After several interviews with videogame musicians (and a passion for game audio, which we incorporate into our podcasts as often as possible), we attended and recorded the PAX Prime 2014: Maestros of Videogames Panel for our son (a budding composer) and any other fans of game music and audio who might want to learn from some of the pros.

Here's a quick rundown of the panel members:

  • Emily Reese (moderator) - host of Top Score on Minnesota Public Radio
  • Sascha Dikiciyan - Borderlands, Mass Effect 3, and Dead Rising 3
  • Darren Korb - Bastion (interview and game review) and Transistor (interview)
  • Jesper Kyd - Assassin's Creed, Borderlands, and Hitman
  • Oleksa Lozowchuk- Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 3
  • Martin O'Donnell - Halo series through Reach (music review) and Destiny
  • Boris Salchow - Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet & Clank, and Resistance: Fall of Man

Download the PAX Prime 2014: Maestros of Videogames Panel (MP3; 50MB). For a limited time, you can download this "Extra" from our Busy Gamer Nation podcast feed on iTunes, Zune, or via RSS.

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Costume Quest was a thoroughly charming game of the last console generation, and its sequel - the predictably named Costume Quest 2 - is well on track to become one of favorite titles of 2014.

Learn what changes have been made to the winning formula of turn-based combat, empowering costumes each with its own special attacks and powers, and deep exploration. For instance, you can now play as a Candy Corn and the game is actually better for it!

This is the first salvo of our PAX Prime 2014 coverage. We've already collected interviews for Evolve, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Boo Bunny Plague, Never Alone, and Slender: The Arrival with more on the way. We'll also post our game impressions for many more titles than we could ever podcast about as soon as we can catch our breath to write it all down!

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

We attended Geek Girl Con lin Seattle last year and were pleasantly surprised to find these gaming gems:

  • Project Spark, which releases officially Oct. 7, can be downloaded in public beta for Xbox and Windows 8.1 now. It's free to play, and your creations will carry over - so feel free to dive in.
  • Zhurosoft has its own free-to-play thing going on. They make iOS battle games including the Pokemon-inspired Monster Kingdom 2 (still in development) and the strategy title Kingdoms of Zenia. Learn what these games are about and how they work, and then go grab them for free at the iTunes store: the original Monster Kingdom and Kingdoms of Zenia: Dragon Wars.

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

This concludes our podcast coverage for, ahem, last year. We'll do our best to expedite this year's PAX Prime coverage (starting this weekend!) and create some new, original features. Stay tuned!

PrizesYes, it's been a long time since we've had a Free Stuff Friday. Which is funny, since we actually coined the term back in 2008! But the long drought has ended because we are DROWNING in codes.

Here's what you can win:

  • Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty on PS3 - great standalone digital only game. (1 winner)
  • $10 in Xbox digital currency courtesy of Harmonix - they'd love it if you used it for songs for Rock Band or Dance Central, but you can use it for pretty much anything on Xbox 360 or Xbox One. (24 winners)
  • Gears of War 3 Thrashball Cole Plushie avatar item for Xbox 360 - from PAX Prime several years ago. We checked, and the codes still work! (4 winners)
  • Threes game for iOS - this popular twitch math action puzzler was free at Starbucks awhile back, but if you missed out on the code we have some extras. (2 winners)

Here's the deal:

  1. First come, first served.
  2. You need to post two comments on our site: Post which prize you want here first (so we know what to send you!), and then a real comment elsewhere. Some suggested articles are below. Make it real, not weak forum banter like "gamez r kool, can I have my <prize>."
  3. One prize per person with the exception of the Cole Plushie codes. If you want both $10 in Xbox money and a plushie code, you can have it - as long as we still have 'em both to give.
  4. If you want to help us out, post on Twitter something like "Free Stuff Friday is back! Act fast to get some great gamer goodies at Busy Gamer Nation: http://bit.ly/1zaohlP"

Here are some recent articles you might want to check out and comment on:

Or search around the site. When you comment, we'll get a notification and will check it out as soon as we can (and approve it if it's being held for approval). And then dispatch your prize requested below (while supplies last).

The Fine Print

Prizes will be delivered via email, so you must USE A VALID EMAIL ADDRESS WHEN YOU REGISTER. (Don't worry, we won't send mails to you unless you win, and it won't show on the site.) You may also want to white list this domain; we've had MANY would-be winners lose out because they never responded to their prize notification! If you use TypeKey/TypePad, be sure your e-mail address will be shared. No e-mail address, no prize.

Note that unless you're an authenticated poster who has been active on the site and marked as trusted, your comment will NOT appear immediately. It will go into a queue for me to approve, which I'll try to do several times a day. Do NOT double-post (though feel free to comment as much as you want!).

We do sometimes give away real prizes (the kind you get in the mail) and unannounced Instant Win prizes - and with PAX Prime coming up, this is increasingly likely! Here are a few tips since this can happen at any time. 1) Follow Gamewatcher on Twitter. Before we post an Instant Win, we'll give you a fair warning tweet. 2) Subscribe to our RSS feed and set it to check for updates frequently.

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Dying Light is another zombie action game from the makers of Dead Island. If you're new to the site, GrrlGotGame is a massive fan of zombie action games, and she couldn't wait to get her hands on this one! Hear her learn the basics and find out what to expect when this game is released in 2015.

If you're curious about why this podcast took four months to edit (almost a year from the actual interview!), well, apart from living up to our names as busy gamers... this was an excessively long interview that was tricky to make concise and listenable. If you're interested, I'll post the raw audio and you can compare.

This concludes our extensive PAX coverage (take a look, we covered a ton!) - just in time for PAX Prime 2015. We're going to make it fast and loose this year with few, if any, scheduled appointments so that we can post all of the gaming goodness we collect quickly. (Hopefully like we did last year with our report on Transistor, which went up the first night!)

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Graphic novels (or comics, if you prefer) have a hallowed place in the Mount Olympus of geekdom. Your local comic shop can take you virtually anywhere you want to go and on most any type of adventure you desire.

The art form - yes, comics are an art - boasts some of the best storytelling you will find in modern day fiction and artwork worthy of any gallery. Add animation to the mix, and you have the recipe for one helluva great videogame.

Telltale Games has proven very adept at taking comic-based intellectual properties ("IPs") and converting them into enjoyable games delivered in bite-sized sections with decent replay value. These are not your standard comic-based brawler or action games. They are generally low-key, story-heavy adventures. They are also highly entertaining.

But do they resemble their source material? Let's check them out.

 

The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games

Comic Source: Fables, created by Bill Willingham

What's the story? Both the comics and the game are set in Fabletown, a magical neighborhood in modern-day Manhattan. The area is home to a variety of fairy tale-based "Fables," both human and animal, who have escaped from the occupied Homeland. Both the comic and game tap into familiar fairy tales for characters and origin, but these are not your child's bedtime stories. Snow White is a bureaucrat. The Big Bad Wolf is a very hairy sheriff named Bigby. Mr. Toad is a landlord. And so on. All animals or creatures that might freak out the "mundies" (aka mundanes - basically non-magical folk much like the Muggles in Harry Potter) must pay to have humanoid glamours applied by a local witch, disguising their true appearance. Failure to comply can result in being shipped off to the Farm upstate. (No, that's not a euphemism. They really do go live on a farm!)

 

The Wolf Among Us game
Before Match.com, there was the Book of Fables

 

The comics bounce between modern-day events in Fabletown, the Farm, and the Homelands, with occasional deep dives into an individual Fable's origin tale. The game sticks to the city, but there's plenty of adventure to be had when you're a wolf in the Big Apple. Bonus points for picking up background details from the comic world and peppering them throughout the game. It adds to the atmosphere while also giving a nice shout out to fans.

 

Fables comic

Bigby accidentally watches Keeping Up with the Kardashians on Mundie television

 

Game, comic, or both? Depends on your taste. The comics tend to have more sex and violence. Expect the comics to be more graphic, but it's not a big difference - the game's pretty mature, too. If you can handle one, you should be able to take on the other. The comic storylines tend to bounce all over the place. If you want a straightforward cohesive story, stick with the game. That said, both are extremely well done and entertaining. Pick your medium to start, but definitely consider picking up both.

 

The Walking Dead by Telltale Games

Comic Source: The Walking Dead, created by Robert Kirkman

What's the story? Yet another zombie story, albeit one that can go an awfully long time without any zombies appearing. While the undead - or walkers, as they are known in this universe - are definitely a consideration, the bigger enemies tend to be other people. The book follows a core group of characters led by Rick Grimes, ex-cop and father to budding young psychopath Carl. Fans of the TV show will find a lot more in common with the book than the game, but there are still plenty of differences between the comics and the series. (Hint: Some of your favorite TV characters are dead in the book, and vice versa.)

 

The Walking Dead comic

Fear not the sword, but the chick who wields it

 

While the comic gives all-new meaning to the term "graphic," the games have been relatively tame. You still follow a core group of people that includes a kid, but this time it's a smart young girl who has been separated from her (presumably dead) parents. That's where the resemblance ends. There's no prison, Woodbury, or Hilltop in the game, and the violence is a thousand times milder. Expect to spend your time wandering around searching for clues, solving puzzles, and trying to figure out what to do next.

Important safety tip: Make sure you get Telltale's Season 1 to start and NOT the poorly regarded first-person shooter subtitled Survival Instinct.

 

The Walking Dead game

This sums up my reaction to the Woodbury storyline in the comics

 

Game, comic, or both? This is one of those choices you're going to have to make for yourself.

Let's go to the decision tree:

  • Option A: Unspeakable acts of violence lovingly illustrated in black and white? Bring it on! I’m dead inside anyway. You chose: Comic
  • Option B: I can handle a gory scene every 10 minutes or so, as long as it's tastefully done and entirely necessary to the plot. Also, I love button mashing to avoid getting hit/attacked/eaten when I least expect it. You chose: Game
  • Option C: I can handle the gore and violence, but sometimes I just want to chill and press a button periodically. It depends on my mood. You chose: Both
  • Option D: You lost me at "child in the zombie wilderness." You chose: Move along, there's nothing for you here

 

Bone Complete Bundle by Telltale Games

Comic Source: Bone, created by Jeff Smith

What's the story? Bone follows the adventure of "The Bones" (including Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone), a group of vaguely humanoid white creatures who roam Boneville having little adventures. Other denizens of the world include a human girl named Thorn and her Gran'ma Ben, a feisty old broad who could probably kill you with a spoon (but she won't - these are kid-friendly stories). The books focus more on relationships than actual adventures, but are completely engaging and charming. They were also oddly banned by some school districts for sensuality (Thorn and a Bone become involved in the most chaste love affair in comics history) and alcohol (Gran'ma Ben likes her some moonshine).

 

Bone comic

It's a Bone fashion show!

 

The games follow the same characters exploring the world beyond Boneville, but don't expect any major anachronisms. This is not "Bone in the City." They stick to the valleys and regions familiar to readers - or areas like them.

Bone game

I dunno, what do you want to talk about?

 

Game, comic, or both? Adults and kids alike will dig the comics. Younger kids may not understand a lot of the subtext, but will find The Bones amusing. (Hint: There's a lot more going on in these comics than meets the eye.) The games were among Telltale's earlier forays into this style of gameplay, and it shows. It's slow, and may not keep your attention. Your kids will love it, though.

 

Books that need their own games

As I researched this story, I realized that the majority of comic-based videogames out there come from either Marvel or DC books. Superheroes, mainly. There's plenty of room out there for more subversive stories, including a few covered in Make My Game 2.0 (Mercy Sparx is still one of my favorite untapped IPs!).

I know most of those will never happen, although some have had real-world negotiations that haven't lead to anything... yet. There is one title that really needs to happen, in my mind. It has outstanding writing, a rabid fan base, and a creator with a great pedigree and talented collaborators. For your consideration:

 

Runaways, created by Brian K. Vaughn

What's the story? A group of teens discover their teenage angst bullshit has a body count, courtesy of their supervillain parents. Add in newly discovered special abilities and - oh yeah, hormones - and you have one of the best origin stories ever.

 

Runaways comic

Say hello to my little friend

 

What's so great about it? Imaginative storytelling that always maintains a level of palpability, even when they drag stuff like time travel into it. The female characters all exhibit individual strengths, from the literal (Molly, who is like a pint-sized Thor) to the emotional (Gertrude Yorks, who controls her dinosaur companion with her mind). Everyone acts their age. Some are cool, some are curmudgeons, some are just jerks. Everyone has good and bad days. When someone dies, it guts you inside. In short, it's the comic you regret reading month-to-month, because you need to know what happens right now. I'm still waiting for them to tell me if (spoiler) lived or died in the last panel of the last book. (OK, who's the joker who canceled it on a cliffhanger?!?!)

Anything else I should know? Expect a variety of stories and art styles that change, sometimes radically, as writers and artists join or depart the book. There are a few artistic styles that are rather jarring, but you'll figure out who everyone is soon enough. Oh, and Joss Whedon wrote the second part of the second series. Amazingly, he was NOT responsible for one of the most shocking deaths in the series.

 

Have a favorite comic-sourced game or a graphic novel to recommend? Let us know in comments!

Taking Aim! Marvel Puzzle QuestMaybe I'm getting older, maybe even a tad wiser, but there are definitely more gaming options vying for my attention - and I've been finding myself making some unexpected choices on how to spend my limited play time.

It's easy to build a backlog of retail games that's both intimidating and packed with pressure that can make gaming feel like work instead of fun. We've all been there. But lately I've noticed my gaming habits have shifted. I'm bypassing the stacks of unopened and incomplete games and starting to enjoy a wider variety of busy gamer friendly fare.

My Nintendo DS was once my go-to gaming machine. It's portable, and you can snap it shut to save progress (as long as you don't pop out the game cartridge or let the battery run out). Perfect for busy gamers, right? But my 3DS, for whatever reason, just doesn't grab my interest any more. Instead, I favor iPad games, particularly free-to-play titles that can be played in bite-sized sessions.

I haven't abandoned console games, but I'm becoming more selective and devoting my time to the rare triple-A and indie games that grab my attention and won't let go. I'll play these for an hour or so a day for a few weeks and then move on when I either finish or lose interest. I'm realizing that there's no shame in saying "I'm done" if a game is no longer doing it for you.

The final category of games that I've become enamored with are PC games. Which is funny, because I've only rarely become interested in playing a PC game for more than an hour or so (at least that's been the case since my Commodore 64 days). My excuse has been that I don't usually want to stay in front of a computer monitor after a long day of riding my laptop for work. I use games to step away from work and de-stress. I'd much rather play on the couch in front of a large TV in the evening with a shot of tequila or frosty beverage close at hand. The last game that had me hooked to my PC every night was Dungeon Siege, and that was 12 years ago!

But the Humble Indie Bundle, launched a few years ago, convinced me to start collecting low-cost Steam games. It started out small but now I'm hooked and scouring the Steam sales and bundle sites such as Bundle Stars, sometimes on a daily basis. My Steam library recently broke 300 titles, though I actively play about 10 or so regularly. Yeah, I'm a little late to the party here, but I came around and found a way to integrate PC gaming into my day and now I'm a lot happier.

Here are some of my favorite games from each gaming segment:

 

Portable

I have an iPhone and an iPad, but I use my iPhone mostly for mail, Twitter, camera, and the occasional e-book. I don't have much time for gaming on it. Also, I prefer the larger screen on my iPad 3, so that's become my gaming portable of choice. I do buy iOS games from time to time, but I was surprised at how good some of the free-to-play titles are and how much fun I can have with them.

Best of all, most of these games can be played with the sound turned down while you're watching TV or a less than engaging movie. Oh, and I've tried game controllers but so far I haven't found one that's super easy to use (the Drone we kickstarted was a bust). And there aren't any significant mobile games that have controller support that I'd want to go to that much trouble to hook one up anyway. For now, I'd suggest you save your money.

 

Trials Frontier

Trials Frontier. I bought Trials Fusion on my Xbox One and downloaded the free-to-play Frontier on the same day. I've barely scratched the surface on Fusion, but I'm deep into Frontier despite the cooling off period required to refuel if you don't want to pay for extra in-game currency. In fact, one of the things that I love is that I can play for several minutes, make some progress, and then switch off to something else while my fuel meter recharges. I normally avoid action games with touchscreen controls, but after a few minutes I found I was intuitively revving and flipping with ease. Upgrading your bikes (combined with hours of practice) will make the controls seem even tighter, but the handling was solid right from the start.

The only knocks I have are that the hourly slot machine challenges can make you a bit obsessive as you attempt to get extra spins in to win new tracks, and the game became unstable while I was writing this review - crashing whenever I tried to launch a specific slot machine challenge, making it unplayable. Each day, the slot machine resets but eventually I hit the challenge that triggers the crash and I'm out again. That said, this is likely a speed bump that will get fixed soon enough.

When it works, Trials Frontier is seriously fun and addictive. Perhaps I should be thankful for the occasional instability that forces a break in play and makes me resistant to investing actual cash in it. Because this game is really good.

UPDATE (June 5): The game no longer crashes on slot machine spins, and the hourly challenges have become significantly easier. 

 

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (also on Steam for PC). If you've enjoyed Puzzle Quest games in the past, you'll probably love this. For one thing, it's free (though you may find yourself opening your wallet to add more character slots - more on that in a bit!). It's also remarkably deep. You start out with a few heroes, and you collect more by winning tokens redeemable for random comic book covers. You beat enemies by matching gems to power up devastating attacks and sturdy defenses. Part of the challenge is putting together a winning team or two. It can take several weeks to get good and collect enough characters, powers, and levels to become a consistent winner. Until then, you'll grind through the easier levels over and over. There are also player vs player battles, though you're really fighting AI that uses another person's top roster characters. And, once you've leveled up a bit, the single-player tournaments can yield great rewards - though you'll need to grind a lot for a day or so to benefit. And sometimes the rewards you earn this way may lag a few days.

As with other Puzzle Quest games, part of the challenge is adapting when the game's parameters change. For instance, a new enemy may exploit an unforeseen weakness in your otherwise "bulletproof" strategy, such as when Falcon began dropping massive defenses or Hulk smashed my weaker characters before I could unleash their formidable attacks. You also may be restricted from using a favorite character, or find yourself choosing boosted characters - with unfamiliar powers - to succeed in a tourney.

Just be aware that the economy is stacked against you. Slots for adding new characters to your roster are extremely expensive and require coins that are hard to come by unless you pay $2 to $100 in real money for varying quantities. I put in $5 as a "tip" to the developers - which got me about 4 roster slots - but I almost resisted due to my unhappiness with the poor pricing structure. I would have gladly invested $10 except that the major price break for coins happens at $20, quite a bit more than I wanted to pay. So rather than pay $5 twice (with no savings benefit for doing so), I left it at $5. I'm at 20 slots now, and could use a few more - but I've been selling off unwanted covers and only preserving characters that I deem vital. I'm still having fun after several months of nearly daily play, so I'd say it was worth the investment.

 

The Simpsons: Tapped Out

The Simpsons: Tapped Out. When I downloaded Tapped Out, I didn't expect to still be playing nearly a year later. But here I am, still tapping every day on this free-to-play gem. The main reasons are the holiday activities and ongoing storylines, incredibly funny and crafted by the writers of the TV show. Every month or so, there's a new update that introduces a character or quest, such as collecting holiday gift cards or Easter eggs (hatched from swarms of rabbits!) that earn you spins for cool random prizes. There are so many collectibles that it's easy to get hooked on grinding for the in-game currency of dollars and donuts (the latter can be bought though I saved up 200 donuts for Hank Scorpio's Volcano Lair without spending a dime and I've since banked 50 more).

My main complaint is that, for a game where tapping is literally the name of the game, the engine seems to pick up every nearby tap EXCEPT for the thing that I'm aiming for. Once I realized that money and other pickups don't need to be picked up (they just whoosh into your account after a few seconds), I began focusing on the objects that I do need to touch. But it seems like every scrap of money and experience in the vicinity needs to be gone before you can tap something new - like a roving Sideshow Bob, who easily hides in clusters of characters that I'll accidentally select instead of the obvious target.

The other big problem is that the game can become unstable. I missed out on the last two weeks of the holiday grind due to a corrupted cloud save that prohibited me from recovering my progress with my Origin account. EA support was unresponsive, but fortunately the next update fixed my save with minimal losses (except for a few limited-time prizes I might have earned during the downtime). More recently, there was crippling lag that made the game virtually unplayable for a couple of weeks, but a patch repaired it and provided a donut bonus as a make-good.

If we'd invested money in the game (as so many players apparently do), I'd be pretty annoyed - but this is one of the easier games to put down, especially if there's no holiday event active.

 

Candy Crush Saga

Candy Crush Saga. I know that King made a lot of enemies over that whole "candy" trademark snafu, but I'm nearly 300 levels in without ponying up a penny (no "tip" for you, King!) or bothering a single Facebook friend. So I'm not about to give up now. That said, this game is at the bottom of my playlist so I only launch it once or twice a week to see if I can clear a level or two, some of which get pretty hard. I've actually spent months, playing nearly every day, to complete a single level. There are also speed bumps every so often that require you to beat a challenge and then wait a day before attacking the next. This is one of the few games I keep on my phone (with a separate save) to while away a few minutes when I'm stuck waiting in a line somewhere and away from my iPad.

 

Tiny Bang Story

Tiny Bang Story (also on Steam). This game will actually cost you $2-3 on the iTunes/Google/Amazon stores (and $5 on Steam) but it's the most beautiful, endearing puzzle game ever. It's not super difficult but somehow very gratifying to tap (or click) to uncover hidden items and puzzle pieces. Unlike the other mobile games I've reviewed here, this is a more traditional "beat it and move on" title - but sometimes that's just what you need.

 

PC

I've not been one to disparage PC games or predict their downfall. I can see the appeal of the keyboard and mouse for first-person shooters, but I much prefer a controller. I play games to explore and decompress, not to memorize hundreds of keyboard mappings.

The good news is that my wired Xbox 360 controller plugs in nicely to my Windows 8 computer, and a surprising number of games I've picked up on Steam work great with it. And it's opened up a world of gaming for me. Best of all, many of these games are patched regularly, can be family shared (though not on a title-by-title basis), and are relatively future proof - so there's little to no concern about backward compatibility. Depending on the game, saves may be automatically recorded to the cloud, so portability is also becoming less of an issue.

Another interesting thing about Steam is that many games offer free trading cards earned for time spent playing. You can collect these or sell them for Steam credit. Even just selling my duplicate cards, I've earned several dollars - sometimes 10 cents at a time - by auctioning them off in the Steam store. Hey, every penny counts, and these credits can help you justify your next Steam sale purchase.

 

Cook, Serve, Delicious

Cook, Serve, Delicious (also on iOS). I bought this game on impulse during a Humble Indie Bundle flash sale, and it's one of the best PC games I've enjoyed in years. It's basically one of those cooking/restaurant management "sims" similar to Cooking Mama, which I enjoyed briefly on the Nintendo DS. But this one grabbed me and won't let go. I liken it to BioShock: If you read my review, I would try to savor that game by playing for brief spurts and then I'd shut down my console - only to reboot it just minutes later. This became a cycle that continued until I gave up and powered through the story. I'm doing the same thing here, only it only takes a second to reboot and about five minutes to play through another day in my restaurant's life.

You also can use a keyboard or DualShock 4, but I have the iconic Xbox buttons memorized better than the PlayStation buttons - which makes reading and reacting to the on-screen button cues easier. One small error can ruin a "perfect day" and the resulting $250 bonus. The game includes enough distractions to throw you off your game, from online dates who demand difficult dishes executed perfectly (and then text you as you're completing the evening's orders) to robbers who must be identified from a witness description to prevent a costly loss in hard-earned revenue. Building the right menu to succeed requires strategy and sometimes extra practice with complicated dishes to maximize profits and build buzz. You also must complete clean-up chores to avoid a devastating health inspection.

I only wish there were a console version (the iOS version's free demo convinced me that tapping isn't nearly as fun as using a controller). I might just have to try the HDMI output on my laptop so I can play this on a bigger screen.

 

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign. Yes, I reviewed this already in the Portable gaming section above but I also play it daily on Steam. Since I much prefer the mobile version and its tap interface, I play here both because it's an easy way to kill a few minutes at lunch when I've out on a client visit and it's good practice. I can try things outside of my comfort zone without impacting my iPad game. For instance, when I started collecting dozens of recruit tokens without roster slots to store the extra heroes, I spent a bunch here to gauge the impact. I found that I would get some covers that could be used to train my existing heroes, new covers that were common and easily sold, and others that I wanted to keep and needed to juggle roster slots to make space. This gave me an idea of how many to unlock at a time, since up to 99 tokens can be stored indefinitely but unrecruited characters expire after a week.

 

Broken Age

Broken Age. I did not back the Kickstarter for this game, but picked it up when the buzz from early adopters threatened to overwhelm my Twitter feed. I'm glad I did. I'm only halfway done (the second part is due later this year) but was thoroughly blown away by the storytelling and humor. This is basically a point-and-click adventure with some occasionally maddeningly sneaky puzzles that left me scratching my head for days. I resisted the urge to look up the answers and worked first through the girl's story and then the boy's. I'm glad I chose this order because I found the Act I reveal to be a jaw-dropper, and I'm not sure it would have been as impactful had I chosen the alternate path. Either way, if you like adventure games at all, this one is worthy of your time.

 

Gone Home

Gone Home. This is another game that received amazing online buzz. I've heard it disparaged as a "walking simulator," but if you like to explore and unravel mysteries this one is a doozy. I found myself both captivated and on the edge of my seat for the entire three hours or so that it took to beat. I played it in the dark, which added to the mood and my ongoing expectation that a psychopath could and would leap out at any time. The game is more interactive story than first-person shooter but - at least for me - that's even more reason to revel in it.

 

Portal

Portal/Portal 2. You know that we love our Portal games (we named Portal 2 our Busy Gamer Nation Game of the Year in 2012). We actually won the first Portal as part of a Valve prize package at a Child's Play auction years ago, starting our Steam habit early (we thought we'd never play most of those games at the time, but it was for a good cause). I picked up Portal 2 recently during a Steam sale that included The Final Hours of Portal 2 interactive book (also available on mobile). Replaying these fantastic games on the PC is a nice fallback when I get a console game jones but GrrlGotGame has dibs on the living room TV. And with saves between test chambers, it's easy to knock out 1-2 puzzles at a time.

 

Type:Rider

Type:Rider (also on iOS). As a former print journalist and typeface nerd, I found this little puzzle platformer to be charming and, ahem, illuminating. (Type nerds just snickered... the rest of you, play this game to get it!) You guide what's basically a sideways colon (two dots that roll) around picking up letters and bonus items that unlock mini-history lessons. Yes, I stopped to read them all. The levels are themed around the type face, and there are lots of cool touches that make this a joy to explore. I picked up the iOS version as well, but alas it won't play on our son's first-gen iPad without crashing. So I got an extra Steam code for him from one of the Bundle Stars sales (shh, it's a surprise!).

 

Luxor Evolved

Luxor Evolved. If you enjoy Luxor games (basically Zuma with a movable marble shooter that runs along the bottom of the screen, Space Invaders style), this one amps it up with nifty retro graphics reminiscent of Tempest. Best of all, you can save anywhere - even mid-level. There's really not much else to say. It's a solid puzzle shooter. If that's your thing, this is a solid buy.

 

7 Wonders II

7 Wonders series. If you can't get enough match-3 action, the 7 Wonders games are all pretty good. 7 Wonders II has an edgier art style that diverges from the rest of the games, while Ancient Alien Makeover is the only one to offer up Steam achievements. Magical Mystery Tour is the one I've played the most, beating it in about 13 hours. For some reason, The Treasures of Seven won't run at all on my Windows 8 machine (it launches as a background process but no amount of troubleshooting has fixed it - and the game's Steam forum has been a bust on the issue). Here's hoping that it gets fixed before I finish the rest of the series!

Update (June 5): A few days after this went live, The Treasures of Seven was patched to work on Windows 8, and it adds a compelling twist: You can rotate the board. Worth the wait!

 

Console

We're not giving up on consoles any time soon. We have all of the major ones from the past 20 years, including the PS4 and Xbox One. But console games still tend to be the least busy gamer compatible, with poor checkpointing and a seeming aversion to "save anywhere" and other time-saving amenities. It takes a really good game to earn our devotion. Here are a few that we're currently in thrall of:

Infamous: Second Son

Infamous: Second Son (PS4). I've enjoyed but never finished an Infamous game, until Second Son. Perhaps it was because it's set in my home town (though with many notable and sometimes vexing discrepancies), but I could not get enough of this open world. You unlock portions of the city at a time, and clear them out of enemies to gain control. At times the story feels optional - you can run around and just shoot up the town with your growing range of powers. But the story is solid and mostly enjoyable, even with a few difficult boss battles thrown in to slow you down. There are some emotional moments, regardless of whether you play as a hero to the people (as I did) or a scourge upon humanity (as GrrlGotGame prefers).

 

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, PS3, PS4). This is not your father's Wolfenstein. It's dark, brutal, and refreshingly revisionist. Even with the difficulty lowered, it presents a hearty challenge. I'm only a little ways into it, but I don't see myself putting it down until I'm done. If so, this will be the first Wolfenstein game I've fully completed (though I've played deep into several others).

Transistor

Transistor (PS4 and PC). We waited a long time for the spiritual successor to Bastion. And while the game is beautiful, the mix of action and turn-based combat and complex skill tree system takes some getting used to. This is a game to chip away at, not blaze through. It may be impossible to recreate the deep-set emotions evoked by its predecessor, but time will tell. If nothing else, Darren Korb's music will draw us to the end.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

South Park: The Stick of Truth (Xbox 360, PC, and PS3). This is a rare gem: a solid RPG and South Park game with great writing, enjoyable storyline, and a variety of classes to experience. My first impression was that the character's bouncing made me a little dizzy, but I soon acclimated and found the game to be one of my all-time faves. After beating it once, I'm already preparing a second run through. Just keep in mind that the content is very mature, more so than even the foul-mouthed, offend-'em-all TV show. It's more in line with the movie, minus the musical numbers and with much more fart humor. This one's so good I picked up a Steam copy on sale (thanks Humble Indie Bundle!) so I could try to finally best the toilet mini-game, which is much easier to do with a keyboard than a game controller.

 

The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us (PS3, PC, Xbox 360, iOS). This is my favorite Telltale adventure game to date. It's dark yet garish with a compelling story, interesting choices, and bursts of action. Fans of the comic Fables, upon which this is based, are in for some surprises. Each episode is about an hour or so, with chapter breaks. You can't save anywhere but, at least on the Xbox 360 version, you can pause at almost any time by pressing the Start button. My only complaint is that they put the season pass on discount before Episode 2 came out, so day one purchasers like myself felt a bit cheated. If they had waited until Episode 3 or 4, it wouldn't have stung. That said, I can't wait to finish this and play through again, making different choices.

 

BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea

BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea (PC, PS3. Xbox 360). BioShock Infinite was a solid game with some great moments (and really cool music!) but overall it just didn't enrapture as much as the first two games. But the Burial at Sea DLC, especially Part 2 where you play as Elizabeth? That was aces. In total, it's only another 5-10 hours back in Rapture, but it felt just right in length and filled in some interesting backstory.

 

PlayStation Plus

Instant Games Collection (PS3/PS4/Vita). After resisting its pull for some time, we picked up a PlayStation Plus subscription when they were on fire sale right before the next-gen console launch. There really are a lot of games, though truth be told I spend more time downloading them actually playing them. I did play Contrast quite a bit since there wasn't much else of interest at the PS4 launch, and recently nabbed Stick It to the Man!, which looks to be worth a try. My PS3 hard drive is much more packed with Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Devil May Cry, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee HD, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Puppeteer to name a few. I don't have a Vita, but if I ever do get one I'll have more games than I could ever play (as long as I keep PS+ paid up). Actually, that's probably a good enough reason NOT to get a Vita. But if you have one, this is a good way to stock up on stuff to play.

 

Games with Gold

Games with Gold (Xbox 360/Xbox One). Yes, as I've mentioned before, I consult for Xbox marketing - but that doesn't mean I don't like the free games (for Gold members). Recent highlights include Hitman: Absolution, Saints Row the Third, Sleeping Dogs, Deadlight, and one of my all-time favorite sandbox games, Crackdown (review). And Xbox One will start getting free games in June, starting with Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (a solid puzzle game that I bought during the early post-launch game drought). As with the PS+ offerings, the challenge is finding the time to play all of the games I download. But there's less guilt since they're - more or less - free. One important note: On Xbox 360, you keep the games even if your Gold expires but on Xbox One, they'll be tied to your Gold membership the same as with PlayStation Plus.

 

Everyone's tastes are different, so I'm not saying that these gaming paths are perfect for everyone. My point is to not skip any paths or channels that might contain game experiences that you will unexpectedly and inexplicably love. Game on!

The Stranger weekly billboard in Infamous: Second SonMILD SPOILER WARNING: This article contains specific visual details about locations in Infamous: Second Son but does not discuss gameplay or story.

There's a unique thrill to seeing your hometown onscreen, be it in a movie, TV show, or game.

Sucker Punch Productions (based just outside Seattle in nearby Bellevue, Washington) takes that thrill nearly to 11 with Infamous: Second Son, a sloppy wet kiss to the Emerald City.

Of course, as with any work of art that attempts to evoke a real-world location, there are plenty of WTF?! moments for the people who actually live there. One of the games that came closest to faithfully re-creating a specific place was Test Drive Unlimited, and its take on Oahu was still a far cry from the real Hawaiian isle - as we found when we visited a few years back. But it's remarkably close.

Second Son, on the other hand, doesn't seem to aspire to replicating the real Seattle all that closely - most likely to compress locations into tighter quarters to reduce the player's travel time and cut the cost of licensing pricey brands and landmarks. Herein, I have collected some of our favorite Seattle scenes, from popular locations to obscure touches of local color.

But let's start with some of the things that make us Seattleites go "Hmmmm."

 

I-90 Bridge relocated several miles north, becomes the 520

Does this image look familiar?

Mount Baker Tunnel on I-90

Once you manage to get across what's left of the "520 Bridge" in Second Son, you encounter a tunnel that seems identical to the Mount Baker Tunnel (one of the first things we saw upon entering Seattle for the first time when we moved here in the mid-1990s).

There's just one problem: That tunnel is part of I-90, a second floating bridge a few miles to the south of the real-world 520 bridge.

Why not just name it I-90 and be done with it? Someone at Sucker Punch knows, but they aren't telling. Maybe they were too busy coming up with bizarre impossible exits like the Bellevue/Kirkland one that's right before Seattle's "City Center."

520 signage in Second Son

For the record, Bellevue and Kirkland would be BEHIND you when facing downtown. This exit itself is a bit forgivable, as it's at least got you headed in the right direction. Alas, you would find a similar sign a few miles down the road on another highway that 520 dead ends into: I-5 South.

 

Tourist traps we love, but pretend not to

Locals love to deride the downtown attractions. Most of the vitriol is hurled at Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, and several large entertainment venues. If you've seen a picture of the Seattle skyline, you've seen Seattle Center. If you've managed to avoid our city somehow, well, consider this your introduction to our top attractions.

 

The Space Needle

The top of the Space Needle changes periodically, but it was orange during a significant part of Second Son's development period.

The real Space Needle

The tangerine glow paid homage to the Space Needle's original color during the 1962 World's Fair. I'm pretty sure that "Space Needle roof painter" is right up in there in "jobs worse than whatever you do for a living." Unless you're the painter, in which case, rock on.

The Space Needle in Second Son

The Second Son version of Seattle's iconic tower retains the orange hue, which is more visible once you ascend to the top of the Space Needle. Those spiny scales leading up the side were added for the game, however. I do wonder if it looked something like that during its construction in the 1960s, however.

 

The Pacific Science Center

Despite what Second Son might suggest, the Pacific Science Center is not a military zone.

The Pacific Science Center in Second Son

That's nearly the only thing they got wrong in their digitized model, which is a spitting image of a place we spend many days a year. From the always empty but oddly damp shallow pools to the giant dinosaur statues every visitor wants to climb, this beloved children's museum has been lovingly recreated. (Well, there isn't a giant dinosaur model in the back; in its place, you'll find the "Pac Sci" - as we call it - abuts a busy thoroughfare called Denny Way.)

The real PacSci at night

Fun Fact: The Pacific Science Center buildings were originally the United States Science Pavilion, built for the 1962 World's Fair. The Pacific Science Center arches were home to the World of Science. Today, the arches are like giant mood rings, lit to reflect the successes and sorrows of the city.

 

Pike Place Market

To outsiders, Pike Place Market is "where those guys throw the fish." Go deeper into the market, and you'll find an incredible Italian market, fresh-from-the farm fruits and veggies, and what is typically much better (and generally cheaper) seafood.

Pike Place Market

The less trafficked lower levels hide magic stores, bookshops, peek-a-boo walls, and enough reputed ghost activity to keep Spengler and Venkman busy for years.

Seattle Fish Market in Second Son

The "Seattle Fish Market" in Second Son is a smaller, sadder version of our vibrant market. I was disappointed to see Seattle's expansive, vibrant, iconic space reduced to little more than a few fruit barrels (which reminded me of the markets in Dead Island: Riptide).

I guess all those militarized checkpoints in Second Son's Seattle killed the farm-to-table movement?

 

The Monorail

The Seattle monorail, also built for the World's Fair, extends above a mile of 5th Avenue.

The real Seattle Monorail

Its primary purposes are to alternately 1) break down in the summer, and 2) thrill tourists traveling between the Seattle Center and Westlake Center, itself a short walk to Pike Place Market (and an even shorter walk to the open air crack market across the street).

The Monorail in Second Son

The in-game monorail has been converted into a closed loop around the city's central hub, providing a nice thrill ride if you can manage the jump onto the roof of the train.

In real life, your trip is short and limited – but you will see a good chunk of Belltown. Plus the train drivers will usually let you sit up front if possible. (Ask nicely – and locals, let the tourists have first shot!) Try to contain your excitement as you pass Tom Douglas row, and be sure to check for you all your belongings before you exit.

 

Seattle Icons you probably didn't realize were real... but are!

Seattle has a history of bizarre creativity in its local retail and public art. Sadly, our local color is disappearing faster than you can say "Ballard condos." There are still pockets of whimsy (and questionable taste) here and there, though. Here are just a few of the odd details sprinkled throughout the game.

 

Lincoln's Toe Truck statue

Let us take a moment to remember Seattle's fallen hero, Lincoln Towing's Toe Truck statue.

The real Lincoln's Toe Truck

The bane of grammar fans and bad pun haters alike, the statue stood proudly on a popular commuter route. It was big. It was pink. It was tacky as Hell. But it was ours, dammit. And now, it's gone...

...to the Museum of History and Industry, where tacky Seattle icons go when they get booted to make room for progress (or Amazon.com offices.) And now it's immortalized in Second Son.

Lincoln's Toe Truck in Second Son

Lincoln's Toe Truck, we salute you. May you keep on truckin'.

 

Elephant Super Car Wash

There are about a dozen Elephant Super Car Washes in the Seattle/Tacoma corridor. While they are not particularly prominent, they do tend to stick out at night when their iconic neon elephants are lit up. By far the most famous – and infamous – location is at Denny and Aurora Avenue, just on the tip of downtown.

The real Elephant Super Car Wash

Sucker Punch did a nice job of capturing the environment. Business meets sketchy during the day, and a different kind of commerce after dark.

The Elephant Super Car Wash in Second Son

 

The Lenin Statue

This genuine Lenin statue was purchased from the former Soviet Union and imported to Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, the self-described "Center of the Universe" - but nowhere near the downtown location where it's featured in the game. Lenin has been a controversial figure here through the years. Anonymous protesters have painted his hands red numerous times, while outraged locales have demanded that he be removed completely. Recent events in the Ukraine have renewed calls for Lenin to be deported from Fremont.

The real Lenin statue

The statue may leave Seattle one day, but a cheeky version that casts Lenin as a fisherman will live on in Second Son's "Lantern District."

The Lenin statue in Second Son

Lenin is one of the more notable relocations in the game, but it makes sense. Fremont is far away from downtown, which is the heart of the game. His new home is a heavily fictionalized and, perhaps, somewhat sanitized version of Seattle's Chinatown-International District.

Second Son's Lantern District

 

The Post Alley Gum Wall

This is the one thing that no one believes until they see it for themselves. But I'm here to tell you children, it's real – and all those dots you see in the photo are real gobs of gum that people have chewed and then slapped on a public wall.

The Post Alley Gum Wall

That window-shaped area below the red sign? That's a real ticket window for Unexpected Productions. And yes, it's covered in gum. Ishy bugle. That said, I have to give mad props to Sucker Punch for...

The Port Alley Gum Wall in Second Son

...The Port Alley Gum Wall. New name, same disgusting idea. I don't want to touch it in real life, and I have to say, I wasn't in a hurry to press up against it in the game, either. If you were wondering how realistic the graphics are in this game, get up close and personal with the gum wall. You'll be reaching for the Purell within seconds of touching it.

 

Local business shout-outs

Seattleites will recognize homages to regional businesses that have been given a slight twist. It has a new name, but there's no mistaking the vaguely alien-like logo on the side of the Metropolitan Market grocery store in lower Queen Anne. You'll see The Stranger alternative weekly logo everywhere, from the familiar newspaper boxes to the occasional billboard. And just like Seattle, Starbucks is everywhere – disguised with a blue variant on the coffee giant's globally familiar and - no doubt - expensive-to-license seafaring logo.

Not every Seattle business has been fully disguised, though. A handful of local businesses have been sprinkled around the game for ambiance. Here are a few you might not recognize.

 

Dick's Drive-In

Dick's Drive-In is a Seattle institution known for cheap eats, good pay and scholarships for employees. It's also famous for its "You get what you get" mentality. No substitutions. If you don't want it on the burger, remove it yourself. At these prices, poor college students and teens aren't going to argue.

Dick's Drive-In

OK, technically Dick's does not appear in the game - but the Burger Mann chain sure looks familiar. Note the use of orange, the 1950s-style design, and the sign shape.

Burger Mann in Second Son

All that's missing is the "Congratulations Graduates" banner that hangs in front of the store each May, and the hordes of teens and college students surrounding the stores every night.

 

Sonic Boom

Sonic Boom is a hyper-local record store chain that brings to mind High Fidelity.

The real Sonic Boom

You just know the people who work there are judging you for your incredibly bad taste. That said, most people aren't there to buy Miley Cyrus records. This is where the Seattle music cognoscenti go to discover new sounds and buy records you won't find anywhere else, except perhaps on eBay. This is where you'll want to be on April 19 (Record Store Day).

 

Sonic Boom in Second Son

I'm fairly certain there are more Sonic Booms in Second Son than in Seattle, but that's not a bad thing. I like to think that music stores will survive anything, even the militarization of Seattle. Nice job on the neon, too.

 

Gone but not forgotten

That's just a small list of the things any good Seattleite will identify as they dash around the city. We didn't even discuss the mountains, ever-present construction cranes (nice touch, Sucker Punch!), the Pioneer Square Pergola, the vamped-up Crocodile nightclub, and countless other small touches. There are a few things I wish they would have included for selfish reasons, though.

I would love to spend some time bashing on the EMP/SFM, a giant Frank Gehry-designed blob of colors on the Northeast corner of the Seattle Center. To this day, I still think it looks like the Space Needle threw up, particularly when viewing it from above.

The EMP/SFM seen from above

It would have given me great joy to destroy a digital version of this violation against architecture. I also wouldn't mind doing some damage to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum and the tourist-ridden Ride the Ducks amphibious tourbus/boats, too. Basically, the entire northeast corner of the Seattle Center.

Can you say, "Sequel?" Your move, Sucker Punch. Just next time, try to capture a bit more of the Seattle flavor. For us locals.

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Backyard Battles is an indie turn-based strategy game coming soon(ish) from Naked Sky Entertainment, the folks who brought you Roboblitz, Star Trek D·A·C, and more recently Max Axe.

This little passion project was just starting to take shape when we spoke to the company's CTO and co-founder Josh Glazer at PAX Prime 2013. It's now in closed beta, which you may be able to get in if you sign up at blog.backyard-battles.com.

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

It's embarrassing how long it's taken us to work through our PAX Prime coverage from last year, but the interviews have held up well and we hope you'll give them a listen. There's just one more to go: Our preview of Dying Light is coming soon.

After that, we have a few quick reports from Geek Girl Con and then we'll be developing new audio gaming adventures. Likely topics include I Love Bees (from the Halo universe) and South Park: The Stick of Truth if we can figure out how to keep it G-rated!

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Agent P Doofendash is a free-to-play endless runner available now. We spoke with Majesco about this game and their other free-to-play mobile title, Romans from Mars, at PAX Prime 2013.

Get a taste of the gameplay before you take on Dr. Doofenshmirtz as Perry the Platypus and other agents from TV's Phineas and Ferb. 

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

We're (finally!) closing in on the end of our PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews. Here is what's coming up next:

  • Backyard Battles
  • Dying Light

After that, we'll dig into our interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle:

  • Project Spark
  • Monster Kingdom 2

And we're developing even more audio gaming adventures that you won't want to miss. South Park: The Stick of Truth seems a likely target, if we can figure out how to keep the podcast G-rated!

Yellow Light of DeathEveryone's heard of the Red Ring of Death on the Xbox 360 (and we've suffered more than our share), but we learned the hard way recently that the PlayStation 3 has its own nasty LED hardware death symptom: the Yellow Light of Death.

We'd never heard of this particular system failure symptom and were thrilled that our PS3 lasted some 6 1/2 years since we got one back in July 2007.

Now it's only fair to disclose here that we consult for Microsoft. We adore our "Xboxen" but we're absolutely not fan boys (or girls). We have pretty much all of the consoles (dating back to the Nintendo 64) and we do very much love PS3. For years, it's been our cornerstone for movie entertainment. Even now, it's our sole Blu-ray player with 3D capability and an active gaming machine thanks to top-notch Sony exclusives such as Ratchet & Clank and The Last of Us. We even preferred the PS3's Netflix app until the Xbox One came along and took the upper hand with its voice control.

But we still use our PS3 regularly. And I was just checking out the amazing 3D on the movie Gravity when it abruptly died.

 

Preventative care

Before we get deep into the Yellow Light of Death, it's worth noting that our PS3 lasted probably longer than it reasonably should have. And I bet it would have gone another year or more if we'd taken extra precautions. And we'll be more mindful of these things going forward for all of our hardware. Regardless of your console - this gen, last gen, or several generations ago - there are some things you can do to help prolong its life:

  • Keep it cool. Your console should be well ventilated. Heat can melt metal solders that keep things connected to the system motherboard and cause parts to fail. If you must keep it in a cabinet, make sure the doors are open during use and that air can circulate around it. You may want to look into adding a fan - either an attachment, if one is availahle for your console, or a small external one. If it's out of warranty, there may be some third-party cooling solutions you (or more likely a repair shop) can add or replace inside the case - a thermal pad replacement on your PS3, for instance. Also, don't cover the unit with discs, peripherals, or other consoles that may block the vents.
  • Don't blow, suck. One preventative measure we should have taken was to vacuum out our consoles every month or so. It's super easy to grab an air can and just blow the dust around, but that may drive it deeper into your console casing. Keep the dust off the console as much as possible and then use a vacuum to extract any dust that's made it inside.
  • Back it up. If it all possible, archive your most prized game saves and other digital possessions to an external drive, memory card, and/or the cloud.

All systems eventually fail, but this may help you beat the odds for longer and recover more quickly and painlessly when the inevitable finally occurs.

We were less than prepared.

 

Moving on

Apparently years of dust accumulation and so-so ventilation took its toll and our PS3 overheated, destroying one or more solder points on the motherboard.

PS3 MotherboardI did some research and found that this problem is reasonably common and, once it happens, the repair generally only lasts a few months before the console fails again. (Your mileage may vary. But it's a risk.)

On top of that, out-of-warranty repair by Sony costs in the vicinity of $130-150 plus tax and shipping. I could try to do it myself with one of the myriad how-to videos out there, but I'm not all that handy. There are places that would do it cheaper, including Edge Tech in Seattle which can fix the YLOD (as it's called) for about $50 same day. But I was concerned that a repair would buy me only a little extra time, and I needed a hard drive upgrade anyway (the 60GB drive I had filled up years ago, and we were missing out on tons of PlayStation Plus content).

Based on that, I decided the bite the bullet and pick up a PS3 Slim. It'll take at least another a year to fill up the 500GB hard drive. Bonus: The latest bundle includes The Last of Us, which we beat with a Gamefly rental but wanted to play again for the new DLC expansion.

My first thought was that I could simply pull the old hard drive and pop it into the new PS3. It's a good thing I did my research because doing so apparently would have wiped the hard drive! It seemed at first that our best bet would have been a backup, but I didn't have a backup drive connected to our PS3 and it was too late for that anyway. I did see some suggestions to get a cheap USB enclosure for the PS3 hard drive but, as I learned from doing my homework, restoring from a backup or external drive to a new PS3 doesn't always transfer all of the content and some game saves may be locked off from getting any new trophies.

After some deliberation, I realized my best bet was to pay for the repair on the old PS3 so that I could do a proper one-time transfer from it to the PS3 Slim.

 

Before you transfer

As promised, Edge Tech turned around the PS3 repair in record time - less than 2 hours! The unit came back on with no yellow or red flashing lights at startup and, while my first instinct was to do an immediate backup (Amazon sells a 500GB portable USB drive designed specifically with the PS3 in mind), the tech who fixed our console recommended just skipping to the Ethernet transfer. The backup would be incomplete, while the transfer would likely be much faster and copy over absolutely everything (except maybe some SingStar content - but we don't have any of that). He did recommend backing up my saves to the cloud, just in case.

Alas, this - and the rest of the steps required for console data transfer - proved to be far from intuitive. Let me walk you through it.

If you have PlayStation Plus, you may think that you enabled cloud saves simply by turning on nightly backups when you were first prompted. Alas, no saves will actually copy to the cloud unless you manually add them first. Also, it's worth noting that only family members who have their own PlayStation Plus subscriptions can use the cloud save feature - so you'll likely only be able to back up those saves belonging to the primary user of the console.

Still, best to save whatever you can to the cloud - just in case.

First, go to the Game section and select Saved Data Utility – PS3. When you see your saves, select one and press the Triangle button. Use the Copy Multiple option to Select All. It may take a little while to copy, depending on how many saves you have. You can always cherry pick the ones you care about most but I did them all - a couple hundred - and didn't fill up my available space.

In addition, I had played one game - Gran Turismo 6 - on the Slim before getting the old PS3 fixed - so I backed that save up to the cloud from the new console. I should have sync'd trophies as well, but I missed that step and ended up having to re-earn an easy trophy in the game. Also, I made the mistake of redownloading a ton of games to the Slim on the first night that I had it, but the transfer process wipes the destination drive completely and then copies everything - installed games, saves, settings, apps, and videos. So this was wasted effort and Internet bandwidth.

When you kick off the transfer process, it will tell you to shutdown both consoles, direct connect them to each other via an Ethernet cable, and then reboot. DON'T DO THIS YET. You'll need to keep your old console connected to the PlayStation Network while you perform two crucial steps.

1. Deactivate your system. Go to Account Management and then System Activation. One at a time, choose both Game and Video content and select Deactivate for each. This is pretty important since it can be hard - maybe even impossible - to deactivate a dead or wiped console. If you can't resurrect your old console, I'm guessing that Sony support can do it.

2. Sync trophies to server for each profile. Login to each profile, one at a time, and go to Game, Trophy Collection and choose Sync to Server. Note that any accounts that do not have a PSN account associated with them will need one before you can sync. I had to create one for my 11-year-old, which took a number of extra steps using my parent account - but he got to keep his trophy progress. If you use PlayStation Home, you should apparently sign in there too just in case any rewards are pending. (I deleted Home a long time ago to make room for games, so I wasn't concerned.)

3. Make sure both PS3s have the latest system updates.

PS3 Transfer UtilityOK, done with all of those steps? Now you can turn off your PS3s, hook up the Ethernet cable to directly connect them, and turn them both back on.

You will need a method to switch between the two consoles either by using a switch or connecting them to different inputs on your TV or receiver. Be sure you always know which one is which! You might want to label the controllers with pieces of tape or something, just to be safe.

Go to Settings, System Settings, Data Transfer Utility and follow the instructions carefully. My transfer only took about an hour but systems with larger hard drives will take a bit longer.

 

Back in business

When you're done, your old console will NOT be wiped. Check your new console to ensure that everything is there and working. Once you're satisfied, you can erase the contents of the old console from System Settings by choosing Restore PS3 System. I did the full wipe, which took 4 hours, but there is a quick format option if you're in a hurry and aren't paranoid about someone recovering your personal data.

On your new console, be sure to login to PlayStation Network with all accounts (have your passwords ready) and then go to Account Management and then System Activation to reactivate your Game and Video content with your primary account.

Some of the apps that copied over from the old console ran on the new PS3 without issue or even a login prompt: notably CinemaNow and Amazon Instant. Others, like Netflix and Hulu Plus, required a fresh login. Vudu gave me the most trouble; it absolutely refused to work, citing a serial number mismatch, but offered no remedy. I finally uninstalled it and redownloaded it. That did the trick. Whatever you do, don't uninstall CinemaNow if you have it. It does not appear to be available any longer in the PlayStation Store and did not show up among my past downloads for re-download.

I did have to re-enable PlayStation Plus nightly backups but generally, so far, the process has been relatively painless (except to my bank account). I wish that PlayStation Plus offered seamless family cloud saves and the ability to rapidly recover from a failed system, but that's never going to happen - at least for this generation.

Let's hope that our gaming data is safer and more easily backed up and recovered in the new gen.

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Developer Robert Busey explains the origins and evolution of Sword 'N' Board in our interview from PAX Prime 2013.

This charming little puzzle RPG is fully funded on Kickstarter and due later this year on Mac, PC, and Linux followed by ports to iOS, Android, and Wii U.

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Here are the remaining PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews before we complete our coverage. Here is what's coming up next:

  • Backyard Battles
  • Dying Light

After that, we'll dig into our interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle:

  • Project Spark
  • Monster Kingdom 2

And we're developing even more audio gaming adventures that you won't want to miss.

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

This podcast makes me a little sad. 2K Drive looked like a potential hit when we saw it at PAX Prime 2013, but it lacked two key elements that we thought were misses.

Time seems to have borne this out: without free-to-play or controller support, 2K Drive still appears to be a pass with huge potential. Perhaps it could still be salvaged?

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Here are the remaining PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews before we complete our coverage. Here is what's coming up next:

  • Backyard Battles
  • Sword 'N' Board
  • Dying Light

After that, we'll dig into our interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle:

  • Project Spark
  • Monster Kingdom 2

And more audio gaming adventures you won't want to miss. Enjoy, and if you like what we're doing, post a comment and share us with a friend!

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

You probably couldn't find an odder named game than Dragon Fin Soup at PAX Prime 2013.

We were a little concerned about the lack of apparent progress since our interview, including the lack of a beta sign-up form on the official site, but we contacted Grimm Bros and were assured that "we actually are super busy at work and have some nice big updates to share fairly soon!"

In the meantime, you can learn all about the game including how it's being designed, in part, with busy gamers in mind. As well as for the core gamers who just want to be punished. Something for everyone, it seems.

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Here are the remaining PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews before we complete our coverage. Here is what's coming up next:

  • 2K Drive
  • Backyard Battles
  • Sword 'N' Board
  • Dying Light

After that, we'll dig into our interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle:

  • Project Spark
  • Monster Kingdom 2

And more audio gaming adventures you won't want to miss. Enjoy, and if you like what we're doing, post a comment and share us with a friend!

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Our fourth podcast in nearly as many days gets all "hands on" with Contraption Maker, a game from the creators of The Incredible Machine. If you're new to games or too young to remember much of the early '90s, this Rube Goldberg-style puzzle series was once state-of-the-art entertainment.

And now, with the incorporation of the latest technology, this sequel appears to be poised to innovate again with improved physics and a new co-op puzzle creation mode.

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Just a few more PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews and audio reports before we complete our coverage. Here is what's coming up next:

  • Dragon Fin Soup
  • 2K Drive
  • Backyard Battles
  • Sword 'N' Board
  • Dying Light

We also have a few interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle including Project Spark. And more audio gaming adventures you won't want to miss. Enjoy, and if you like what we're doing, post a comment and share us with a friend!

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Want to know what Harmonix' upcoming Disney-themed rhythm game, Fantasia: Music Evolved, is all about? Give this podcast interview recorded at PAX Prime 2013 a listen.

We even include some snippets of the movie/game music to give your ears a taste of what's to come. And, yes, there really is Queen remixed as chamber music.

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Just a few more PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews and audio reports before we complete our coverage. Here is what's coming soon:

  • Contraption Maker
  • Dragon Fin Soup
  • 2K Drive
  • Backyard Battles
  • Sword 'N' Board
  • Dying Light

And, after we finish with PAX, we have some interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle including Project Spark. And more audio gaming adventures you won't want to miss. Enjoy, and if you like what we're doing, post a comment and share us with a friend!

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Infamous: Second Son is probably the most anticipated PlayStation 4 title, due to release on March 21. Here's your chance to listen in on what took place in the closed off demo booth at PAX Prime 2013.

Meet the new main character, Delsin, and listen as he wields his destructive powers at one of our favorite Seattle landmarks, the iconic Pacific Science Center located at the base of the Space Needle.

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

We have just a few more PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews and audio reports before we (finally!) complete our coverage (it's no fun being Busy Gamers!). Here is what's coming soon:

  • Fantasia: Music Evolved
  • Contraption Maker
  • Dragon Fin Soup
  • 2K Drive
  • Backyard Battles
  • Sword 'N' Board
  • Dying Light

And, after we finish with PAX, we have some interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle including Project Spark. And more audio gaming adventures you won't want to miss. Enjoy, and if you like what we're doing, post a comment and share us with a friend!

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

Romans From Mars is a free-to-play endless wave shooter that impressed during a PAX Prime preview - and now it's available for iOS, Droid, and Windows Phone.

During the interview we discuss "white knuckling" free-to-play games without making a purchase vs providing a developer "tip" for a game you really enjoy. You'll also hear Pikachu Fan freak when he's suddenly dropped into the frantic action of Level 117.

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

We have just a few more PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews and audio reports on the way, including:

  • Infamous: Second Son
  • Fantasia: Music Evolved
  • Contraption Maker
  • Dragon Fin Soup
  • 2K Drive
  • Backyard Battles
  • Sword 'N' Board
  • Dying Light

And, after we finish with PAX, we have some interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle including Project Spark! And more audio gaming adventures you won't want to miss.

Child's Play Charity Auction 2013 You would think that a 10th anniversary would be cause to blow out an event that up until now has been as amazing as the Child's Play Charity auction dinner. We've attended every single one since the start (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012 - we didn't write up 2011), and this was our least favorite by far.

Now it would be hard to top last year for us, which included that impromptu Valve tour (photo gallery) thanks to an overachieving Valve employee who saw our prototype inflatable Wheatley win and offered to take us through the offices. We even met Jeri Ellsworth, now the mastermind behind the CastAR augmented reality glasses, who generously gave us her lemon grenade for our Portal-obsessed son. An official Valve tour this year went for $3,500 in the live auction!

But all that aside - we really didn't expect lightning of that sort to strike twice - this year's event was a bit of a snooze and seemed to vastly underperform in its intended task of raising mad money for Children's Hospitals around the world and - starting this year - domestic violence shelters as well.

Inflatable Companion Cube prototypeThe silent auction appeared to have retracted a little, though there were still lots of goodies to be had. There wasn't much that we were specifically interested in but we did manage to snag another Portal-themed inflatable prototype, the Companion Cube.

The main auction was the bigger disappointment. First, there was the change in hosts. Founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins didn't even make an appearance on stage to introduce the event, and their auctioneering skills were greatly missed. Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub were trying so hard up there, but just couldn't fill their shoes (or, on occasion, even remember the active bid amount).

The bigger tactical error was the lack of wine on the tables. Alcohol helps fuel the crazy bidding wars - if you can't get wine donated, it would be well worth the expense to boost the event's drama and resulting take. Long lines at the bar meant you had to choose between the auction or booze, and most seemed to stick to more sobering refreshments: water and coffee.

We also still believe that smaller token items that everyone can afford - like the music sampler offered for a $10 donation several years back - would also boost the numbers and provide everyone with a chance to contribute, even if the bigger items they wanted were bid outside of their budget. In the these days of digital game fulfillment, companies could donate codes for a minimum bid that equals or exceeds the cost of the title itself, particularly for prereleases. We'd have paid $20-30 for an advance code for Peggle 2, which launches next week on Xbox One and we've noticed is already getting passed around for free to personal friends and colleagues of PopCap employees. Missed opportunity.

Here are the highlights from the main auction:

  • Booker and Elizabeth statueOne of the nicer auction lots went for a song, at least by Child's Play standards. The life-sized Booker and Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite was won by PopCap Games for $5,800. In past years, we'd have seen such a prize go for $10,000 or higher.
  • A gold and diamond Pokeball pendant brought in $1,250.
  • Mike Krahulik's personal sketchbook landed $6,400. (Though, as we've learned, it was bought by his partner Jerry - so this was apparently just a bit of theater with the journal never actually in play.)
  • An personalized voicemail message by Nathan Fillion (aka Mal from Firefly) went for $6,000 to the top two bidders, becoming the biggest single fundraiser of the night with $12,000 total.
  • A Bungie studio tour that includes early access to the Destiny beta and other goodies landed $5,000.
  • How much would you pay for a complete set of Pinny Arcade pins? The winner took them for $6,000.
  • Being a character in a Patrick Rothfuss fantasy novel cost someone $8,000.
  • An employee-only white Xbox One that came with several bonuses including a character in the next Halo game based on the winner enticed a $7,900 winning bid.
  • The rare moment of drama played out when Mike Krahulik, sitting far back in the audience, bid $3,000 on the appearance in his own Penny Arcade strip - but it eventually closed out at $7,000 and brought an early end to the event. We were done before 9 p.m.

We didn't get a total at the end of the evening (they usually provide this!) but overall, going into the live auction, we learned that Child's Play has raised more than $20 million over the past decade and $2.5 million already this year, fueled largely by outside efforts including Humble Indie Bundles and Desert Bus. Here's hoping the next decade can maintain this momentum and continue to make a difference to children all over the world.

It's not too late to donate - check out the big map and see what your favorite Children's Hospital needs.

http://www.busygamernation.com/podcast/

If you enjoy strategy, XCOM: Enemy Within wowed PAX Prime 2013 boothgoers with some new twists on a popular turn-based formula. This expansion pack is out now for PC and Mac and available for PS3 and Xbox 360 in the XCOM: Enemy Within Commander Edition.

You can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

We have just a few more PAX Prime 2013 podcast interviews and audio reports on the way, including:

  • Romans From Mars
  • Fantasia: Music Evolved
  • 2K Drive
  • Infamous: Second Son
  • Contraption Maker
  • Dragon Fin Soup
  • Sword 'N' Board
  • Backyard Battles
  • Dying Light

And, after we finish with PAX, we have some interviews from Geek Girl Con in Seattle including Project Spark!

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