[Greetings from a cosy Winter evening in the Bay Area with a whole heap of links piled on the virtual fire. A fair amount going on this weekend - I opted not to go to PlayStation Experience in LA, but it's interesting to see what Sony fans & Internet nerds were excited about. Lots of HD remakes, of course, but the things that got my interest were the PaRappa The Rapper remaster & Nex Machina (the Eugene Jarvis x Housemarque game). Your mileage may vary, of course!
Oh, and quick mention of something cool we announced for GDC 2017. Art Boss, as I explained on my blog, is a collab with the amazing iam8bit crew & "a free-to-enter art showcase which’ll have spectacular art from all parts of the game dev process and a physical gallery at GDC itself." Check it out and enter - or get your artist friends to enter - if you can...
Incidentally, I probably shouldn't finish this week's write-up without linking to this Leigh Alexander piece and this Matt Lees piece about video games & culture wars. They're both - as you would expect from Leigh & Matt - pure fire - and I recommend you read them, think about how we got here, and how we can get to somewhere, well, better.]
Easter eggs evolved: Why gamers spent 3-years-plus studying GTAV’s Mount Chiliad (Richard Moss / Ars Technica)
"Just below the peak of Mount Chiliad, a huge mountain in the far north of San Andreas, a mysterious mural sits high atop a cliff face. It looks like a map of the mountain's interior—a network of tunnels that connect five small chambers and three large ones with what appear to be a UFO, an egg, and a jetpack within them. Whether it's actually a map isn't clear."
The Uneasy Blurring of Work & Play (Tom Chatfield / How We Got To Next)
"What if your life was taking place inside a videogame, and you didn’t know it? The simulation hypothesis is a popular brand of contemporary paranoia, with a philosophical pedigree stretching back to Descartes. At my own more paranoid moments, however, I circle a different anxiety."
Lunch with the FT: Pokémon Go creator John Hanke (Tim Bradshaw / Financial Times)
"John Hanke arrives at Mijita on San Francisco Bay looking more like a middle-aged indie rocker than the chief executive of a company that this summer was estimated to be making tens of millions a week. His striped flannel shirt is unbuttoned over a T-shirt bearing a compass and the words, taken from a poem in The Lord of the Rings, “Not all who wander are lost”."
VR Locomotion Is A Problem That Has Many Half-Solutions (Kevin Carbotte / Tom's Hardware)
"Vestibular mismatch problems became apparent in the early days of Oculus VR development. VR developers quickly discovered what triggers motion sickness, and several devs started working on solutions for the problem. So far, we’ve encountered no less than a half-dozen different locomotion mechanics. None of them are perfect, but each one has its merits. If nothing else, the variety of options illustrates the ingenuity of the VR developer community."
The Top 10 Video Games Of 2016 (Matt Peckham / TIME)
"From Battlefield 1 to The Witness, these are the best games of the year."
Seen In New York: The Strong Museum Of Play (EdLab Studios video / New Learning Times)
"Rochester, New York is home to The Strong National Museum of Play, a colorful and whimsical 282,000 square foot interactive museum devoted entirely to play. This unique institution houses the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, an indoor butterfly garden, a deep archive and library of play, and its very own on-site preschool."
How South Park: The Stick of Truth steeled Obsidian for making Tyranny (Bryant Francis / Gamasutra)
"The underlying premise of Obsidian’s latest RPGTyranny is that you’re a character willingly serving an evil overlord and working to support their dictatorial goals. Along the way, that means the player is going to participate in some grim stuff. Executions, betrayals, and mass murder may all be on the table for players willing to go along with the will over Overlord Kyros. "
The True Story Of Nintendo's Most Coveted Game (Justin Heckert / ESPN)
"None of this would've happened had Jennifer Thompson not gone thriftin'. This was in April 2013, and she was browsing clothes and $1 DVDs at the Steele Creek Goodwill in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, when she noticed it behind the glass counter. The video game title sparked a memory, a Yahoo article about the rarest games in the world."
Why Cops Are Raiding Arcades Over a Fishing Game (Robert Rath / Waypoint)
"A squad of 23 police officers serve a search warrant at a house in Little Saigon, twenty minutes from Disneyland. Inside, suspects run from the commotion, trying to tear an air conditioner out and escape through a window. A dozen huddle in the living room in a pile, trying to hide their faces. All seventeen people are detained, and three arrested."
Why Some Video Games Are In Danger Of Disappearing Forever (Heather Alexandra / Kotaku)
"Years of neglect are eroding gaming history. Cartridges rot in garages, companies horde demos that they will never release, and obscure titles fade into the ether. Some games may even be lost forever."
Shenmue 2 - A Masterpiece Revisited (Digital Foundry Retro / YouTube)
"John revisits Shenmue 2, checking out what made it special, how well it holds up today and the best way to play in the 21st century. Plus: all the Xbox vs Dreamcast graphics comparisons and performance tests you'll need."
The Game Archaeologist: EA’s Majestic (Justin Olivetti / Massively OverPowered)
"Conspiracy theories and paranoia were hot with pop culture in the 1990s, largely thanks to movies like The Net and TV shows like the X-Files, which had the tagline of “I want to believe.” With the rise of the internet during the decade and the fantastic leaps and bounds technology had been making, people were not only experiencing new ways to play games but also growing suspicious that these tools could have a sinister side."
Koji Kondo – 2001 Composer Interview (Game Maestro / Shmuplations)
"This lengthy interview with famous Nintendo composer Koji Kondo was originally featured in the jp book series game maestro. It looks back on Kondo’s musical history both personal and professional, going from his early days learning the Electone to his (then) most recent project, Majora’s Mask."
The top 10 video games of 2016 (Christopher Byrd and Michael Thomsen / Washington Post)
"While for many years the industry has churned out games that take a dozen or more hours to finish, this year saw the release of a number of titles that made a virtue of brevity. Here are the games that most occupied our thoughts this year, more than half of which can be completed in under five hours."
Yu Suzuki Interview - Childhood | SEGA | Arcade Games | Game Creation (Shenmue 3 / SkipCity / YouTube)
"Don't worry about failing or succeeding. Just go all out with what you want to do."
The rise of romance gaming: is the perfect boyfriend inside your phone? (Jenni Marsh & Junko Ogura / CNN)
"When Ayumi Saito was 22 she broke up with her boyfriend. But the Tokyo resident found an easy way to fill the void left by her ex lover's departure. She downloaded a romance gaming app onto her phone, and became one of the millions of women in Japan to swap real life intimacy for a fantasy."
Wargaming Needs New Recruits to Save Lives (Mark Wallace / How We Got To Next)
"Yuna Wong wasn’t a wargamer when she first walked into the Connections Wargaming Conference five years ago, but that didn’t stop the former Marine Corps operations analyst from feeling right at home. “I just stood there watching these middle-aged white men with baseball caps hunched over miniatures, and I had this overwhelming sense that I had found my people,” she says."
The man who made a video game inspired by escaping the secret police (Chris Priestman / Guardian)
"Ondřej Švadlena’s open-world driving game doesn’t look like any other. The cars are old and beat up, there are no timers or cheering crowds, and the California sun is nowhere to be seen. Instead, a brown murkiness hangs over the entire world, lending it an eerie and oppressive quality. This is a driving game inspired, not by long pleasure drives along some Pacific highway, but by a childhood spent living in and eventually fleeing the Soviet bloc."
The Definitive, XL Interview With Mortal Kombat's Ed Boon (Andrew Reiner & Suriel Vazquez / Game Informer)
"Ed Boon has likely been making video games longer than you’ve been alive. Years before he became the steward of the Mortal Kombat franchise, Boon was programming pinball and arcade games for companies that no longer exist. But despite his over 30-year history in the industry, he’s only ever really had one job. To get a full view of what such a storied career looks like, we talked with Boon about his early days at Williams Electronics, some of the names Mortal Kombat could have had, and what it’s like working on the same series for over two decades."
The Drake Incident: A Dark Souls Story (Electron Dance / YouTube)
"What happened when I met the Capra Demon in Dark Souls? [SIMON'S NOTE: This is a decidedly unconventional video essay, including some pretty adorable kid vs. dad Dark Souls play-acting!]"
Q&A: 'Dishonored 2' Director Harvey Smith: "The World is a Sh*tshow" (Chris Suellentrop / Glixel)
"For a while, it seemed as if Harvey Smith's destiny was to work on the best video games that most gamers never played. He was the lead tester of 1994's System Shock and the lead designer of 2000's Deus Ex, each of which has a claim to being the Velvet Underground of video games: They didn't sell millions of copies, but it seemed like everyone who played them became a game designer."
How we turned $140k on Kickstarter into $40k in debt. And how we broke even (John Teasdale / Medium)
"I’m John Teasdale. My friends and I created The Contender: The game of Presidential Debate. On September 9th, 2015 we received $127,827.01 from Kickstarter. This sounds like a lot of money, until we say that this week, November 22nd 2016, we have finally gotten out of debt. That’s 440 days of work after creating the product and running the Kickstarter before we made $1."
The Unsatisfied Mind: Grappling With Depression in Game Development (Joshua Boggs / GDC / YouTube)
"In this extremely honest and intimate GDC 2016 session, Framed director Joshua Boggs talks about how his ambition slowly became a driver for depression in the wake of Framed's success. Using himself as a warning sign, Boggs shares what warning signs game developers can look out for when their mental health is negatively influenced by the game development process."
The Kings of Catherine (Heidi Kemps / Red Bull eSports)
"If you made a list of potential competitive games, you probably wouldn’t place Atlus’s Catherine near the top of the list. Or on the list at all, really. After all, the game is primarily a single-player, story driven experience about a man whose inner conflict regarding his troubled relationships manifests as oppressive, trap-filled tower structures he must scale. By all accounts, this is not a game one would expect to see filling stadiums."
[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every Saturday at tinyletter.com/vgdeepcuts - we crosspost to Gamasutra later, but get it first via newsletter! MINI-DISCLOSURE: Simon is one of the organizers of GDC and Gamasutra, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]