[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from video game industry 'watcher' Simon Carless (GDC, Gamasutra co-runner, No More Robots advisor), rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.
The latest highlights include intelligent impressions on a mass of new titles, including Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Call Of Duty Warzone, and Nioh 2, as well as great writing on pixel pets, bullet painting in GTA V, Kabaddi, dev crunch, and lots more besides.
Weird week, huh? Let's keep on keeping on, especially since a lot of people are going to be looking at their computers and phones more over the next few weeks. Oh - and don't forget we're doing a GDC virtual streaming week this week in place of the actual event, with the full IGF/Game Developers Choice Awards, a Day Of The Devs showcase, & a ton of remotely recorded talks. Hurray?
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
The Man Behind The Mustache (Bijan Stephen / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"Currently, the Doc is in a nondescript building in Glendale, California. Over the course of two days, the cockpit of a helicopter has taken shape in the middle of a very large soundstage, an assemblage of ‘80s-era buttons and dials and a generous amount of black paint. It’s all because Doc is here to shoot a hype video for his latest announcement: he’s re-signed to Twitch for an exclusive two-year contract — for a lot of money. [SIMON'S NOTE: excellent longform Dr Disrespect streamer profile.]"
Murder by Numbers Review: Ace Attorney Meets Picross! (First Five / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Murder by Numbers sets up a straightforward pitch: An Ace Attorney-esque visual novel that spruces up its inspiration's investigation segments with some actual gameplay more riveting than clicking around a screen adventure game-style. And then it goes about...fantastically delivering exactly that without any additional muss or fuss!"
Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? (David Craddock & Frank Cifaldi / Video Game History Foundation - ARTICLE)
"You all know Carmen Sandiego, but do you know about her most obscure caper? Back in 1989 – somewhere between her jetsetting adventures Where in Europe and her chrono-conquest in Where in Time, Carmen took an odd detour to the Peace Garden State – North Dakota. When I discovered the game decades later as a minor footnote on Wikipedia, I couldn’t help but be intrigued."
Call Of Duty: Warzone is the best battle royale since Fortnite (Gene Park / Washington Post - ENHANCED ARTICLE)
"Warzone is a unique Call Of Duty take on battle royale. Specifically, it's a battle royale game where I don't have time to be bored. [SIMON'S NOTE: interesting 'text snippets x gameplay video' format for this review.]"
The Ars 13: Our top indie game picks from PAX East 2020 (Kyle Orland & Sarah Leboeuf / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"Playing every indie game at a modern PAX East would take multiple weeks; a four-day show just doesn't offer enough time to take it all in. But we did our best, sampling from a wide variety of the most interesting indie prospects. Here, in alphabetical order, are 13 indie games that stood out from the PAX East crowd."
Valorant: How Riot finally made something new (Austen Goslin / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"But while Riot will soon be publicly earning the “s” in its name, the truth is that it’s actually been there for a lot longer than players might think — the studio just didn’t tell anyone. During a recent visit to Riot’s headquarters in Los Angeles, I was able to hear how Valorant’s long and winding development process started, from the developers who have been there every step of the way."
The Wild Astrophysics that Outer Wilds Simulates (Super Bunnyhop / YouTube - VIDEO)
"[SIMON'S NOTE: Here's a comment on the video which explains things well: 'I love how this guy can hop from journalism and mechanical/thematic analyses to full on physics (complete with Carl Sagan cosplay). The amount of effort and pure intelligence that goes into his videos is amazing.'"]
Pixel Pets: How game developers bring animals to life (Stacey Henley / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
“Research is one of the pleasures of my work. It makes me appreciate the world around me in new ways,” Emma Richey, the art director for the upcoming Shelter 3 told me. “We’ve studied the anatomy, habitats, motions and sounds for inspiration. Yet, our intentions have never been to create realistic animal simulators, but instead emotional journeys, told through the eyes of animals.
'Dreams' Is So Much Weirder and More Interesting Than Video Game Remakes (Patrick Klepek / VICE - ARTICLE)
"I had no interest in The Algorithm. If it was possible, I’d sort Dreams not by “most liked” but by “least liked,” because I’ve been primarily interested in discovering what people are creating that’s either being ignored or created without the explicit purpose of being popular. I want to see what seven-year-old kids are getting up to when they’re supposed to be asleep."
Ori and the Will of the Wisps review: A natural beauty (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"The most striking thing about Will of the Wisps, though, is how it maintains a feeling of near-overwhelming threat despite Ori's inexorable rise in power. Even as your abilities increase, Ori remains a very small force working against a sprawling and uncaring universe."
Finding Workarounds: Bosnian Video Games & Development (Cloth Map / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Despite many setbacks, Bosnian development studio Prime Time has learned to thrive in the aftermath of war."
The authors of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were roleplaying long before Dungeons & Dragons (Jody McGregor / Dicebreaker - ARTICLE)
"Branwell Brontë owned a collection of miniatures any Warhammer player would be proud of, and when his father brought home 12 toy soldiers as a birthday present he shared them with his three sisters. Each sibling chose a miniature and named them. They became Bonaparte, Gravey, Waiting Boy and the Duke of Wellington, and were the first inhabitants of a land eventually dubbed the Glass Town Confederacy and sketched out by Branwell on a map that needs only a hex grid to look at home in a tabletop RPG supplement."
Killing Me Softly: The Insidious Beauty of Dying Game Worlds (Sean Martin / EGM Now - ARTICLE)
"If anything, our love of post-apocalypses reflects an abdication of responsibility, a wish to skip over the ending and find a brave new world waiting for us. But as a “quiet apocalypse,” van Lierop’s The Long Dark, insists on giving us a slow, beautiful death."
The rise of impossibly cute and wholesome games (Khee Hoon Chan / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"There has been a boom in popularity for titles like Frog Detective lately; these are often quirky, relaxing, comical, perhaps a tad absurd, and devastatingly adorable. Think of the whimsical adventures in Wattam, the charming bite-sized games by the Sokpop Collective, the relaxing hiking trips in A Short Hike, and the dreamy farm sim of Garden Story."
The Fragile Art of Bullet Painting in Grand Theft Auto V (Jack Yarwood / Fanbyte - ARTICLE)
"For most players, the walls of Los Santos are unremarkable. A dull patchwork of greys and whites, they blur into the background without any need for recognition. But for a small group of digital artists, these same walls are blank canvases waiting to be painted. Their art implement of choice: Grand Theft Auto V’s vast assortment of weaponry."
The Mysterious Origins of Mastermind, the Codebreaking Board Game (Duncan Fyfe / VICE - ARTICLE)
"If you only know Mastermind as a well-worn and underplayed fixture of living room closets and nursing home common areas, you may have no idea just how big this thing was in its early years. Invented in 1970, Mastermind would sell 30 million copies before that decade was up, and boast a national championship at the Playboy Club, a fan in Muhammed Ali, official use by the Australian military for training, and 80% ownership amongst the population of Denmark."
Descenders ‘Rewards’ Pirating Gamers With a Fitting Flag (Ernesto / TorrentFreak - ARTICLE)
"RageSquid, the studio behind the downhill biking game "Descenders" has come up with a unique feature for players who pirated the game. To "reward" the efforts of release groups such as SKIDROW and CODEX, it has pimped their bikes with an unremovable pirate flag."
Nioh 2 and the annoying joy of fighting through a puzzle game (Dave Tach / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"I hold the R1 button down, tap the triangle button on my PlayStation 4 controller, and my Nioh 2 weapon transforms from a blade on a pole into a sickle so large and ornate that the Grim Reaper would blush. This is the Seething Dragon switchglaive in its most powerful (and slowest) form. I’ve gone full scythe because I’m getting desperate."
As Naughty Dog Crunches On The Last Of Us II, Developers Wonder How Much Longer This Approach Can Last (Jason Schreier / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"Even in an industry where overtime is ubiquitous, where it’s near-impossible to find a game that isn’t the result of weeks or months of crunch, Naughty Dog stands out. Its games, including the Uncharted adventure series and 2013’s groundbreaking The Last of Us, are widely considered among the best of the best, with ultra-realistic graphical fidelity and the type of meticulous details you wouldn’t see in other games."
It's Time You Knew About Kabaddi: The Ancient Game That's Gone Pro (People Make Games / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Quinns dives headfirst into Kabaddi, India's fastest-growing sport. [SIMON'S NOTE: Shut Up & Sit Down's Quinns has joined up with the already great People Make Games to talk about, well, not computer games, and this is the excellent first video.]"
Ashly Burch saves video games by making fun of them (Joshua Rivera / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet isn’t just a great comedy about video games, but a strand connecting an older, weirder era of its culture to the more mainstream world of workplace comedies. Few people on the show exemplify this more than Ashly Burch, a writer on Mythic Quest who also plays Rachel, a wide-eyed game tester for the studio that makes the show’s eponymous game."
Why the Developers of 'Amnesia' Waited 10 Years to Make a Sequel (Patrick Klepek / VICE - ARTICLE)
"I had a chance to spend a few minutes chatting with Frictional co-founder and creative director Thomas Grip earlier this week, and I teased a few details about Rebirth out of him. Most of our conversation, however, was about the big changes Frictional has undertaken since Amnesia blew up, what it’s like to give up micromanagement, how he’s handling Amnesia fans becoming Amnesia developers, and what lessons have been learned about some SOMA players being turned off by the game’s scary enemies."
[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!]