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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Slump
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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Cordelia
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.”

Solve.

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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How To Enjoy Games More
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 October 2007, 10:13 pm

Years ago, the rough English translation of an article written in a Russian game magazine crossed my desk. The author was Oleg Michaelovich Hazhinsky, and the article was about happiness and the art of gaming. I always meant to clean up parts of it so that everyone could enjoy this simple wisdom. After my efforts to contact the author failed, the file collected dust on my hard-drive for years until I stumbled upon it again recently. I figure something written in Russian over five years ago by someone whose name doesn't even show up in Google is fairly safe at this point, so I went ahead and cleaned it up for your edification. I've omitted about half the article and re-worked it completely for our North American sensibilities. Enjoy.

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May 5 - May 11
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 May 2014, 10:14 am

I'm not entirely sure why the re-releases of Microsoft Games Studios' Age games are so appealing, but they are. Age of Mythology was released originally in 2002 during the latter half of the Real Time Strategy genre's influence, and nothing quite like it ever followed in a genre that seemed all too eager to cannibalize any successful idea a hundred times over.

Age of Mythology: Extended Edition offers a few relatively minor graphical enhancements, multiplayer, Twitch streaming and native HD resolutions. It also adds a lot of flexibility for modding and full Steamworks integration. Ultimately, whether this interests you at all probably has a lot to do with whether you have fond memories of calling down God powers on your enemies or not.

I'm intrigued, but frankly I'd trade this a thousand times over for a full extended re-release of the original Rise of Nations. Probably the best pure RTS game I've ever played.

Also this week, Sportsfriends comes to the PS3, which includes one of the most fun games I've ever played or even watched other people play: Johann Sebastian Joust. If you have an abundance of move controllers and some space in your living room, there is little better fun to be had with friends.

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Obsession ... for Gamers
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 May 2014, 1:57 pm

I have, on occasion, been known to become singularly obsessed with a game. I think most of us have been there, fully engaged by one single experience that becomes the focal point of our gaming time. It can feel like a wonderful love affair, and it can feel like a prison.

I have been obsessed with a couple of games for a few months now. If you’ve encountered any of my writings or comments over the past six months, then you might know which games I’m talking about. In fact, I’m quite intentionally avoiding using their name, because the moment I do this article will become about those games. I won’t want it to be. I’m as sick of hearing myself talk about it as you are, and yet it is this inescapable presence in my gaming life, a dark tower at the center, to which ley lines draw me across a field of roses day after day, drawing me to certain doom.

I put it that way, because even in the throes of it, an obsession feels damaged, tainted and like a corrupting force. There are all these other experiences out there waiting for me that I’m locking myself away from because of my obsession. It’s a broken record of my favorite line from my favorite song, a constant shot of distilled joy injected into the same swollen spot over and over again.

I want to escape. I never want to escape. I’ll be happy missing it when it’s gone. I’ll miss it making me happy when it’s gone.

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Signals
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 April 2014, 11:24 pm

I just moved into a new neighborhood last month. There are a lot of things to get used to: the new commute, the way people react to different types of clothing, the new rituals of snow removal, lawn care, and trash and recycling. New neighbors. New sounds, new appliances, a new bathroom to get ready in every morning.

One of the things that I've noticed, living as I now am in a fairly blue-collar and creative neighborhood, is that walking out the door in a pea coat draws a fair amount of attention. And those stares I draw linger even longer when they see me waiting for a bus. The cubicle class isn't strongly represented in this area, I guess. Or could it be that folks who dress like this just don't take public transit? This is yet another of the many questions that come to mind as part of getting used to the new digs.

I walk through this every morning now. I pass the mechanic, the coffee shop, the art gallery, the corner store, the school, and past the police station. I meet their eyes when they look at me. I say, "Good morning," or "Buenos días," or "Hey." They nod back, and we all go about our business.

Now, within the confines of the sartorial guidelines at my business-casual office, I try to hint at who I am behind the khakis and permanent press. I shape my sideburns so that they curve forward, in the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation — though I'll admit I wear them a bit longer, because I secretly wish I was significantly more rockabilly than I probably am. I've got a Chicago-flag belt buckle. I wear Chuck Taylors to and from work, rather than wear through the soles of dress shoes with all the walking I do. And yes, I have been known to wear corduroy jackets, though only one of them has elbow patches.

But these are small accents on the otherwise fairly standard biz. cas. uniform. This is a very careful balance, you see.

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April 28 – May 4
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 April 2014, 10:05 am

A new game from Ubisoft Montreal and some of the people behind FarCry 3 hits this week, but if you hadn't already been paying attention, then it's not going to be quite what you expect.

I have to admit, Child of Light almost passed me by without notice. It just doesn't carry the trappings of my typical gaming obsession, and it's possible some of you may be surprised that I'm pretty hyped for a fairy-tale, tactical RPG, but watch this trailer and tell me you don't want to play this game — Right. Now.

Early reviews and previews seem fairly hyped on the co-op, where one player is the main character and the other is her companion light, which sounds suspiciously like the way co-op is implemented in the Mario Galaxies games, but apparently is much deeper. This is one of those games I instantly imagine playing with my boys, and I can't wait to give it a try.

Also this week The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shows up on everything, and the 3DS lands a new Mario Golf and Gardening Mama 2.

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GWJ Plays (Teaches) Europa Universalis IV
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 April 2014, 10:48 am

I've had the idea for this Let's Play in my head for awhile, a series to teach the basics on how to play Europa Universalis IV. I even recorded some 4 hours of video which I then deleted because it just didn't feel unique enough. There are no shortage of tutorials and let's play out there, so if I was going to add then I wanted to add something extra to the conversation.

These videos are the result. In them I do go over how to play EUIV as a beginner, but I also try to cover the actual history of the time period the game takes place in to give the game some context.

I'm finding it challenging but rewarding. I'm in no way a historian, and so the vast majority of historical information in these videos is stuff I didn't know last Friday, myself.

Episode 1 -- The Hundred Years War

Episode 2 -- Expelling the English

These videos represent a pretty big undertaking, so please do let me know if this is interesting and if you'd like to see more.

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