[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 yet more best-of lists, both for 2019 and for the whole decade in a couple of cases - as well as neat pieces on hypercasual, Trico, video game cookbooks, creepy collectibles, & tonnes more.
Since this is the last newsletter before Xmas, just wanted to send a warm holiday greeting to all readers. Though I have a lot of other responsibilities & things to care about/for (dayjob, family, lots more besides!), I genuinely enjoy compiling these link roundups.
There's a lot of great writing & videos out there that it's kinda, well, impossible to dig out otherwise. So let me use my galaxy brain* (*speed-reading wise, not intelligence-wise, lol) to unearth all the interesting stuff for you. Then you don't have to go hunting around on a billion websites & read the same vanilla news stories 30 times.
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Top 20 games of 2019 (Keza MacDonald & Keith Stuart / The Guardian - ARTICLE)
"Take an intergalactic camping trip, shoot zombies in the face and go full battle royale on, er, Tetris … with the best games of the year."
Why Lando Norris thinks sim racing holds real value to F1 teams (Jamie Hore / The Loadout - ARTICLE)
"The origins of most F1 drivers are rooted deeply in karting as youngsters and it’s where many are scouted and develop their skills and love for racing. And while Norris has gone through the physical racing ranks, his journey actually started on the virtual track, playing games like iRacing and Real Racing on a home driving simulator setup."
Tim Rogers Presents The Games Of The Decade 2010~2019 (Tim Rogers / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"The end of a decade looms. I succumbed to the irresistible lure of making a ranked list video chronicling the best games of the decade. I made the first decision instantaneously: for 10 years, I'd pick 10 games. Then I froze. How would I pick the 10 games? Days later, I'd somehow made a 50-minute video. [SIMON'S NOTE: the half-second 'my previous jobs' subtitle, about 3 seconds into this video, makes it worthwhile all on its own.]"
How a sex toy company ended up making a creepy video game figurine (Patricia Hernandez / Polygon - ARTICLE & EMBEDDED VIDEO)
"Critically-acclaimed indie game Inside announced a collector’s edition last year, and while the $375 sticker price was high, developers Playdead refused to tell anybody what was in the release. All the Danish studio said at the time was that it was teaming up with iam8bit, a company known for high-end physical releases, as well as RealDoll, the infamous people behind life-sized sex dolls."
The Best Video Games Of 2019 (Simon Parkin / The New Yorker - ARTICLE)
"In the face of criticism, one can say that games are mere entertainment, incapable of causing harm; in the face of praise, the same games can be presented as ways to change hearts and minds for the better. These contradictions inhere in every medium, of course. But, for those who think games have the capacity to take us to novel, joyous, or illuminating places, here are eleven that, this year, seemed to light a way forward."
Roleplaying in Video Games (and why I barely do it) (Razbuten / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Roleplaying is something I really enjoy doing in games like Dungeons and Dragons, and I feel like it should be something I enjoy in video games as well, but it always seems to fall short. This video takes a look at some of the barriers that get in the way of good roleplaying in video games along with me trying to overcome those barriers."
'Civilization' and Strategy Games' Progress Delusion (Gabriel Soares / VICE - ARTICLE)
"And what do we find in most historical 4X games? A largely uniform tech tree that all factions will progress through in a unilateral direction. Even non-historical 4X games feature uniform tech trees, they just use the present as a starting point and not an endpoint. But what is progress in an historical 4X game?"
Keeping History Alive (Jeff Cork / Game Informer - ARTICLE)
"Cifaldi is in town to take on what he says is the organization’s biggest task yet: cataloging and preserving a section of the Game Informer’s archives. A small army of out-of-town volunteers has been hard at work scanning flyers, sorting and organizing boxes of unmarked CD-ROMS, and ripping discs of promotional images and press materials."
How Trico Was Animated (Dan Root / Video Game Animation Study / YouTube - VIDEO)
"One of the most anticipated games for nearly ten years had one of the most memorable characters, but how was Trico [from The Last Guardian] animated?"
The 10 best video games of 2019 (Verge Staff / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"It’s never easy narrowing down a list of the best games of the year, but 2019 seemed particularly difficult. There wasn’t a single blockbuster that dominated the conversation, games along the lines of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or God of War that everyone seemed to have on their list. That doesn’t mean it was a bad year for games — in fact, the depth and breadth of titles was impressive."
Portraits of Roblox: The view from the platform (Alex Wiltshire / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"After having spoken to four of Roblox’s leading developers, I wanted to understand how Roblox sees itself, how its been changing, and how the company aims to continue developing it. So I got to talk with Craig Donato, Roblox’s chief business officer. In charge of developer relations, he’s directly responsible for managing the world in which Roblox’s creators build."
The Audaciously Simple 'Desert Golfing' Taught Me to Cope With Grief (McKay Hartwell / VICE - ARTICLE)
"Now I was finally pursuing my passion and I was frustrated knowing all my classmates were freshmen with their whole college career ahead of them. I felt angry that these kids got to follow their dreams while mine were dying in front of me. And Charles had suggested a mobile fucking golf game?"
Four Reasons Why the Hypercasual Gold Rush is Coming to an End (Abhimanyu Kumar and Michail Katkoff / Deconstructor Of Fun - ARTICLE)
"Fast forward 10 months, hypercasual downloads are at an all-time high - as you’ll see in the data ahead. Moving in perfect lock-step, hypercasual ad revenues are also peaking. At this point, it would make sense to retract the prediction and admit to incorrect judgement. But in this particular case, we’re going to double down on our initial prediction. [SIMON'S NOTE: some of the download/player numbers in here are INSANE - in the hundreds of millions.]"
I went Christmas carolling in Rust with a real piano - and got shot a hell of a lot (Emma Kent / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"Oh boy. Did this mean I could hook up an entire electric piano to a computer, and play live piano in Rust? I had to try it out. And, of course, it's the Christmas season - so to make it festive, and my life extra complicated, I announced to my editors that I would go carolling. Live. In Rust. I had mixed results."
30 little touches in The Witcher 3 that show its amazing attention to detail (Samuel Horti / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"The joy of The Witcher 3 isn't just in its winding story and sweeping landscapes—it's also in the little details, some so small that you might not even notice them on your first playthrough. Considering the size of the open world, you almost certainly will miss most of them."
The 10 best VR games of 2019 (Harold Goldberg / The Washington Post - ARTICLE)
"For a medium that was supposed to be forged in artfulness and creativity, virtual reality’s last few years have been good enough but not astounding. It’s this past year, however, that the medium’s promise is finally being met."
How Video Game Cookbooks Are Helping Us Taste Digital Worlds (Rebekah Valentine / USGamer - ARTICLE)
"Over a decade after he graduated college with a chemistry major, Bryan Connor's life went in an unexpected direction. Rather than his imagined plan of "standing in a lab all day," Connor has created his own delectably weird career track involving glow-in-the-dark brownies, sticking Pop Rocks in caramels, and turning burgers inside out. And it's all because of video games."
Meet 'Wattam,' The Newest Absurd Video Game Playground From Keita Takahashi (Vincent Acovino / Morning Edition/ NPR - ARTICLE/AUDIO)
"Takahashi's games are funny and absurd at the surface, but kind and earnest at their cores. Although he originally studied to be a sculptor, he became upset when his classmates were throwing out their work after receiving grades on their projects."
*Press A* 2019 ~ The Year’s Best Videogame Soundtracks (Shredfearn / A Closer Listen - ARTICLE)
"Another interesting detail from 2019 related to the proliferation of excellent indie releases: the emergence of even more diverse styles and innovative ideas than before, as our list hopefully shows. (We’ve kept our genre splits but it was certainly harder to place some this year.) Careers also emerged or blossomed for many young composers, from whom we can soon expect a deluge of commission."
Ars Technica’s ultimate board game gift guide, 2019 edition (Aaron Zimmerman, Nate Anderson & Tom Mendelsohn / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"To aid you in your quest, we’ve once again updated our massive board game buyer’s guide for the year by adding new entries, pruning some old ones, and bringing things in line with our current thoughts. This isn’t necessarily a list of our favorite games of all time; it’s just a big list of games we’re recommending in 2019."
Hypertext Transfer: How Wikipedia and its Forerunners Inspired a New Kind of Game (Alexis Ong / EGM NOW - ARTICLE)
"In 2016, writer and narrative designer Joannes Truyens decided to try fleshing out an idea he’d had since he was seventeen. This was the birth of a new hypertext project, Neurocracy, that has been taking shape over the past three years. At its core was Truyens’ idea about transmitting prion disease through fish, which grew into a world-changing fictional condition that he named Cariappa-Muren disease."
Gaming’s biggest trends of the past decade (Colin Campbell / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"While previous decades have generally been marked by changes in technology, the span from 2010 to 2019 has been marked by massive shifts in how games are made, played, discussed, challenged, and championed. We spoke to 16 people who’ve had a significant impact on gaming in the past decade to ask them about some of the biggest trends in gaming during that period."
[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!]