June 30 - July 6
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 June 2014, 10:22 am

This week Divinity: Original Sin releases for the PC. This is one I've been anticipating for a while, though not always with the greatest degree of confidence. I think back fondly on the original Divine Divinity, which was, stupid name aside, an outstanding game and one of my favorite RPG experiences. Though there have been several Divinity follow ups since, none has felt like it lived up to the original game.

Late last year Larian Studios released Divinity: Dragon Commander, a hybrid RTS based, I guess, on the Divinity series, and it was at this point that my hopes for the upcoming Original Sin fell to their lowest level. Dragon Commander somehow took the conceit of playing a dragon in an RTS and made it not particularly fun, which is its own kind of special accomplishment. It really seemed like maybe the first game had been a fluke.

But, six hours put into the Early Release for Original Sin has put me in an entirely new mood for the game. What I've played so far has been exceptional, fun and leaves me eager to dive into the full game this week.

There doesn't seem to be much else this week, but for those of us who've just endured the account draining Steam Sale, that's probably a good thing.

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From the Wasteland to the Divine
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 June 2014, 10:08 am

Over the past two weeks I’ve been playing the early access builds of Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin. From what I’ve seen so far, the future may be good indeed for the return of the classic, isometric CRPG.

It has been, arguably, since Dragon Age: Origins that last we had a true CRPG that harkened back to the days of Baldur’s Gate or some of the classic Gold Box AD&D games. Now, primarily through four of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date for games, we have four of these games on the way. If these first two efforts — even in their pre-release states — are any indication, then there’s a lot to get excited about.

I have to be honest: That’s not what I was expecting.

I had it in my head that for these games I would find one of two things (or perhaps both). The most likely, I figured, would be that these games would be shadows of the classic CRPG experience, that Wasteland 2 would kind of remind me of a classic Fallout game with all the depth, character and features stripped out. Or that Divinity would do little more than remind me how much I loved the original Divine Divinity — remind me how you can never really go home again. This was, after all, exactly the feeling I felt after playing the competent, but still disappointing, Divinity II.

This was part of the reason I’d been holding off on diving into these early-release games before now. I couched it in the entirely plausible argument that I didn’t want to ruin a story-driven game by playing before the story was cohesive or complete, but what I really didn’t want to do is to validate my suspicion that the games driving a possible revitalization of CRPGs were all paper tigers.

Upon playing them, though, what I’ve experienced is something … remarkable.

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GWJ Conference Call Episode 402
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 June 2014, 11:31 pm

Episode 402 - June 25th, 2014
Wolfenstein, Mario Kart 8, Rise of Nations Multiplayer, Wildstar, Gunpoint, Our Personal E3 Feels, A Segment With Jeff Cannata on His E3 Takeways, Your Emails and More!

Right Click Here and 'Save As' to Download!
(A Parisian 57.5 MBs, 1:40:25)

This week Shawn, Julian and Cory see what stuck in their minds now that the E3 dust has really settled. Jeff Cannata also chimes in with his E3 thoughts!

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Road to Joy
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 June 2014, 4:18 pm

The first night I raced online in Mario Kart 8, Minarchist had eluded me on every track. I could only watch as he sped into the distance on one of his motorbikes, vanishing on the horizon to claim first place. He may as well have been continuing his time trials, the rest of us left in the dust to combat for lesser glories.

The second night I crept closer, occasionally seeing him far on the track ahead, as if demonstrating to me the proper way to drift those tight corners and snag those coins. I never really was able to keep up, but just seeing him ahead of me was a delight. I was starting to keep up, and I didn't need to sink hours into racing ghost data on time trials to do it.

The third night I neared him, almost overcoming him in first. I had struck him with a properly timed shell and began drifting into a corner, my Larry Koopa cutting on the inside edge, ready to hit that boost and surpass him. Even if it was going to be for five seconds, I was going to be in first place. My heart lifted. I was about to achieve a personal goal set back when joining the Goodjers with Karts tournament online.

And then Manach crashed right through me with her starman, sending me into third place and stealing my victory — no matter how brief it would have been — away from me.

That's okay. Revenge is a dish best served by a raging, heat-seeking red shell.

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June 23 - June 29
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 June 2014, 10:22 am

The Steam Sale has already tempted me twice with its glorious deals. While the winter sale felt like it came an went with little to tempt me, the summer sale has already felt rife with the kind of deals that I couldn't get enough of. What too often flies under the radar in these sales, though, are the sales on the DLC and downloadable content for games. For example, all of Rocksmith 2014's song DLC being on sale for 25% off is sorely tempting.

If you're in the mood for something new this week, the Transformers games have been consistently solid, and Rise of the Dark Spark comes out this week. Presumably unconnected to, but happy to cash in on the popularity of, this week's theatrical release of Age of Extinction, if I had some extra cash to throw around I might be tempted by Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark. I played both War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, and though they were both largely forgettable after a month or two, they scratched a certain nostalgic itch quite nicely at the times.

For the game of the week I'm picking Sniper Elite 3, the third (or fourth depending on where you put Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army) iteration of the first person shooter series. It took me a while to get interested in this particular series of games, but its combination of action, tactical and stealth shooting mechanics eventually proved appealing.

Also this week, PvZ Garden Warfare comes to the PC, Company of Heroes 2 gets an expansion, and there's a game on the PS3 that has Shen Megami Tensei's name attached so I'm betting that's a big deal to a few of you. You know who you are.

Here, let me save you some time: Devil Summoner 2 got robbed!

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Next Gen Remorse
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 June 2014, 5:15 pm

So, eight months in and the next generation is pretty damn disappointing, if you ask me. Am I missing something? Is this all next-gen is, because as far as I can tell nothing at all has changed.

I don’t mean to be dour or negative, but I do feel a bit like the major console players somehow convinced us all to buy the same machines we already had, with very little to show for it. As I look at the upcoming cavalcade of next-gen games set up for the end of the year, I don’t really see anything that makes me think, “oh, this is why I bought an Xbox One.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there aren’t good games coming out or that there aren’t games I’m excited for. It’s not that at all. But, what I am saying is when I look at the offerings to come, I really don’t see anything that feels like it couldn’t have been played on my 360 or PS3.

Adding insult to injury was recent news that Watch(underscore)Dogs had been graphically hobbled on the PC, conjuring images in my mind of Ubisoft as Kathy Bates holding a sledgehammer threateningly above James Caan, who in this particular metaphor represents my PC. It’s as though game and console makers all agreed on what Next Gen should look like, but just decided not to actually make machines that can accomplish it.

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June 16 – June 22
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 June 2014, 12:58 pm

The dust of E3 has finally settled, leaving many of us looking at our game libraries with a heavy sigh. Yeah, we have lots of great games on our piles or in our Steam lists, but those titles are, like, two months old. Maybe even three! Who wants to play aging tripe like that when you have bigger, better, higher-resolution titles on the horizon!

The games industry does not seem eager to satiate our hunger for the illusion of new and fresh experiences, and thus we're drip fed a selection of what I can only think of as filler titles. Violently embrace other men in the sweatiest hug imaginable in EA Sports UFC or kick some tires and take to the tracks in Moto GP 14.

Yet in my constant efforts to usurp the typical expectations of you lot, I'm going to have to give the week to Pushmo World. I'm a rebel like that, preferring a cute and cuddly variant of Catherine's twisted puzzle-solving, block-shifting gameplay available for a system that the games press would have you believe no one owns.

For the rest of you, I imagine it's a good week to continue progress on your pile, or perhaps to sleeplessly eye your monitor whilst refreshing Steam to check if the sale has started yet, or maybe read a book, spend time with the family, climb a mountain, fight a dragon, sunder the universe, etc. A typical Tuesday, if you will.

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Dog and Yoshi Show
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 June 2014, 3:41 pm

Theoretically I should loathe E3. It is nothing more than a marketing blitz designed to appeal to shareholders and the broadest audience possible, delivering nothing but safe, vertical slices intended to trick you into believing this is how the game plays. Sure, when it actually releases it will see constant drops in framerate, questionable A.I., tearing, clipping, and repetitive combat arenas scattered from one level to the next.

Let's also not forget each game's disappointing and rushed five-second "conclusion" that messily wraps everything up in a chaotic knot before scrolling you through forty-five minutes of credits.

If anything, E3 is the games industry at its most oblivious. Fingers are firmly plugged into ears as publishers ignore the many complaints of the consumer, all whilst hand-picking a couple of memes to pretend they listen to their fans. "Hey, you guys love zombies? Of course you do! That's how we're justifying a trailer for a new Dead Island on stage, at least."

I should hate E3. Every little thing about it should cause me to cringe, cry and bellow in rage. We line up our plates before the publishers, they distribute gruel, and we smile and call it steak.

But dammit, man, I can't help it. I just love this stupid dog and pony show.

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Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 June 2014, 7:19 pm

I am in a gaming slump. A rut. A dry period.

I always feel weirdly anxious when I get in these places, like maybe I’ve lost my passion for the art, or maybe I’ve atrophied as a gamer, or maybe I’ve lost all the joy and innocence from my heart. To be fair, the latter of these may be at least partially true, given its cold, metal construction.

I’m just in that uncomfortable place where, no matter how flashy or shiny the next big thing is, I can manage a level of enthusiasm equal only to when I hear that my flight is landing right next to the gate of my connecting flight — or when I go to Jiffy Lube and no one hauls a grimy air filter out to shame me into buying a new one. These are not moments without any joy, but they are fleeting, and mundane.

I am accustomed to prizing my time with my hobby and guarding it jealously. I’m used to a near-constant ache of anticipation for some future thing, a giddy, almost childish faith in an industry with an inconsistent record at best. I like that feeling of sitting down and knowing exactly what I want to play.

But right now it’s just not there.

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Among the Sleep
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 June 2014, 10:25 pm

Among The Sleep is a first person exploration game in the vein of Gone Home, but it's about being a 2 year old. That’s a good thing.

Among The Sleep is absolutely terrifying, and had me jumping in shock many times in its short, three hour story. That’s also a good thing.

Among The Sleep leans hard into a bunch of tropes that I can’t even begin to discuss without spoiling the game. That’s both good and bad, but the rest of this article is 100% spoilerific, so you’ve been warned.

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June 9 - June 15
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 June 2014, 10:58 am

Secrets of the Magic Crystal, or Sparkle Ponies as it's more affectionately known in these hallowed halls, releases a multiplayer expansion this week called The Race. You can go ahead and put down Mario Kart 8, this is the power-up enabled racing game everyone will be playing this year. Not only do you get to ride your horse from the main game, but you can suit up against the GWJ equivalent to the Bronie community and race Sparkle Ponies all the live long day.

I'm only half kidding.

I do love getting to mention Secrets of the Magic Crystal because it allows me to remind everyone of this phenomenal article written by Julian Murdoch following the 2012 Donation Drive. If you've never read the piece, it doesn't matter if you know or care what SotMC is or not. It's just a brilliant piece of games writing on its own.

Otherwise, this week is E3 and that means there's not much on the release calendar. If not for the movie tie-in with How to Train Your Dragon 2, there'd be almost nothing out there.

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The Indiening
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 June 2014, 9:54 pm

For the past few years I've felt a bit guilty for having so little time to play even a fraction of the indie games that are released. I spend more time reading about titles like Gone Home, Limbo, Braid, or The Stanley Parable than I do playing them. I got into a debate with my roommate about whether the games on his OUYA were truly worthwhile, with games like Saturday Morning RPG and Ittle Dew providing interesting ideas but very little polish or substance. I've even been described by a friend as a "pretentious triple-A-snob", a confusing term, seeing as the triple-A industry is largely targeted towards the lowest common denominator in the mass market.

This struggle was perhaps at its strongest when I chose to write about Penny Arcade: On The Rain Slick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 3. I understood that Zeboyd was a small team and I wanted to give them some slack, but the truth was that the game's good ideas and combat system were outweighed by what became a monotonous, tedious slog across bland dungeons. Even after I wrote my final assessment of the game, I felt conflicted — as if I were some sort of jerk for treating this independent project to the same standards as other games.

It was a conflict I never stopped struggling with. For all of my pretensions, for every snobbish remark about good games writing and proper game design, was I actually quite shallow in my interests? Was I truly only drawn to the big budget games of the larger studios and publishers that I so frequently condemn? Was I a hypocrite?

It turns out that the answer to my question was not in video games, but in film.

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June 2 - June 8
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 June 2014, 9:52 am

I suppose I owe GWJ'er and military coup suspect CCesarano some thanks for tackling The Week Ahead duties last week. As he astutely noted, had it been left up to me, I'd have selected Watch_Dogs over Mario Kart 8 last week, and I'd have been tragically wrong to do so.

This week doesn't seem to be quite as complicated a decision. WildStar is exactly what it looks like it is, an unapologetic MMO with a monthly fee. If you haven't gotten into the MMO space at this point, this will definitely not be the game that convinces you that you're missing out, but as a specimen of a polished collection of all the generally good MMO ideas to date, Wildstar shines.

Whether there's still a big enough place in the industry for this kind of throwback MMO ideology remains to be seen, but NCSoft has certainly not skimped on the attempt. WildStar represents one of the most feature complete launches for an MMO, and gets my nod for Game of the Week.

On a separate note, I find myself interested in Murdered: Soul Suspect, a noir about the ghost of a private investigator in search for his own killer. Coming from SquareEnix, the trailers for this one have certainly piqued my interest, but I have to admit that the complete lack of marketing and the almost stealth release of the game with sadly little information the week before E3 sends up all kinds of red flags. I'll wait and see, but I'd love for this one to be good.

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Shallow End of the Pool
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 May 2014, 3:50 pm

For a long time I was hung up on the visual fidelity and quality of my games. It’s a thought process that has been ingrained in me since a young age — this idea of equating the value of a thing with the quality of its appearance.

You could psychoanalyze that for two years, and only chip the edges of that stone, but let’s not go down that path.

I have to admit, though, that increasingly my favorite games — the ones that touch and inspire me the most — are quite often the ones that seem to either spend the least time on their graphical technologies, or the ones that commit to an art style above realism. There’s a very simple idea in there about only applying visuals that work in service and concert with the game or the story, but to this day I still hear people say they won’t play a game because its graphics aren’t good enough.

I would bristle at the thought, if I hadn’t been similar until only just recently. But what I’m beginning to find is that the games that have amazing visuals often have little else going on inside.

Seriously, I’m 41 and it took me this long to parcel that out.

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Look, I get it: Politics is boring. Why watch Senate estimates hearings when there's Tumblrs of Mad Men furniture? One reason that politics is boring is because political research is hard. Whenever you try to look up data on the net, there are so many tasty opinions in the way to distract and outrage that you might as well stop to fight the roses. Research is so hard, I personally haven't done any since the '90s.

So let's make politics fun. As that French guy who wrote like a whole shelf of the cultural studies library — Micky Fuccles? — once said, the political is the personal and whatnot. Therefore, you can just infer a person's politics from their favourite games, instead of having to trawl dreary political forums and ask people their actual beliefs and stuff. The trick is that a person's politics isn't always what they say they are. There is a TRUE politics, one that emerges at the ballot box when there's no one else around, like all those hippies who voted for Bush the second time (Sidetopic for later: Voting booths are like peep-show booths. Discuss.) So here is what your favorite game says about your true nature.

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May 26 - June 1
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 May 2014, 7:52 pm

General Sands of the Sandy Brigade has officially commandeered a tank to plow across America in a mission of conquest, leaving me at the command center to make sure operations continue as normal. By which I mean, I'll slowly begin to subvert and sabotage his home base for the ultimate coup de grace. So while I'm certain Watch_Dogs would typically hold the "game of the week" spot here, I'm instead passing it off to Mario Kart 8.

It seems a bit strange, because the largest reason I hold no excitement for Watch_Dogs is Far Cry 3. Once that game was filled with all the same sorts of time consuming side-missions as Assassin's Creed, I realized that Ubisoft was going to follow a template for all of their open world games. So every time I see a trailer for Watch_Dogs all I can think is Assassin's Creed but in Chicago, and I'm just not willing to pay $60 for that experience anymore.

Yet I'm more than willing to drop $60 on Mario Kart 8, a game that many would argue is the same thing each generation with minor tweaks. Perhaps it's the lack of annual releases that keeps me from burning out, or maybe those minor tweaks are enough to keep me excited. Or maybe it's the desperate hope that whatever Double Dash!! had, that secret ingredient I couldn't find in Mario Kart Wii or 7, will be secure in Mario Kart 8. Or perhaps I'm just a sucker for the ability to play as the Koopa Kids and have a defense mechanism against that blasted blue shell.

In any event, I give the nod to Nintendo's chaotic kart racer, and I hope to see plenty of fellow Goodjers online ready to swap turtle shells in a violent yet jovial manner. As for the rest of you, it seems a strong argument can certainly be made for PC gaming this week as it holds a dazzling, almost overwhelming number of releases over all other platforms.

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Ballad of the Bedspread Mousepad
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 May 2014, 3:07 pm

My laptop has ruined my gaming strategy.

A lot of people ask me how I manage to take a life with kids and a wife and a professional job and a mortgage and all this old that seems to be permeating my blood and bones, and into that life to then pack in hour upon hour of gaming. The answer has largely been to simply abandon my family to whatever devils or angels haunt their sleep, and creep through the dim quiet hours of night to my office, where I would lose sleep to the pursuit of gaming.

This was a tried and true method. I would break out the console, which had spent the evening with Minecraft and Lego games, and delve deep into the horror of a zombie apocalypse or the seedy underbelly of a crime-ridden metropolis. I would revel in this quiet isolation, free to very much invest fully into the experience until finally the responsible adult part of my brain would insist that I drag myself to bed sated and refreshed.

This was the pattern for a long time, one that worked well. Then I began using my laptop more and more frequently.

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Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 May 2014, 9:02 am

Somewhere in the burning sands outside of Plegia castle, beneath an oppressively hot sun, the corpse of Cordelia's body was feeding a vulture. She was just one of many who had fallen in battle, destined to become a feast for crows in a lifeless landscape, but she was different from the others. She was my soldier.

I had plans for her. A vague notion of such, at least, for this is my first time truly playing a Fire Emblem game. I didn't really know what was in store for her, but I knew that she belonged. The last of her squad, having been forced to hear the dying screams of her sisters as she fled to warn her country of danger, I had known that she'd get along well with fellow Pegasus riding warrior Sumia.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is surprisingly similar in a lot of ways to Western tactical game XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a title which our very own podcast crew was quite taken with. Each title focuses on sending units forth into battle, and if they fall in a skirmish, they are gone for good. Just as in real life, death is permanent.

That is, as long as you're playing by those settings.

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May 19 – May 25
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 May 2014, 2:17 pm

If last week was almost depressingly devoid of games releases, then apparently the industry is here to say it's sorry with a host of games.

I'm giving the nod for Game of the Week to Transistor. From Supergiant Games, the team that brought us the critical darling (some members of the podcast notwithstanding) Bastion, Transistor launches this week on the PC and PS4. To be honest, I don't know much about the gameplay, but it's a beautiful and creatively styled game to look at, and that's at least got my attention. I hope the final product delivers what the images suggest.

Also this week, Wolfenstein: The New Order comes to pretty much everything you can play video games on. Developed by the relatively unknown Machine Games — founded by former founding members of Starbreeze —when I played this game at PAX East, it very much reminded me of the kind of game that Raven used to make. And that's not just because Raven took a stab at Wolfenstein back in 2009, but something about the pacing of the action, the way the story presented itself, just the aesthetic of it all felt reminiscent. I'm not totally sure if that's a good or bad thing. I always enjoy these kinds of games while I play them, but they don't tend to stick with me very well.

Tropico 5 rounds out the week on PC, coming later for the 360 and PS4. Tropico 4 was largely a derivative disappointment, so I'm interested to see what Kalypso has in store for this version, but I'm calling my interest a cautious optimism at best. Tropico has always felt on the verge of greatness, but like it's missing some fundamental spark of life to pull it all together. It's been four iterations so far, and I just don't feel like they've found it. Fifth try's a charm?

All told, not a bad week to be a gamer, though.

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Burying Diablo II
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 May 2014, 1:24 pm

Diablo 3 is better than Diablo 2. There, I said it.

This is probably the part where I should mitigate that statement to make it more palatable. Something like, "... now that Loot 2.0 is here and the expansion is released," or "... as long as you don’t mind the required connectivity," or comparing the two only in terms of the gameplay expectations of 2014.

But I’m not interested in any of that. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no need for qualification to make the statement true. I just think it’s a flat out better game in every conceivable way.

It's not that I think there’s a pervading sense of angst toward Diablo 3, at least not anymore, but it’s somehow always felt washed up in the controversy that surrounded its launch. Those days and some of the sketchy decisions from Blizzard always colored its presence, long after the things that were annoying early on were either gone entirely or largely taken care of. Diablo 3 has always come off as a kind of damaged goods.

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The Jobs Cast Episode 2
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 May 2014, 1:10 pm

Has it been a month yet? It's time for episode 2 of The Jobs Cast, which should have a logo and iTunes listing as soon as Elysia's laptop is brought back from the dead. Today Sean Sands and Shawn Andrich talk about bargaining for money, handling personal organization, tackling job interviews and more!

Right Click Here and 'Save As' to Download!

Thanks for your patience! We're still on track to do at least 12 episodes this year, so lots more to come.

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May 12 - May 18
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 May 2014, 9:18 am

Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but this week just looks like a hot mess to me. Sure, not every week can bring a gleaming gem for the gaming world to rally around, but at least most weeks I find something new I can muster at least a passing enthusiasm in.

So, instead I'll highlight something old. No, not Minecraft on the PS3.

I'll give this week's spotlight to Battleblock Theater's move to Steam. Coming from its origins on Xbox Live, Battleblock Theater was highly praised for being a tricky but worthwhile platformer from the guys responsible for Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers. The updated PC version adds a few bells and whistles, including a level designer and improved textures, but largely it sounds like the same game.

Beyond that, let's just chalk this up to a quiet week before games like Wolfenstein, Transistor and Watch Dogs hit later this month.

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GWJ Plays Dark Souls II
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 May 2014, 11:09 am

Watch as Shawn Andrich and Cory Banks make their first coop foray into Dark Souls II. They never fail and everything goes really well.

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GWJ Plays (Teaches) Europa Universalis IV Episode 3
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 May 2014, 11:12 am

Sean Sands continues his lessons in EU IV!

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Drowning in Problems
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 May 2014, 11:18 am

“There is nothing.”


And from the solution, the stirrings of a beginning: awareness, the self, knowledge. And from those beginnings, a spiral of want, growth, memory, regret – the stuff of life.

Notch’s deceptively simple Drowning in Problems is told entirely through the kind of text found in a command-line interface, or an excel spreadsheet. There’s no florid language to highlight key points. No complex plot weaving loves and losses. No protagonists. No names for the people that form a life.

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