Charity Marathon Incoming! UPickVG 5, June 3rd – 5th 2016

The time has come, my friends.  Our beloved streaming crew has returned.  The latest U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity will be broadcast live on the interwebs June 3rd-5th, 2016!

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During the 48-hour-long continuous livestream, we’ll play the video games you pick to raise money for charity:water, to bring clean water access to people who need it in the developing world.

Starting the evening of June 3rd and going for the following 48 straight hours, we’ll play the games you choose when making a donation to our charity fundraiser. We’ll switch games each hour (on the hour), as determined by a spin on the Wheel of Destiny – a magical rotating device with all of the top games that have received donations.

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We opened up the floor for our viewers to suggest the games they want to see us play. From a vast number of submissions and a few extra ideas added in by our Official Gamesmuns, Chip & Grant, we narrowed the list down for your viewing pleasure, which can be found here!

Any of these games can be donated for right now if you want to see them in UPickVG 5! Donations to our charity:water campaign will give points to your selected game, which will put it on the Wheel of Destiny, to possibly come up during the marathon. The only way a game will be played is if it gets donations, so get donating for the games you want to see!

Every hour, we’ll spin the Wheel of Destiny to see which of the top-ranked games (in terms of those points!) we play for the next hour. When the Wheel lands on a game, it loses all of its current points and goes back to the bottom of the list. (So if you want to see it again, you’ll have to donate again!)

Stack that Wheel up with the games of your choice! Any donations made before 7:50pm EST June 3rd (the first Wheel spin) will count for that first Wheel spin, and the points will carry over into the following hours (other than the game that is landed on, of course).

But what should you be doing between now and then?

We’ve got some ideas!

  1. Check out the Player Shift Schedule here!
  2. Sign up for the UpickVG Newsletter, which will remind you of upcoming UPickVG events and special opportunities (like requesting games, voting for games, game-y things)
  3. Tell everyone you know about UPickVG and how awesome it’s going to be. Use the graphic up top, and share this post with the sharing buttons down below.
  4. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn. We regularly post cool video game stuff and updates about UPickVG 5.
  5. Visit our Watch Now page every Sunday at 4pm EDT (8pm UTC) – we do live rehearsal broadcasts every week! Tune in, heckle us in the chat, and get hyped for the big marathon on June 3rd!
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Games and Grog: The Ignition Factor with Jailbreak Brewing Company’s Welcome to Scoville Jalapeno IPA

As an adult with some modicum of disposable income, I have started to seek out games that I may have missed as a child.  Most of these titles are oddities from the 16- and 32-bit eras, when print magazines would preview too many games for me to directly experience. In a similar fashion, I have started to seek out brews that I may have missed in the last few years.  Most of these beers are eccentric concoctions from well-loved breweries that I passed over for more conventional offerings.

This is how I came to try an India Pale Ale brewed with jalapeno and cilantro alongside a Super Nintendo game about firefighting.

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Officially opening their doors in 2014, Jailbreak Brewing Company is a relative newcomer on the craft beer scene.  Named after the owners’ escape from the “imprisonment” of dreary desk jobs, Jailbreak makes a point to use regional and fresh ingredients in their brewing process.  While some of their beers focus on more traditional styles, such as the Infinite Amber Ale and the Big Punisher Double IPA (both delicious), many of their brews are interesting intersections of beer and food.  For example, Jailbreak’s seasonal releases include a chocolate-coconut porter and a key lime pale ale (appropriately named Desserted and B.Limey).

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In addition to these rather rich irregularities, Jailbreak offers a beer with savory ingredients on their year-round list.  Welcome to Scoville is an IPA that is brewed with garden fresh jalapeno peppers and cilantro.  Just like its container, this beer is a vibrant yellow-orange color with a goldenrod hues.  The nose is strong pepper spice with some herbal notes, reminiscent of a hot salsa with extra cilantro.

With such a powerful aroma, I was expecting an acidic scorcher with a bold citrus-hop finish.  Instead, I was surprised to find a floral hop start that gives way to a mild chili body.  It finishes very smooth, with no real bite to speak of and the lingering flavor of Mexican food.  Unlike other beers brewed with peppers that lean into the heat of their ingredients, Welcome to Scoville focuses more on the cilantro in its mix to provide a herbal brew that tastes like a meal.

While some folks may enjoy this rather foody beer, I did not care for Welcome to Scoville. The cilantro overpowers every sip with a herbal dryness that competes with the hops, which are underwhelming from the start.  Any potential heat from the jalapeno is also muted, which makes the finish more earthy vegetable than intense spice.  These characteristics make Welcome to Scoville stand out from other pepper-infused brews, but it ultimately fell flat for me.  How appropriate that The Ignition Factor would also leave me cold.

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The 1990s were a time of rampant experimentation in video game development.  Both publishers and designers were eager to try out all sorts of unique gameplay and themes on the consoles of the day.  For example, the same issue of Nintendo Power (in this case, #70 from March 1995) provided maps/strategies for an excellent robot action-platformer, secret codes for a claymation fighting title, and coverage of a licensed basketball game featuring the Looney Toons.

Nestled in the same issue was a brief preview for The Ignition Factor, a game where players take control of a firefighter in various rescue situations.  This two-page spread featured just enough information to intrigue my younger self, but not enough coverage to move this game onto my “Must-Have” list (alongside Chrono Trigger and Donkey Kong Country 2).  To make matters worse, The Ignition Factor never showed up in my local rental store, so this title fell by the wayside until September 2015, when it magically appeared on the Wii-U Virtual Console.

Upon launching The Ignition Factor from my Wii-U Menu, I was treated to a title screen truly meant for 1994.  The game’s stone logo sat on a pitch black void, literally crackling with electricity in anticipation of a new player.  With a hit of the Start/+ button, the rocky letters exploded into a screen covered in debris and flames.  The drama of the ’90s was in full swing and I was ready to play this forgotten Super Nintendo classic.

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Unfortunately, The Ignition Factor proved to be a lackluster game.  Mired with finicky controls and unintuitive navigation, trying to save people trapped in a fire was a frustrating exercise.  Each stage opened with such potential- I could choose which tools my digital firefighter would carry to assist his heroic journey.  However, carrying more than three items would weigh my avatar down and slow his progress to a sluggish crawl.  As the levels became more complex and demanded a greater variety of tools, I was stuck navigating back-and-forth to a minimal amount of NPCs spread across sprawling maps to swap items as needed.

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This sort of purposeful strategic gameplay would not have been so bothersome if the actual firefighting was inherently fun.  The default fire extinguisher carried by the main character fired in a strange arc that meant the fires directly in front of him would not be quelled.  To make progress in any direction, I needed some space to maneuver and extinguish these respawning flames.  Couple this with a painfully long animation of catching fire whenever a flame is touched, and it makes for a less-than-engaging time.  Even worse, the spouts of fire would only be visible when the firefighter moves into a new room.  Mashing the fire extinguisher button became mandatory when traveling through doors, lest your plucky firefighter be caught aflame and launched backwards.  As a result, I came to rely quite heavily on save states to navigate this maddening experience.

While many people may attribute these frustrating elements to the limited design rules of 1994, it is worth noting that other oddball games succeeded at interesting top-down gameplay during this time.  Zombies Ate My Neighbors provided unique theming and fun mechanics with appropriate challenge, and it hit store shelves an entire year before The Ignition Factor.

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In the end, both of these experiences left me disappointed.  I had hoped that The Ignition Factor and Welcome to Scoville were unique gems that I had somehow overlooked.  As it turns out, this frustrating game and overly herbal beer were just oddly shaped rocks that I happened to walk by on the road.  I would not recommend this combination.

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Charity Marathon Incoming! World Water Day Game-A-Thon, March 21-22

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The U-Pick Video Game Marathon Group for Charity is proud to announce our next game-a-thon for charity: water! For this year’s World Water Day (March 22nd), we’ll be streaming the games you want to see, to raise money and awareness for clean water projects in the developing world.

We opened up the floor for our viewers to suggest the games they want to see us play, that fall within a World Water Day theme. From a vast number of suggestions, we narrowed the list down to 31 games for your viewing pleasure, which can be found here!

You can donate now to get us playing the World Water Day games of your choice! Yep, we said “donate now” … because donations are now open! Remember that each dollar you donate to our charity: water campaign gives points to the game of your choice. Every hour, we’ll spin the Wheel of Destiny to see which of the top-ranked games (in terms of those points!) we play for the next hour. When the Wheel lands on a game, it loses all of its current points and goes back to the bottom of the list. (So if you want to see it again, you’ll have to donate again!)

Stack that Wheel up with the games of your choice! Any donations made before 7:50pm EST March 21st (the first Wheel spin) will count for that first Wheel spin, and the points will carry over into the following hours (other than the game that is landed on, of course).

Please be sure to join us in the livestream and chat starting Monday, March 21st at 8pm EST!  And as always, GAME FOR GOOD!

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Games and Grog: Grim Fandango Remastered with Stone Brewery’s Xocoveza

The right drink can enhance an established experience.  Take food pairings as an example.  I already enjoyed the rich and meaty taste of a smoked turkey leg.  But when I added the toasty and bitter chocolate flavors of New Belgium’s 1554 black lager to the meal, each edible was taken to another level.  The bitter malted notes from the beer heightened the “hammy” sweetness of the meat, while the smoked salty taste of the turkey brought out a stronger coffee flavor in the lager.

Just as I have been trying out new beers with my favorite foods, so too have I been searching out appropriate brews for my most beloved games.  During my pairing quest, I look for common threads in the styles of beer and the aesthetic of video games.  As it turns out, the release of a beer based on Mexican hot chocolate happened to coincide with my purchase of a game inspired by the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos.

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Originally bottled in 2014 as a limited release 22-ounce offering, Xocoveza (pronounced “Sho-Co-Vay-Za”) comes from the mind of homebrewer Chris Banker.  His award-winning milk stout was inspired by the spicy and sweet flavors of Mexican hot chocolate. This beer was so well-received by the drinking public, that Stone has turned this once-in-a-lifetime brew into an annual release, aptly named, “Stone Xocoveza for the Holidays and New Year.”

At the risk of sounding pretentious, Xocoveza is a complex beer.  This is a stout that has been brewed with cocoa, coffee, dried pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Even though these ingredients play well together in various smaller combinations, there is certainly a risk of overwhelming the palete with too many factors.

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Xocoveza offers a dark and creamy pour, with a frothy head that calls to mind a caffè mocha.  Even at pouring distance, a cinnamon aroma permeates the air.  A closer smell only intensifies the cinnamon nose, along with a rich cocoa and vanilla odor.  The first taste is very similar to Mexican hot chocolate; dark cocoa and cinnamon with a hint of pepper spiciness.  As the smooth stout goes down, coffee and nutmeg take over, leading to a malty finish.

Xocoveza is an excellent beer.  It is well-balanced, providing a chocolaty sweetness that doesn’t overpower the bitter coffee and spicy pepper flavors.  Fans of dark beer and coffee drinkers will be right at home with this holiday brew, while folks who enjoy something a little sweeter will also find something to enjoy with this smooth and delicious stout. Xocoveza currently stands as my top brew of 2016, and it pairs very well with Grim Fandango Remastered.

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From the moment Grim Fandango Remastered was announced at E3 2014, I was ecstatic. The original stands as one of my favorite games of all time, never leaving my top ten list since its release in 1998.  Over time, it became increasingly difficult to play Grim Fandango; as PC gaming technology grew exponentially, the support for this CD-ROM title waned at a similar pace.  In the years leading up to the release of the remastered version, I was relying entirely on the efforts of Grim Fandango’s dedicated fans to provide unofficial patches to get the game running on anything past Windows 98.  But thanks to the efforts of Tim Schafer and his crew at Double Fine (along with the compliance of Disney/LucasArts), my frustrating days of cobbling together fan fixes and mods to play this classic title were coming to a close.

Not satisfied with simply overcoming the accessibility issues of Grim Fandango, Double Fine Productions remastered the entire game for modern machines.  The team went to great efforts to retrieve the original assets for the game, ensuring that the visual fidelity was preserved in the leap to new technology.  As a result, the remastered version features repainted, hi-res character models, along with new dynamic lighting effects.  Composer Peter McConnell returned to conduct the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for a live re-recording of the already beautiful soundtrack.  Double Fine even reached out to the modding community of fans for the original game to get their help in adding point-and-click controls for the computer and tablet versions of Grim Fandango Remastered.

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Despite all of these tweaks and improvements, Tim Schafer and his team worked very hard to preserve the original narrative of Grim Fandango.  None of the game’s scenes have been rescripted or removed; no new characters or plotlines added.  The result is akin to a Criterion Collection release of a classic film (right down to included developer commentary), and I absolutely love it.

The remastered visuals and soundtrack are a fantastic upgrade to an already outstanding game.  The film noir story of travel agent Manny Calavera and his epic journey of crime and corruption in the Land of the Dead has aged wonderfully.  During my time playing, Laura became equally engaged with the story, even as a passive viewer.  She did point out the one aspect that has not aged gracefully: adventure game logic.  While I was breezing through the game (having played it over a dozen times in the past), Laura would ask questions that showcased the potential difficulty for players who didn’t grow up with LucasArts.

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For example, I had no trouble in figuring out that I needed to ask for a Robert Frost balloon animal from a festival clown, to hide under a pile of bread crumbs on the Department of Death roof, to scare away a flock of pigeons, so I could steal their eggs to raise as tiny messengers for an underground revolution.  To this sequence of events, Laura simply stared in confused frustration, regularly uttering the phrase, “How could anyone have guessed that?”

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Even with these old school head-scratcher puzzles, Grim Fandango remains a fun and worthwhile experience.  The remastered visuals and music have honed the already impressive content to perfection, and the updated controls allow players several options to maneuver Manny on his adventures.  The mix of film noir with Mexican folklore provides a unique and wonderful world, which matches the dark cocoa and vibrant cinnamon spice of Xocoveza.  I highly recommend this combination.

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Tales and Spoils from MAGFest 2016

Hail, faithful readers of GIMMGP!  I have returned from the frigid streets of the National Harbor, where the great banners of the Music and Gaming Festival once flew.  The vendors have packed up their wares, the games have been stored for future play, and the final songs have been sung. MAGFest 2016, is over.

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Unlike previous visits to the festival, I did not focus on playing arcade games or witnessing the changes from gatherings passed.  For me, MAGFest 2016 was all about the music.  I had a wonderful time at this year’s festival, where I met some amazing musicians and came home with a small pile of auditory goodies.

Of the many panels held over the MAGFest weekend, the one I HAD to see was the Q&A session with Manami Matsumae.  This fantastic composer has created music for some of the most beloved video game soundtracks, including Mega Man, Shovel Knight, and my personal favorite, U.N. Squadron.  It was a privilege to see such a prolific composer in person, and to hear so much about her impressive career.

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The panel was a great opportunity for fans to ask Matsumae all sorts of questions, including her preferred games to compose for (upbeat action titles), what instruments she can play (“Anything with piano keys”), and plenty about her history in the game industry. Currently, Matsumae is a freelance composer, working very heavily with indie developers and with the music label Brave Wave.  Please be sure to check out her more recent work at Brave Wave’s website!

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At the Q&A session, I ran into some of my other favorite people in video game music.  The Super Marcato Bros., Karl and Will Brueggemann, were also attending the panel!  Upon introducing myself, the brothers immediately threw a big group hug on me, proving that these podcasters are just as kind and positive in person as they are on the microphone. I had a chance to converse with the duo about games, music, and (of course) our mutual appreciation of Manami Matsumae and her work.

The Super Marcato Bros. have been on a roll lately, releasing episodes about game music from 1994the Mario RPG series, and a particularly interesting episode about a recurring melodic technique they dubbed the “Five Finger Fanfare.”  Please be sure to check out the brothers’ podcast, as well as their original music.  It’s great stuff!

In addition to these amazing encounters at MAGFest, I brought home several new albums for my listening pleasure:

Part Seven by The OneUps

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The latest album from The OneUps made its debut at MAGFest 2016.  This collection of jazzy tunes continues the tradition of great video game covers that was started by this awesome band way back at the original MAGFest.  Notable tracks include Saw VIII (Metal Man from Mega Man 2) and Ice, Ice, Cavey (Ice Cave Chant from Donkey Kong Country).

Fireball! and Live at San Pedro Square by Super Soul Bros.

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I discovered a delightful new band at this year’s festival.  The Super Soul Bros. are a collective of San Jose-based musicians who mix jazz, funk, and video games into a fantastic musical experience.  This band expands beyond simply playing music from video games, bringing improvisation and their own funky joy into every track.  I picked up their first studio album Fireball!, which includes a delightful version of Meta Knight’s Revenge, along with their live album from San Pedro Square, which features a whopping 11-minute journey to the Chemical Plant Zone…and beyond!

Smooth McGroove Remixed from GameChops

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This is certainly an interesting mash-up of genres: electronic dance music remixes of vocal covers of classic video game songs.  From their website, “Ten producers collaborated to bring Smooth McGroove’s famous acapella versions of game tunes to the dance floor.”

I’m not gonna lie: this album is not in my wheelhouse.  Since I have only limited experience with EDM, the tracks were very hit-or-miss to me. However, I definitely recognize that the production quality and sheer variety of styles present are quite impressive.  The artists on this album have done an excellent job, and if you are even remotely interested in EDM or game music, be sure to check this out.

Street Fighter II: The Definitive Soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura, Isao Abe, and Syun Nishigaki

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I was extremely pleased to find this album on sale at MAGFest. This comprehensive soundtrack comes from music label Brave Wave, as the first in their Generation Series, which stands for definitive editions of legendary video game soundtracks.  From their website:

“We are working with researchers, consultants and world class engineers to bring you the best possible versions of these soundtracks. We are also working closely with developers, license holders and original sound teams. All of our work will be overseen and approved by the respective composers or the person in charge of the sound team (wherever possible). On top of that, our physical releases will contain extras like interviews, art booklets and more.”

This is EXACTLY the sort of reverence and care that should be given to beloved video game music. Soundtracks from games like Street Fighter II are musical masterpieces that are part of our cultural history. I am so happy to own this soundtrack; to hear meticulously remastered versions of the music from my youth and read insightful notes from composer Yoko Shimomura on her work.  Please, PLEASE support Brave Wave and their endeavors to promote and preserve this amazing music.

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Thus ends my takes and tales from MAGFest 2016.  In addition to these musical misadventures, I was very pleased to see so many cosplayers paying homage to my favorite game of 2015, Undertale.  So as a final treat from MAGFest, please enjoy a small sample of the fantastic costumes from the festival floor!

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MAGFest: Then and Now (and Now Again)

After three long years, GIMMGP is finally returning to MAGFest!  We had a fantastic time playing a pile of rhythm games and watching the Protomen perform at our last visit.  This year, Chip is looking forward to seeing all sorts of amazing video game composers in their element: a huge celebration of video games and music.

As we prepare to head out to the convention center, let’s take a look back to January 2012, when Chip and his good friend Jeremy attended the tenth anniversary of the festival that started in their little hometown of Roanoke.


About ten years ago, my friends and I began frequenting a local video game store called Captain Gamestation.  The selection was rather eclectic: a couple of bins of used games, accessory odds and ends, a pile of EGM and Nintendo Power issues from years gone by, and (oddly enough) some rare Turbo Grafx-16 pieces.  Most of these items came from the personal collection of the owner of the store, Joe Yamine.

Joe was an intelligent twenty-something who had a snarky attitude and a ponytail (both of which contributed to his overall coolness).  As gamers who were just out of high school and pretty jaded with the world, Captain Gamestation was the place to be.  We would drop by the store after our summer jobs and just shoot the breeze with Joe, all while looking for any rare finds he had come across and put up for sale.  Then one day, he mentioned that he was trying to get the Minibosses to come and play a show on the east coast, and that maybe this could become a sort of Mid-Atlantic Gaming festival for our small town.  A MAGFest, if you will.

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All of us thought this was a great idea, but we were young, and such an idea could never come true.  I mean, the only idea of a video game convention that we had was E3; that joyful world of new technology which seemed like a fairy tale that EGM told from time to time.  So how in the world could we have a video game festival in our town, much less one that would be cool enough to have the Minibosses play at it?  Well, somehow Joe and his friends pulled it off, and very soon, we were promoting this little game festival throughout the city of Roanoke.

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Since that fateful day, my friends and I have attended three more of the iterations of MAGFest (the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th versions), each of which were fun in their own way (save for the 3rd, which was a bit rough).  But none have compared to the joy we found in the first festival.  This year, my buddy Jeremy and I decided to join in the festivities at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland for the tenth MAGFest.  As we journey down MAGFest memory lane, you will find that the top pictures are from that first festival, almost ten years ago in September of 2002, while the bottom are from MAGFest of this year, in January of 2012.  Hence why my good friend Jeremy looks much more refined (read: older) in the second set of photos.

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Here we have Jeremy in front of the sign of the Holiday Inn Tanglewood in Roanoke and standing before the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at the National Harbor in Maryland.  Quite a change in just ten years for the little festival!  We are still not sure why the sign at the Holiday Inn welcomed the Woodmen of the World.  The average person would assume that there was an outdoorsmen convention at the same time.  We just assumed the hotel really liked Mega Man 2.

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When we arrived at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood, the festival was in full swing.  One of the ballrooms at the hotel had several banquet tables set up with rented televisions and donated video game consoles of many different varieties.  People were encouraged to bring some of their own equipment from home, so that there would be enough gaming to go around. Overall, the competition was friendly, and the wait for each game wasn’t too bad.  The highlights of those days were the original Halo and Super Smash Brothers Melee.  As for this past gathering, Jeremy and I arrived as they were setting up the MASSIVE main gaming room, which also served as the Dealers’ Hall, LAN Party Area, and the Tabletop Gaming Room.

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Here we have the orignal LAN Party Area in its entirety.  All the computers were donated, and only a few official tournaments actually happened (I recall Quake 3 and Counterstrike).  In the second photo, the significantly larger LAN Party Area is towards the back of the photo, and the table of tabletop games (ha!) in the foreground.  This year, any person could walk up and rent a board game to play with their friends.  Everything from Settlers of Catan to Clue to Snakes and Ladders were ready to be set up and enjoyed.  A nice touch, indeed.

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Good gravy, the arcade corner certainly has grown!  From the meager two arcade cabinets of Ghouls N’ Ghosts and Pac-Land, to dozens and dozens of machines!  The arcade corner at MAGFest 10 was rather impressive, with a combination of vintage titles, import rhythm games, and tons of home consoles rigged up to arcade machines.  Jeremy and I even played Ehrgeiz as an arcade game (which did little to change how odd that game is).

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During the first MAGFest, we took a little break and dropped by our parents’ house for some lunch (which was both delicious and free).  When we made our way back across the hotel parking lot, we noticed this magnificent truck.  Someone had done a very custom (read: spray paint) job on their truck, making it a vehicle covered in video games.  Each portion of the truck had different stuff on it, adding to its… uniqueness.  At MAGFest 10, another video game themed car was on display.  While the Pikachu Bug had a more uniform theme, it just seemed to lack the individuality of the original MAGFest Truck.

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Poor little Lulu.  She was the sole cosplayer at the first MAGFest.  Can you imagine that?  Of the roughly 275 people who attended the original convention, there was only one person to endure the constant harassment and photo-taking of the crowd.  This year, Jeremy and I kept a tally of cosplayers throughout the course of the day, which came out to 31 people in costume.  Here we have one of the better cosplay: a couple who came as Scorpion (with sky blue contact lenses!) and Jill Valentine.  What’s this? A Carl Winslow cosplayer is seated right next to them!  I guess that bumps the count to 32.

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Most conventions will feature several discussion panels, which will give insight into a business or industry, or allow the attendees to meet and speak with high profile celebrities and associates.  Back in 2002, MAGFest hosted a single panel on the topic of video game rock music.  It featured the Minibosses and a band known as Everyone, and it was pretty laid back and awesome.  This year, there were panels going on in five different halls throughout the course of the festival, but the only one we were interested in was the MAGFest Origins Panel.  From right to left, this panel was hosted by two of the original coordinators of MAGFest- Pernell and Rez, along with Joe Yamine and his younger brother, and two of the members of the Minibosses.  The main topic was how MAGFest began, where the idea and inspiration came from, and lots of reminiscing about video games.  I believe Joe is trying to get a video of the panel posted, and I will repost here if he is successful.

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The very euphoric highlight of the first MAGFest was the concert on Saturday night.  We were all excited to see the Minibosses play, but we were also floored by the other two bands who performed: Everyone (hence the giant “E” in the photo) and the One Up Mushrooms.  Everyone went on first, and was made up of three talented guys (two of whom were twin brothers) playing smooth electronic/rock covers of music from titles like River City Ransom and Silent Hill 2.  The One Up Mushrooms (now known as The OneUps)were an amazing video game jazz/rock band that focused on Super Nintendo classics like Mario Kart and Chrono Trigger.  The Minibosses were the headliner of the night (and the festival, I suppose) and they played a fantastic set of video game rock medleys from the early Nintendo days, featuring games like Metroid, Castlevania, and Contra.  At MAGFest 10, the Minibosses played a concert earlier in the morning (10AM!) on the “second stage” concert set-up.  I am very pleased to report that the Minibosses still rock so damn hard, even at such an early hour of the morning. (Note: We unfortunately had to miss the later concerts, sorry for the lack of coverage.  But really, who cares?  We still saw the Minibosses play).

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Finally, we leave you with a random picture of awesomeness from each convention.  In the first photo, we have a picture of the four of us (well, poor Christian is kind of there, behind my brother) with the Minibosses and Virt after their amazing concert.  On the second image, we have a shot from the Dealer’s Hall, featuring some interesting robot sculptures made out of video game consoles and accessories.

It’s a bit strange to look back at these photos from ten years ago; to see how much things have changed.  MAGFest has gone from a small gathering of concentrated awesome to a gigantic festival, brimming with fantastic things to do.  But even though the venue is bigger, and the amount of stuff to do has multiplied, the core value of the original  festival is still there: get a bunch of people together, play video games, see some solid concerts, and have a great time.  I guess the same could be said about us, though.  No matter how far apart we may be, or how much we grow, my friends and I still value the time we spend playing video games with each other, and always have fun when we’re together.

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Games and Grog: Destiny with Dogfish Head’s Kvasir

For 2016, we are debuting a new column here at Games I Made My Girlfriend Play: Games and Grog.  As the resident beer snob of GIMMGP, Chip is always on the lookout for new brews to sample.  He also believes that a great gaming experience can be enhanced with the right beverage.

Written on a semi-monthly basis, Games and Grog posts will highlight the pairing of specific brews with certain titles.  The beers and games will typically both be new experiences for Chip, with certain exceptions being made for time-tested combinations. Some of these pairs will be the match made in heaven, while others may be the couple from hell.  Either way, Chip will review new games and beers for your reading pleasure.

To kick off this series of articles, Chip has chosen a modern beer based on an ancient recipe and a futuristic game with flourishes from the fantastic past.  Prosit!


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Over the life of this blog, it has been well-established that I enjoy making lists.  I am a rather meticulous person; using lists to keep track of things I enjoy, things I despise, and those things that I have yet to experience.  For this inaugural Games and Grog post, I chose the game and the beer that sat at the top of their respective, “Cool-Looking Things to Try” lists.

Kvasir is a beer that has been on my radar for some time.  I am a big fan of Dogfish Head and their Ancient Ales.  The beer nerd in me loves the idea of using archeology and science to resurrect brewing recipes from the past.

For Kvasir, Dogfish Head enlisted the aid of biomolecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern to reproduce a long-forgotten beer from Scandinavia.  From their website:

“The recipe for Kvasir was developed with the help of chemical, botanical and pollen evidence taken from a 3,500‐year‐old Danish drinking vessel. The vessel, made of birch bark, was found in the tomb of a leather‐clad woman Dr. Pat says was probably an upper-class dancer or priestess. The analysis pointed to the ingredients used in this unique brew: wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, honey and birch syrup.”

Just reading over that description blows my mind.  The thought that a brewery would use such complex food science just to replicate a beer recipe is amazing.  And instead of using the results of this experiment to produce a single keg of beer for an exclusive party, Dogfish Head is sharing this experience with the world.  Thanks to their efforts, we get a glimpse into ancient Scandinavian history through our taste buds.

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Kvasir is certainly a unique brew.  This beer pours with a fizzy head and a gorgeous red-orange color.  There are golden and pink hues that shine as light passes through the glass.  The nose is very sharp; of herbs and tart berries with a hint of honey.  At first sip, there is the crisp bite of cranberry with a bit of effervescence.  As the ale settles across your tongue, the mouthfeel of a hearty wheat beer is present.  The finish leaves no lingering alcohol flavor (despite a 10% ABV), and the aftertaste of a mulled white wine comes to mind.

I won’t lie: Kvasir is not a beer for everyone.  There is little-to-no hop character, so Die-Hard Hop Heads™ may be left wanting.  The crisp fruit flavors and effervescence makes Kvasir a great beer for fans of mead and mulled wine, or for folks who enjoy wheat beers and lambics.  Overall, I really enjoyed this flavorful brew, and this Ancient Ale paired quite nicely with Destiny.

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As 2015 was winding down, Laura and I had an important decision to make.  It’s the sort of conundrum that faces any couple who has been married for a few years, and once we have chosen a path, it would affect our lives for years to come.

Of course, I am talking about selecting which console would bring us into the next generation.  What did you think I meant?

There is a hard rule in our home concerning the purchase of video game consoles: there has to be at least five worthwhile games available for the system before we invest.  We were already proud owners of Nintendo’s Wii-U, so the time had come to pick our second favorite child.  In the end, there were more console-exclusive games for the PlayStation 4 that we wanted to play.  After drafting such a list for the PS4, we tossed it out the window and just bought Destiny instead.

Both Laura and I are veteran fans of Halo, but we wanted something with a bit more flourish than the latest installment of Master Chief’s existential crisis.  Destiny had the gameplay of our favorite first-person shooter, with a deeply immersive sci-fi world.  Plus, a complete edition of the game had just hit the market with the release of The Taken King, so win-win.

Since starting our respective characters in Destiny, the differences in the way Laura and I play have been more apparent than ever.

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Laura approaches Destiny as a creative loner.  She enjoys exploring the gorgeously rendered landscapes on each planet in the Solar System.  She takes the time to examine the flavor text of every weapon, scouring over the lore and history of this fantastic universe.  Destiny meets her enthusiasm with an engaging story of a mysterious interstellar being and its ancient adversary.  The missions she is given are meant for a team of Guardians, but with skill and patience, Laura continues to make progress in the main story.  She is the Awoken Huntress; she travels alone and with grace.

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I approach Destiny like I am roaming a gigantic playground with my friends.  I refuse to play this game without at least two companions by my side, ready to shoot some badguys and blow stuff up.  I normally skip all cutscenes, crafting my own story of traveling the galaxy in search of the biggest and loudest rocket launcher.  I am always chucking weapons and gear that don’t enhance my ability to make a flashy entrance with a big explosion.  I am the Derpy Warlock, and I will fit this car through that door.

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Destiny has provided Laura and I with the option to play as we wish, and that is fantastic.  The game is an interesting intersection of first-person shooter gameplay with the trappings of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.  We enjoy the tense and often hectic firefights, as well as the deep world-building that frames the entire experience.  Destiny has a sense of a developed universe, as if Bungie took the time to write an entire alternate future/history for this world before unleashing it upon the market as a game.  This feeling of a lost and magical realm pairs quite well with the ancient-made-modern flavors of Kvasir.  I would definitely recommend this combination.

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Whiskey, Wine, and Wolves

[Chip] In the years leading up to our engagement and eventual marriage, Laura and I individually collected the Fables trade paperbacks.  We would discuss this wonderful series at length over the phone; choosing our preferred issues, praising certain characters while damning others, and hypothesizing what would come next for these magical tales.  When we moved in together, our collection was made whole and we have been regularly re-reading these comics ever since.

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Fables is a fantastic series that takes the fairy tales and nursery rhymes from our childhood and brings them into a modern age.  It has such an interesting concept: imagine that all of these magical characters and creatures are real, and they have been living in exile from their homelands for centuries, hidden by magic around our world.  The majority of these characters reside in New York, living in a small community run by the mayor Old King Cole and deputy mayor Snow White.  Nearly every children’s story has representation in this Fabletown, and they are policed by a single sheriff: the not-so-subtly named Bigby Wolf.  It is this gruff lycanthrope who is the main character in Telltale Games modern adventure title, The Wolf Among Us.

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It’s been almost 9 months since Laura and I started this digital adaptation of our beloved Fables.  We have mixed feelings about the climax of the story, but all good fairy tales (and murder mysteries) must come to an end sometime.  For the final episode of The Wolf Among Us, we each picked a beverage that would suit our tastes and compliment our last trek into Fabletown for the time being.  Laura selected the Big Bad Red Blend from Diageo Wine’s “Once Upon a Vine” collection, while I stuck with Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey.

[Laura] I came into this game with cautious optimism. Fables is one of those series that I have wanted to see translated to some other medium, but I cannot imagine any adaptation would live up to the comic experience. But all of the screenshots and trailers leading up to the release of the first episode looked so damn pretty. The noir-styled visuals and the bold colors fit with the aesthetic of the early Fables comics, which resembled a pulpy crime novella rather than an epic fantasy tale. Plus, the fact that The Wolf Among Us would be a separate story that takes place before the main comic gave it some wiggle room with established characters and locations.

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Overall, I was very pleased with The Wolf Among Us. The writers at Telltale made a fantastic murder mystery with characters and encounters that endear to the player. The underlying story of lesser known fables being forgotten by a partially corrupt government of famous fables illustrated a city with a tragically darker side. At the center of it all is Bigby Wolf, a character with a well-known past of being a literal monster, trying to make things right and battle against a magical and criminal force. As a fan of the comics, I enjoyed seeing new faces based on fairy tales that had not appeared in the main series. The Crooked Man and his psychopathic right-hand woman Bloody Mary made for fantastic antagonists in this game.

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The modern adventure gameplay suited the story.  I was happy to encounter impactful dialogue choices and environments to investigate rather than play a werewolf action platformer.  That being said, when the more eventful scenes would take place is where I found the engagement to break down.  These bits were hindered by my biggest complaint about the game: load time slowdown.  There were several moments where a transition from one location/event to another became a sluggish exercise in patience.

Even in the weaker parts of The Wolf Among Us, one element stayed fantastic throughout: the soundtrack.  Composer Jared Emerson-Johnson created a moody and sometimes haunting score that enhanced the plot.  Many songs from the game would be right at home in a crime thriller from the 1980s, with low repeating bass and somber electronic sounds that conjure images of a city at night.

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Now that we have finished The Wolf Among Us, I would definitely recommend this game to anyone looking for an well-crafted story and modern adventure gameplay.  It can serve as a nice gateway into the comic series, or an bonus story for established Fables fans.  With an engaging narrative and dramatic plot twists, The Wolf Among Us also makes for an ideal date night game.  Just be prepared for disappointment when you hear Bigby speak and realize it isn’t David Hayter.  (What can I say?  That’s how he sounded in my head.)

 

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Chip’s Picks of 2015

2015 was a year of many challenges.  GIMMGP Headquarters was moved not once, but twice.  Laura and I both started new jobs in addition to our full-time careers.  We encountered heartbreaking losses, massive setbacks, and general frustrations as we tried to maneuver our way through the last 365 days.

But as with every year, the key to overcoming such challenges is to focus on the good moments, taking the time to appreciate and improve your situation.

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2015 was a big year in creative accomplishments for us both at GIMMGP.  Laura became a full-time freelance artist, launching both her professional website and a print storefront on Inprnt.  I launched a new blog that focuses on The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and I achieved a major life goal of publishing a video game magazine with my friends.

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2015 was also an exciting time for the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity.  The U-Pick Crew started running weekly streams every Sunday at 4pm EST.  We also successfully raised over $8000 across two charity marathons, and 100% of this money will be used for clean water projects in the developing world.

2015 was an odd year of gaming for GIMMGP.  Laura and I both played fewer new games than in previous years; focusing on wonderful co-op experiences and delightful retro darlings.  In spite of playing less new titles than usual, I enjoyed some excellent games over the last year, which are highlighted below.

As always, thank you so much for following GIMMGP in 2015.  We look forward to playing more games and sharing more posts with you in 2016!

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows

My initial pick may seem like a redux from last year’s list.  At first glance, Plague of Shadows looks like a rather basic expansion to Shovel Knight.  Instead of adding new levels or challenges for the titular hero, Yacht Club games simply took one of the bosses from the main questline and turned him into a playable character.  “How boring and predictable,” some might say.  The same folks may consider Plague of Shadows a shallow cop-out from Yacht Club Games.  Well, these people are utter fools.

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Plague of Shadows plays like a completely different experience from Shovel Knight.  In the original game, players relied on masterfully executed shovel bounces and melee strikes in the vein of classic games like DuckTales and Castlevania.  The action was about planning your movements and well-timed jumps.  For the expansion, Plague Knight throws caution to the wind, focusing on frantic projectile attacks and wild platforming skills.  A world that once seemed dangerous and fraught with peril has become a speed-runner’s playground.  Enemies that were once potent roadblocks in Shovel Knight’s path are turned into just another thing to explode in Plague of Shadows.

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In addition to the changed gameplay style, Plague of Shadows features a new story built around megalomania, alchemy, and love.  The adorable and maniacal Plague Knight’s tale is filled with even more puns and jokes than his digging adversary.  The expansion also features some new and fantastic music from Jake Kaufman.

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All of these additions are given the same level of care and polish from Yacht Club Games, which results in a wonderfully fun experience that is included at no extra cost to the player.  This impressive DLC is provided for free with Shovel Knight, which makes it one of the best gaming experiences and values of 2015.

Yoshi’s Woolly World

How do you follow up on an amazing game like Yoshi’s Island?  Do you try to make the game more accessible, leaning into the cuteness factor and toning down the difficulty?  Do you take the existing formula and aesthetic, only add more playable characters?  How about simply including new functions based on whatever fresh technology is available? Over the last twenty years, Nintendo has tried each of these methods to make five different Yoshi games as successful as their forebear.  Yet every one of these games released with underwhelming results; none of them could match the fun and polish of Yoshi’s Island.

For the latest Yoshi game, Nintendo finally took my constant advice for improving on an beloved classic: add some fantastic couch co-op.

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Woolly World is the game I have wanted for nearly two decades: a multiplayer version of Yoshi’s Island.  With two Yoshis on the screen, this game became an exercise in breaking the rules and going off the rails. Instead of relying on environmental cues and features to acquire hidden items and get to secret areas, my friends and I would use clever jumping and frantic egg-bouncing to carve our own path. Woolly World does not limit or punish such behavior.  This game welcomes all sorts of monkey business.  There is a wealth of secrets and collectibles to be found in this game.  While all of these are available to a single player, they are much easier (read: more fun) to acquire with a pair of goofy dinosaurs.

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Woolly World also provides a new aesthetic of a craft-maker’s world, built out of yarn, felt, and so many other items that one would find at a Michaels store.  Matched with an incredible soundtrack, this game pays homage to the coloring book world of the original Yoshi’s Island, while providing a unique and heartwarming visual style.

Undertale

When Laura and I first launched this blog in 2011, I made a list of potential games to share with her for our official GIMMGP posts.  On this list, at least half of the titles were role-playing games from the 16-bit era.  These games were the cornerstone of my childhood.  I have so many heartfelt memories of playing games like EarthBound and the Final Fantasy VI with my siblings.  I wanted to share these emotions and moments with my wife.

Unfortunately, there is a high barrier of entry for role-playing games from the Super Nintendo era.  The mandatory grinding necessary for so many 16-bit RPGs means that Laura will likely never enjoy these titles in the same way that a kid with nigh-unlimited time would.  The stories and characters to which I was so attached are locked behind 30+ hours of unnecessary grinding and static battle menus.  Fortunately, the indie darling Undertale serves as an ideal surrogate for the warm RPG fuzzies of my youth.

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Undertale manages to capture the essence of classic RPGs without all of the fluff.  Instead of loads of generic enemies and boring grinding, every battle is filled with unique interactions and interesting dialogue.  The typical menu driven combat is upgraded with elements from shoot ’em-up games and dialogue puzzles.  In one encounter, you may have to play fetch with a massive Pomeranian, while another battle will revolve around a date with a skeleton knight.  All of these delightful encounters manage to showcase great variety and don’t overstay their welcome, as the main questline typically takes roughly 5 hours to complete.

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Undertale also features an earnest and heartwarming story that has plenty of surprises, both humorous and shocking along the way (Protip: Avoid ANY spoilers before playing Undertale.  You will be glad you did).  Players have the option of going through the game without killing a single creature along the way, no matter how hostile the monster may seem. Depending on how you approach the game, Undertale’s story will change drastically, without any sort of commentary on which path is truly the “right” one.

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It has been years since I have encountered a game that I enjoyed from start-to-finish like Undertale.  This game has such earnest story with well-written characters that filled my heart with laughter and tears.  The unique battle system and in-game humor made Undertale easy to pick up and share with my loved ones.  The soundtrack also stands out as one the the best of 2015, with a great mix of styles and songs to suit every story beat.  Please check out this fantastic game.

 

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Great Gifts for Gamers: 8-Bit Jesus

Every family has their holiday music traditions. Many families enjoy hearing the original Alvin and the Chipmunks (not the computer animated abominations of today) sing joyful little ballads with their surrogate father, Dave.  At my parents’ house, John Denver and The Muppets: Christmas Together is a yearly staple. Every department store in America is playing some sort of pop music amalgam of seasonal messages. Truly, the sounds of Christmas are in the air no matter where you go.

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So as you are deciding what music to play as you decorate, wrap, and basically eat yourself into a stupor, may I suggest 8-Bit Jesus for your holiday gatherings?

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A fun interpretation of classic carols, 8-Bit Jesus is an album of Christmas songs which have been arranged in the style of excellent games from the early days of Nintendo. Doctor Octoroc (the creator of this wonderful mix) has done a great job putting a digital twist on these songs, with my favorites being “Carol of the Belmonts,” and “Have Yourself a Final Little Fantasy.”  There is a preview of the album on his website, so you can hear just how awesome it is before you decide to purchase the music for your friends and family.  So if you are looking for a nice video game twist to add to your holidays, check out this album!

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