The Best Games I Played in 2014

Instead of trying to rank the games I played that were only released in 2014, I decided to take a different approach and include non-2014 games as well. Since I’m not the type of person who is always playing the latest and greatest (in fact, that’s rarely the case with me), I would have been doing a disservice to all of the amazing games I played this year had I not included them.

What I’ve done below is break down everything into A-, A, and A+ categories, and listed the games in the order in which I played them. That way the overall quality of the game speaks louder than the ranking, which seems to always be the main point of contention with internet lists.

Anyway, with that being said and out of the way, let’s get started!


Games Scoring an A-

Drill Dozer (Game Boy Advance, 2006) — This is a really fun puzzle/platformer from Game Freak, the company behind Pokemon. I wish they would experiment with non-Pokemon games more often, since I believe this and HarmoKnight (3DS) are the only ones they’ve done, and they’re both good! This game has nice, layered level design and terrific production value, but it has some awkward control issues in some stages that made them more tedious than they should have been. It has expressive animation and upbeat music, and is definitely the type of game that is just aching for a sequel.

Crashmo (3DS, 2012) — Speaking of sequels, this is the direct follow-up to the fantastic Pushmo, which is one of my favorite puzzle games on the 3DS. This one adds several new game mechanics that really switches things up, but Intelligent Systems didn’t do a whole lot with the game’s presentation, choosing to focus more on the puzzles and camera controls. It’s really challenging nd super-polished, but I didn’t stick with it through to the end like I did with Pushmo.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3, 2007) — This was the second time I played through the first Uncharted, doing so this time to experience the story again and to collect all of the artifacts that I missed my first time through. Although its visuals suffer from some rough animation and lack of V-sync, it reminded me of why I fell in love with the series in the first place: it has lots of energy, the characters burst with fun conversational banter, and the story — although a bit ridiculous at times — is entertaining and keeps you going to the very end.

10,000,000 (Android, 2013) — This “match three” puzzle game really surprised me with its RPG-like leveling up system and combat, which made it feel unique in a sea of Bejeweled clones. Its simplistic 8-bit graphics are effective, but sadly, the whole experience is over within a few hours. Although a grind-fest would have made this wear out its welcome, I do wish that there would have been more content to keep me coming back for more. It’s still worth playing, though, and the fact that I completed it really says something, since I rarely finish mobile games.

The Room (Android, 2013) — Did I say I rarely finish mobile games? OK, well, I finished a few last year, including this one, which was very short, but of incredibly high quality. It has a dark, mysterious atmosphere, and while the puzzles aren’t that difficult, everything in the game world has a very satisfying, tactile feel, so I found myself really getting into it, and I didn’t stop playing until I had solved them all. A great paid app that has very nice graphics and sound design.

Broken Age: Act 1 (PC, 2014) — This is Double Fine Productions’ legendary Kickstarter success story. The original scope of what they wanted to do and what they actually ended up with were two very different things, but it’s a good example of how a modest start, huge support, and aiming for the stars can result in a very organic and open game development cycle. While they might be criticized for not delivering on their original vision, I think most people will agree that the end result was worth the wait, and supporters will be getting Act 2 for free when it eventually comes out. It’s a pretty simple, old-school point-and-click adventure game, but it’s made with love, and has some great voice acting, writing, art, and a cliffhanger ending that makes the wait for Act 2 that much more painful.

Batman: Arkham Origins (PC, 2013) — I played all three of the Arkham games last year, and out of those, I thought Origins was the “weakest”. I put that in quotations because it’s still a really darn fine game. It makes solid improvements to boss encounters, and I thought the story was pretty good too. I think it catches a lot of flak for not being developed by Rocksteady themselves, but I thought WB Montreal did a worthy job filling Rocksteady’s big shoes, and the vocal performances by Roger Craig Smith (Batman) and Troy Baker (Joker) do an equally good job replacing series veterans Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. It’s more of the same, but that sameness is still very fun to explore and play. REVIEW LINK

Monument Valley (Android, 2014) — Criticized by many for being too easy and too short (and I can’t disagree with that, because it is easy and short), I instead chose to look at it as an example of good visual and audio design. In many ways, it reminded me of Thatgamecompany’s excellent PS3 title Journey, since it has a very solitary — but ultimately positive — feeling and outcome. Out-of-this-world colors, nice animation, and pathfinding that is almost too good, to the point where the game seems to auto-play at times. It might be over in about an hour, but it’s an hour well spent. REVIEW LINK

The Room Two (Android, 2014) — The sequel to The Room, this game took the ideas from the first game and made them bigger and scarier. I liked the more complex puzzle design, but the game felt less intimate and focused than the first game because of its expanded scope. Still, it’s a great example of a high-quality, premium mobile game experience. I can’t wait to see what Fireproof Studios does next. REVIEW LINK

Electronic Super Joy (PC, 2013) — I love difficult platformers, and this is certainly a tough one, without falling into masochistic territory. I love the retro visuals that pulse in time to the absolutely terrific soundtrack. It’s worth playing just for the music, if you like techno and its various sub-genres. It’s a little on the short side with only 40-some-odd stages, but getting all of the collectible stars will give even the most seasoned veterans a nice challenge. It’s really funny at times too. REVIEW LINK

Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes (Wii U, 2014) — After Electronic Super Joy, I continued my platforming kick with this, which was a fun and super-challenging game to get through. It seemed almost unfair at first, but once I got the hang of the controls and the level design, I started to progress through it a lot faster. Some of the later stages almost broke me, but I made it through all the way. Unfortunately, there were lots of audio bugs, and at the time I played it, there was no second screen support, so it felt a little unfinished compared to what I’m used to. REVIEW LINK

LEGO City Undercover (Wii U, 2013) — Earlier in 2014, I finished my first pair of open-world games: Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto V. I had heard good things about this one, so with my interest in the genre high, I picked this up and jumped right in. What a game! Although it does suffer from some slow UI and performance issues, it’s still a great game with tons to do, lots of fun humor, superb level design, and some truly standout pieces of music. There are opportunities for improvement, though, so I hope that this becomes a series, because it deserves it. REVIEW LINK

Nier (PS3, 2010) — A strong recommendation from one of my friends finally prompted me to play this. So glad I did, because although the gameplay and graphics are pretty mediocre, Nier delivers characters, story, and music that I can only classify as best in class. It also contains what I believe to be one of the greatest implementations of a New Game+ system that I’ve ever experienced. Truly, the rough parts of the game are worth persevering through in order to experience the rest of it. REVIEW LINK

Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores (Android, 2014) — An in-app purchase for the aforementioned Monument Valley, this expansion takes the simple ideas of that original game and adds a nice layer of complexity based around perspective and order of operations. It’s still a rather short experience at about an hour or so, but its excellent art, sound design, and vibrant colors make a lasting impression on the player.


Games Scoring an A

Forza Motorsport 4 (360, 2011) — Over three years old now, and I’m still playing it. Maybe not as often as I did when it was new, but I love Forza‘s approach to career mode, with its fast progression and abundant rewards. Also, despite what the internet would have me believe about its lack of realism compared to Gran Turismo, I just prefer the feel of the Forza series. Plus, the car sounds absolutely kick its competition’s butt six ways from Sunday. No contest there at all. On the flipside, it lacks a truly robust photo mode, and I hate that it requires Xbox Live Gold just to share pictures, but it’s a great package with lots to do and great cars to drive. The Top Gear UK content is a lot of fun as well. As for the Rewind function and braking lines? I love them. Sue me!

The Beatles Rock Band (360, 2009) — It’s crazy to think that it wasn’t that long ago when plastic musical instruments were all the rage. Although I’ve been playing music games since the late-’90s when Konami’s Bemani series was starting to peak, I also got into the newer entries from EA and Activision. I think this Beatles installment is the best one in terms of production value, and its career mode is of surprisingly high quality. I played this quite a bit when it was new, but only played through the campaign mode last year. It’s a journey worth taking for any music or Beatles fan.

Bravely Default Demo (3DS, 2014) — I can’t remember the last time I put dozens of hours into a demo, but I certainly did with this one. In terms of giving the player a nice taste of what’s being offered in the full version, Bravely Default‘s downloadable demo delivered, with several job classes to master, a good chunk of quests to complete, and lots of addictive combat. Plus, you can transfer data to the full game, which is something that more demos need to do. Great art and music, too. I have yet to start the full version, but plan on doing so in 2015.

The Last of Us: Left Behind (PS3, 2014) — It’s a brief and relatively easy experience compared to the main game, but it’s one of the best examples of story-based downloadable content. It delivers fully on the promise of fleshing out an important piece of Ellie’s backstory, to the point where the events that occur in the DLC fundamentally change key sequences throughout the main campaign. It’s done with a level of care and realism that is rarely seen in games. It’s a wonderful achievement that I look forward to experiencing again in the Remastered PS4 version.

Tomb Raider (PC, 2013) — A fantastic action game that marries an open-world structure with some of the best aspects of the Uncharted series. It’s a lot of fun to play with tons of things to discover and collect. Great graphics and good voice acting for Lara herself. The rest of the cast is just so-so, and is diminished even further by the amateurish and completely over-the-top story. This was the first open-world game that truly drew me in, though, and kept me going until I achieved 100%. Lots of nice touches throughout, and I can’t wait for Rise of the Tomb Raider, although I’ll need an Xbox One first.

Thomas Was Alone (Vita, 2013) — This was a freebie with my PlayStation Plus subscription, and while I didn’t think much of it at first, it quickly grew on me, and by the time I was at its final stages, the game had totally won me over with its touching story and characters. Those characters themselves are (at least visually) nothing more than squares and rectangles, but the narrator injects so much life and personality into them that you can’t help but care for them deeply. The commentary track from creator Mike Bithell is the perfect icing on the cake, and provides a ton of insight into the development of the game and its inhabitants.

Tearaway (Vita, 2013) — From Media Molecule, creators of the LittleBigPlanet series, this was the first retail game that I played on Sony’s struggling handheld. It’s absolutely wonderful, with characters and a world created almost entirely out of pieces of construction paper, and uses the Vita’s various functions (most notably the rear touchpad) in fun and unique ways. It loses its way slightly with some of the Trophy-based tasks, which brings to the surface some of the game’s control quirks, but the package as a whole is undoubtedly one of the best games on the system, and it will be interesting to see what the PS4 update (Tearaway Unfolded) is like. REVIEW LINK

NES Remix 2 (Wii U, 2014) — Audiences are split on the NES Remix series, but I love them. They speak to the arcade high score chaser that was apparently dormant inside me until I started playing these games. They are fun, bite-sized challenges that make you think about old games in new ways. Getting the highest rainbow star ratings on each one is a decent challenge, but matching or beating the lowest times on the Miiverse is something else. It’s highly addictive, and the online component is quite nicely integrated. It’s a very good improvement over the original NES RemixREVIEW LINK

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, 2014) — This is the first in the series since the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES that I have truly had a blast with. Great track design, catchy music, and fun local/online multiplayer. Its DLC is also a very good example of how Nintendo produces some of the best and most consistently high-quality content in the business. I only wish that Nintendo would add a proper campaign or story mode to this series. I know that the majority of players just want to race online, but adding in something more for the single-player crowd would push this series over the top for me.

New Super Luigi U (Wii U, 2013) — Designed as DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U, this is yet another example of how DLC should be done. NSLU takes the stages from NSMBU, cuts the timer down to just 100 and throws in a bunch of new hidden Luigis, stars, exits, and challenges. If it weren’t for the recycled world map and assets, you would swear you were playing a completely new entry. It’s definitely worth playing, as is its parent game, which in my opinion is the best of the New series of Mario titles. REVIEW LINK

Portal (PC, 2007) — This year marked probably the fifth time I’ve played through Portal, and it remains as good as it was the first time I went through it. Sure, the puzzles are easier just because I’ve solved them before, but the dialogue from GLaDOS is still as hilariously terrifying as ever, and the atmosphere remains solitary and unnervingly claustrophobic. I decided to play through it again since I was trying to train myself to play with mouse/keyboard right-handed, but I gave up. I finished the game anyway, just because.

Pokemon X (3DS, 2013) — The first Pokemon game I’ve ever completed! I had actually tried to play through the game earlier in 2014, and made it pretty far in, but it just didn’t hold my attention. With a friend’s son getting Pokemon Y for Christmas, I decided to start over in order to catch some fun Pokemon he might want. Well, something clicked and I got totally hooked. The rest is history as I’ve blasted through two more games and am a trading card fanatic. This game has a cute story, fun world to explore, terrific music, and the metagame aspects for secrets, breeding, training, and other strategies are insanely vast. There are some annoyances with breeding and how grindy some things are, but this still represents one of the best values in handheld gaming. 100 hours in… and counting. REVIEW LINK


Games Scoring an A+

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013) — This is Mario’s first 3D outing on console since 2010’s spectacular Super Mario Galaxy 2, and it’s a memorable one. Although purists have derided both it and the Galaxy games as not being another Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine, I think it holds its own just fine, and is totally fun from beginning to end. Speaking of the end, the last level will test even the best players with one of the most challenging final stages of the series. Graphics are beautiful, music is a cut above the New series (but a cut below the Galaxy games), and the controls are buttery-smooth and responsive. This game also contains the first batch of Captain Toad levels that eventually would inspire a full retail game.

The Last of Us (PS3, 2013) — Sublime. This, more than any other of the PS3/360/Wii generation, successfully combined a touching story, consistent characters, fun gameplay, awe-inspiring visuals, and a beautifully melancholy soundtrack to deliver one of the — if not the — best overall experiences in recent memory. Are there flaws? Sure. Performance can take a hit, I had a couple soft crashes here and there, and some of the collectibles are incredibly obscure, but they don’t hold the game back. Easily one of the best ever made, and absolutely essential for anyone who appreciates the craft of games as a vehicle for refined and engaging storytelling. It’s a game that stays with you long after you’ve turned your console off.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3, 2009) — I don’t know what happened at Naughty Dog between the first Uncharted and this one, but they definitely went Super Saiyan with Uncharted 2! It’s a monumental improvement across the board, from its technology and jaw-dropping set pieces to its storyline and atmosphere. Visually, the game is a stunner, with major improvements to animation, scenic depth, and texture quality. Combat and gunplay have never been Uncharted‘s strongest areas, but they get the job done and can be highly rewarding for those who play online. This is my second time through Uncharted 2, this time playing it to get all of the collectibles. A superb experience, five years later.

Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, 2013) — I’m rather ashamed to admit that I’ve never finished any of the GTA games. That is, until this one. I’ve never cared for the series, mainly because the controls never felt good to me, but Rockstar got things pretty right with GTA5. I fell in love with the game pretty early on, and it wasn’t even because of one of the three main characters. It was Franklin’s friend Lamar, voiced with hilarious verve by Slink Johnson. The scene is clear as day in my mind as they’re at the car dealership with Simeon… and the rest is history. The game was entertaining from beginning to end, with the multi-day heists being one of the game’s highlights. Beautiful graphics, terrific banter between the characters while driving, funny gags all over the place, and like most open-worlders, so much to do that it could take months of solid play to 100%.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC, 2009) — I had tried to start this twice in the years prior to 2014, but never did get too far either time. Not sure why, but this year, it stuck, and stuck hard. This is an instant classic, with a very smooth and intuitive combat/combo system that quickly becomes addictive. Chain hits together and finishing thugs with the big hits are satisfying in the best bone-crunching way. The voice acting is top-notch across the board, employing two series greats, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker, respectively. One of my favorite aspects of the game was the various recordings you find throughout, which fleshes out character backgrounds and lore of the Batman world. As a relative newbie to the franchise, these were very helpful and got me into it. This is a must-play for action and comic book fans.

Batman: Arkham City (PC, 2011) — Immediately after finishing Arkham Asylum, I jumped into this. Taking the ideas of Asylum and expanding them into a larger, more traditional open-world structure made for one of the best experiences with so much to do. Some may argue that it’s more of the same or isn’t focused enough, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t stop it from being one of the best games out there. One of my favorite passages from the game involves Mr. Freeze, whose name unfortunately conjures up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1997 fiasco Batman & Robin. Mr. Freeze’s story here is touchingly told, and cements him as one of my favorite Batman characters. The ending gets crazy over-the-top (and not in a good way), but the game is still ace. Arkham Knight this year!

Shovel Knight (PC, 2014) — Speaking of knights, Yacht Club Games’ Kickstarter success story was easily one of the best side-scrolling platformers I played in 2014. Its visuals and music exist somewhere between 8-bit and 16-bit, with fluid animation and a soundtrack to die for. The game — at least during its first playthrough — skews a little on the easier side, but there is so much to discover that it’s good that the developer took this approach. The entire package just oozes high quality, with a unique risk/reward continue system and a story that is surprisingly heartfelt. I loved every minute of this game, and all I can say is that I hope we get a sequel.

Volgarr the Viking (PC, 2013) — Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year for me was this game. The result of another successful Kickstarter, Volgarr is a hardcore side-scrolling action game that can seem overly punishing, but if you stick with it, you’ll discover — like so many others have — how amazing it really is. The controls seem stiff initially, but that’s only because they are 100% predictable, so once you accept that, it makes learning and traversing each stage much easier. I died so many times, but when I finally beat the game, it felt like the greatest thing ever. The animation is really good, as is the soundtrack. The backgrounds? They’re just OK, but they don’t detract from what is otherwise a definitive arcade-style experience.

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, 2014) — If I was forced to pick, this would be my overall Game of the Year. Developed by Platinum Games, it’s a small miracle that we even got this sequel in the first place, so props to Nintendo for helping make it a reality. The first Bayonetta was a good game that I enjoyed quite a bit, but the sequel just trounces it in every way. Its vibrant visuals sparkle, and lack of screen tearing gives the game a nice visual polish it lacked on the 360 and PS3. Combat feels faster, smoother, and more impactful than ever, and the worlds are full of secrets, challenges, sweet music, and gorgeous vistas. The story is your typical action game nonsense, which is unfortunate, but Bayonetta 2 doesn’t suffer because of it, and triumphs on all of its other strengths. This is the action game of this generation so far. You need a Wii U to play it, but to be perfectly honest, I have to say it’s worth it.


And there you have it.  All of the best games that I played last year. Agree? Disagree? Have favorites of yours that you want to recommend? Please leave them in the comments — I’d love to hear from you!  Thanks for reading, and here’s a toast to the games of 2015!


Unboxing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and the Yoshi Amiibo

Yikes, it’s been a while since my last update, so I sincerely apologize for letting the GHG blog go a bit stale lately. As I’ve mentioned a few times, my focus has shifted a bit to producing video content on YouTube. Between that, trying to get through games in order to provide raw content for those videos, and writing daily pieces on the blog was simply too much for one person, and I’m still a one-person team at the moment. Some things are in the works to help ease the workload, but those things take time, so for now I’ve just been going with the flow and not worrying about it too much!

In any case, this past Friday saw the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and the first wave of Nintendo’s Amiibo near-field communication (NFC) figurines, first announced and shown at E3 2014. I was skeptical — and remained so for a long time — seeing it as Nintendo being late to the party on the Skylanders and Disney Infinity playable figurine market, and giving critics one more reason to hate them for not announcing Super Mario Galaxy 3 or a new Metroid.

Not being a fan of the Smash Bros. franchise didn’t help, but as time passed, footage was shown, and features revealed, my interest level skyrocketed. By the time early November rolled around, I had the game and a Yoshi Amiibo preordered. Yeah, I’m weak that way.

While I’m still getting used to the game itself, I wanted to share a collection of photos I took of the game and the Amiibo, as well as comments about each. I hope you enjoy them!


Bright and colorful front cover, using the standard Wii U blue case color.


Front cover logo detail.


Back cover and spine with Super Smash Bros. circular logo.


Back cover detail. It’s a bit messy, but shows the roster and some of the new features.


Close-up showing supported controllers, including the new Wii U GameCube controller adapter. The 3DS can also be used.


Inside of the case, a relatively thick, full-color manual is included, although they tend to get mangled by the extra disc holders along the spine.


Printed on the inside of the game’s front cover is the Club Nintendo registration code.


Inside the manual is a guide to basic commands, as well as a list of the fighters and their move set. Since I’m new to Smash Bros., I was surprised to see that commands are identical across all of them, although the moves obviously vary depending on which fighter you choose.


Close-up of one of the manual’s move set pages.


Game disc has nice art and the usual high quality Nintendo printing. Gotta love those smooth, rounded edges on Wii U discs.


The Amiibo packaging is pretty standard stuff with a cardboard backing, clear plastic display holder, and cardboard Amiibo base insert.


This particular Amiibo figure looks good. Bottom of packaging is relatively flat for convenient in-box displaying, too.


Closer detail of Amiibo packaging. Where the plastic meets the cardboard backing is wavy and not very attractive.


Back of packaging. Nice that it’s themed for the Amiibo inside and not just generically across all of them.


Another shot of the back packaging. Poor Diddy Kong!


The infamous metallic protective piece that prevents users from scanning/using Amiibos while they are still in the packaging. I don’t mind this, but I know that this irks some collectors who like their stuff to be “NIB”.


Nice detail on the actual figurine with good color, motion, and sculpting. At $12.99 each, they are competitively priced with the offerings from Skylanders ($9.99-$14.99) and Disney Infinity ($12.99).


Close-up of Yoshi’s bulbous snout.


A shot from above.


More detail of Yoshi’s shell and tail.


They did a really nice job on his eyes.


Gold and black Amiibo base with Super Smash Bros. logo on it. It’s interesting that they are themed this way since they will be used for current and future titles not part of this franchise.


It’s worth noting that this is one of several Amiibo that do not have clear or colored translucent support braces. I think that for the most part, those supports look terrible, so I do prefer ones like this, Kirby, and Pikachu.


Another shot of Yoshi’s tale. Notice the somewhat sloppy painting errors.


There are even more splattery painting problems underneath his right arm. This is the side you see the most, which is unfortunate and slightly disappointing.


Underneath the base, showing the Amiibo logo, part number, and other information.

For the most part, I’m happy with the quality of the Amiibo figurines, and the game looks and sounds beautiful. I’m definitely looking forward to digging into it more this weekend. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and for those braving the store crowds, may the Black Friday odds be ever in your favor.


October Reader Mail: ’90s Nostalgia

One of the nicer things about not paying to promote my blog is that I have been able to slowly grow and maintain a more personal and intimate group of readers over time. On the flip side, I’ll see articles about certain bloggers and YouTube content creators making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars doing what they do, and I’ll think to myself, “I need to do that!”

Whether that’s a healthy thought or not, I received this email earlier this month that not only made me smile, but gave me some assurance that I’m not wasting my time:

Hey Mike!

I was listening to the latest IGN Game Scoop! podcast today, and they were celebrating their 18th anniversary, as well as the Nintendo 64’s release day too (September 29, 1996). It really reminded me of your blog postings.

I have never really been a big Nintendo fan, but listening to the show gave me a deeper appreciation for Nintendo.

18 years ago, I was competing in local Doom LAN contests on PC and playing console games on the original PlayStation. Since I didn’t have an N64, I basically missed out on Mario Kart 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time & Majora’s Mask, Super Smash Bros, GoldenEye 007, and many others.

I think the only games I played extensively were (a) Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, which was one of my friend’s favorite games at the time, and (b) Conker’s Bad Fur Day, which another friend of mine did speedruns on. For some reason, when Conker would curse or torture the other animals, it would crack her up to no end.

And now that I think about all of that, it’s very strange to me. The N64 almost feels like it never existed in my world. I played a bunch of Super Nintendo (in particular, Street Fighter II), the GameCube (Luigi’s Mansion, Animal Crossing, etc.), and the Wii, but other than the funky-looking controllers, I can barely recall what the actual console looked like.

Maybe it was because the N64 was slotted between my PS1 and PS2 purchases, or the fact that I was more active back then. Who knows, but I do know that I like your blog a lot. It makes me feel nostalgic for the days of going to Electronics Boutique, Kay Bee Toys, etc., when I would just eyeball all of the clamshell cases on display. Just really super carefree times. Keep up the awesome work!


Thanks so much for that, Brian! I’m really happy to hear that you enjoy the blog. I totally hear what you’re saying on missing out on consoles almost entirely. I wrote early on about never owning an NES, and even though I played a lot of games on it back in the day, it wasn’t the same as having it in our home, playing it whenever I wanted, and spending the time to truly master its games.

I do have to take a step back and be thankful, though, that I have been fortunate enough over the years to have either bought or been gifted most consoles and gaming platforms. While systems like the 3DO and Neo Geo were cost-prohibitive at the time, I owned many of the other major systems for each generation. I even had a Neo Geo Pocket Color at one point, albeit rather briefly.

Much of what you said about the N64 mirrors what I’m going through right now. We’re 1-2 years into the current generation of consoles, and the only one I own outside of handhelds and PC is a Wii U. I’ve historically been an early adopter, but dropping what would be close to a grand or more on two more consoles and a small handful of games isn’t something I’m ready to do yet, even though I really do want to play games like Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive, and Infamous: Second Son.

By the same token, it’s also alarming how behind I am when it comes to games. There’s no conceivable way I could ever play all the titles I want to in my lifetime, many of which are still waiting for me from the 8-bit and 16-bit generations. My personality is such that it’s difficult to just say “Oh well, forget it!” and move on. Easier said than done. So, I try to make it about the quality of my gaming time vs. quantity. While I might not be able to play everything out there, I want to play the best of everything out there. Again, easier said than done, right?

I also like what you had to say about checking things out in retail stores. As much as I love the convenience of ordering things online, I do miss that unmistakable feeling of walking into a store, heading into the game aisle, and looking at all of the game boxes. The Sega Master System sections were so small!

I can close my eyes and still remember precisely where the games were at the Toys R Us in Huntington Beach, CA. You had to take the slip of paper for the game you wanted, pay for it at the register, and then head over to their big, locked cage at the front where they would fetch it for you. I always liked that slightly delayed sense of gratification, and I’d always worry that they wouldn’t be able to find the game in question. I guess it was the modern equivalent of an online order not arriving on your doorstep when it’s supposed to.

Anyway, thanks again for the kind comments, and for giving me another chance to walk down memory lane. As I begin my fifth decade of existence, I can’t wait to see what the future holds, as well as acquainting myself with the many classics that I missed.


Unboxing Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, 2014)

As someone who was never that into third-person action games, Platinum Games’ Bayonetta flew right past me, as did the studio’s other games such as MadWorld, Vanquish, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. However, it only took a few minutes with Bayonetta 2‘s demo on the Wii U to make me realize what a big mistake I had made.

I’ve played it several times since its release, slowly improving upon my previous runs. In that sense, it feels like a true arcade experience, similar to how I felt with Volgarr the Viking, one of the best games I’ve played all year.

Upon playing Bayonetta 2‘s demo, I immediately preordered it on Amazon. Since I had just finished LEGO City Undercover, I decided to fire up my Xbox 360 copy of the first Bayonetta. I haven’t finished it yet — and finishing it once is really only scratching the game’s surface — but you can check out my highlights and hear what I have to say about the game so far on YouTube HERE.

Bayonetta 2 arrived late this past Friday, and even with the first game unfinished, I couldn’t help myself; I just had to tear into my copy!

Below is a series of photos showing what’s included. Nothing earth-shattering, but I do hope you enjoy them.


Full shot of the front cover. Standard Wii U blue box. Bayonetta 1 is included on its own separate disc.


Another shot of the front cover, with a more detailed look at the logo and artwork.


Additional detail of first Bayonetta logo. I like that it’s relatively small and up in the corner instead of being plastered somewhere else over the main artwork.


Full shot of the back cover. Hard to tell what’s going on in any of the tiny screenshots, but it does show some of the alternate outfits now available in the Wii U version of the first Bayonetta, including Samus (Metroid), Peach (Super Mario Bros.), and Link (The Legend of Zelda)


Close-up detail of the back cover’s screenshots. For some reason, Bayonetta’s pose on the left looks a little strange to me.


Sega and Platinum Games logos, as well as supported controllers: Wii Classic Controller Pro, Wii U Pro Controller, and Wii U GamePad. I will be using the Wii U Pro Controller.


Game case spine and thumbnail, which is from the same piece of art from the back cover.


Inside of case, a black & white safety/e-manual pamphlet and game discs. Those come in their own separate trays, which is always nice. Case itself is a standard eco type, which I know saves on plastic, but they just feel super-flimsy. No actual game manual of any kind, which isn’t surprising, but is still disappointing.


Bayonetta 1 game disc. Artwork is from the back cover of the 360 version. Screening is nice and of high quality.


Bayonetta 2 game disc. Artwork is from the front cover, and looks great.


Club Nintendo information and registration code are now printed on the back of the game case insert, which makes getting to it a little more difficult. Nearly impossible to miss, though, due to the eco case cutouts.

Be on the lookout for my Bayonetta review and Bayonetta 2 playthrough on YouTube soon. Have a great week!


Five months at Gray-Haired Gamer

20140923_batman_originsDid I really start this in April? It’s funny looking back at some of my earlier stuff. My Batman: Arkham Origins review is so short, and my Persona 4 Golden review seems odd and doesn’t even read like a review.

I think this site is at its best when I’m writing about my past, or talking about the things that have influenced me. It gives me a chance to dive deep into things that mean a lot to me, or the people who have shaped who I have become, whether they are colleagues, friends, or family.

That’s not to say that I don’t like writing reviews or sharing my latest progress through what I’m currently playing. That’s also good, and it gives me an outlet for more structured pieces. For those progress reports specifically, I’ve found that YouTube has been a much better way to share them. It gives me the opportunity to not just show you exactly how I’m playing through these games, but it lets me share the thought process, mistakes, and other impressions of the series they’re based on or influenced by.

This has been highly rewarding and it only seems natural that the next step will be to set up a webcam to literally face the world when I speak. Soon, I promise!

Although my updates on the blog have not been daily as I originally set out to do, I have tried to post something daily across one or more of the other GHG outlets, so if there isn’t content being posted here, I’ll definitely be posting something elsewhere, whether it be YouTube, Twitter, or Google+.

If you follow me elsewhere, you might have seen the music video I put together last week:

I love doing things like this, and even though this video is mainly about the games I loved when I was in my early and late teens, it was also an exercise in synchronizing video to audio, which is a seriously time-consuming process.

I’m guessing there are better tools out there to make this easier, but I just did it all based on the song’s waveform. Anyway, I’m happy with the way it turned out, although I thought of at least a hundred other games I’d love to feature in future videos. I just need to figure out which songs to use.

As you saw last week, my Backlog Blitz progress for 2014 has been pretty solid. A few slips here and there, but I’ve managed to stay ahead up to this point, and I don’t intend on slipping before the new year!

So what’s next? Well, for one, I’m going to get back to my Industry Memoirs series. I’ve still only written up to the end of 1996, so there are many more years to write about. Lots of ups and downs to be certain, but mainly ups.

20140923_sh_sat_loadI’m also going to do some more in-depth videos on games or series that have influenced me. I’ve written about some of them, such as Space Harrier and Phantasy Star, but I’ve been wanting to do accompanying videos for them, which I think will be a lot of fun to produce.

I’ll likely start with Space Harrier, since it’s one of my all-time favorite arcade games, and I can’t wait to show and talk about the various versions I played, its sequels, and how it’s a series I hope Sega properly brings back in the way they did with Out Run 2.

Anyway, thanks for continuing to check out the blog. While I’ve expanded my horizons a bit and have definitely been focusing more on video content lately, I still very much love writing about games, so please look forward to many more updates.


Where are the updates?

Remember when I said I’d treat this like a job and post something here every day? Yeah, I wrote a little bit about that here, and for several months, I did exactly that. It’s fun, and some of my most memorable updates were written over the course of the past few weeks.

But so far, I haven’t written anything this week, and I only had a couple updates before that. “So Mike, what gives?” Well, a couple things:

First of all, I’ve been applying and interviewing for a day job. As much as I love writing this blog and the “videogame vacation” I’ve been on this year, it doesn’t put food on the table. My wife works full-time, but I’d love to help ease those responsibilities and get myself back into the workforce as well.

It’s been an admittedly tiring and frustrating process. Being out of the videogame industry for nearly two years has been a huge Achilles’ heel as I’ve missed out on most of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One cycle, and I’m quickly finding out that my lack of development experience is another major strike against me. For those who don’t know, I’ve spent most of my career working for publishers or developer/publisher hybrids, but never at a discrete studio.

The intangibles of why I’m a good employee don’t translate well without the context to back them up, and it’s not only underscored just how fast the industry is changing, but how specific I am in terms of fit. Or at least that’s how employers have viewed me.

Times like these I feel pretty darn close to just finding something, anything, and focusing most of my energy on banding together with some of my former colleagues to create an indie game of our own.

Secondly, I’ve realized just how time-consuming producing content is. I’m also finding that I enjoy creating videos for YouTube quite a bit, and I’ve been formulating how to construct my first video review. I’ve become pretty comfortable talking over videos of me playing games — basically just winging it — but in terms of following a script, editing video to complement what I’m talking about, and making it all look and sound professional? That’s a bigger undertaking, and it, well, kinda stresses me out.

My first video review will be for Volgarr the Viking, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have it done before the weekend, but more than likely it will drop after the holiday break. Speaking of breaks, we’ll be out of town this weekend. Seattle’s our destination, and we plan on doing all things touristy, getting away from the dry heat and constant fire dangers of The Dalles.

Anyway, thanks for your continued readership, support, and understanding. This has been a great creative outlet for me, and I appreciate the interactions I’ve had with you along the way!

Oh, and I’m totally serious about that indie game thing. Contact me if you want in.


Gaming with my sister Cheryl (1978-2002)


I’ll never forget the night my dad called to say that my younger sister had passed away. I had just returned to Los Angeles from a business trip to Outrage Games in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Actually, I don’t remember most of the details of that night, as I was simply in a state of shock, sadness, and helplessness.

I remember telling myself that I had to stay strong for my family’s sake, especially my mom, who had just the year prior lost her mother. So much of the days and weeks that followed were a blur, and before I knew it, I was back at work, doing my best to, as they say, pick up the pieces and move on. It’s always easier to give this advice than to take it.

The year prior in 2001, Cheryl had gotten really sick with encephalitis, and was in a coma for about two days. When she came out of it, it seemed like everything was OK, but then she began suffering from major seizures several times a day. Although she would eventually recover to the point where she was able to go home, she would continue to struggle with occasional seizures and other day-to-day limitations.

It changed her personality as well, where she would lose her patience and get frustrated with things almost instantly, and after experiencing it several times, I would make sure to approach things with her more carefully from then on. After hosting a holiday party for her friends in December of 2002, she passed away in her sleep that night. It was concluded that she suffered another seizure.

A lot of people knew my sister Cheryl, her love for the Los Angeles Clippers, the Denver Broncos, teaching, and anything that had to do with monkeys, but few of them likely knew that she also loved videogames, or that she was better than me at many of them. Maybe it was because we were only 4 years apart, and games were such an integral part of my own life, that it became a shared hobby — and source of competition — between us.

20140818_digdugAs early as 1983, when our family was living in Spring, Texas, and Cheryl was still in kindergarten, I remember the Atari 2600 being central to our home life when the weather didn’t permit us to be outside riding our bikes, swimming, and hurting ourselves in every which way as kids do.

Even back then, she was good at games like Dig Dug and Ms. Pac-Man, which when you think about it, require you to pay attention to multiple enemies on the screen and plan out a good strategy to beat them. That’s pretty advanced stuff for a 5-year-old that everyone expected to be playing with Barbie dolls. For the record, she never liked ’em.

20140818_mastertypeWhile we were still living in Texas, my dad bought the family an Apple IIe. He loved the business applications such as the precursor to today’s ubiquitous Microsoft Excel: VisiCalc, but my sister and I were all about the games.

Although she was getting cool software like Spinnaker’s Kindercomp — which is still very good for its age and target audience — she was always more interested in what I was playing. MasterType was one of those educational titles wrapped up in a game, and it taught both of us to type well at an early age. In fact, it wasn’t long before she was a better typist than me!

20140818_safarihuntAs the 8-bit console era came around and we got our Sega Master System, her favorite games on it were the Light Phaser gun games, such as Safari Hunt, Marksman Shooting, and Trap Shooting.

At one point she was so good at Trap Shooting that she would essentially “break” the game. As you would progress through it, the hit box on the traps would get smaller and smaller. She would get so far into it that the hit boxes would cease to even exist. A bug on Sega’s part, perhaps, but she would always be proud of her achievement.

20140818_sf2tThe 16-bit era is when everything came to a head. All those years of playing on the Atari, Apple, and Master System had honed her hand-eye coordination to needle-like levels of sharpness. No other game proved just how terrible at fighting games I was — or rather, how good she was — than Street Fighter II Turbo for the Super Nintendo.

I thought I was pretty good at it. I mean, I had lots of practice from arcades and the regular Street Fighter II SNES cartridge, but Cheryl was a natural. In fact, she was so adept at it that she would regularly perform a “round-robin” in V.S. Battle mode where she would fight me using each character once — beat me with all of them — and after doing so, look at me, say “You suck!”, drop the controller on the floor, and leave the room. Oh, how that made my blood boil!

20140818_bamIt didn’t stop there. In college, I bought Taito’s Bust-a-Move (aka Puzzle Bobble), which I also thought I was good at after having played a ton of the Neo Geo game in arcades.

Oh, no. Once again, after playing it for just a few short days, Cheryl was like Bobby Fischer with it, hitting impossible shots and rarely making mistakes bouncing the bubbles off the side walls. I would go on to hear her trademark “You suck!” more than I’d care to admit. It was a lot.

The thing is, even though she kicked my butt six ways from Sunday competitively, those remain some of my best memories. Her taunting would evolve from simple verbal jabs to her strategically eating dried squid before a game and then burping it in my face at the most opportune times to mess me up. It worked. A little too well. I can still smell it!

20140818_sbbI think her absolute favorite game, though, was Super Buster Bros. on the Super Nintendo. She even bought her own system so that she could play it after she moved to San Diego for college. Her favorite mode was Panic, where you’d just work your way through progressively more difficult waves of bouncing bubbles and hexagons, and watching her play this was amazing.

Again, all those years of gaming made it easy for her to focus on so many on-screen objects at once. It was actually pretty inspiring to watch, so this also went on to became a favorite game of mine, and I’ll still dust it off from time to time to see how far I can get. Never as far as her, of course.

Unsurprisingly, she was really good at another game that had spherical objects in it as well: pinball.

20140818_pfPorted from the Amiga to the PC in the early ’90s, Digital Illusions’ Pinball Fantasies was one of the best arcade pinball simulators at the time, and the both of us played it nonstop.

Cheryl got really good at saving the ball via the game’s nudge feature. With good timing, you can bounce it out of the bottom at the last second and bring it back into play. It wasn’t very realistic, but it was always impressive when you could get it to happen regularly.

She was also the first one to get over a billion points on the Billion Dollar Gameshow table, and to this day, I haven’t been able to catch and beat her score. I still have her MS-DOS high score files from this game on 3.5″ floppy disk in storage.

The 32-bit generation arrived in the mid-’90s, and by then I was seeing less and less of my sister as not only was I beginning my full-time career at Interplay, but she was nearing the end of high school, working part-time at the Sanrio store, and was highly involved in sports, clubs, and other activities.

20140818_ridgeracerHowever, we would always find time to get in a game or two here and there, and her favorite on the PlayStation was Namco’s Ridge Racer. While we were at the point in our lives where we weren’t all that competitive anymore, it was still a lot of fun to take turns and play.

Her favorite music track in the game was “Rotterdam Nation”, and she would bob her head to it with a serious look on her face as she gracefully drifted around all of the game’s sweeping curves and hairpins.

She would yell at the A.I. cars if they bumped into her, affectionately referring to the Dig Dug car as the “multicolored piece of crap” or the pink 31 flavors-like Mappy car as the “Bastard Robbins”. Seems silly now, but we used to crack each other up with our cheesy jokes.

And that’s what life is all about, right? Making memories that can bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye, no matter how insignificant they might seem to everyone else. That’s why I get very defensive when people dismissively talk about this hobby with me, saying things like, “Videogames are for kids,” or “You play too many games,” etc.

What these folks don’t understand is that games have the power to not only challenge us on an individual level, but they can bring people together, creating lifelong memories that shape who we are.

Perhaps I haven’t said this until now, but a big reason why I still play games is that they remind me of exactly what I wrote about above: my sister and all the great experiences we shared with controllers in our hands, sitting in front of a TV, yelling, laughing, and bonding.

Happy Birthday, Cheryl. I miss you, and sorry about bringing up the dried squid burps. I couldn’t help myself!


Volgarr the Viking: My 16-bit Obsession


Volgarr the Viking for the PC is a special game. It’s also tough as nails. I’ve been playing it all week, and I can’t even get past the second world yet.

It’s the kind that you play, get utterly frustrated with, but start thinking about immediately after you turn it off. You’ll convince yourself that just one change in your approach will get you through a level unscathed, and then there you are, turning it back on to try again. When you close your eyes at night to go to sleep, all you can see is yourself playing through the game from beginning to end in exacting detail.

That’s precisely what’s happening to me at the moment. This was commonplace for me back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days. I would only get maybe one game per month, if that, so I would play and master every game I received, whether they were good or bad.

20140813_mm2Although I have played some difficult games in recent years, they bring with them modern conveniences, such as save slots or generous checkpoints that reduce the amount of times you have to replay levels. They keep you moving forward, and in many cases have bite-sized level design, which I think are good things, especially as gaming continues to broaden its appeal.

Bravely, though, Volgarr lacks any of that. The most you get is a mid-level checkpoint and the ability to skip stages you’ve already beaten. Respawning at a checkpoint, however, means you have to collect all your gear again and miss out on treasure. Skipping stages means you can’t get the game’s best ending. As such, the few bits of help the game offers come with trade-offs that give even these simple decisions consequence. For all intents and purposes, this game behaves like a cartridge with no passwords or battery back-up.

20140813_sgngAs I said, this approach reminds me of my youth, sitting in front of my Genesis and Super Nintendo getting absolutely destroyed by games like Super Ghouls’n Ghosts, Target Earth, and Contra III: The Alien Wars. And yet I beat them all and I was very, very good at them at the time. Why? Because I had no choice. I didn’t have any other new games to play, so I dedicated myself to what I had, and I loved every minute of it. I’m not someone who likes to show off, but I did enjoy showing my friends how to “easily” get through my games that they were struggling with.

Nowadays? In my Steam library, I have nearly 300 games. My console backlog is so deep that there’s no way there are enough years in a lifetime to play them all. For a system criticized for having “no games”, I have at least 5 on the Wii U that I haven’t even started yet. It’s no wonder then that I find myself moving away from the time-consuming genres I once loved, like 80-hour RPG epics, and prefer blasting through a 15-hour retro platformer, quickly moving on to the next one.

20140812_rosVolgarr, though, has shaken me to my core, and I’m thankful for that. It’s a reminder of why I can still remember the exact level layouts of The Revenge of Shinobi, but not be able to recall what the first level of Super Meat Boy looked like. That’s not a reflection on game quality, but I find that my memory of games is more generalized nowadays vs. how intimately specific they are from past gaming generations.

Feeling that way again this week has been awesome. I don’t know if I’d have this level of dedication with every game, but since it is an innate part of Volgarr‘s vision and design — in a day and age where ease and forgiveness are the norm — I’ll happily bite.


Drawing again because of… the Wii U?

Who would’ve thought that Nintendo’s latest console would be responsible for getting me back into art again? While many people — included myself — scoffed at and cast doubt upon the GamePad, in my opinion, it’s more than proven its worth.

Games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD really benefit from it with its nice quick-access inventory/menu functionality, and off-TV play is fantastic for the games that support it. However, I think it’s the Miiverse — Nintendo’s social network for the Wii U and 3DS — where the GamePad truly shines.

It’s nice to type up messages like you would on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s the handwritten notes, hints, and pictures that you can leave for the community which I find the most fun. There are so many amazing artists out there, and many of them have inspired me to dust off my stylus and take a crack at drawing again.

I haven’t created much for the better part of 17 years. I loved doing anime-style work traditionally with Tria/Prismacolor markers on Letramax paper, and I took it pretty seriously at the time, dumping lots of money into supplies. Honestly, I don’t know why I stopped for so long. Doing it again now, I realize how much I missed it.

All of the sketches I did initially were for NES Remix. I drew little pictures here and there earlier this year, but I decided to jump in with both feet and sketch something bigger every time I got full rainbows on any of the games:



This drawing for Mario Bros. was first up. It’s become one of my more popular ones on the Miiverse. I don’t like the way his hat looks, but for a first attempt, I think it turned out OK. At this point, I was just getting used to the tool set, which is very light, but I think they work great.



Balloon Fight turned out to be a fun game, similar to the old arcade game Joust. For this one, I tried to make it look like his hand was stretching out towards the viewer, but I’m not sure it was all that effective.



I hated — and I mean really hated — Ice Climber when I first started playing it. It was one of the few games I honestly thought was broken! Over time, though, I learned how to play it well enough to get all the rainbows in it.

What do I think of it now? It’s OK, but I don’t know if I’ll be rushing out to play it again. For this sketch, I created an original character based loosely on the female second player from the game. The hammer inadvertently turned out looking like the mallet from Donkey Kong.



Here’s a Wind Waker-style Link to celebrate getting all the rainbows in the original Legend of Zelda. I loaded up a picture via Google for reference, and this is what I ended up with. Most of the shading is true to the original image, but I added more to give it a three-dimensional look.



My Simpsons-inspired Luigi that I drew shortly after starting NES Remix 2. I forgot to add highlights on his hair, and I totally got his mustache wrong. However, after several drawings in a row, I was starting to feel really comfortable with the sketching tools, trying new techniques with shading, and spending more time touching up my handwriting to give it some additional style.



As I’ve been progressing through NES Remix 2, I’ve been taking time to share some of my times as simpler, less time-consuming posts. Since this game doesn’t have leaderboards, this is the only way to share them in-game, which is unfortunate.

Anyway, I started off with this one using a Tanooki Mario stamp and more experimentation with hand-drawn motion effects and fonts. These only take a few minutes, but they’re still fun to make.



A “remix” of my own using Punch-Out!! and Super Mario Bros. 2 stamps, along with some hand-drawn elements to show motion and depth.



This one’s just silly, but I wanted to mess around with changing the look of the stamps themselves. Little Mac’s about to go Super Saiyan!



Running out of ideas, I tried something a little different with the bounce/impact effects, but besides that, there’s not much going on here…



…and so, I decided to detail out and stylize some numbers, which I loved doing back in high school.



When I got to Kirby’s Adventure, I went back to drawing the characters again. I’ve never tried to draw him before, and it’s harder than it looks! I took some liberties with his face design, but I like the way he turned out overall.


20140722_ghg_miiverse_7Another one of Kirby. Keen observers will notice that he’s actually blowing out instead of sucking in, but I guess in the context of displaying a score, it still works.


Anyway, as much fun as Miiverse posts are, I wanted to try my hand at getting back into color work too. I downloaded Art Academy: SketchPad on the Wii U, which is cheap at only $4, but it’s pretty limited in terms of functionality and drawing options.

I’ll write up a full review at a later date, but here’s my first piece: Finn the Human from the great cartoon Adventure Time:



All in all, I’m having a great time getting back into drawing, and again, I owe it all to the Wii U. It’s not only been a surprisingly good console for games, but it’s proven its worth on the creative side as well.

Please add me as a friend if you’d like to see more and follow my doodles. I’m ghibli99 on the Nintendo Network, so I’ll see you online!


Bringing my voice to YouTube

When I was in high school, memorizing and reciting poetry was a big part of my junior year English class. I distinctly remember Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, which now, over two decades later, not only remains in my memory, but the content resonates with me more strongly than it ever has. Age and life in general have a tendency to do that.

After standing up in front of the class for the first time to deliver it, my teacher made a passing comment about how he thought I had a good speaking voice. Teens don’t have a reputation for ignoring the older generation for nothing; I got embarrassed, shrugged it off, and quickly went back to my desk. He would go on to say this a few more times throughout the school year, at one point saying I really needed to be on the radio. I would just smile uncomfortably and try to forget about it.

Why do we do this? I’ve never taken compliments well, and my first reaction — instead of doing the polite thing and saying thanks — is instead to downplay them. I mean, who knows? Had I instead taken my teacher’s words to heart, I might have gone on to study Media Communications or Broadcast Journalism in college, like my best friend did. I think he has a terrific speaking voice, and he went on to do great things on the TV news channels down in Florida.

Those words from high school stuck with me over the years. I never particularly cared for the way my voice sounded, and as a result, I never pursued anything in that realm. It’s like Werner Brandes (Stephen Tobolowsky) said in the terrific film Sneakers about his own voice, “I always thought it was kind of nasal and pinched.”

But as they say, one of the worst things you can do is have regrets in your life, so with one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 being to face my fears, this week I decided to tackle them both by bringing my own voice to YouTube.


After doing considerable research and of course, talking myself out of buying the most expensive microphone available on Amazon, I picked up a Blue Snowball USB microphone. With good reviews and an inoffensive price point, I bought one along with a Nady MPF-6 pop filter. I was going to buy a small acoustical microphone shield, but it’s an expensive addition, so for now, I’ll likely just buy a piece of foam and create a do-it-yourself one, or use a small pillow.

The microphone itself is of very high quality and is available in a variety of different colors. I went with the brushed aluminum finish, which has a beautiful, classic look to it. Packaging is nice, and although the microphone housing is plastic, it has substantial heft and does not feel cheap. It sits on a sturdy, folding desktop stand, which the pop filter can be conveniently attached.

PC installation is simple: Just plug it into an open USB port, Windows auto-detects it, and you’re ready to start recording.

There are three settings on the microphone, which are designed for speech, live music (activates a -10 dB pad), and environmental (omni-directional). Mine shipped in position 3, so if you pick one of these up, be sure to select the appropriate setting before you begin.


The pop filter came in a somewhat cheap and flimsy blister pack, and the flexible gooseneck has a disappointing tendency to float and not stay in place during adjustment. However, it’s one of the cheaper options available, and if you’re going to be doing a lot of talking, this is a wise investment. Additionally, the stand mount is very solid, and once it’s in place, it stays put.

On the software side, for recording and editing, I have the open-source Audacity, which is easy and very comfortable for me to use. In many ways, it’s similar to one of my old favorites, Cool Edit. Still image, video, and audio integration is all done in Adobe Photoshop and CyberLink PowerDirector.


So with those details taken care of, it was time for the real work to begin. I sat there at my desk earlier this week pondering what exactly I wanted to talk about. Yeah, it would be related to gaming, but how exactly? My mind raced, thinking about the massive amount of current YouTube videogame content creators, and what — if anything — I could possibly bring to the table.

Feeling intimidated, I watched some of my favorites for some inspiration. The most important thing I realized is that the ones that I really like and keep coming back to are incredibly passionate people. They don’t just regurgitate what’s been said before, and you not only learn about the games they’re playing, but you gain meaningful and lasting insight into them as human beings. Sure, some of them do it more loudly than others, but there are just as many who are quiet and introspective. For every expletive-weaving Rageaholic there’s a mild-mannered Pete Dorr, and I like that. I like that a lot.

It opened my eyes. I stopped thinking about it too much, and decided to simply talk about the game I was ready to 100% complete: NES Remix for the Wii U. Now, as I’ve said before, I didn’t really like the game all that much at first, but later on it became one of my favorites. Even looking at that re-review today, I feel the game is even better now, with fantastic replay value and very fun Miiverse integration.

I should have know this next fact beforehand, but yeah, deciding to do something and actually doing it are two very, very different things. While I knew I wanted to discuss the final stage of NES Remix, exactly what I wanted to discuss was difficult to figure out. Would I need an intro? Would I just talk while I played? Would I write a script? Would I edit out the bad stuff? Would I just do a play-by-play of what I was doing? The questions in my mind went on and on.

To get the easier part out of the way, I wrote a script for the brief intro, which went pretty smoothly. Recording it took a good number of takes, as I experimented with different inflections and emphasis, but it was more so because I kept messing up!

For the actual gameplay, I would end up trying every approach. On my first attempt, I immediately gained a new-found respect for people who can play games well and talk coherently at the same time. It’s really hard to talk when you’re trying to concentrate on not dying in a game, and after several failures, I stopped and decided to save that one for later.

Next, I recorded myself playing, and when I was finally happy with the footage, I jotted down notes and scripted out the framework for what I wanted to cover during each segment. This too ended up being a failed style for me since as I was talking about one thing, my eyes would scan ahead, tripping up what I was trying to currently get out. Similarly to what I said above, folks who can read scripts, anticipate what’s ahead, and make it all sound natural have a great talent.

Finally, feeling a bit frustrated and on the verge of quitting, I decided to just do it commentary-style on the fly. I worried about this approach since I’m not the most talkative person on the face of the planet, and am an introvert by nature. However, I set out to get this done, and get it done I did. It took a few tries, but it ended up being the most natural and comfortable technique for me.

After finishing recording and getting everything tidied up in post, here is the result:

For a first attempt, I think it turned out OK. Of course, all I can fixate on are the little mistakes, long pauses, weird choice of words, and other such nitpicks. That’s the double-edged sword of being your own worst critic, right?

In any event, it feels good to have finally broken through this long-standing sound barrier in my life, and I appreciate the comments and suggestions I’ve already received from my friends, readers, and now viewers. I look forward to creating more of these, and as always, if you have any game or topic requests, please let me know. It’d be tons of fun to cover games I would have never thought to play otherwise.