My Favorite Podcasts

Today I'm going to go over a list of my top seven favorite podcasts and tell you why I think you should be listening to them. Stick around, it should be fun. 

7. RELEVANT Podcast

The seventh on my list is one of the ones I've started listening to most recently. Another media outlet of RELEVANT Magazine a Christian magazine that has news about all the latest cultural topics and media, the podcast goes through a very simple list of film and music releases, entertaining slices of news, an interview or two with a musician or author or other-important-person-in-the-culture, and then ends with an editorial question to get people talking in the comments. 

The best part about this podcast is the people who run it. They are a blast. It's a group of the staff members at RELEVANT getting together once a week to have goofy conversations about what's going on in the world. There are so many inside jokes and the podcasters execute on those so incredibly well it has me shaking my head in amazement. They are always able to entertain with me with some silly news story that they ramble on about, and then they go off on twelve different tangents and I'm just listening, cheering them on. 

But seriously, this is a very entertaining podcast. If you've read RELEVANT Magazine and haven't tried the podcast, you should totally do it. If you've never read or listened to anything RELEVANT, you should do both. 

6. Dear Future Josh

If you've known me for a considerable length of time, you've probably witnessed my love of the YouTube channel Blimey Cow. At the very least, that means you've seen me post one of their videos on Facebook. Suffice it to say, I've been following the people of Blimey Cow (Josh, his wife Kelli, and his brother Jordan) for many years now, watching every video they've released and listening to every podcast. 

Recently, Josh, the mastermind behind Blimey Cow, made a podcast of his own, where he talks about his journey being self-employed and working full-time on creative projects. It's a blast to listen to, and I've learned a lot about self-motivation, diligence, and many of the day-to-day challenges of living life self-employed. As someone who hopes to be able to do that one day, this podcast has been invaluable for me. If you're in a similar boat, or love Blimey Cow, give this one a listen!

5. On RPGs

This is the most recently found podcast on my list, but it is definitely the best I've found talking about tabletop role-playing games in all their goodness. The two co-hosts are interesting and bring loads of knowledge from the gaming industry and their own personal lives to give you great advice on running and playing in role-playing games, especially as an adult with responsibilities and not that much time. 

It is because of this podcast that the mega-campaign Istoria (the one I blogged about that my friends and I are playing this summer) came into existence. So, thank you, On RPGs. I also bought two role-playing games because of this podcast and will probably buy more (or at least try out) more based on their recommendations. 

If you like role-playing games, this is the best podcast on it I've found yet. So check it out. 

4. The Inner Tube

This is another podcast from BCAN (The Blimey Cow Audio Network), a collection of the podcasts that Blimey Cow produces, and it is invaluable if you are a content creator on the internet. Seriously. If you are making videos, recording podcasts, running a blog, or anything else like that, check these guys out. Josh Taylor of Blimey Cow and Kevin McCreary are very knowledgeable in their field and know what they're talking about.

And they're extremely entertaining to listen to, as well. That's pretty much all I got to say about that. Check this one out!

3. The Blimey Cow Podcast

This is the first and longest-running podcast Blimey Cow has produced, and I've been listening since day one. I've laughed a lot listening to this podcast, and it's been so great to get to know the Blimey Cow people a little better over the years through listening to them talk thirty minutes a week. 

That's pretty much all this podcast is--listening to Josh, Jordan (and sometimes Kelli) talk about whatever is on their minds. If you like conversational podcasts, and enjoy Blimey Cow, give this one a listen.

2. Nerds on History

This podcast single-handedly revived my passionate love for history. The hosts are unbelievably entertaining, really smart, and have lots to say about some of the coolest and weirdest things that have happened in history. They've talked about everything from cannibalism to toilets. And I can't get enough. I'm currently listening through the back-log of episodes, since I came pretty late to this one, but I'll get caught up eventually, and I'm enjoying every step of the journey as I go. 

I will give a content warning on this one. Though there's not a whole lot of it, there is some questionable content every once in a while--swearing and the like--but most of the time this podcast is simply full of good, clean, entertaining lessons on history.

If you like history...need I say more?

1. Writing Excuses

And so we reach the end of the road. I have learned the most about writing from...well, writing. That is the truth. You always learn the most about a skill from simply doing it. But the second most influential thing on my writing has been and I imagine always will be Writing Excuses. I have so much information on how to write a story stored in my head, and it has helped me so many times during the writing process. 

The hosts are immensely entertaining, and I have enjoyed all of their writing. The content is fantastic and so useful for writing genre fiction. And I cannot wait to use this podcast for homeschooling my children someday to teach them about creative writing. 

If you like writing (especially science fiction and fantasy), you must  listen to this podcast. JUST DO IT.

Well, that's all! Feel free to comment and tell me your favorite podcasts and what you like about them. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Thanks again for reading, everyone.

My Favorite Video Games

Well, it's time to talk about games again. This week, I'm going to give you a list of my top ten favorite video games of all time, as well as a review for each one. It should be fun, so stick around!

10. Alan Wake

Alan Wake is one of the most recent games I've enjoyed, and despite the older release dates on most of the other games on this list, I'm not some sort of retro video game elitist or anything. To be honest, many of my favorite games are favorites at least partially because of nostalgia though they are all fantastic games in their own right.

Alan Wake is a fantastic thriller/horror third-person shooter filled with mysteries and puzzles and one of the most fun, interesting stories I've ever encountered in a video game. The writers in charge of the storyline absolutely knew what they were doing and knew how to use the mechanics of the game to perfectly complement the pacing of the story. 

You play as author Alan Wake as he heads on vacation with his wife, Alice. He hasn't been able to write a word in two years, but he hopes this time away will clear his mind and get him to a point where can start working again. Things start to go wrong almost immediately. 

I won't say much more, because the entire game is a giant mystery and suspense extravaganza that you just have to experience yourself, but suffice it to say, this is one of the coolest games I've ever played, both in terms of story and gameplay. I will put a mild content warning on this one for some language, but other than that, this is a great game that anyone who enjoys a good story will have a blast with.

9. Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie

With a title like that, most people who are at all serious about video games would turn away with disgust. Video game tie-ins to movies are notoriously bad. But trust me, this is probably the best video game based off of a movie to ever be created. You play as Jack, the main male character of Peter Jackson's film (which is also fantastic, by the way, and has my "I cried at the end" stamp of approval) and Kong himself as they try to survive the perils of Skull Island. Most of the game is a first-person shooter, played from Jack's perspective as the characters are attacked by giant insects, angry natives, and, of course, dinosaurs. 

This is probably the most intense experience I've ever had in a shooter. You are on edge every single moment, trying to use every piece of equipment you find to survive against the terrors of the island. And then you get to the Kong levels, where you get to beat up T-Rexes, and the game becomes that much better. I definitely enjoyed the Jack levels more, but both perspectives work together to create an exciting narrative that follows and expands upon the movie's story. 

If you enjoyed the movie and like action-adventure survival games, play this one. If you didn't like the movies, but still enjoy this type of game, play this one. If you've never played any video games before, play this one. It's a blast.

8. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves

I admit, I will never understand the appeal about the various Nintendo games such as Mario or Donkey Kong. They have never been all that fun for me, and maybe that's because I grew up on Saga and Playstation, but when I play games like the Sly series, I tend to question why anyone would go anywhere but to Playstation. The Sly series is goofy, cartoony, and altogether amazing. Though the most recent addition to the series, Sly 4 (which was not made by Sucker Punch, the original creators of this series) was definitely lacking, the third and second installations in the series (bear in mind, I've still never played the original game) are top-notch in every way.

Sly 3 follows where Sly 2 left off, and though I won't tell you where that is, since it'd be spoilery, I will tell you that there was triumph and tragedy of all sorts. The opening sequence of Sly 3 features our main character, Sly Cooper, thief extraordinaire, sneaking into a base with the security of Fort Knox to steal back his family's long-hidden treasure. The opening sequence ends as he is brought to the brink of death by the hand of a gigantic monster genetically engineered by the main villain of the game (and the one who is hiding Sly's family treasure). We then enter a flashback sequence that explains how Sly got to this point. 

The story that follows is one of the coolest of my video game experiences. Sly sets out to gather the perfect team to break into his family's vault and steal back it's secrets. He travels across the world, finding old friends and new ones to aid him in the ultimate heist. The entire game is full of good ol' fashioned heist novel-esque goodness, in a goofy world where everyone are animals. 

7. Sly 2: Band of Thieves

Just a smidge above the excellence that is Sly 3 is it's predecessor. Though Sly 3 had multiplayer modes, several awesome mini-games built throughout the story, and wonderful gameplay overall, I think Sly 2 beats it out through pure storytelling excellence. This game is full of twists and turns, horrible villains and wonderful heroes, and emotionally powerful moments that make you yell "no!" at your TV. 

I actually played this game after  playing Sly 3, and even though I knew the ending of the game, I still had so much fun playing that I was completely engrossed in the story and the wonder of it. I absolutely recommend this game and this series. Absolutely wonderful action-adventure games filled with humor, great characters, and a driving story.

6. Star Wars: Battlefront II

Of course, I have to include this game on my list. Arguably the most popular Playstation 2 game of all time, Battlefront II builds upon its incredibly fun predecessor and perfects it in this action-packed, customizable, endlessly fun shooter that features Star Wars battles at their finest. Filled with all sorts of game modes and options, a wonderful and heart-wrenching campaign that follows the life of a veteran member of the 501st Legion of clone troopers, and dozens of different fun classes to play as, Star Wars: Battlefront II is the game that has me so excited about the upcoming sequel from DICE that I could burst. 

This game was an amazing and integral part of my childhood. I had so much fun playing it with my brother, over and over again, and endlessly customizable game modes meant "one more match" could be as long as we wanted it to be. And with cheat codes? Oh, the fun was endless. I distinctly remember the anticipation my brother and I had for this game, and how much fun it was to play it for the first time the day it came out. We stayed up way past our bedtime, but our mother, knowing how much fun we were having, let it slide. She's pretty awesome.

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II: The Rise of the Witch King

Yes, I realize what an incredibly long title that is. Technically, this is an expansion of a sequel, but it is what this series became when you got to the end of the road that made it so fantastic. This is undoubtedly my favorite Real Time Strategy game of all time and is filled with so much Lord of the Rings epicness that it made childhood me giddy with delight. Being able to live out the epic battles of the films I had enjoyed so much as a child was wonderful, and Connor and I played the heck out of this game.

Unfortunately, like most video games, Connor was better at it than I was, and when he played as the Elves, he would always win, no doubt about it. It was still a blast, however, and it was filled (like Star Wars: Battlefront) with loads of extra material taken from the expanded universe beyond the films. You got to summon Tom Bombadil for crying out loud! When paired with various mods that let you play across hundreds of more maps and with dozens of more factions from the Lord of the Rings mythos, this game had a nearly endless amount of enjoyment for a couple of young boys obsessed with Tolkien's world and Peter Jackson's vision of it.

This game has everything--you can jump right into a battle against any opponent(s) on dozens of cool maps from around Middle-Earth, you can conquer Middle-Earth in its entirety (or save it) in a War of the Ring mode, and you can play through two fantastic campaigns (one highlighting the events in the northern part of Middle-Earth during the War of the Ring, and the second, added in the expansion, you can play as Angmar as it conquers Arnor). Oh, and did I mention you can create your own hero? Yeah, Connor and I had some fun with that one. 

If you like The Lord of the Rings and RTS games, play this one, I beg you.

4. Icewind Dale

This game has an incredible amount of nostalgic power for me. Despite its increasingly difficult battles and relatively crappy graphics, the story and character creation and advancement in this game will always hold a special place in my heart. Icewind Dale takes place in the far north of Dungeons and Dragons' "Forgotten Realms" setting, and follows a group of adventurers that you have complete control over as they get further and further involved in a dark plot involving ancient powers, magical artifacts, and hordes and hordes of dangerous monsters.

As I mentioned above, one of the most exciting parts of the game for me will always be character creation. I've always loved the options you get, even though it is Second Edition AD&D that it's based off, and the entire game just feels in your hands, rather than you just being led along a railroad with cutscenes and characters that you don't control. And no, over the course of the game, there aren't a whole lot of really dynamic choices that you get to make that completely changes the flow of the story--the story continues on despite anything you really do. But it never feels like you're forced to go further. You always want to continue through the dungeon, wading through battle after battle, because of the way character creation and advancement feels and because of the mystery and depth of the story itself.

The voices that you get to choose for your characters are arguably the most memorable bits of the entire game. The voice actors are incredible, and since you get to choose who speaks for which character, you get to choose the character's personality, even if that personality is never really the center of attention in the game. The NPC interaction in-game is text-based and relataively minimilastic, but I have never minded it one bit. I just have enjoyed the world and the story so much over the years that I continue to play, even though I've never beaten the game and I probably never will.

3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Arguably the best Star Wars game ever created, and certainly the best Star Wars role-playing video game ever created, KOTOR (as it is affectionately called) was revolutionary when it came out. I actually played its sequel first and loved it as well, but the original KOTOR is where Bioware's RPG mastery shines. The story is probably the best ever devised, not only for a Star Wars video game, but for role-playing games in general. It is full of dramatic game-changing decisions, wonderful dynamic characters, and completely voice-acted NPC interaction. 

This game was actually made by the same people who made the engine that Icewind Dale is built on, and that created the game that started it all for truly amazing role-playing video games, Baldur's Gate (another D&D Forgotten Realms game). And as I said, they sure know how to tell a story. I've played through this game three times, and each and every time I enjoyed it immensely. It has a really good replayability factor, as there are so many choices and decisions to be made, not only in the main story, but also in the various side quests and in your own character's development. The first time I played the game, I went through the entire thing not realizing that I had rejected an opportunity to gain another NPC companion. The game did such a good job of immersing me in the story and making the choices I made matter that I didn't remember that it was a game. I just wanted to continue the story. 

Hmm, I just realized that I didn't give you any sort of premise for what this game is about. Well, it's set thousands of years before the events of the movies, in a time when the Old Republic is still ruling, though in a decline, and Jedi are much more numerous. You play as a Republic soldier aboard a ship that gets attacked above a contested planet, and you get caught into a conflict bigger than anything the galaxy has seen in years.

And the best thing? Everything you do matters.

2. Civilization V

This game is my favorite game that doesn't have a main story. It's a TBS (turn-based strategy) game that allows you to control history from beginning to end through the building and advancing of your own civilization. Civ 5 is part of a long-running series of Civilization games made by the gaming genius Sid Meier. I have played this game so much. You have absolutely no idea how much dedication and time I've put into this game and it's prequels. This is the kind of game that really gets me involved--I get to create my own civilization, change history, shape a whole new world! That sort of thing excites me. I've played through many a world idea for a fantasy book using this game, as a sort of springboard to get me thinking about the history and interactions between countries in whatever fantastical world I'm developing at the moment. War, culture, government, expansion, and everything else involved in a world-spanning epic is right here at your fingertips and you can control all of it.

Now, when I first got Civilization V, I was rather disappointed. I didn't like the changes they had made from Civ IV, and was sort of disillusioned with the gameplay. Looking back on those days, I have no idea what I was thinking. After playing Civ IV for a while, I went back to V and found that I was in love again. For whatever reason, the mechanics just needed some getting used to, so after many hours of gameplay (and two expansions that really made the game into what it was truly meant to be), I was hooked, utterly and completely. 

One time I even did a hot seat game against myself with eight different players, all controlled by me. I may have developed a mild case of schizophrenia, but I think I'm over it now. But seriously, play this game. It's fantastic, and full of strategy goodness.

1. Shadow of the Colossus

And so we reach my favorite game of all time. What some consider to be the best Playstation 2 game of all time, and what I consider to be the best video game ever created. Ever. Shadow of the Colossus. It's an epic action-adventure game where the only enemies are giant demon-possessed mountains, and you play one guy with a sword, a bow, and a horse. 

Everything about this game is minimalistic in all the right ways. There aren't hordes of minions to fight. There aren't other characters crowding up the world. And the story is so simplistic and yet wonderful. You play one man. The love of your life is dead, and so you have traveled to a forbidden land where a being is said to dwell with the power to resurrect the dead. You have an ancient sword, which you have stolen from your village, which is said to be the only thing that can help you in the forbidden land. You ride for days and when you finally reach your destination, the being makes a deal with you. Kill sixteen giant monsters with that sword and the love of your life will be brought back. That brings us to the tagline for the game, which is one of the most brilliant ever devised.

Some mountains are scaled. Others are slain.

The game sets a perfect mood of isolation. It's just you, your horse, and miles of open landscape for you to explore as you try to find and slay each of the horrible creatures you were tasked to conquer. Each of the "colossi" has a very distinct strategy required to beat them, and once you beat the game, different modes open up that time your battle or increase the difficulty of the fight. But the story and the experience of it and the world are where this game strikes that perfect balance of minimalism and extreme satisfaction. Connor and I collectively have spent more hours on this game than probably any other we've ever played. We've beaten the game countless times, and though we've lost that initial saved game, we will always remember the countless hours spent finding and slaying colossi or simply exploring the beautiful world spread out before us.

And the music. Augh, don't even get me started. It has such a beautiful score at all the right moments. Please, if you have ever played video games seriously, pick up this game (they've made a remastered version for the Playstation 3 and possibly 4, though I'm not sure about that last one). You will not regret it, I promise you.


Well, that was fun. Thanks for coming along on this ride with me, full of nostalgia and endless hours of entertainment. Feel free to comment with your favorite video games, and let me know what you think about my reviews of these games, if you've played them! As always, thanks so much for reading.