Monday, March 10, 2008

Gaming Podcast Roundup

The new Zune software has added support for podcasts, so I've been spending the last couple months trying to find the right podcasts for me. Finding podcasts is really easy, but finding a small set of good ones to listen to regularly is no small feat. To really decide if you like a particular podcast or not it generally takes listening to a couple episodes, each with a running time that is often an hour or more. And there are hundreds of podcasts on each conceivable topic out there.

As that ninja humor is already well covered, I figured the next thing to do was nail down a couple solid gaming podcasts to introduce into my commute. And I'm here today to share my findings with you. Note that all the podcast links in this post are set up to subscribe in Zune.

GameSpot HotSpot (audio)
As you can see from watching their video reviews, GameSpot has a lot of down-to-earth gamers in its employ. Well, they did. There's a good chance you heard the drama of Jeff Gerstmann's firing, and since then my other favorites Alex Navarro and Ryan Davis have also left. It's sad, because a lot of podcasts try to have fun and joke around, but the GameSpot crew was one of the few to actually pull it off without being obnoxious. This was one of my favorite podcasts, but the best people from it are gone, and I haven't had the heart to listen to it since. It looks like Ryan Davis is trying to recreate the magic outside of GameSpot with his Arrow Pointing Down podcast, but I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet.

1UP Yours (audio)
1UP Yours has become one of my favorite shows, primarily because the hosts are knowledgeable, well-spoken, engaged, and keep the show mostly focused on their personal gaming experiences (every show opens up with "What You've Been Playing"). I like that these guys talk about deeper social and political gaming topics. The only real downside is that they're so immersed in the gaming industry that they can be a bit jaded and pretentious.

Achievement Junkie (audio)
There isn't a podcast out there that I've listened to with hosts more likeable than Nelson and Natalie. There's plenty of witty banter between them, and they know to not take themselves or the gaming industry too seriously. Despite what the title might lead you to believe, they're more casual gamers than hardcore achievement whores. Best of all, this is one of the few podcasts that is consistent in its length. Every episode is somewhere around half an hour or forty five minutes long. You'd assume that all podcasts follow that pattern, but no - most of them meander on for well over an hour. I appreciate that Achievement Junkie is succinct. The downside? Well, I'm none to fond of my listening experience being broken up by Navy ads, and the prerecorded segments by the non-hosts are lame.

Major Nelson (audio)
This is one of the highest profile gaming podcasts. It's well produced and moves along at a good pace. Unfortunately as that Major Nelson is Xbox's official voice, he can't really say anything controversial. The result is that the podcast ends up sounding a little too much like an clinical corporate Xbox ad, devoid of personality.

Joystiq (audio)
I already read Joystiq for my gaming news, so listening to their podcast is pretty redundant. And fundamentally reading news is far more efficient than listening to it, so there's nothing to be gained from this podcast.

ScrewAttack (audio)
I really enjoy ScrewAttack's excellent Video Game Vault videos, and the charming duo also has an audio podcast. Unfortunately the depth of content isn't up to the level of their video productions. As far as Listening To Dudes Talk it's pretty decent, but that's about all it is. They actually spend a surprisingly small chunk of the time talking about games, with a stronger focus on supporting their website community's contests, events, and such. Which is cool if you're plugged into that community, but not so useful otherwise. What I really want is a podcast feed of their videos, and I have yet to find one. It'd be sweet if I could automatically get content like the Angry Video Game Nerd's awesome coverage of Ghostbusters to take with me on the go.

GameSpy Debriefing (audio)
I tuned into this one and got undirected ramblings by uncharismatic people. I couldn't even make it through a full episode. I feel a little guilty not giving them another chance, but frankly there are too many podcasts to sort through.

Video Game Outsiders (audio)
This podcast features a trio of Geek, Girl, and Loud Mouthed Annoying Guy. They see the world through very different eyes than the rest of the gaming press, which makes for sometimes entertaining, sometimes awkward arguments. Their main hook is supposed to be that they are casual gamers, but after two years of doing a weekly podcast they've started to crossover into the hardcore. As a result I have a hard time figuring out who their audience is. I do appreciate that they focus on their personal game playing experiences and don't waste much time on news. That's not to say that they don't waste time though, because this podcast runs way too long.

My main problem with this podcast is that I flat out don't like one of the hosts. He's stubborn, can't see the world through anyone else's eyes, and steamrolls over anyone else when he disagrees with them (sadly the geeky host can't articulate himself well enough to fight back). He's also extremely inconsistent, spouting praise for a game one week and then totally indifferent towards it the next. Really, he's just a terrible person and single handedly ruins this podcast for me. But I somehow can't seem to bring myself to unsubscribe from this fascinating train wreck.

GameTrailers Video Reviews (video)
This isn't really a podcast, but it is a great way to get awesome video content onto your Zune. GameTrailers stitches together great video reviews, and they're not to be missed. I only wish that they reviewed more titles so I could make more of my rental decisions this way.

1UP Show (video)
This video podcast has great production values and interesting (if sometimes pretentious) people. Unfortunately it runs a little long for a video podcast, so I never end up watching it. The few times I have had the time I enjoyed it.

The Wiicast (video)
Tragic. Totally, utterly tragic. Couldn't make it through a full episode. But I will say that the show that recently slammed The Wiicast is even worse.

Well, that sums up all the podcasts I've been sorting through. I've learned a lot about what I do and do not like from my podcasts. A set of people with spontaneous banter is good, but not if it means showboating or epic overtime. I have a preference for audio podcasts because they don't demand my full attention. I'm actually surprised that I haven't found a good audio review podcast. I'm fine reading my news, as that most of it gets filtered out by headline anyway, but I wouldn't mind having reviews or general editorial content just flat out read to me so I can listen to them on the go.

As of today my running favorites are 1UP Yours and Achievement Junkie. They aren't without their faults, but they have a consistent level of quality. There's about a bajillion other podcasts out there that are also worth a whirl, but for now I need to stop the insanity and focus on enjoying the few I've landed on.

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