Inevitable Spinoff Blog Incoming! Digital Draughts is Live

Earlier this year, we debuted a new column here at Games I Made My Girlfriend Play called Digital Draughts.  As the resident beer geek of GIMMGP, Chip was eager for the chance to combine two of his passions into a single series: craft beer and video games (together at last!).  With the success of these articles, we have decided to dedicate a new blog for Chip’s video game and beer pairings!

Written on a semi-monthly basis, Digital Draughts highlights the pairing of specific brews with certain titles. Typically, the beers and games will be novel experiences, with certain exceptions made for time-tested combinations.  Some of these pairs will be a match made in heaven, while others may be the couple from hell.

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Along with regular pairings and reviews, Digital Draughts will feature other tidbits on beer and video games for your reading pleasure.  To kick off this momentous occasion, the latest article features a field trip to the fantastic Adroit Theory Brewing Company; where esoteric and barrel aged beers thrive!

So please be sure to follow Chip’s new blog (which features Laura’s fantastic photography) and share the good news with your friends as well: Digital Draughts is live!

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Digital Draughts: Uncharted 4 with Heavy Seas’ Plank IV

Historically, the best series come in sets of three.  For films; Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Die Hard are typically enjoyed during the first three movies.  Many television shows start to lose interest after a third season.  Even a vertical tasting of wine usually includes bottles from three particular vintages for comparison.  Let’s face it: humans seem to appreciate collections in triplicate (especially writers when trying to make a point).

When it comes to video games, the Rule of Threes starts to get a bit muddy.  Beloved gaming heroes like Mario and Link have long since surpassed their third game, yet they continued to be adored by the gaming public. Meanwhile, some characters languish well beyond their glorious trifecta of earlier titles; overstaying their welcome and becoming a joke among the community.

When Laura and I played Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception nearly five years ago, the series seemed to have met its logical, albeit unsatisfying, conclusion.  At the time, we didn’t even entertain the idea of a fourth Uncharted title coming to pass, as there was no obvious plot carrot dangled before us.  As luck (and the appearance of a new Sony console) would have it, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was released earlier this year.  Naturally, this was one of the games that cemented our decision to purchase a PlayStation 4.

Eager to see how the fourth game in a previous series of three would fair, Laura and I started the game on its day of release; making sure to have an appropriately themed brew to accompany this adventure.

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For the last several years, Heavy Seas Beer (brewed by the Clipper City Brewing Company) has experimented with the unique influence of wood aging on beer.  Dubbed the Uncharted Waters series, this line of beers features different styles aged in specific barrels or wood.  Some examples include Blackbeard’s Breakfast (an imperial coffee porter aged in bourbon barrels) and Red Sky at Morning (a Belgian-style saison aged in Chardonnay barrels).  These beers are typically offered as limited releases over the course of the year.

Appropriately named, Plank IV is the fourth in a series of beers aged on woods that have rarely been used to produce unique beers.  Released in 2011, Plank I was an English ale aged on kilned poplar wood planks. Plank II in 2012 was a German Doppelbock aged on a combination of poplar and eucalyptus wood. Plank III in 2014 was a Belgian Tripel aged on Jamaican allspice wood.  For the fourth in this series, Heavy Seas took a Belgian Quad and aged it on four different woods: planks of kilned poplar, kilned cherry, Jamaican allspice, and Cuban cedar.

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The result is a very complex and rich beer that pours with a cola brown color and cherry red hues.  Plank IV has a strong odor of dates, cinnamon, and maple syrup, with a smoky hint from the wood aging.  The taste matches the nose; starting with a tart raisin flavor that leads to a rich allspice body.  There is a lingering smoked finish, that gives way to a vanilla bean aftertaste.

As implied from its origin, Plank IV tastes like a beer with a unique history.  This is no mere Belgian Quad.  There are unique notes of smoked wood and aged spices mixed with the expected dried fruit and dark sugar flavors.  This beer is an ideal match for the swashbuckling narrative and complex backstory of Nathan Drake’s latest, and presumably final, adventure.

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Of all the game series Laura and I have enjoyed together, Uncharted is the only one that has been a mutual experience from the start. Sure, there are plenty of games that I have shared with Laura (and vice versa), or titles that we individually played while occupying a shared space. But every moment of play in the world of Uncharted has been as a team.

When we last left our hero Nathan Drake, his adventuring career seemed to have come to an end. The third game showcased that if left unchecked, Nathan’s pride would lead him to ruin. Thanks to the advice of his mentor (and a few too-close calls), Drake reconciled with his wife, Elena, and started a semi-lucrative career in salvage.

Uncharted 4 opens three years later, with a glimpse into the Nathan’s current life. His days are spent rescuing cargo from damaged freight ships, while his nights are filled with domestic bliss; playing video games with Elena to decide who cleans the dishes. All things considered, Nate should be happy with his new situation. But there is a part of him that misses the old thrill of adventure, made evident by a clever combat tutorial in the form of a toy shooting gallery that Nathan has set up in his attic.

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So it comes as no surprise that Nate eagerly agrees to join his thought-to-be-dead brother on a massive treasure hunt involving mercenaries, criminals, and pirates.

For the most part, the core gameplay in Uncharted 4 is mostly unchanged from previous entries in the series, which is just how we like it. Nathan Drake still spends most of his time traversing exotic locales and ancient ruins via jumping, climbing, and (in our case) repeatedly falling to his doom. Developer Naughty Dog has introduced some new tools, such as the climber’s spike and grappling hook. These items add new verbs to Nathan’s movement repertoire, which enhance the tradition of fun movement puzzles and enjoyable action sequences.

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Alternatively, manual vehicle sequences are an unwanted and cumbersome addition to Nate’s means of travel. Poor handling and strange inertia make every moment spent driving an automobile very frustrating, which is compounded by certain terrain that is designed to be hazardous. When your car already handles like a drunk walrus, the inclusion of muddy hills only makes things worse. Fortunately, Nate doesn’t have to take the driver’s seat in every vehicle, and the moments spent shooting from the passenger side are genuinely fun.

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There is a shift in the combat to a stronger focus on stealth gameplay, which fits into the greater narrative of Drake and Company being severely underpowered when compared to the Shoreline private military company (the main baddies of Uncharted 4). While this makes for some very satisfying takedowns, it further emphasizes a problem I had with the previous Uncharted titles: combat arenas. Most of the enemy encounters bring the narrative to a screeching halt, tasking players with clearing every potential threat from an area instead of trying to avoid them altogether. I understand that in certain situations, it makes sense for Drake to take out all enemies to make progress, but repeating this action in nearly every combat scenario makes the game drag at certain points.

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Minor combat grievances and major vehicle complaints aside, Uncharted 4 is an excellent game. The increased power of the PlayStation 4 has provided Naughty Dog with the tools to make a beautiful and impressive world. The transition between each gameplay moment and cutscene is seamless, making for a more cohesive narrative than many of its video game peers.

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Without getting too deep into Spoiler Territory™, what beings as a narrative about a treasure hunter coming out of retirement transforms into a very heartfelt and engaging story about family; both biological and marital. Initially, Drake uses his brother’s resurfacing as an opportunity to have one more big adventure like those from his past. In order to do so, he lies to his wife about his plans, thinking that he is protecting her by keeping her separate from this part of his life. What Nathan discovers is that at its core, marriage is a partnership. Elena is the best teammate for which Nate could have asked, and her involvement would only strengthen his chances at finding a lost pirate treasure to save his brother.  She literally and figuratively saves Nathan on this quest, which gives him the final push to figure out what truly matters in his life.

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Like many other fourth titles after a trilogy, I expected Uncharted 4 to feel like a tacked-on expansion to the series.  I figured there would be some marginal improvements to the visuals and gameplay, along with a story that feels like so many other action movies and video games.  However, Uncharted 4 exceeded all of my initial expectations, and turned out to be my favorite in the series.

The upgraded visuals have set a new standard for video games, while the mechanics are polished to near-perfection.  The story is earnest in a way that avoids being on the nose; with complex characters and relationships that seem wonderfully out of place in an action-adventure game.  Both the treasure hunting setting and the engaging narrative are a perfect complement to the rich flavor and wood-aged notes of Plank IV.  I would definitely recommend this pirate-themed combination.

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Digital Draughts: Firewatch with New Belgium Brewing Company’s Ranger IPA

Summer is the time for adventures.  As the chilly April showers wane and the May flowers burst into blossom, June is an ideal month to write a new and exciting chapter in the story of our lives.  For many of us, the warmer months don’t provide the same amount of boundless time as the summer vacations of our youth.  In spite of this, we will carve out weeks from our busy lives to make a pilgrimage into unknown territory both near and far.

While the spike in temperature and daylight hours fills my heart with longing for fresh wilderness, a similar wanderlust grows in my gaming appetite.  I seek out unique and compelling narratives that stray from the well-worn path of annual releases.  Historically, the results of such journeys are rather divisive.  I could discover a delightful game that provides an interesting twist on traditional mechanics, or I could find a disappointing title that fails to deliver both in gameplay and plot.

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Despite the known risk of a wasted summer day, I decided to invest in just such a story-driven indie game that takes place in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989.  And as with any journey into the unknown, I made sure to bring supplies from a tried-and-true brewery.

Of the numerous craft breweries that cover the rolling hills of these United States, the New Belgium Brewing Company stands out as one of my favorites.  I tried their flagship beer Fat Tire many years ago while traveling with my girlfriend-now-wife.  At the time, the delicious amber ale was not being distributed in our home state, so we relied on our various roaming friends to deliver rations of Fat Tire whenever they would visit.

Since those halcyon days, New Belgium has made their way into our neck of the woods, and we couldn’t be more pleased.  They regularly release delicious seasonal experiments such as the Heavy Melon Lime Ale and the Pumpkick Spiced Ale (brewed with pumpkin and cranberry).  Their variety packs often include a tasty limited re-brew of a discontinued beer from their 25 year history.  And their year-round beers include some of my top brews of all time, including the 1554 Black Lager and the Shift Pale Lager.

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Counted among New Belgium’s year-round beers is the Ranger IPA.  This India pale ale serves as a tribute to the brewery’s Beer Rangers; their brand and brew ambassadors who, “span all states from the Pacific to the Atlantic.”  This beer is made with three different hop varieties (Cascade, Chinook, and Simcoe) which impart distinct flavors during the brewing process (citrus, floral, and fruity, respectively).  Ranger is also dry-hopped with Cascade, which means even more hop aroma and oils are imparted in the final product.

The result is a beer that pours with a brilliant golden color, orange sunset hues, and a powerful resinous hop aroma.  There is a strong odor of pine on the nose, with hints of grapefruit in the background.  Despite the intense hop scent, Ranger starts with the smooth taste of toasted bread.  This malty flavor quickly gives way to the expected pine-hop crispness and finishes with a mild citrus flavor, leaving a lingering sweetness of oranges.

I will admit, I am not a Die-Hard Hop Head™.  I have to be in a particular mood for a hoppy punch to the face.  That being said, the malt profile of Ranger IPA serves to balance the bold hop character, resulting in a sessionable beer that makes an ideal companion for a virtual trek through the woods.

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The wilderness of national parks can represent many things.  For those who visit, the various flora and fauna could mean an opportunity to experience a world outside of the suburbs and cities.  Land that is mostly untouched by man’s progress with a hint of danger and the unknown.  For those who tend to these parks, the forests and streams are a responsibility.  It is a ranger’s job to protect these lands from visitors who would do harm, whether through ignorance, maliciousness, or just plain laziness.  They are educators and caretakers, stewards and evangelists.

The protagonist of Firewatch comes to the Shoshone National Forest as both visitor and ranger, but this protected land represents something else to him: an escape.  From developer Campo Santo’s website:

“The year is 1989. You are a man named Henry who has retreated from your messy life to work as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. Perched atop a mountain, it’s your job to find smoke and keep the wilderness safe.

An especially hot, dry summer has everyone on edge. Your supervisor, a woman named Delilah, is available to you at all times over a small, handheld radio—and is your only contact with the world you’ve left behind.

But when something strange draws you out of your lookout tower and into the world below, you’ll explore a wild and unknown environment, facing questions and making interpersonal choices that can build or destroy the only meaningful relationship you have.”

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While Firewatch opens with a very raw and emotional glimpse into the complexities of Henry’s life, the bulk of the game is spent exploring the gorgeous vistas of the Shoshone National Forest.  As a novice fire lookout, Henry (and the player, by extension) will get a lay of the land rather organically through the functions of the job.  With each day of the game’s plot, Henry is tasked by Delilah to investigate any abandoned campfires or law-breaking visitors to keep the park safe.  There is no mini-map or overbearing quest marker to lead the player to each major destination or plot point.  Just like Henry, I had to rely on the in-game map and compass to find my way.

There were times when this method of exploration proved frustrating.  My progress from the watch tower to certain areas became a stuttering mess as I checked the map dozens of times to orient Henry in the correct direction.  But on a whole, this minimalist approach to navigation contributed to the game narrative.  I spent so much time exploring this beautiful game that the occasional logistic confusion didn’t sour the experience.

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Since so much of this game’s appeal lies in how its story unfolds, I am going to avoid a deep dive into this powerful narrative.  Suffice to say, Firewatch kept me engaged from start to finish.  The real strength of the narrative comes from the conversations between the main characters, Henry and Delilah.  Thanks to the voice actors’ heartfelt performances, I was thoroughly invested in the interpersonal drama as it unfolded across a simple handheld radio.  Additionally, most of these conversations take place without interrupting gameplay, which keeps the story moving at a constant pace.

Now that I have completed this digital walk through the woods, I can confirm that Firewatch was exactly the sort of adventure I needed.  The gorgeous visuals and engaging narrative provided a unique experience.  The story doesn’t drag or overstay its welcome, which makes a perfect compliment to a sessionable beer like Ranger IPA. I would recommend this combination, especially to those of us who are looking for a worthwhile experience off the beaten path.

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Exciting Things Are Happening

There are several new developments going on around GIMMGP Headquarters, fair readers. Some fresh content on older blogs, a beautiful new art project, a tactical rebranding, and the debut of an Instagram account.  Let’s get to it!

PokemonPower1.1Longtime readers of GIMMGP may recall the creation of a Tumblr blog back in 2012 called Please Take One.  This site serves as a digital archive for Chip’s collection of rare and odd video game brochures.  After an extended hiatus, Please Take One is back to regular updates, and with Pokemon content, no less!  For the next several months on Please Take One, you will see multiple posts from the six “issue” run of Pokemon Power!  These mini-magazines were included as inserts in Nintendo Power back in 1998.  Pokemon Power features excerpts from the Official Pokemon Strategy Guide, fan art, a comic adaptation of the anime, and other neat goodies.  Be sure to follow Please Take One for all sorts of rare and nostalgic gaming brochures!

Meanwhile, over on Laura’s professional website, a new art project has appeared!  Titled the, “Tarot Deco Project,” this new series will feature gorgeous and gilded versions of the classic cards.  Laura plans to produce a piece for every card in the traditional tarot, starting with the Major Arcana.  Be sure to keep an eye on her website for regular updates, and check out her Instagram account for insight into the creative process for each piece!

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Finally, things are chugging along for Chip’s video game and beer pairings.  The next several combinations are planned and in the works, with many tasty brews being paired to games both relatively new and delightfully old.  He has also launched an Instagram account to share images of beers and games outside of the full length pairing posts.  With so much going on, this project has been rebranded Digital Draughts, to celebrate the delicious taste of a draught beer combined with the joy of our preferred digital pastime.  Please be sure to keep your eyes and palates here for future Digital Draughts posts, and follow the related Instagram account for all of the pours and plays between the main posts.

As always, thank you to all of our followers and regular readers over the last five years.  We look forward to sharing all sorts of creative collaborations and gaming goodness with you!

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Digital Draughts: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft with Brewery Ommegang’s Gnomegang

There was a time during my childhood that one night out of every week was deemed, “Poker Night.”  My father would invite his friends over for an evening of high-class booze, middle-tier snacks, and low-stakes poker.  It was a means to unwind, forget about work, and catch up with your buddies in a comfortable environment.

Now as an adult, I regularly try to emulate this tradition in my own home (albeit with much nerdier tabletop games).  But the world has changed drastically in the decades since my youth.  The idea of a “regular 9-to-5” has been replaced with shifting schedules and off-hour projects.  Many of us deal with hour-long commutes between our homes and jobs, thanks to the high cost of living around major city centers.  Plus, with the increased availability and quality of online gaming, many of my peers are turning to digital versions of classic games to engage with their friends.

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So as my own gaming gatherings are becoming more irregular, I thought I would (finally) take my friends’ advice and try out their preferred virtual tavern game.  And what better drink to have at a fantasy-themed bar than a Belgian-style blonde ale with “gnome” in its name?

Gnomegang was originally brewed in 2010 as a collaboration between the fantastic Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York and the rather magical Brasserie d’Achouffe in Belgium.  The story goes that an ingenious gnome revealed himself to humans in Belgium in 1982 and helped Brasserie d’Achouffe brew its first beer.  Many years later, one such gnome visited Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown and the resulting beverage was the aptly named Gnomegang.

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No matter what the real story behind this whimsical brew may be, what makes Gnomegang stand out is the use of a yeast strain directly from Brasserie d’Achouffe.  This special ingredient imparts a very fruity and spicy character to this rich blonde ale. Gnomegang pours with a cloudy golden color, a yellow-orange hue, and a fluffy white head.  The beer has a strong, sweet odor of clove and banana, with a hint of wintergreen hiding among the fruit and spice.  The first taste on the palate is of lemon candy, that gives way to a rich and sweet body, similar to overripe fruit.  The beer finishes smooth, with the lingering sweetness of yellow cake, whipped cream, and a hint of clove.

Gnomegang is a delicious addition to Brewery Ommegang’s catalog of Belgian-style beers. The strong fruit and spice flavors from the Chouffe yeast mingle with the creamy mouthfeel of this drink.  Fans of European-style wheat beers and sweeter blonde ales will be right at home with Gnomegang, although one should take care to avoid quaffing this beverage.  The high alcohol content of 10% ABV is well-hidden by the rich sweetness and hearty spice taste.  Without even paying attention, a novice could slug back one-too-many Gnomegangs while playing cards at the virtual table, leaving themselves wide open to attack in Hearthstone.

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Since its release in 2014, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft has been ever-so-stealthily making its way onto my friends’ handheld devices.  It started with a small comment from my long-time friend, Jeremy, who had downloaded the game onto his smart phone as a means to enjoy a collectible card game with his far-away friends.  “You should totally download it,” read his text.  “We can finally play cards again!”  This was certainly a true statement: Hearthstone provided the means to play a fantasy-based card game with my best friend who was several hours away.  Despite this convenience, I was satisfied to wait and play tabletop games with my friends during my next visit to my parents’ homestead.

The next suggestion came from my local buddy, Rob.  He lauded the metagame of deck-building and talked about how his own community of players found it easier to play Hearthstone over their phones, rather than try to schedule a night of in-person gaming. He explained that the variety of cards and strategies available were top notch, allowing players to craft complex strategies and play styles according to their own gaming proclivities.  I was certainly impressed by the various expansions and play types, but I stayed the course of my tabletop roots and avoided Hearthstone once more.

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What finally broke my resolve was the same thing that originally drew me to Magic: The Gathering- totally awesome horror lore.  The latest expansion of Hearthstone hit the market earlier this year, and it was a loving tribute to the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.  With the release of Whispers of the Old Gods, there was no hope left for me.  The chasm of collectible card gaming and horror flavor yawned before me, and I fell headfirst into its maw (read: I downloaded Hearthstone onto my iPad).

At first, I was rather impressed by Hearthstone.  The game provides a great single-player training ground for newcomers to learn the rules and experience the thrill of victory. The artwork on the cards is gorgeous, and the user interface is very well-designed.  The little animations on the playing grounds keep things interesting, while the action of tearing open a new pack of digital cards is very satisfying.  Plus, there are all sorts of little nods to the history of the Warcraft series, with my favorite being the exclamation of, “Job’s Done!” anytime I finished a turn.  However, after playing through the initial single-player offerings and trying my hand at battling online, my enthusiasm for the game started to wane.

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At first, I thought it might be the lack to physical cards that contributed to my lack of interest.  Or it could be the fact that I wasn’t invested enough in the game to pay for additional single-player content.  But I think the real reason why I was not enthralled by Hearthstone is because despite its best efforts, this game does not emulate the joy of getting a gaggle of friends together to play cards.  I certainly appreciate the tavern-influenced interface of the game.  The soundtrack to Hearthstone features some of the best game music I have heard in years (no surprise, since it comes from LucasArts veteran Peter McConnell).  Even with these fun flourishes, I simply prefer gathering a group of friends around a large table, pouring a few rounds of beer, and playing cards until the wee hours of the morning.

So while I certainly recommend the combination of Gnomegang and Hearthstone, this duo isn’t for me.  I fully admit that the rich fruit and spice flavors of Brewery Ommegang’s beer is an ideal companion to the tavern games atmosphere of Hearthstone.  I would just prefer to enjoy this Belgian-style blonde ale in the direct company of friends, holding a hand of cards, and planning my next epic play.

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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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Digital Draughts: 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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Digital Draughts: 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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