[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from video game industry 'watcher' Simon Carless (GDC, Gamasutra co-runner), rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.
This week's highlights include a morbid piece on killing in-game characters in The Sims series, a plethora of writing around the launch of Red Dead Redemption 2, and an interview on the tools used to make the classic Deus Ex, among many others.
Well, that was a week - with a certain little cowboy game launching, and a whole bunch of discussion around its size, realism, and the human toil that went into completing it. I know that the creators of the Westworld reboot have said that the original Red Dead Redemption was an inspiration for the new series.
But it seems like RDR2 has almost as many ethical quandaries around it as an actual robot-filled theme park? (And I can't believe nobody has compared The Man In Black to the Housers on Twitter yet - get to it, ye cynics!)
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Exploring Helplessness in Games with Bury Me, My Love (Florent Maurin / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2018 GDC talk, The Pixel Hunt's Florent Maurin explains how he tried to confront players with a feeling of helplessness through a series of design choices in [the smartphone 'text messaging adventure game about Nour, a Syrian migrant trying to find her way to Europe'] Bury Me, My Love."
Reclaiming video games’ queer past before it disappears (Adrienne Shaw / The Conversation - ARTICLE)
"For 30 years, GLAAD, a leading advocate for LGBTQ visibility in the media, has honored TV shows that positively represent LGBTQ people – and along the way has expanded its attention to include other genres, such as English language film, journalism, theater and Spanish language media. The 2019 GLAAD Media Awards will, for the first time, recognize video games with LGBTQ characters."
Getting into the games industry (People Make Games / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Given that we're called People Make Games, it only felt right to tell this particular story from a real person's perspective. [SIMON'S NOTE: this is excellent, and a bit surprising, and has really good animation too.]"
To All The Sims I’ve Killed Before (Jillian Capewell / Huffington Post - ARTICLE)
"Mortimer Goth settles in to one of the 15 wicker chairs that have suddenly appeared by his lit fireplace. He feels strangely compelled to sit and remain seated, as if guided by an unseen hand, even as the room he’s in grows curiously hotter and hotter. Before he knows it, the chairs around him burst into pixelated flames."
Inside Rockstar Games' Culture Of Crunch (Jason Schreier / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"In the final year of development on Red Dead Redemption 2, the upcoming Western game, the top directors decided to add black bars to the top and bottom of every non-interactive cutscene in hopes of making those scenes feel more cinematic, like an old-school cowboy film. Everyone agreed it was the right creative move, but there was a catch: It would add weeks of work to many people’s schedules."
Classic Tools Retrospective: The tools that built Deus Ex, with Chris Norden (David Lightbown / Gamasutra Blogs - ARTICLE)
"In recent years, retrospectives of classic games have been well received at GDC, but there have been very few stories about classic game tools. The first two articles in this series have featured John Romero (about the TEd Editor) and Tim Sweeney (about the Unreal Editor). For the third article, I am very happy and honored to speak with Chris Norden about the tools that were developed to create the landmark FPS / RPG hybrid, Deus Ex."
Dead Cells in Japan - an encounter at TGS 2018 (Archipel / YouTube - VIDEO)
"For our last encounter from TGS 2018, we met with Sébastien Bénard, Thomas Vasseur and Gwenaël Massé from the Motion Twin team to discuss the development story, their influences behind their acclaimed roguelike game: Dead Cells, along with their views on Japanese games."
Red Dead Redemption 2 and the problems with creative work (Will Partin / The Outline - ARTICLE)
"One reason the video game industry gets away with “crunch” is that we tend to have a higher tolerance for long hours in creative industries because we believe that its workers are doing what they love (and given the number of stories we have about the sacrifices art supposedly demands, we may even expect it). But, like so many things in culture industries, these are simply exaggerated versions of broader phenomena: namely the expectation that we should find “meaning” in our work. [SIMON'S NOTE: see also The human cost of Red Dead Redemption 2 over at Eurogamer.]"
Mike Sellers of "Sims 2" on Community and Real Life Faith (Humans Of Gaming podcast / Libsyn - PODCAST)
"Mike Sellers has a "career swamp" that flows through nearly every game genre. Starting off with a desire to be a neurosurgeon, Mike's career path would instead lead him to be a software engineer and interface designer. In the 90's he founded, along with his brother, Archetype Interactive which would develop the first 3D MMO Meridian 59. He would go on to work with Will Wright on The Sims 2, do extensive work with DARPA on AI, and finally settle down to be head of the University of Indiana's Game Design program."
It started as an online gaming prank. Then it turned deadly (Brendan Koerner / Wired - ARTICLE)
"As she spoke at length about her rage and anguish, Finch conspicuously failed to mention the nihilistic Angeleno who has been widely vilified for his role in her son’s death. She goes out of her way to avoid letting this young man’s name cross her lips, even though he has become a global symbol of all that’s rotten in gaming culture."
Red Dead Redemption 2: The Kotaku Review (Kirk Hamilton / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"From tip to tail, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a profound, glorious downer. It is the rare blockbuster video game that seeks to move players not through empowering gameplay and jubilant heroics, but by relentlessly forcing them to confront decay and despair. It has no heroes, only flawed men and women fighting viciously to survive in a world that seems destined to destroy them. [SIMON'S NOTE: I hope Kotaku finds a way through its unfortunate corporate situation, because work like this is transcendent.]"
How Mega Man 11's Levels Do More With Less (Mark Brown / Game Maker's Toolkit / YouTube - VIDEO)
"After looking at level design in Mario, Donkey Kong, and Rayman, it’s time to see how the blue bomber’s stages work - by taking a look at the levels in Mega Man 11."
The legal status of loot boxes around the world, and what's next in the debate (T.J. Hafer / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"The most intense criticism of loot boxes—which offer randomized rewards, often for real money—came late last year, and was especially stoked by Star Wars Battlefront 2's subsequently-revised progression system. The conversation has cooled a little since then, with net neutrality regulations and industry working conditions taking center stage, but the the issue is far from resolved."
Copyright Law Just Got Better for Video Game History (Ian Birnbaum & Matthew Gault / Motherboard - ARTICLE)
"A new ruling from the Librarian of Congress is good news for video game preservation. In an 85-page ruling that covered everything from electronic aircraft controls to farm equipment diagnostic software, the Librarian of Congress carved out fair use exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for video games and software in general. These exemptions will make it easier for archivists to save historic video games and for museums to share that cultural history with the public."
A Video Game Shows the True Colors of Ancient Greece (Zachary Small / Hyperallergic - ARTICLE)
"Still, the consensus of #ACademicOdyssey historians is that Odyssey captures the monumentality of objects in the Ancient World while preserving elements of the culture largely forgotten in mainstream depictions. Temples are not always sterling marble palaces, but rightly include elements of wood and metal."
Driven to distraction: Why do open-world racers have the worst plots in gaming? (John Walker / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"The plot of Horizon 4 goes like this: You’re some race driver who does quite well in a couple of races... This success is met with incredulous astonishment, your abilities recognised as signs of the second coming of MotorChrist, so someone clearly suggests you as a stunt driver for a movie that’s filming nearby. [SIMON'S NOTE: This is rantier than the articles we normally run, but having just played Forza Horizon 4 too, which is GREAT, but does indeed have a pretty insipid plot, I thought it was an interesting point. Maybe these games are meant to have 'ambient plot'?]"
Team Fortress 2: A Boo-rief History of Scream Fortress (Ozzie Mejia / Shacknews - ARTICLE)
"Halloween is almost here and that means more and more games are kicking off their spooky holiday-themed events. There's Overwatch, Rocket League, Killing Floor 2, Guild Wars 2, and The Elder Scrolls Online, just to name a few games. But there's one game that was among the first to embrace the Halloween holiday and continues to do so to this day. That game is Team Fortress 2, Valve's beloved team-based shooter."
Game Developers Give Advice On How To Make Their Industry a Better Place (Patrick Klepek / Waypoint - ARTICLE)
"The answers varied, but shared a common theme: buy and enjoy the games built by them, even if you come to realize the circumstances they were developed may have been harmful. “I would prefer someone just play whatever they want and then vote for folks who will lead the way on progressive, future of work issues,” said Campo Santo (Firewatch) co-founder Sean Vanaman, who previously worked at Telltale Games."
Red Dead Redemption 2: The inside story of the most lifelike video game ever (Sam White / GQ - ARTICLE)
"Houser isn’t even sure how his and Sam’s jobs intersect anymore, but he loves working alongside his brother. It's a family thing, a brotherly thing – something that clearly helped define Rockstar’s cultish, insular attitude – but the bond is important to Houser considering the drama that they've attracted over the years."
A week away from Fortnite feels like forever (Andrew Webster / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"When I last played Fortnite, the latest major addition was a vehicle that let you ram through walls and launch players in the air. That was 10 days ago — and so much has been added since. The major shift has been the Halloween “Fortnitemares” event, which has filled the island with shambling monsters."
[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 protected] 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!]