Video Game Deep Cuts: Risking Rain With A Lego Meat Boy
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
[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 roundup includes the smash success of indie sequel Risk of Rain 2, a fascinating new Lego coding toy, and what's up with the new Super Meat Boy game, as well as looks at Anthem's troubled dev cycle, the 'grit' behind No Man's Sky, Journey To The Savage Planet & lots more.
Back from London just in time to post this update, and in the meantime, GDC Vault has posted 150+ free videos of talks from Game Developers Conference 2019. Since a lot of these will be coming to YouTube & I'll be putting them in VGDC roundups at that point, I won't link out anything individually, but - there's a LOT of goodness there. Enjoy!
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
‘Journey to the Savage Planet’ Is Irreverent Exploration in Service of Capitalism (Michael Futter / Variety - ARTICLE)
"You are an explorer, and the best job you could find is working for Kindred Aerospace (proudly, the fourth best interstellar exploration company in the galaxy). That’s the setup for Typhoon Studios’ “Journey to the Savage Planet,” which co-founder and creative director Alex Hutchinson calls an “earnest comedy.” [SIMON'S NOTE: interesting looking game from ex-AAA devs which references Subnautica in part as inspiration - we're starting to see that III vs. AAA design crossover, finally.]"
'Roguelike' from another planet: The big ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove interview (John Harris / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Greg Johnson, with the aid of Kickstarter, was able to successfully fund ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove, which released last month. The new ToeJam closely follows the original, and like the original, reactions have again been across the board, with some reviewers loving it and some hating it. Here in his own (lightly-edited) words, Johnson tells us about the new game's design, about making a fun party-styled co-op experience, and why he thinks some people love the game, and some just don't."
No Man's Sky: Grit (Sean Murray / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"A small and unlikely team was behind one of the most ambitious and anticipated games of 2016. In this 2019 GDC Main Stage session, Hello Games' Sean Murray takes us behind the scenes during the intense and dramatic launch of one the biggest selling new IPs in recent years. [SIMON'S NOTE: One of my favorite talks of GDC, as part of our Main Stage presentation - discussing, in large part, how you deal with the Internet when it doesn't like you. Other Main Stage segments: the Dreams live concert, Siobhan Reddy's microtalk, and Laralyn McWilliams' wonderful inspirational talk - are also up on YouTube.]"
What Astroneer's devs learned while leaving Early Access (Bryant Francis / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"No game has it easy going through Early Access, but when the developers of Astroneer set out to make their space sandbox game, they didn't just wind up building a game -- they had to build a whole company and procedural generation tech as well. After a few hard-fought years, Astroneer finally exited Early Access, and now the devs at System Era Softworks are able to look back and understand just what they went through."
Lego looks to make coding click for middle schoolers (Ina Fried / Axios - ARTICLE)
"Lego's education unit is making its biggest product debut in three years, unveiling Spike Prime, a new kit that aims to mix the company's familiar bricks with motors, sensors and introductory coding lessons. [SIMON'S NOTE: more impressions via this Fast Company piece.]"
How BioWare's Anthem Went Wrong (Jason Schreier / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"It wasn’t even supposed to be called Anthem. Just days before the annual E3 convention in June of 2017, when the storied studio BioWare would reveal its newest game, the plan had been to go with a different title: Beyond. They’d even printed out Beyond T-shirts for the staff. [SIMON'S NOTE: Exemplary reporting here on a tricky development cycle.]"
Snapchat's new Snap Games platform includes games from Zynga, Spry Fox (Alissa McAloon / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"That new service is Snap Games, a platform that aims to offer up a library of titles that claim quick and frictionless social gameplay their first priority. Snap Games itself is baked right into Snapchat, meaning that the games that appear on the platform are dropped into the hands of any of the social app’s existing users. [SIMON'S NOTE: the dawn of a new platform - and an interesting one, at that.]"
How MechWarrior 5's Team Fixed Their Player-Killing Level Generator (Ars Technica / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this Special Edition of War Stories, Russ Bullock (President, Piranha Games), Derek James (Designer), and Brian Windover (Lead Engineer) discuss the development of the upcoming MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. We also speak with Jordan Weisman, founder of FASA Corporation and creator of the BattleTech universe, and get a little bit of a history of the MechWarrior and BattleTech franchises."
The truth about hypercasual games (Omer Kaplan / Venturebeat - ARTICLE)
"One of the biggest concerns around hypercasual games, is whether or not this new genre has helped grow the market as a whole — bringing in players that are new to mobile gaming — or if has it simply cannibalized from other genres. And if it has brought new users to the market, are they ones that can be converted to players of non hypercasual games?"
Here's to a year of adventure on the Sea of Thieves (Matt Wales / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"Happy birthday, Sea of Thieves - my most-played game of 2018, and, would you believe it, my most-played game of 2019 so far. Today, Rare's piratical multiplayer sandbox adventure celebrates its first 12 months upon the waves, and - having brought the likes of giant killer sharks, marauding skeleton ships, and even a fiery hell pit of a new region beyond the Devil's Shroud - it's been quite the year. [SIMON'S NOTE: games can change, radically, when they're developed as a service.]"
Unionization Was Center Stage at the 2019 Game Developers Conference (Dante Douglas / Waypoint - ARTICLE)
"It’s been one year since then, and this year’s Game Developers Conference had a markedly different tone. Last year’s events were a raucous beginning, but it was during this year at GDC where the focus was on the mechanics and specificities of growing and sustaining a healthier games labor industry. Where in 2018 there was a paltry showing of panels, talks, and roundtables dedicated specifically to labor issues, 2019’s GDC included a sizeable handful."
Risk of Rain 2 devs talk hitting 500,000 players, mod support, and what's coming next (Wes Fenlon / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"I've been playing a lot of Risk of Rain 2 this week. So have a few other people, apparently—in just seven days, the indie roguelike has hit 500,000 players in Early Access, which means at least 250,000 copies sold (it had a buy-one-get-one-free deal going for its first couple days on sale). Developers Hopoo Games were, I think it's fair to say, surprised. [SIMON'S NOTE: And a relative rarity - a 2D indie game that has a successful 3D sequel!]"
DF Retro Extra: Sega's Blast Processing Was Real - But What Did It Actually Do?(Digital Foundry / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Join John Linneman and talented coder Gabriel Morales discuss Sega's almost legendary 'Blast Processing', what it actually was, how it worked and why it never actually appeared in any Genesis/ Mega Drive games - nope, not even Sonic 2..."
Designing for deck-building in video games (Diego Argullo / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Card-based games and deck-building elements have been in video games for years now, often mixing with known genres to create new, yet familiar experiences. From completely randomized systems to a deep focus on trial and error, developers have been toying with this sub-genre in different ways."
Team Meat on the return of Super Meat Boy (Katharine Castle / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"When Tommy Refenes first sat down to prototype a new, auto-running one-button Super Meat Boy game in his GDC hotel room back in 2011, it was meant to be a tiny spin-off for mobiles that stopped after nine levels. “The scope of it was going to be very small,” the programmer of Team Meat told me at PAX East 2019 last weekend."
Empathy is Not Enough, part 1 (Lana Polansky / Rhizome - ARTICLE)
"The discussion around the time “empathy games” hit the scene, however, was less about the nuances of violence and ideology in art and more a blanket condemnation (or defense) of violence in games. Those with a stake in the production of games were quick to pick up on the utility of studies that showed their potential benefits to young minds: if games were exceptional for their negative effects on players, all the better if they could be framed as exceptional for their positive effects."
Steam Business Update / GDC 2019 (Steamworks Development / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this talk from GDC 2019, we talk through Valve's goals and priorities for Steam, share updates on what the Steam team is working on next, and how we are approaching growing Steam in emerging markets."
No Man's Sky is the virtual reality game I have waited my entire life to play (Josh West / GamesRadar - ARTICLE)
"Sean Murray doesn't like talking to the press. Given what the creative director and the rest of Hello Games has gone through in the last three years I can't exactly say that I blame him. But here we are all over again, with Murray hesitantly promoting the latest update to No Man's Sky and us doing our best not to lose our cool. That, I'm afraid to say, is far easier said than done; No Man's Sky is absolutely phenomenal when experienced in virtual reality."
Into the Breach with Justin Ma (AIAS Game Maker's Handbook / Libsyn - PODCAST)
"At D.I.C.E. 2019, Robin Hunicke chats with Justin Ma (FTL: Faster Than Light, Into the Breach) about following up on a successful game, development hurdles, finding strength in uncertainty, and discovering success by creating the games they want to play."
The game development boy band selling experimental games through Patreon(Andrew Webster / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"But beneath its goofy exterior, Sokpop is actually one of the most innovative groups working in video games. Smaller, experimental games have rarely been financially viable, even as their influence on the industry can be significant... The 20-somethings at Sokpop have found a novel solution: using Patreon as a game subscription service that allows them to be prolific and creative, while still making some money."
Retrohistories: Obscure in the West, Big in Japan (Chris Chapman / YouTube - VIDEO)
"[SIMON'S NOTE: a visualization/video of some super interesting Japanese research here about games that are well-regarded in Japan but not in the U.S., or vice versa - including some surprises, at least to me.]"
[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!]