In Memory of Jason Brookes

By Lewis Packwood on at

On Wednesday the Edge Twitter account announced that Jason Brookes, the publication’s second editor, had died.

Jason was renowned for his love of Japanese games and extensive knowledge of Japan’s gaming scene. He began his professional writing career on the fondly remembered SNES magazine Super Play at Future Publishing in the early 1990s, and was also a contributor to the cult video game fanzine Electric Brain. In 1993 he moved across the floor at Future to become a writer on the launch issue of Edge - and just nine issues later, found himself in the hot seat after the departure of the magazine’s first editor, Steve Jarratt.

Jason contributed to the cult game fanzine Electric Brain in the early 1990s (Image source)

He would stay on as editor for nearly four years, and had a big hand in shaping Edge, which this year became the UK’s longest-running games magazine. Jason left in 1998 and subsequently contributed articles to the short-lived (but much loved) Arcade magazine, as well as the Dreamcast mag DC-UK. After relocating to the United States, he spent the 2000s as US correspondent for the Japanese magazine LOGiN, and later for its legendary sister magazine, Famitsu, but returned to the UK in recent years for health reasons. Jason was also a talented graphic designer, and was working on a project called Visions of Video Games when he died.

Steve Jarratt, the launch editor for Edge, recalls Jason’s famously laissez-faire attitude to deadlines: “He drove us all a bit crazy with his casual approach to scheduling, but the magazine would have been so much poorer without his input. The fact that Edge is still going after all these years (apparently it's now the longest running UK games magazine) is due in no small part to his efforts, both during my editorship and his own four-year tenure, when it grew in both sales and stature. I’m very proud of the mag and its legacy – but a lot of the credit has to go to Jason.”

“Jason eventually departed Future and headed to the States, at which point we drifted apart. I stupidly missed the chance of catching up with him at a Future Publishing reunion some years back, and it was only recently that I heard about his illness. We reconnected on email a few weeks ago, and planned to meet up when he felt well enough. I hugely regret missing both opportunities – to see my old friend again and find out what he’d been doing, and reminisce about our careers in video gaming and the time we shared on Edge.”

“His passing is painfully sad, and it’s the one deadline I wish he could have sailed straight past... However, I take some solace in the fact that he lived an exciting and eventful life, both here and in San Francisco, and enjoyed himself to the fullest.”

The coalface of UK games journalism in around 1995-ish. L-R: Jason Brookes, Craig Brooks, Tony Mott, and Keith Stuart. Photo credit: Terry Stokes

James Binns, CEO of Network-N and a former Future colleague, said "Super sad to see Jason go. I liked Jason. He was a kind soul and a mad, smart creative. If I had to sum him up in a game it would be Rez. I always think of him when I see that game."

Tributes to Jason have also been flooding Twitter, a few of which are below.

Writer Simon Cox:

Former Future chief executive Greg Ingham:

Current Edge editor Nathan Brown:

Screenwriter and former PC Gamer editor Gary Whitta:

And others have spoken about how Jason’s writing influenced them and shaped their career.

Writer Neil Grayson:

Writer Chris Scullion:

Nintendo Life editorial director Damien McFerran:

Paul Monaghan from the retro-gaming podcast Maximum Power Up interviewed Jason Brookes as part of a retrospective on the top ten gaming magazines. “He was one of the first magazine-related guests that I had the pleasure of interviewing for Maximum Power Up,” Paul says. “Jason came across as passionate and spoke so fondly about his time on Super Play and Edge. His knowledge and passion about Japanese gaming really helped Super Play stand out from the massive choice of gaming magazines. Away from gaming, he gave me tips and strategies to improve my mental health when I was having a very bad time last year. Although I never met him in-person, I will remember what he did for me.”

I interviewed Jason in October 2019 for an upcoming feature on the early days of Edge magazine. Jason was straightforward about his illness and prognosis, but thanks to his sense of humour and upbeat nature that was soon forgotten as he reminisced about his greatest times in games journalism. A lightly edited transcript of our chat follows.

Lewis Packwood: How did you join Edge in the first place?
Jason Brookes: So I was actually already working at Future. I was working on a mag called Super Play, which was, you know, like a Japanesey Super Nintendo mag that got quite a following, and that was a dream job for me. So I kind of was a graduate and had no idea what to do with life, and suddenly ended up on this magazine that was like a dream come true, because I was a massive game freak, basically. You know, really into Super Nintendo, all the Japanese stuff, PC Engine. Anyway, so I came from there. And then I heard through the grapevine after about six or seven issues of being on Super Play that there were plans to launch a multi-format mag, so I got sort of moved aside. I didn't want to leave the Super Play mag because it was so fun, but I was really into multi-format magazines generally, so it was a perfect fit for me.

Jason began his career at Future as a writer on Super Play. (Image source)

LP: And how did you find the magazine format evolved over the years you were there? I mean, were there things that got dropped, and things that were brought in?
JB: Oh, yeah. So my situation was, I was extremely fortunate in Steve Jarratt leaving really soon - he actually left after nine issues, and suddenly, issue ten, I was the editor, which was a shock. But also, you know, I couldn't believe my luck. But I was woefully under-skilled compared to someone like Steve, so the magazine for me was a little bit, you know, it was a bit tricky to get the balance right. And I think, you know, there’s certainly some issues where I look back and think, ‘Oh god, I didn't know what the hell I was doing really’. Sorry, what was your question [laughs] I can’t remember now!

LP: Well it was more just is there anything you kind of decided to drop when you came in?
JB: Yeah, we did stray a lot from Steve’s original sort of blueprint, design... I mean, I think we had different designers come on within about a year. It really changed design a lot, some of it successful, some of it not so successful. At the time I was super into clubbing, dance music and all that stuff, it was a great time for music as well. Leftfield, Orbital, I was super into it, and so I was trying to squeeze in as much of that stuff as possible, which a lot of people were sort of like, ‘hang on a minute, you’re supposed to be covering just games’.

So I look back with sort of mixed feelings about some of the stuff I put in there. You know, we were reviewing all kinds of weird stuff and music CDs and things that maybe weren't appropriate. But I feel the magazine did change a lot, you know, I look back at those early issues and the tone of the magazine actually was quite bright and breezy and accessible, and then we became a little bit pompous, sort of like ‘we’re holier than thou’. And the whole ‘Edge thinks this’ and ‘Edge thinks that’, I actually sort of cringe a little bit now. And I think they still do that, but I think we’ve sort of got to the point where we don't need to do that anymore. But at the time, maybe it worked, it separated the voice of the magazine from other magazines. But I think ultimately people like to have a name to who writes the words.

The first issue of Edge from 1993. Jason worked as a staff writer on the first issue before becoming editor on issue ten. Image source.

LP: Is there anything that you introduced that you think has made a lasting impact on the magazine in terms of its content or tone?
JB: I was really into a lot of arcade games at the time and a lot of pixel games, and so it wasn't the 3D stuff or the CD-ROM stuff that I was particularly excited about. So I was super keen to get like a retro section in there, and that lasted many, many years. Retro View, I think it was called. I just wanted us to have one foot in the past as well as a foot in the future, and I suppose that was a success...

It did change a lot through the years. I think Steve really nailed it from the outset with the template, and then we sort of strayed a bit from that and started exploring different things, but essentially we had the features, we had the reviews and we had our news section. I guess these days it would be difficult to have a magazine that was relying on news as a selling point, but remember this was before the internet.

Our news would come in by fax from Japan, and it would be our guy in Japan, who was this French guy who didn't really know a lot about games but he was desperate to get into the industry, and he was literally translating the newspaper, the Nihon Shinbun newspaper or Famicom Tsushin. We would just get our news completely plagiarized from Japanese sources or [from] insider contacts that were sort of sharing things like when the PlayStation was first announced. We had the inside track on some of that stuff because Edge was seen slightly differently by the industry and so we got red carpet treatment for things like that, which was really cool.

LP: For me Edge has always stood out as providing really interesting, in-depth features. Are there any particular ones you remember working on?
JB: Well the one the one that really stands out for me was the one I had to do from the outset on issue one ... At the time I think Steve wasn't really into travelling, so I was lucky enough to be able to go to the States to do a big feature on the 3DO. And so that was amazing because at the time I was such a games nerd. I was like, well, I'm going to see 3DO, surely I can go and see some other developers too, really max out the trip. So I went all over the place visiting developers, to Virgin, Interplay down in LA, I went down to FTL who designed the original Dungeon Master... So I just had a blast, you know, it was one of my first trips to the States. I had to write this epic feature when I came back, but you know, it was a really exciting time because I was just following my passion and getting to meet all my heroes.

The ill-fated 3DO, as featured in the first issue of EDGE. Image by Evan-Amos from Wikipedia.

The other stuff was that we had hardware features every month, and so I got to get some in-depth coverage on things that hadn't really been covered in-depth before in UK mags, such as PC Engine, so we had an exhaustive feature on that. And I think that continued with all the successive formats, so it was really sort of getting that credibility and getting that more hardcore knowledge into the magazine, that was what I was really into.

LP: I guess when you started as editor was about the time that Edge really started to come into its own with the whole ‘next-generation’ tag, because that was around the launch of the PlayStation and Saturn...
JB: I do remember being in Japan and the Saturn was launching a couple of weeks before the PlayStation - it was mid-November I think, and PlayStation launched in early December. I was there on a trip... and I got to stay for the launch, and bought like four or five Saturns and took them back to my hotel room and played Virtua Fighter, and then flew back with all these Saturns I had to pay import duty on for people who wanted them.

So yeah, that whole time was just crazy. I was going around Japanese magazines and seeing all the demos of PlayStation and Saturn games that as British mags we weren’t allowed to see. I was even allowed to plug in my Hi-8 video camcorder to record all the footage, so when we got back we had loads of screenshots to take. And, you know, it was so cool, because we got really got in with the Japanese developers because our guy in Japan really helped us there. And we also got in with the Japanese magazines as well, which introduced us to loads of people like Kenji Eno, all these people who were doing things slightly differently. So for me, it was a dream come true, it was an absolutely amazing time.

Kenji Eno, designer of the D series of survival horror games. Image by Joi Ito from Wikipedia.

LP: What prompted you to leave?
JB: I think it was just done ... I think by the time 1998 rolled around, we'd got over that initial amazing first wave of next-generation consoles, and my interest in gaming was waning a little bit, to be honest. And I was sort of exploring a lot of other things, like festival culture, dance music and clubbing. ... I became really good friends with Neil West, who was the editor of Next Generation [the American version of Edge at the time]. He was living in San Francisco, so I got to go and stay with him on trips to look at games and stuff, and decided I had to move to San Francisco. So that's primarily why I left Edge - to move to the States. Yeah, and I spent a very long time there, and had a good time.

LP: And what are you doing now?
JB: I got into design and illustration, partly because of my love of games. And so that really turned on the art switch in my brain, being on the magazines and loving games, and I decided 10 years ago that I wanted to be a graphic designer and illustrator, so I’ve been pursuing that … I actually have a whole sort of geeky retro game T-shirt project that’s been years in the making in terms of me thinking about it, but not a lot has really... it’s coming together. If you can imagine an amalgam of anime influences and Japanese typography and spaceships and old games, then that's kind of what I'm going for. So we’ll see what comes of that.

I do a bit of writing still, I worked for Sam Dyer, who has the Bitmap Publishing books, the retro game books. And I've done some stuff for Future, they had the whole retrospective on Super Play, so I do bits and pieces, but really, it's not about writing. It's not even about playing games that much to be honest. I have a PS4 Pro, but I don't really engage with a lot of the modern games, I’m still hooked on the past really. I have a Wii U, I bought that for retro gaming. So I'm still into it, but I definitely have more interest in games past than the future.

LP: Okay, well, thanks for your time, and do let me know about the retro game T-shirts, that sounds brilliant.
JB: Yeah, yeah, the line is called Visions of Video Games. Bit of a mouthful. But I’ve got a few designs that really I'm going to have to get my arse in gear and print, because I'm at college doing this illustration course, and part of that is having access to printing and stuff. Anyway, I'll send you a message if by miracle I’ve got anything ready for this autumn.

Jason Brookes, 1967 — 2019. If you would like to make a donation to Prostate Cancer UK in Jason's memory, here's the link.