[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 the much-awaited Kentucky Route Zero ending chapter, the debuts of games including Journey To The Savage Planet and SpellTower+, and the upcoming game dev-themed TV show from the 'Always Sunny' crew. Hope you enjoy the carefully excavated goodness!
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Tales From Discoverabilityland: Jan. 2020 (Simon Carless / Game Discoverability Now! / Substack - ARTICLE)
"Hi again! It’s been a little while since the last newsletter, and I do have some juicy exclusive Steam stats to share in the NEXT newsletter. But I have a whole bunch of follow-ups and interesting links for this one."
Early iPhone hit SpellTower gets reimagined a decade later (Andrew Webster / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"Part of revisiting the game so many years later meant coming to terms with what SpellTower is. While many games set themselves apart through clever writing or art, there’s a certain type — Gage calls them “classics” — that need to be purposefully generic."
Master of Orion (Jimmy Maher / The Digital Antiquarian - ARTICLE)
"Given the shadow which the original Master of Orion still casts over the gaming landscape of today, one might be forgiven for assuming, as many younger gamers doubtless do, that it was the very first conquer-the-galaxy grand-strategy game ever made. The reality, however, is quite different."
The Key to Super Bowl LIV, Just Like the Madden Championship, Is the Run (Aron Garst / EGM - ARTICLE)
"In other words, the running game is ascendant, both in the real NFL and its virtual counterpart. While an air raid offense where quarterbacks and wide receivers connect on 40-yard passes is electric, running backs and fast-footed quarterbacks keep teams afloat, wear defenses out, and help control the clock."
Long hours and ‘a pile of white dudes’: Annual survey looks at game industry working conditions (Todd Martens / LA Times - ARTICLE)
"Developers regularly work more than 40 hours a week; attempts to unionize aren’t getting traction; and it’s still an effort to ensure a game studio isn’t simply “a pile of white dudes,” as one developer put it in a newly released survey by the Game Developers Conference, the interactive entertainment industry’s largest professional gathering. [SIMON'S NOTE: My colleagues at GDC (and I, somewhere in the background!) put together this survey, which has a LOT of great data - here's a partial overview and a link for free download.]"
Fundamentals of Game Animation - Feel (Video Game Animation Study / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Continuing this mini-series looking at The Five Fundamentals of Video Game Animation, as proposed by Jonathan Cooper in his book. This time we're looking at the fundamental of FEEL, arguably the more important fundamental of the five."
The VR experience in ‘The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners’ prevents it from being just a zombie cliche (Christopher Byrd / Washington Post - ARTICLE)
"In VR, visual cliches are reinvigorated. Though I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a variation of the scene in which someone stands around a corner clutching a weapon waiting for their mortal enemy to pass to catch them unaware, I’d never, until recently, acted out such a scenario with all of its accompanying physical fanfare."
2019: The Losses (Ethan Johnson / The History Of How We Play - ARTICLE)
"May our spirits be at rest, for we all must face the call of time. It is not to depress, but to signal our new energies yet to be fulfilled. Some pass, some carry on, and so we remember what once was to give us perspective on these prior accomplishments. Here’s to those that left us in 2019."
Road to the IGF: Sisi Jiang's LIONKILLER (Joel Couture / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"LIONKILLER casts the player as Hua Mulan, conscripted into into the First Opium War against the British Empire. Through their choices, the player can chase their dream of running a flower shop, uncover conspiracies, or kiss a girl. But will these personal acts of rebellion change the history that's unraveling before them? [SIMON'S NOTE: part of a whole series of 'Road To The Independent Games Festival' interviews that are in progress - lots of good/potentially underappreciated games here.]"
The mass Twitch exodus: Why streamers are leaving (Austen Goslin / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"But over the last year, the streaming landscape has changed. Twitch still remains the largest streaming platform, but some of its biggest creators are signing exclusive contracts with platforms like Mixer, Caffeine, YouTube, and Facebook Gaming. Which leaves fans with a question: Why? The answer is a lot more complicated than you might think. [SIMON'S NOTE: also see a very well-reported Kotaku piece on the same issue.]"
It’s Increasingly Clear Stadia’s Launch Was an Expensive Beta Test (Patrick Klepek / VICE - ARTICLE)
"I’ve been a Stadia optimist from the start. It had less to do with any particular faith in Google, a company infamous for starting ambitious projects and scuttling them when faced with short term obstacles, but a belief that streaming video games was, sooner rather than later, going to be a big part of our lives."
Collectors Are Spending Thousands on Video Games They Will Never Play (Jason M Bailey / New York Times - ARTICLE)
"Vintage baseball cards, antique coins and rare comic books, originally bought for pennies, now regularly sell for millions of dollars, sending enthusiasts in pursuit of the next hot collectible: retro video games."
The Tragedy and Mystery of the ‘Best Game of the Decade’ (Laura Hudson / Wired - ARTICLE)
"Kentucky Route Zero has never been a very literal game, which makes it hard to describe in concrete terms, but let’s give it a try. Imagine for a moment that the next Great American Novel was created in the 21st century as a point-and-click adventure game, woven out of Southern Gothic fiction, magical realism, and a techno-mystical understanding of hyperreality. [SIMON'S NOTE: also see this Verge review of the final chapter - congrats to the team for finishing it!]"
Designing DOOM Eternal's New & Classic Demons (Noclip / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Hugo Martin (Game Director) breaks down the design and redesign of DOOM Eternal's new and classic demons. [SIMON'S NOTE: great to see Noclip settling down with their new studio & putting out more smaller mini-docs and video features - see also this one on the design of Gish! There's def. a lack of this type of material in a higher quality on YouTube, still.]"
Disco Elysium’s Hardcore Mode is just one way games can meaningfully explore poverty (Nic Reuben / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Time was in Disco Elysium, you could just ask a light-refracting millionaire living in a storage crate to invest in a business you made up on the spot, and that was you sorted for the rest of your trip to Martinaise. Hardcore Mode makes réal scarce. Filling plastic bags with empty bottles goes from amusing busywork to a near necessity."
Journey to the Savage Planet review - a genuinely funny toybox to explore (Vikki Blake / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"The first time I throw down a canister of GROB, I'm not entirely sure what it is. As it explodes into a satisfying puddle of goo, the exotic creatures around me - my scanner tells me they're Pufferbirds and they "like, love me": it's already reciprocal - screech a joyful, if alien, screech and waddle straight to it. Awed, I waddle right after them. [SIMON'S NOTE: overall reviews are a little mixed, but it seems like a super interesting title.]"
Is the HyperCasual market still healthy and growing in 2020? (Tom Kinniburgh / Mobile Free To Play - ARTICLE)
"The total quantity of hypercasual apps has been increasing at a fairly predictable rate and competition in the sector has grown. Overall the sector itself still supports 6 times as many titles as back in 2015, from 100million per month to 600 million downloads per month in 2019. The very best titles can rack up around 50 million installs in a single month, but most top titles do closer to 10 million."
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet Tackles The Games Industry With Smart Comedy (Kimberly Wallace / Game Informer - ARTICLE)
"In a world of living games and increasing financial demands, studios constantly need to find new ways to keep their games relevant, and most importantly, their fans happy. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a new, exclusive Apple TV+ comedy by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz that shows this struggle firsthand, shining a light on the best and worst parts of the process. [SIMON'S NOTE: also see mixed impressions from Kotaku - it's intriguing, nonetheless!]"
Steam in China (Sergio Garces / SGarces.com - ARTICLE)
"The games industry in China has gone through some rough times with strict government control and a months-long freeze in 2018. However, Steam seems to be operating under the government’s radar, with games not required to get a license to be sold there. As Steven Messner from PC Gamer reports, nobody knows why it’s not censored or, more correctly, why only community and pornographic games are censored."
How Tabletop RPGs Are Being Reclaimed From Bigots and Jerks (Matthew Gault / VICE - ARTICLE)
"Racism and fear of the unknown powered Lovecraft’s work. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Yet his work is still compelling to many, including myself. The weirder the world gets, the more popular his work becomes. “We can acknowledge the fear behind his imagination while also re-examining what came out of it,” Evil Hat Production said in its content warning."
[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!]