For the love of The Last of Us

And all other video games

One thing that has filled my heart with joy recently has been a lot of people enjoying the drama series The Last of Us. For full disclosure: I’ve never played the game, nor seen the TV show, but I live vicariously through tweets such as this one from Dan Walker, who doesn’t strike me as a gamer.

Video games, for me, is the only piece of media I regularly consume. I don’t read. I rarely watch movies (I watched Terminator 2 for the first time last Sunday – it was great). My TV viewing is comfort viewing of Red Dwarf & Phoenix Nights, along with sport and game/antique/cooking shows. That’s really it.

Video games and me

Video games however are my comfort art form, and I always feel like it gets a bad rap. They provoke emotions in me like no other art form. Be it the pangs of nostalgia from playing Tehkan’s Bomb Jack which takes me back to playing it in Rhos-on-Sea seafront arcade with my grandparents, to the endorphin rush of solving another three fates in Return of the Obra Dinn. It has been my comfort blanket for such a long time. Even during lockdown – when we couldn’t go anywhere – me and pals regularly met up in Sea of Thieves to consume (real and fictional) grog. It beat a Zoom call.

That’s just the games that don’t necessarily have the strongest narrative but evoke happy memories. Stories in games have really gotten better and better. The twisting narrative in The Detective for the Commodore 64, through to the RPGs of the Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger games, all the way to modern day classics like Mass Effect, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Stories can be told, with wonderful deep characters and meaning. I enjoy the interactivity, but I understand many don’t. Which is why you’re catered with the compelling stories in walking simulators, such as Firewatch and To the Moon.

I always take it a bit personally whenever it isn’t given the due I feel is deserves. At the time of writing I’ve 3 games on the go. A short blast in RC Pro-Am on the Nintendo, and two story driven games (Metal Gear Solid & Red Dead Redemption). If I said I had three books on the go, nobody would bat an eyelid. Or spending a weekend watching three shows? That’s fine. But I do feel at times occasionally I have to justify spending a weekend resting playing video games. Maybe it’s in my head a bit. It’s for kids, it’s violent and rots your brain, etc etc. Things like that. I’m reminded however of an OkCupid question of “how would you feel if your partner spent the weekend playing video games?”. I feel like no other art form would ask that question.

The main culprit I find is in mainstream media. Not in terms of attacks but, it doesn’t really penetrate into the public consciousness like other things. Take for example quiz shows. When was the last time you had a video game question of reasonable difficulty on The Chase or Pointless? However when was the last time you had a question on TV. Or a film. Or books. There’s probably a reason financially, but another reason could be the folks who are in the positions of power don’t really understand it, and haven’t grown up with it.

Video games in other media

Which is why I welcome TV shows like The Last of Us, as hopefully exposes more people to the art form. Like Marvel, that began it’s success with comic book fans watching their movies, I suspect HBO have made the decision to commission the compelling story because it would get fans of the show to watch first, causing a groundswell, and then get people into the story (the story – if it follows the games – is apparently excellent. You should listen to the Playthrough Podcast that deep dived into both games, and only really criticising the actual game).

With the success of The Last of Us, I hope some of the people who may not have been exposed to video games much, play the games, or indeed other games. I hope other franchises get converted into video games as there are so many stories to tell to new audiences. People missing out on the gripping finale of the reaper invasion in Mass Effect because “they don’t play video games”, I don’t know, just makes me a bit sad.

I’m sad as it’s people who willingly shut themselves off from an art because they don’t understand it or dismiss it for kids. Like people who don’t listen to Rammstein because they don’t speak German. I’m probably a massive hypocrite in this regard as I do the same with books, TV and movies.

But I don’t care. I’ll just get back to John Marsdon galloping around Blackwater in Red Dead Redemption. I’m getting to the the good bit.

New Year, New Goals (2023 Edition)

On why you’ll see more/less of me this year

I’m not one for goal setting, in all honestly. I struggle with maintaining the effort over the course of the year to keep myself on track and often the beauty of being a freelance is to switch focuses incredibly quickly if opportunities arise.

Nevertheless, with everything going on I feel like this year with a recession on the horizon could be one of the tougher years for me, with less money for investment into their sites.

I also feel personally if I could make this year work, then this year could be the year. I’ve said since the business turned 4 years old in August this year I’m beginning to look further than web sites for clients and looking to share my over 15 years of commercial web development. I’ve begun looking at what’s next.

I struggle personally to look at the big picture, opportunities that exist outside of my main focus. So I’ve made a few goals that I’d like to achieve in the next year. Some of those personal, some of those professional. Here are where my focuses are 2023.

Professional Goals

Improving my Personal Branding

My personal branding is a mess. Everything is not the same. In the classic case of the busiest shoemakers have the worst shoes, if you looked at my sites that I use to advertise my wares then you’d think I’m terrible.

I have this blog which is everything, Dwi’n Rhys which is my WordPress freelance site, Winwar Media which is the name of the company, and half a dozen other sites. And don’t get me started on my bloody Twitch Channel branding. Twitch handle one name, Twitter another. It’s all a bit of a mess.

I’m not sure exactly how to bring it all together, but I will aim to. Also the sites need redoing. They’re old. So that’s an idea.

I guess my goal for 2023 is to be in a better position personal branding wise than I am now. At the very least get at least one of my sites that use jQuery Migrate (Winwar Media & WP Email Capture) bloody off of it.

Side Projects to Cover the Mortgage

I’ve a bunch of side projects that have been coming out the wazoo. Domains bought, affiliate links not transferred, Twitter accounts began with gusto but died quickly.

I’d like to pick them up and make them bigger. A few people I know have been rather successful with them, and I’d like to improve them.

Side projects are hard. Like, really hard, and do require focus. Sure you can do 5-9pm but there is life as well and I went freelance to eventually craft out working for myself and give myself more time, but ideally – especially with the way the world is going in 2023 I’d like to grow them.

The goal for my side projects is for it to pay for my mortgage by the end of the year. Christ that is such a lofty goal, but we’ll see how we get on.

Which is related to the following…

Work Less

In Blackpool, on September 30th, I had a realisation.

I was just about to close my laptop from a week in work. I’d made the trip up to the seaside resort from one of my favourite weekends of the year – Play Expo in Blackpool. My calendar was opened, and I noticed something.

I had not done as much as I intended.

Sure, I’ve been busy, incredibly busy, but I had manage to cope. Clients were happy, I was happy, and things were getting done. But, inadvertently, I had only worked four days every week for a month.

It wasn’t planned, of course, but every Friday I was busy. I was either in Cardiff for Clash at the Castle, or London for OMG Center’s launch, or at Play Expo in Blackpool. I was busy doing things, enjoying things, or pushing my business forward.

COVID had been an interesting time, in that I had to hunker down a bit and not do much.

So this got me thinking – how can I do it more?

I’d looked on with a bit of admiration with what my good friend Shane has managed to carve out since going freelance in terms of his work schedule. He had one tip – book your time out for other things.

So, for the foreseeable future in 2023, I’m dropping to 4 and a half days per week.

Friday afternoon, which traditionally isn’t the most productive time anyway, I’m dedicating to side projects, hustles, improving things, or just knocking off early and going for a walk.

My goal is to hopefully have had Friday afternoon largely free for 80% of the year.

Personal Goals

These are more “nice to have” goals within my personal life.

The first is an art form I really enjoy – podcasting. I’d really like to appear on a podcast at some point. Because as a straight white man it’s pretty much the goal isn’t it? Not sure where, not sure how, but I’d really like it as a medium I think it’s great.

The second is a sport that I fell in love with in 2022 – cricket. Last March soon after my birthday I joined my local cricket club (remember last year where I said I needed a hobby? Well I found one). Playing wise I feel I’m better at batting than at bowling, but even then I’m not 100% confident. Last season I played 8 games with a high score of 10. In 2023 I’d like to score 23 in a match (the only mate I knew before playing cricket who played cricket’s high score was 22, so I’d like to beat that), and play more than 8 games in the season.

Finally, I feel like I need another personal goal, but I’m struggling. I am proud of the personal growth I made in 2022, so I’m throwing it open to you šŸ™‚. What should I improve in 2023?

The Video Games I Fell in Love With in 2022

So, with a view of doing more blog posts on this blog, I’m bringing back an easy form of content. My top video games of 2022. I’d previously done in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, but then took a bit of a break. Well, it’s back!

I’ve played a solid amount of games this year. Not as many as the pandemic years, because I stopped my Twitch channel for a couple of months and it’s been sparodic since it’s return. But thankfully using my Twitter list I’m able to remember what I played and beat.

There is one rule. It must have been released in 2022. It can be a compilation or a collection or a remake, but it need to have had it’s first release within the year of 2022. Which made it incredibly tough as the vast majority of the games I played weren’t released in 2022. Nevertheless, he persisted and I think I’ve a list. In true clickbait style – number one will shock you (seriously, it’s been panned)!

Games I Enjoyed Playing in 2022

With that said, I’ve played a lot of games for the first time that weren’t released in 2022, so I wanted to highlight those games and just share some thoughts on them.

  • Ironically Day of the Tentacle (PC) was probably my favourite game I played this year. Funny, clever and accessible. Well worth checking out this Lucasarts classic if you’ve never played it before.
  • The Wolf Among Us (PC) had probably the second best story of a game I played this year. It was a game that changed and moved me, and well written characters actually made me change the way I did things made it well worth hunting out and playing. From an alcoholic social worker to a badass cop, in a fascinating story.
  • To The Moon (PC) was the game that had the best story I played this year. An emotional journey that looked at life, death and medical ethics that made me bawl my eyes out at the end. Well worth the 4 hours it takes for you to complete it.
  • Vanquish (Xbox 360)* is probably not known for its story, but a shooty shooty bang bang game in the vein of Bayonetta. Cheesy 80’s dialog and the hardcore shooting action that became my pick up and play game for a good wee while in the late summer.
  • Pocky and Rocky (SNES) – Switch Remastered Version Here* was another find that I really enjoyed sinking time into this year. A fun little shooting game that got a serious high score challenge on the Retro Asylum Game Club, which was excellent to play along with. Tough as old boots, mind.
  • Milkmaid of the Milky Way (PC) is a fun Lucasarts style game that I discovered this year. Well worth hunting out if you like that sort of thing. It took me about 2 hours to complete and was not “click everything on everything”, which is nice.
  • Miles and Kilo (PC) was a long time in 3rd place, until I realised it was released a few years back. If you like Wonder Boy for the arcade, this will scratch that itch.

Honourable Mentions

  • I was drawn to Kleebuu Craves Fruit Salad (PC), which is one of those weird twitchy platformers. Cute, but unsettling at the same time. And less than an hour long. So yes, worth playing.
  • Not a game as such but the Atari 50: the Anniversary Celebration (Switch)* is well worth it if you like your retro games. I’ve been playing a few games this month (Tempest 2000 where have you been all my life). But the real joy is in the documentary. Turns out people did a lot of drugs in the 1980’s. Who knew!?!?!
  • Finally, bit of a selfish one and it won’t get anybody interested who isn’t but Cricket 22 (Xbox One)* is a fun little simulation and scratches my cricket itch. It doesn’t fill the gap of how I would do a cricket video game, but it comes close-ish. Just please don’t expect FIFA.

My Top Video Games of 2022

A screenshot of Trombone Champ. It features a cartoon man playing the trombone, along with white horses in the background and the horses are various sizes, there's nine of them. Also rainbows.

3. Trombone Champ (PC)

This was probably the toughest to pick. It’s a shallow game with very little replay-ability, however as no game has had me guffawing like a loon than Trombone Champ. It’s DDR with a mouse, making you play the trombone to pieces of classical music. The first time playing Hava Nagalia on the trombone I couldn’t breathe for a good 30 seconds after I finished.

It’s daft, it’s graphics aren’t great, there’s very little to it, but it was the game that got me over a bout of depression and gave me the confidence to start streaming again, so – for that alone – it’s wonderful.

Plus there’s a hacking community around it, and the video of Liz Truss’ resignation speech being set to trombones is joyous.

Trombone Champ is only available on Steam


2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Xbox One)

And this is the first of this year’s picks chosen by nostalgia.

Shredder’s Revenge was a love letter to those who grew up with the heroes-in-a-half-shell in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and was more of the same but better. Published by the same talented group of people who rebooted Streets of Rage 4 so successfully, this game takes Turtles in Time from the SNES, gives it a bit of longevity, brings it bang up to date with progressiveness that makes your average Daily Mail reader blush (April O’Neill is no longer the damsel in distress, but a badass reporter working alongside the Turtles, Splinter & Casey Jones) and wraps it into a neat package.

It’s side scrolling beat-em-up action, which is seeing a nice little bout of resurgence. But the beauty of this game is it takes away some of the things that sucked about it (ever drained the last of your energy by doing a power move? Yeah, no, that doesn’t happen now), and feeds the nostalgic elements.

References to the TV show with cameo appearances, the NES & SNES games (the world map and “Big Apple 3pm” levels are the most obvious), and even Street Fighter with some special moves, Tribute Games gave me a heck of a nostalgia inhalation that is well worth your time.

Oh and the soundtrack is banging too.

This would probably be my number one game, without caveats. Check it out.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredders Revenge is available on Steam, Xbox, Playstation & Nintendo Switch


A screenshot of Overwatch 2, featuring character Ramattra who was introduced in Season 2.

1. Overwatch 2 (Xbox One)

I really didn’t want to put this top. I really didn’t.

Overwatch – since it’s launch in 2016 (my game of the year then) – has been steadily getting worse. The game became a hive of toxicity and just not fun, and the constant tinkering for balance kept you on your toes. After one too many smashed egos with my main (ya girl Brigitte) I put it down.

Overwatch 2 has been panned. It’s gone from a loot box model to a game pass model, and made the base game free to play. You’ve dropped one character – so it’s teams of 5v5 rather than teams of 6v6, and also the launch was ridiculously slow.

It’s still toxic, and can be not fun at times, as you grind through the levels to get a Genji skin that looks cool but you never play as him. It’s not without its problems.

And yet, outside of Mario Kart, no game I have had more fun with is Overwatch 2 this year.

I dunno, maybe nostalgia, maybe just how much it rocked my world, how much it kept me sane during lockdown, a pick up and play on your lunch break adventure that overall was fun. I’ve been able to get the band of us back together and play. It has been a great way to catch up with mates.

It’s still roughly the same game, and familiarity may not be to everybody’s tastes, but if you were a fan of Overwatch 1, and dropped off it because of the community, maybe dip back in again?

Though try with your friends first.

Overwatch 2 is available on PC, Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo Switch

So those were my top video games of 2022. Have I got any glaring omissions? Or have you picked up any based on my recommendations? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

* I have placed a few affiliate links in here which are highlighted with wee asterisks.

Waka Waka, Not Sure About Qatar

I am Welsh. Yep, that’s a shock.

I went to France when we qualified for Euro 2016. My first game was away against Switzerland where we lost dropping us below the Faroe Islands in the Fifa World Rankings. I supported throughout the 90’s, the false dawn of Euro 2004, Speed and every high and low through it. One of my earliest memories was seeing Wales crash out to Romania in the World Cup 94 qualification. I thought we would be back, but was unaware of just how long.

In my house I have 3 photos of my time in France, and 4 photos or artwork of Hal Robson Kanu’s goal against Belgium. I have 2 of my family. I came close to quitting my job in 2016 as I was wanting to stay as long in France as possible.

I don’t identify as English or support the English football team. We don’t expect to qualify for tournaments. This is our first World Cup since the 1950’s. This is only my third tournament I have seen Wales perform in within my lifetime (I am pushing 40). This is the first with teams like the South American teams, African teams and their respective continent heavyweights. We rarely play them. The last time we played a non-European team in a friendly was in 2020 (ironically, against our next opponents, the USA), the last time we played outside of Europe was in 2018, also the last time we had an actual competitive fixture against a non European team (hello China Cup). Moments like the World Cup don’t come around to a nation like ours much.

The World Cup kicks off in Qatar in a few days, this should be the peak of my Welsh fandom, and I’m so non-plussed. And I don’t know why.

Positive Patriotism

I know who isn’t responsible. The Welsh team and the players themselves. The FAW rarely puts a foot wrong. We saw relatively close up this in France when shoots were being formed. The synergy between the fans, players and the FA is just so on point that even though the “Together Stronger” mantra hasn’t been used for over 6 years, it’s still there. It’s something that rugby – our supposed national sport – look on with envy, with opinion pieces on how crap rugby’s setup is compared commonplace on Welsh news sites. Hell it shed its stuffy image before even then, as even when I was privvy to some of the backroom goings on with Colwyn Bay, it felt like even though we were in the English system, the FAW worked with us.

It feels like now with us, there’s an air of positive patriotism. You saw it at the qualification match against Ukraine. You had two sets of supporters who have been on very different journeys but were proud of what was achieved, and wanted to sing about ourselves with a confidence that people will want to be a part of what we are. Hell, even our World Cup anthem is in Welsh. Brave, but unsurprising from a organisation that doesn’t lack confidence at the moment.

Soulless

No, unfortunately, like most things it lands with the human rights. LGBTQ+ friends would be treated like second class citizens, thousands of workers have died in the construction of the tournament.

There’s also the reeking of corruption. Qatar have every right to apply to host the World Cup but it doesn’t exactly strike as a footballing powerhouse (my only Qatari footballing memory is they were the team I edited out on Striker for the SNES to replace with me and my school mates). Sure there have been World Cups in places that don’t love the beautiful game before, but at least there was a case for infrastructure being largely there. This tournament seems like it was largely sold with huge piles of money, and the infrastructure was built on blood.

Finally, and here’s a minor point. It doesn’t seem like a fun tournament, and not the celebratory atmosphere that existed in other tournaments like the one I attended in France. I know people who have been to all World Cups and Euros since 2002 and they’re skipping this one. It seems like forced fun. Like your uncle trying to act cool in front of you and your pals but doing it in a cringeworthy way. But the uncle has 6,000 slaves and would execute your gay mate Dave if given half the chance.

Hypocracy

My Facebook profile, ladies and gents. Just call me Nostradamus

I’ve looked on with envy at some of my friends taking strong stances against the LGBT rights of Qatar, the shocking human rights records and just how corrupt it seems to be, and are boycotting the World Cup. I’d feel it’s a lot easier to boycott when you’re German, or support a team like Real Madrid, and qualification & going far in major tournaments is practically a birth right. Us Welsh don’t have such a luxury. Or maybe I’m just a bit weak willed.

So forgive my hypocrisy in so much that I’ll be watching, tweeting and talking about the Wales matches at the World Cup. If waiting 38 years to break my proverbial World Cup cherry, you may as well try to watch bits of it. I’ve even bought a box of stickers to try and catch up with my Qatar album (the first panini World Cup album with pages dedicated to Cymru). Hit me up for swaps.

But I cannot say I’ll watch outside of those matches, or even enjoy it. Not in the usual “oh god heart in my mouth Wales are gonna fuck this up” way of me watching Wales, but just the feeling of supporting a corrupt regime putting on what is lining up to be a shitshow that means I have sacrificed my morals to watch Wales play in the one tournament I have dreamed of since Bodin knocking a penalty against the crossbar. It puts a knot in my stomach and makes me feel absolutely filthy. I don’t think any amount of showers, scrubbing or donations to Amnesty International will change it.

I may put a flag or two up. We need some colour in my dull cul-de-sac.

Old Man Yells at Cloud (Based Systems)

Or: How I miss the old internet.

So I’ve been thinking recently quite a lot about where I stand on the fact that noted person who had money and did okay with it but he’s a wee bit of a numpty Elon Musk has bought my favourite social media site. There are far more interesting takes about what the hell he will do with it (I urge you to read The Verge article on it).

I worry about what he will do to the place. I worry about it’s role as a player in a future Arab-Spring like event. I worry about my friends who – somehow – made it a safe space going forward. I worry that it’ll become a haven of extreme right wing rhetoric it’s been pretty good at stopping. I’m also worrying that he will kill the site, as so far his rhetoric on making back $44bn has been small fries. I do feel with a lot of these systems the only way they make money is by trying everything else (anybody else remember when WordPress.org started selling links?), and $8p/m verification doesn’t seem like it ever will recover the investment. Like a shiny toy, I worry he’ll get bored and abandon it. That’s how it happens in tech, right?

If the latter will come to pass, it’ll be a shame, as it has been one of the more positive social media sites I’ve been on. It was instrumental in phase 2 of my career (back when MancSEO was in it’s infancy, I travelled to their meetup on a random Thursday night in January 2010, and met the wonderful SEO Community that I’m still friends with), but that was when Twitter was a lot smaller, and it was easy to find people to connect with and chat to. The Tweets were shorter, but the conversations were longer.

I miss that.

But then, I miss the old internet. I don’t want to gatekeep people from access to a tool that has started revolutions, but I do feel like the internet was maybe slightly better where we didn’t congregate around singular water coolers, as turns out a large group of people in one place invariably generates some bad apples, and maybe we need to go back into our respective silos.

Sure, we may not get the reach. I doubt this blog post would get the eyeballs on it that if I posted it in a thread on Twitter I would have got, but is that a bad thing? Surely you would want to share your content to the largest eyeballs as quickly as possible, but if we get one or two people who are genuinely interested, rather than those with a passing glance, surely that’s better? A warm lead, as opposed to an ice cold one, to use marketing speak.

Plus, if we have smaller silos, we will probably see more innovation. Social media is a behemoth, and really if the only innovation they can come up with is an easily abusable verification system or a system that has legs with graphics the average third year game development student can knock together (seriously, I wrote a QBasic game in the early 2000s, that had legs), then it probably doesn’t deserve the eyeballs it needs.

Retro Gamer forum meetup at r3Play Blackpool from 2011. Ironically it came up in my Facebook memories today.

But that’s the thing, they need the eyeballs, they need the communities. I miss forums. Forums were a thing, but they went away when we all transferred over to social media. Maybe they should come back, as they were great for conversations surround great topics. I remember sitting for days on the Retro Gamer forums (a forum that only shut recently) discussing retro games. A couple of the members of said forum I class as close friends. Heck even on forums where I didn’t dedicate all my time I have had positive experiences – even now on Facebook I have a couple of people who I befriended on a Blitz Basic coding forum on my friends list. Maybe I want people to have similar positive experiences, that have enriched my life like the years I’ve spent online.

The best conversations with the best people I’ve had recently have occurred on Discord, and it’s the only system since early Twitter that I’ve been happy to meet people off of it. I’m not sure if Mastodon and a decentralised system is really the solution (purely because joining is a bit of a nightmare), but maybe they’re on to something with a decentralised system.

Maybe as well as having a decentralised system, we need to decentralise the users as well.