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Video Game Deep Cuts: Billy Mitchell's Cuphead Thumper

This week's longform article/video highlights include the complex history of Cuphead, Billy Mitchell ten years on from King Of Kong, and behind the scenes on the making of Thumper.

Simon Carless

July 2, 2017

9 Min Read

[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 week's highlights include the complex history of Cuphead, Billy Mitchell ten years on from King Of Kong, and behind the scenes on the making of Thumper.

Hope I'm wrong, but some public info & other rumblings seem to indicate that Glixel - the excellent & fairly new Rolling Stone-owned game site - may be cutting back its output. As many of you know, we've been linking its articles regularly here, & its well-funded & edited longreads have been 'a good thing'. Wishing for them to continue...

Otherwise - I finally managed to finagle a Switch from those pesky retailers, and I've been pleasantly surprised to play - not the obvious Nintendo games (well, those too!), but The Binding Of Isaac: Afterbirth+. I've dabbled in Edmund McMillen & Nicalis' topdown Roguelike before on PC, but the Switch handheld setup for it is perfect.

Only complaint? With this many upgrades to the original game, it can be pretty cryptic to unpeel its depths. This YouTube video - just 'for beginners', mind you - only hints at the item and room complexity within. Great stuff.

Simon, curator.]


Pablo Sanchez: The Origin Of A Video Game Legend (Martin Kessler / WBUR)
"Pablo was like Babe Ruth crossed with Mike Trout crossed with Sandy Koufax." If you were a sports fan born in the '90s, you probably already know that. Pablo Sanchez was the standout character in Backyard Baseball — a popular computer game released in 1997."

Sony is losing its grip on the indie market (Jessica Conditt / Engadget)
"Which brings us to today. Just one week after E3 2017, Sony's reign as indie king doesn't feel stable any longer. It showed zero indie games during its E3 press conference (excluding some VR options), and developers on the show floor whispered about the company's increasing silence. [SIMON'S NOTE: some odd angles in here - not sure Devolver is a direct Sony threat - but also some v.interesting analysis. The main issue, imho? Sony's storefront nowadays is filled with AAA digital games & movies, so indies don't sell due to lack of placement, so decreased emphasis on indies, rinse & repeat.]"

Alameda pinball museum has the will but is still seeking a way (Peter Hartlaub / San Francisco Chronicle)
"The Pacific Pinball Museum opened 13 years ago with a secret handshake, not an endowment. It operated one night a week, with lots of booze and few rules. “You came in through the back door,” Larry Zartarian says. “We didn’t even have a front door.” Now the Alameda museum has a board of directors led by pinball collector Zartarian, a concrete mission for education and preservation, and an unrivaled collection of 1,300 games that span the entire 80-plus year history of the art form."

Nintendo Explains Why They Didn't Focus on Indie Games at E3 (Austin Walker / Waypoint)
"This year marked the Nintendo Switch's first E3, and there was little room for little else on the Nintendo stage. Nintendo presented a pre-recorded "Spotlight," focusing on Switch games coming out in 2017, touching on Nintendo's ongoing competitive multiplayer initiatives, and gesturing towards 2018 and beyond. [SIMON'S NOTE: a companion piece to the Sony one.]"

How PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds went from scrappy mod to one of the games of 2017 (Alex Donaldson / VG247)
"E3 was a great topper to a pretty damn momentus first half the year for the developers of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. In February practically nobody had heard of the game. In March it debuted on Steam Early Access and went on to sell over 4 million copies and pass $100 million in revenue. This is a game that isn’t even technically officially out yet."

State of the Art: The monsters of Prey (Philippa Warr / RockPaperShotgun)
"I’m only a little way into Prey at the moment but one of the most interesting aspects for me is the monster design. I love pausing the trailers to peer more closely at their glitchy, weird forms without worrying about being killed. The monsters in question are these hostile lifeforms which all come under the bracket of “Typhon” but there are different species of Typhon within that."

How relentless passion made Cuphead a reality (Alex Gilyadov / GamesRadar)
"After multiple delays, many tradeshow appearances, and plenty of opinionated feedback... Cuphead will finally release on September 29. It’s been a long, hard road to get here for StudioMDHR Entertainment and its captivating 1930s cartoon platformer."

Game Design Deep Dive: Visualizing Cryptark's 2D sci-fi world (Jesse McGibney / Gamasutra)
""Rather than looking back at the past with retro pixel-art styles, I want to apply modern techniques and technology and see what new visuals can be made." - Jesse McGibney, Creative Director at Alientrap."

StarCraft Remastered devs unveil price, explain how much is being rebuilt (Sam Machovech / Ars Technica)
"Before giving us a world-premiere look at StarCraft Remastered's gameplay, the franchise's holders at Blizzard rattled off a few major rules for how the game would be made. "Blend classic with modern." "Community's voice." One of the buzz phrases made Blizzard Classic Games Producer Pete Stilwell laugh: "Don't be disruptive." "That's how I was told to say, 'Don't fuck it up,'" he said."

Playerunknown's Battlegrounds & the Importance of Early Access (HeavyEyed / YouTube)
"Playerunknown's Battlegrounds is one of those rare cases where despite being a hugely buggy mess, it's still incredibly addictive, so let's talk about why that is important and how it impacts the early access category of games moving forward."

The Design of Time: Understanding Human Attention and Economies of Engagement (Chelsea Howe / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC talk, Owlchemy Labs' Chelsea Howe explores patterns of human attention and engagement over time and shares concrete ways to design for those phases. [NOTE FROM SIMON: secretly one of the best talks of Game Developers Conference this year, our GDC board member Chelsea thinks very smartly and deeply about how relationships in games - particularly F2P games - need to be nurtured over time]."

An Audience With The King of Kong: Billy Mitchell 10 Years Later (Tony Carnevale / Kotaku)
"It’s been a decade since the documentary The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters portrayed the feud between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell as they vied for the title of worldwide Donkey Kong champion. The film enraptured audiences whether they loved games or not: the story was as universal and compelling as David and Goliath, and the characters just as starkly defined."

0451 (Errant Signal / YouTube)
"So let's talk about 0451! It's a number that shows up a bunch! For a reason, kind of, but also for no particular reason at all! Because history! Also spoilers for like a buttload of games. [SIMON'S NOTE: this is a wonderful video essay about Looking Glass' influence - don't miss.]"

The Enduring Legacy of Newgrounds, the Flash-Based Proto-Steam (Steven T. Wright / Glixel)
"For enthusiasts of a certain age, the term "Flash game" might evoke unpleasant memories: flickering ads that challenged you to knock down pins and win a prize, or shoddy sites filled to the brim with stolen title after stolen title and littered with invasive pop-ups. For the rest of us, these free games made in Macromedia/Adobe Flash and playable in nearly any web browser might have slipped from our recollections entirely."

Devs share tips on using Discord to build a pre-release community (Rich Moss / Gamasutra)
"Nearly 9 million people log in every day to the text/voice chat service Discord, and the bulk of the 45 million total registered users are there to discuss games. An increasing number of developers are creating their own Discords, which they're able to use to build an audience, garner feedback, and form bonds with fans."

In Conversation with ‘WipEout’ Composer CoLD SToRAGE (Mike Diver / Waypoint)
"The name Tim Wright almost certainly won't mean much to gamers who grew up in the 1990s, but that pseudonym absolutely will. As CoLD SToRAGE, the Welsh musician wrote and recorded eight tracks for Psygnosis's futuristic racer. But Tim tells me that timing headaches have seen his contributions stripped from the new collection. [SIMON'S NOTE: this one's a bit older, but I missed it at the time, & OG WipEout OST = the best.]"

A year on from launch, Overwatch is a struggling eSport (Mike Stubbs / Eurogamer)
"This time last year, it was almost unthinkable that Overwatch's eSports scene and the word failure could ever appear in the same sentence. But that is the situation we find ourselves in. The first few months of Overwatch's eSports life were positive. Small scale LAN events were semi-regular, there were online competitions offering a few thousand dollars a couple of times a month, and big name organisations were picking up teams left, right and centre."

A Tale of the Mirror World, Part 3: A Game of Falling Shapes (Jimmy Maher / The Digital Antiquarian)
"Alexey Pajitnov was the proverbial Russian bear, albeit more of the teddy than the grizzly variety. Big-boned and bearded, loose-limbed and always a little rumpled, his sunny disposition would brook no opposition even from the perpetual gray of the Mirror World. Not that he had much cause to complain, all things considered."

Obscure Steam games and digging for Hidden Gems (Bill Borman / Gamasutra Blogs)
"Every now and then someone makes the argument that all really good games eventually do well, otherwise "if there are really good games that don't sell, how come I never come across one?" That argument is always refuted by the statement that of course you don't come across games that are obscure, by definition. Which is itself then easy to refute by saying yeah, but surely you'd still come across one occasionally if you went looking. Let's go looking."

Seven Years in Alpha: The Thumper Postmortem (Marc Flury / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC postmortem, Thumper co-creator Marc Flury explains how he and collaborater Brian Gibson were able to create the critically acclaimed rythym violence game without advanced shader tools, particle systems, or sophisticated lighting techniques, and how they were able to adapt the game for VR."


[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, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]

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Simon Carless


Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

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