[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 installment includes a look at Need For Speed's monetization, Steven Soderbergh's new interactive film project, and a new AIAS podcast talking to Brendan 'PlayerUnknown' Greene.
Talking of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds, I had the chance to attend ESL's IEM Oakland eSports event at Oracle Arena yesterday (thanks to the ESL/Intel for getting me a media pass!) It allowed me to view eSports fans in their natural habitat and - yes - watch pro PUBG players go at it. And it was super interesting.
The arena was divided into half between PUBG & (more traditional eSport) Counter-Strike: GO & the vibe was quite different between the two, due to how the games play and are commentated. CS:GO - starring two teams of [EDIT: five] players - is all about incredibly fast shooting reactions and co-ordinated tactical play, but within a tiny well-memorized map. And you - an amateur player - play it the same way as the pros, but just much less well. The result: an exciting, if somewhat brain-scrambling spectacle due to speed of kills. But lots of cheering, etc.
However, with PUBG, which had stage space for 20 teams of 4 people (!), it's a lot more about conservatism, since being the last man standing involves teams 'owning' dedicated spaces on the large map, and hoping that the shrinking area you can play in means that you won't need to move into other team's space. But it takes a long time to complete rounds, players get knocked off slowly and less spectacularly, and a lot of the conflict is forced and lopsided. Plus, showing where all the players are on the map (for commentary) takes away a lot of the chaos that's so fun when we play.
So what does this mean? Fascinatingly, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds' positives that have made it a smash hit as a multiplayer game make it a much less compelling eSport. Even the scoring for PUBG in an eSports setting is based on ranking and total kills and is kinda, uh, convoluted and difficult to calculate. There's still some fun moments in there, though! But CS:GO-style games and MOBAs - and fighting games, my favorite - seem far more likely to continue as the future of eSports.
Until next time!
- Simon, curator.]
How to Get Rich Playing Video Games Online (Taylor Clark / The New Yorker, ARTICLE)
"One humid morning this past summer, Omeed Dariani drove his black Tesla sedan through the foothills east of San Diego, looking apprehensive. Dariani is the founder and C.E.O. of Online Performers Group, a talent-management company dedicated to professional video-game streamers, who broadcast their game play and commentary live over the Internet. [SIMON'S NOTE: if you read one article in this round-up, it should probably be this one.]"
Applying 'players first' logic to loot boxes and other mechanics in Hearthstone(Bryant Francis / Gamasutra, ARTICLE)
"Amidst all this, the game industry has been having a conversation about free-to-play mechanics like loot boxes and card packs, which is a core part of Hearthstone’s business model. Since Blizzard likes to tout its “players first” business philosophy, we wanted to know how the Hearthstone team is able to develop these updates while considering the possible negative impact on players. "
Why your favorite indie game may not get a boxed edition (Jessica Conditt / Engadget, ARTICLE)
"The ESRB oversees the entirety of the video game ratings system, from AAA to independent developers and specialty shops like iam8bit, Special Reserve and Limited Run Games (which release physical editions of digital indie titles). This year, the ESRB announced a change to its rating policy that rocked the very foundation of Limited Run Games' business model."
Cuphead and the Racist Spectre of Fleischer Animation (Yussef Cole / Unwinnable, ARTICLE)
"When asked in a Rolling Stone interview about the unfortunate associations of Cuphead‘s 1930s aesthetic, lead inking artist for the game, Maja Moldenhauer replies: “It’s just visuals and that’s about it. Anything else happening in that era we’re not versed in it.” [SIMON'S NOTE: this Twitter thread follow-up is an excellent semi-rebuttal, too.]"
Designer Notes 33: Tyler Sigman – Part 1 (Soren Johnson / Idle Thumbs, PODCAST)
"In this episode, Soren interviews independent game developer Tyler Sigman, best known as the designer of HOARD and Darkest Dungeon. They discuss how his game design career was almost derailed by staplers, how a weird aeronautical engineer is a normal game designer, and why his finished air racing game was never released."
How Fable Fortune survived the death of Lionhead (Wesley Yin-Poole / Eurogamer, ARTICLE)
"When Microsoft announced the shock closure of long-running developer Lionhead Studios back in March 2016, Fable Legends fell by the wayside. What most people didn't know at the time was there was another Fable game in the works at Lionhead, one that hadn't even been announced yet. Unlike Fable Legends, though, this secret Fable game survived Lionhead's closure."
Mosaic, Steven Soderbergh’s app/HBO TV series thingie (Jason Kottke / Kottke.org, ARTICLE)
"Steven Soderbergh’s latest project, Mosaic, takes two forms. The first is a free iOS appthat contains an interactive miniseries with over seven hours of footage that you can move through in the style of Choose Your Own Adventure, with “DVD extras” built right into the story. Mosaic will also air in a more conventional linear form on HBO in January. [SIMON'S NOTE: just noting this because it's literally 'interactive fiction'.]"
From loot tables to loot boxes, how do we manage an addiction to addiction? (Bryant Francis / Gamasutra, ARTICLE)
"Back in my teenage World of Warcraft days, I spent a whole summer raiding the ruins of Zul'Gurub in search of two pieces of loot that would justify my DPS-Paladin build. While on a walk with my Mom one day, I tried to explain why I was so keen to get these particular items, and more importantly, why it was taking so many weeks to get them."
Is HQ Trivia the future of TV? (Molly Sauter / The Outline, ARTICLE)
"At 9 p.m. last Sunday night, nearly 90,000 people simultaneously pulled out their iPhones to play a round of trivia with a guy named Scott. HQ Trivia, which launched this summer, is the third offering from Intermedia Labs, the company started by two of the founders of Vine. [SIMON'S NOTE: Also a fascinating game crossover that's discussed less by traditional game sites.]"
The music you didn’t realize you grew up with: Chip Tanaka’s 8-bit revolution(James Hadfield / Japan Times, ARTICLE)
"If you grew up during the 1980s or 1990s, there’s a good chance that you spent more time listening to the music of Hirokazu Tanaka than to many of your favorite pop songs. Such was the reach of the work that the Kyoto native created during his nearly 20-year tenure as a sound designer at Nintendo..."
Indiepocalypse Now (Paolo Pedercini / Molleindustria,org, POWERPOINT & NOTES AS AN ARTICLE)
"This is the transcript of a keynote I gave at the 2017 Indiecade Europe festival in Paris. It is a sort of sequel of Toward Independence, a micro-talk from 2012 about the challenges of independent game development."
Corporate Space | Tacoma (Ewan Wilson / Heterotopias, ARTICLE)
"Whilst Gone Home’s family residence was an intentionally familiar setting, rainy and domestic, Fullbright’s latest, Tacoma, could not be set further from home. Their new game takes place on a space station owned by the megacorporation Ventura, which alongside the likes of Hilton Hotels, Carnival Cruise Line, and Amazon, control the future."
How the Red Cross Convinced a Publisher to Make a Game That Respects the Laws of War (Stefanie Fogel, Glixel, ARTICLE)
"I have about five seconds to decide if the car coming towards me is a civilian or an enemy combatant. It's approaching quickly. The driver nearly runs over one of my fellow soldiers (they're not that bright). I lift my rifle, but the rules of engagement are clear."
The 2017 Indie Soapbox (Game Developers Conference / YouTube, VIDEO)
"In this 2017 GDC soapbox session, developers Tanya Short, Jarryd Huntley, Jerry Belich, Marben Exposito, Brandon Sheffield, Brie Code, Gemma Thomson, Colm Larkin, Sadia Bashir, and Jane Ng take the stage to share what's on their mind and broaden your horizons."
The New 'Need for Speed' Sees a Future Where Loot Boxes Are in Control (Austin Walker / Waypoint, ARTICLE)
"But underneath the checkpoints and drift scores, Payback peddling something else. Once I started paying attention to the overall structure of the game—to all those hours spent between races trying to keep my cars leveled up—I realized that Payback’s most distinct quality was how it made literal slot machine progression mechanics palatable, not in how it rendered cars going at high speeds."
Episode 6 - ROM Hack (Richard Moss / The Life & Times Of Games, PODCAST)
"Featuring quotes from Steve Demeter, founder of one of the first fan translation groups, Demiforce, who was the driving force behind three high-profile ROM hacks -- the Final Fantasy II and Radical Dreamers translation projects, and the Earthbound Zero prototype release."
The Sports Video Game That’s Not About Sports (Hua Hsa, The New Yorker, ARTICLE)
"In November, 2012, the Azerbaijani soccer team FC Baku hired a Swedish immigrant named Vugar Huseynzade to oversee the scouting and acquisition of new players... He was a twenty-one-year-old college graduate, whose primary qualification was that he excelled at Football Manager, a computer game."
Dev Q&A: Zachtronics team on building personality into puzzles (Gamasutra staff / Gamasutra, ARTICLE / VIDEO)
"Zachtronics' namesake Zach Barth, along with Opus Magnum writer/music composer Matthew Burns, were able to share some keen insight into the game's development, embedding narratives into puzzles, and the current furor over lootboxes and F2P."
A brief history of the “walking simulator,” gaming’s most detested genre (Nicole Clark / Salon, ARTICLE)
"To explain why “walking simulators” — the concept, and their proliferation — made so many people so angry, it’s best to first explain the history of the modern-day gaming complex. Video games, like so much of the technology we now use regularly, sprang from the military-industrial complex."
Interview: Osamu Sato (Nick Dwyer / Red Bull Music Academy Daily, ARTICLE)
"You won’t find many Japanese game creators with subreddits dedicated to the microscopic details of their career, but such is the cult following that Osamu Sato has amassed. Sato is an eclectic artist who has used a number of different mediums to express himself, starting with photography and music before he turned to design."
How Loot Boxes Led to Never-Ending Games (And Always-Paying Players) (Jared Newman / Glixel, ARTICLE)
"Jesse Houston and his team at Bioware had honest intentions when they introduced loot boxes to Mass Effect 3 in 2012. The team wanted to add multiplayer to the game, and focus testing showed that players were interested, but tacking on an entirely new mode was an expensive endeavor."
Making 20XX: Listening Well and Lucking Out (Chris King / Gamasutra Blogs, ARTICLE)
"Hi! I’m Chris King, and I recently released a game called 20XX. 20XX is a Mega Man X-inspired co-op roguelite, combining classic action platforming with random level generation and permanent death. In this postmortem, I’ll go over the inflection points in our story, then talk a little more generally about what we’ve learned over the past four years."
Interview: Brendan Greene, aka Playerunknown (Ted Price / AIAS Game Maker's Notebook, PODCAST)
"Brendan Greene, aka PLAYERUNKNOWN, talks about being on welfare before PUBG, traveling the world and meeting fans, the importance of having a team you can trust, and the power of game mods. Greene is the creative director and lead designer for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Before PUBG, Greene worked on the ARMA 2 mod DayZ: Battle Royale and H1Z1."
[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!]