VGBlogger’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Art and Coffee Table Books

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With a little more than a week left to go until Christmas, we bring you the fourth and penultimate installment of our gamer geek gift guides for the 2015 holiday shopping season. In this edition, we offer recommendations in art and coffee table books perfect for movie buffs, pop culture enthusiasts, and video game collectors.

Check back soon for our final gift guide highlighting card and board games, toys, gadgets, stocking stuffers, and other miscellaneous gift ideas. Until then, read our ongoing Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks and Gamers series for more shopping ideas at the following links:

Gaming Hardware and Peripherals Gift Guide
Strategy Guides and How-Tos Gift Guide
Comic Books and Novels Gift Guide
Gadgets, Stocking Stuffers, & Beyond!

Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume 1 – Buy from Amazon or Abrams:

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Want to know what’s easier (and I’m sure a heck of a lot cheaper) than trying to buy up a full collection of the old Topps Star Wars trading cards? Letting Abrams do the collecting for you and bundle the complete set together in a nice hardcover book. This first volume (a second is coming in Spring 2016) contains reprints of the first five sets and 330 cards that are based on the original Star Wars: A New Hope and were originally released from 1977 to 1978, plus, for the first time, the 16 trading cards that were packaged as a one-in-each-loaf promotion with Wonder Bread. Each page displays a card front with some light commentary shedding insight on the editing process that went into selecting the image and subtitle for each card. The book also includes reprints of the bonus stickers that came one per pack back in the day, as well as the card backs which featured movie trivia, story summaries, and actor profiles. Some of the cards featured small sections of a larger image that could be pieced together like a puzzle, and this book shows those puzzle pictures in galleries displaying the completed images. Pushing the nostalgia into overdrive, the book is wrapped in a wax paper dust jacket mimicking the packaging of the old trading card boosters. And guess what’s printed on the hardcover underneath the dust jacket? Yep, an image of a stick of classic pink bubblegum! I don’t know if there is a real scratch and sniff scent to the cover or if nostalgia is simply tricking my senses, but I swear when I hold the book I get the distinct whiff of bubblegum that came wafting out of each freshly opened pack of cards. This is a wistful trip down memory lane that every Star Wars fan should take.

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Star Wars Art: Posters – Buy from Amazon or Abrams:

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Curated by George Lucas himself, this fifth installment in the Star Wars Art series highlights the epic and awe-inspiring movie poster artwork from the first six episodes in the Star Wars saga, including concepts and black-and-white pencil sketches many Star Wars fans have likely never seen before. Of course, the centerpiece is a six-page centerfold gathering the final painted one-sheets for each movie’s theatrical release. Beyond the core film series, the book contains key art and posters for animated series and video games like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, Knights of the Old Republic, LEGO Star Wars, and The Force Unleashed, as well as a collection of more modern artworks that were created for limited edition lithographs, screen prints, and museum exhibitions. So many iconic artists have worked their poster-art magic on the Star Wars franchise, crafting masterpieces that are able to tell a story and capture the imagination in a single image, so it’s nice to see that the book concludes with biographies for those talented individuals who have contributed to the series’ unmistakable visual identity over the decades, including late legends of the medium like John Alvin and Ralph McQuarrie.

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LEGO Star Wars: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy – Buy from Amazon or DK:

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Vesa Lehtimäki, famous illustrator and toy photographer whose work actually inspired the look and creation of The LEGO Movie, presents Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy, a collection of Star Wars scenes hand posed, modeled, and photographed using LEGO building bricks and minifigures, as well as toy smoke machines, corn flour, sand, fishing line, baking powder and other tricks of the trade for special effects. Lehtimäki’s photographs ooze dark, moody atmosphere without losing the play-toy charm of the LEGO brand, which means the book has enough sophistication to fit right in on an adult’s coffee table while also providing creative inspiration for and capturing the imaginations of young LEGO builders and Star Wars fans.

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Marvel’s The Avengers Encyclopedia – Buy from Amazon or DK:

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Comic book geeks, assemble! The Avengers Encyclopedia is the go-to source for virtually everything there is to know about the history of Marvel’s iconic superhero team. The book features in-depth profiles for the core members everyone knows from the movies, like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, as well as hundreds of other heroes and villains from the Marvel universe. Though some characters only receive smaller, capsule-style bios, most of the profiles provide personal data files (real name, physical attributes, powers, etc.), ally and enemy diagrams, and cited backstory text outlining relationships and comic appearances with the Avengers, all accompanied by new and old comic book art that’s presented with all the flair and pizazz DK’s visual guides are known for. To provide some level of organization and continuity, the roster of featured heroes and villains are categorized in chapters based on their powers. For example, The Hulk and Spider-Man take center stage in the ‘Greatly Gifted’ section about characters who were born with or have developed their superhuman powers, while characters like Thor, Vision, and Thanos are classified under the ‘More Than Mortal’ tag for their godly, robotic, or extraterrestrial powers that defy human biology. (And yes, there is a full index to make looking up specific character references quick and easy.) Interspersed throughout the bios are 20 ‘Key Storyline’ spreads which summarize definitive moments in Avengers comic book history, including comic cover art and story panels from the books, as well as publication dates and credits for the original artists and writers.

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The Disney Book – Buy from Amazon or DK:

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DK works its visual guidebook magic yet again with this encyclopedic celebration of the wonderful world of Disney. Encompassing nearly a century of movie-making magic, The Disney Book chronologically recaps the history of Walt Disney’s timeless creations, beginning with the origins of Mickey Mouse and the golden age of cel animation highlighted by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, and Cinderella, following all the way through the 80s and 90s era that brought us classics like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King, and finally up to the current age of CGI animation with modern marvels like Frozen, Toy Story, and Big Hero 6. Live-action productions like Mary Poppins, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tron, Enchanted, and Maleficent are featured, as are various other branches of the Disney family tree, from the Disney Infinity video game property to promotional merchandise and memorabilia to the founding of Disneyland. Imagery includes movie stills, concept sketches, behind-the-scenes production photos with the animators and actors, Disney Theme Park attraction posters, and various other forms of promotional artwork. So what are you waiting for? Grab a copy and bring a little Disney magic to your bookshelf or coffee table!

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StarCraft II: Field Manual – Buy from Amazon or Insight Editions:

Although not quite as elaborate, the StarCraft II: Field Manual is a collector’s art and companion book reminiscent of previous Insight Editions publications like The Dark Knight Manual and the Assassin’s Creed: Unity Abstergo Entertainment Employee Handbook. It is written as a facsimile combat handbook provided to all newly recruited Dominion marines, offering classified specs for all the units and structures of the Terran, Zerg, and Protoss races, plus tactical codex appendices containing supplemental data such as a timeline of key events, resource descriptions, unit scale graphics, and general species lore. This particular field manual is not brand new. For a touch of humor, the book contains personal markings where the “previous owner” circled, underlined, and struck through lines of text, scribbled funny notes in the margins, and wrote in comic speech bubbles. Each unit is outlined with a labeled illustration and general profile data, including a stat chart showing of its combat role, armor and weapon capabilities, size, and the opposition units it is most and least effective against. There is a serious lack of color throughout as the artwork is pretty much all black and white, but the intricate detail in the unit illustrations, set off by bold ink outlines, makes up for the limited palette. The monochromatic aesthetic only adds to the immersion the military field manual theme of the book is trying to convey. StarCraft fans are going to love this!

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The Art of Halo 5: Guardians – Buy from Amazon or Insight Editions:

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It’s fair to debate the state of the Halo franchise since Bungie’s reign of development ended (I’m probably in the minority in my belief that the games have only gotten better), but I think we can all agree that, artistically, the series has found worthy caretakers in 343 Industries. The creative talent of 343’s art team is on full display in The Art of Halo 5, featuring a shade over 200 pages of spectacular concept artwork for the game’s characters, environments, multiplayer arenas and customizations, vehicles, and weapons. There are interesting character blow-outs so you can directly compare and contrast the color schemes and design motifs of the members of Fireteam Osiris and the Spartan Blue Team. Although not as in-depth as they could be, the weapon and vehicle chapters showcase some especially cool renderings, schematic-like drawings, and functionality diagrams. This is very much a “show, don’t tell” style of art book in that it lets the imagery shine in all its glory without much text, which means you shouldn’t go in expecting to find any truly deep insights about the creative process. I personally prefer art books with meatier and more meaningful commentary, but you won’t find me complaining one bit when the art looks as good as what’s compiled here. Many of the environmental spreads and Forerunner paintings are simply breathtaking to behold, and the overall print and binding quality is exceptional. And like all tie-in merchandise that’s been released alongside the game, the book comes with a voucher code for a bonus in-game REQ Pack.

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The Art of The Lord of the Rings – Buy from Amazon or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

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The Art of the Lord of the Rings is not an art book in the traditional sense, as in it is not a collection of glossy, professionally-crafted concept artwork but rather a compiling of maps, Elvish scripts, runes, inscriptions, and pen/pencil sketches J.R.R. Tolkien himself drew by hand for visual aid, oftentimes directly within the text of his manuscript pages. Tolkien did create some charming colored pencil sketches and watercolor paintings of scenes like Hobbiton, Old Man Willow, and Rivendell, as well as dust jacket designs for each of the books, but for the most part his personal sketches were never intended to ever be seen by the public. Until now, of course. Books like this show just how much of a visionary Tolkien truly was. Not only was he a master of linguistics and world-building, but also, as this book highlights, a meticulous cartographer and talented recreational artist. This book may come across as a bit too artsy-fartsy for the average Lord of the Rings fan, but it is not to be missed by hardcore Tolkien scholars or anyone with an interest in fantasy world-building. It’s an art book masterpiece.

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The Art of Homeworld – Buy from Amazon:

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Bluecanvas rocks the galaxy with yet another out-of-this-world gorgeous art book, this one paying tribute to the classic Homeworld sci-fi RTS series that truly redefined the genre more than a decade ago. As the two original games were remastered and re-released earlier this year, The Art of Homeworld gives fans their first look at some of the vintage concept artwork that formed the foundation of the world’s first fully 3D RTS game. Sci-fi geeks will find themselves in outer-space heaven pouring over the immense catalog of Kushan, Bentusi, Turanic Raider, Kadeshi, Taiidan, Hiigaran, Vaygr, and Progenitor spaceship illustrations and technical line drawings. Some animatic and environmental pieces are tossed in for good measure, but by and large this is a bound art gallery that celebrates the specialized craft of spaceship design. Even more impressive than the unrivaled production quality you can always expect from a Bluecanvas book–excellent binding, classy hardcover, non-glossy, heavy stock pages, etc–is the extensive running commentary. All art books have captions and typically some light commentary, but this one is an art book you actually have to read as all of the text is one long Q&A with original Homeworld creators Aaron Kambeitz and Rob Cunningham (now of Blackbird Interactive), who reflect back on their the design process in insightful detail. Amazing… Just amazing.

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Medieval LEGO – Buy from Amazon or No Starch Press:

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Here’s a fun and educational work of art-history entertainment for the kiddies (and the kiddies at heart). Medieval LEGO condenses the key events of Middle Ages England, spanning the years 1028 through 1485, into a sort of picture book of higher learning. From the Battle of Hastings and the Siege of Jerusalem to the legend of Robin Hood and the signing of the Magna Carta, each event is accompanied by photos of scenes recreated entirely out of LEGO by one of many contributing builders. More than a dozen medieval scholars also provide accurate historical summaries in a way that is informative and gets the key points across without beating you over the head like a dense, dull grade school history lesson. Medieval LEGO proves that learning history doesn’t have to be a snooze-fest.

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The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – Buy from Amazon:

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Dark Horse Comics has joined up to create two of the most thorough collections of art and history for the beloved toy, cartoon, movie, and comic book franchise Masters of the Universe. The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe dives deep into the franchise’s origin and explores the depths of the toy line which spawned the classic cartoon. The book contains interviews from toy production artists and the creative minds behind the lore of the franchise. Diving even further into the franchise’s history, the book also contains production design artwork and interviews from stars of the 1987 film. Sample artwork from Ralph McQuarrie (of Star Wars fame) also is included. A foldout highlights every figure created in the toyline’s history. While this book is a wonderful retrospect of the franchise, the one thing I really wanted out of the book was an in depth look at the minicomics. Enter the second book! (Write-up contributed by Tim Mack.)

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He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection – Buy from Amazon:

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The Minicomic Collection scratches the itch left unscratched by the art book just perfectly. A historic view of every single minicomic that was originally included with each toy sold, the collection is a massive 1000+ pages of original artwork bound with thick high gloss paper. The Minicomic Collection is a dream come true for me. An escape into my childhood, the book reinforced my memories of the comics as being just as rich of lore and just as fun as playing with the toys. Footnotes provide excellent commentary on choices made with the early comics and toy production. The collection also features early work from Bruce Timm and Mark Texeira, as well as from Robert Kirkman. Growing up with He-Man and the rest of the toys, comics and cartoons, this is a definite must have for fans of Masters of the Universe. (Write-up contributed by Tim Mack.)

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The Elder Scrolls Lore Books – Buy from Amazon:

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This ongoing series of Elder Scrolls companion books by Titan Books is definitely worth checking out. Each book brings together in-game text and lore and presents the information in a sort of short story art book format that has immense collector appeal and is simply much easier to digest than trying to read everything in bits and pieces throughout the games. Currently, there are two volumes available for The Elder Scrolls Online and one volume for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (two more volumes in The Skyrim Library are scheduled for publication early in 2016). Here is a summary quote from my full review of Tales of Tamriel Vol. 1:

“Tales of Tamriel is a wonderful companion book to The Elder Scrolls universe, rich with intriguing historical back story and gorgeous, immersive artwork. It’s a must-have collectible reference for dedicated Elder Scrolls Online players, and for general series enthusiasts who prefer their Elder Scrolls games single player à la Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, this is the best possible way to catch up on the lore missed by not sinking fully into the MMORPG-ized game.”

Sega Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works – Buy from Amazon or Read-Only Memory:

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This gem of an art book actually came out last year and I had hoped to feature it in greater detail in last holiday season’s gift guides, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a copy in hand until earlier this year. It’s not so readily available anymore, but it’s such a masterpiece I just had to give it a quick mention. In terms of artwork, all bases are covered, from hardware production blueprints of the Genesis/Mega Drive consoles, peripherals, and adapters to cover artwork, logotypes, environment concepts, design documents, storyboards, character design illustrations, and pixel renderings from many of the classic first-party games of that era. Better yet, the book features a fascinating recollection of Sega’s “console war” with Nintendo back in the day, as well as a good 50 to 60 pages of interviews with important figures in Sega history. If you’re able to track a copy down, the Sega fanboy or fangirl in your life will profess their love to you for all eternity. (Or hell, just get it for yourself.)

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Blackwater Archives | The Art of The Order: 1886 – Buy from Amazon:

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“Blackwater Archives, published by Bluecanvas, the same curators of the lovely God of War: Ascension and Journey art books, chronicles (and celebrates) the creative journey Ready At Dawn embarked on during the conception and production of The Order: 1886, its 267 pages representing the art team’s collective vision for bringing the PlayStation 4 exclusive’s Neo-Victorian world to life. After poring over these heavy stock pages, it’s no wonder that the game ultimately turned out to be such a visual marvel.” Read our original review in full here.

Assassin’s Creed: The Complete Visual History – Buy from Amazon or Insight Editions:

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“Insight Editions really knocked this one out of the park, folks. Assassin’s Creed: The Complete Visual History does such a wonderful job of taking you on a journey through the evolutionary process behind Ubisoft’s series of open-world playgrounds where historical authenticity and fictional embellishment collide. There is recycled content, but even the most studied of Assassin’s Creed fans should be able to take away some valuable insight or background facts about the franchise that they didn’t know before (particularly in the section that goes into discussion on the First Civilization). No Assassin’s Creed collection is complete without a copy of this beauty on your bookshelf or coffee table.” Read our original review in full here.

Game Art – Buy from Amazon or No Starch Press:

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“Game Art is a fantastic art book, but labeling it as just an art book is almost doing it a disservice because it really is so much more than the usual bound collection of printed artwork with light commentary and captions. Reading this book will make you ponder the message behind the games you play on a deeper level, giving you an even greater appreciation for games you already love while also potentially opening your eyes to titles you previously wouldn’t have paid any mind to. If you are an aspiring artist or at all interested in peeking into the creative minds behind the games you play, Game Art is mandatory reading (and viewing) material.” Read our original review in full here.

The Art of Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City & Arkham Knight – Buy from Amazon or Abrams:

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“If you’re a Batman fan, you’ll no doubt love poring over combat flow diagrams, environmental paintings and blueprints, and concept illustrations for the Joker, Harley Quinn, Penguin, Riddler, and the rest of the supervillain crew–not to mention countless images of the Dark Knight himself. The book is of the highest quality, with heavy duty paper stock (I own a lot of art books, and this one has a heftier, sturdier feel than most) and awesome cover art underneath the dust jacket. The dust jacket looks good on its own, but once you get a look at what’s underneath–Batman looming out of the darkness on the front, Joker grinning manically on the back–you probably won’t slip it back on.” Read our original review in full here.

Batman: Arkham Universe: The Ultimate Visual Guide – Buy from Amazon or DK:

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“The visual guide to the Batman: Arkham universe is not a traditional art book with game design concepts and developer commentary showing how the games were made, but rather a compendium of canonical information about the complete Arkham series. In other words, try to think of it as a fancy CliffsNotes picture book, condensing all of the characters, environments, and storylines of the Arkhamverse into 200 pages sandwiched between hardcovers.” Read our original review in full here.

The Art of Total War – Buy from Amazon:

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“The Art of Total War is a fantastic book, both as a compendium of artwork and a behind the scenes commentary on the making of such a successful, well-respected franchise that has been going strong for more than a decade now. The way that Total War is always able to capture such grand scale and make the brutality and ugliness of war look like a beautiful work of art is a testament to the talented team of artists at The Creative Assembly, and it’s great to have a sampling of that work compiled and showcased in a volume such as this. As a coffee table display piece, the book gets bonus points for having a great cover. The dust jacket art is well and good, but what’s underneath–a plain black hardcover with a medieval knight on horseback debossed in gold–hits the perfect note of being classy yet understated. A thing of beauty, inside and out.” Read our original review in full here.

LEGO Star Wars in 100 Scenes – Buy from Amazon or DK:

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“Primarily aimed at Star Wars‘ younger fan base–and older fans who are still young at heart–LEGO Star Wars in 100 Scenes is just what its title says it is, a retelling of key events from all six movies using LEGO bricks and minifigures. Each chapter, beginning with Episode I and progressing in order through Episode VI, begins with an introductory page fashioned in the same style as the iconic opening backstory text scroll from the films. Each “scene” consists of a two-page spread depicting a key movie moment built from actual LEGO playsets, complemented by the type of humor gamers have come to love in the various LEGO video games. Various filters and special effects are also added to make the scenes pop a bit more than they would have as straight pictures of LEGOs. The overall image quality and scene arrangements are very well done and chock full of cutesy charm.” Read our original review in full here.

Ultimate Star Wars Encyclopedia – Buy from Amazon or DK:

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“As a Star Wars layman it’s staggering to read through this illustrated compendium and take in the breadth of characters, worlds, and things the Star Wars universe encompasses. I’ve watched all of the movies–the original trilogy multiple times because it’s great, the newer trilogy only once because once was enough–but until now I never would have been able to tell you who Sio Bibble is, or what the differences are between a Dwarf Spider Droid and an Octuptarra Droid. The volume of content covered in a little over 300 pages is nothing short of impressive. I suppose the only drawback is that soon enough there will need to be an expanded and revised edition of Ultimate Star Wars to factor in all of the new characters, storylines, and technologies introduced as the third trilogy eventually begins and concludes. But that’s a long ways off. For now, I doubt you can find a more robust and visually appealing encyclopedia of canonical Star Wars lore.” Read our original review in full here.

Resident Evil: Revelations Official Complete Works – Buy from Amazon:

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“Resident Evil: Revelations Official Complete Works is a beautifully presented art book with interesting developer commentary revealing a lot of fun factoids about the characters and inspirations behind the game’s design themes that series fans are sure to drink up like bloodthirsty t-Abyss Oozes.” Read our original review in full here.

Resident Evil 6 Graphical Guide – Buy from Amazon:

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“Lovely to look at but not quite what should be considered a full scale art book, the Resident Evil 6 Graphical Guide is a fantastic collection of high quality images and basic, canonical information set off by a slick and glossy presentation that any Resident Evil fan should enjoy flipping through and consider adding to their stash of series collectibles.” Read our original review in full here.

Other books to consider:

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!