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[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from video game industry 'watcher' Simon Carless (GDC, Gamasutra co-runner, No More Robots advisor), rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.
The latest highlights include a great piece on a unique Ubisoft 'fixer', the unlikely story behind Disco Elysium's success, the underappreciated Switch games of last year, and a whooole bunch more great articles besides. And also a new piece from my Game Discoverability Now! newsletter - sign up, if you haven't. And as always, thanks for reading!
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Analyzing the top Steam tags (Simon Carless / Game Discoverability Now! - ARTICLE)
"As Danny notes, the top tag on the separate ‘all-time tags’ list is, uhh, Batman. And you probably won’t be using that theme unless you have a license from DC or are feeling VERY optimistic about how copyright works in 2020. But here’s some things I took away from the list."
Kids’ Video Game Obsession Isn’t Really About Video Games. It’s About Unmet Psychological Needs (Andrew Kinch & Nir Eyal / Nir & Far - ARTICLE)
"Some kids suffer from gaming disorders, but such dependencies are often coupled with pre-existing conditions including problems with impulse control. This, of course, does not abdicate companies from their moral responsibility to help problem gamers. It’s time they implement policies to identify and help those with disorders."
How Planet Zoo narrowed 2 million animals down to 76 (Nate Crowley / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Let’s get this out there first, because it’s important: Bauwens’ favourite animal is the tapir, which I respect (I respect the opinion, that is. But I also respect the tapir itself. Only the Malayan version though, as it looks like a nice pig crossed with a battenberg cake."
Episodic Games Were the Future, and the Future Was Dead on Arrival (Imran Khan / VICE - ARTICLE)
"This might be why the idea of the episodic games, splitting a video game’s narrative structure into different episodes more akin to television shows than movies, was so exciting when it first became a viable reality. That excitement now feels ancient and naive on the other side of the decade, as we now eulogize the episodic game model well before it fulfilled its potential."
Game Urara – Japan’s Filthiest Underground Gaming Magazine [NSFW] (Senn / Gaming Alexandria - ARTICLE)
"Game Urara (ã‚²ãƒ¼ãƒ ã‚¦ãƒ©ãƒ©) was a short-lived Japanese gaming magazine that focused on underground gaming culture and technology at the time (Magicoms, hacking, piracy, porn, modding, guides, reviews, etc.) published by Core Magazine. With a short lifespan of just five issues released between 1995 and 1996, it failed rather spectacularly and was quickly discontinued. (A sixth issue was supposedly released in 2001, but is extremely rare and likely not official.)"
Ten 2019 Switch Games You Probably Didn’t Play (But Should) (Shaun Musgrave / TouchArcade - ARTICLE)
"The truth is that the Nintendo Switch had a lot of cool games released for it this year, and there are plenty of games outside of my top ten that I think are very good. As such, I’ve decided to put together a list of 10 games released in 2019 that many of you probably didn’t play. [SIMON'S NOTE: don't forget the TouchArcade Patreon!]"
Pauline Jacquey’s World Tour: The Unlikely Journey of Ubisoft’s Punk Nomad Fixer (Samuel Horti / EGM Now - ARTICLE)
"She’s known as a fixer at Ubisoft: a “shrink” or “counselor” that can turn around troubled teams. Over the years she’s been parachuted into different studios to listen to their problems and navigate creative impasses. Two years ago, she was the one who needed help."
How one company orchestrated a talent war between Twitch, Mixer, and YouTube (Mitch Reames / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"Back when Freytag founded Loaded in 2016, he never could have predicted his agency would have been at the center of a competition between tech’s largest corporations. “I was certainly going to disrupt the space,” Freytag says. “In the sense that the influencer world is so new and no one knew what was going on. Early on, I knew I was going to disrupt things. What I was going to disrupt, only time would tell.”"
From surgery simulators to medical mishaps in space, video game tech is helping doctors at work (Elise Favis / Washington Post - ARTICLE)
"The zoo’s request was an unusual one, even by industry standards, but unpredictability is commonplace in the medical world. His experience with Jabari is one of many reasons Barad sought a solution for surgeons and doctors so often faced with unknowns. These moments drove him to dedicate his career to making surgery training more efficient by using video game technology."
'Wattam' Is a Children's Guide to Eco-Radicalism (Lewis Gordon / VICE - ARTICLE)
"More often than not, Wattam centers on communal solutions. Just after the game’s theatrical opening, the mayor becomes upset but his tears are far from useless. I’m able to use them to water the soil. Out of his sadness sprouts a flower and before long, I’m forming a friendship circle involving two more flowers, the mayor, a giant rock, and a disembodied nose."
The 25 Best Gaming Handhelds, Ranked (Chris Kohler / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"I recently got a Nintendo Switch Lite, and I love it. I wanted to write about the joys of that dying breed of device, the dedicated portable gaming machine. And I thought to myself, how can I write this in a way that would make the largest number of people hate me? And I realized: a ranked list!"
Steam in Graphs in 2019 (Sergio Garces / Gamasutra Blogs - ARTICLE)
"There was a recent article by Danny Weinbaum where he approximated the revenue generated by almost every game in Steam and then used the data to draw some conclusions. I was inspired by it, so I took a stab at recreating and validating the numbers. I wanted to understand not just what the revenue estimate is, but how accurate of a guess it is: in other words, what would be a reasonable range for that revenue estimate."
Tales from the New Small Screen: Inside the World of Mobile Game Writers (Jacob Farmer / EGM Now - ARTICLE)
"Stirpe wrote for Frozen Adventures, Jam City’s recently released match-3. With Disney’s resilient Frozen IP and the corresponding release of Frozen 2 in theaters, Frozen Adventures is a surefire hit. Still, writing any match-3 game comes with unique challenges, especially when these titles are paired with characters and narrative storylines that advance as you complete each level. Level counts in the hundreds are common, and content updates can occur weekly."
How Game Companies Use Credits To Reward, Or Punish, Developers (Forest Lassman / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Hundreds of people can toil for years to make a single game, often putting in 80-hour workweeks or more. And unless you’re a creative director or one of the few other people who does interviews at E3 or guests on a podcast, the game’s credits roll is probably going to be the only place that work gets acknowledged."
Creating the ever-improvising text adventures of AI Dungeon 2 (John Harris / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Machine generated text as a way to respond to conversational, human-provided text input has been an application of computing since at least Eliza, but AI Dungeon 2 takes it to new extremes. It basically pretends to be one of those old Infocom-style adventure games, but with no limits on what the player can enter. Whatever the input is, it improvises events through prose, to react to them."
Forget Tiny Living, in The Sims 4 builders have achieved greatness with Grand Designs (Kat Brewster / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"I love Grand Designs. I can’t help it. There is something soothing about watching people with more money than sense trying to build a mansion fit for the Hollywood Hills half underground in North London, forced to come to terms with the limits of their own ambition. Kevin McCloud bears witness to crumbling foundations, wrecked marriages, and the declaration of bankruptcies. Above all else, Grand Designs is a grand display of perseverance. And so, I wondered, “What are the Grandest Designs of The Sims?”"
Major union launches campaign to organize video game and tech workers (Sam Dean / LA Times - ARTICLE)
"But despite this swell in labor activism, employees at no major video game studios and only a handful of tech offices have formally voted to form or join a union. A new campaign launched Tuesday by one of the nation’s largest labor unions — and spearheaded by one of the leading video game industry activists in Southern California — aims to change that."
Inside TASBot’s semi-secret, probably legal effort to control the Nintendo Switch (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"In testing on Breath of the Wild, for instance, the team tried recording a simple input macro of Link jumping off a tower. But Cecil said slight, frame-level differences between the Linux recording and the controller polling rate during playback led to butterfly effect-style chaos, such that "loading the same savestate and playing [the input] back would result in us landing in a different spot, sometimes substantially so." Using digital inputs on a more deterministic game like Super Mario Maker 2 eliminates those problems, Cecil added."
The Best Mobile Games Of 2019 (Jared Nelson / TouchArcade - ARTICLE)
"We say this about every year but it continues to be true: 2019 was a hell of a year for great iOS games. There was the usual slate of mobile original titles, but this year seemed to be particularly heavy in terms of high-profile ports of console and PC games too. And let’s not forget that this was the year that subscription gaming came into its own, mostly thanks to Apple leading the charge with Apple Arcade."
The making of Disco Elysium: How ZA/UM created one of the most original RPGs of the decade (Alex Wiltshire / GamesRadar - ARTICLE)
"ZA/UM. As a studio name, it's awfully bold and affected. A little awkward and intractable, too; it doesn't look right when not in all-caps. But for co-founder Robert Kurvitz, "It just looks hella cool, that slash there. It looks like the technical name of something that definitely exists and weighs eight tonnes." And then there's its Russian meaning, which is 'from the mind' or 'for the mind'. "Just calling something that, it looks cultural. Like it's not laughable.""
[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at tinyletter.com/vgdeepcuts - we crosspost to Gamasutra later, 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!]