Games of 2013: Battlefield 4

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Battlefield 4

This isn’t really a post about Battlefield 4. It is without question a rather nice shoot-shoot-bang-bang game, one that rewards a little more patience and execution than recent Call Of Duty sequels. It looks lovely on the Playstation 4, and it has the sort of grindy level progression that tends to get me to sink lots of time into games.

It’s lovely, really. And even if I’m pretty bad at it (my K/D rating is almost always rock bottom), I like the feeling of sort of contributing by hiding very close to a flag until it flips to my team’s color.

The real reason the post is part of this year’s series – ironically, on the day of Doom’s 20th anniversary, the truest start of the FPS era – is realizing that I am finding it very hard to get excited about shoot-shoot-bang-bang games in 2013.

I’ve lost track of how many bullets I’ve shot (not that I was ever keeping count). I’ve lost track of how many dudes I’ve killed, or how many times I’ve had to respawn. There was a time and place in my life where a frantic FPS game would be my jam, where I would happily throw down against friends.

But starting at some point last year, when I see first person, I’m expecting something a bit more cerebral. I crave exploration, for discovery, for (if there needs to be gunplay) variety. Straight military exercises have been done so much over the last 20 years, and it’s a new generation of first-person titles (many of which will show up later in the series) that are redefining what a game with WASD controls can and should do.

So nothing against you, Battlefield 4. You’re quite good at what you do. It’s just that I don’t need a bunch of games like you any more to be happy.

Battlefield 4 is available on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC. I played the PS4 version.

Games of 2013: Pokemon X/Y

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Pokemon X and Y

The night of the Pokemon X/Y release, I made the mistake of heading up near Nintendo World in Rockefeller Plaza, because the friends we had in town wanted to see what the line was like.

Here’s what it was like: west on 49th Street towards 6th Avenue. Up 6th Avenue to 50th St. All the way across 50th Street east to 5th Avenue. Down 5th Avenue to 49th Street. West on 49th Street back to the front of the Nintendo World store, then across the street and back to the East.

It encircled an entire block, filled with cosplayers and kids with various Pokemon merchandise. DS and 3DS handhelds everywhere. There was some sort of concert in the plaza by the Today Show studio, although it was impossible to see what exactly was going on there.

It was a brief and fascinating reminder about what a weird spectacle gaming can still be. Whether it’s console launches (even if we had two this year), or big conventions ala PAX or The International or Comic-Con, at some point over the last couple years, geek culture became completely mainstream.

Pokemon X/Y, like most Pokemon titles over the last 15 years, hasn’t changed much. (For games that focus on evolution, they tend to remain pretty stagnant.) But it is the first game since the original launch of the series to feature a truly new graphical engine; it is the first to present a world that’s kind-of sort-of 3D (even if the 3DS’s 3D feature is barely used); and it’s the first to take a very explicit step to reduce the RPG grind by providing experience sharing for all members of your party.

As the JRPG market dies out, it becomes increasingly hard *not* to recommend Pokemon to those people looking for an old-school RPG experience. There’s not much else out there that’s trying to do what it does. Perhaps that’s why the lines are still forming on launch day, I suppose.

Pokemon X/Y are available for the 3DS.

Games of 2013: Forza Motorsport 5

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Forza Motorsport 5

Because of the breadth of games that I like to play, I am understandably tolerant for different models for purchase. Whether the game is $60 or $1, whether there’s downloadable content or in-app purchases or subscription fees, I try to be mindful of why such systems might have been implemented and not immediately rage out that there’s an occasional prompt to buy something with real world money.

But even I have limits. Tonight’s game, Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 5, is easily the most egregious monetization scheme I’ve seen on a console platform to date, to the point where I have to include in this list solely as a warning to others.

I defer to Eurogamer’s explanation in their review, emphasis mine:

> All that’s left is the grind, and it’s not a particularly pleasant one. Unlike previous outings, cars don’t unlock upon leveling up. Everything must be bought in Forza Motorsport 5, and all transactions take place in a slightly misshapen economy. **A series will, on average, net the player in excess of 110,000 credits for just under an hour’s effort – but with some of the premium racecars costing well over a million, it’s a somewhat brutal grind.** Good job, then, that there are tokens purchasable on the Xbox One’s marketplace for you to attain the car you’re after, or to temporarily boost the rate at which you gain XP. When you’ve already paid £429.99 for a new console, £44.99 for the game and maybe even £349.99 for the only steering wheel that the game supports at launch, such tricks appear a little unsavory, and in Forza 5, mechanics greedily smuggled from free-to-play games trample over the elegant RPG elements the series once embraced so effectively.

To be clear, it’s not about the grind. I have derived much enjoyment out of games that rely on some level of grinding. But there has to be a limit to that grind, a clear indication of progress or benefit as you go. Grinding for hours in an RPG gets you loot and/or money and/or experience. Grinding for hours in Team Fortress 2 or DotA 2 gives you item drops. Grinding for hours in Forza 5 gets you a handful of credits that might be enough to buy the car you’re eyeballing.

Now repeat this 200 times.

Couple this with a lengthy schedule of planned DLC, that costs real money but somehow doesn’t unlock the assets into your garage for you. You are paying money for the “right” to grind the economy to unlock the cars.

Now add into this that Forza 5 costs $60. It is not a free-to-play title; it’s full retail.

Again, I don’t mind creative monetization schemes. But I do mind terrible ones. And Forza 5’s is pretty damn terrible.

Forza Motorsport 5 is available for the Xbox One.

Games of 2013: Dead Man’s Draw

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Dead Man's Draw

If there’s anything I’ve found lacking on iOS over the years, it’s been the total wasteland that is card games. I’m not talking trading card games or solitaire or Texas Hold’Em; I’m looking for classic-style card games. Spades, Hearts, Cribbage…everything that tries to provide a sort of classic card game experience tends to look and play poorly.

So imagine my surprise when Stardock – who had never done an iOS game before – dropped [Dead Man’s Draw]( on the world. It’s a new game, but with easy-to-learn mechanics, some deep strategy and risk/reward play, and a very easy to deal with interface. Reminds me a bit, in terms of polish, of Lost Cities, which I gave a small shout out to last year during this series.

Also: it’s full of pirates. I’ve been told people dig that.

But hey, iOS programmers: you want to strike it rich? Card games are a wide open category on the store. It’s largely casinos and solitaire. Design a great card game experience, and you’ll be almost alone in the marketplace. Please. I’m nearly begging you here.

[Dead Man’s Draw]( is available on iOS.

Games of 2013: FIFA 14

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.


It’s sort of an annual tradition at this point that I’m posting something about FIFA during this series of posts. It’s hard to not – FIFA is, for better or worse, the only series that marries my two major hobbies into some sort of weird parallel world.

It’s where I spent something like 250 games (admittedly in FIFA 13) constantly battling against DCist soccer editor Pablo Maurer, finding every interesting permutation and rivalry we could manage to fight through season after season of online friendlies.

It’s where I found myself at the FIFA 14 launch party, focusing on the game instead of numerous hired dancers in MLS jerseys that were strangely dancing with towels. It’s the moment where Tim Cahill (yes, [that Tim Cahill]( came over and gave the group of local RBNY reports some handshakes and remarked how he was worried about his marquee match against Drake (yes, that Drake) because he had been practicing on the PS3 and the event only had Xboxes. Just ponder that for a second: one of the most famous footballers from Australia is worried about being able to adapt to a different controller. (P.S.: [Cahill won](

It’s where I finally found my way into Believe FC, the NeoGAF virtual club, where fine European gents nicknamed Cola and Quiche and Bacon (not sure why they’re all food) battle tirelessly for cups and promotion. It’s so riotously fun, that even when a 5-2 lead turns into a 7-6 loss and the entire group practically ragequits, everyone’s still back at it the next day having another go.

EA Sports FIFA is a gaming institution. And while 14 suffers from spanning a console generation (last-gen feels about the same as 13, next-gen is rough around the edges), it’s still required playing for anyone who likes sports and video games.

FIFA 14 is available on the PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Games of 2013: Battrix Floating Continent

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Battrix Floating Continent

The genre of the RPG is in an odd state these days. As someone who grew up with 60+ hour slogs through SNES era Final Fantasy games, I know these games are becoming less and less frequent. With mobile platforms on the ascendancy, casual RPGs are becoming more frequent, but many get bogged down with freemium mechanics. So that balance – an RPG with some length and depth, that fits into current platforms without indulging in the more anti-consumer practices – is a tough one to strike.

The closest I’ve found (and it’s by no means perfect) is **Battrix Floating Continent**. Done by Opus Studio, who brought the world another great RPG twist with *Half Minute Hero*, Battrix starts with you having just a single square on an expansive world map. To claim a new tile of the map, you fight off monsters in a tap-focused battle system. Towns get discovered, mechanics get mixed up, weapons level up and get upgraded, and eventually the map starts to pull itself together. It’s like any other RPG, just…mobile, I suppose.

It became my perfect subway commute game for a good chunk of the year, and anything I can sink an hour into every morning for a solid month is worth mentioning in this series. RPG fans might want to poke at this one a bit.

*Battrix Floating Continent is [available for iOS]( for free.*

Games of 2013: The Typing Of The Dead Overkill

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

The Typing Of The Dead: Overkill

When I was in the 4th grade, I was subjected to my first school class that included typing lessons. This was the golden age of software that taught people how to type, when Mavis Beacon was queen. Our instructor, who’s name I’ve long since forgotten, put us all in front of whatever piece of software it was and told us to get to work, promising a week of free school lunch if anyone could break 72 words per minute.

It may have been the first time in my life I ever smirked when I called him over and showed him an 85 WPM on the drill. And boy, did those free lunches taste *good*.

That was 20 years ago; I still type at a ridiculous speed, but that era of typing tools long since dried up.

But this year saw the remarkable release of Sega’s The Typing Of The Dead: Overkill. The sequel to the original Typing Of The Dead – a game that married a light gun zombie game with a typing tutor – was literally a surprise release: no one knew it was in development, let alone that it was coming out. (As it turned out, it had survived an apocalypse of its own.)

This time, the foul-mouthed grindhouse-tinged HOTD reboot from a few years back is shoehorned onto fast typing action. Type a phrase (“SICK AND TIRED”), take down a zombie. That grindhouse style – where F-bombs and poor innuendos are dropped nearly every sentence during cut scenes – is not for everyone, and it does wear thin. Kill Screen declared it to be “either a surrealist masterpiece or absolute garbage“.

But to have a modern game where my somewhat absurd typing ability directly converts into gaming expertise? I’ll take it.

The Typing Of The Dead: Overkill is available for the PC.

Games of 2013: QuizUp

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.


[Last year’s series]( started in a car with coworkers; this year’s shall as well. These series always tend to start with a game that does one thing fairly well; this year’s shall as well.

We were piled in a rental car today, making the lengthy journey from New York City to Ithaca for a work trip. The miles started to drag across Route 17 as the afternoon wore on.

One member of my team, wondered aloud: “Man, I wish we had a multiplayer game or something.”

I didn’t need to pause to think of a good option – I spat out [QuizUp]( almost immediately.

It is a weird sort of situation that while mobile platforms are becoming increasingly known for *social gaming*, it’s become less about direct gameplay with a small group of others, and more about nebulous MMO-like elements in whatever the latest Farmville clone is.

QuizUp is a very cleanly designed two-player quiz game. Seven questions, all multiple choice, with response time determining the points awarded. Get more points, win the match. It has a very well-maintained layer of polish (the animations), clever little addictive nudges (a per-category experience system), and generally works very well, even over a cellular connection.

The only place QuizUp needs improvement is in integrating existing friends back into the game’s friends system, where it occasionally struggles to understand that I shouldn’t have to invite someone I’m already GameCenter friends with to play.

Small concern aside, it’s the best the trivia game I’ve played in a while, and perfect for long rides in the back of the car. Check it out.

[QuizUp]( is available for free on the [App Store]( An Android version is planned.

Open Wide For Some Sideblogging

Many months ago, some friend of mine in DC – Pablo, Seth, and Thomas – decided to start recording a DC United podcast. Named after a famous Simpsons bit, Open Wide For Some Soccer was born.

DC United’s season went to absolute shit, setting records for futility. Being the type who is always there to pile on with numbers, a segment developed entitled “Sad Stats”, where DC’s record was put in context with sad music playing in the background. I loved this segment so much that I started compiling Sad Stats, and making multiple appearances as the “official Sadistician”.

With the offseason starting, there was a general decision that maybe the OWFSS needed to dominate more media, so now there is a Tumblr.

We do Power Rankings for the league’s narratives.

We made fun of a Forbes article – and every team in the league.

We made fun of the league’s awards.

We give out an award for weekly excellence, named after an obscure Chinese player.

And so on. So if you’re looking for more wit from me, head on over there.

Moments With Mike

It’s a brisk day in March 2011, and I’m in Harrison. And I am terrified.

It was my first ever team event for the Red Bulls – and not merely a team event, but Media Day. I didn’t know what Media Day was when I accepted the invite from my friends at Gothamist, but I had figured it out early that morning and it sent me into colon lock. I thought it was a press conference; instead, it was a free for all where you walk up to whoever and ask whatever.

There’s Thierry Henry, world football legend. There’s Rafa Marquez, who at the time wasn’t a complete villain. There’s Juan Agudelo, just back from scoring with the national team. Here’s me, barely six months into following the team, trying to look like a sports journalist. I was a disaster.

I head toward the coaches – and after weighing my options, I went to Mike Petke. Petke, the local boy. Petke, who had just retired from the club he loved. Petke, who had been given the (seemingly honorary) title of “Individual Development Coach” in the front office like so many retired MLS players do.

I threw him a softball question – the only kind I had, having never interviewed anyone before – about the Parks Department donation announcement. (I thought this was the main focus of the event; it certainly wasn’t.) As I flubbed my way through my first ever team interview, Mike didn’t look at me funny, didn’t put me down – just answered the questions kindly.

Quickly running out of material, I recall the two videos about him trying to adjust to front office life, and asked if we should expect him to show up in any other team videos. This time, he laughed – and gave me an answer that was more prescient than either of us knew at the time:

“Hey, you never know where I’ll pop up.”

It’s a warm wet day in June 2011, and I’m in Portland.

It’s the weekend of the first RBNY-Portland match. I’ve written about this trip before, but there’s one story I left off.

At one point, feeling rather emboldened by being in the team hotel as a fan (I hasn’t yet fully crossed to media), I figure – maybe I can take advantage of this a little bit more than just random collisions. I try to think of who on the team is on Twitter – and there aren’t many at that point.

But there was, of course, Mike, now an Assistant Coach with the team. So I tweet at Petke, offering to buy him a drink in the hotel bar. But I never hear back, and it didn’t really cross my mind again. We did see him after the game, and he gave Katie a big hug and me a handshake.

Two weeks later, I’m digging around on Twitter, and click over to Petke’s timeline. And then I realize why I never heard back from him: because he mangled the tweet and the mention never hit my timeline:

Petke joked this year that he didn’t know how to get his phone to stop beeping when he got mentioned on Twitter. Social media isn’t his thing.


It’s a rainy evening in March 2013, and I’m in Portland. It’s the weekend of First Kick, and New York is again away at Portland.

Not two months earlier, Petke was named head coach – a surprise, given that the typical set of also-ran European names had been thrown around. And on the eve of his first match running the franchise, I am again in the team hotel, waiting for Mike with Matt Doyle and Jeff Carlisle. He’s running a little late.

Finally, he steps out of the elevator – and as he’s getting introduced to us, he gives me what seems like a smile of recognition. It throws me a little. “Why would he remember me?” I wonder.

This time, the questions come a little more naturally to me, having been doing these sorts of interviews for a year and having a much better knowledge of the team. I ask about continued crazy matches between RBNY and Portland. I try to catch him with a question about Tyler Ruthven, who had seemingly won back his contract after being terminated at the end of 2012, but then was suddenly on the outside looking in.

Mike just smiled. He nearly always smiles when taking media questions, whether he likes the question or he doesn’t. He handled them well enough (especially the Ruthven question), but I could tell he was a little nervous going into his first match. A little wound up.

I head back up to our room to find Katie so we can have dinner, but she’s not there. I switch my phone back on, and there’s a text from her, from just before Petke appeared, to the effect of:

“Just ran into Petke. He’s on his way up to see you now.”

Of course, of course, Katie would find him before I would.

It’s a lukewarm morning in October 2013, and I’m in Harrison.

It’s this past Saturday, the final weekend of the regular season. The Red Bulls have one game left on Sunday against Chicago – win, and they bring home their first championship in their 18 year history. Lose or draw, and unless other results went their way, it would be the same old story for the club.

It’s the final regular season practice, at Red Bull Arena, and I’m the only member of the media in attendance. (Full media availability was the day before, so there’s less appeal for media attendance.) But I’m not there primarily for interviews – I’m mostly there to get a sense for how the team felt rolling into their last game of the season, the one that might deliver them a trophy.

They were relaxed. They were joking and having fun. They were working, but it was a different air than I had ever seen the team in.

I ask for Mike for an interview, and then there I am, again alone, putting my microphone in his face. Mike had refused to talk for weeks about the chance of winning a trophy until they got into the playoffs – and even after locking a playoff spot, he was nervous to talk about it. So I tried for a different angle:

“When you look back over your career, in terms of anticipation, where does tomorrow night rank for you?”

He laughs. He gives Brian Tsao, the team communications director, a look that pretty clearly reads “Can you believe this guy?”

I try, poorly, to clarify: “Not asking about jinxing it, just – how much are you anticipating it?”

“Listen,” Mike says. “I anticipate – I’ve anticipated – I anticipated every game. I get wound up for every game. That’s exactly how I’ll answer that. This is 90 minutes, three points, that’s what we need.”

I don’t push further. He’s said more than enough.

It’s a cool evening in October 2013, and I’m in Harrison.

If you read my coverage, you know how this ends. The Red Bulls give up a goal to a former player, sending a wave of familiar dread through the stadium. Then Thierry Henry scores a golazo. Ibrahim Sekagya scores a goal-line scramble. Lloyd Sam scores a beauty. Eric Alexander goes one-on-one and wins.. Jonny Steele scores with ease. Five unanswered goals from five different players. The margin is so big, Chicago scores a consolation goal and the crowd barely notices.

The final whistle blows. The stadium doesn’t so much roar as it lets out an excited sigh of relief, that the team has finally ripped off the label of Never Won Anything. A few seats down from me, Dan Ryazansky – who runs, which has meticulously chronicled 18 years of club futility – is beside himself, half in tears, half smiling. The Supporters Shield, snuck into Red Bull Arena secretly by a group of supporters just in case, appears near the South Ward, and it is hoisted again and again. Petke dedicates the win to the crowd, apologizes to his wife, and promises his kids the best off-season ever if they can give him just five more games – he’s already focused on the playoffs.

This moment obviously wasn’t mine alone. I shared it with everyone else in the stadium that night. But it was certainly the moment, so far.

I’m not a “96er”, like Mark or Miguel. I was there in 1996, missing the Curse of Caricola by a single game, but then I wouldn’t return for 14 years. I spent a year and a half as a fan, and then the last two years as a member of the media that was (perhaps not so secretly) hoping this team would finally win. And now they have, under Mike’s wound-up heart-on-his-sleeve leadership.

When I considered my trajectory with the team – from casual fan, to season ticket holder, to media noob, to occasionally being the only beat reporter at practice – I realized this week that Mike has pretty much been there for each and every step I took. More than any player, he’s the one that’s most represents the connection I have to the club. And that’s even after I missed most of his playing days.

It’s great to see the Red Bulls finally put something in the trophy case. But to have Mike be the one that lead them to it means so much more: to the club, to the players, to the supporters, and yes, to me.

So congrats, Mike. To be honest with you? You’ve earned this.

Struggling with the dark and responding to the light.