Super November – The Salad Take

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November is a big big month in gaming releases. Everyone and anyone is releasing something, or several somethings, to get a chunk of the Christmas market. Here’s my thoughts on some of the biggest, and a few smaller, names coming out this month.

Assassins Creed Unity

Unity-Gate I kinda want to call it. A game full of so much promise. Heck, they even delivered most of what I asked for in my post Mulling Over Assassin’s Creed.

They really mucked it up though, as has been well published across the gaming, and even mainstream news, internets. Ubisoft shares have plummeted, just like the reviews of their games.

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Unfinished is probably the kindest way to describe the Unity-Gate farce. The game has literally dozens of game breaking glitches that make it next to unplayable. Even on semi-official gameplay videos you see fairly serious glitches popping up. So much for the fantastic new revolutionary game engine!

Quite honestly though, having watched a fair amount of gameplay (I must admit to not actually having played it) it looks pretty darn boring as a game. The world somehow still falls flat, even with the big crowds. Go off the beaten track and you could be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference between Arno’s Paris and Ezio’s Florence of AC2.

I wanted to like Assassin’s Creed Unity, I wanted it to make me want to buy it. It even gave me most of the things I asked for and yet it still mucked it up. It did everything right and then tripped flat on its face at the very last hurdle. It’s kinda sad to see, and I do hope they managed to get it properly fixed in a decent amount of time.

Farcry 4

I’ve never really been big into Farcry as a gaming series, but Farcry 4 – whether you like the series or not – is a really beautiful game.

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The gameplay really shines through. The Farcry series has consistently refined its core gameplay, and it works. Ubisoft take note!

The RPG style skill tree elements are still there and still relevant, which I like in a game that could otherwise be a very flat and dull FPS. I also like that there’s a decent co-op mode, even if it is online only. Too many games shy away from co-op when it could suit them wonderfully – just like it does with Farcry – so kudos to them for going for it.

Farcry 4, for a game series that makes a big fuss about its story, doesn’t really seem to have struck many chords with its story. Personally I’ve never got on with the stories of Farcry games, and that’s probably my biggest gripe. They leave me with a feeling of ‘why bother trying’ when faced with x y and z to save characters I don’t really care about.

On the whole though, Farcry 4 is a good offering this November, and deserves to well – if only because its a decently polished game!

GTA V 

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GTA V is still GTA V.

It knows its the best game out there and its still going strong. The recent release on the next gen has actually surprised me with how much energy its still got behind it as a release that’s over a year old.

The graphical updates are amazing on the next generation. Whilst not always immediately noticeable, look a little closer and the world shines even more than before. GTA V next gen is by far the most alive gaming world out there.

I guess it was always going to be though, Rockstar take their time to get things right.

The one thing that doesn’t really float my boat though is the new first person mode. It just doesn’t feel like GTA to me, more like some knock-off mod slapped on to the original game.

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I know a lot of people really like it, as a novel change to the resolutely 3rd person series, but it doesn’t work for me. I’m happy for it to be there for those that like it, but I’ll stay away from it mostly.

All in all though, GTA V next gen has been a dependably good release.

Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire

This is the November release I’m most excited about, no questions.

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As a real late-comer to the series with Pokemon X/Y, I’ve immediately gelled with the series. A true legend in the gaming world for good reason.

Because CakeBoxFox and I pre-ordered the game, we also got hold of the free demo version of the games. It looks set to be just as good as hoped.

An interesting mix of more modern Pokemon gameplay & lore ideas from the X/Y generation mixed up with the classic world of Ruby and Sapphire. It looks like they’ve pulled off another fantastic release and I can’t wait to get my copy.

Just to put it out there, Alpha Sapphire is going to be my choice. I’m a Kyogre fan-boy and proud of it!

Super Smash Bros

Super Smash Bros is another game I’m seriously excited about. The best bit? It comes out on the same day as Pokemon. Well done Nintendo on officially stealing my next weekend!

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I’ve always loved SSB but never actually owned one. Such a fun and crazy game, it’s unparalleled for pure fantastic fun; and this new version will be no different.

Playing as the Wii Fit Trainer and some other odd new additions will be interesting, adding hours more fun to the already addictive formula.

Well done Nintendo on wrapping up November/December 2014 with two very solid releases.

Mount & Blade Warband: Viking Conquest

Somewhat off the main radar, but I was super excited to hear that a surprise new DLC is coming to Mount & Blade: Warband.

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I readily admit to being a fanboy of the series, who would buy anything from the team regardless of what it was, but I thought it deserved a note on the list of Super-November. I really hope the developer all the best and try to support them as much as possible. It’s not easy for a small developer out there, even when you have a really good game concept.

And that’s it for now! I know I’ve missed a few recent releases, but forgive me. A Salad has only so much spare time! When time allows I hope to be able to look into all the recent releases in a little more detail, but for now, that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed.

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

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Digital Salad Gaming Update

I’m back after a bit of a hiatus and back to updating on what’s been going on gaming-wise in the life of Digital Salad. Last time I blogged about gaming I was talking about how I just couldn’t get on with ESO; just like many other gamers. The free 30 days expired a couple of days ago and I certainly didn’t purchase any more game time – in total I used about 6 hours of those 30 days (all within the first 2 days). So here’s what else I’ve been playing in the meantime.

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Aside from being a spectacular GIF of a Xbox One exploding, it also represents where I’m at with console gaming these days. I’ve only used my Xbox 360 console to play DVDs in the past 30 days. It has essentially turned in to a fancy DVD player for me and I think that comes down to the games.

With some exceptions, not many console games really push my buttons. They’re all re-hashes of previous games or just plain old broken. I saw the inevitable announcement of Assassin’s Creed Rogue this week – the franchise’s last hurrah on the older generation – and sighed from the resignation that Rogue is just Assassin’s Creed IV meets III with no new features as far as I could tell. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be groundbreaking, but that just smacks of laziness from Ubisoft.

There’s been one console game that I have kept dabbling in though, and that’s GTA V. I still think that GTA IV’s DLCs were better games that GTA V, but for having fun the fifth installment is much better.

In particular the awesome guys at the YouTube channel Achievement Hunter have got me back into GTA V with their fantastic ‘Let’s Play’ videos. I love the videos they make – full of just having fun. Whilst Gavin in particular irritates the other guys with his incompetence at the game they bring him along anyway for the fun, and that symbolises the best parts of why I like their videos. Give them a watch and you’ll be itching to play GTA V.

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The only problem with the Achievement Hunter videos is that it really makes me want to play GTA V Online. However, at the risk of sounding like a sad and lonely Digital Salad, I have no friends to play it with – so it could never be as awesome as the fun they have.

The other gaming I’ve been up to has been Pokemon.

CakeBoxFox is a life-long Pokemon fan, but I’ve never actually played one. I’m from the generation that’s had pokemon all the way, from the very original GameBoys onwards. Damn I sound retro.

Nearly everyone I knew and know has played a Pokemon game of some sort, but not me. I had a deprived childhood it seems! So CakeBoxFox suggested I give one a go. We picked up Pokemon X and Y for the 3DS and got gaming.

The new generation of Nintendo handheld console – the 3DS is definitely the best place for me to start my Pokemon adventures – where I can trade and keep in touch with CakeBoxFox over the internet whilst we adventure side by side. I’ve been honestly loving it.

2 gym leaders in I’ve got about 50% of my team pretty much sorted. I started with the Grass starter – Chespin – who has been a great trooper so far. I picked up a Squirtle courtesy of the Professor and I’m sticking with a Litleo as my fire pokemon main because of how insanely cute he is (although later on he probably will be replaced sadly). We’ll see what else I pick up, but I’m quite enjoying having a Ghastly in the team for now.

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I’m getting there with learning what types are good and bad against others, but it’s a big task. I’m loving the adventure so far, but most of all the best bit about Pokemon is the ability to drop in and out of it – playing for just a minute or two a day is do-able! I like a game that does that.

One other gaming discovery I’ve made is the Full Invasion 2 mod for Mount & Blade Warband; a game I’ve gushed about many times before!

Full Invasion 2 is an online only mod that pits you cooperatively against increasingly difficult waves of enemies and bosses. It’s classic zombie/bot survival. The real magic to it is the insane amount of options you have for who to play as. I have played as the French Army of the Revolution against the Soviet Red Army. In the end, Stalin was a boss just too powerful for us even with our looted machine guns.

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And there’s me defending Helms Deep as an archer of Gondor against the hordes of Mordor. In the end Sauron saw us off, although we did kill all the Nazgul and Mumakil with him – no mean feat!

Honestly, I think Full Invasion 2 is not only the best mod I have ever come across but it would be a respectable game in its own right. I recommend anyone with Mount & Blade Warband or even thinking of picking it up to give Full Invasion 2 a go, it’ll be worth it.

That’s it for now, I’m planning a few more posts in the next couple of days so stay tuned!

 

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Digital Salad: Tying Up Loose Ends

I mentioned in my last blog that I’ve been playing a lot of Europa Universalis 2 and Crusader Kings 2, my old friends in video gaming. I thought I’d add a bit more context to that with this post because over the Christmas break I was reaching the final missions of 2 games, which I’ve since finished. With those games out of the way those loose ends, games you get halfway through and leave for months before picking up again, have reduced in number – so I could really get back in to EU2 and CK2 pretty guilt free.

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I’ve finished both GTA V and Sleeping Dogs. Completing them pretty much simultaneously turned out to be a good idea as well actually, so I’m going to compare them and generally consider them both.

I’ve looked in to Sleeping Dogs before, deciding that it stands up pretty solidly against the blockbuster might of GTA IV and V (it came out between the two). Most reviewers passed it off as a cheap GTA imitation to feed the addiction and tide the players over in the long gap between GTAs. I think its better than that though, and having finally got round to completing the final mission (I’m not really sure why I left it so long!) I still stand by what I said about Sleeping Dogs before.

Its a good game, and the martial arts are a real selling point. One of the final bosses is a great martial arts fight, although a little to many quick-time events in it for my liking but they’re not over the top. Bosses is a point in itself. The last game I played which had bosses was probably Skyrim, which I’ve put on hold again at the moment. Skyrim bosses aren’t really the same though, they’re not particularly challenging or different from ordinary grunts usually. Sleeping Dogs bosses get right back to boss fight basics, and I’ve missed it more than I realised.

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I think Square Enix rescuing the project and remaking it in their style really shows through and makes it special. You can see Square in the boss fights, you can see them in the mission style, you can see them in the cut-scenes; and that’s a good thing. I was very late to Final Fantasy, and the controversial XIII series doesn’t really hit the right note for me, so to get some Square charm in Sleeping Dogs was a real breath of fresh air for me – although probably made it a little stale for anyone more used to Square Enix games.

So, Sleeping Dogs was good. What about GTA V, my very own game of the year and probably one of the games that this generation of consoles will really be remembered for? I had great fun with it, definitely. I’ve spoken about GTA V quite a bit on-and-off whilst I’ve been playing through it, but I’ll mainly compare my thoughts now back to my original ones which I blogged about when I first started playing it.

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The first thing I wrote about was the world. Back then when I still wide-eyed and naive to the world of Los Santos; it seemed huge, rich and unconquerable. Now that I’ve completed the story and a good chunk of the strangers side-missions the world has lost a bit of that charm. That’s understandable really, I’m no longer wide-eyed and naive and I’ve poured more hours than I’d care to count into it. The thing about the world that sticks with me though, as a small gripe, is that a lot of it is essentially empty. Rockstar tried really hard to make the world feel alive, with dynamic events and as dynamic an AI for general citizens as you’ll get.

The trouble is, is that the dynamic events are repeated all too many times, and that begins to grate more than it should. The centerpiece of the dynamic world, and I ended up with the same 4 or 5 events repeating several times. I expected a bit better than that.

Don’t get me wrong, the world was amazing. The thing was, was that I never expected that I’d grow bored of it, but I have. I’ve seen it all, done all the things in it that interested me a good few times. I enjoyed driving up Mt. Chiliad only to parachute off it, but after doing that a few times I never had an urge to see the spectacular mountain again. Funnily enough, I think my favourite time I did that was when I ran all the way. Poor Michael struggled with running up, taking many rest stops, and it took forever, but it was somehow the most fun – complete with wild coyote attack halfway up.

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The combat and the driving remained solid throughout. I mentioned in my original post about how I couldn’t find anywhere to have a siege with the police, unlike the hospital in GTA IV which was perfect for it. I found shops to be the best in the end in GTA V, with the Ponsonbys shop in the Los Santos hills lending itself to it pretty well. However, with the new police AI of GTA V it never was really as fun as GTA IV sieges for me, so that was a bit of a disappointment.

It was also a bit disappointment that there wasn’t more opportunity for big gun fights, with only one or two memorable ones in the story. I wished there was a side-mission where you could take part in a gang war, both Trevor and Franklin could easily be worked in to this and it would allow the player to have big gun battles whenever they had the urge – akin to the Gang Wars of the GTA IV DLCs.

Finally there’s the story of GTA V. This gets the most praise of all of the game’s aspects in reviews, and it is a good story. For me though, Trevor never grew on me. I only played as him in missions, outside I never picked him. Michael remained fairly bland, but did grow on me a bit towards the end. Oddly enough, Franklin, who I clicked with the most originally began to irritate me by the end. I get the feeling that Rockstar were trying to say the money had changed him as a person, but it felt a little overdone to me and left me with no characters I really cared about. They could all have died in the final mission and I wouldn’t have minded too much.

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What I said about the heist missions became even more true towards the end as well:

The heist missions, as peaks of previous missions, are fun but often too short after all the work put in to them. Once you’ve completed one you’ll never be watching the bank balance again though, which makes sense but almost makes the game too easy.

Towards the end it really felt like the story was being stretched a bit thin just to squeeze another big heist in, that were too short as it was anyway. I wanted the Heists to be more epic. They were also too easy, I never really felt challenged by them when they felt like they should have been the equivalent of a boss fight for difficulty.

Overall, GTA V was a good game, and I’d still say it’s my Game Of The Year 2013. At the same time though it disappointed me, and lacked a lot that I’ve come to expect from previous GTAs. Once I’d finished the story the world felt empty, I’d seen and experienced everything in it several times over. So, in the end I’ve gone back to GTA IV, which keeps re-playability even years later. GTA V is done, probably never to be played again.

When I sat thinking about GTA V’s re-playability I wondered whether I would replay Sleeping Dogs at all. The answer was, for the martial arts combat. But then, that’s hardly a reason to keep a game where that was only a mechanic of a bigger picture.

Then, when I thought about it more, I realised that I liked the martial arts combat in Sleeping Dogs for all the same reasons I like the Assassins Creed combat. I loved the fighting in Assassins Creed III, but hated the game and world around it, so I didn’t keep it for re-playability. Sleeping Dogs has the same combat hit for me, but a world and a game around it that I can get on with. The thing is, though, is that I’ve not yet picked up Assassins Creed IV. So I wonder, when I do pick that up whether I’ll have any interest left in Sleeping Dogs at all. Maybe I should pick up an MMA game, or an old Tekken. Interesting questions that I won’t know the answer to for a little while yet!

An unexpected rival to Sleeping Dogs?
An unexpected rival to Sleeping Dogs?

In the mean time I’m happy letting my console gather dust for a bit again, and instead playing on my PC. I’ve been on Guild Wars 2 a little as well as playing EU2 and CK2, so I hope to blog about what I’ve been up to on there soon!

 

Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Salad Returns To GTA IV And Deeper Thoughts

As the title suggests, despite not yet finishing the story of GTA V, I have found myself playing on GTA IV increasingly recently. I completed the story, and the stories on both DLCs, but I keep going back even with the epic world of GTA V’s Los Santos still waiting to be conquered by me from my sofa.

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There’s a deeper point for games designers to be found in why I’ve been returning to GTA IV – the golden chalice of re-playability. Every game wants to be endlessly replayable, to keep the market share invested until a sequel is released and we all buy that – no rival games muscling in in the meantime and taking away your attention, and maybe your pennies.

So, why is GTA IV so replayable?

Well, I should first specify that I’ve returned to the Ballad of Gay Tony (tBoGT) DLC rather than the original version, and I mention it specifically because its something that only the DLCs of GTA IV had – Gang Wars.

Most Gang Wars descend into chaos like this pretty rapidly - but you can almost always fight your way out
Most Gang Wars descend into chaos like this pretty rapidly – but you can almost always fight your way out

Gang Wars are, in the case of tBoGT, where you meet up with two friends of the protagonist and go to fight a rival gang. This mini-mission could have you chasing down a drug laden vehicle with all guns blazing before making a quick getaway, or it could have you in a pitched battle as you jump in to the middle of a drugs deal.

Gang Wars offer something that I’ve not really found in GTA V, or many other games, and that’s a fun fight which doesn’t escalate too much – there’s always a way out even when the police get involved.

Sometimes games leave you feeling a little like this when you die only minutes after the start of your rampage
Sometimes games leave you feeling a little like this when you die only minutes after the start of your rampage

Many missions in GTA V or the storyline of GTA IV and its DLCs include plots like those in Gang Wars, but usually they focus on the narrative more than the fight. In Gang Wars there is no narrative other than the bare bones of explanation, the mini-mission is the fun in and of itself; and they are exceptionally fun. These are what keep me coming back.

For those who don’t like the gun fights there are street races which meet the same purpose, which do make a bit of a come-back in GTA V. The Gang Wars have helped me realise something deeper about the golden chalice though, that to obtain ‘replayability’ what you need is a fun core mechanic.

That sounds simple, but you’d be surprised. The real kick is the one condition, that that core mechanic cannot be obscured. Digital Salad’s First Law of Games Design right there!

A good example is Assassins Creed III. The core gameplay mechanic of free-running and assassinating in the Assassins Creed franchise is fun, but by III it had become so obscured by inane baggage that you couldn’t get to the core mechanic without stumbling over the junk on your way there. The game needs to be more visceral to get replayability.

What are the games I’ve replayed the most in my gaming life? The Mount & Blade series, GTA IV and all sorts of Dynasty Warriors.

These three games achieved that First Law, they perfected the core mechanic which was great fun and then built a game around it without obscuring the gold at its core.

Good old fashioned mob clearing on Dynasty Warriors 8
Good old fashioned mob clearing on Dynasty Warriors 8

Of course, every gamer is different. When I like a core mechanic of hacking down mobs of enemies, which is core in all three of the games above, others may like racing driving or flying and so on endlessly – but the same Digital Salad’s First Law will generally hold true.

So, I think that’s an important lesson for games designers, but also quite a helpful insight for ourselves as gamers. Since I’ve realised what I like in games I’ve found that I look at them differently. I did that with Assassins Creed III, I looked at it and decided that I was playing through it to try and uncover the gold at the core – gold that was so smeared with garbage that you couldn’t find it! That’s not what I want to play a video game for, we play video games for fun. Don’t compromise on fun, play what you enjoy and don’t play something that teases you with the possibility of gold but doesn’t deliver. Find a game that gives you that gold and cherish it!

 

Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Grand Theft Auto V

Aside from the upcoming release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the biggest news in the gaming world is the immanent release of GTA V, which is something of video gaming royalty.

www.totalvideogames.com_RSG_TBoGT_Screenshot_071_69468__size_655_2000The last offering from Rockstar, GTA IV was released way back in 2008. This was a huge leap forwards, as all GTA games are, from the previous installment in many ways. However, as amazing and polished as GTA IV was many felt that it was missing some of the soul of the GTA franchise.

This was pretty much entirely solved with the release of the Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony as stand alone DLCs in 2010. The Ballad of Gay Tony in particular was Rockstar at their very best, reintroducing some of the funnest parts of previous GTAs which had been missing – parachuting especially springs to mind which was brought back with TBoGT.

GTA IV, especially after the DLCs, was a resounding success. I personally loved it, and the figures agreed. The game made a record smashing $500 million in its first week, far more than any other video game ever. It’s won more Game Of The Year awards than any other game, and has been called the best game of the current game console generation by some critics. This was in line with a history of GTA titles smashing sales records and setting the video game world alight. So, GTA V has quite a pedigree to live up to.

What makes GTA?

Its a good question that isn’t easy to define. First and foremost though is the open world. GTA has pushed the boundaries of sandbox worlds with every release, and GTA V looks set to continue with this. In fact, the game map was gta-5-map_2669216aleaked just yesterday (which you can see next to this). If you look closely the world looks enormous. Initially many argued that it was far too small. The trouble here is that GTA has usually gone down the route of gating areas, with a starting island and then two or more other islands which gradually open up over time to the player. For GTA V the developers scrapped this precedent in favour of one big flowing open world, which I much prefer, but which makes it more difficult to compare scale.

weaponsThe best way to judge the size of this game map that I have found though is to look at the size of the airfield in the North West of the map. If you compare the scale of that on the game world to the scale of GTA IV’s airport to its game world map, you realise just how massive this game world will be.

You can see the differences in the two maps here for yourself, with GTA IV’s map on the left and GTA V’s on the right above. It seems pretty clear that Rockstar have managed to push the boat out once more on the size of their sandbox with GTA V.

Secondarily to what makes GTA is the involvement in the world, you feel part of the city of, in the case of GTA V the world of Los Santos. Every little piece of the game design goes in to this, with Rockstar’s impressive attention to detail showing in the vibrant worlds they create. 5 years of development and a reportly record breaking £170 million development budget has gone into this aspect first and foremost.

The best example I can think of of this is the radio stations. Liberty Rock Radio from GTA IV sticks in my mind here, with Iggy Pop himself drafted in as the aging rocking DJ with attitude playing a character essentially parodying himself. You listen to Liberty Rock not just for the music but for his character, you invest yourself in the radio station. I’ve never felt that with any other game similar to it, with the radio stations just playing a random collection of themed songs back to back – it doesn’t feel like a radio. GTA V is set to continue in this stream, real radio feel and all.

Niko smg carThe final bit that makes GTA is that at the end of it all its good fun. It’s good fun to have a shoot out which you know is only going to end with your death when you have APCs bearing down on you with your 6 star wanted level. Even the missions are good fun, with a strong story driving every title with strong and believable characters which you invest in doing a variety of missions – none of which feel like gap fillers. For all the polished gameplay and top notch story line, the game doesn’t penalise you if all you want to do is load it up for 10 mins and have a pointless shoot out to destress – and yes, that does work in a strange way, and it’s not something to be afraid of having studied the psychology of human violence in the past! GTA at its heart is good fun.

So, I’m excited for the release of GTA V next week. It will be a fantastic game, which will break its own sales records again I’m sure, will probably take more Game Of The Years than any other title before and will be a solid favourite of many gamers. Rockstar have achieved legendary status with GTA through attention to detail and a massive investment of time, effort, money and care. It shows on the finished product and should be a shining example of all that is good in the games industry.

 

Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com