Five good games sites
Posted at 22:44 on 14th July 2007 - permalink

When I was a lad, the only media covering games were cheerfully amateurish magazines, the people who wrote for those magazines uncomfortably blurting their opinions on GamesMaster, and playground industry spies whose dad had brought them back a top secret Mario and Sonic game from America.

That’s all changed now, of course. With the advent of the internet there has been an explosion in the amount of writing about games available to the enthusiast. There are far more games-related sites out there that can be usefully digested, and most of them fall somewhere between outright rubbish (badly written, badly researched, conspicuously commercialised, or all three) and functional but uninspiring, at best.

However there are a few sites which stand out among the dross. Sites that are written and maintained by people who clearly care passionately about their subject matter and are able to communicate this to the reader in an entertaining way. I’ve listed five sites which I find particularly valuable below. I can think of at least a dozen more that are equally worthy, but these are the ones that I visit on a near-daily basis.

I’ve not included any sites dedicated to specific games or hardware platforms, as pretty much every niche has at least one site that has emerged as a good resource, and it’s usually pretty easy to find. (I’ve not included the rllmuk forum either, as you’ve probably just come from there.)

In no particular order:

1. Blue’s News

Blue’s News (originally “Blue’s Quake Rag”, part of the hidden legacy of Id Software‘s major games, the significance of which isn’t always obvious to gamers who weren’t part of the PC scene during the 1990s) has evolved over the past eleven years into the authoritative daily news sheet for the games scene. Primarily focussed on PC games (originally just Quake and it’s rivals, spin-offs and sequels), over the years it’s remit has slowly expanded to covering consoles, handhelds, online gaming, hardware, security and bits of trivia likely to be of interest to a techy gamer audience. It has also developed some annual traditions, such as the digests of E3 announcements and April Fools gags.

A dense page of text links might not seem particularly enthralling, but those links virtually never lead to baseless rumours, and the accompanying text isn’t full of snotty editorialising. If your time is valuable and your gaming interests are broad, you should probably bookmark Blue’s News.

2. Hardcore Gaming 101

If you can get past the cheesy name and clunky GameSpy hosting, HC101 is an Aladdin’s cave of gaming trivia. Even the biggest retro gaming dork will be introduced to games they’d never previously heard of through this site (this is in fact part of the site’s stated goals). Every week or so, a profile is added for a different game, franchise or developer’s work in a specific style or genre. The collection of games that they’ve covered so far is extraordinarily diverse, covering everything from well-known coin-op and RPG franchises to obscure Western-developed character-based games. Some of the series featured have never been published outside of their countries of origin.

The articles aren’t always particularly polished or in-depth (but never to an offensive degree). They do at least always cover the basics, giving a brief description of each game in the series and including all the spin-offs and ports to other platforms. There currently isn’t a good gaming equivalent of IMDB, but HC101 contains a lot of content that could easily be plugged into such a database should one ever materialise.

3. Dubious Quality

Bill Harris is some random guy in Texas (working in the finance sector, I think) who writes about games and industry-related issues that interest him. From reading his blog for the last couple of years, the prevailing trends seem to be coverage of American sports sims, Guitar Hero, PC strategy games and most mainstream releases for the Xbox 360 (he’s a heavy user of games rental). As Harris is not a games journalist or an industry insider, he can present a completely independent view, in turns genuinely and credibly enthusiastic (his championing of games like Paraworld and Dwarf Fortress have been directly responsible for their receiving wider attention in the ‘professional’ games press), or unsparingly damning on issues where consumers are getting a raw deal (such as the proliferation of bugs and balancing issues resulting from the yearly release cycle of sports games).

A regular fixture on his blog has been reportage from the current console war, brilliantly (and perhaps unintentionally) delivering weekly bulletins in the style of an American sports season, breaking down statistics from every possible angle and cheering and jeering the hardware manufacturers with the theatrical zeal of a wrestling commentator. There are no minor setbacks or badly worded interview answers in Harris’s world – it’s all company-threatening disasters and bumbling PR jackasses, and it’s great stuff.

Even when I don’t agree with what Harris says, I can always see exactly how he’s formed that opinion and know that I’m not just getting some half-baked commentary based on conventional wisdom. The site seems to have a clued-up readership, who are encouraged to submit stories and feedback (comments aren’t enabled on the blog, so all interaction with the site is via direct email), which helps keep things varied.

4. World of Stuart

The Reverend Stuart Campbell is one of the few remaining old school UK games journalists (active on respected publications throughout most of the 1990s) who still writes about games regularly in a non-PR-related capacity. Campbell has some long-held, sometimes outspoken views about how games should be made and how consumers should be treated, which inevitably clashed violently with the sort of awful, smug, trend-following poseurs who rallied under Edge’s banner during the first half of the 2000s. Having run out of patience for fools and finding himself at odds with Future Publishing after a protracted legal spat, Campbell these days mainly holds court on his own site and forum.

This site contains an archive of his best bits of print journalism and a growing body of original material, including guides to emulating troublesome games and quirky mini-travelogues of his days out to some of Britain’s more dubious tourist attractions. I’m not going to suck up to Stu, as there’s no denying the fact that he’s a stubborn, misanthropic bastard, but he has done a damn sight more to stick up for the hobby than some of his more vocal detractors. And anyone who calls for people who would seek to ghettoise so-called ‘retro style’ abstract arcade games to be “drowned at sea in rusted chains” has to be required reading.

5. 4 Color Rebellion

4 Color Rebellion (4cr to it’s friends) at first glance looks like just another games news blog in the vein of Kotaku, Destructoid, and their ilk. At second glance it’s pretty obvious that it is just another games news blog, but it somehow manages to capture a charm and enthusiasm that the typical paid-by-the-story news blog lacks. The content is highly Nintendo-centric, with occasional diversions into comics and movies, all presented with an assured aesthetic that suggests that it would work well in print.

Honorable mentions

Press The Buttons: Imagine a blog written by a boy who had been raised by Mario. Matt Green was that boy.
Insert Credit: Mildly pretentious site mainly dedicated to covering obscure Japanese games. Good source of new free shoot-’em-ups.
Kieron Gillen: Games journalism’s preeminent ponce, responsible for coining the term New Games Journalism. One of the Good Guys.
Game Producer: An interesting resource for anyone interested in the business side of developing and publishing games independently. Although I believe the author hasn’t had much luck yet, so take with a pinch of salt.
GameTab: A news aggregator, now owned by the evil Ziff Davis empire, and with customisation that has been broken for many months now, but still quite handy for people like me who can’t be bothered to set up an RSS reader.

More here.

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