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My Favorites of 2013 – or Yeah, You Should Totally Play These Games

Let’s be honest.

You don’t care about what my, “Top Ten Games of the Year,” are.

I mean, there might be a small majority of you who do (and I thank you for caring,) but most of you don’t and probably stumbled onto this column one way or another. That’s fine too.

Yet, because you are here and I have your attention; here are my favorite games of the year. A couple of things first; they are in no particular order, these are totally my opinions, and yes, some games were left off because I never played them.

-Cookie Clicker

I sank way too much time into this monstrosity. Cookie Clicker is the definition of a mindless game. You click the cookie. Then you don’t have to click the cookie, it’s clicked for you. Grandmas are then hired, cookie portals opened, you’ve prestiged twice, and you don’t know what you’ve been doing for weeks of your life. In the newest version, they’ve added dungeons. It’s almost enough to bring me back in. Nonetheless, this became a great conversation among me and friends this year, as we all began to click the cookies. It became a bit of a competition, as we all tried to make more and more. We couldn’t even eat them if we wanted to. It was a weird time for all of us.

Cookie Clicker

-Rayman Legends

This is the best 2D platformer in years. Yeah, I throwing it up against that New Super Mario Bros. nonsense. Rayman Origins was a surprise when it came out. It had old school difficulty, tight controls, and a fantastic art style. Fast forward to this year. Legends comes out with even tighter controls, a better perfected difficulty curve, and improved art that makes your jaw drop. It was a wonderful throwback to a simpler time of gaming; and when played with friends, one of the best co-op experiences of the year. Did I mention there were musical levels? Yeah, those were cool too.


Man, I love Ninja Theory. Heavenly Sword was a fun, if flawed game. Enslaved really sold me on how that studio can tell a story. Now, Capcom gave them the reigns to Devil May Cry. This game is the definition of metal. The music hits hard, the action hits harder, and even the environment tries to kill you. They even give you a story that actually makes sense and makes you care about the world and these characters. I really can’t emphasize how much I dug the art style this game has. It oozes character and is easily one of the more visually diverse games I played this year. It also has one of the best boss fight encounters in a game in who knows how long. You fight Fox News. Seriously. Youtube it.


I love fighting games. I love DC Comics. Do I need to say more? LOOK AT ALL THE COSTUMES!!!!

-Tomb Raider

This was a bit of a surprise. Not that I wasn’t expecting the game to be good, but that I would enjoy it as much as I did. Tomb Raider goes back to the beginning of our heroine’s story and gives us a new take on the classic franchise. It’s a story about the loss of innocence as much as it is about Lara exploring this lost island. Gameplay wise, it’s less Uncharted and  more Arkham Asylum, but the change was a good one. Uncharted had already out Tomb Raider’ed Tomb Raider, and the game had to do something different. Yeah, I think we all could have done with more raiding of tombs, but let’s save that for the sequel. Also, the game gave us TressFX…that’s awesome.


I just want to say upfront that I am terrible at this game, but man is it addictive. From the moment that it yells at you to, “save the last human,” you are sucked into this visually stunning arcade homage to games like Defender. Between the leaderboards, the multiple ships, and challenge levels; Resogun is one that I keep coming back to on my PS4. There’s also voxels…all the voxels

-Grand Theft Auto 5

Like you’re surprised that I put this here. GTAV gives the player a world to play in. You can go to therapy, bike, golf, steal a tanker truck, dive for treasure, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The game also gave us the most insane, over the top, and possibly evil character in existence; Trevor. Dear lord, I love Trevor. Not because of the terrible malcontent that he is; but because how much he doesn’t care and revels in it. GTAV is a mixed bag for most people. Despite it’s somewhat lackluster mission structure and over the top maybe-it’s-satire-or-maybe-they’re-just-crude humor; I found something to enjoy there.

-Bioshock Infinite

Elizabeth. The Songbird. God Only Knows. There are so many magical moments in Bioshock Infinite that it is hard to narrow down what really grabbed onto me. Even though the story may fall apart towards the end, the roller coaster that Infinite takes its players on is a wonderful one. From your baptism into Colombia to the first time you meet Elizabeth, Bioshock Infinite takes the player on an emotional journey that goes places few games dare to go.

-Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

Being a pirate and terrorizing the sea is completely fantastic. Sailing around, searching for treasure, and razing ships just hits a chord with me…albeit an evidently sinister one. From the sea shanties, to the well created locales, the game’s atmosphere is designed to bring you into that world. What’s more amazing is that this game brought be back into Assassin’s Creed. ACIII was a terrible mess, and I had sworn off any future installments because of the foul taste that it had left. Yet, as the reviews came in, and the word of mouth spread, I found myself looking at Black Flag. I’m really glad I did. Playing it on the PS4, the graphics are gorgeous and sound design is incredible. Nothing is more terrifying than the thunder of a rogue wave coming at you in surround sound. More than anything, the game is simply fun.

-The Last of Us

How could this not be on my list? The Last of Us is an incredible experience. Joel and Ellie’s story is one of heartache, anger, and loss. It is a story of a broken world filled with broken people; where even the best of intentions ends in pain. There is no happy ending, but there is resolution. It’s easily one the top games of the generation. The gameplay and the story come together in ways that few games do; and it draws the player deeper because of it. For me, this is the reason why I love gaming; and why I believe that this is a growing art form. The Last of Us made me laugh, cry, and rage with its characters; and there were nights where I had to stop playing because I was so emotionally drained. I can’t remember any game in recent memory that has had that sort of effect on me. I cannot recommend this game enough. If you have a Playstation 3, you need to play The Last of Us.

So there you have it; the games I enjoyed this year. There are some great ones that I didn’t get around to for various reasons, but you should play:

-The Stanley Parable

-Gone Home

-Super Mario 3D World

-Papers, Please

Nonetheless, last year was a great year for gaming and this year is shaping up to be something special too. Here’s to 2014 and the magic it will invariably bring!

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Simply “Symphonic” or The Future of Video Game Music

Little to most people know, but I was a music minor in college.  As such, music has always been an integral part of who I am.  It speaks to me like a canvas speaks to a painter, or stone to a sculptor.  I believe that it, like all art, can change lives and effect us to our core.


I think that is why game music has always been an interesting topic for me.  It combines two of the things that I love, and it is constantly evolving with the medium.  When you think of early games, names like Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo come to mind.  More recently, Jesper Kyd, Jason Graves, and Martin O’Donnel have been instrumental in crafting some of the more memorable modern soundscapes.


Some how, David Valjalo managed to get the three of them together for an incredible interview; discussing modern game music, how it has developed and where it is going to go.  If you have any interest in either medium, please go give it a read.  It is one of the lesser thought of aspects of game development, and one of the most important. Enjoy



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No Mummies Here or the Return of Tomb Raider

It’s good to have Lara Croft back.




After a brief hiatus, one of the first ladies of gaming is back in a new adventure, simply titled Tomb Raider.  Starting from the very beginning, Tomb Raider shows us the start of Lara’s days of exploring and some of the formative events that make her into the Indiana Jones style bad-ass we all know and love. Crystal Dynamics has taken a page from recent movies like Abrams’ Star Trek and games like Ninja Theory’s DmC and given the player a prequel/reboot of the entire franchise; and like those endeavors, it succeeds wonderfully.




Lara has had her shares of ups and downs throughout her career. Her initial outings garnered her much acclaim, and the subsequent movies that followed only grew the legend of Lara Croft. Yet, Angel of Darkness, released in 2003, almost killed the franchise with its poor controls, narrative, and design. Yet, Lara would not be put down so easily. Crystal Dynamics took the reigns from Core Design and brought Lara back in Tomb Raider: Legend. The game was received well enough, and spawned two sequels.  Yet, those games were in the shadow of a new up and coming adventurer; Nathan Drake. The Uncharted series had taken the crown from Lara while she was away and getting her feet back  under her. Lara couldn’t get by doing the same old things anymore; because Drake and the team at Naughty Dog were doing it better.  Crystal Dynamics had to make a distinct change in the way Lara played and the way they told their stories, and with this new game, they did just that.




Tomb Raider is a blast. It breathes fresh air into the series, while keeping it true to its core. The Lara you start with isn’t the Lara of series fame, but rather a grad student reluctantly living in her father’s shadow, on an expedition for a reality television series. She has skills, but they are untested; and she is thrown into an impossible situation.  What’s most interesting in these beginning sections is that for the first hour or two, Tomb Raider gives the impression that it is going to be simply another Uncharted clone. There are scripted events, quick-time sequences, and the player does not have much control over the situation at hand. Yet, after that initial rush; the player is given open play on the island.  At this point it becomes less Uncharted and more Arkham Asylum. There are multiple points were you will areas unreachable or tombs that you cannot access until you come back later in the game with the proper tool set. It creates a natural feeling of progression (on top of the skill tree they have in-game) to all that you do. There’s also a fair share of collectibles throughout the story. Most are throw-away at best, but some of the character journals are worth reading, if only because they add depth to the paper thin secondary cast.  The island is huge, with some optional tombs to raid, and it is these moments of exploration that the game seems to shine. Sadly, it falls back on many of the tropes of the third person shooter in its final hour or so; but frankly that’s forgivable in the light of its narrative




If there is to be any complaint leveled at the game, its the narrative dissonance that becomes quite evident to the player early on.  The game’s narrative hinges on the Lara’s innocence being lost as she traverses and deals with what the island throws at her. Her first kill affects her, and she is astounded by the situation she finds herself in. Yet, the moment that the player gains a weapon, bow, gun, or otherwise; that Lara disappears and she becomes a killing machine. Its easy to write off that this is a video game, and the most common way for a player to interact with a game is through shooting, but this seemingly goes against the grain of the story that they are trying to convey. Nonetheless, most players won’t be bothered by this, or even notice it.




Tomb Raider is worth playing. It has its faults, but they are outweighed by its strong narrative and interesting backdrop. It going to be fun to see where Crystal Dynamics takes the series; especially if the next iteration is planned to be on the next generation of consoles. Lara has regained her good name in this new take on the series. Let’s hope that those in charge of her fate don’t waste this chance; because I don’t think she can survive another trip down the water fall…

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