This week's highlights include the story depths of Subsurface Circular, teaching players in Kingdoms & Castles, and the motivations behind Destiny 2's creation.
A bumper set of links this week - especially since I'm really trying to include links from games that have just debuted and are riding high in buzz, interest or sales.
It was also interesting to see the relative lack of buzz online for particular new titles/announces around Gamescom. As GIbiz's Christopher Dring noted, there's so much good stuff out there, but it's increasingly difficult to break through the static of already launched or announced games with vibrant communities. (And for many of those, production values are so high that you'll get kicked around by commenters for not looking AAAA.)
But on the plus side, the Cambrian explosion of games continues, and there's a bunch of wonderful material out there. I just hope the developers who make it get what they want - karmically, critically or monetarily.
Au revoir for now,
- Simon, curator.]
How Cover Systems Ruined Shooters (Turbo Button / YouTube)
"Cover mechanics gained a pretty infamous reputation during the 7th generation of games, leading many to feel that the entire third-person shooter genre was becoming homogenous and stale. In this video, let's take a look back at just how cover mechanics ruined shooters."
Q&A: Bloodstained creator's keys to making a great 'Igavania' game (Brandon Sheffield / Gamasutra)
"The term “Metroidvania” basically describes nothing -- it suggests a comparison to two specific games, both of which have evolved over time. But “Igavania” actually means something. It’s a game in the Castlevania series which follows the design style of Koji Igarashi, designer of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, through the game’s final 2D entries on the DS and Xbox Live/PSN."
Tooth and Tail: Building Community Within Open Game Development (Andy Nguyen / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 Game Developers Conference talk, Pocketwatch Games' Andy Nguyen talks about how the developer (Monaco) leveraged free online tools to build community and generate excitement around a game in development."
The wonderful little details in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (Wesley Yin-Poole / Eurogamer)
"The Uncharted games are known for their attention to the little things. Whether it's a room packed with incidental clutter or the way playable characters interact with the environment, Naughty Dog often delivers a level of detail beyond most other developers. The recently-released standalone expansion The Lost Legacy is no different."
Headlander Art Direction Document (Lee Petty / Scribd)
"The Headlander Art Direction Document was created during the pre-production phase of Headlander, a side-scrolling action adventure game inspired by 70's science fiction. Headlander was published by Adult Swim Games and developed by Double Fine Productions. [SIMON'S NOTE: just put online, GDC board member & my old co-worker Lee shows how you set the visual tone for a game - & it's wonderfully done, in this case.]"
Near mint: A conversation with game collectors (Ewen Hosie / Eurogamer)
"Pride of place in Jason's game room is a stacked shelf of big-box PC games. In the days before Steam homogenised the purchasing process, packaging was an appealing element in buying new PC games, which often released with foldout maps, hefty manuals and lavish boxes. Jason has always been a fan, and they are among his favourite games to collect."
Subsurface Circular Makes The Case For a Socialized Economy (Dante Douglas / Paste)
"Lately I’ve been gravitating toward shorter games. Probably because they’re easier to digest, but I think also because they tend to get to their ‘point’ faster. Subsurface Circular is a great example of this. It’s a recent release by Bithell Games (Thomas Was Alone, Volume, among others), headed by Mike Bithell, as well as a team of animators, writers, and designers. I finished it in about two hours, but spent easily another six thinking about what it was saying."
Three Pro Players' Strategies For Mastering Magic: The Gathering’s Modern Format (Rafael Abrahams / Kotaku Compete)
"Magic: The Gathering’s Modern format is one of the most beloved ways to play the game. Its pool of over 11,000 cards offers players a huge variety of powerful strategies to pilot to success. Some players use it to dominate others. Some use it to tinker. Talk to top pros and you’ll hear about a range of tactics."
Potential Half-Life 3 plot outed by series writer Marc Laidlaw (Mark Walton / Ars Technica)
"Half-Life 3, gaming's greatest unicorn, may finally be with us—albeit in text form. Marc Laidlaw, the now retired lead writer of the Half-Life series, has published what appears to be a summary of the plot of Half-Life 3, or Half-Life 2: Episode 3, entitled "Epistle 3."
Hellblade's Mechanics Tell a Deeper Story Than You Might Think (Writing On Games / YouTube)
"Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice could have presented itself as a fun action game where the character sees things and hears voices. To do so would be to rely on a surface level misunderstanding of the psychosis so central to the game's narrative. Instead, developer Ninja Theory went the other way, forcing you to work through mundane mechanics in order to convey a crucial but rarely talked about facet of Senua's condition."
Bungie's Mark Noseworthy on Breaking Bones and Building Worlds for 'Destiny 2' (Alex Kane / Glixel)
"As a child, Mark Noseworthy thought he might one day follow in his father's footsteps and become a police officer. Tall, boyish, and clean-cut, he has the look of a cop about him. But the Nintendo Entertainment System had other ideas, and a trip to a friend's house in the 1980s changed everything."
Disney’s Giant Leap Forward (Adrian Hon / You Have A Lucky Face)
"When Disney surveyed the public about a hypothetical immersive Star Wars hotel early this year, it felt like an idea from the future, not an actual commitment.. But at this year’s D23 convention in July, Disney confirmed not only that the hotel was real; not only that it’d be fully immersive; but that it’s a pilot for an entire ‘Disney 360 vacation concept’. [SIMON'S NOTE: this has a surprisingly large amount of game/ARG content in it - and is fascinating.]"
Teaching players without tutorials in Kingdoms and Castles (Joel Couture / Gamasutra)
"Turning a small hamlet into a sprawling city, defended from Viking and dragon attacks by high walls and smart defenses, can be a daunting task for any budding Medieval city planner. Doing so while keeping the populace happy and healthy can be even harder. However, Pete Angstadt and Michael Peddicord, developers of city builder Kingdoms and Castles, wanted to teach players how to do just that without going through a tutorial, tasking them with complex tasks and goals without formal instruction."
In Belgrade, Yes Belgrade, an Unlikely Path to a Tech Hit (Adam Satariano / Bloomberg)
"When Branko Milutinovic was growing up in Belgrade, air-raid sirens routinely cut short pickup soccer games with friends. "If you heard a siren you had about five to 10 minutes to get to a shelter," says Milutinovic, now 34. "You’re watching from the window and seeing rockets coming up and coming down, then things explode. It was like in the movies." [SIMON'S NOTE: all about Nordeus & 'Top Eleven', an underdiscussed mobile megahit if ever there was one.]"
UI Design in NieR:Automata (Hisayoshi Kijima / PlatinumGames Blog)
"Hello. I’m Hisayoshi Kijima, the UI and mecha designer for NieR:Automata. While this isn’t my first devblog, it’s the first I’ve written since Bayonetta 2. Game UI – that’s short for “user interface” – often goes largely unnoticed, so I was glad to hear that some fans saw some of our other NieR:Automata devblogs and asked for one about my work, too!"
Boosting complexity (and absurdity) of prison breaks in The Escapists 2 (Joel Couture / Gamasutra)
"“It was essential to retain the sandbox nature of the first game, so we inherited all the ‘traditional’ methods (digging tunnels, chipping through walls, switching off generators to disable electric fences etc.) that returning players would be familiar with,” says The Escapists 2’s designer James Witcomb of Team 17 Digital, who co-developed the game with Mouldy Toof Studios. "But we also wanted to add an entirely new type of escape to the game.""
No Man's Sky Players Who Colonized A Galaxy Now Have To Find A New Home (Gita Jackson / Kotaku)
"No Man’s Sky’s vast universe was part of its initial appeal. You would go from planet to planet, completely alone, discovering and naming things along the way. For some players, that was too desolate, so they banded together to make the Galactic Hub, a portion of No Man’s Sky that acted as a home base. After the most recent update, those established trade routes, farms and bases became unrecognizable. So, the community leaders of the Galactic Hub had to find a new home for their adventures."
DOOM: Behind the Music (Mick Gordon / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 session, Doom composer Mick Gordon provides a detailed look into the compositional process, production techniques and creative philosophies behind the hell-raising soundtrack to the 4th installment of the seminal first-person shooter franchise, Doom. [SIMON'S NOTE: Good gravy, this has 110,000+ views on YouTube already - people REALLY love this OST!]"
The Enduring Legacy of Zork (Elizabeth Woyke / MIT Technology Review)
"In 1977, four recent MIT graduates who’d met at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science used the lab’s PDP-10 mainframe to develop a computer game that captivated the world. Called Zork, which was a nonsense word then popular on campus, their creation would become one of the most influential computer games in the medium’s half-century-long history."
Designing the Opening Level of Bioshock with Bill Gardner (Gameumentary / YouTube)
"The opening level to Bioshock is arguably one of the most iconic game openings of all-time, and we spent over half an hour speaking to Bill Gardner on how Irrational designed it. [SIMON'S NOTE: funnily enough - & I think this is synchronicity, not copying - Gamasutra also did a video session with Gardner on Bioshock & level design recently.]"
The hottest new board games from Gen Con 2017 (Aaron Zimmerman / Ars Technica)
"We couldn’t get to all of it, but we skipped sleep, meals, and general mental well-being to bring you what we see as the best of the show. Below are the 20 board games we think you should be paying attention to going into the last few months of the year (cube-pushing Eurogame fans will want to tune in again in late October when we hit the giant Spieltage fair in Essen, Germany)."
Prioritizing accessibility made Way of the Passive Fist much better (Joel Couture / Gamasutra)
"Way of the Passive Fist is an arcade brawler that takes players to a colorful world of misfits and danger, but one that turns the genre on its head through a defensive style that emphasizes learning the enemy and playing smart, rather than brute force takedowns."
Cultural Complicity - Matt Lees @ Gamescom Congress 2017 (Cool Ghosts / YouTube)
"Off the back of the piece I wrote for The Guardian at the start of this year, I was asked by Gamescom Congress to come and give a talk in Cologne this year. They also very kindly let me video the presentation too - which you can watch above! [SIMON'S NOTE: powerful & thoughtful stuff from Matt - please watch.]"
[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!]