I’m actually very very active on a few other MMORPG forums, so between playing games, posting about them and trying to squeeze in a life, I don’t have a lot of spare time.

Does he mind that I named my doggy after him? Jaz is a brilliant dog, and very handsome too! Caz Chan – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

I’m most honored, and I really mean that. =)

Have you ever published anything you regret?

Not really. In the early days we did write some exceptionally cruel things about peoples’ games, which I think largely deserved it. However, people sometimes took what we wrote personally, and got very upset about it. That’s something I never really intended, but that’s what happens when you criticize someone else’s work.

Do you think you’ll ever come back to the UK? Smoothy – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

Never say never. Perhaps if a really great opportunity came along, I’d be tempted, but I think the chance of that happening is slim to none, since I have very little contact with any business people in the UK and am not really actively looking for a job there. To be honest, I’ve been thinking more about living on the Continent (France, Holland or Portugal) and perhaps running some kind of web business. I think if/when I have kids I might change my mind. The thought of bringing my kids up on an American education fills me with dread…

What are your all-time favourite games? Smoothy – GamesAnimal Forum Moderator

To me, GT4 will be THE most important PS2 game of all time, and most likely will become my favorite game of all time. Asheron’s Call, Worlds of Warcraft (newest entry, but I know this game is going to be one fer sure), Robotron 2084, PGA tour golf series on Megadrive, Tetris. Those are the games I still happily play. To be honest, there aren’t many old games I could play for more than a few minutes. I’ve always been a bit of a “play it and move on” kind of a person. In that sense, I have a list of “favorite memory” games. Games that I wouldn’t play, but still absolutely love because of what they meant to me at the time or remind me of (like Toy Bizarre, Ultimate Play the Games stuff etc). Gimme the new stuff any day. The old stuff has already been played.

If you could give any advice to somebody wanting a career in the games industry, what would it be?

Understand that breaking into the games industry requires either a tremendous amount of effort, and/or an awful amount of luck. And in 99% of gaming companies, there are always at least 10 people with conflicting opinions telling you what needs to be done next at any given time. And the chances of ever getting to produce a game that’s truly “yours” is almost zero. At very best, you can play a small part in producing a great game.

Pick your all-time magazine dream team.

Art: Sir Gareth of Harrod. Dave Kelsall.

Words: Richard Leadbetter. The Games Animal. Paul Glancey.

And Finally… Dear Jazz, Will Street Fighter 2 or Final Fight ever be released on the Sega Megadrive?

Yes. They’re out now at a WareZ site near you.

* As this is a re-up I would obviously hope that no-one would object, but if an objection is to be made feel free to send me a message. Obviously we respect The Gamesanimal site and in no way claim ownership of this piece.

NB – Re-post of original Copyright notice:

Please note that the views, reviews and comments contained within this site are not necessarily those of Dave ‘GamesAnimal’ Perry himself (unless clearly stated otherwise) but the legal property and responsibility of GamesAnimal Ltd.

** If I did get the chance to ask the question again I would have asked : “Jazza, With every gamer and his dog now writing a blog do you see much of those early magazine days in the sites, or do you think that the sheer volume and opportunity has ruined it by giving the talentless an equal placement alongside better writers? ie Is it fair that Jim Sterling get’s international attention – given that he is a talentless, hypocritical hack – while people like Damien McFerran work hard for more deserving praise from a smaller minority.”

Or something like that…

Anyways, hope you enjoyed the article, for me and my fellow ‘oldies’ it holds a lot of old memories, specifically in forum user names we’ve all since forgotten.


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