Video Game Deep Cuts: 2020's Most Exciting, 1983's Most Breakout Games
[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 look at 2020's most anticipated PC games, 1983's 'breakout' game (fine, it's a book excerpt from a 1983 tome about Breakout!), plus looks at Android: Netrunner, the best game animation of last year, & lots, lots more besides.
Well, international travel & the countdown to early reg deadline for GDC 2020 (look how much content we got! Including this Hideo Kojima talk!) has kept me busy this week, but glad to see there's still a lot going on out there in 'great writing & videos about games'-land. Catch you right here 7 days later for more!
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
The afterlife of Android: Netrunner (Matt Thrower / Dicebreaker - ARTICLE)
"Last May, there was a thread on Twitter where gamers discussed the tabletop titles they'd spent the most hours playing. As you might expect, there was a colossal diversity of opinion. But that made the single strong trend that emerged all the more striking; over and over, the game Android: Netrunner came up. Fans of the game poured forth their love and the hours they'd sunk into play. Not bad for an out-of-print game cut short in its prime."
The Feature That Almost Sank Disco Elysium (Audio Logs / GameSpot / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this week's episode of Audio Logs, Disco Elysium's lead designer and writer Robert Kurvitz discusses the hardships ZA/UM underwent to make sure that the game's Thought Cabinet mechanic worked, and talks about the game's unlikely inspiration."
2020's Most Exciting PC Games (Hivemind / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Over the break we had a chance to do some serious scientific study of this business we call games, and it turns out that games are actually good. 2020 in particular has a healthy mix of big budget bonanzas and smaller indie plates to suit everyone’s discerning tastes. And, as you know, the RPS treehouse is the most discerning, so to make it easier for you we’ve got a big ol’ list of the games we’re most looking forwards to this year. It’s traditional."
3DS, In Retrospect (David Buck / Tedium - ARTICLE)
"The 3DS was my go-to game system for most of the decade. With such a long system life, it certainly built up quite a history and whether you love it or hate it, the 3DS had an amazing library and a long shelf life, despite the initial hurdles it faced at the start of its life."
The Two Types of Random (Game Maker's Toolkit / YouTube - VIDEO)
"From critical hits to random encounters, and from loot boxes to procedural generation, video games are stuffed to bursting with randomness. In this episode, I look at the way randomness is used in games - and why some forms are more contentious than others."
What Does It Really Mean to Be an Indie Game? (Cameron Kunzelman / VICE - ARTICLE)
"Journalists and game critics have never had a good, clear definition of what makes an "indie game" ever since the emergence and solidification of the term in the early 2000s. It hasn't stopped them from searching for one, nor has it stopped the term itself from becoming a label that is as popular as it is imprecise."
How to Keep Child Predators Out of Virtual Playgrounds Like ‘Fortnite’ and ‘Minecraft’ (Will Oremus / OneZero - ARTICLE)
"Part of what makes policing gaming so tricky is that the interaction between predators and kids rarely stays on the gaming platforms. Often, the predators find and form a relationship with kids on a gaming site, only to move to more private chat apps such as Facebook Messenger or Kik to trade sexual images and blackmail them."
How to run AGDQ: Step one, have an entire computer store on hand (Elizabeth Henges / Washington Post - ARTICLE)
"Behind the projectors in the hotel ballroom, away from the lenses of the video recorders and darkened to not interfere with the studio lights are rows upon rows of computers. Wires are threaded in seemingly every direction. One computer has six monitors connected to it, displaying a dizzying amount of data."
Always There for You: How Fire Emblem: Three Houses Subverts Absentee Parent Tropes (Malindy Hetfield / EGM Now - ARTICLE)
"In media centering on young protagonists, parents are usually either an afterthought or fully absent. The assumption is that to be without parents is liberating, but Fire Emblem: Three Houses shows that separating from your parents and finding your own moral compass is a longer process, made especially difficult if a young person is meant to mature early and behave responsibly."
Clark Tank: IGF Nominees, Steam Top 50, and Wildermyth! (Ryan Clark / Brace Yourself Games / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Every third Friday at 1pm Pacific time we stay on top of the latest game industry trends by examining the Steam top 50, scrutinizing the latest Kickstarted games, and by playing the most prominent recent releases."
Game dev union leader: “Dream job” passion “can open us up to exploitation” (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"Kinema says the CWA reached out to the nascent Game Workers Unite movement soon after it was formed and has spoken with various local chapters of the organizing effort over the last two years. In that time, and through discussions across the industry, Kinema says that developers have generally been "curious or open to the idea of unionization," in her experience."
Round Again We Go: Applications of Cyclical Progression (Various / Project Horseshoe - ARTICLE)
"Many service-based games last for years, which necessitates a content treadmill to keep players fed and happy. However, many common progression systems borrow from RPGs and MMOs and involve leveling up in linear fashion. For example, players grind up to some max cap, at which point the numbers have started to break down. [SIMON'S NOTE: part of the newly published 2019 reports for game design retreat Project Horseshoe, all of which are fascinating.]"
Can real-time strategy come back from the brink of death? (Fraser Brown / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"There's never been a better time to be obsessed with strategy games on PC, unless you have the misfortune to carry a torch for real-time strategy. We're spoiled with all these brilliant turn-based tactics, 4X and grand strategy diversions, but try to find a notable new RTS and you're going to have a much harder time. What the heck happened, and can we ever go back to the glory days?"
Looking back on the hypnotic charm of Breakout (David Sudnow / Kotaku - ARTICLE / BOOK EXCERPT)
"Pilgrim In The Microworld, a 1983 book by professor, sociologist, and musician David Sudnow, was far ahead of its time. As a book-length digression on a single video game—Breakout for the Atari 2600—it took the emerging medium seriously at a time when it was largely dismissed as a mere fad on the verge of dying."
The 2019 Experimental Gameplay Workshop (Various / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 workshop session, developers Trynn Check, Nicolas Saraintaris, Nicolas Recabarren, Mohannad Al-Khatib, Jenn Sandercock, Shawn Liu, Dennis Carr, Jonah Warren, Jay Tholen, Su Liu, Daniel Benmergui, Tim Garbos, Juuso Toikka, Antti Sandberg, Frank DeMarco, Alex Bull, Jongwoo Kim, Lee-Kuo Chen, Gerben Grave and Robin Hunicke showcase a selection of surprising and intriguing prototypes made by innovation-minded game developers from all over the world."
The top 7 reasons women quit game development (Pixelles / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Pixelles, a feminist non-profit, also started by focusing on training up new, aspiring, and junior women developers. But after speaking to some aspiring narrative designers, a mentor pulled me aside to express concern. “I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “They all want to work at my old studio. The one that I’m still going to therapy for years later. I can’t in good conscience help them enter that meat grinder.”"
Whatever Happened to Mike Ross, The Fighting Game Star Who Walked Away? (Suriel Vazquez / USGamer - ARTICLE)
"At the Video 94 rental store in West Covina, California, high school student Mike Ross had found something he really cared about: fighting games. It was the start of a life-long love affair that would propel him to stardom, make him a legend to thousands of people, and nearly destroy him."
Video Game Delays Cause More Crunch (Jason Schreier / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Imagine, then, having a single release date in mind—knowing that you’ll just have to work nights and weekends until then—only for that date to slip back five more months. Maybe at that point, the emails will start getting even more contrite."
My Favorite Game Animation of 2019 (New Frame Plus / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Here's a list of some 2019 games that had amazing animation! [SIMON'S NOTE: this is really effing good, and even talks about titles like Anthem that otherwise have had a bit of a rough time - much recommended.]"
Designing Manifold Garden's believably unbelievable world and puzzles (John Harris / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Manifold Garden is a game that reimagines the laws of physics. In the game, you explore a beautiful Escheresque world where the laws of physics are different. Geometry repeats infinitely in every direction, and falling down leads you back to where you started. You can also manipulate gravity to change your perspective and see the world in new ways. As you solve puzzles and progress throughout the game, you bring vegetation and life to a once barren world."
[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!]