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Video Game Deep Cuts: Super Potato Esther Manhole

The latest Video Game Deep Cuts selection, picking some of the smartest longform video game articles and videos of the week, looks at the Japanese game stores gone wrong, Dear Esther & game design, a retrospective of The Manhole, & more.

Simon Carless, Blogger

October 9, 2016

9 Min Read

[Back once again with a little Saturday link-compiling and whiskey-sipping - and wow, once again I'm heartened and blown away by the amount of amazing written and video content out there for this newsletter. Just watching the (excellent!) Fantastic Arcade talk videos would take up a bunch of your week, & if you add in various GDC talks, speed runs, analysis vids, and the tens of thousands of words here - well, I barely have time to compile it, let alone watch it all. And that makes me happy.

Simon Carless, curator.]


What happened to Japan's once bountiful vintage game stores? (Simon Parkin / Eurogamer)
"During the past ten years, as Super Potato's fame has grown, its effect on first-time visitors has remained undiminished. The prices, however, have steadily risen, while the clientele has changed and the stock has depleted. Super Potato is now a tourist attraction; far more foreigners than Japanese squeeze apologetically through its narrow aisles."

Westworld's creators explain how their series addresses violent video games (Nick Statt / The Verge)
"HBO’s meaty science fiction morality play Westworld explores the logical extreme of our obsession with escapist fantasies. Speaking at a roundtable event with reporters last week at the Four Seasons hotel in Palo Alto, California, the writers explored the show’s dizzying number of themes, from its observations on human consciousness to its critiques of modern entertainment."

Super Mario Bros. Speedrun Record Shattered By a Matter of Milliseconds (Heidi Kemps / Motherboard)
"In the 30 years since the release of the original Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System, it has been extensively analyzed, dissected, and nearly perfected by its devoted fans. Time has done nothing to diminish the appeal of this game—in fact, the mystique behind its inner workings has only become more attractive over the years. Many have wondered: Just how perfectly can a human being play through SMB? As of last night, we may be closer to an answer."

Why World of Tanks Is Wildly Popular and No One Seems to Know Why (Zorine Te / GameSpot)
"Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi is one of the three gaming executives to be inducted into the industry's billionaire club, sharing company with Gabe Newell and Markus "Notch" Persson. And yet, when I reached out from within my inner circle of gaming friends to other, outer gaming communities, I didn’t come across a single active, dedicated World of Tanks player."

What the next few years look like for VR (Kyle Russell / Medium)
"'When is virtual reality going to take off — or fail?' Whether I’m talking to founders or other investors, most conversations I have regarding virtual or augmented reality eventually turn to this line of questioning. Rather than making something up about where VR is on the hype cycle ... I think it’s helpful to look at the specific hardware products that have been publicly announced and how well they might do ..."

Half-Life's writer reflects on his masterpiece: 'It was like writing a novel' (Marc Laidlaw / reprinted on Polygon)
"When I started working at Valve, Half-Life was almost finished. It would be on sale for Christmas. If I was lucky, I would get to put in a few weeks of touch-up work on the story, and then get on with a far more detailed storyline for our second game. That was in July of 1997."

The Overjustification Effect and Game Achievements (Jamie Madigan / The Psychology Of Games)
"Offering an external reward and then taking it away is sometimes worse than never offering it in the fist place. It’s something psychologists call “the overjustification effect” and it has been found in various other studies as well. What’s more, I think it happens sometimes in video games."

Designing the Elusive Targets system in 2016's Hitman (Torben Ellert / Gamasutra)
"While most targets can be taken out in myriad ways and at a time of the player's choosing, these Elusive Targets only appear in the game for a short period of time for a 48 hour window, and players only have one chance to complete the mission."

Making a Big Budget Video Game Is Riskier and Harder Than Ever. So Why Do It? (Emanuel Maiberg / Motherboard)
"Rod Fergusson is playing an unfinished video game in front of 3,000 people at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. Another 4.5 million are watching him live at home. It’s Microsoft’s E3 2016 press conference, and this is Fergusson's opportunity to show everyone why they should spend $60 on Gears of War 4 when it comes out on October 11."

Reviving Mafia Part 1: The Rebirth of a Franchise (Mike Mahardy & Richard Li / GameSpot Video)
"In the first episode of Reviving Mafia, GameSpot explores the creation of Hangar 13, the rebirth of the Mafia franchise, and the issues the developers encountered along the way."

Pixels and voxels, the long answer (Matej Jan / The Retronator)
"Earlier this year, somebody asked on Quora: What is the difference between pixel and voxel? I sometimes can’t help myself, so instead of giving a straight answer, I wrote a whole article on the topic. I get the question. Society serves you things like the movie posters for Pixels and you are genuinely confused. Is it a pixel? Is it a voxel? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? They sure don’t make it easy on you."

Fantastic Arcade Videos, Day 4 (Brandon Boyer / Fantastic Arcade crew / YouTube)
"All week long we’ll be presenting a day-by-day breakdown of all of the [Fantastic Arcade] videos (find day one here,day two here, and day three here), today with last Thursday’s talks. You'll find... the creators of PROTEUS showing off their new games: THE FOREST OF SLEEP, and an absolutely unmissable presentation of OIK OS BOOK I...You’ll also find a brief history of FMV games, culminating in the creation of a brand new FMV game filmed right here at Fantastic Fest!"

Come Back: Dear Esther's devs and walking simulators 9 years on (Katherine Cross / Gamasutra)
"As I sipped my scotch and played through The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, I had to reflect on where we’ve been since 2007 and those halcyon days when Esther was still a Half Life 2 mod. Playing through this definitive release, available for the first time on Xbox One and PS4, it’s hard not to reflect on the whole burgeoning genre of “walking simulators” and what they learned from this pathbreaking epistle of a game."

The rise and rise of tabletop gaming (Dan Jolin / The Observer / The Guardian)
"Gentler designs with an emphasis on teamwork are fuelling a boom in board game sales. Why, in the golden age of video games, are we choosing to play with counters round a table? Below, the best of the new wave."

The Art Of Headlander (Chris Armstrong / Niice)
"I've been a huge fan of Double Fine ever since their first game, Psychonauts, blew my tiny teenage mind. So I was pretty excited when they started using Niice while developing their latest game, Headlander. Lee Petty was the project lead on Headlander. We had a chat about how to keep a creative team moving in the right direction, designing snarky doors, and making lasers cool again."

The early days of id Software (John Romero / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2016 GDC Europe talk, id Software co-founder and Doom co-creator John Romero discusses the company's early days and the programming principles that gave birth to games like Doom and Quake."

'Dark Souls' Creator Miyazaki on 'Zelda,' Sequels and Starting Out (James Mielke / Glixel / Rolling Stone)
"Once a regular Japanese salaryman working as an account manager at Oracle, Hidetaka Miyazaki – at the suggestion of a friend – gave a little game called Ico a try. It changed his life. Ico, as legend has it, inspired him to swap the secure confines of a corporate cubicle for the much less certain world of game development. His first job turned out to be his last: Tokyo-based From Software, a developer best known for the complex Dungeon & Dragons-style King's Field and the nerdy Armored Core mech franchise."

Max Payne - Identity From Adversity (Turbo Button / YouTube)
"Remedy's classic PC shooter Max Payne is one of my personal favourites but not for its rather simple gameplay. In this little change of pace I take a look at why the original game stands out so well tonally, and how its successors failed recapture the magic."

The Impossibly Complex Art Of Designing Eyes (Mark Wilson / Fast Company)
"I’m not watching TV. I’m playing NBA2K17, the latest and greatest in basketball sports simulation, in which character modelers have given my favorite player the all-star treatment he deserves—except for one tiny detail that’s game-breakingly big. His eyes."

This ambitious new mod is a bigger, harder, froggier Super Mario 64 (Matt Gerardi / AV Club)
"Kaze Emanuar... just released a new Mario 64 mod... Called Super Mario 64: Last Impact, it’s one of the biggest, most ambitious Mario 64 hacks ever produced. Using bits and pieces from the Nintendo classic and plenty of programming of his own, Emanuar has built an entirely new game that, while not nearly as refined as its inspiration, expands on it in some impressive ways."

Audio Design Deep Dive: Using a human skull to create the sounds of Inside (Martin Stig Andersen / Gamasutra)
"The composer & sound designer on Playdead's Inside takes us on a deep dive - including before and after audio samples - into why and how he used a human skull to create the unique aural soundscape of this atmospheric puzzle game."

The Digital Antiquarian - Manhole (Jimmy Maher / The Digital Antiquarian)
"And yet HyperCard most definitely wasn’t a toy. People could and did make great, innovative, commercial-quality software using it. Nowhere is the power of HyperCard — a cultural as well as a technical power — illustrated more plainly than in the early careers of Rand and Robyn Miller."

Gameboy wonder - the miniature epics of Daniel Linssen (Edwin Evans-Thirlwell / Eurogamer)
"Even today, in the age of 4K screens wider than living room walls and (theoretically) mainstream VR headsets, Nintendo's Gameboy exerts a peculiar fascination... How to explain this enduring appeal, the draw of nostalgia and Nintendo's peerless first-party licenses aside? For Daniel Linssen, an independent based in Sydney whose games are among the wittiest and most elegant I've played, it's a question of limitation."


[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every Saturday 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, 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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