[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from video game industry 'watcher' Simon Carless (GDC, Gamasutra co-runner), rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.
This week's highlights include interviews on the much-vaunted Apex Legends, info on AI thriller Observation, and the loneliness of Sunless Skies, as well as Russian Doll, Art Sqool, and a plethora of other neat things.
Particularly happy with the amount of other media adjacent to video games covered this time around - streaming TV shows, books, performance theater, and - uh - dreaming about video games. That last one happens quite a lot in your household (and specifically your head), I bet?
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Taking Back Roguelikes with Raigan Burns (The Spelunky Showlike / Libsyn - PODCAST)
"Raigan Burns of Metanet Software (N, N+, N++) stops by for a spirited debate on the term “roguelike,” as we discuss the tenets of the genre, why (and if) they’re important, and how Spelunky fits into it all."
"The world thinks we're making Titanfall 3 and we're not - this is what we're making." (Emma Kent / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"Although many of the game's details have been splashed across the internet, there's still plenty here to discuss: including how the game actually plays, monetisation, and what this means for the Titanfall franchise. At a closed-doors event last week, I was able to trial Apex Legends for a full six hours, and ask Respawn a number of questions about its decision to go full battle royale. [SIMON'S NOTE: other coverage all over the place, including at The Guardian.]"
120 Notable Platformers of 2018 (PixelProspector / YouTube - VIDEO)
"I've just created a new compilation video which shows 120 top platformers that were released in 2018. It features a wide variety of platformer subgenres thus you will see traditional platformers, hardcore platformers, platform shooters, platform fighters, puzzle platformers, action adventure platformers, and more... [SIMON'S NOTE: Man, there's a lot of video games out there!]"
PC Building Simulator turns a complex hobby into goofy fun (Shannon Liao / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"There are few things more meta than a PC game where you build your own PC. PC Building Simulator.. gives you the experience of being a one-person PC-building workshop, juggling moody customers with various demands. Your tasks could be as simple as blowing dust out of an older computer and scanning for viruses or, as you level up, it could be to build an entire PC from scratch."
Protest Game (Jaroslav Svelch / MIT Press Blog - ARTICLE / BOOK EXCERPT)
"Thirty years ago, people gathered on Prague’s largest square to protest the oppressive regime of Communist Czechoslovakia. One of the earliest political computer games recreated the events with Indiana Jones as the main character. In the final chapter of Gaming the Iron Curtain, Jaroslav Švelch tells the story of this game and explains its background. [SIMON'S NOTE: Super interesting-looking book - there aren't enough on local video game scenes, written in English.]"
How AI thriller Observation is the spiritual successor to Alien: Isolation (Andy Kelly / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"Observation is an upcoming sci-fi thriller from No Code, the team behind horror anthology Stories Untold. In it you play as SAM, an orbital space station's advanced artificial intelligence that has suddenly become self-aware. Something has gone horribly wrong on the station, leaving it drifting near Saturn, and it's up to you to help survivor Dr. Emma Fisher escape to safety..."
Making Games Better for Players with Cognitive Disabilities (Game Maker's Toolkit / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Video games are for everyone. But those with disabilities can be left out if developers don’t consider their needs. In this series of videos, I’ll be sharing guidelines and best practices for making games more accessible to a wide range of disabilities. This time, I’m looking at design choices and menu options that will affect those who have cognitive disabilities."
Sunless Skies' wonderful-horrible Officers make a murderous void feel like home(Alec Meer / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"The word ‘lonely’ comes up often when discussing Sunless Skies, which seems like an odd thing to say about a game in which you haul yourself around the stars in the company of up to two-dozen crew members. But that’s the tone of Failbetter’s twisted sci-fi Victoriana roguelike: feeling desperately alone and vulnerable, in a desperately large and lethal place."
In Total Control (Ernie Smith / Tedium - ARTICLE)
"Benj Edwards, a tech journalist and historian who has run his Vintage Computing and Gaming website for nearly 15 years, has recently found himself in the joystick business, building out an array of joysticks for platforms common and obscure—mostly by hand. He notes that BX Foundry comes at a time when retro gaming is full of people looking for an upgrade."
How a lifelong diet of games influenced The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle(Robert Purchese / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"But to describe The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as a mere murder mystery would be a disservice, for there is something much more inventive going on. An old formula is spun on its head by an inspired, game-changing twist. It just won author Stuart Turton a Costa Book Award for First Novel. I've never read anything like it... I have, however, played games like it."
The Flops Are Piling Up for Video-Game Titans (Christopher Palmeri / Bloomberg - ARTICLE)
"In recent years, the video-game industry looked like it had found the antidote to the boom-bust cycles that had long plagued the business... The biggest names in games have stumbled this year as marquee titles flopped and online spending came up short. [SIMON'S NOTE: I think 'flop' is a bit much, but looks like valuations got overheated, and this follow-up about upcoming Activision layoffs showcases that a bit more, sadly.]
What It Means When We Dream About Video Games (Cecilia D'Anastasio / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"For people who spend a lot of time plugging inputs into video games, the game doesn’t end when their head hits the pillow. The more gamers I asked, the more I learned how widespread video game dreams are. Speaking to psychologists and dream analysts, I found that this widespread phenomenon says a lot about gamers’ unconscious minds and neural wiring."
SimCity 30 Years Later: A Retrospective (LGR / YouTube - VIDEO)
"The first retail releases of SimCity launched on February 2, 1989 for the Macintosh and Amiga, with the IBM PC following later. And from that point onward, computer gaming was irreversibly changed!"
Russian Doll (Willa Paskin / Slate - ARTICLE)
"Nadia Vulvokov is a video game programmer with a two-pack-a-day growl, a mop of red hair, and the good kind of bad attitude—the come sit by me kind. As Netflix’s Russian Doll begins, it’s her 36th birthday and her friends are throwing her a big, artsy bash in a sprawling East Village apartment. [SIMON'S NOTE: This is, it's true, a streaming TV show, but it's innovative, stars a video game programmer, and seems to thrive on game-like mechanics in places. Intriguing.]"
It may not be possible to save Fallout 76 (Cass Marshall / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"The future of Fallout 76 depends on ongoing improvements to its current, broken state, but with every patch, Bethesda continues to move in the wrong direction. I’m not sure how Bethesda is going to fix the game, to put it bluntly. And it’s becoming less clear whether Bethesda itself has an effective plan for how such a thing might be possible."
Clark Tank: Kickstarter Analytics, Metro Exodus & Praey for the Gods! (Ryan Clark / Brace Yourself Games / YouTube - VIDEO)
"This week (recorded February 1st, 2019), we take a look at the new ratings methods for Steam in lieu of Steam Spy, what Metro Exodus' move from Steam to Epic Store means for indies, taking a look at Kickstarter analytics, and we play Praey for the Gods! [SIMON'S NOTE: great biz analysis, as per usual.]"
Talking Carmen Sandiego With '90s Executive Publisher Ken Goldstein (Kate Willaert / A Critical Hit - ARTICLE)
"It’s been 25 years since the first episode of Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego debuted as a part of the Fox Kids block on Saturday mornings. What better way to mark the occasion than with one of the key people involved in its development: Ken Goldstein. At the time, Goldstein was the VP Education & Entertainment Products at Brøderbund — the company that published the video games — as well as the Executive Publisher in charge of the Carmen Sandiego series."
‘Art Sqool’ Is a Game About Following Your Passion in an Exploitative World(Cameron Kunzelman / Waypoint - ARTICLE)
"Julian Glander’s Art Sqool is about Froshmin, a small, round person who is going to an art school run by an artificial intelligence that is going to help Froshmin become a great artist. Or at least some kind of artist. Actually, thinking about it, the weird little robot who evaluates all of your art doesn’t make any promises about ability or skill or fame or recognition as a product of the time that Froshmin spends at Art Sqool. Wait, shit, is this a scam?"
MAGFest 2019: Game History Panels (Various, organized by Phil Salvador / MAGFest / YouTube - VIDEOS)
"Recordings of the video game history panel track at Super MAGFest 2019 in National Harbor, MD on January 3–6, 2019. This panel track was part of the Music and Gaming Educational Symposium (MAGES), the educational panel section. [SIMON'S NOTE: some REALLY good game history stuff in here.]"
'Playable shows are the future': what Punchdrunk theatre learned from games(Alysia Judge / The Guardian - ARTICLE)
"There is a head-scratching moment at the beginning of the popular farming simulator video game Stardew Valley, where you wonder, “What now?”... This conundrum fills Felix Barrett with glee. As the founder and creative director of British theatre company Punchdrunk, he has spent 19 years turning warehouses into vast worlds that audiences must learn to explore alone."
[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at tinyletter.com/vgdeepcuts - we crosspost to Gamasutra later on Sunday, but get it first via newsletter! Story tips and comments can be emailed to [email protected]. MINI-DISCLOSURE: Simon is one of the organizers of GDC and Gamasutra & an advisor to indie publisher No More Robots, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]