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Video Game Deep Cuts: Rolling The DICE For An Oregon Trail Switch

This week's longform highlights include Phil Spencer's speech at the DICE Summit, editorials on how the Switch is encouraging people to play games they wouldn't otherwise, & rare documents on The Oregon Trail's history.

Simon Carless, Blogger

February 25, 2018

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 Phil Spencer's speech at the DICE Summit, editorials on how the Switch is encouraging people to play games they wouldn't otherwise, & rare documents on The Oregon Trail's history.

Having just returned from DICE in Las Vegas - helmed for the first time by my former GDC colleague Meggan Scavio, and excellently, too - still had time to dig out some of the best links of the week. Unfortunately, a lot of the discussion at DICE is off the record, but there were a lot of interesting subjects being discussed - from the role of game streamers to new ways to approach video game preservation.

Still, guessing they will percolate into some of the journalist/YouTuber editorials you'll see in this column over time, being trends and all!

Until next time,
Simon, curator.]


7 games with interesting hacking mechanics all devs should study (Richard Moss / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"These days hacking is more topical than ever, and for anyone making a game that even flirts with the implications of the growing interconnectedness and networking capabilities of objects and devices all over the world — and the sometimes-questionable security protocols protecting them — it's rife for potential as a video game mechanic."

Conan Exiles' director talks Early Access development, the future of the survival genre and dong sliders (Joe Donnelly / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"Conan Exiles entered Steam's Early Access initiative at the end of January last year, and has spent the last 12 months working and reworking its sprawling survival world. In December last year, developer Funcom earmarked May 8, 2018 for full release—and with this in mind I caught up with game director Joel Bylos to learn about Exiles' journey so far, and what it has planned for the future."

The Animation Pipeline of Overwatch (Jesse Davis / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2017 GDC talk, Blizzard's Jesse Davis takes a look at how the Overwatch team built an animation pipeline and workflow around a new game universe, a new team culture, and Blizzard's tried-and-true values."

Game industry pushes back against efforts to restore gameplay servers (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"A group of video game preservationists wants the legal right to replicate "abandoned" servers in order to re-enable defunct online multiplayer gameplay for study. The game industry says those efforts would hurt their business, allow the theft of their copyrighted content, and essentially let researchers "blur the line between preservation and play... Analyzing the arguments on both sides shows how passionate both industry and academia are about the issue, and how mistrust and misunderstanding seem to have infected the debate."

How small game makers found their community with Bitsy (Adam Dixon / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"A year ago Bitsy released on itch.io – a humble game making tool described by its creator as a “little editor for little games or worlds”. Since its release, more than 600 games have been made using the tool by 300 different authors."

Reading Digital Games As Texts (Matthew Farber / Edutopia - ARTICLE)
"Would screening a Ken Burns documentary for students be considered teaching with educational technology because it was delivered using a DVD player and a projector? Clearly not. In my research, I’ve discovered something similar about some digital games: They’re not edtech tools, per se; instead they fall into the category of mediated experiences, and can be read—like literary fiction or films—as texts."

The 33-Year Quest for the Perfect Run of 'Super Mario Bros.' Is Almost Over (Patrick Klepek / Waypoint - ARTICLE)
"“Oh my gosh,” muttered Super Mario Bros. speedrunner Kosmic, as he snaked through a tough section of 8-4, the final stage in the game. “C’mon, man.” Moments later, he jumped over Bowser’s hammers, dropped his controller to the ground, and began to process the enormity of the moment. At four minutes, 56 seconds, and 462 miliseconds, Kosmic had achieved a new world record for speedrunning Super Mario Bros."

Finding Relief In Overwatch – Chronic Pain And Gaming (Kimberley Wallace / Game Informer - ARTICLE)
"You can never anticipate every curveball life throws at you, and sometimes the perfect video games just appear during your time of need. That's how it was for me and Overwatch. Blizzard's first-person shooter became a positive force amid my hardest years."

Shadow of the Colossus: How Music Tells Its Story (Writing On Games / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Arguably one of the most significant aspects of Shadow of the Colossus' legacy is its simple but profound story. In this episode of Writing on Games, I want to examine why Kow Otani's genius soundtrack might be at the centre of it all."

How Michael Brough's love of exploring a single game mechanic beget Cinco Paus(Jennifer Allen / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"In the course of a recent conversation with Gamasutra, Brough opened up a bit about his approach to game-making and shed some light on why, exactly, he made such interesting design choices while crafting Cinco Paus." 

The DeanBeat: Microsoft’s Phil Spencer steps up as a diversity leader (Dean Takahashi / Venturebeat - ARTICLE)
"Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft, spoke from the heart about diversity and being a leader in building a better culture at the company at the opening of the elite game conference, the DICE Summit, this week in Las Vegas. I was proud to see a leader of the game industry and one of the top people at Microsoft call for the game industry to do a better job embracing inclusiveness."

The Oregon Trail, MECC, and the Rise Of Computer Learning (The Strong Musem Of Play - SLIDESHOW)
"The... exhibit draws on unique artifacts and rare documentation from the museum’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) and its Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) Collection to present the history of The Oregon Trail and the pioneers who created it and other groundbreaking educational software. [SIMON'S NOTE: The Strong has an amazing collection of donations around games, so good to see online exhibits in _some_ form...]"

The Nintendo Switch has me playing games I’d otherwise ignore (Andrew Webster / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"A year ago, if you had told me I’d be spending my evenings playing Payday 2 on a tablet, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, here I am, plugging away at a heist game that came out five years ago. Such is the power of the Nintendo Switch. [SIMON'S NOTE: Also see 'The Nintendo Switch Is Great For Playing Games You're Ashamed Of']"

Make Peace, Not War | Diplomacy AI in Total War: Attila (AI and Games / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In part four of the Total War series I take a look at improvements made to the Monte Carlo Tree Search algorithm as well as the diplomacy AI personalities that reside within Total War: Attila."

Road to the IGF: Subset Games' Into the Breach (Joel Couture / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Gamasutra sought out Justin Ma of Subset Games, developers of the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Excellence in Design-nominated Into the Breach, to learn more about why they chose to make players care about blowing up the city they're supposed to be saving, giving players the ability to read enemy moves, and what these two things did to make the FTL developer's new game feel special. [SIMON'S NOTE: Just calling out this game because it's the next game from the FTL devs & seems INSANELY polished, and comes out this week - don't sleep on it!]"

Road to GDC: Triple-A Gaming While Blind (Karen Stevens / Rolling Stone - ARTICLE)
"When I joined EA back in 2013 as a Madden NFL graphics developer, every Raiders fan was eager to get their hands on the next game in the franchise. Everyone except my friend who was legally blind. He told me that he couldn’t play Madden NFL anymore."

The Great Kinect Art Heist (Chris Bratt / Eurogamer - VIDEO)
"In late 2015, one of the world's most priceless artifacts was stolen. The thieves (or activists, depending on your viewpoint) used Microsoft's Kinect to swipe it. [SIMON'S NOTE: Don't miss this one!]"

The Worlds Of Ultima (Jimmy Maher / Digital Antiquarian - ARTICLE)
"In the very early days of Ultima, Richard Garriott made a public promise which would eventually come back to haunt him. Looking for a way to differentiate his CRPG series from its arch-rival, Wizardry, he said that he would never reuse an Ultima engine."

TouchArcade Game Of The Week: Alto's Odyssey (Jared Nelson / TouchArcade - ARTICLE)
"[SIMON'S NOTE: and here's the actual review of Alto's Odyssey - highlighting cos I want you to know about new/interesting games - the devs "still find room for a few surprises while maintaining the engrossing atmospheric experience of the original."]"

Interview: Deciphering the whimsical Wattam with Keita Takahashi (JC Fletcher / TinyCartridge - ARTICLE)
"“This is not a five-minute game,” Keita Takahashi tells me in the Annapurna Interactive booth at PAX South, as a line stretches out of said booth for demos of Wattam, the whimsical new game Katamari Damacy’s creator is making at Funomena. “You need enough time to understand.”"

Sim Society: DARPA, serious simulation, and the model that stopped a flood (Emily Gera / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"The science of prediction has a long history of seeking answers to seemingly impossible questions. What will the weather look like next month? Will the stock market dip in the next hour? In 1928, studies were being done by the United States government to find an answer to another hard question, one that might save lives: Can you predict the nature of a river before a flood?"


[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 & 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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