This week's highlights include GTA Online's crime issues, the history of the Flash game scene, & the triumphant completion of The Dream Machine. And LOTS more, actually - pretty crazily packed week for great writing & videos.
Also, a reminder - that Game eBook Storybundle I curated is still running, & the optional charity proceeds - plus some additional money myself and Steve Lin donated as VGHF board members - is going towards the new Video Game History Foundation Writing Fund. This newly announced fund will pay for deeper (original source) writing about the history of video games.
It partly came about due to VGHF's realization that just making historical materials available isn't enough in this increasingly editorial-defunded world. With both guidance and $ dispensed, hope it'll make a difference! 'Til next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Guild Wars 2: the journey to Path of Fire (Philip Kollar / Polygon)
"Expansion packs are like punctuation.” ArenaNet president and Guild Wars 2 game director Mike O’Brien has a very specific approach that he wants his game to take toward paid expansion sets. It’s not that they need to be completely different from the consistent stream of content being added to the game in patches; rather, they need to be big."
Games might be a good tool for fighting fake news (Christine Schmidt / Nieman Lab)
"The epidemic of fake news during and after the U.S. presidential election convinced several game designers and journalists to think outside the box for trying to tackle the problem. They say that great minds think alike — and three different groups have created three similar apps to help users learn how to tell the difference between misleading headlines and factual claims."
The Cubist Revolution: Minecraft For All (Eric Westervelt / NPR)
"The cubist revolution, now in its eighth year, is thriving. That's Minecraft cubes, of course. The game where you build virtual Lego-like worlds and populate them with people, animals and just about everything in between is one of the most popular games ever made; it's second only to Tetris as the best-selling video game of all time."
Continuous World Generation in No Man's Sky (Innes McKendrick / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC talk, Hello Games' Innes McKendrick presents a study of the technical architecture of No Man's Sky, focusing in particular on the techniques used to generate planets and the supporting structures allowing this to happen continuously in real-time."
'PixelJunk Eden' Co-creator Baiyon on His New Album 'We Are' (James Mielke / Rolling Stone)
"Kyoto-based musician Baiyon has a low-key but notable place in the games industry. As a frequent collaborator with Q-Games, he made his name as both artist, designer, and musician on the indie hit PixelJunk Eden, and later PixelJunk 4AM. Now a full member of the team, he's hard at work on the spiritual sequel to Eden, titled Eden Obscura. But when he's not at the office, Baiyon is busy pursuing his double-life a prolific DJ and artist."
The Hackers And Modders Behind The Next Official Sonic Game (Amr Al-Aaser / Kotaku)
"For decades, Sonic the Hedgehog has inspired an obsessive fandom that’s been difficult to separate from the uneven quality of the games. Fans have created impressive art, music, and even games that pay tribute to the series and its characters. Some of these creations are so impressive, that SEGA brought on fans to create the much-hyped Sonic Mania."
Yahoo! Games' Demise Shows What the Death of Flash Could Feel Like (Ernie Smith / Motherboard)
"When all these Flash games stop working, what will that death look like? I assume it might be something like the demise of Yahoo! Games—specifically the original version of the Yahoo! Games platform, which didn't rely on Flash, but a competing technology, the Java applet, that actually predated Flash by a few years. It was reliably square, but awesome."
'The Dream Machine' Was Supposed to Take One Year to Create. It Took Eight (Patrick Klepek / Waypoint)
"When people bought The Dream Machine back in 2010, it launched with two episodes in a six-part saga. But their purchase didn't just entitle them to those two episodes—it was a season pass for the point-and-click adventure, whose unique look comes from everything being hand-built out of cardboard and clay. The plan was to finish the whole game—all six episodes—in a year. Instead, The Dream Machine wouldn't be finished until this past May."
GTA Online Updates Push Crime Into The Suburbs, Frustrating Residents (Zack Zwiezen / Kotaku)
"In real life, people leave the bustle of city life for the country all the time. Turns out, that phenomenon happens even in digital places like GTA Online, too. GTAplayers sometimes choose sleepy neighborhoods to avoid crime at their doorstep, but recent updates have turned the real estate market upside down."
Prey - A Critique of the Mind Game (Joseph Anderson / YouTube)
"I don’t think Prey has gotten a fair chance to impress people. Reviews have been mixed and not without their minor controversies, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. The problem is a lot more fundamental than that. It’s the name."
Here's How Game Freak Designs Pokémon Creatures (Kyle Hilliard / Game Informer)
"While visiting Japan to explore Game Freak’s development studio, we spoke with Pokémon director, producer, and composer Junichi Masuda about what the process of designing a Pokémon looks like, whether they have ever encountered an internal pitch that was immediately turned down, and what has happened to their eyes over the years."
Threats, fake names and philanthropy: The untold story of Jane Whittaker (James Batchelor / GI.biz)
"Jane Whittaker has contributed to over 100 titles, and yet he's rarely been able to talk about his work. To understand why, we have to look at Whittaker's origins - even less publicised than his portfolio. He began programming at just 13 years old amidst incredibly difficult circumstances."
Living Worlds of Action and Adventure, Part 1: The Atari Adventure (Jimmy Maher / The Digital Antiquarian)
"In this first article, we’ll go the United States to look at the development of the very first action-adventure. It feels appropriate for such a beast to have started life as a literal translation of the original adventure game — Will Crowther and Don Woods’s Adventure — into a form manageable on the Atari VCS game console. The consoles aren’t my primary focus for this history, but this particular console game was just so important for future games on computers that my neglect of it has been bothering me for years."
Missing the Mark: The Importance of Market Fit (Erik Johnson / Gamasutra Blogs)
"I thought we had a hit game on our hands. When we first showed it off, someone asked us how they could give us money. When we described the concept, people said they loved it. We won awards. We got media coverage. Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all expressed interest. We got access to Steam back when that wasn't such an easy thing to do. Success seemed certain. If you've read this sort of article before, you probably know where this is going."
State of the Art: The slimes of Slime Rancher (Philippa Warr / RockPaperShotgun)
"I’ve spent a looooooot of time with my slimes in Slime Rancher and watching them bounce and coo as they wiggle free of my corrals and wobble off like determined balloon-toddlers has been a delight. But how does one convert a ball into a creature with such a strong sense of spirit? How do you keep their little slime modifications from becoming a confusing mulch of wings and ears?"
How a Syrian refugee's story became a JRPG (Edwin Evans-Thirlwell / Eurogamer)
"It could be any other throwback 16-bit adventure. I'm standing near low trees on the far side of a corrugated iron shack, waiting for a guard to turn around so I can break for the road at the top of the screen. The furnishings are the stuff of Final Fantasy 4, albeit passed through the guts of Fallout - chubby oil drums, wide-eyed chibi sprites, some nicely chiselled ruins. Only the black Islamic State flag draped across one wall gives it away."
Consolevania - Episode 6 (Consolevania / Patreon)
"[SIMON'S NOTE: I haven't linked this previously because it's actually subscription-only right now, but why not? I cannot believe that only 750 people have access to each episode of the new series of Consolevania (the same Scottish geniuses who also made videoGaiden), but - you should really grab a subscription & watch all the episodes, they're an amazing/insane mix of bizarre skits, heartfelt reviews, & complete rubbish. Consolevania's Twitter feed has a few samples posted recently if you're curious!]
Hitman: The Accidental Agatha Christie Game (Ian Boudreau / Paste)
"It was while I was hurling yet another pipe wrench at the back of a security guard’s unsuspecting skull that I had the thought, “Why aren’t there any good detective games?” IO Interactive’s Hitman (2016) isn’t a detective game, but playing it now reminds me of the classic mystery stories I read years ago."
The Flash Games Postmortem (John Cooney / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC talk, Kongregate's John Cooney attempts to encapsulate the immense history of Flash games and how it has shaped the current game industry by giving game developers their first chance to build and publish their games quickly to the web."
An 8-Year Opiate Addiction Fueled His Love for Games. Now, He's Quitting (Patrick Klepek / Waypoint)
"For Larry, video games aren't just a hobby, they're an escape, a chance to run away from his problems. They've also gone hand-in-hand with his drug addiction. He hasn't played a game without being high in nearly a decade. Larry has spent the last eight years addicted to opiates, powerful and habit-forming substances found in many pain-relief drugs."
CRYSIS Identity: A Franchise Retrospective (Noah Caldwell-Gervais / YouTube)
"This is a full-spoiler retrospective critique of the Crysis trilogy of first-person shooters. The first Crysis is a legendary piece of software, but the two in-house sequels failed to garner as much attention or respect. This video looks at what gave the originals such impact and speculates as to why that impact might've evaporated in later titles."
Designing the deceptively simple stick figure RPG West of Loathing (Joel Couture / Gamasutra)
"West of Loathing is a silly Wild West RPG for PCs from the developers of the browser-based fantasy MMO Kingdom of Loathing, which was equally silly. To the untrained eye, West of Loathing looks incredibly simplistic, with its stick figure art and monochromatic palette. But it represents a huge jump for Asymmetric Publications, who developed the game."
Tales from the Borderlands: The Oral History (Duncan Fyfe / Campo Santo Quarterly Review)
"I like it a lot. I wanted to know how Tales from the Borderlands came to be, I wanted to know who made it, and I wanted most of all for my mind not to think of the game in the same breath as “plane racist”. So I did this. Here, for the first time, is the oral history of the development of Tales from the Borderlands, compiled from interviews with over a dozen members of the cast and crew from Telltale and Gearbox."
Netflix teams with Robot Chicken studio for Interactive Toons (Chris Baker / Rolling Stone)
"The latest episode of Netflix's cheerfully gross animated kid's series Buddy Thunderstruck has an interesting surprise. The premise is that the truck-racing canine protagonist and his ferret sidekick are digging into their "maybe pile" of possibly brilliant, or terrible, ideas. Should they overdose on espresso? Should they experiment with a recipe for "garbage pizza"? Should they engage in a no-holds-barred wet willie contest? The twist is that the audience gets to make the decisions for the characters."
Gamasutra plays The Long Dark with Raphael Van Lierop (Gamasutra / YouTube)
"We interviewed Raphael Van Lierop, game director on The Long Dark, to find out what it's been like surviving Early Access and the transition to 1.0. [SIMON'S NOTE: I haven't been linking them a bunch, but Bryant Francis, Alex Wawro and other of my Gamasutra colleagues are doing really good dev playthrough livestreams on Twitch of late, archived back to YouTube - go check 'em out!]"
[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 & an advisor to indie publisher No More Robots, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]