Jesse’s Top 5 Videogames of 2013

2013: Another year almost finished and another year full of fantastic games. As I look back on my year in gaming, it became clear that I did a lot of catching up this year with many games released from 2009-2012. However, the games I did play from 2013 thrilled me, humored me and left me with a sense of awe at how imaginative a story could be told through an interactive medium. These are my top five videogames of 2013 in no given order except for the number one spot.

5. Puzzle & Dragons (iOS | Android)

Puzzle and Dragons

This mobile title from GungHo Entertainment hooked me from the start after reading about it on Destructoid. The puzzle-like aspects of Bejeweled mixed with the leveling up process similar to Pokemon had me logging in every single day since I’ve owned it. For not spending a dime on this game, I’ve gotten more than my fair share of entertainment from it and while it’s not deep in storytelling (in fact, I haven’t seen any actual story in it), it has an entertaining formula that can keep you logging in 50 days straight. Note: Technically this game was released in North America in Nov. 2012, but I gave it some leeway due to its platform.

4. Gone Home (Windows | Mac | Linux)

Gone Home

I heard how good this game was from multiple game writers and critics who, unfortunately, slightly spoiled the premise of the game for me. Regardless, the story told in this game isn’t often found in videogames, especially in 2013 — a year with an unusual amount of games filled with violence. Gone Home’s storytelling worked because of how you’d unlock each room set inside an eery house replete with nostalgic items from the ‘90s. This was one of the most memorable games I played during Extra Life and the end of the game left me with goosebumps.

3. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (Xbox 360 | PS3)

far cry 3 blood dragon

Part of catching up from 2012 was getting to play and finish Far Cry 3, which was a phenomenal game in itself. The Blood Dragon DLC took the fundamental gameplay elements of Far Cry 3 and turned it into a neon tinted world filled with cybernetics, dragons, and cheesy 16-bit interludes full of macho behavior you’d see in a movie like Predator. Sure, the leveling up process may have been simplified for this title, but the humor and the music made this game a top contender for 2013. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this and recommend “Blood Dragon Theme” and “Power Core” (Spotify) for some rad early ‘80s synth and power drums. Play this game.

2. Grand Theft Auto 5 (Xbox 360 | PS3)

grand-theft-auto-v

The prolonged console cycle of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 brought about the annualization of more games than I’m used to, many of which could’ve benefitted from a break between years. When I think back to Grand Theft Auto 4, it kinda’ blows me away that it was released back in 2008. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise to me that Grand Theft Auto 5 broke entertainment sales records with its expansive open world, unique soundtrack and introduction of three playable characters, each with his own quirks, strengths and weaknesses. This game isn’t perfect — there doesn’t seem to be one strong female lead in the whole game — but what Rockstar did was polish everything that was rough about Grand Theft Auto 4 and they took you deep into a world you could explore for weeks on end.

1. Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360 | PS3 | Steam)

Bioshock-Infinite

The first Bioshock is still one of my favorite games on Xbox 360. Bioshock 2 didn’t live up to the same feeling of vulnerability that I had in the previous game, but seeing through the eyes of a Little Sister fascinated me and it’s still a moment I remember vividly. Bioshock Infinite took me to the colorful and saturated world of Columbia only to realize that everything isn’t as quaint as it seems. The shooting mechanics and the vigors weren’t as balanced as I remember them being in Bioshock, but the introduction of the sky hook made zipping through the areas invigorating, while the story left me dumbfounded and awestruck.

So there you go! I admit that I missed out on some great games from 2013. From what I’ve been told, The Last of Us is quite a remarkable game, but I don’t own a PS3. Papers, Please slipped through the cracks for me, but one I’ll have to play soon. Tomb Raider was a lot of fun and almost made the list. Rayman Legends is a beautiful platformer that I still want to play at some point. Got any other game recommendations? What were your favorites?

Project inspiration: Using Tumblr for promotion

Xbox Insider Tumblr

Always trust the thoughts you have as you wake from a good night’s rest. Last month, I executed on an idea I had after a restful night of sleep and that idea was brought to fruition through my voracious appetite for reading videogame news and my love of promotion. I set out on a project in my spare time where I’d publish news about Xbox on the social media platform Tumblr.

Read on for why I began this project and how these tips can help your own blogging:

1. Finding an audience through SEO

Initially, I made it a point not to tell anyone about this profile nor would I promote it through any other social media platforms. (I ended up telling a few close people over the course of the month, but they weren’t damaging to my results). The reason for this was to see what audience I could attract through the use of search engine optimization on each of the posts. The results were rather surprising.

The post below is a great example of the structure I use along with the SEO tags at the bottom of the image. Notice how many notes (likes and reblogs) it’s gotten. Use keywords in the article as well as any similar ones you believe a person might use when searching for content. Ask yourself what you’d search for to find your post.

Tumblr SEO example

2. Showcasing your knowledge on a subject

I started an Xbox focused Tumblr because I like gaming on Xbox, but it was also great timing being just a couple weeks out from the launch of Xbox One. Consumer appetite for news of the product was in high demand and I thought the timing would be perfect for a blog of that nature. Using the news websites I have on my Feedly RSS and daily email newsletters, I began promoting Xbox news from enthusiast and mainstream news outlets.

3. Gain experience with analytics

Tumblr has built-in analytics, which displays how many times people have liked and reblogged a post as well as new followers, total followers, biggest fans and your top post. I also used bitly links for each of the posts to track how many times people would click through to the article. I was rather surprised with the amount of interaction that took place over the last month. To date, I’ve published 101 posts and have gained 145 followers through just using SEO. Not every post had a bitly link on it, but out of the 90 I’ve used, they’ve been clicked on 191 times from people in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

Tumblr analytics

4. Tumblr makes it easy and cost-effective to run a blog

The structure I used for publishing posts worked fantastic for Tumblr. The website’s format of publishing was perfect for displaying photos and videos through image URLs and embedded code. The short writing structure of headline, descriptive content, web link, and notation of where I sourced the content from was quick and easy to read, but it was even easier to write, thus making it a cost-effective strategy for my time.

5. It’s helpful to web content producers

Whether you write or produce video on the web, it’s clicks that count. One of the delicate balances to working in public relations is your relationship between your client and the media. By directing people to a writer’s post or by having them watch a video to gain another view, I’m helping people in the media get more eyes on their labor of love. It’s my small way to give back.

Overall, I’ve found Tumblr to be a great platform for easily managing a blog as well as for gaining an audience. This publishing structure can be used for many different industries and brands and is a phenomenal way to show a solid example of your knowledge on a subject.

If you were to start a Tumblr blog today, what subject would you focus on?

Note: This post is not sponsored in any way by Microsoft, Xbox, Tumblr or any other brand. If you’d like to see more examples of posts, head to http://xboxinsider.tumblr.com/.

What’s Fresh for October 13, 2013

Freshfully Rad What's Fresh

BTBAM in 2013 is still a fun show to see live

In an effort to write even more than I do already, I’ve started a new piece called What’s Fresh. Part of my job is to read news — a lot of news — and over the years, it’s become an obsession. I was one of the Google Reader users who were pretty upset when they were disabling the service, but Feedly has been great to me as a tool to read news on my computer as well as on my mobile. What’s Fresh features news I’ve found interesting over the past week or so.

Benefit For Brewpublic’s Angelo De Ieso

Brewpublic Benefit for Angelo

Photo via BREWPUBLIC

Brewpublic has been one of my favorite Oregon-area beer blogs for years now. I met Angelo for the first time this year at the Organic Brew Festival and he was a super nice guy that was totally willing to chat for a few minutes. So, it shocked me to hear that he recently that he had to have brain surgery and now has a huge bill to pay. Because the craft beer community in Oregon is so awesome, The Commons Brewery is having a fundraiser to help pay his medical bills on October 17. Drink beer and help a cool dude? I’m in!

Why Confidence Is So Important (And How To Improve Yours)

This Lifehacker article offers great insight into how confidence can improve how you’re perceived by others and lists some different ways to improve your confidence. This can take you from knowing confidence to believing in confidence. Great inspirational material.

Grand Theft Auto V Mythbusters

Every once in a while, I see these awesome Mythbusters YouTube videos featuring games like GTA 5 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 where they try different tricks in a videogame to see if they work or not. I’m always surprised with what they confirm and bust. If you dig these, you might want to subscribe to their channel.

Respawn’s Trial And Error Of Creating Titanfall Modes

One of my most anticipated games of the next console generation is Titanfall. Though I haven’t played it yet, from what I’ve seen, this game is going to revolutionize the console shooter. I’m pretty sure it’ll be the next Halo and Call of Duty for the console generation. If you have a spare 20 minutes, check out the video above featuring their tireless community manager, Abbie Heppe.

Kuma’s Corner Makes Statement About Ghost Burger

Photo via Metal Insider

I went to Kuma’s Corner in Northern Chicago for the first time back in 2010 and had one of the best burgers ever — the Plague Bringer. If you don’t know about this place, it’s a metal-themed restaurant that specializes in serving burgers. Recently, the restaurant made a burger inspired by the band, Ghost B.C., which contains goat shoulder, ghost chili aioli, a red wine reduction and is topped off with a communion wafer. Of course, some Catholics weren’t amused by this in the least. So, Kuma’s Corner has done something very nice in return. I wish Portland had a Kuma’s Corner.

Bacon Weave Taco Recipe

Do you like tacos? How about bacon? Then why not make bacon tacos? Tasted is a channel on YouTube that I’ve grown to appreciate the more I watch it for it’s very cynical humor and funny food news. If you like this, there’s a taste review that they do for some bacon flavored pop rocks and it’s pretty interesting to hear all of their descriptors which is almost everything but bacon.

Thanks for reading and leave some links to things you’ve found interesting in the comments. Cheers!

Extra Life 2014 — What I’m Playing and When

Extra Life 2012 Essentials

Drained. That’s how I usually feel after videogaming for 24 hours straight. But, once a year for the past three years, I’ve made that choice to help kids at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, because friends and family have believed in this cause enough to sponsor me. I’m doing it again this year and we’re upping the challenge, because the official day lands on November 2, which just happens to be on Daylight Savings Time.

Each year, I try to figure out as many ways to make this event as entertaining as possible for the people who sponsored me and to promote the event for others who may want to participate. This year, I seriously considered a live stream of my gameplay, but it just proved too expensive for something I wouldn’t use very often. However, there have been new technologies that have been released since last year’s event that I will use — Instagram video, photo apps for interactive participation and more. If you have any other ideas for promotion and entertainment, please let me know.

I’d be delighted if you’d like to sponsor me. My profile on the Extra Life website is at bit.ly/Jesserad. I’ve included a list of some of the more current games that I’ll be playing below, but I have a fair amount of digital games in my Xbox 360 library, so let me know what you have and if you want to play some multiplayer games. The last five hours are usually the toughest, so if you want to play some games at that time, I’d be most appreciative.

At this time, I’m $100 away from my goal and with everyone’s help, I’ve managed to raise $1,155.26 over the four years. If it wasn’t for the generosity of everyone I know, this never would’ve been possible, so I applaud everyone who has sponsored me. You’re all the best.

Here’s to another great year and let’s surpass the 2 million dollars that were raised last year!

The games I’m planning to play this year are as follows:

  • Grand Theft Auto 5 (Xbox 360)
  • Asura’s Wrath (Xbox 360)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Xbox 360)
  • Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360)
  • Minecraft (Xbox 360)
  • Terraria (Xbox 360)
  • You Don’t Know Jack (Xbox 360)
  • 30 Flights of Loving (Steam)
  • Hotline Miami (Steam)
  • Amnesia: Dark Descent (Steam)
  • Card Hunter (PC Browser)
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2 (iOS)
  • Infinity Blade 2 (iOS)
  • Ridiculous Fishing (iOS)

5 Portland Sandwich Restaurants You Must Eat At

I love sandwiches almost as much as I love beer and videogames. In a perfect world, I’d have the most cheesy, protein-filled (meat or tempeh), bready sandwich; a hoppy craft beer filled to the brim with IBUs and a game that transfixes me to the point of making me forget almost everything else in life. The only thing that could make the scenario more perfect would be if I could share that experience with Yaicha. So, before my first cake day on Reddit, I asked a simple question to other Portland Redditors: What are Portland’s best sandwich restaurants?

People weren’t shy in responding and it was great hearing from other sandwich lovers in the community to find out what they like in a sandwich. After taking a poll in which I tallied each person’s recommendation in the 100+ comments, these are the top five places to get a sandwich in Portland, Oregon.

5. People’s Sandwich of Portland

People's Sandwich of Portland

I’m sorry to say it, but this place is closed. I know … sad violin. I’ve heard good things about this place, but when I finally made the effort to go there, I found out they shut up shop. Whether you’re a meat lover looking for the Argento Arrabiata — a spicy italian sub featuring salami, ham, provolone, pepperoncini, mayo and lettuce on a french roll — or a veggie lover searching for The People’s Sandwich — pan-fried ota tofu covered in pesto, sweet and spicy peppadew peppers and filberts on a french roll — you could find a sandwich here. Their last Facebook post stated, “Thanks for three and a half years Portland. We’ll let you know of the next step, when that foot falls.” Maybe we’ll see something from them again soon? One can only hope.

4. Lardo

Lardo

Lardo is what makes Portland great. What started out as a food cart, turned into a restaurant on the southeast side of Portland and then another popped up shortly after on the west end of downtown Portland. On my first visit, I had the smoked coppa cubano with ham, dijon, pickles, Lardo sauce, Valentina and provolone, which was just as rich and condiment heavy as I like in a sandwich. The double burger with its cascade natural beef, cheddar, porkstrami, and Lardo sauce is what made me love burgers again. It’s so good. This place is fabulous and is also a great place to grab a good beer.

3. TIE — Bunk Sandwiches

I’ve only gotten a few different kinds of sandwiches at Bunk, each of them have been fulfilling upon the initial consumption of the meal, but they always had strange after-effects. My favorite is the Italian cured meats with Bunk marinated hot peppers and provolone piccante, but it always leaves me a little more oily than I like and I feel like I have to wash my hands and mouth after eating it. The meatball parmigiano hero was a fantastic sandwich that I had at the 2013 Malt Ball, but it gave me some seriously wicked burps. The roast beef was the sandwich I remember the least, but what I remember about all of the sandwiches from Bunk — and what most Redditors remember — are the price of the sandwiches compared to the size. If price doesn’t matter to you and you’re looking for a quality sandwich that isn’t huge, you might like this place.

2. TIE — Eastside Deli

Photo courtesy of Yelp's Beth O.

This is the only other place I haven’t eaten at on this list. From all of the comments, this deli is one of those places where you can get your money’s worth in the size and quality of the sandwich. Sandwiches come in a Portland French 6-inch sub, 12-inch sub, or on Dave’s Killer Bread and have Boar’s Head meats as well as a whole vegan and kids menu. Despite their name, they’re located in three places: SE Hawthorne, North Lombard, and in downtown Portland. I must get here soon.

1. Shut Up and Eat

A large majority of people said that this was the place to get a sandwich and they weren’t kidding. Ryan and I went there one Saturday morning for a sandwich brunch to find a standing room full of people who knew the secret before I did: these sandwiches are awesome. The Italian Grinder — made with mortadella, genoa salami, copocollo, sopressatta, proscuitto, pepper ham meats, provolone, asiago, parmesan cheeses, olive pepper, roasted bell peppers, relish, lettuce, tomato and olive oil — is probably the best sandwich I’ve ever had in Portland. It’s crazy to think that all of those ingredients can even fit on a sub, but here it is in all its glory.

So, if you’ve heard of all of these places, you now have another opinion for or against them. If you haven’t and you love sandwiches, I recommend checking out the places that are still open. Special shout-out to Kenny & Zuke’s deli and Meat Cheese Bread — both of those places are great as well. There were many more recommendations, but I’d love to hear yours in the comments. If you’re in another city and these places remind you of a favorite there, I’d love to hear of those too. EAT UP!

The 2013 Imagine Cup — Why It’s So Awesome For Videogaming

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Imagine Cup

If you’re new to Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, let me just tell you that it’s one of the most intriguing places to see what students today are doing in the realm of technology. Whether it’s the creation of innovative video games or upgrades to current technology, this is a place where you can see some truly innovative technology. This competition also helps students develop their pitching skills and get helpful feedback on something they’ve worked so hard on from the ground up. After watching this great video from Revision 3’s Anthony Carboni, I felt the urge to write about how videogaming does good for the world.

This reminds me of something that Dan Amrich said in his book, Critical Path: How to Review Games for a Living. Dan said that one of the best ways to truly understand a game would be to develop one yourself. Whether it’s a text-based multi-user dungeon (MUD), a story fleshed out on RPG Maker, or something coded from the ground up, knowing how difficult it is to create a game on your own only makes you more appreciative of what developers have to create from what is basically a blank screen.

As you might’ve read in my last blog post, you’d know that I’m pretty excited for the possibilities in what the new generation of consoles will be able to do, especially in the Xbox One. Yes, both the Xbox One and PS4 have similar architecture to a PC, but as a person who was raised on playing videogames with a controller, I’m pretty excited with the merging capabilities that these consoles will have with PC features. Is it too ambitious to hope that a new version of RPG Maker will soon come to Xbox One and PS4?

Steam has RPG Maker VX Ace and I’m already daydreaming of a possibility to create my own game on the Xbox One, save it to my console and the cloud, and hope that the story is compelling enough to where people around the world can play my game (as long as they can read English — unless there’s a translator built in — OMG!) and inspire the creator in all of us to make his or her own game.

Sometimes it seems like only the bad news spreads from the world of videogaming to the general public, but as the Imagine Cup shows us, there are plenty of people who truly benefit from videogames and I love that.

Xbox One or Playstation 4

Xbox One or Playstation 4

The console wars! Oh boy, there are people alive who’ve never experienced a new console cycle and it’s definitely apparent if you head to gaming related web forums and sub-reddits. I always find this time to be exciting, because you never know what to expect from new services, IPs, console hardware and more. It’s a great time to be a consumer with new consoles on the horizon.

The Xbox One Announcement

I have to admit that when I first heard of the DRM restrictions Microsoft had for Xbox One, I was a little turned off by it. I had begun to tell myself that the PS4 controller wouldn’t be as uncomfortable as the PS3 and that the indie games would be a big plus on the next-gen console. Then, Microsoft did what I seriously didn’t think they could do; they turned that ship around and removed the restrictive DRM that was going to be implemented on the system.

That move by Microsoft has continued my decision-making process in what next-gen console I’m going to purchase. I’ve been a big supporter of Microsoft ever since they fixed my consoles for free — yes, two of my consoles got the RROD — and supported them even more when Sony wanted $150 to fix my PS3. So, I’ve needed to evaluate my situation and tell myself what would work best for me.

Indie Games — Where To Play Them?

Indie games on the PS4 are a major selling point for the console, but I already have Steam and I’m predicting that even more controller support will be on it when indie developers begin making games with the PS4 and Xbox One in mind. Since I use Steam, I don’t find this a huge selling point for the PS4, especially since the games are inevitably always cheaper on Steam.

The Cloud And Next-Gen Gaming

I’ve heard a lot about how the offload of information to the cloud can free up computing on a system, which is definitely something that interests me. If you want to read more about it, I recommend reading this article from Jon Shiring, engineer at Respawn Entertainment — the company that’s making Titanfall, a game exclusive to the Xbox platform along with being on PC. I’m not sure how the game will play on Xbox 360 or on PC, but I don’t care much since I’m planning to play it on Xbox One. What’s everyone going to do when they can’t blame their poor playing on lag?

Giving Griefers Grief

Online multiplayer games are a lot of fun to me, but depending on the game, you can get some people that make the game … not so much fun. I was happy to hear that the reputation system is being revamped for the Xbox One, so that the haters hang out with their own kind and I can rock some multiplayer kills with laid back people like me. I’ll be interested in seeing how it pans out.

To Pause Or To Quit?

Switching programs on the fly or “SnapMode” didn’t excite me much at Microsoft’s initial announcement of Xbox One until I was playing a game one morning. The alarm went off for my breakfast and as I sat down with breakfast in hand, I had only two options: eat my breakfast with the game sitting on pause or save the game and turn it off so that I could watch a show on the YouTube app from my Xbox 360. That’s when it dawned on me that SnapMode can be awesome!

An Extension Of Yourself

As I mentioned earlier, I was in the process of convincing myself that the PS4 controller was going to better than the PS3’s. The controller is like another appendage when you’re playing videogames. You want something that ergonomically feels comfortable for long periods of time. A controller that provides feedback in how the buttons click and how it vibrates. A controller that utilizes the placement of the control sticks, buttons, and triggers for the best experience. It sounds like both Xbox One and PS4 have made major improvements, but at this point I prefer the Xbox One control layout. Of course, I won’t know for sure until I get both controllers in my hands.

The Verdict

Overall, it was being denied the right to play a used game — including rentals — and having to constantly ping a server in order to play a game both online or offline that really had me leaning away from Xbox One. But with these changes, I believe I’m set to purchase an Xbox One this year. I’m not pre-ordering one, but I’m definitely keeping my sights on one.

What are you looking forward to playing this holiday season? Are you buying a new console on the launch day or will you wait until next year?