[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 intriguing triple-I (sorry!) titles Outer Wilds & Void Bastards, as well as the role of the city in games, bringing back Bubsy, insane auto-playing Mario Maker levels, & oodles of extra material. Hope you enjoy!
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Void Bastards review: a shock to the system (Russ Frushtick / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"Former BioShock team members made Void Bastards, and it shows. Both games are about using the environment to your advantage, hacking turrets, crafting weapons, and employing stealth to overcome impossible odds. But beyond the similarities, Void Bastards evolves the format in unexpected ways. [SIMON'S NOTE: an excellent critical response to this roguelite FPS with a great team pedigree!]"
How Localizing Return of the Obra Dinn Nearly Sunk the Game (Ars Technica / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Lucas Pope, creator of Return of the Obra Dinn, explains how the localization of the game's logbook put the game in some seriously dangerous waters."
Here’s what you’ll actually be doing in Death Stranding (Andrew Webster / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"The goal of the game is to “reunite a broken nation” while carrying a huge amount of cargo, which apparently requires a variety of activities. Challenges include things like protecting your precious supplies from bandits, avoiding strange monsters called Beached Things, and finding ways to navigate the world by building bridges or searching out new routes. [SIMON'S NOTE: a surprise to see Death Stranding coming out in 2019 - as I noted on Twitter, maybe using the Horizon Zero Dawn engine really helped the game get up to speed quickly? Or maybe it's mega-abstract cutscene first, game later? We'll find out!]"
Easy Like Sunday Morning (TheCatamites / My Friend Pokey - ARTICLE)
"I know it sounds funny but I just can’t stand the pain.. Given the volume of critical writing on difficult games in recent years isn’t it time to talk about some easy ones? [SIMON'S NOTE: I'm a big fan of indie game creator TheCatamites, who just released his latest outsider-art game compendium 10 Beautiful Postcards, btw - this is more offkilter but fascinating writing.]"
How the Video Game Industry Treats its Testers (Superbunnyhop / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Hear some horror stories and some silver linings behind the childhood dream job of being a game tester. Also, get some tips on how to spot the good employers versus the bad ones. [SIMON'S NOTE: and now many indie PC games are crowdsourcing QA from its community, creating additional friction here.]"
Games that ask: what are cities? (Christian Donlan / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"I've written about some of these games already, but I can't let them go. I love city builders. I love the idea of them anyway. But then I get bogged down, I lose track of the plumbing, I build my power station in the wrong place and everybody moves out because I haven't thought about the police or the fire department."
NOTICE ME: The Grind Behind the $272K Funding Success of Boyfriend Dungeon (Victoria Tran / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 GDC talk, Kitfox Games' Victoria Tran lifts the veil on the numbers and technical aspects behind the indie discoverability grind that drove Boyfriend Dungeon to Kickstarter success. [SIMON'S NOTE: also notable and posted this week - Leighton Gray's 'Dream Daddies and Fearful Fathers: How Indies Can Cope with Being Terminally Online'.]"
From Bubsy to System Shock, how indie devs bring old videogames back to life (Luke Winkie / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"In 2013, Kick oversaw the re-release of System Shock 2, which became the flagship product for the newly formed Nightdive Studios... This industry is old enough and hazardous enough that spare intellectual properties are like pennies lost deep in couch cushions—you can find them, as long as you know where to look. [SIMON'S NOTE: Since Bubsy was mentioned in the title of this piece, here's some HOT BONUS BUBSY CONTENT from Tedium - you know you want it.]"
In praise of ultra-short games (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"This class of "lunch break" games—single-serving, single-player narrative experiences designed to be played once, in about an hour or less—will never be as big or as popular as games that can demand thousands of hours of player attention. [SIMON'S NOTE: this article is conceptually centered on the intriguing new game Kids, which The Verge has also reviewed this week.]"
This 'Mario Maker' Level Has Been Played 2.6 Million Times and Never Beaten (Patrick Klepek / VICE - ARTICLE)
"For more than 12 hours now, my Wii U has been silently running underneath my desk. I’m not holding the controller, or taking note of what’s happening, but my Wii U is currently vying for a lottery ticket buried in Super Mario Maker, with a one in 7.5 million chance of it appearing."
Wishworld, the game that would become Fable (People Make Games / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Before Fable, there was Wishworld. Let's take a look at what that game was originally going to be. [SIMON'S NOTE: featuring the immaculately waxed mustache of my buddy Dene Carter, Fable co-creator and fellow Brit adrift in the Bay Area.]"
Play fights: the joys and the dangers of video games (Simon Parkin / New Statesman - ARTICLE)
"Why, then, might anyone want to read a book that is unable to reach clear conclusions on its subject? Much of Lost in a Good Game’s appeal is found in its autobiographical spine, which through tender anecdote reveals the positive power of games. [SIMON'S NOTE: Simon Parkin on a new game-related book that seems like an interesting, literate angle on the medium.]"
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare returns to tread a moral minefield (Keith Stuart / The Guardian - ARTICLE)
"It seems the development team is keen to emphasise this sense of authenticity, citing movies such as Hurt Locker and Sicario as inspiration. “We are making a game that is heavily inspired by the world that we live in today and the situations that we see in the world today,” Kurosaki told GameSpot. [SIMON'S NOTE: More on this moral mega-ambiguity from Ars Technica - will be very interesting to see how this is received on release!]"
Game Wave: Canada's Game Console (Stuff We Play / YouTube - VIDEO)
"This documentary tells the story of the ZAPiT Game Wave, the only (non-Pong clone) game console to ever be made in Canada and its story of greed, corruption, fraud, and identity crisis."
Outer Wilds review - an irresistible miniature solar system for the laidback explorer (Edwin Evans-Thirlwell / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"Zoom from the celestial circles of the map screen and you'll discover that each planet is a scene of rapid upheaval. On one oceanic world, bottle-green cyclones launch whole islands briefly into the atmosphere, carrying the player along with them; time it just right, and you might spring-board to a chunk of broken space station while investigating an old dockyard. [SIMON'S NOTE: seeing a LOT of excitement over this project, which is finally shipping 4 years on from an IGF Grand Prize win - also see this handy VICE review.]"
Has Overwatch been improved by its updates? (Rich McCormick / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Hitting these perfectly confers a sense of stylishness in movement that most shooters lack, but that Overwatch — with characters like Lucio and Tracer, as well as Wrecking Ball himself — has continued to explore. That’s a good thing, because as a pure shooter, I was less enamoured with Wrecking Ball. [SIMON'S NOTE: part of an interesting conceptual series of columns which tries to round-up post launch improvements for games - more of this, plz!]"
How This War of Mine Plays on Your Emotions (Ars Technica / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Aleksander Kauch, lead game programmer for This War of Mine, goes behind the scenes of the game's development and explains how they turned a management sim into a visceral experience about civilians at war."
Survive or Kill: How Behaviour Interactive Rebooted Deathgarden (David L Craddock / ShackNews - ARTICLE)
"Deathgarden launched with the highest of expectations. Within days, the asymmetric multiplayer shooter became a ghost town. The development team at Behaviour Interactive faced a difficult choice: Go back to the drawing board, or move on."
The Incredible Real-Life Story Behind The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa (Jeremy Hosking / Kotaku UK - ARTICLE)
"Vadim was returning from school with his grandmother when he noticed, at the entrance to his home, blood had been spilled. As they climbed the staircase, more and more came into view, their front door a disturbing preview of what was inside. Pushing it open and stepping into the apartment, they saw their bathroom floor was absolutely covered."
[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!]