[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from curator/video game industry veteran Simon Carless, rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend. This week's highlights include Hitman level design, What Remains of Edith Finch, and much, much more.
As I battle jetlag after my return from Asia to a sunny California spring, I've been thinking a lot this week about discoverability for games again. Shouldn't there be more niche game subscription services out there for those looking to support underappreciated/'different' titles? I love Humble Monthly, but some of the more mainstream subscribers seem to get grumpy about the quirkier indie titles in it at times - much like PS4 players litter indie YouTube trailer comments with fist-shaking.
And how about adding context to the games in a subscription with dev interview videos, 'Let's Play'-style playthoughs, or even analysis videos? Would any of you sign up for something like this? Curious...
- Simon, curator.]
Passing Through Ghosts in Pac-Man (John Harris / Gamasutra Blogs)
"This is an excerpt from my book Bug Voyage: A Tour of Classic Game Glitches, available in the current Rogue Souls Storybundle [SIMON'S NOTE: which I curated!]. The book also contains information on pseudorandom number generation, doing low-level math in binary and decimal, and how you can crash any Galaga machine without even putting money in."
Writing Indie Games Is Like Being a Musician. In the Bad Way. (Jeff Vogel / The Bottom Feeder)
"Over the last couple years, I've gotten a fair amount of attention for my articles about the Indie Bubble and the Indie Glut. (And even a GDC talk.) At last, I can complete the trilogy of articles. Now we can look around and see where we've ended up, a phase which I suspect will be permanent. [SIMON'S NOTE: Please read this.]"
Legendary Game Maker Peter Molyneux Talks Regrets and What's Next (Chris Suellentrop / Glixel)
"That enthusiasm for the unknown is the hallmark of 57-year-old Molyneux's long career. He stopped by the Glixel offices in March to talk – barely – about his next game, Legacy, as well as to speak at length about everything from No Man's Sky and Pokémon Go to his aborted Kinect experiment, Milo."
toco toco ep.49, Yoko Taro, Game Creator (toco toco TV / YouTube)
"In this episode, we spend the day in Osaka with Yoko Taro, director of the famous Drakengard and NieR series. Our first stop will be at PlatinumGames, the studio that was in charge of developing Yoko’s most recent title: NieR: Automata."
How Hitman’s Hokkaido level was made (Alex Wiltshire / RockPaperShotgun)
"The latest Hitman['s]... levels are a jetset tour of places you believe could exist, but these aren’t just credible environments, they’re also machines for killing in. And the first season of Hitman closed with one of its best. Hokkaido is at once compact and expansive, melodramatic and credible, and I talked to IO about how it was designed."
Game Over, Uwe Boll (Darryn King / Vanity Fair)
"The man known as the world’s worst director is now retired and running a Vancouver restaurant. But he’s still not done waiting for the world to give him his due. [SIMON'S NOTE: you really should read this one, if only for Boll's random Chris Kohler diss, haha.]"
Inside the Resilient ‘Team Fortress 2’ Community on the PlayStation 3 (Aron Garst / Motherboard)
"To say that PS3 players got a raw deal is one hell of an understatement. But they've managed, and made friends along the way."
THOTH, And How I Talk About Games (Errant Signal / YouTube)
"Just a little thing I made at the end of last month while fighting off some sickness. [SIMON'S NOTE: an interesting - if a bit self-doubt-y - meta-analysis from one of the better YouTube game analysis folks on how you should approach mechanics-led games in terms of commentary.]"
Valve has cut Dota 2 royalties, and workshop creators are crying foul (Arthur Gies / Polygon)
"There’s unrest in Dota 2’s community this week, as several artists responsible for many of the free-to-play game’s popular cosmetic items allege that Steam owner and Dota 2 developer Valve Software has systematically reduced their earnings and may be permanently damaging the long-term viability of Dota 2’s business model."
Magic: The Gathering's Head Designer Has A Damn Hard Job (JR Goldberg / Kotaku)
"“Magic is secretly, not really … it’s not one game,” head Magic: The Gathering designer Mark Rosewater told me. “It is actually a bunch of different games that all have a shared rule system. Every time I make a card set, I’m making the game for everybody, but for each person, it’s a different game to them.”"
Roam free: A history of open-world gaming (Richard Moss / Ars Technica)
"Open-world video games bear the impossible promise—offering compelling, enjoyable open-endedness and freedom within the constraints of what is, by necessity of the medium, an extremely limited set of possible actions. These games provide a list of (predominantly violent) verbs that's minuscule in comparison to the options you would face in identical real-life situations. Yet, we can't get enough of them."
Tom Clancy's Inherent Silliness: Why Ghost Recon Wildlands Couldn't Escape Its Fate (Cameron Kunzelman / Paste)
"Ghost Recon Wildlands is a silly game. One might be tempted to think that it’s an intentionally silly game bordering on satire. I mean, after all, it’s almost a parody of games in its genre: it’s a third-person shooter game where four operatives, a handler, and some almost-Communist rebels take on and fully dismantle the infrastructure of a country that’s been fully taken over by a drug cartel."
The Game Beat Weekly: The pressure to stay in line (Kyle Orland / TinyLetter)
"These apologetic quotes both get at a truth that's rarely explicitly acknowledged in the world of game criticism: being out of step with the critical or fan consensus on a big-name game or franchise is often not an easy thing to do. At best, having a contrary opinion about a big game these days means being subject to a huge stream of nasty comments, tweets, and e-mails about your view."
The Last Game I Make Before I Die: The Crashlands Postmortem (Sam Coster / GDC / YouTube)
"Crashlands was developed by a team of three brothers in response to one of them being diagnosed with late stage cancer. In this 2017 session, Butterscotch Shenanigans' Samuel Coster tells the parallel stories of one family's battle with cancer and the creation of a cross-platform crafting RPG, and find yourself inspired to continue your great work no matter what life throws at you."
The Growing Indie Game Development Scene of South Africa (Lena LeRay / IndieGames.com)
"South Africa's video game development scene has been through a lot of ups and downs since it got started in the mid-90s. The indie scene in particular got its first big break in 2010, with the entry of Desktop Dungeons on the world stage."
Destiny's meta shifts are fascinating (Cole Tomashot / Zam)
"A meta shift is usually the result of a content release, player discovery, or patch. What makes these meta shifts interesting, is that while they are occurring a push and pull relationship between developers and players reveals itself as both parties play a role in a game’s meta."
Meeting Andrzej Sapkowski, the writer who created The Witcher (Robert Purchese / Eurogamer)
"Andrzej Sapkowski has something of a reputation. To start with, he's a big deal. He invented Geralt, witchers, Triss, Ciri, the whole thing - it all came out of his head. He has won awards and his work is revered, especially in Poland. More than once I've heard him described as the Polish Tolkien. But I've also heard he can be difficult - and I'm on my way to meet him."
The sound of SID: 35 years of chiptune’s influence on electronic music (James Newman / The Conversation)
"Fortunately, Yannes did know something about music, as well as semiconductors and designing chips. And so in 1981 he began work on what would arguably become the most important milestone in videogame music and one whose influence still resonates to this day: the MOS Technology 6581, also known as the Sound Interface Device, but much better known as the SID. [SIMON'S NOTE: quite a few game soundtracks analyzed in this neat piece!]"
Balancing Cards in Clash Royale (Stefan Engblom / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC session, Stefan Engblom, game designer on the Clash Royale team, talks about the philosophies and principles used for balancing cards and gameplay in Supercell's Clash Royale."
The Ten Most Important Early Computer and Video Games (Jaz Rignall / USGamer)
"Today's gaming industry is a massive, multibillion dollar entertainment juggernaut. But what are its roots? I thought I'd take a trip back to the very dawn of gaming history and take a look at the devices, inventions, and innovations that gave rise to our favorite pastime."
Mike Tyson's Punch Out NES Nintendo 30th Anniversary (Gajillionaire / YouTube)
"30 years ago on March 31, 1987, Little Mac defeated the Super Macho Man for the W.V.B.A. World Heavyweight Title. We look back with YouTube personalities from all over and remember back to that epic night. Then, sit back and watch the original “broadcast” of the classic Championship title fight!"
Three reasons streaming is replacing the Let’s Play industry (Michael Sawyer / Polygon)
"YouTube personalities recording themselves playing games is big business, and it seems to be the dominant way for gaming influencers to make money on the platform. The art form is known as “Let’s Play,” although that term doesn’t have much in the way of a set definition. But why does it seem like so many personalities on YouTube are moving to livestreams?"
Jonathan Coulton - All This Time (Official Video) (Jonathan Coulton / YouTube)
"From his new album Solid State, out April 28. The album has a companion graphic novel written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Albert Monteys. It's a science fiction story about the internet, the future, artificial intelligence, and how probably only love will save us. [SIMON'S NOTE: this song is wonderful, but the music video is what permits its inclusion in this roundup, heh.]"
Why Video Game Guns 'Feel Good' (Emmanuel Maiberg / Motherboard)
"Six out of the top 10 bestselling video games in February heavily featured guns and shooting. The same was true in January and all of 2016. Like it or hate it, video games and guns have gone hand-in-hand for decades and there's no reason to assume that this will change in the near future. [SIMON'S NOTE: part of a series - also see Veteran Developers Remember the Weirdest Guns in Gaming, heh.]"
The sublime horror of the unknown: Ian Dallas and What Remains of Edith Finch (Kris Ligman / Zam)
"Director Ian Dallas, as it turns out, was more than willing to discuss the artistic and literary influences behind What Remains of Edith Finch with me -- as well as chat about a few paths the game did not end up going down."
The Game Archaeologist: How DIKUMUD Shaped Modern MMOs (Justin Olivetti / Massively Overpowered)
"Even though there are hundreds and thousands of MMOs spanning several decades, only a small handful were so incredibly influential that they changed the course of development for games from then on out. DikuMUD is one of these games, and it is responsible for more of what you experience in your current MMOs than you even know."
The art and joy of video game photography (Simon Parkin / Eurogamer)
"Now, when facing up against a Hyrulian monstrosity, my first thought is not, 'Which sword should I use', but rather, 'To which spot should I lure the beast to make the best use of the light?' In 2017, in my game at least, more Links have died taking compendium shots than in encounters with sharks (and not only because the sharks in Hyrule are talkative, handsome and kind)."
Classic Game Postmortem: Maniac Mansion (Ron Gilbert / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2011 Classic Game Postmortem, Maniac Mansion developer Ron Gilbert revisits the classic adventure game and recounts tales from the game's development process. "
Strange Beasts, a sci-fi short about an augmented reality game (Jason Kottke / Magali Barbé / Kottke.org)
"Magali Barbé wrote and directed this short sci-fi video about an imaginary augmented reality game called Strange Beasts. It starts off with a “hey, yeah, cool, augemented reality games are going to be fun to play” vibe but gradually veers down the same dystopian path as a lot of augmented reality fictions (like Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper-Reality)."
[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@example.com. 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!]