[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 the Switch Lite announcement and Valve's experimental discovery mechanisms, as well as some picks on 2019's best games so far, indie pinball innovation, Dragon Quest Builders 2, and a bunch more besides.
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Nintendo’s Switch Lite doesn’t have to switch to be a success (Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"In the wake of the Switch Lite’s announcement, there’s been a lot of debate over whether the Switch’s idealism toward play-anywhere multiplayer failed or if people just weren’t using it with their TVs. But unless Nintendo decides to clarify the issue, that’s not the problem the Switch Lite is meant to solve."
How developers build the tutorials you skip (Xalavier Nelson Jr. / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"It's a common piece of knowledge in development circles that no matter how important it is, many players will avoid or miss pieces of your tutorial. They clearly need to know how to play the game—how do you move past their natural reluctance with as much success as possible?"
The Benevolent God-King of Traffic Exists and Here He Is Fixing Virtual Gridlock on YouTube (Michael Ballaban / Jalopnik - ARTICLE)
"America’s infrastructure is broken. Part of that is because we refuse to maintain it, but a large part is because it wasn’t designed correctly to begin with... But what if we could experiment with it, and improve it, on the fly? Just look at what this one guy does in Cities: Skylines to see what I’m talking about."
Warframe developer on avoiding crunch: "it's not a sprint, it's a marathon" (Emma Kent / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"At this year's TennoCon, I sat down with Digital Extremes chief operating officer Sheldon Carter to discuss the ongoing development of Warframe's Empyrean expansion (and all its newly-revealed features), along with topics such as how the studio is avoiding crunch, Digital Extremes' future plans, and whether there will ever be a Warframe 2. [SIMON'S NOTE: you should pay more attention to this game - these self-contained fandoms are the future for GaaS (Games as a Service).]"
Hours Played 12:56pm - 3:10pm (Duncan Robson / YouTube - VIDEO)
"This is a proof of concept for a planned 24 hour video game supercut in which every piece of footage contains a clock, watch or has someone saying the the time. These are arranged so that if you play it in sync with the real time it also functions as a clock. [SIMON'S NOTE: I'm a buddy of Duncan's, but independently of that bias - this is greeeat, please spread the word about it!]"
The deeproot Tour: Whitewood Wonderland and the Cart Before the Horse (This Week In Pinball - ARTICLE)
"Recently I was in Austin, Texas, not far from deeproot headquarters in San Antonio. I asked Robert Mueller, the man behind deeproot Pinball, if it would be alright if I came by for a tour of the deeproot facilities to see how things were going there, and he graciously obliged. [SIMON'S NOTE: deeproot is a well-funded dark horse in new-school pinball design with bold claims to 'reinvent everything' - and I have no idea whether they will!]"
My Friend Pedro's journey from Flash cult hit to indie success (Cian Maher / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Developed by one-man studio DeadToast, this Matrix-esque amalgamation of bullets and bedlam quickly cemented itself as a cult classic, but was unfortunately lost in the bygone era of browser games. Recently, however, My Friend Pedro received a massive overhaul, to the extent that an entirely new set of systems and mechanics were assimilated into its makeup."
A Guide To Auto Chess, 2019’s Most Popular New Game Genre (Nathan Grayson / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Over the weekend, Dota Underlords lured 200,000 concurrent players onto its checkered battlefield of swords, sorcery, and slot machines. Meanwhile, Riot’s Teamfight Tactics continued to duel with Fortnite for the Twitch throne. Also, I played Dota Underlords like it was my dang job. If it feels like these Auto Chess games have taken over the world overnight, that’s because they kinda have."
The best games of 2019 so far (RPS Hivemind / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Just look how many videogames have escaped from their developers in the past six months and are now running amok through the blistering streets, getting stuck in the melting tarmac, like ants in jam. It’s unsanitary. So allow us to round up these unruly games and trap them in a handy list."
Behind the Scenes with the Games Media at E3 2019 (Noclip / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Noclip investigates the evolution of E3. With behind the scenes interviews from CD Project, Twitch, IGN, Vice Games, Rebb Ford, Tim Schafer, Ben Pack, SkillUp and many others, we look at how the conference has changed over the past 25 years in response to the changing face of games coverage."
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge becomes a live-in video game with the Disney Parks app (Todd Martens / LA Times - ARTICLE)
"Nestled inside the 1-year-old Play Disney Parks mobile app is an exploration-encouraging experience called the Star Wars Datapad. Largely a home to mini-puzzles and short quests that can only be activated while inside Disneyland’s recently opened 14-acre area, the Datapad not only fleshes out the Galaxy’s Edge back story but also contains an ongoing game for control of the land itself."
What Works (And What Doesn't) In Apex Legends' Second Season (Javy Gwaltney / Game Informer - ARTICLE)
"After spending several hours with Apex's new additions, I've discovered that the new season does a lot to add enticements to keep the playerbase busy, but maybe not enough to chart a clear path forward to the amazing service game that Apex Legends could be. Here's what works and what doesn't work about Apex's newest season."
Who Shot Guybrush Threepwood? | Genre and the Adventure Game (Innuendo Studios / YouTube - VIDEO)
"We’re talking about adventure games again! Or, more accurately, we speaking in the context of adventure games about why some genres are hard to define, different ways of thinking about genre, and what genre is even for. [SIMON'S NOTE: there's a transcript too.]"
Pirate our games, don't buy them from key resellers, say indies (Leo Kelion / BBC - ARTICLE)
"Small video games studios are asking the public to stop buying their titles from "unauthorised" markets, saying the sales cost them more than they earn. Several have said it would even be better if consumers pirated their games rather than purchased discounted unlock codes from the "key resellers"."
Spawnpoint: Nolan North and Troy Baker (Keza MacDonald / Spawnpoint / ACast - PODCAST)
"Keza MacDonald presents a video game podcast for tired people. Interviews with players, developers and creators on how parenting and gaming co-exist, plus discussion and opinion on games from a time-pressed perspective."
Top 10 Most-Watched Twitch Content, First Half 2019 (Max Miceli / eSportsObserver - ARTICLE)
"League of Legends is on pace to break 1B hours watched as Fortnite sees a decline in viewership for the first half of the year. Meanwhile, Just Chatting’s emergence has generated notable growth for non-game-related content compared to its predecessor, the “IRL” category."
‘Dragon Quest Builders 2’ Is a Giant To-Do List, and I Love It (Cameron Kunzelman / VICE - ARTICLE)
"Dragon Quest Builders 2 is cute. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is simple. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the game that I’ve been playing until 1 AM all week, completing “just one more task” before bed. If this is a measure of whether or not a game is good, then the game is excellent. [SIMON'S NOTE: there's also a very entertaining Tim Rogers video about this very game.]"
Steam’s new Interactive Recommender is built for finding ‘hidden gems’ (Adi Robertson / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"Valve is launching a new “Interactive Recommender” that generates personalized lists of Steam games users might like based on what they’ve played before. It’s not replacing the platform’s existing recommendation systems, but it’s supposed to give users another way to navigate Steam’s massive backlog of games — especially smaller titles that often get lost in the mix."
It's Becoming Impossible To Keep Up With More Than A Couple "Forever" Games (Caty McCarthy / USGamer - ARTICLE)
"The question that comes up the most when I meet others in the games industry is, how do I keep up? The answer is simple: I don't. No one does, and no one can. There's always the new thing. It's an endless Las Vegas buffet of crab legs. I used to try though, until I realized it's healthier to accept that there's only so much I can play."
Peter Jackson’s King Kong was the most innovative game of its console generation (Xalavier Nelson Jr. / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"King Kong’s combination of cinematic stylings, rudimentary but working ecosystems, improvisational combat, a minimal HUD that forces information to be shared through more clever means than numbers on a screen, muddy textures striving for realism, and focus on player freedom within tightly-scripted encounters, functions as a prophetic statement of intent for the generation that would come."
Double Fine's Psychonautical E3 2019 (Double Fine / YouTube - VIDEO)
"It’s been a couple of weeks since we returned from E3, but only now do we feel recovered; rejuvenated by a long weekend of BBQs and fireworks. It was one hell-of-a show though, possibly our busiest ever, and certainly the first time we ever had our own booth on the showfloor, which made it all the more exciting! [SIMON'S NOTE: great documentary work behind the scenes here - Dean Hall's Rocketwerkz is also getting into the dev video game.]"
This Year's Steam Summer Sale Was A Mess, Game Developers Say (Nathan Grayson / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Two weeks ago, Valve apologized and altered the sale’s meta game... after players found it unbalanced and confusing, and developers suffered a bloodbath of sudden wishlist deletions. Now, with the sale winding down, it seems that Valve’s efforts weren’t enough to undo the damage the confusing sale structure did to indie developers. [SIMON'S NOTE: the above misunderstanding didn't help wishlists, but I think most of the indie issues are around the fact that Valve tends to boost games that already sell well, making them sell... even better. But this probably DOES maximize total store revenue. It's just not that small/medium indie friendly.]"
The calm chaos of Samurai Shodown (Patrick Miller / Medium - ARTICLE)
"To me, the Samurai Shodown series has stood out as a remarkable example of fighting game design because when people play it, they routinely recreate moments that look like they were ripped out of a classic samurai drama, not because they’re landing elaborately animated cutscene supers, but because the game’s core combat rules are designed in ways that make fights feel like cinematic samurai duels."
The Lost Soundtrack of SimCity NES (8-Bit Music Theory / YouTube - VIDEO)
"One of my favourite things about transcribing and analyzing music is trying to get inside the composer's head and figure out what he or she was thinking. SimCity's soundtrack for the SNES gives a perfect opportunity to do just that, due to an unearthed completed soundtrack for an NES version of the game that never saw official release. [SIMON'S NOTE: just discovered this whole YT channel, which is GREAT game music analysis.]"
Facebook AI Pluribus defeats top poker professionals in 6-player Texas Hold ’em (Jennifer Ouellette / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"Playing more than 5,000 hands each time, five copies of the AI took on two top professional players: Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, six-time winner of World Series of Poker events, and Darren Elias, who currently holds the record for most World Poker Tour titles. Pluribus defeated them both. It did the same in a second experiment, in which Pluribus played five pros at a time, from a pool of 13 human players, for 10,000 hands."
Working group of game companies announces plan to tackle crunch and workplace stress(Colin Campbell / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"Take This, a not-for-profit dedicated to addressing mental health problems in the game industry, today announced a working group made up of five games companies: Big Huge Games, Bungie, Certain Affinity, Wooga and Zenimax. Human resources leaders from the companies will work with Take This on addressing the game industry’s excesses."
[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!]