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Video Game Deep Cuts: The Creative Loot Box Observer

Some of this week's highlights include the history of Creative Assembly, a disassembly of the loot box phenomenon, and analysis of the cyberpunk standout Observer.

[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.

Some of the highlights include the history of Creative Assembly, a disassembly of the loot box phenomenon, and analysis of the cyberpunk standout Observer.

While not a long-read, I wanted to point out something you might have missed - Amazon's move into Echo buttons, which will be used specifically for family games.

Though the concept that you might play audio-only games seems a bit weird to start with, we've been playing the Jeopardy game on Alexa fairly regularly in our house, and it's lots of fun. (Particularly because it tells you your ranking against other teams.)

There are others thinking about visual party game solutions using cellphones, too, from Jackbox Games to Sony's relatively slept-on PlayLink series. It's all an interesting crossover that brings to mind the late and sadly lamented 1 vs. 100 Xbox Avatars game. There's some fertile ground here, folks!

Until next time...
Simon, curator.]


What Other Games Can Learn From the Bullet Hell Genre (Amr Al-Aaser / Paste Magazine)
"When you hear “bullet hell” what do you think of? It’s not a new term, but it’s gained increasing prominence in the mainstream games discussion over the last decade, and is often associated with any game with overwhelming numbers of enemy projectiles."

World Record Progression: Half Life 2 (Summoning Salt / YouTube)
"[SIMON'S NOTE: this mini-documentary explains how the speed run for Half-Life 2 was gradually improved, and is, naturally, mindbending in several different places - all his videos on speedrun progression are super-interesting btw.]

Postmortem: Greater accessibility through audio in Killer Instinct (Zachary Quarles / Gamasutra)
"One of the main audio goals for our fighting game reboot Killer Instinct (KI) was player feedback.  We wanted to make sure that someone knew exactly what was going on at any given time using audio alone."

Pilotwings' Lost Open World Reboot (DidYouKnowGaming? / Unseen64 / YouTube)
"Factor 5's Pilotwings reboot was an open world game developed exclusively for the Nintendo Wii. The project originated on the Nintendo GameCube, but was eventually pushed onto the Wii. Factor 5 experimented with with a kind of head tracking glasses that affected what was displayed in relation to the player's position. [SIMON'S NOTE: with lots of unseen footage from the creators!]"

From shareware superstars to the Steam gold rush: How indie conquered the PC (Richard Cobbett / PC Gamer)
"Indeed, the world of indie development is now so important that it’s hard to remember that it’s only really a decade or so old. That’s not to say that there weren’t indie games before then, as we’ll see, but it was only really with the launch of Steam on PC and services like Xbox Live Arcade that the systems were in place to both get games in front of a mainstream audience."

Video Games: Access To The Computer Age (Jorge Reina Schement / Los Angeles Times via Simon's Twitter)
"[SIMON'S NOTE: a 1982 editorial about courts banning game arcades, pushing back & suggesting there's long-term 'academic value' in having kids grow up with games. Which there was! Found via a separate article in an arcade trade mag, original discovered by the Video Game History Foundation Discord I hang out on.]

Gaming's Toxicity Problem Can't Be Solved With DMCAs or Valve Charts (Katherine Cross / Glixel)
"What is equally clear is that if you're a developer, despite profiting from your work, Valve will not protect you when their platform is used to organize abuse against you or your colleagues. This abstentionism, of course, only nurtures the worst of gaming culture."

Applying 3D Level Design Skills to the 2D World of Hyper Light Drifter (Lisa Brown / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2017 GDC talk, independent level designer Lisa Brown explores how level design skills transfer between different formats, comparing her work on 3D titles Insomniac Games to her work on the 2D game Hyper Light Drifter."

The Company That Wants To Replace Textbooks With Video Games (Chloe Spencer / Kotaku)
"On any given day, CEO André Thomas arrives at his company Triseum’s office in Bryan, Texas at nine in the morning. While this is when Thomas gets in, his work day usually starts hours before by checking sales on the company’s educational video games."

The doors close on The Chinese Room - for now (Wesley Yin-Poole / Eurogamer)
"Just under a year after the launch of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, a "walking simulator" about dealing with loss in Shropshire in 1984, it won three BAFTAs. For its developer The Chinese Room, it seemed things couldn't get any better. Fans anxiously awaited the studio's next big project. They're still waiting. [SIMON'S NOTE: one of the most honest dev interviews I've ever seen.]"

Retronauts Micro 70, plus the inside story of Oregon Trail (David L Craddock & Jeremy Parish / Retronauts)
"The following excerpt comes from Break Out: How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution by David L. Craddock... In this chapter, roommates and student-teachers Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger work around their teaching schedules and brainstorm game design for the first version of The Oregon Trail. [SIMON'S NOTE: there's also a podcast about the book in here.]"

Games Industry Lobbyists Praised Trump, and No One Should Be Surprised (Patrick Klepek / Waypoint)
"More than a few people winced yesterday when the Entertainment Software Association, the Washington, D.C.-based trade organization representing the video games industry, issued a press release in which they praised President Trump for "bold leadership in computer science education.""

The New Flesh | Observer (Zach Budgor / Heterotopias)
"Observer is the rare cyberpunk story that refuses to fetishize its milieu, even today, 30 years after the genre’s inception. William Gibson’s early work, despite its incalculable influence, still throbs with the low-level hum of awestruck Japanophilia subsumed into equally stylish noir tropes."

The story behind the design of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (Gamasutra staff / Gamasutra)
"Gamasutra staffers recently had the pleasure of talking to Harvey Smith of Arkane Studios while livestreaming Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, the well-received standalone followup to Dishonored 2. Smith's comments about the design of various features in the new game, and in the franchise more generally, were fascinating. So fascinating that we decided to transcribe portions of the stream."

Games on the Mersey, Part 4: The All-Importance of Graphics (Jimmy Maher / Digital Antiquarian)
"Psygnosis’s first games had been created entirely in-house, with much of the design and coding done by Lawson and Hetherington themselves. In the wake of Barbarian‘s success, however, that approach was changed to prioritize what was really important in them."

The untold origin story of Creative Assembly (Robert Purchese / Eurogamer)
""The aim was earning a living," says Tim Ansell. There were no dreams of strategy epics and no dreams of blockbusters. In those days people wanted PC ports of Spectrum and Mega Drive games, and they wanted 23-year-old Ansell, apparently the only person in the country capable, to make them."

Loot boxes have reached a new low with Forza 7’s “pay to earn” option (Sam Machkovech / Ars Technica)
"At this point, it would take something monumentally stupid to reverse the "loot box" trend in video games. The practice, which combines real money, virtual items, and random chance, has been found in various free-to-play games for years (and has been showing up more in fully priced retail games recently). [SIMON'S NOTE: detailed & vital rant against something which may be important for devs to fund games, but can go wrong pretty quickly.]"

One Man’s Journey From Welfare to World’s Hottest Video Game (Yuji Nakamura & Sam Kim / Bloomberg)
"Three years ago, Brendan Greene was on welfare in his hometown of Kildare, Ireland, getting an earful from social workers about how he should stop wasting time developing free computer games. “They were telling me to look for jobs or I’ll be cut off,’’ says Greene. “I kind of ignored them.”"

The Dungeons & Dragons-loving geeks who became the godfathers of gaming (Sam Leith / The Spectator)
"‘I have a slight bone to pick with you,’ I tell Ian Livingstone as he makes me a cup of coffee in his airy open-plan kitchen. ‘This is a bone I have been waiting to pick for, oh, 35 years. That bloody maze!’"

Flash games and the importance of disposable media (Phil Salvador / The Obscuritory)
"When Adobe announced plans to discontinue Flash earlier this year, people rightly mourned that we’d soon lose the ability to easily play over two decades of amateur games and animation. Gigantic collections, like nearly the entire library of the game platform Kongregate, will rapidly become obsolete."

Jaedong fights the end of his career with reckless abandon (Young Jae Jeon / ESPN)
""I've been playing for 15 years now. My body is wearing out." His eyes are bloodshot, his face pained. His tone is subdued, his voice a half-whisper. It feels nothing like a victorious postmatch interview. He almost looks ready to cry. [SIMON'S NOTE: potentially aging out of eSports at... 27?! It's a young person's game out there.]"


[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at - 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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