Jesse’s Top 5 Videogames of 2013

2013: Another year almost finished and another year full of fantastic games. As I look back on my year in gaming, it became clear that I did a lot of catching up this year with many games released from 2009-2012. However, the games I did play from 2013 thrilled me, humored me and left me with a sense of awe at how imaginative a story could be told through an interactive medium. These are my top five videogames of 2013 in no given order except for the number one spot.

5. Puzzle & Dragons (iOS | Android)

Puzzle and Dragons

This mobile title from GungHo Entertainment hooked me from the start after reading about it on Destructoid. The puzzle-like aspects of Bejeweled mixed with the leveling up process similar to Pokemon had me logging in every single day since I’ve owned it. For not spending a dime on this game, I’ve gotten more than my fair share of entertainment from it and while it’s not deep in storytelling (in fact, I haven’t seen any actual story in it), it has an entertaining formula that can keep you logging in 50 days straight. Note: Technically this game was released in North America in Nov. 2012, but I gave it some leeway due to its platform.

4. Gone Home (Windows | Mac | Linux)

Gone Home

I heard how good this game was from multiple game writers and critics who, unfortunately, slightly spoiled the premise of the game for me. Regardless, the story told in this game isn’t often found in videogames, especially in 2013 — a year with an unusual amount of games filled with violence. Gone Home’s storytelling worked because of how you’d unlock each room set inside an eery house replete with nostalgic items from the ‘90s. This was one of the most memorable games I played during Extra Life and the end of the game left me with goosebumps.

3. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (Xbox 360 | PS3)

far cry 3 blood dragon

Part of catching up from 2012 was getting to play and finish Far Cry 3, which was a phenomenal game in itself. The Blood Dragon DLC took the fundamental gameplay elements of Far Cry 3 and turned it into a neon tinted world filled with cybernetics, dragons, and cheesy 16-bit interludes full of macho behavior you’d see in a movie like Predator. Sure, the leveling up process may have been simplified for this title, but the humor and the music made this game a top contender for 2013. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this and recommend “Blood Dragon Theme” and “Power Core” (Spotify) for some rad early ‘80s synth and power drums. Play this game.

2. Grand Theft Auto 5 (Xbox 360 | PS3)

grand-theft-auto-v

The prolonged console cycle of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 brought about the annualization of more games than I’m used to, many of which could’ve benefitted from a break between years. When I think back to Grand Theft Auto 4, it kinda’ blows me away that it was released back in 2008. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise to me that Grand Theft Auto 5 broke entertainment sales records with its expansive open world, unique soundtrack and introduction of three playable characters, each with his own quirks, strengths and weaknesses. This game isn’t perfect — there doesn’t seem to be one strong female lead in the whole game — but what Rockstar did was polish everything that was rough about Grand Theft Auto 4 and they took you deep into a world you could explore for weeks on end.

1. Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360 | PS3 | Steam)

Bioshock-Infinite

The first Bioshock is still one of my favorite games on Xbox 360. Bioshock 2 didn’t live up to the same feeling of vulnerability that I had in the previous game, but seeing through the eyes of a Little Sister fascinated me and it’s still a moment I remember vividly. Bioshock Infinite took me to the colorful and saturated world of Columbia only to realize that everything isn’t as quaint as it seems. The shooting mechanics and the vigors weren’t as balanced as I remember them being in Bioshock, but the introduction of the sky hook made zipping through the areas invigorating, while the story left me dumbfounded and awestruck.

So there you go! I admit that I missed out on some great games from 2013. From what I’ve been told, The Last of Us is quite a remarkable game, but I don’t own a PS3. Papers, Please slipped through the cracks for me, but one I’ll have to play soon. Tomb Raider was a lot of fun and almost made the list. Rayman Legends is a beautiful platformer that I still want to play at some point. Got any other game recommendations? What were your favorites?

Extra Life 2014 — What I’m Playing and When

Extra Life 2012 Essentials

Drained. That’s how I usually feel after videogaming for 24 hours straight. But, once a year for the past three years, I’ve made that choice to help kids at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, because friends and family have believed in this cause enough to sponsor me. I’m doing it again this year and we’re upping the challenge, because the official day lands on November 2, which just happens to be on Daylight Savings Time.

Each year, I try to figure out as many ways to make this event as entertaining as possible for the people who sponsored me and to promote the event for others who may want to participate. This year, I seriously considered a live stream of my gameplay, but it just proved too expensive for something I wouldn’t use very often. However, there have been new technologies that have been released since last year’s event that I will use — Instagram video, photo apps for interactive participation and more. If you have any other ideas for promotion and entertainment, please let me know.

I’d be delighted if you’d like to sponsor me. My profile on the Extra Life website is at bit.ly/Jesserad. I’ve included a list of some of the more current games that I’ll be playing below, but I have a fair amount of digital games in my Xbox 360 library, so let me know what you have and if you want to play some multiplayer games. The last five hours are usually the toughest, so if you want to play some games at that time, I’d be most appreciative.

At this time, I’m $100 away from my goal and with everyone’s help, I’ve managed to raise $1,155.26 over the four years. If it wasn’t for the generosity of everyone I know, this never would’ve been possible, so I applaud everyone who has sponsored me. You’re all the best.

Here’s to another great year and let’s surpass the 2 million dollars that were raised last year!

The games I’m planning to play this year are as follows:

  • Grand Theft Auto 5 (Xbox 360)
  • Asura’s Wrath (Xbox 360)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Xbox 360)
  • Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360)
  • Minecraft (Xbox 360)
  • Terraria (Xbox 360)
  • You Don’t Know Jack (Xbox 360)
  • 30 Flights of Loving (Steam)
  • Hotline Miami (Steam)
  • Amnesia: Dark Descent (Steam)
  • Card Hunter (PC Browser)
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2 (iOS)
  • Infinity Blade 2 (iOS)
  • Ridiculous Fishing (iOS)

Xbox One or Playstation 4

Xbox One or Playstation 4

The console wars! Oh boy, there are people alive who’ve never experienced a new console cycle and it’s definitely apparent if you head to gaming related web forums and sub-reddits. I always find this time to be exciting, because you never know what to expect from new services, IPs, console hardware and more. It’s a great time to be a consumer with new consoles on the horizon.

The Xbox One Announcement

I have to admit that when I first heard of the DRM restrictions Microsoft had for Xbox One, I was a little turned off by it. I had begun to tell myself that the PS4 controller wouldn’t be as uncomfortable as the PS3 and that the indie games would be a big plus on the next-gen console. Then, Microsoft did what I seriously didn’t think they could do; they turned that ship around and removed the restrictive DRM that was going to be implemented on the system.

That move by Microsoft has continued my decision-making process in what next-gen console I’m going to purchase. I’ve been a big supporter of Microsoft ever since they fixed my consoles for free — yes, two of my consoles got the RROD — and supported them even more when Sony wanted $150 to fix my PS3. So, I’ve needed to evaluate my situation and tell myself what would work best for me.

Indie Games — Where To Play Them?

Indie games on the PS4 are a major selling point for the console, but I already have Steam and I’m predicting that even more controller support will be on it when indie developers begin making games with the PS4 and Xbox One in mind. Since I use Steam, I don’t find this a huge selling point for the PS4, especially since the games are inevitably always cheaper on Steam.

The Cloud And Next-Gen Gaming

I’ve heard a lot about how the offload of information to the cloud can free up computing on a system, which is definitely something that interests me. If you want to read more about it, I recommend reading this article from Jon Shiring, engineer at Respawn Entertainment — the company that’s making Titanfall, a game exclusive to the Xbox platform along with being on PC. I’m not sure how the game will play on Xbox 360 or on PC, but I don’t care much since I’m planning to play it on Xbox One. What’s everyone going to do when they can’t blame their poor playing on lag?

Giving Griefers Grief

Online multiplayer games are a lot of fun to me, but depending on the game, you can get some people that make the game … not so much fun. I was happy to hear that the reputation system is being revamped for the Xbox One, so that the haters hang out with their own kind and I can rock some multiplayer kills with laid back people like me. I’ll be interested in seeing how it pans out.

To Pause Or To Quit?

Switching programs on the fly or “SnapMode” didn’t excite me much at Microsoft’s initial announcement of Xbox One until I was playing a game one morning. The alarm went off for my breakfast and as I sat down with breakfast in hand, I had only two options: eat my breakfast with the game sitting on pause or save the game and turn it off so that I could watch a show on the YouTube app from my Xbox 360. That’s when it dawned on me that SnapMode can be awesome!

An Extension Of Yourself

As I mentioned earlier, I was in the process of convincing myself that the PS4 controller was going to better than the PS3’s. The controller is like another appendage when you’re playing videogames. You want something that ergonomically feels comfortable for long periods of time. A controller that provides feedback in how the buttons click and how it vibrates. A controller that utilizes the placement of the control sticks, buttons, and triggers for the best experience. It sounds like both Xbox One and PS4 have made major improvements, but at this point I prefer the Xbox One control layout. Of course, I won’t know for sure until I get both controllers in my hands.

The Verdict

Overall, it was being denied the right to play a used game — including rentals — and having to constantly ping a server in order to play a game both online or offline that really had me leaning away from Xbox One. But with these changes, I believe I’m set to purchase an Xbox One this year. I’m not pre-ordering one, but I’m definitely keeping my sights on one.

What are you looking forward to playing this holiday season? Are you buying a new console on the launch day or will you wait until next year?

My Skyrim Character

Skyrim on Xbox 360

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim arrives on 11/11/11. Can. Not. Wait.

 

With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about the character I’m going to create. One of the things many fans of the Elder Scrolls games love is the fact that you can customize and configure your character in so many ways. Want to be a human? Easy. An elf? No problem. How about a humanoid lizard or cat? Elder Scrolls can take care of that too. While the race or species of the character is something that’s somewhat important to me, it’s not crucial. Sure each has their own specific stats that can help in the direction your character chooses to take in the world, but overall the developers have stated that it won’t make a huge difference in the game. Also, each race is more partial to certain races than others, which could affect how your character lives in wherever it chooses to reside. So, I enter this world with one question: What will my character be like?

I’ve heard stories from other gamers about how they’ve gone into certain open-ended games with a specific character in mind. They give these character traits that affect the choices they make within the defined story of the game. Whether they’re good guys, bad girls, or a complicated mix of emotions that affect choices made, these characters have been the most memorable to them as they recall their gaming experiences years later. I want to do the same with Skyrim. Originally, I was thinking of making a character like Rand from the Wheel of Time novels, but later thought that it was still not enough for what I wanted in my character. The next paragraph will detail the characteristics in my character.

First, he will be male. The unattached storyline is that he will have come from a broken family with no ties to his original parents or siblings. He grew up on his own with hardly anyone there to help him survive, so he will be highly skilled in thievery. He knew that the skills of a thief would not be enough, so he also learned a small amount of magic to keep him out of harms’ way and to help him escape from a tight situation. Since he has grown up alone, he typically chooses to spend most of his time by himself and stays away from relationships, although if he found the perfect woman, he might choose to stay with her. He usually thinks only about what will help him survive but can recognize how doing a good deed for someone can benefit himself. Because of this, he is willing to work with others (including a guild) if it will mean a higher status to himself and a better chance of living for another day. He cares little for anyone else but himself, but has a soft spot for children and animals. He has a weakness for beer and will seek out a dark corner of a pub in any town he crosses whenever he needs to think about what direction he will take next in his adventures. His name will be Cripshaw.

You have just read the nerdiest blog post I’ve ever written. This is how excited I am to play this game on 11/11/11.

Do you play games with a specific character in mind? Do you think you’d ever try in the future? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Extra Life 2011: How it all went down

Before the marathon

The day has come and gone and Extra Life 2011 was a huge success! Last year, when I first heard about this charity, I signed up on a whim. The goal begins at $96 and can be adjusted accordingly. My original thoughts were that many people wouldn’t take it seriously, but I was surprised at how fast that goal was met from some extremely generous friends and family. So, I bumped up the goal and ended up donating over $240 to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. That’s when I thought that this could be something used for real good.

Fast-forward to this year with my goal started at $250. Some great friends and family sponsored me and helped blow past that goal to $300 thus gearing me up again for another epic day of marathon gaming on October 15. Of course, as erratic as my sleep patterns are, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. so excited that there was no chance of me going back to sleep. For anyone who sponsored me, I want to reassure you that I easily played games for well over 24 hours, including breaks, throughout the day and night.

The marathon begins

I officially started my session at 8 a.m. with an Xbox 360 game called Spider-Man: Edge of Time. It was a nice “beat-em-up” game that satiated a mind used to shooters and much more intense, twitchy games. After a few hours, I switched over to playing some Gears of War 3 with my friend Brianna and Stu, who was also participating in Extra Life 2011. We jumped into a horde mode match and made it to a round in the thirties before being disconnected from the host. BAH!

That was a great time to take a small break and then jump back into some video games with Pinball FX2, which is a great game to take a break with. It was one of my top games for 2010 and continues to be a favorite to go back to. Afterward, I played some multi-player Call of Duty: Black Ops with a bunch of random people. If you’re unaccustomed to playing games with strangers, let me tell you, you can hear some weird stories occasionally. That day, I got a few guys talking about the type of weed they smoke. I’m so happy Xbox has a mute button.

As night approaches

I ended up jumping into Stu’s campaign on Gears of War 3 and we finished the game, which took about four hours to do. At this point it was time to take a small dinner break consisting of some pad thai from Thai Orchid, which definitely hit the spot. After eating that, I threw in some L.A. Noire to play some of the downloadable content that has been waiting for me. I love the music and actors that Team Bondi got for this game and if you like the TV show “Mad Men,” you’d probably like playing this game.

The finish line in sight

After I finished a chapter in L.A. Noire, I killed some more time playing multi-player Call of Duty, Super Stickman Golf on iOS and some more Spider-Man until about 1 a.m. My friend, Evan, said that he would wake up at 2 a.m. to help me ride out the last and hardest part of the marathon. Keep in mind, I’ve been awake for a full 24 hours my 2:30 a.m. and have been playing games  since  around 4:30 a.m.

When the clock struck 2:30 a.m., Evan and I started our journey into Call of Duty’s zombie maps. I can’t believe that I haven’t gotten into these before, but I’m so happy that I participated in this charity in order to give me a good reason to play them. The layout of each area is detailed, the well thought out and full of mysteries. By the time we were finished with our last match, it was after 8:30 a.m. I signed off and recorded one last video to my Tumblr account.

Overall, Extra Life 2011 has been a huge success. Gamers from around the world have donated an approximate combined total of over 1.1 million dollars to children’s hospitals worldwide this year, which is a huge leap from the $465,000 last year and $170,000 the year before that. I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all the people who sponsored me, played games with me, and promoted this cause. It means a lot to me, but even more to the kids it will help at Doernbecher.

Who says video games are bad for you?

King of Extra Life 2011

Everyone who participates in Extra Life are kings and queens in my book.

Extra Life 2011 Game Marathon on October 15

This weekend will mark the second year of playing video games to help kids at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Many gamers around the world will be enduring the 24 hour game marathon to help the children’s hospital of their choice and it won’t be as easy as it sounds.

I will be playing games on the Xbox 360 as well as iPhone and iPad games. The following is what I have lined up:

Xbox 360

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops
  • Gears of War 3
  • Peggle
  • Pinball FX2
  • Dead Space 2
  • Crimson Alliance
  • Possibly more…

iPhone/iPad

  • Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery
  • Plants vs. Zombies
  • GameDev Story
  • Jaws
  • Infinity Blade
  • Rage HD

If you own an Xbox 360 and see any games that you’d like to play with me, just let me know or send me an invite. My gamertag is Omega Technique. Also, with the help of many generous people, my original goal has been surpassed but I’d love to see it get to an even $300. If anyone wants to donate $16, just head to my profile here.

Risen review | Xbox 360

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Photo courtesy of rpg-galaxy.de

“Risen” is a game that leaves a bittersweet mark on my video gaming taste buds. The graphics are primitive and the framerate is super choppy, yet the difficulty of the gameplay and the option to wander the whole countryside, regardless of the strength of the character, is something I don’t see much in games nowadays.

I began the game without a manual, so learning how to do simple things like wielding a weapon and choosing where to venture were things I had to pick up on the fly. A few hours later, I’m deep into the game; manipulating every villager I could in order to put clothes on my back. I think this is where the game hooked me and continued to entertain me, even with its many misgivings.

And the misgivings are plenty. I’m sure the styles of fighting vary based on the story direction you choose to go in order to specialize in a warrior, thief, or mage class. I chose the role of a thief / hunter and invested a ton of points into swordfighting. Regardless, there were many occasions where I would wander the countryside searching for something I couldn’t find before being killed by something way too powerful for my character to battle. The island map had no option to zoom in or out, thus becoming a challenge to even locate the arrow that represents your character. There were multiple occasions were the walls to an area wouldn’t load or collision detection would fail and my character would fall into a void, thus making me reload an auto save or restarting the game completely.

However, I did finish the game and liked what good the game had to offer. This game is a budget bin game or a Gamefly rental for someone looking for a western RPG, but beware that it’s not a walk in the park like some games are. If you’re in the mood for a little something different in an RPG and can forgive its faults, check it out!