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Video Game Deep Cuts: In The Sky, The Dungeon Master Reigns 2

This week's roundup includes a look at Thatgamecompany's Sky, the rise of the professional dungeon master, and the far-ahead tech of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on N64, as well as the latest on No Man's Sky, Dead Cells, and lots more besides.

Simon Carless, Blogger

July 20, 2019

8 Min Read

[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from video game industry 'watcher' Simon Carless (GDC, Gamasutra co-runner), rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.

This week's roundup includes a look at Thatgamecompany's Sky, the rise of the professional dungeon master, and the far-ahead tech of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on N64, as well as the latest on No Man's Sky, Dead Cells, and lots more besides.

Another busy week - we just added six new members to the GDC 'Core' Advisory Board, including Sean Vanaman, M.E. Chung, and Elan Ruskin, and we opened up the call for submissions for our 2020 show too - tell your friends! And in the meantime, read these excellent links...

Until next time...
Simon, curator.]


Minecraft Earth’s closed beta: This augmented reality needs more augmenting (Sam Machkovech / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"After five days with the game's closed beta (which launched seconds ago as a closed, invite-only beta in the Seattle area), I must report that the game's early version is missing the series' magic—and Mojang is going to need to put some more pixellated blocks into place before calling this one a victory."

Designers Are Imagining Video Games Without Guns (Keith Stuart / OneZero / Medium - ARTICLE)
"But after years of playing games like these, I’ve started to ask myself: Would it be possible for any of these mainstream blockbusters to exist without guns? Have developers overlooked other ways to explore stories? Are there more interesting dynamics we could play with in games, designs that could encourage a different kind of feeling in players?"

The Design of Subnautica (Charlie Cleveland / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 GDC session, Unknown Worlds' Charlie Cleveland discusses the design of Subnautica and how it created feelings of exploration, discovery and the unknown.  [SIMON'S NOTE: also new from GDC on YouTube this week - this video on the making of Florence.]"

How Japanese RPGs Inspired A New Generation Of Fantasy Authors (Aidan Moher / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Scott Lynch’s experience growing up with Japanese console RPGs “absolutely” influenced his later writing, he said. “Most specifically, the grandeur and atmosphere the Final Fantasy games evoked through their blending of magic with technology, and via their use of Yoshitaka Amano’s art and Nobuo Uematsu’s music.”"

The Rise of the Professional Dungeon Master (Mary Pilon / Bloomberg Businessweek - ARTICLE)
"On a recent Friday evening, Devon Chulick stood in the kitchen of his San Francisco apartment brewing potions. A dry-erase game board with a grid of black squares to assist in drawing maps was laid neatly across the coffee table in the living room, along with a dozen or so miniature elves, wizards, and drow rogues, which had been released from their Tupperware prisons."

Pac-Man Ghost AI Explained (Retro Game Mechanics Explained / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Ever wondered how exactly each ghost follows Pac-Man around? It's all explained right here."

With ‘Sky,’ thatgamecompany’s Jenova Chen wants to fix what’s broken with games (Todd Martens / LA Times - ARTICLE)
"If one is going to make a game focused on love and caring, where advancement is helped by human collaboration at its most kind, you better believe Chen has the research — and the pitch — to prove his point. His Santa Monica-based company has taken risks — and a path counter to the rest of the business — to focus largely on themes of compassion in its titles."

A Top 20 List of IF (Emily Short / Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling - ARTICLE)
"This year, I’ve deliberately skewed my list towards the criterion of maturity: games that represent what IF has become as a medium, that benefit from thought and careful play, and that communicate something about the human condition that is truthful, important, and hard to convey."

DF Retro - how N64's Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was years ahead of its time (John Linneman / Eurogamer - ARTICLE & VIDEO)
"Bungie's Halo or Rare's GoldenEye are often thought of as the first games that truly delivered a technologically advanced, first-class FPS shooter to console platforms - but from my perspective, Iguana Entertainment's Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64 may well have got there first."

The psychological reasons certain games feel like coming home (Astrid Johnson / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"The Legend of Zelda series, as a whole, has always been effective in making me feel like I’ve returned home when I spend time in their worlds. The first time I noticed the phenomenon, which I’ve been taking to calling the “holiday immersion” effect for lack of a better term, was coming back up to the surface of the Great Sea after exploring the submerged Hyrule Castle in Wind Waker."

Can We Make Talking as Much Fun as Shooting? (Game Maker's Toolkit / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Certain RPGs make the tantalising promise that you can skip combat altogether, by talking your way past the bad guys. But how can we turn this into genuinely interesting gameplay?"

Losing yourself in virtual worlds can have good as well as negative effects (Jennifer Ouellette / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"Now a psychologist at Bath Spa University in England but still an avid gamer, Etchells specializes in understanding the behavioral effects—both positive and negative—of video games. He chose that focus after going on an alcohol-fueled pub rant as a graduate student, annoyed by a fear-mongering newspaper headline claiming that computer games cause dementia in children."

Gardening games are blossoming in turbulent times (Lewis Gordon / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"The past few years have been host to a flurry of gardening video games, most of which foreground growth and cultivation over the industry’s more traditional subjects of conflict and challenge... Often these games emphasize the methodical processes of the IRL pastime over the explicit advancement of a narrative or the mastery of game systems."

Why are so many old games coming back? We asked developers why they chase nostalgia (Brendan Caldwell / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Reviving forgotten entertainment relics is nothing new (hi, George Lucas) but the recent glut of resurrections has made me wonder: why are developers and publishers so keen to go back to old ground? Why do they want to chase this sense of nostalgia? So, I asked them."

'My son spent £3,160 in one game' (Zoe Kleinman / BBC - ARTICLE)
"Last week we told the story of the family whose children emptied their parents' bank account buying players in the video game Fifa. It generated a big debate about whether parental controls are sufficient, how much responsibility lies with mum and dad - and the ethics of encouraging young players to spend money within games and apps."

Road To King of Iron Fist - Tekken 7 Documentary (Hold Back To Block / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In 2016, Bandai Namco put together a North American tour for Tekken 7 before its console release, bringing arcade boards to tournaments around the country to give players a chance to play the game before release and also win a spot in the King of Iron Fist finals in Tokyo, Japan. Now for the first time, watch the stories of those tournaments on Youtube!"

The Glorious, Profitable, Inescapable Art of Addiction (Jeff Vogel / The Bottom Feeder - ARTICLE)
"I can't be the first person to notice that complaining about these games' loot drop rates is like being mad that the bartender is watering down the drinks. Complaining your character's numbers aren't going up fast enough is the "My weed dealer sold me a bag of oregano!" for the new millennium."

Publishing: The Good, the Bad, and the Necessary (Tanya Short / Kitfox Games / Medium - ARTICLE)
"Don’t let their successes blind you. Dig deep to find the lesser-known published titles in their catalog — the ones that didn’t do so great. Ask them (and yourself) why those ones performed so differently, and what they learned from the experience. Would you be OK if your game performed similarly?"

Looking At How Far No Man's Sky Has Come (Blake Woog / Game Informer - ARTICLE)
"Early No Man’s Sky was barren. It was a collection of empty planets good for harvesting and little else. The first two updates, Foundation and Path Finder, started to turn these planets from desolate rocks into homes. The Foundation update added a major base-building component that has been built upon since 2016 to the point that it now allows for some incredible base-building creations from the community."

How Dead Cells Cheated to Make the Game More Fun (Ars Technica / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Sébastien Bénard, lead designer at Motion Twin, goes behind the scenes of Dead Cells' development. Sébastien explains the challenges they came across and how they made the game feel so good to play."

'Project Winter' Is the Best Game About Betrayal This Year (Cameron Kunzelman / VICE - ARTICLE)
"This is the core conceit of Project Winter, a game of survivors and those who want to kill them in an arctic hellscape. Each game is made up of eight players: six survivors who have thirty minutes to find a way to escape and two traitors out to stop them by any means."


[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!]

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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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