[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. Some of the highlights include a tech breakdown of Super Mario Odyssey, a very solo Steam dev who's sold half a million copies, and the culture of 'daily runs' for games.
I had an intriguing discussion with Katherine Cross this week about her very well-written Gamasutra editorial about why 'the game industry must face up to its gambling problem'. It's interesting to see the recent pile-on re: games that have randomized awards that you pay for separately. And I think it's easy to have a contrarian reaction to the whole thing. In fact I did just that, initially saying:
"FWIW the mobile industry has made most of their money this way (and as i mentioned before, legal slot machines are in the top 20 grossing in iOS store!) it's a bit weird to me sometimes it's easy to compartmentalize console/PC games and are like 'this new thing is horrible!' (Not that i am saying Katherine is doing that.) It's like, no, it's the thing that has been generating a lot (most?) of the revenue for the game industry over the last 5 years... I'm also wondering - you really want the GOVERNMENT to get involved? Is the government going to create a sensible law here?"
But this is overly flippant of me. Just because this is newer in wide prevalence for 'core' console/PC games, that doesn't mean it can't be examined again. And it does genuinely worry me that young children have access to games that encourage them to spend tens or even hundred of dollars a week - see the FIFA 18 article below.
I don't spend - at least recently - money on F2P games, and when I did, I kept it manageable. But I would like to see more studies about what percentage of people are spending money they don't have on these add-ons. Yet in the short-term, I don't see any industry bodies stepping up to do this - there's too much money at stake, and associations are generally 'pro-business'.
As for Government legislation - the Compu Gacha law in Japan seems to have had relatively limited effect, and the current U.S. administration doesn't seem likely to be interventionist on something like this. So, we're stuck - are we? We'll see, especially given there's probably been lots of complaints to UK and US gambling commissions and government departments during the current loot crate riot(TM).
- Simon, curator.]
Super Mario Odyssey on Switch: The Complete Tech Analysis (DigitalFoundry / YouTube)
"Super Mario Odyssey pushes Switch really hard, with fascinating techniques in ensuring great visuals and performance in both docked and handheld configurations. John has the complete breakdown. [SIMON'S NOTE: oddly, I haven't linked Digital Foundry much on VGHF to date, but it's reliably best-in-class technical breakdowns of games.]"
A Full-Motion-Video Consulting Detective (Jimmy Maher / Digital Antiquarian)
"The most promising approaches — the ones, that is, that came closest to working — often used full-motion video in the context of a computerized mystery. In itself, this is hardly surprising. Despite the well-known preference of gamers and game designers for science-fiction and fantasy scenarios, the genre of traditional fiction most obviously suited for ludic adaptation is in the fact the classic mystery novel."
'Aztez': The bloody indie brawler that should've been big (Jessica Conditt / Engadget)
""If, five years ago, future-me were to teleport into the room and be like, 'I'm Matthew from the future -- Aztez, just get off of it, don't do it,' I'd probably still finish it," Wegner says, back in the real world. [SIMON'S NOTE: forgot to link this last week - I know Matthew pretty well, & this piece stirred up a bunch of after-the-fact told-you-so-s on Twitter. Bottom line: they took too long on the game, and I'm pretty sure it would have sold 20k copies 2 years ago, but nowadays...]"
Dev Q&A: A Mortician's Tale challenges how games depict death (Gamasutra staff / Gamasutra)
"Laundry Bear Games’ first release A Mortician’s Tale takes a different tack. It’s a small narrative game set in a funeral home that presents players with a view on death from the perspective of a character deeply entwined with its effect, but not so much with its victims."
The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons & Dragons (Neima Jahromi / New Yorker)
"The clinical psychologist Jon Freeman was feeling burnt out. He spent his days at a corporate office in Manhattan, managing dozens of research assistants as they tested pharmaceuticals on people with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Looking for an escape hatch, he noticed that his daughter often had nothing to do after school."
When it comes to FIFA 18, you can most definitely cash out (Wesley Yin-Poole / Eurogamer)
"As the debate about loot boxes and gambling rages, I can't help but wonder about Ultimate Team. Are buying card packs gambling? I go back and forth on the answer. Sometimes I think, well, it's just like buying football stickers. Of course it's not gambling. Then, usually when I'm desperate for one more hit, I find myself convinced it is."
Crafting a fun, varied combo system for brawler Deadbeat Heroes (Jack Yarwood / Gamasutra)
"The key to any good brawler is a robust combo system. This was the challenge that presented itself to the team at Upstream Arcade when they decided to try their hand at the beat 'em up genre with Deadbeat Heroes."
How 'Words With Friends' Became a Game About the Language of Everyday Life(Stephen Kearse / Waypoint)
"Zynga's conception of words is a wholesale divergence from Scrabble's word list and its impact ripples from the words, down to the gameplay, and onto players. Words With Friends isn't just a Scrabble clone; it's a living, raging mutiny."
Advanced Entrepreneurship: Avoiding Total Studio Disaster (Jason Della Rocca / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC talk, Execution Labs' Jason Della Rocca discusses how game developers can be better entrepreneurs in order to build a successful smaller studio."
The Indie Game Unsuccess Story: How the Creators of The Magic Circle Survived Their Own Gaming Nightmare (Ed Smith / USGamer)
"It was smart, personal, and unflinching, but contrary to indie game myth, The Magic Circle would not become a hit. "We thought we were striking while the iron was hot," Thomas says. "What we didn't realise was that the indie wave was about to break." [SIMON'S NOTE: like Aztez, another semi-cautionary story.]"
An ode to the brilliance of Roguelikes (John Brownlee / Magenta)
"It starts with an @ symbol, photons throbbing in the blackness of a cathode-ray tube. This is you, weary adventurer: a rogue. Around you, a matrix of decimals, bordered by other mathematical symbols. The vertical bars (|) and minus signs (-) are walls, the plus symbols (+) doors."
Growing Older With Video Games ( Leonardo Da Sidci / YouTube)
"Video games aren't an integral part of daily life, but as a form of entertainment, they're one of the most incredible mediums for storytelling, mechanical engagement and interactive technology. Growing Older comes with commitments, whether they come in the form of work, family or relationships, and as a hobby, enjoying games is no longer a priority."
Secrets of the developer who sold half a million videogames you’ve never heard of on Steam (Alec Meer / RockPaperShotgun)
"In the space of a half-hour conversation, Adam Nickerson, aka Nickervision Studios, uses a variant of the phrase ‘I don’t know really how to make videogames’ at least half a dozen times. Yet he’s managed to singlehandedly sell half a million copies of his games on PC. [SIMON'S NOTE: sorta more success, but his games sell at 50c-$1, so more than anything a clever price undercutting with some fun arcade games?]"
'Neopets': Inside Look at Early 2000s Internet Girl Culture (Nicole Carpenter / Glixel)
"Rebecca Garcia was 12 years old when she bought her first domain name. She asked her dad for his credit card to purchase the address. He didn't think she knew how to actually buy a site."
Video Games Are Destroying the People Who Make Them (Jason Schreier / New York Times)
"Among video game developers, it’s called “crunch”: a sudden spike in work hours, as many as 20 a day, that can last for days or weeks on end. During this time, they sleep at work, limit bathroom breaks and cut out anything that pulls their attention away from their screens, including family and even food."
Get Over Here: Meeting the Faces of Mortal Kombat, 25 Years Later (Caty McCarthy / USGamer)
"Before the faces of Mortal Kombat were punching off heads in 1992, they worked up a sweat at a small athletic club in Chicago. At least, that's the story that Elizabeth Malecki, the former fitness instructor turned Sonya Blade in Mortal Kombat, told me. As for her once-colleagues, they parrot their tale of friends banding together to change gaming history forever."
The 24-hour ticket: Examining 'daily runs' (Phill Cameron / Gamasutra)
"Which makes it unsurprising that it’s the genre that gave birth to what amounts to almost a subgenre within roguelikes: the daily run. Along with revitalizing the genre, Spelunky also introduced the idea of a "daily challenge.""
SPISPOPD: The Video Game That Didn't Exist (Until it did) (Nostalgia Nerd / YouTube)
"But it may interest you to know that IDSPISPOPD or SPISPOPD isn't just a random jumble of characters. It's actually born from a Usenet post which emerged before Doom was even released, back in November 1993."
The long, hard, journey behind the design of Dead Cells’ player builds (Alex Wiltshire / RockPaperShotgun)
"When Dead Cells was first released in Steam Early Access in May this year, Sébastien Bénard was shocked to see how people played the game he’d spent the previous three years designing. “It was quickly a disappointment,” he tells me. They were not playing in the way he’d intended at all."
Dendy’s Dream Debased (Roman Muradov / Medium)
"Russia of the 90s felt like a misremembered dream that stumbled over lapses with hastily invented fictions, governed by the logic of the early hours. In its heightened unreality things like Dendy not only flourished, but even seemed to make sense. [SIMON'S NOTE: terribly LTTP on this, but what a story!]"
The state of Steam: Read what PC devs really think (Lars Doucet / PC Gamer)
"The following is a survey of more than 200 registered Steam developers, concerning their opinions about the platform in 2017 and what they would most like to see improved. It comes out to nearly 100 pages, including quotes and survey results about Steam reviews, the volume of games on Steam, and more."
[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 & an advisor to indie publisher No More Robots, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]