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Video Game Deep Cuts: The Panzer At Heaven's Vault 2

This week's roundup includes a classic postmortem of Sega's seminal Panzer Dragoon series, impressions of the eagerly awaited Heaven's Vault, as well as secret MMO servers, homebrew Game Boy Games, the return of D&D, and much more besides.

[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 classic postmortem of Sega's seminal Panzer Dragoon series, impressions of the eagerly awaited Heaven's Vault, as well as secret MMO servers, homebrew Game Boy Games, the return of D&D, and much more besides.

Until next time...
Simon, curator.]


What to expect from Sony's next-gen PlayStation (Peter Rubin / Wired - ARTICLE)
"Mark Cerny would like to get one thing out of the way right now: The videogame console that Sony has spent the past four years building is no mere upgrade. You’d have good reason for thinking otherwise. Sony and Microsoft both extended the current console generation via a mid-cycle refresh, with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 spawning mini-sequels (the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro). [SIMON'S NOTE: definitely the surprise article of the week - a little outlet-exclusive spoiler to whatever Microsoft might announce at E3?]"

How Earth Defense Force went from bargain bin to blockbuster (Sam Byford / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"There is perhaps no more decadent sight in gaming than a well-executed Earth Defense Force attack. Maybe you’ll fire your jetpack northwest, maybe you’ll fire your rocket launcher southeast, and maybe you’ll detach 10 giant alien ant thoraxes from their abdomens all in one move. Maybe you’ll destroy a skyscraper in the background at the same time."

Heaven's Vault review - a rich web of possibility (Christian Donlan / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"Like 80 Days, Inkle's previous game, Heaven's Vault is a piece of interactive storytelling that drops you into a dense mesh of narrative choices. The whole thing's as intricate and inter-connected, perhaps, as one of the tiled abstract patterns that decorate the walls and doorways of the game's Middle-Eastern and North-African-inspired environments. [SIMON'S NOTE: see also this Polygon review.]"

Classic Game Postmortem: Panzer Dragoon, Panzer Dragoon Zwei, and Panzer Dragoon Saga (GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 Game Developers Conference talk, Panzer Dragoon developers Yukio Futatsugi and Kentaro Yoshida discuss the concepts for the art and design of the Panzer Dragoon series on the Sega Saturn. [SIMON'S NOTE: it took us multiple years to line up this Classic Postmortem, but am delighted we did - lots of undiscovered details on the series in here.]"

Wrestlemania! Games Under Five Hours Q1 2019 (First Five / YouTube - VIDEO)
"It's time at last for another quarterly wrapup! I had to reach a bit, but there's an awful lot of wrestling going on in these games: physical, mental, and emotional. But whether you're grappling with the cops or the metaphysical, I've got a new batch of quick, awesome games under five hours from the last quarter. [SIMON'S NOTE: cute, underappreciated idea!]"

Apex Legends has lost its huge momentum (Austen Goslin / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"Apex Legends had the smoothest and most successful launch of any battle royale game. While games like Fortnite took months to build up a player base and a Twitch presence, Apex shot to number one in its first day. But a lack of updates, a litany of bugs, and some fierce competition has destroyed Apex Legends’ launch momentum. [SIMON'S NOTE: may be a bit early to count this one out, but it's interesting to see someone try.]"

Akira Yasuda – 2003 Developer Interview (Style Of Games / Shmuplations - ARTICLE)
"In the first half of this lengthy 2003 interview, legendary designer and illustrator Akira “Akiman” Yasuda looks back at his origins as an artist and the early titles to which he lent his talents as a Capcom employee, including the popular and influential brawler Final Fight and the era-defining and canonical fighting game Street Fighter II."

The Heartache Of A Video Game That Makes You Shred Real Books (Aiden Strawhun / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"The British developer behind the unusual game The Book Ritual calls it a BYOS—bring your own shredder. Alistair Aitcheson showed it to me last month in San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference, the first time he’s shown it in the U.S. I spoke with him and played it for about an hour. [SIMON'S NOTE: I played this on-site at GDC, and mutilated a perfectly good copy of Peter Benchley's 'Jaws'. It was... weird. And meaningful.]"

Video: Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s horror relied on a bit of cheating (Sam Machkovech / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"2010 video game Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an obvious candidate for our eventual "best games of the '10s" list, owing to its revolutionary take on interactive horror. The indie game ushered in a new era of horror gaming, thanks in part to its brief, focused scope and its utter lack of weapons or combat. But how did the designers at Swedish game studio Frictional Games pull off Amnesia's scariest stuff?"

Game Discoverability Day: Building a Community for Your Game from Scratch (GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 GDC talk, No More Robots founder Mike Rose shares how he built multiple game communities from scratch for games like Descenders and Not Tonight, and how any developer can follow these steps to bring together their own community."

‘Secret’ City of Heroes emulator operators address SCORE leak drama, rebut personal info database rumor (Bree Royce / MassivelyOP - ARTICLE)
"If you’ve been around the post-sunset City of Heroes community long enough, you’ve probably heard the rumors that there’s a secret City of Heroes rogue server out there under construction – not SEGS, and not Paragon Chat, and not any of the spiritual successors, but specifically a functional private server version of the real game. [SIMON'S NOTE: emulation of defunct game servers is a wacky, wacky community space.]"

Mutiny at HQ Trivia fails to oust CEO (John Constine / Techcrunch - ARTICLE)
"This week’s banishment of host Scott Rogowsky was merely a symptom of the ongoing struggle to decide who will lead HQ Trivia. According to multiple sources, more than half of the startup’s staff signed an internal petition to depose CEO Rus Yusupov, whom they saw as mismanaging the company. [SIMON'S NOTE: OK, less about the game than company politics, but swift startup success can have all kinds of bad/tragic cultural ramifications.]

'We Will Win:' OpenAI's 'Dota 2' Team Is Crushing Humans Online, But Players Are Not Giving Up (Nicole Carpenter / Motherboard - ARTICLE)
"We’ve seen AI-powered bots play—and beat—professional players before. Both OpenAI Five and DeepMind’s AlphaStar have defeated professional video game players, but never in live-streamed matches. Last week’s match against OG was the first time one of these AI wins has happened live. Now, we can watch OpenAI Five face a massive number of human teams in real-time."

Twitch’s first-ever video game is a free karaoke title built for live streaming (Nick Statt / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"The company says Twitch Sings has a “go live” button to immediately begin broadcasting a play session. There are audience features like cheering with emotes, virtual ovations, and the ability to vote to determine the next song in the queue, plus ways for the audience to challenge a player like removing the lyrics to a track or singing in silly voices. [SIMON'S NOTE: given most of the positive interactions on Twitch are performative, this makes a lot of sense.]"

Ten questions with the guys behind the best GameBoy game you've probably never played, Tobu Tobu Girl (Bryan Ochalla / Gay Gamer - ARTICLE)
"Now you know why I can't seem to shut up on Twitter about the recently launched Kickstarter for Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe, a GameBoy Color-enhanced reworking of the [homebrew] original. In an effort to raise awareness about both Tobu Tobu Girl and the just-mentioned Kickstarter for its colorized follow-up, I'm finally publishing this interview I did with Tangram Games' Lukas Erritsø Hansen and Simon Larsen well over a year ago."

How Games Get Balanced (Game Maker's Toolkit / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Balancing a game is one of the most complex pursuits in game development - especially when you’re dealing with a cast of completely distinct and diverse characters. So how do devs do it?"

How Dungeons & Dragons somehow became more popular than ever (Gendy Alimurung / Washington Post - ARTICLE)
"There was something about Dungeons & Dragons that spoke to Mario Alvarenga in a deep way. He tried it for the first time five years ago — never mind that he was not a teen, as most newbies are, but an adult. While experiencing the role-playing game, he could imagine scenes down to the tiniest detail: the bump of cobblestones on a street, the smell of baked goods in a market, the coldness of the wind. The boredom in his life melted away."

Forget easy mode. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice needs an equal mode (Steve Spohn / Digital Trends - ARTICLE)
"My friend Chrissy and I are madly in love with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. We’ve spent nearly 140 hours combined adventuring through the scenic landscapes of ancient Greece. It’s one of our favorite things to talk about and I’ve lost track of the number of hours we’ve spent discussing the game. But there’s always an underlying theme to our conversations. While we both adore Odyssey, the ways that we play it are considerably different. [SIMON'S NOTE: I know I said last week was the last Sekiro difficulty piece, but this one's good!]"

A Teen Dirtbag Beat-Em-Up With Phenomenal Writing (Tim Rogers / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa lifts the pompadoured image and brawling RPG concept of a Kunio-Kun adventure, yet where Kunio-Kun games carried themselves like a cartoon frolic and tended to dance around social issues, Ringo Ishikawa’s sole developer has allowed his game to marinate in the decades of meaningful distance between its 1980s setting and today."

After Notre Dame Fire, Players Return to Its Recreation in 'Assassin's Creed Unity'(Matthew Gault / Motherboard - ARTICLE)
"Tragedy struck the centuries-old Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France yesterday when a nine-hour blaze devastated the iconic building. In mourning, people flocked to the building to serenade it; they shared their thoughts, feelings, and pictures on social media; and gamers booted up 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Unity to explore publisher Ubisoft’s gorgeous digital recreation of the building."

Nintendo Labo director says VR was part of the plan from the beginning (Dami Lee / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"Sakaguchi has overseen the Labo series from concept to production. He recalls an initial consumer test that went so disastrously that he went back to his hotel room and cried a little. “When you’re actually immersed in development, it’s really hard to realize that maybe other people might have difficulties building it,” he explains. “So it was a really good experience for us to see that and realize, ‘Oh, wait, maybe you need three arms to actually make this fold.’” [SIMON'S NOTE: as reviewed by Ars Technica, Labo VR may be a bit clunky, though!]"


[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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