Some of the highlights include the making of Rick & Morty's VR game, a classic 2D game art podcast, & discussing Divinity: Original Sin 2's success.
One thing I particularly wanted to highlight this week is 'Digging for treasure in Aladdin's source code', the first article from the Video Game History Foundation's Writing Fund. I'm on the board of the VGHF & helped with the initial investment in the Writing Fund - yes, we're paying writers to do primary-source game history writing!
Anyhow, the article itself - based on access to the source code and data/tools for Disney's Aladdin on the Genesis - is an astounding piece of forensics from Rich Whitehouse. It's been super well-received & has rightly been featured on Hacker News' front page - and prominently on Reddit's r/games subreddit.
And there's lots more great historical material to come via the Writing Fund, wrangled by VGHF founder Frank Cifaldi - please support VGHF if you'd like to see more of this longform goodness.
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Children Of The Anthropocene | Future Unfolding (Lewis Gordon / Heterotopias)
"Despite the bleak hubris and narcissism underpinning the term, these scientific efforts are facilitating a broader dawning ecological awareness. Eschewing the apocalyptic fatalism of its many contemporaries, Future Unfolding asks not what the world looks like after the deluge but before it."
West of Loathing's first hour redefines how we engage with open worlds (Alexander Chatziioannou / PC Gamer)
"Asymmetric's quasi-sequel to Kingdom of Loathing is frequently hilarious, but for all the praise, it must be just a tiny bit frustrating how everyone seems to concentrate almost exclusively on the jokes."
Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality Postmortem: VR Lessons *burrrp* Learned (Alex Schwartz & Devin Reimer / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 VRDC session, Owlchemy Labs' Devin Reimer and Alex Schwartz break down the successes, failures, and lessons learned during the development of Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality."
Overwatch’s Most Popular Player Talks Overwatch League (And Bastion) (Nathan Grayson / Compete)
"Brandon “Seagull” Larned has had quite a year, going from esports player to full-time streamer and back again, all while continuing to grow a fandom of millions who love him for his easygoing demeanor and gravity-defying Pharah and Genji plays."
A view from the director's chair of Assassin's Creed: Origins (Bryant Francis / Gamasutra)
"We caught up with Ubisoft game director Ashraf Ismail, who previously directed Assasin's Creed IV: Black Flag. We wanted to know more about directing games that have multiple studios involved, and why Ubisoft Montreal decided to explore ancient Egypt in this new game."
Episode 3 - Colour Cycling (Richard Moss / The Life & Times Of Video Games)
"This is the [podcast] story of illustrator Mark Ferrari, whose artwork was so good it forced Lucasfilm Games to figure out how to make a graphics technique called dithering compress to fit on floppy disks — in the process winning awards and triggering the use of dither in the wider games industry — and who pioneered the use of two background illustration tricks that gave the illusion of animation."
Rising game dev costs put squeeze on mid-tier studios (James Brightman / GI.biz)
"Making games is expensive. Let me rephrase that: making games is really, really expensive. Obviously, that's no secret, but the numbers involved are even surprising to those of us who follow the industry every day. [SIMON'S NOTE: the rise of the bootstrapped studio is putting even more pressure on those who have regular employees that they pay regular wages, especially in high-GDP/cost areas of the world. It's getting tricky out there...]"
Classic Postmortem: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which turns 5 today (Garth DeAngelis / Gamasutra)
"In honor of the 5th anniversary of the release of the brilliant XCOM: Enemy Unknown, we present this classic postmortem, which first appeared in the January 2013 issue of Game Developer magazine."
Together alone: a misanthrope’s guide to Destiny 2 (Alec Meer / RockPaperShotgun)
"The Destiny games are most heavily associated with players working together to take down big bosses and obtain the hardest-won loot, but there’s a certain sect of us who aren’t as comfortable communicating with strangers over a microphone. What does Destiny 2 have for us, the folk who like to think of ourselves as too-cool-for-school loners but are considered to be miserable, uncooperative gits by everyone else?"
Late Night Ponderings: Similar Sinews (Red Angel / YouTube)
"Late Night Ponderings’ host, Red Angel discusses the Dark Souls and the similar sinews that wrapped around our necks like vices. [SIMON'S NOTE: this is a bit rough round the edges, but still intriguing on the Dark Souls comparison-ification of 50% of games nowadays.]"
Gaming Beyond the Iron Curtain: East Germany (Super Bunnyhop / YouTube)
"Here's a brief tour of a retro game collection too rare to find this side of the Berlin wall. Fun fact: because of confusion with the German abbreviation of the GDR (the "DDR,") Konami's "Dance Dance Revolution" was re-named "Dancing Stage" in European markets."
Valve reflects on The Orange Box, ten years later (Samuel Roberts / PC Gamer)
"The Orange Box launched ten years ago. It was undoubtedly the greatest bundle of games ever, with the simultaneous launch of Portal, Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two, alongside the existing Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One."
The Role-Players You Meet in 'Battlegrounds' (Merritt K / Waypoint)
"This light customizability, combined with Battlegrounds' evocative setting, has had an interesting result: players investing in their avatars and essentially creating PUBG original characters (or OCs)."
How Video Games Satisfy Basic Human Needs (Simon Parkin / Nautilus)
"Grand Theft Auto, that most lavish and notorious of all modern videogames, offers countless ways for players to behave. Much of this conduct, if acted out in our reality, would be considered somewhere between impolite and morally reprehensible."
Neill Blomkamp on Game Engines, Making 'District 10' (Brian Crecente / Glixel)
"The director, producer, screenwriter and animator says that he and his team at Oats Studio have been quietly working on sequels to "Adam," a Webby Award-winning short film created with the Unity game engine and rendered in real time in 2016."
What are Japanese devs saying about the recent Tokyo Game Show? (Brandon Sheffield / Gamasutra)
"But how do Japanese game developers themselves feel? And how does the Tokyo Game Show reflect these changes? We asked four venerable developers – Naoto Ohshima (Sonic the Hedgehog), Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro (Deadly Premonition), Kotori Yoshimura (Star Cruiser), and Tak Fujii (Ninety Nine Nights) to give us their thoughts."
How Game Designers Protect Players From Themselves (Game Maker's Toolkit / YouTube)
"A designer’s job often involves making sure players are experiencing the game in the most fun or interesting way. In this video, I look at examples of games that have tried to achieve this - sometimes with success, and sometimes with controversy. [SIMON'S NOTE: this is a SPECTACULARLY good piece of design analysis from Mark Brown.]"
Are loot boxes gambling? (Vic Hood / Eurogamer)
"'Whenever you open [a loot box], you may get something awesome (or you may get trash),' video game psychologist and author Jamie Madigan says. 'This randomness taps into some of the very fundamental ways our brains work when trying to predict whether or not a good thing will happen.'"
Saving Japan's Games (Chris Kohler / Kotaku)
"Half a mile from the station on a quiet street, a gated, hedge-trimmed building houses a row of four-story units, rooms stacked one atop the other. One of these is the headquarters of the Game Preservation Society, a non-profit founded in 2011 with the goal of researching, documenting, and preserving the games of Japan."
Swen Vincke on the future of Divinity: Original Sin 2, and the pros and cons of open development (Joe Donnelly / PC Gamer)
"I caught up with [Vincke] again last week, three weeks following Divinity: Original Sin 2's launch, to see how he feels the game is doing, what he wants from its flourishing mod scene, and what it's got planned into the future."
Designing a Trance: Meditation and Game Design (Robin Arnott / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC talk, independent designer Robin Arnott explains how to leverage trance itself as more than the byproduct of good game design, but as a tool for deepening a player's relationship with themselves and with others in gameplay. [SIMON'S NOTE: this is a VERY strange lecture - in a good way.]"
Inside the ever-shifting levels of Runic Games' Hob (Alex Wawro & Bryant Francis / Gamasutra)
"Gamasutra had the pleasure of talking to Runic's Patrick Blank, game director and lead level designer of Hob, about the well-received game in a recent Twitch stream. We've transcribed some of the more interesting passages of the conversation."
[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!]