Eurogamer says farewell to Dan Whitehead
Four editors pay tribute to our most prolific reviewer.
I'm sad to announce that Dan Whitehead, a name that will be familiar to regular Eurogamer readers as one of our most prolific contributors, has decided to draw his 20-year career as a games reviewer to a close - and with it his decade-long association with our site.
Though never a full-time member of staff, Dan has written for Eurogamer for longer than any of the current team save Bertie Purchese, and is synonymous with our game reviews. His archive of 968 articles contains no less than 692 reviews; it begins, in March 2006, with a review of Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure ("You can't fault the presentation and all important street vibe, but you can fault the feeble level design, fudged controls and lousy camera") and ends this month with his verdict on Just Cause 3 ("a Roger Moore-era Bond movie as directed by Robert Rodriguez"). In that time, the man known to some of you as "Dead Space Dan" since one of his most famous (or infamous) reviews has contributed as much as any team member, past or present, to our reputation as a tough but fair and clear-headed reviewing site.
Dan is one of the unsung heroes of UK games journalism. He has been writing about games professionally since the early 1990s; in a recent article, he reminisced about scoring his first game reviews in the October 1991 issue of Amiga Computing. "Now, I was getting every game for free, and got to wax lyrical about them in print to boot," he wrote. "If by 'wax lyrical' you mean 'rip off Your Sinclair's irreverent style very badly', of course." Typical modesty from this private, hardworking wordsmith of the old school, who has never been one to seek the limelight (I can see him wincing at the very existence of this piece) or let showiness get in the way of clarity. As a reviewer, he is amazingly professional, prolific, lucid and thorough, with an enviable ability to get straight to the heart of any game, and to deal with it fairly on its own terms.
Games have never been the be-all-and-end-all for Dan, whose knowledge of film, TV, comics and early hip-hop (among other things) is just as encyclopedic and fuelled by just as honest a passion. He's putting the time-consuming business of game reviewing to one side in order to focus on his day job in the TV industry and pursue other writing projects (he has several published books, comics and scripts to his name, including a recent tome on the ZX Spectrum, Speccy Nation). He'll be sorely missed here at Eurogamer - although we hope to tempt him back every now and again for one-off articles.
Dan's been a mainstay at the site since long before I became editor, so I invited my predecessors Tom Bramwell and Kristan Reed, and former deputy editor Ellie Gibson, to add a few words in tribute.
Kristan Reed writes: Lots of people like the idea of reviewing games. It sounds like a dream job, but the reality of doing it day-in, day-out is enough to kill your passion for the thing you love; that's why most people stop doing it after a few years. It can drive you around the bend, and finding anything new or insightful to say about the latest in a long line of sequels is harder than you might imagine.
I probably commissioned more reviews from Dan than anyone else in my career, which tells you everything you need to know. He's the kind of guy that not only never complained that you'd given him some dodgy superhero game to review, but actually bothered to play it properly. And it wasn't just a sign of wilful self-harm: the passion shone through in his copy every time, and he'd pull out a ton of gems from the rough. That's what you need: someone who doesn't pre-judge.
Dan also understood the power of the score. He was never afraid of going against the grain in either direction, in the face of popular opinion, and that's another thing you need to be able to do as a critic. The ones that stick out for me were Dead Space and Braid. The former because I loved that game, and felt that 7 was really harsh, but I also knew exactly where he was coming from; the film buff in Dan takes no pleasure in seeing game writers rehashing clichéd scenarios, but although that didn't bother me, he was right to call it out. As for Braid, it was one of those rare occasions when he weaponised the 10/10 to motivate people to play a tremendously interesting game. Scores are the dullest of topics, but Dan's words always matched the number.
Tom Bramwell writes: I was Dan Whitehead's editor from the start of 2008 to the end of 2014 and I mean no disrespect to any of his peers when I say he was the best freelancer I ever encountered.
Dan was an editor's dream. You could spend days or weeks chasing review code for a big game so that you might have a whisper in a hurricane's chance of hitting a review embargo, but as long as the disc was on Dan's doorstep with a day or two to spare, you knew you were safe. You always knew you would have around 1000 words of entertaining, thoughtful review copy in your inbox in time. I came to rely on Dan so much that I knew his address off by heart. I should have had a stamp made. In the end I had to institute positive discrimination to get other contributors onto the site.
Dan was also remarkable because he always gave new games the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to entertain him, even though he was often under ridiculous time pressure, and he never resorted to snark or cynicism. He authentically loved games from the day he started reviewing them until the day he stopped.
My favourite thing about Dan, though, is that he was so prolific that our rivals at Future Publishing apparently decided he was an invention. There was no way any one person could review this many games so fast and so well, they reasoned, so "Dan Whitehead" must be a pseudonym Eurogamer employed for contributors who weren't in a position to use their real name. I have heard this story a few times and I sincerely hope it's true. It certainly always struck me as fitting for Dan, who loves films as much as he loves games, that the greatest trick he ever pulled was convincing Future he didn't exist.
Dan, it was a huge pleasure to work with you and I miss it very much. Whatever you do next, I won't be surprised when you're quietly brilliant at it.
Ellie Gibson writes: I first met Dan in 2003, when we worked for a terrible magazine publisher just outside Macclesfield. The office was in a converted warehouse halfway down the motorway, next to a Little Chef. Dan ran the movie magazine, producing informed, sparkling copy, and interviewing Hollywood stars. I worked on the games mag, making up the letters page, running competitions only two people ever bothered to enter, and auctioning the leftover prizes on eBay.
The highlight of every week was our Friday lunchtime trip to the Vernon Arms. This was a pub with all the charm and ambience of a BHS lighting department. But it did have Kronenbourg 1664 and a Who Wants to be a Millionaire machine, which is all any journalist ever really needs to be happy.
And for that one hour a week, we were happy. We joked, we laughed, we argued over which king was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine. I learned how to drink three pints of Kronenbourg 1664 in 58 minutes. I remember being in awe of Dan - he was so sharp, so clever, so funny, and he knew more about Star Wars than George Lucas. I was properly gutted when the movie mag closed and Dan left - Friday lunchtimes just weren't as much fun. Also we were never able to get beyond £16,000.
Years later, when I was working for Eurogamer and we were looking for new freelancers, I immediately thought of Dan. I was so pleased when we got to work together again. He is an editor's dream - I don't recall him ever turning down a commission, missing a deadline, or submitting a piece of work that was anything less than excellent. He is informed, funny, fast, and just a brilliant writer. No one can do diligent analysis and great jokes quite like Dan.
He's also one of the loveliest people I've ever met. He once came to see me do comedy in front of 12 people in a Thai restaurant in Manchester. It was a terrible gig, but the sound of Dan and his fab wife laughing almost drowned out the clatter of cutlery and the row over the number of prawns in the Pad Thai. I suspected they were being polite, but that just made me even more grateful.
I'm sad for Eurogamer's sake that Dan is off, but happy for him of course. All the best, Dan - hope to see you down the Vernon Arms sometime. Or ideally, a pub that isn't ****.