Friday, September 19, 2014

A 5-star review of 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 by David Pautsch of Net Galley
Recommends This Book
This is as detailed as you get. A thorough walk through 100 video games of the classic era. Complete with facts, developers info, trivia and even pricing. Each game is spread over 3-4 pages and whilst some don't have screenshots (the only improvement needed) all have a lot of detail. Some myths are debunked and the detail is great.

If you are a fan of the era you may know all of this, it was a bit before my time if I am honest. If you are a student of computer games then its a good book for reference on history and development. I'd recommend it for either purpose but not for the casual reader. This is because its completely focused on an era and style of game that you need to love or have interest in to really appreciate this book. However, for what it is aimed for you won't get better.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 - A NEW REVIEW

Another review of my new book has appeared online. You can check it out here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 -- REVIEWED!!!

The Video Game Critic has given my latest book glowing review.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fall 2014 Video Game Preview

Here's my fall video game preview, which appeared in today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram

It’s still blazing hot outside, but school is back in session and football season is here. This can only mean one thing: It’s time to talk cool fall video game releases.

A traditionally busy time for the industry, fall looks especially promising this year, offering gamers a wide variety of potential-filled titles, including Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes (Sept. 23), Forza Horizon 2 (Sept. 30) and Assassin's Creed Unity (Oct. 28).

Here are 10 more video games to look forward to in the coming weeks and months. As always, release dates are subject to change.
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Sept. 9

Set 700 years in the future, after our formerly idyllic solar system has been devastated by a cataclysmic attack, Destiny is an epic, post-apocalyptic first-person shooter containing elements of a massively multiplayer online game. Players take on the role of a Guardian, protecting the last great city on Earth from aliens and exploring ancient ruins and neighboring planets.

The Guardian is customizable, meaning players can personalize and upgrade their character with various combinations of armor, weaponry and visual accoutrements. The created character can then be used in every available game mode, including campaign, cooperative, social, public and competitive multiplayer.

Developed by Bungie, the creators of the iconic Halo series, Destiny could become the next big gaming franchise.

Hyrule Warriors
Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Sept. 26

Action fans with a fondness for The Legend of Zelda anxiously anticipate Hyrule Warriors, a hack-and-slash game featuring Zelda characters pulling off the types of flashy fighting moves found in Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors series. Gamers can go into battle as the elfin Link, of course, but a number of characters will be playable for the first time, including Impa, Midna, and, most intriguingly, Princess Zelda herself.

Already a big hit in Japan, Hyrule Warriors offers a special two-player coop mode in which one combatant plays the game on TV while the other player employs the Wii U GamePad screen. As the action unfolds, gamers can collect rupees and other items in order to upgrade weaponry and abilities.

 Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Sept. 30

Want to fill in the gaps between Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? Then fire up Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, a role-playing game that puts you in the role of Talion, a ranger with wraith-like abilities. Voiced and motion-captured by Dallas-born Troy Baker (BioShock Infinite), Talion journeys through Mordor, vowing to avenge the death of his family.

During his lengthy mission, Talion will fight enemies, learn the origin of the Rings of Power and discover the truth behind the spirit of vengeance that resurrected him. Battles employ a special “Nemesis System,” in which enemies learn from and adapt to attacks, creating a unique and personal experience for each player.

 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Maximum Games
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Sept. 30

Given the overwhelmingly positive buzz surrounding advance previews of the game, Arthur Conan Doyle himself might be impressed with Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, the latest in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series. Players control Doyle’s celebrated sleuth as he attempts to solve various multiple-ending cases, including robberies, murders and strange disappearances.
New to the series is “Sherlock Vision,” a gameplay mechanic inspired by the BBC's Sherlock TV show allowing players to see through the detective's eyes. In addition, Holmes can now make the choice of booking the criminal or letting him go free, adding a Dostoyevskian moral element to the game.

 Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Oct. 3

Nintendo has yet to nail down a specific release date for the highly anticipated Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, saying only that it will be in stores in time for the holidays, but we know Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS will be available in just over a month.

As in previous games in the popular fighting game franchise, up to four players (local and online) can duke it out as Donkey Kong, Link, Mario and various other Nintendo characters. Several combatants will make their Smash Bros. debut, including customizable Mii Fighters and such third-party favorites as Mega Man, Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog.

One advantage the 3DS version enjoys is an exclusive Smash Run mode, in which gamers, prior to entering an arena, traverse open areas to gain stat-boosting power-ups.

Alien: Isolation
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Sega
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Oct. 7
$49.95 (PS3, Xbox 360), $59.95 (PS4, Xbox One)

Sega stopped making video game hardware years ago, but the company continues as a viable software publisher, cranking out such titles as the multi-platform Alien: Isolation, which helps bridge the gap between Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). Gameplay evokes the more subtle, less action intensive aesthetic of Alien, with players, as Amanda Ripley, sneaking around, trying to avoid a singular alien while investigating the disappearance of her mother, Ellen.
The alien in question, which adjusts its hunting strategies according to the player’s movements, cannot be killed (this is a survival horror game, not a first-person shooter), so stealthy exploration is a key to success.

NBA 2K15
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: 2K Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: Oct. 7

The NBA regular season doesn’t get underway until Oct. 28, when the San Antonio Spurs host our beloved Dallas Mavericks, but you can get a three-week jump on the action with NBA 2K15. Rather than completely overhauling the game, the development team chose to simply tweak the hugely successful NBA 2K14 formula, adding cheerleaders, a more responsive crowd, an expanded Euroleague and thousands of additional player animations for smoother, more realistic action.

Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant is featured on the box, but this was more than just a marketing move. Durant, an avid fan of the industry, acted as an advisor and consultant during the creation of the game.

The Evil Within
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Oct. 14

Shinji Mikami, creator of the famous “Resident Evil” franchise, designed The Evil Within, a game that stays true to the survival horror formula he helped pioneer, but ups the ante with gorier gore, scarier scares and more violent violence.

Gamers portray detective Sebastian Castellanos, who uses such melee weapons as a revolver, a knife, fire, a crossbow, a shotgun and the occasional grenade to behead, dismember and otherwise destroy undead creatures populating a sick, twisted, nightmarish world. Ammunition is scarce, meaning it is sometimes necessary to sneak past the enemies instead of confronting them head-on. There are grisly, stomach-churning puzzles to solve as well.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Release Date: Oct. 14
$39.99 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U), $29.99 (3DS)

Based on the computer animated cartoon series, this follow-up to last year’s Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures continues the conflict between Pac-Man and the evil Lord Betrayus who, aided by his army of ghosts, attack peaceful PacWorld. In addition to playing as Pac-Man, who runs, jumps, chomps and smashes his way through a variety of 3D areas (including outer space, under the sea and Prehistoric World), gamers can now control Cylindria, who skates via hover board, and Spiral, who pilots a Cherry Copter.

As in the previous game, Pac-Man can gobble power berries to turn into more powerful versions of himself, such as Fire and Ice, but the sequel adds a variety of new transformations, most notably the huge, rampaging PacZilla.
 Just Dance 2015
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U
Publisher:  Ubisoft Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Release Date: Oct. 21
$39.99 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U), $49.99 (PS4, Xbox One)

Video games are largely a sedentary activity, but the Just Dance series, which began in 2009 on the Nintendo Wii, encourages players to get up and move to the music as they mimic onscreen dancers. Just Dance 2015 introduces a new Challenge mode, which lets gamers compare their scores against top-ranked players from around the world. A special Community Remix feature utilizes the camera on the game console as a recording device, meaning users can record their dances for other players to evaluate.

Just Dance 2015 features more than 40 songs (regular or with on-screen lyrics for Karaoke), including “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler, “Walk This Way” by Run DMC and Aerosmith and the ubiquitous “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mike Begum – Competitive Gamer

Mike "Brolylegs" Begum, fighting game fan supreme, was kind enough to consent to an interview about gaming and life. Here's the resultant article: 

Mike Begum – Competitive Gamer

“Handicapped. Disabled. Physically challenged. Crippled. Abnormal. Different. Every word to describe what I was, I’ve heard it all. Twenty-five years of living it all out. I've felt trapped, incapable, useless, and extremely dependent of others during the course of my usual day. My only escape is my perfectly capable mind. Something I have been blessed with all my life.”

So begins devoted gamer Mike Begum’s newly released autobiography, My Life Beyond the Floor, an 87-page e-book chronicling his adventures as a son, a brother, a friend, a survivor, and, perhaps most relevant to readers of this magazine, a serious competitor. Despite severe physical limitations, Begum, who wrote the book by holding a chopstick in his mouth, competes in video game tournaments throughout Texas and, recently, has been traveling to various competition events across the country.
 Begum was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that causes severe joint contractures and muscle weakness. As such, his arms and legs, which are bent at odd angles, are largely useless for such ordinary endeavors as walking, driving, flexing, kicking, stretching, picking up objects, and playing video games (more on that later). As if that weren’t enough of a cross to bear, he also has multiple scoliosis.

Indeed, everyday life is a struggle for Begum, but he doesn’t want to be pitied or fussed over, just treated normally with the occasional helping hand. He appreciates (and welcomes) the assistance he receives from friends and family, but he admits it’s not always easy asking for help—he hates the idea that he might be a burden on anyone.

“My biggest frustration in life is getting off the ground,” he said. “I can’t go anywhere without my family having to pick me up off the floor physically. I only wish to find a way where I can transport myself off the floor without having to depend on others so much.”

Begum has used an electric wheelchair periodically throughout his life, but he’s much more comfortable in a prone position than he is sitting up. Begum spends most of his waking hours flat on his stomach, using his arms and shoulders to prop up his torso and head. Sitting for too long in a standard position makes Begum sore and tired, so he avoids it when he can.

When Begum was in elementary school, his (now deceased) father, an expert welder, converted an electric wheelchair into a motorized bed, meaning he can maintain the prone position for hours at a time instead of having to sit. Begum must be lifted onto the customized cart (usually by his brother and sister), but once in place he can move around pretty well.
 Speaking of moving around pretty well, Begum manipulates the images on his television set with surprising grace and fluidity, especially considering the limitations placed on him by his disorder. Watching Begum play video games, which he does by propping a controller in his hand and using his face to push buttons, is truly inspirational.

In a recent interview, I asked Begum to describe his gaming method.

“I use my left hand to hold and support the controller to my face,” he said. “My hands act like a table so my face won’t have any trouble positioning over any of the buttons or joysticks. I then place my left cheek on the joystick to get some grip on it. To move my character, I move my face to use my cheek in different directions. For the buttons, I use my tongue inside my mouth to push buttons like a single finger. I never press the buttons with my tongue solely. Instead, I push through the interior of my mouth to eliminate any health concerns.”
Mike Begum was born April 26th, 1988 in Tampa, Florida, where his father owned an auto repair shop while his mother stayed home with the kids.

During a fateful visit to the shop, “an elderly woman came by to have her vehicle looked at, and saw my mother standing by,” Begum said. “The woman placed her hand over my mother’s stomach. After feeling her, she revealed a prophecy to my mother: Please don’t be alarmed, but there is something wrong with the baby.”

The woman also told Mrs. Begum that her son would be a “great figure in the community” and “respected by all,” but that didn’t stop her from insisting that the woman leave the shop.

A short time later, Mrs. Begum got a sonogram without her husband’s knowledge and was told that she needed an emergency C-section. After being contacted about the dire situation, Mr. Begum rushed to the hospital. He arrived just in time to hear one of the doctors yell, “Oh my god, this baby is severely deformed!”

Begum’s parents were devastated by this news, but over time they grew to accept what had happened. They loved their son, gave him the medical care he needed, and worked hard to make his life as normal as possible. In fact, when Begum was just two-years-old, they bought him something more befitting of a kid with fully functional arms and hands: a video game system.

“Gaming started in my life at the age of two,” Begum said. “I had recently recovered from several surgeries, and my birthday was just around the corner. At my birthday party, my parents gave me an unusual gift: a Nintendo Entertainment System or NES for short. The reasoning for getting their disabled son this machine is still a mystery to me, but I think it was something my father was interested in trying. I believe he wanted to merely show me the way it worked, and have me watch him complete the games he bought for it. My mother was not very keen to the whole video game entertainment scene, but she also thought it was a good idea for me to watch and learn from dad.”

Begum’s father bought a number of games and would get his son to watch him play, but then something incredible happened: Begum, using his wrist and chin and a healthy dose of toddler ingenuity, figured out a way to play the games himself. Amazingly, after a few weeks of trying, the gaming prodigy beat Super Mario Bros. 3—a fairly difficult title for anyone to complete—before he turned three-years-old.

“My learning how to play video games stunned both my parents,” Begum said. “They could not believe their son could achieve this without the muscle capacity of a normal child.”

Watching other kids engage in physical recreation, such as running down the street and playing tag, remains a painful memory for Begum. One day, when he was eight-years-old, the enormity of the limitations caused by his condition sunk in. With tears streaming down his face, he asked his dad why he couldn’t ride his brother’s new bicycle. His father didn’t say why, but Begum, experiencing a rather dubious epiphany, realized that he already knew the answer: he simply didn’t have the physical capabilities of the other children.

Fortunately, video games, along with a prodigious imagination and the will to fight, helped Begum avoid a potentially depressing life and gave him a fantastic, readily available outlet for his pent-up energy, competitive nature, and desire for independence.

“All I wanted was to have something I could do on my own,” he said. “My life was catered to at every minute. Video games truly granted me a freedom from this. I found something I could actually do on my own. No dependencies, no physical struggles, no obstacles in my way. This hobby was an alleviator of my sorrow and frustration at not being able to do the things others could. Sure, it still pained me to look out the window and see others doing outside activities with full use of their bodies, but I always had something that would be my escape.”

Although he’s never tried the older consoles, such as the Atari 2600 or ColecoVision, Begum has owned almost every system released from the NES forward. His favorite all-time console is the Super Nintendo, which was a “huge part of his childhood” and has a “ridiculous amount of masterpieces” in its library, including his favorite game for the system, Mega Man X.

Despite his affinity for the SNES, Begum’s favorite game of all time is Sonic Adventure 2 Battle for the GameCube. “There is literally not one thing wrong with the game, and I am a huge fan of Sonic,” he said. “The characters, music, stages, difficulty, and replayability all come together to make the ultimate gaming experience.”

Begum’s current game of choice is Street Fighter 4, the popular one-on-one brawler for the Xbox 360.

“The competitive nature in me keeps me playing the Street Fighter franchise for hours on end,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoy traveling to tournaments and meeting all kinds of people playing Street Fighter IV.”

You wouldn’t necessarily know it by his otherwise kind demeanor and friendly, unassuming smile, but Begum is a ruthless gamer, taking delight in pummeling his more able-bodied opponents into the ground.

 “Competition in gaming has been a part of my life since my early teen years,” he said. “I have met my very best friends through competition, and the doors it has opened have been monumental in my life.”

Begum’s first tournament occurred at a video game store in 2005 during his junior year in high school, when he was visiting his mom in Houston, Texas. To the astonishment of those watching, he finished fourth in a field of 64 competitors. The game was Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube.

Begum, who now lives in Houston with his mom, was emboldened by the experience and elated by the fact that he could hold his own against most any gamer of any skill level, so he began competing in tournaments as often as possible.

In 2011, when Begum heard about the Evolution World Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada, he was determined to go. EVO, as it’s commonly called, is the Super Bowl of fighting game tournaments.

“Every year in July, players from all across the world fly in to compete in the biggest event of the year,” Begum said. “But this sort of trip was expensive, so with the help of my friends, a fundraiser was created to help get me there. I was humbled by the help a lot of people gave me to get to the tournament,” where, much to his delight, he placed 64th in a field of hundreds of gamers.

One of Begum’s biggest fans is Killeen, Texas resident Josh Jones, former event coordinator for a charity organization called Gaming World Wide, which was instrumental in getting Begum to the EVO tournament.

“When I first sat down with him at [a store called] Joysticks Gaming in Killen, I was blown away by his never-ending smile,” Jones said. “He had shared with me his struggles, his hopes and dreams. Needless to say, I was nearly in tears at his never-ending spirit and his ability to move forward.”

After the interview, Jones setup up a live stream of himself playing Begum at Street Fighter IV, in which Begum is one of the world’s foremost Chun Li players.

“He went 40 wins and had only one loss against me,” Jones said. “At that point, I was beyond stoked, and, well, humbled at the fact that he gave me some fighting tips after beating me senseless.”

On January 19, 2013, Begum received what he calls the biggest honor of his life at the Texas State Trading Card Premiere held in Austin. Hosted by world-renowned scorekeeper and industry ambassador Walter Day, the event recognized Begum for “overcoming physical limitations to compete at the highest level on fighting games” and for his “important contributions to the global video game culture.”

During the award ceremony, where Begum received a commemorative plaque and his own trading card, he gave a short speech in which he vowed to never quit gaming “no matter what disability I have or what stands in my way.”

In addition to soundly trouncing fellow gamers at street-fighting sims, Begum, who has a bachelor’s degree in business management, hopes to tour the country one day, sharing his story in order to motivate others to succeed at their chosen field. He also wants to open a business where people could come to play video games while he provides tips and helps them hone their skills.

Given his disability, it would’ve been easy for Begum to give up on gaming and never pick up another joystick or gamepad, but he’s a fighter and a survivor, both in real life and in the gaming world. And he remains extremely grateful for his family and friends, as he says in his new book:

“Sometimes it is best to accept the situation you are in and trust that your loved ones will accommodate you for whatever you need. It is no burden on your part when the ones who care do it out of love. However, this should never discourage you from doing everything you can for yourself. People can be very resourceful when it counts the most. I wasn't going to take my disability as an excuse. What I needed was to think positively and work with the tools I had. I began practicing getting off my bed by myself until I had it mastered. No way was I going to let my disability take every aspect of my being. Nothing is impossible when you try. That is living. Fighting has been at the core of my being since the day I was born and will stay in there until the day I die.”

His pal, Josh Jones, adds, “Mike Begum is someone I admire, respect, and would do anything for, and he feels the same way about his friends and family. The world truly needs more spirited individuals like Mike Begum. We really do.”


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I've got a special going on right now with my "Classic Home Video Games" book series. Free media shipping with any purchase. And, of course, I'll autograph the books for free.

Classic Home Video Games: 1972-1984 -- $25 (Softcover)
Classic Home Video Games: 1985-1988 -- $25 (Softcover)
Classic Home Video Games: 1989-1990 -- $45 (Hardcover)

Please send me an email if you'd like to order any of the books directly from me. I accept PayPal.

Thanks! brettw105 AT