[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 - filled with much goodness - includes a look at AI thriller Observation, the unique new Panic handheld Playdate, and the latest episode of the exquisite Cool Ghosts game review 'webshow', as well as pieces on eSport shadiness, Oculus Quest, Pathologic 2, and lots more besides.
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Making the player the AI in outer space thriller Observation (Diego Arguello / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Building on its experience in creating the narrative-driven game Stories Untold and its contributions to Creative Assembly's Alien Isolation, Observation (published by Devolver) puts players in command of an artificial intelligence named S.A.M. As part of a space station, S.A.M. has the task of aiding Dr. Emma Fisher as she tries to regain communication with her crew and find a way back home."
Why the quirky Playdate portable could succeed where Ouya failed (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"The portable, black-and-white, crank-controlled Playdate microconsole—aiming for a 2020 launch at $149—is decidedly not going to provide much competition for the kinds of gaming experiences you can get on a full-fledged console, a high-end gaming PC, or even your smartphone. And that's why it might succeed where other microconsoles have failed."
Adorable Little Discord Bot Is Actually A Devious Game In Disguise (Heather Alexandra / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Smilebot is the brain-child of Vancouver-based designer James Lantz and is marketed as an “antidepressant for your Discord community.” On the surface, it’s a silly bot where you can collect smiles and gamble with them. Ask and it might guess your mood or make a little dab emoji. It’s actually a game in disguise."
Bits to Atoms: Starlords Arcade Cabinet, Part 1 (Adam Savage's Tested / YouTube - VIDEO)
"'s California Extreme saw the debut of Starlords, a new arcade cabinet built over many months by our very own Bits to Atoms team! To embark on this journey, Jeremy and Sean enlisted the help of the software developers (and video game historians) at Other Ocean Interactive to code this game from scratch. [SIMON'S NOTE: this 7-part video series is available outside of the Tested paywall only recently, and is super interesting.]"
Shady Numbers And Bad Business: Inside The Esports Bubble (Cecilia D'Anastasio / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Fields is not the only longtime esports veteran who is worried the industry is a bubble, or more accurately, an industry comprised of several bubbles. Seventeen other experts on the North American esports industry shared similar concerns with Kotaku, some describing it merely as “inflated” and others as “completely unsustainable.” Several spoke on the controversial topic because they love esports and want to see it succeed organically, in a sustainable way."
Schell Games has bucked game industry layoffs for 16 years. Here’s their secret (Gabe Gurwin / Digital Trends - ARTICLE)
"The Pittsburgh-based game developer employs more than 120 people, producing a mix of educational entertainment titles like Happy Atoms, and core-focused VR games like I Expect You to Die. Since its inception in 2002, the company has grown to become the biggest game developer in the city and the largest educational entertainment developer in the United States. Despite that, it has never suffered a single layoff."
The Boss Button (Richard Moss / The Life & Times of Video Games - PODCAST)
"But if there's one thing that's been a constant in technology, it's that wherever there are computers, there are also games. And for a while, in the 1980s and 90s, many game developers actually put in a special key command that would bring up a fake productivity screen. This is the story of the rise and fall of the boss button."
Why a Major Hollywood Talent Agency Is Betting Big on Gaming Influencers (Sarah Leboeuf / Variety - ARTICLE)
"The entertainment industry has changed a lot in the last few years. Newer mediums like esports, streaming channels, and influencer content are challenging more traditional outlets like film and TV for fans’ limited attention spans. Professional gamers are making millions while achieving levels of fame previously reserved for Hollywood celebrities — which means they also need similar career guidance. [SIMON'S NOTE: notable because UTA's previous tack (which they're not giving up on, but the upside seems to have been limited!) was repping high-profile game developers.]"
Game Design Deep Dive: Environmental storytelling in Generation Zero (Emil Kraftling / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Generation Zero was something new for Avalanche Studios. While we had released two self-published games before, they were both fairly niche hunting games and not actively competing with more mainstream action games. But with Generation Zero we had this crazy idea of taking one step in the direction of the more action-packed publisher-funded projects we have made."
Episode 3: Cool Ghosts (Cool Ghosts / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Games Featured: Monster Hunter, Wilmot's Warehouse, King of Dragon Pass. [SIMON'S NOTE: Wonderful stuff from the Cool Ghosts crew - more a TV show in terms of production values than a YouTuber-quality video, and just the silliest, in a good way.]"
Shakedown: Hawaii Offers A Breezy 16-Bit Farewell To The Vita (Ethan Gach / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Its 16-bit sprites flutter in the pixelated winds that blow across its sprawling island, which is several times the size of Rampage’s map. The faded backgrounds and grimy streets of the original have been replaced with electric pinks and balmy palm trees, making the carnage you still leave in your wake feel more like the residue of a gonzo vacation than a Bonnie and Clyde death pact. [SIMON'S NOTE: slightly late to the party on this long-awaited '2D GTA' thing, but wanted to point it out, especially since it's on PS4, Switch and PC as well - wonder how it's doing on PC as a Epic Games Store exclusive!]
Faze Clan and Tfue’s legal dispute could reshape e-sports and YouTube contracts forever (Julia Alexander / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"Tenney’s case is built upon a number of factors that have become industry-standard practices in the largely unregulated creator space, which stretches from mobile apps like Instagram to video platforms like Twitch and YouTube. Creators are often young and inexperienced and, in many cases, do not fully understand the legalese behind a contract that could dictate their earning potential for years."
An exhaustive look at Oculus Quest’s first day of great, wireless VR software (Sam Machkovech / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"What a difference three years makes for the VR ecosystem. Oculus Quest has come out swinging with 14 launch titles that we'd slap a "buy" or "strong try" tag onto. Admittedly, most of these are ports of previous VR success stories, but for a lot of people who've waited for a "good enough" VR platform to invest in, there's a strong possibility they've never gone hands- and eyes-on with these titles."
Spiel des Jahres Nominations for 2019: Just One, LAMA, and Werewords (W. Eric Martin / BoardGameGeek - ARTICLE)
"In commentary on the nominees, Schrapers pointed out that the three nominees are all small games that you can learn and play almost immediately. Later in his commentary, Schrapers writes, "We now have a large number of titles on the table that are very high quality compared to decades past. Of the games that the ten jurors have played intensively over the last twelve months, probably more than one hundred would have been a candidate for the leaderboard in the 1980s." [SIMON'S NOTE: keeping an eye on the board game world, these are THE awards to care about.]"
M2: Complete Works (My Life In Gaming / YouTube - VIDEO)
"M2: Complete Works dives deep into the history of Japanese game developer M2, who are well known for elaborately porting retro games to modern platforms. From their humble beginnings porting Gauntlet to the Sega Genesis by eye and memory to their releases on the Nintendo Switch, M2 has been involved with some of the most iconic game series of all time."
‘MissionRacer’: How Amazon turned the tedium of warehouse work into a game (Greg Bensinger / Washington Post - ARTICLE)
"Inside several of Amazon’s cavernous warehouses, hundreds of employees spend hours a day playing video games... But they aren’t whiling away the time by playing Fortnite and Minecraft. Rather, they’re racing to fill customer orders, their progress reflected in a video game format that is part of an experiment by the e-commerce giant to help reduce the tedium of its physically demanding jobs."
The children of Pathologic 2 teach you about dread on a derelict train track (Brendan Caldwell / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"The place has so little grub I spent my brief visit wrestling with a frustrating hunger. Yet for those hardy souls willing to overlook constant death and harsh restarts, there are some excellent scenes of unease and disquiet in this grey, decaying town. One moment, more than any, sticks out. [SIMON'S NOTE: as with the unique original, Pathologic 2 is brutal and hugely divisive, but it really does have some interesting stuff in there?]"
Making Games That Stand Out and Survive (Nick Popovich / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 GDC talk, Monomi Park founder Nick Popovich explains how you can make your game stand out and survive amongst the thousands of games released every year. [SIMON'S NOTE: also published on the GDC YouTube channel this week - 'Designing Path of Exile to Be Played Forever'.]"
For parents, TABS is an outstanding game (Colin Campbell / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"Despite the seeming madness of [Totally Accurate Battle Simulator's] battles, it soon becomes clear that, underneath the staggering figurines, there ticks a clever piece of mathematical symmetry. Each battle only lasts a few moments, but they are nonetheless thoughtful puzzles that require a strategic mien. [SIMON'S NOTE: also see 'TABS and the allure of a chemistry set'.]
Minecraft at 10: a decade of building things and changing lives (Keith Stuart / The Guardian - ARTICLE)
"But this isn’t just a story about sales. “Minecraft is personal,” says Lydia Winters, the brand director at Mojang, the Swedish studio behind the game. “It has become part of players’ identities.” Lydia started out as a Minecraft YouTuber, making videos about the game during a tough time in her life."
AIAS Game Maker's Notebook: Amy Hennig (AIAS / Libsyn - PODCAST)
"Industry legend Amy Hennig (Uncharted, Legacy of Kain) sits down with Ted [Price] to talk about coaching young developers, giving proper feedback, marrying narrative and design, and the evolution of development culture. Hennig is a Creative Director & Writer. She is best known for her work on the Uncharted series."
[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at tinyletter.com/vgdeepcuts - we crosspost to Gamasutra later on, 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!]