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Video Game Deep Cuts: Half-Life: Alyx On Planet Stadia Zoo 2

This week's roundup includes a video & other notes on VR surprise Half-Life: Alyx, some very odd economy-related shenanigans in Planet Zoo, plus Apple Arcade games you missed, the latest on Google Stadia, and a whole bunch more besides.

[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.

This week's roundup includes a video & other notes on VR surprise Half-Life: Alyx, some very odd economy-related shenanigans in Planet Zoo, plus Apple Arcade games you missed, the latest on Google Stadia, and a whole bunch more besides.

Until next time...
Simon, curator.]


Gaming’s Pleasure Principle: How Virtual Worlds Make Our Creative Brains Come Alive­ (Brady Fiechter / EGM Now - ARTICLE)
"Games are mentally fertile places where we discover and overcome obstacles, running through a gauntlet of “aha” moments big and small, like a network of veiled puzzle boxes. Kounios and his team can map what these aha moments in the brain with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and high-density electroencephalography (EEG), displaying the lightbulbs that go off when certain tasks are performed."

Can FaZe Clan Build a Billion-Dollar Business?  (Taylor Lorenz / New York Times - ARTICLE)
"FaZe Clan consists of 34 content creators and 15 professional esports players, and 11 hybrid creators who are both pro players and entertainers. All of them excel at creating social media clips; together they have brought 214 million viewers into the fold."

Why Journey's last song was the hardest to compose (Polygon / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Composing Journey's soundtrack was a Journey in itself. *wink*"

Why More Stars Are Joining Video Games (It's Not Just a Paycheck) (Patrick Shanley / Hollywood Reporter - ARTICLE)
"Better scripts, nuanced characters and realistic performance-capture techniques are drawing Keanu Reeves, Norman Reedus and others toward the $43  billion-plus industry: "There are increasingly blurred lines between what is a film and what is a game.""

Planet Zoo is, temporarily, a game about mass-producing knackered warthogs (Nate Crowley / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Something has… gone wrong with Planet Zoo. I think it’ll be fixed easily enough, possibly even today, and I’m still having fun with it as it is. But, in the game’s franchise mode at least, the promise of “build your own zoo, with whatever you like in it” has quietly been phased out for “in the grim darkness of the international animal trade, there is only warthogs”."

The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx -- Behind Closed Doors at Valve (Geoff Keighley / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In 2020, Geoff Keighley (The Game Awards) returns to his landmark Final Hours series for a new chapter chronicling Valve’s surprising return to the Half-Life series. This multimedia experience, created by Keighley over the past 9 years, takes customers inside Valve, one of the world’s most acclaimed developers, for a surprisingly honest and personal look at the ups and downs of the creative process."

World on Fire: The Oral History of Fallout and Fallout 2 (David Craddock / Shacknews  - ARTICLE)
"That makes the Fallout games distant relations of the Infinity Engine RPGs, and worthy of closer examination. What follows is an oral history straight from the mouths of several of the pioneers who entered a veritable wasteland of computer RPG (CRPG) development and made that fallow ground fertile once again."

5 great Apple Arcade games you may have missed (Andrew Webster / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"In the ensuing weeks and months, a steady trickle of new games has hit the platform, making that search even harder. Apple Arcade is now home to more than 100 games, and while the top end is full of great titles, the quality varies quite a bit. [SIMON'S NOTE: see also 'The hidden gems of Apple Arcade' from Ars Technica - what an interesting problem to have re: 'too much stuff'.]"

What It's Like Building a Company for Marginalized Voices (Ricardo Contreras / VICE - ARTICLE & PODCAST)
"Manveer Heir, who came on Waypoint Radio in 2017 to talk about his time working on Mass Effect: Andromeda, has returned to the podcast studio with Rashad Redic, an industry veteran whose worked on games such as Fallout 3 and Skyrim. Together they make up two thirds of Brass Lion, a new entertainment studio with goal to tell the stories of underrepresented and marginalized groups in their own voices, from their own perspective. Austin sat down to chat with them about their first game, Corner Wolves, their experiences in the industry, building a new startup, and the best hip-hop artists of all time."

A Russian Crucible: Pathologic 2 and the Problem of Video Game Difficulty (Steven Nguyen Scaife / EGM NOW - ARTICLE)
"But being difficult, in the traditional video game sense, implies some sort of cathartic win state where the boss is defeated, the level completed, and/or past hardship decidedly behind the player. And in Pathologic 2, passing out enough medicine to one infected district or scavenging enough food to eat your fill never feels like victory."

Stadia delivers on low-latency, high quality cloud gaming - but is that enough? (Kris Graft / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"As Google readies to debut its cloud-based game platform Google Stadia, Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft shares hands-on impressions of what it's like to use the nascent service ahead of its November 19 launch date, and weighs in on how Google's offering stacks up against more established platforms and streaming services. [SIMON'S NOTE: also see another perspective in VICE's 'Stadia the Technology? Awesome. Stadia the Service? Not So Much'."

Environment Design as Spatial Cinematography: Theory and Practice (Miriam Bellard / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 GDC session, Rockstar North's Miriam Bellard explores the concept of spatial cinematography in theory and practice using examples from Grand Theft Auto V's Online DLC."

Competition is wild, joyous and fulfilling - except when it isn't (Matt Cox / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"A competitive context can be both a wonderful generator of interesting decisions, and a platform for genuine connection. I believe in and value these things wholeheartedly, because I’ve extensive experience with both. I also believe competition has a dark side. It can be the kindling to incendiary ego, stoking a way of looking at the world that leads to, or is at least bound up with, insecurity and distress."

Genre Viability on Steam and Other Trends - An Analysis Using Review Count (Danny Weinbaum / Gamasutra Blogs - ARTICLE)
"So one fateful day I got to thinking: Wouldn't it be nice to have a spreadsheet of every game on steam, its tag, genre, release date, and approximate revenue? I thought it might be fun to look for patterns in the data, particularly in the tags. Well I set out to collect this data. [SIMON'S NOTE: this blog has AMAZING data crunching in it, folks.]"
A new Half-Life would have to be VR (Christian Donlan / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"More than just the future of video games, I really felt like I had seen the future of one series in particular. I still think this. I still think that Budget Cuts is essentially the closest I've ever gotten to playing Half-Life 3."

Video Game Ladders Suck. Here's Why that Matters (Steven T. Wright / EGM NOW - ARTICLE)
"Many game developers spend the majority of their time fiddling with the invisible bits, the parts that aren’t supposed to draw attention to themselves. But of these many unsung elements, none is so maligned or as misunderstood as the humble video game ladder. Now that the ultimate in ladder-carrying simulators has burst onto the market in the form of Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, it’s worth examining why they’re so widely maligned."

How Modern Warfare smooths over the horrors of war (Nick Capozzoli / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"It's not that “We need that truck” and “Find a gun" are unusual orders to be given in a video game. Certainly not in a Call of Duty video game. The series has always impelled players forward with extended drills of Sergeant Simon Says (“Man that mortar!” “Plant those charges!” “Take out that sniper!”)."

Designing the drunken dialogue puzzles in Night School Studio's Afterparty (Bryant Francis / Gamasutra - ARTICLE / VIDEO)
"A few weeks ago studio co-founder Adam Hines dropped by the GDC Twitch channel for a chat about Afterparty's alcohol-fueled dialogue trees, the challenges of embracing new narrative structures, and how to write authentic younger characters in the video game format."

How Accessible Were This Year's Games? (Game Maker's Toolkit / YouTube - VIDEO)
"One year on from my “Designing for Disability” series, let’s take a look at 50 of the year’s biggest games to see how the industry is tackling accessibility in 2019."

Together, alone: the radical promise of pathfinding in Death Stranding (Edwin Evans-Thirlwell / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"Hauling DNA samples and pizza through the desolate America of Death Stranding, I found myself thinking of the paths that wander in amongst the hills of my birthplace in Yorkshire. The best-known of these is the Dales Way, an 80-mile stretch of moor and meadow that follows the River Wharfe up past its headspring to the shores of Lake Windermere."


[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at - 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!]


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