[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 a GDC talk on 'the aesthetics of cute', the hidden story of TOSE, & the return to car wrecking of key Burnout developers.
Another interesting week of longer-form 'things', and I've been ruminating a bit on how these videos and articles intersect in weird but neat ways with 'breaking news' or 'hottest games'. Seems like you'll get at least _some_ bleed-through - for example, this week we have Battlegrounds, Signal From Tolva & Night In The Woods again, all of which are newish or interesting releases.
But many of these pieces are evergreen & exist separately of the 'hot reactions' grind. Which is good. Exist too close to the 24-hour hype cycle, and you'll miss trends and more thoughtful takes like some of these good folks. VGDC aims to reverse that. We hope you think we do a good job.
- Simon, curator.]
Guild Wars 2’s art style passes from father to son (Philippa Warr / RockPaperShotgun)
"Recently I had the chance to talk to ArenaNet (and thus Guild Wars 2) art director Horia Dociu about his work at the studio. One of the interesting things about his promotion to the role is that he succeeds his father, Daniel."
We’ve been missing a big part of game industry’s digital revolution (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica)
"Last year, the Entertainment Software Association's annual "Essential Facts" report suggested that the US game industry generated $16.5 billion in "content" sales annually (excluding hardware and accessories). In this year's report, that number had grown to a whopping $24.5 billion, a nearly 50-percent increase in a span of 12 months. No, video games didn't actually become half again as popular with Americans over the course of 2016. Instead, tracking firm NPD simply updated the way it counts the still-shadowy world of digital game sales."
Warren Spector believes games 'need to be asking bigger questions' (Alex Wawro / Gamasutra)
"Gamasutra sat down with Spector at GDC last month to catch up on how the process is going, roughly a year into his full-time gig at OtherSide. It was an interesting conversation, especially if you're at all interested in where games are at these days, where they came from, and what sorts of stories they're best at telling."
A Rare Look Inside Nintendo (Otaku / Game Escape / YouTube)
"This clip is an excerpt from the French documentary film "Otaku" by director Jean-Jacques Beineix from 1994. It appeared dubbed on German TV some time later, which is the version you are seeing here. It has, to my knowledge, never been released in English. The subtitles are my own. Content is the intellectual property of the original rights holders."
An Interview With One of Those Hackers Screwing With Your 'Black Ops 2' Games(Patrick Klepek / Waypoint)
"He's not there to ruin your stats. He's there to sell you software that'll let you launch a DDOS attack from your Xbox 360. [SIMON'S NOTE: this is crazy - modded Xbox 360s that find other player's IP addresses and can DDOS them?! I had no idea.]"
Put a Face on It: The Aesthetics of Cute (Jenny Jiao Hsia / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC session, Hexecutable's Jenny Jiao Hsia explains why cuteness as an aesthetic may be worth exploring for developers who want to push against current trends in game design."
Proc. Gen. and Pleasant Land | Sir You Are Being Hunted (Robert Seddon / Heterotopias)
"It was a perfect rustic idyll, in its way. Perfectly lovely, nestled between the grassy fields. Perfectly quiet, as only dead places can be. Perfectly still, because a player careless enough to create a disturbance might attract the robotic hunters. Big Robot’s Sir You Are Being Hunted had, through the digital governance of its landscape generation algorithms, somehow perfected the British countryside."
How video games were made - part 3: Marketing and Business (Strafefox / YouTube)
"In this final chapter we cover the business side and marketing of 8 and 16 bit games. [SIMON'S NOTE: Lots of archival footage in here & SO much work cutting it all together - and the other entries in the 'how video games were made' series look pretty good too!]"
Video Games Are Better Without Stories (Ian Bogost / The Atlantic)
"A longstanding dream: Video games will evolve into interactive stories, like the ones that play out fictionally on the Star Trek Holodeck. In this hypothetical future, players could interact with computerized characters as round as those in novels or films, making choices that would influence an ever-evolving plot. [SIMON'S NOTE: lots of responses to this all over the Internet - here's a couple of good ones from the Waypoint folks.]"
'Burnout' Series Creator Talks Remaking Crash Mode for 'Danger Zone' (John Davison / Glixel)
"Spend longer than a few minutes talking with fans of driving games about which series they'd love to see revived, and invariably someone will bring up Criterion's Burnout. Unlike contemporaries that were leaning harder into realism and officially-licensed cars as a response to games like Gran Turismo, the first Burnout – released by Acclaim for PlayStation 2 in 2001 – was unapologetically action-focused."
Famitsu Special Report – The Mystery of TOSE (Famitsu / One Million Power)
"This is the real story behind TOSE: The game development company that’s been making games for nearly 38 years (since 1979), but hardly any gamers know. [SIMON'S NOTE: Brandon Sheffield covered TOSE for Gamasutra back in 2006, but by and large, they've been PRETTY vague about what they work on - which is fascinating.]"
How Three Kids With No Experience Beat Square And Translated Final Fantasy V Into English (Jason Schreier / Kotaku)
"One day in the late 1990s, Myria walked into the Irvine High School computer room and spotted a boy playing Final Fantasy V. There were two unusual things about this. The first was that Final Fantasy V had not actually come out in the United States."
Night in the Woods is Important (HeavyEyed / YouTube)
"An analysis of the recently released game - this video contains very minimal spoilers but watch at your own discretion.."
Designing the giant battle royale maps of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (Alan Bradley / Gamasutra)
"For Brendan "Playerunknown" Greene, the creator of Battlegrounds, the vision for his game world was born from extensive experience creating and manipulating environments that direct players to play his games the way he intends them to be played."
All We Have Is Words (Matthew Burns / Magical Wasteland)
"Sometimes I give the impression of knowing Japanese, but I really don’t. I have no claim to it. I never made a real study of the language, I don’t know kanji and thus can’t read at all, and even in speech I can’t exchange more than pleasantries or the most rudimentary logistical information. [SIMON'S NOTE: I believe this is a subtle 'subtweet'-style article response to the recent Persona 5 translation furore? Maybe?]"
Changing the Game: What's Next for Anita Sarkeesian (Laura A. Parker / Glixel)
"Anita Sarkeesian’s talk at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco falls at an unfortunate time: 10am on the last day of the conference – a Friday. Most attendees – a mix of indie programmers, mainstream publishing teams and media – are still bleary eyed from the night before. And yet, at five-to-ten, the small room on the third floor of the Moscone Convention Center is standing-room only."
The quest to crack and preserve vintage Apple II software (Leigh Alexander and Iain Chambers / The Guardian Podcast)
"Why has the quest to hack old Apple II software become the best hope we have of preserving a part of our cultural history? How do these floppy discs – still turning up in their box-loads – shine a light on the educational philosophies of the 80s? And do a new generation of gamers risk losing whole days of their lives by playing these compelling retro games in their browsers?"
Video Games Help Model Brain’s Neurons (Nick Wingfield / New York Times)
"Since November, thousands of people have played the game, “Mozak,” which uses common tricks of the medium — points, leveling up and leader boards that publicly rank the performance of players — to crowdsource the creation of three-dimensional models of neurons."
Longtime 'Star Citizen' Backers Want Its New Referral Contest to Die in a Black Hole (Leif Johnson / Motherboard)
"Developers of multiplayer video games often host referral programs encouraging existing players to recruit their friends for a boost in cash flow, and in that regard, the new referral contest from Star Citizen developer Cloud Imperium Games isn't much out of the ordinary. The same can't be said of the reactions from the players themselves."
Localization Shenanigans in the Chinese Speaking World (Jung-Sheng Lin / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC session, IGDShare's Jung-Sheng Lin discusses a wide variety of possible issues that can arise when undertaking Chinese localization for your game. These problems include grappling simplified vs. traditional Chinese, naming problems, UI & fonts, and China-specific policies that may relate to localization, political implications, and more."
Good Game/Tech/History Youtubers (Phoe / Medium)
"[SIMON'S NOTE: this got birthed after a conversation I had with Phoe in the Video Game History Foundation Discord chat - he watches a lot of good retro/interesting YouTube, and there's a number of recommendations in here I was unaware of!]
Red Bull TV - Screenland (Red Bull TV)
"Plug into the fresh stories within the world of video games and game design. The personal tales, wild new developments, and unexpected genres shed new light on what gaming means in the world now and what it could mean in the future. [SIMON'S NOTE: this is an entire _season_ of gaming documentaries, including with Frank Cifaldi (Video Game History Foundation), UK cult classic Knightmare, and lots more.]"
Tim Schafer tells the story of Amnesia Fortnight (Philippa Warr / RockPaperShotgun)
"“I started feeling a little bogged down by the scope of [Brutal Legend],” says Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine. “It was really huge and I felt like the team had been doing it for a long time and had a long way to go yet. I felt like they needed a break.” That break was Amnesia Fortnight, a two week game jam during which anyone at the developer can pitch an idea and, if it’s selected, lead a team to turn it from concept to working prototype."
The Signal From Tolva: The Best Game Ever (Matt Lees / Cool Ghosts / YouTube)
"New video! Matt dives into a spooky robot world, to talk about some of the cool design aspects of The Signal From Tölva. [SIMON'S NOTE: Can't emphasize enough that Cool Ghosts has some of the best game criticism on YouTube. Please patronize them! (On Patreon, not by talking down to them.)"
[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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!]