Entertainer AND Blogger?! I’m Both Those Things!

Varhkalla is a fine chap!  Well, I assume he is.  He’s never given me a reason to think otherwise.  And his blogs are entertaining which explains why he was given this award, which has now been passed to me.  I look forward to entertaining you all further.  Thank you to Varhkalla for this award!

The Rules of The Entertainer Blogger Award

  • Write a post including the award picture.
  • Nominate 12 other bloggers who are funny, inspiring, and most importantly ENTERTAINING!
  • Add these rules to the post.
  • Thank the person who nominated you and leave a link to their blog!
  • Answer the questions down below:

What do you hope to gain from blogging?

Literally nothing.  I like games and writing about them allows me to appreciate them all the more by delving a little deeper into why I like them.  It’s also been nice to find a community of other bloggers writing about games, reading their thoughts on our entertainment of choice, and interacting with them.

What genre of film entertains you the most?

I’m a big fan of horror movies, and have been for a long time.  Sadly there haven’t been many good ones for a long time.  Maybe I’ve become desensitised to them, or maybe the genre has been tapped dry by this point.  To be fair though, I’ll watch pretty much anything, but I do enjoy a good mystery regardless of the genre!

Do you consider yourself a writer, and what inspires you to write? 

I am in no way a writer.  I mean, I can write words in somewhat coherent sentences, but I’m not someone who writes well or delusions that what I write is of any real quality.  I’m a mathematician by trade, and words are not the tools I use most often!

Why I write is simply down to my passion for this hobby.  I’ve been gaming for most of my life, read countless excellent reviewers, and their belief that this medium could be more than just shapes on a screen made me want to write about games for a long time.  Once it became abundantly clear that writing was not my strongest skill I let it slide.  But blogging allows anyone to share their thoughts through text and was the perfect outlet for me.  After a while of indecisiveness over whether or not I could commit to it, commit to it I did!

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Interruptions!  They really get to me for some reason.  Anything that breaks my concentration annoys me, but people interrupting really bugs me.  A reasonable person knows better than to interrupt someone when they are working, focusing or talking and yet some people do it anyway!  In an emergency, or with an important interjection I fully understand.  But on the whole, it’s a bit no-no!

Why did you choose your particular WordPress username?

I know it’s not been all that long, but I’m becoming a little uncertain!  It seems like a nice way to sign off a game write up though.  It also pretty much sums up what this blog is about.

What is your favourite book and why does it speak to you?

I am, and have been since a child, a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s work.  I wasn’t a big reader as a kid, but I enjoyed fantasy games quite a bit.  So when I came across Discworld I thought I’d give it a try.  I’m glad I did.  I can practically recite The Colour of Magic word for word having read it so often.  The setting was great and the humour encapsulated pretty much everything I found funny at the time.  Fantasy and comedy was something I’d never considered before this.

What is your favourite song and why does it speak to you?

Too many to choose, and I’m quite fickle with music.  But anything by Reuben or Jamie Lenman is pretty good in my book!  A mix of calm and angry vocals, catchy guitar and some clever lyrics.

What is your favourite photograph and why does it speak to you?

There’s one of my daughter at the age of one looking through a hole so that she has the body of a dinosaur.  I won’t share it on here, but any parent can probably understand why that’s one of my favourites.

My Nominations:

Retr0pia

Hungry Goriya

I ❤ Old Games

Blow in My Cartridge

Nick The Gent

Explore the Gaming World

A Nerdy Nook

Games Revisited

Gaming Picks

Nintendo Bound

Falcon Reviews

Conquering the Gaming Backlog

I tried to include people I don’t think have done this one yet!  Happy blogging!

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Oxenfree – Teenage beach party goes wrong…

First things first, I’m going to avoid story spoilers as far as possible due to this being such a narrative-driven game.  So fear not!  It does mean that this will be an odd write up as I’m going to tell you as little as possible about the story.  Anyway, on with the words!

The term “walking simulator” gets thrown around a lot at the moment, mostly in a derisive way to mock games that people feel lack actual gameplay.  But whether or not you feel they are truly games (lack of challenge often being cited), walking simulators can be very enjoyable narrative experiences.  More often than not they will have an atmospheric environment and engaging story.  You just have to look at the success of Gone Home and Firewatch to see that plenty of people, gamers or otherwise, enjoy this type of experience.  Oxenfree is almost a walking simulator, but with a few more gameplay elements.  It paints itself as a light adventure game with conversation elements that effect various outcomes.  In that regard it’s somewhat like the Telltale games (Walking Dead, Tales from the Borderlands, Life Is Strange etc.) but with a very different style.

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You and your friends arrive on an abandoned island for a high school beach party.

This is an almost 2D side scrolling adventure with a horror/mystery theme in which you move around areas (sometimes into the area’s background, hence it being almost 2D) with one or more partners, finding objects and solving simple puzzles.  Along the way, you’ll converse (or not if you feel like it!) with your companions with certain choices changing the outcome of the game.  It’s these elements that I feel move the game away from walking simulator and more into the realm of the Telltale style of game.  Unlike those games, though, this one is much shorter (about 4 hours) making it much easier to go back and experiment with different routes through the game.

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You end up with a group of 5 characters, all are interesting and well voiced.

The story begins with you, as Alex, and your high school friends arriving on an island for a beach party.  Surprisingly, your group are the only people there and so you decide to explore the island.  Before long you come across a cave with some unusual markings and discover that your radio can receive strange signals which set of a chain of events that brings into question what the real history of the island actually is.  You’re told that a WW2 submarine sunk just off the coast of the island, but over the course of the game you find out that not everything is as it seems.  The game is as about your relationships with your friends as it is the mysteries of the island.  Your choices will dictate how they react to you and how their lives will develop at the end of the story.

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Your interactions tend to revolve around 3 dialogue choices, although the option to say nothing can be just as important.

The game looks good, with an art style that suits the tone of the game.  The muted colours of the island makes the characters stand out and brings your attention to elements of the world that are important.  The voice acting is excellent and I found each character interesting and likeable in their own way.  They all have their own history and baggage that you can uncover if you spend enough time with each of them, so multiple play throughs to interact with each character is something I would encourage.  Whilst the writing is mostly very good, some of the dialogue comes across as quite odd considering some of the things the characters experience on the island (not spoiling too much here).  Alex in particular came across as a little too calm from time to time which broke the immersion for me a little.

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The island isn’t terribly big, meaning it’s fairly quick to find your way around.

The puzzles aren’t difficult, and most are solved simply by activating the correct object in the environment.  There are collectables to find though, with some (ever so) slightly more challenging puzzles that will require more exploration.  I found locating these to be quite enjoyable as they add a lot of history to the island and give you a better understanding of just what is going on.  You aren’t likely to be challenged in this game, but if you like a good story you should find yourself very much engaged.  And once you reach the end (which is either a total cop-out or utter genius, I can’t quite decide!)  and figure out just what was happening, you’ll almost certainly want to have another play through to find even more answers.

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Most of the puzzles will involve using your radio to find or interact with the world in a number of ways.

Oxenfree was developed and published by Night School Studio.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend you play it if you are looking for a good story.  If you enjoyed any of Telltale’s games, I would say you should look into this.  There’s a lot here that improves on them and it isn’t overly long, making another try at the game to find alternative routes and endings a very real possibility.  You really should give this a try.

5 Games I Gave Up On – A list of shame

I’m not a quitter, I promise.  I’m not a completionist either, though.  It’s very rare for me to finish a game and then go back to find all the hidden collectibles (although there are a few exceptions if I’ve really enjoyed a game, such as Inside).  But pretty much any game I start, I will play through to the bitter end.  In story driven games I like to see the conclusion, no matter how silly the plot it.  In arcade games I like to have completed every level so I’ve seen all there was to see.  But sometimes it’s just not worth it.  Maybe the story is just that bad, or the mechanics too awkward, or perhaps even it’s too difficult (the shame!) for me to finish.  This list is dedicated to those games.

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I’m not including games that are impossible to beat due to terrible programming, like this nonsense!

I can’t remember every game I’ve ever given up on, but these are some that spring to mind.  Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to them someday.  Perhaps you, dear reader, might even convince me that going back is worth it!  See what you think.

Flashback

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I think this was my first PC game I actually owned.  I’d played a lot of games on our BBC over the years, but we eventually got a ‘proper’ computer.  A 486 with 4MB of RAM, which seemed like a lot at the time.  For Christmas, my sister and I were given a game each.  She received X-Wing, which was utterly brilliant.  I was given Flashback, which I enjoyed a great deal…well the first level at least.

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Pretty ugly by today’s standards, but the animation was really something for the time.

 Being as this was the early 90s, gamepads for the PC were not all  that common, or cheap for that matter, and playing this on a keyboard was hard.  I eventually got through the first level, which I enjoyed, but I simply couldn’t get through the second.  There was a jump near the start that needed good timing to make, but playing on a keyboard made it near impossible.  Of course, playing it at the time, I assumed the jump was impossible, and went around looking for another route.  Remember, this was before YouTube and online guides so I had nothing to tell me otherwise.  So I gave up on finishing it, or ever getting past the second stage.  I played the first one quite a lot as it was good fun.  The animation looked really good after coming from a BBC, the shooting was satisfying and the environments were detailed for the time.  I think there’s an iPhone version of this, but I can’t imagine playing on a touch screen is any better.  This is one forever consigned to the pile of shame.

Our Darker Purpose

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So The Binding of Isaac is pretty great.  A tough rogue-lite game with tons of variety and a really dark sense of humour and story.  I enjoyed the original, and I enjoyed the Rebirth re-release a great deal.  Before the re-release though, I was looking around the Steam store for anything that took my fancy and came across Our Darker Purpose.  It seemed similar but with a distinct enough art-style and setting to set it apart.  Being sensible, I waited for a Steam sale and picked it up.  I put 2 hours into it before giving up.

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Different colours to denote more powerful versions of an enemy?!  How novel!

It’s almost the exact same game.  The controls are the same (bar a roll button), the map is laid out in a similar way, enemies are the same but with a different look.  Your “tears” even curve in the same way!  This might as well be a reskin.  Some minor difference include selecting a power up at the start of the game, as well as unlocking selectable “perks”.  You can also choose a modifier for the next floor (stronger enemies, higher speed etc.) which was a nice feature.  But that’s it, everything else is pretty much a carbon copy.  This is one I don’t think I’ll ever go back to finish.  Why bother when Isaac is so much better?

Final Fantasy X-2

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This is not a hugely popular opinion, but I quite liked Final Fantasy X (I recently listened to Simon Miller of VideoGamer.com deride it with the sentence “Your dad is a fish” which made me laugh).  I remember having to wait until after my exams before going out to buy it as I knew I wouldn’t have a hope in them if I let myself play it.  I even enjoyed its bonkers story, silly characters, and to an extent the weird “Sphere Grid” levelling system.  What I did not enjoy was the follow up.

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Final Fantasy meets Charlie’s Angels.

The whole thing was a huge shift from FFX.  The battles, the levelling, even the characters seemed to be completely different people.  Yuna had gone from priestess to pop-star for some reason, Payne was a new character who appeared from nowhere (she may have been explained later, but I never found out), and the outfits seemed even skimpier and sillier than before.  Rather than having a party to work with, you would change the characters outfits mid battle to suit the situation.  This seemed like an interesting idea but I felt as though I was missing out on party and character development.  The thing is, I reckon this was probably a rather good game, but because I was looking for a follow up to FFX I just couldn’t get into it.  I consider this a lesson in not going too far with changes when you create a sequel.  Change is fine, but going too far risks alienating the people who enjoyed your previous creation.  Anyway, this was returned to the store the next day.  With the recent HD re-release of FFX and FFX-2 though, I might consider going back to this one one day.

State of Decay

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Zombie games are ten-a-penny these days.  Whatever type of gamer you are, there’s almost certainly a zombie game in your genre of choice.  Zombie survival games are probably the most common type of these.  Most aren’t great though, really just aping the Minecraft mold of punch a tree to get the wood to build the house to make a crafting station…etc.  State of Decay seemed different.  In fact it is different.  An open world zombie survival game based on helping survivors to build a base and survive through raiding the local area for supplies and equipment.  The idea is great, but I didn’t enjoy it.

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I spent a lot of time running away from zombies.  I’m sure there must be more to the game than this.

I played this on PC, using a controller (I tend to prefer a controller for third person games), but I found the controls to be sluggish and unresponsive.  Aiming was awkward and driving felt more difficult than it really should have been.  I love the idea of running a survivor outpost and scavenging for supplies, but a lot of the games mechanics felt hidden, or poorly explained.  I should say, that when I went back into this to take some screenshots, I did find myself enjoying it and played it for a bit longer than I expected, so it’s possible I might go back to this sometime, even though I’m not sure if there’s an actual ending or not.

Braid

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Don’t hate me for this one!  I know the law states that if you’re a gamer then you must like Braid and sing its praises.  I tried to like it, I really did.  I picked this up many years ago, not long after the craze surrounding it died down.  I’d heard all these wonderful things about how great the game was, how there’s so much depth and that the story is brilliant.  So I put aside my dislike of puzzle platformers and bought the game.

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It’s a gorgeous game, it really is.

How foolish I was.  I still didn’t like puzzle platformers enough to enjoy this one.  It looks beautiful, it controls really well, the story is well told (at least, it was for the first couple of worlds), and the time powers were interesting.  But it wasn’t enough for me to want to faff about with puzzling through the levels.  I’ve since read up on the story and I think I enjoyed reading about it more than playing it.  I don’t like puzzle platformers.  I DON’T!  Except for Limbo and Inside…

A few others of note: Knight of the Old Republic which i played a very very long time after release and found very clunky by today’s standards.  Pineview Drive for just using the same mechanic over and over again.  Dust was utterly beautiful, but I stopped playing for  little while and forgot what I was meant to be doing and never went back.  There are a lot of others too!

What games have you given up on?  Any that you regret?  Do you think I should go back to any of these in the future?  Let me know!

Far Cry Primal – Circle strafe a mammoth to death.

Mammoths were wiped out by cave men circle strafing them whilst poking at their sides with spears.  I don’t care what the scientists say about there not being enough water, Far Cry Primal is a much more reliable historical resource than anything these supposed “experts” can come up with.  I joke of course, but a lot of the combat in this game can be boiled down to that concept.  Ubisoft took a bit of a risk here by transferring the modern day open world shooter into a prehistoric era, and in some regards it does pay off.

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You are a man, inside a cave.  A ‘cave man’ if you will.

I’ll get this out of the way early, this game is beautiful.  Far Cry has for a long time been known for its gorgeous environments and vistas, and this is no exception.  Every environment, from cave interiors to swamplands are detailed, colourful and packed with plant and animal life to interact with in different ways.  Characters look wonderful, especially in scenes in which they speak directly to you.  The characters’ eyes seem to have had a lot of attention paid to them as they often convey the intended emotion very well.  The local wildlife also look great and are animated well too.  The little details of hitting an enemy (animal or otherwise) with an arrow and it remaining sticking out of them during the remainder of the confrontation is a lovely (if gruesome) detail.  This is a great game if you just want to explore, hunt creatures and find all those hidden collectables.

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Fire is your friend for lighting dark areas and scaring away potential predators.

The Far Cry series has more recently been known for its engaging stories and charismatic villains.  This is an area Primal really struggles to live up to.  The plot is basically your tribe has been nearly wiped out so you must unite the surviving members and ensure their safety.  This isn’t such a bad thing, but there’s never really a feeling that your tribe is under threat, bar one scene early on.  This is compounded by the lack of a compelling villain or any really motivations for those that are there beyond “kill other tribe”.  I appreciate that with a prehistoric setting, having a genuinely interesting and deep opponent is quite difficult.  But if you’re taking your series known for certain features into a different time zones, taking out one of its most entertaining (for me anyway) is very noticeable.  Vaas, Pagan Min and even The Jackal in Far Cry 2 were interesting, motivated and compelling to observe both in and out of cut-scenes.  The antagonists here are uninteresting at best.  Your allies are more interesting, including a seemingly insane shaman, a crafter with a habit of peeing on people and an incredibly aggravating “thinker”.  Like them or not, these are much more interesting than the antagonists.

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The introduction to the game has a fairly engaging mammoth hunt to teach you the basics.

 Whilst the main story is underwhelming, there are a lot of interesting side quests to do for the different characters you come across.  Some of these are interesting, such as hunting animals at different times of day, or taming legendary creatures.  Others are less so, like collecting feathers for a character to learn how to fly.  Whilst these can be a little hit and miss, there is a range of entertaining activities here.  Other side missions are not character related, and focus around helping your tribe by taking over outposts, capturing bonfires and rescuing allies.  These are mechanically fine, but they do become samey after a while.  Some of the combat mechanics remain interesting throughout the game.  Using a bow and arrow didn’t get old for me at all and was consistently satisfying.  It’s a feature that has appeared in a few Far Cry games, and it continues to work well.  Melee combat (which is very common) was far less engaging, and amounted to hitting attack until the other person fell over.  The weapons make perfect sense for the setting, but they are mostly uninteresting (club, spear, bigger club) apart from the throwable equipment.  Throwing a bag of bees at an opponent was entertaining, as were the berserk shards which turn enemies against one another.

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We’re going on a bear hunt.

Animals, on the other hand, are fun weapons to utilise.  Early on, you gain the ability to tame animals and have them fight for you.  The actual act of taming them isn’t terribly interesting, but having a sabre toothed tiger slinking around, ready to pounce on your enemies at a moment’s notice is quite enjoyable.  Even more so when you learn the ability to ride them.  Charging into battle on the back of an angry bear was satisfying.  There are a number of different animals to tame each with their own statistics, as well as a few rare and legendary creatures to add to your collection.  Hunting and claiming them all is one of the more entertaining collection quests you can complete (this is an Ubisoft game after all, by law there has to be at least 45,000 collectibles on the map).

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So, here I’m blowing up the moon with a bow and arrow.  Obviously.

Far Cry Primal was developed and published by Ubisoft.  I played the game on PlayStation 4 and would recommend it if you like Ubisoft collect-a-thon games, or if you’re a bit burnt out on modern FPS.  Ubisoft took a risk and lead their franchise in a new direction which is commendable.  It works in places, with a nice setting and some well polished mechanics, but it loses a lot of what has made Far Cry successful in recent years.  Part of me thinks they had an idea for a 10,000BC game but didn’t want to take a big risk and attached the Far Cry name to it, but maybe I’m just being a cynic!

Formula Fusion – Plus you can win a free copy of it!

The anti-gravity racing genre has been MIA for a long time.  The success of games like Wipeout and F-Zero seem like a distant memory these days.  The only recent entry is Fast Racing Neo, a pretty good Wii U exclusive.  Thankfully the people at R8 Games are looking to bring the insane speeds and tight turns of the genre to the PC, and they’ve been kind enough to send me a preview copy along with 2 free codes to give away to you fine people!

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These screenshots don’t do justice to just how fast this racer is.

Formula Fusion is currently in Early Access on Steam, which can be beneficial in some cases.  Darkest Dungeon and Starbound are two games recently released from Early Access and are excellent.  I this this will be the case for Formula Fusion as well.  As it stands, the game is limited to single races, practice and multiplayer with 4 tracks and 3 vehicles.  However, from these modes and choices it’s clear that a very good base has been created.  The vehicles are very fast and responsive, the tracks varied and interesting to look at (if you can find a split second to!) and the future plans for the game show a good development schedule.  So far R8 have been releasing monthly updates including new features, vehicles and tracks and plan on continuing to do so right up until the game’s final release.

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The tracks look gorgeous with lots of little details.

Future plans include multiple campaign modes, involving different teams, researching weapons and upgrading your ship.  You’ll be approached by agents who will sign you to teams who will specialise in different aspects of racing.  The racing itself is really rather good.  I found it played best using a controller, with A handling acceleration, X for weapons and the L and R triggers to activate an air brake on each side of your ship.  The air breaks work well, allowing you to drift around corners once you have a good idea of the track layout.  At the moment the tutorial is fairly lacking, giving you very little information and I discovered how these worked more through trial and error.  Hopefully there will be a full tutorial closer to the final release.  However, once you get to grips with it, the sensation of speed is fantastic, especially when using a high end, upgraded ship.

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In spite of being work in progress, the racing feels quite polished at this stage.

The game runs pretty well, even on my 4-year-old laptop, although I had to turn the graphics down a little to maintain a good framerate (No surprise considering the age of the system I’m using).  I would think anything approaching a modern system will run this without too much trouble, even though it looks gorgeous.

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Power ups on the track give you weapons and recharge your shields whilst boots pads will give you a burst of speed.

The menus right now need some work.  They don’t navigate too well, and upgrading your ship can be a little tricky if you’re using mouse controls.  A controller helps here, but hopefully it will be tidied up over time.  The menu isn’t why you’re playing the game though.  The racing is, and as it stands that aspect is pretty great.  If the developers stick to their plan, there should be an excellent racing game released from this, and I’m looking forward to see how it develops.  The team are very community friendly and are keeping players and prospective players up to date with news as it develops.  A lot of Early Access developers could learn from this approach.

Now, if you’d like a copy of this for free (it’s currently £15 on Steam, but I believe it will be rising to £30 on release), leave a comment below telling me just what colour you want your fancy ship to be, give it a re-tweet and follow on Twitter (@robcovell), or a share on Facebook to be in with a chance of winning one of two free copies.  This is running from August 7th 6PM BST until August 14th 6PM BST.  I’ll let winners know once the draw is made.  Good luck!

Blogger Recognition Award – You love me, you really love me!

BRA readjustedFirstly, I’d like to thank Vahrkalla for nominating me.  He has many words that are far longer than the ones you’ll see here, and suggest the mind of a linguist.  Or a secretive murderer, I’m not to sure.  Either way he makes some good points about many games and gaming related stories and I suggest you have a look.  This one in particular made me chuckle.

So there are rules to this.  Find them below in all their glory!

  • Thank the blogger that nominated you.
  • Attach the award to the post.
  • Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  • Give a piece of advice or two to new bloggers.
  • Select 5 other bloggers you want to give the award to.

How I Started:

I’ve mentioned this before, but a friend of mine does lifestyle/food blogging and does rather well out of it.  She’s been on a number of holidays and hotel stays thanks to her writing for so long, and I thought I’d get me some of that!  But with games obviously.

If I’m honest, I like playing games in the spare time I have.  But after a while I can find myself a little burnt out on them, to the point of game experiences blending into each other (you could consider that a commentary on how similar so many games are these days…).  I decided that writing about the games I play might give me (and maybe even others!) a better insight into the experience I’d had.  A way of organising my thoughts if you will.  I’ve found it to be enjoyable.

A Piece Of Advice:

In spite of how hilarious I was earlier, don’t go into blogging for any other reason than the love of writing about whatever it is you’re writing about.    If you’re in it for freebies, chances are you’ll be disappointed.  Maybe you’ll do brilliantly and earn a living from it, maybe you won’t, but if you don’t have a love for what you’re doing, you’ll get fed up of it in no time.  It’s not about the numbers, it’s about you and your words.

My Nominations:

Hungry Goriya has some lovely looks at retro gaming and is well worth your time!

Retr0pia is also a great retro blogger, with some fantastic features comparing the same classic game on different systems.

The Maximum Utmost looks at all sorts of things gaming related and how gaming effects other aspects of life.

I Heart Old Games is even more retro love with all sorts of features and video playthroughs of classic games.

Racoon Daddy does lots of features about being a responsible family man whilst trying to fit in gaming.