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[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 highlights include Uri Geller vs. Pokemon, why we need pessimistic games, a look at Ubisoft's Starlink, & lots more besides.
One fun thing this week is that I've started helping out Gamasutra's editorial staff, by commissioning some 'straight to the point' Q&As with smart indies who are being (at least moderately!) successful right now.
So far it's been Joel Couture & John Harris chatting with the creators of The Universim & the Parkasaurus devs respectively - but there's lots more to come! And is a good way to highlight games and creators at the same time on VGDC, too.
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (or, Of Movies and Games and Whether the Twain Shall Meet) (Jimmy Maher / The Digital Antiquarian - ARTICLE)
"Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game arises from the fact that its designers were adapting from the shooting script rather than the finished movie, which they got to see in the Skywalker Ranch theater only when their own project was in the final stages of bug-swatting and polishing."
How developers harvest your data to make their games better (Alex Wiltshire / PC Gamer - ARTICLE)
"Barth can see how many players reached every one of the levels in his games, and how many succeeded. He can see how long they took and how many got stuck and never come back. He can see where the difficulty spikes are and do something about them, and he can take what he learns from one game and apply it to the next."
Years in the Making: The Long Game of Boyfriend Dungeon (Tanya X. Short / Gamasutra Blogs - ARTICLE)
"Overnight successes don’t exist, from what I’ve seen. There’s usually years and years of work behind the scenes and then MAYBE your game blows up, but mostly not. Plenty of people work for years and their game still doesn’t blow up — that’s certainly what happened for our previous games. I guess it’s possible SOME game out there enjoyed overnight success."
The Mentalist and the Monster: Uri Geller vs. Pokémon (Chris Chapman / YouTube - VIDEO)
"The odd tale of a celebrity, a trading card, a lawsuit, and 20 years of lasting consequences for a beloved franchise."
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is big, beautiful, and shallow (Daniel Starkey / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"While the series struggled under an accelerated release schedule some years back, Ubisoft’s tentpole franchise is on a more solid pacing again. That means a return to what Assassin’s Creed does best: expounding on and remixing prominent game design ideas and serving them up an aesthetic and conceptual cocktail. Odyssey, much like last year’s Origins, takes ideas from its best contemporaries and reassembles them into a new whole. [SIMON'S NOTE: people generally seem to dig the game - & there are lots of romance FAQs, too.]"
Beneath a Starless Sky: Pillars of Eternity and the Infinity Engine Era of RPGs (David Craddock / Shacknews - ARTICLE)
"But stars come before constellations. In 2003, three producers left Black Isle Studios, publishers and developers of the Infinity Engine quintet, to found Obsidian Entertainment. Their sky was dark and blank, save for those five stars: Baldur’s Gate and its sequel, Planescape: Torment, and two romps through Icewind Dale."
Thumbs down: how the video games industry is battling Brexit (Marijam Didžgalvytė / The Guardian - ARTICLE)
"Brexit and Wetherspoons, Brexit and fashion, Brexit and bananas … It seems as if so much of our everyday lives will be affected by Brexit – and if you play video games, you can certainly expect changes. The British video games industry adds £5bn to the economy and employs more than 12,000 people, 35% of whom are EU citizens."
Ubisoft’s ‘Starlink’ Designed For ‘Gamer Kids’ and Their Parents (Brian Crecente / Variety - ARTICLE)
"Ubisoft’s upcoming action-adventure toys-to-life game “Starlink: Battle for Atlas” is the byproduct of creating for one of the many new sorts of audiences blossoming within the video game space. [SIMON'S NOTE: this game still seems kinda 'under the radar' - but maybe it'll get somewhere with that unique approach?]"
How The Universim's 'god game' twist charmed Early Access players (Joel Couture / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Gamasutra spoke with Alex Koshelkov of Crytivo, developers of The Universim, to talk about making living worlds and beings that react to player decisions rather than directly obey them, and the challenges that have come for the game as it moves through Early Access towards full release."
We Need More Pessimistic Games (Cameron Kunzelman / Waypoint - ARTICLE)
"The vast majority of our games produce heroes; the heroes have stories fit for heroes; the world changes in response to the player’s tectonic actions. Our blockbuster video games are plagued with the optimism of gameplay."
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 devs on balancing Blackout battle royale mode (Matt Cox /RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"There’s a new Call Of Duty around the corner. Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 is out on October 12th, so I sat down with Treyarch’s studio design director David Vonderhaar and Jason “Director of Zombies” Blundell to quiz them about the game’s new battle royale mode, Blackout, why they’ve left regenerating health behind, and how they handled no longer making a singleplayer campaign mode."
Queens of the Phone Age: The Narrative Design of Reigns: Her Majesty (Leigh Alexander / GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2018 GDC talk, writer Leigh Alexander shares her narrative design process around the tricky political tightrope of women's power, especially when it has to be both violent and funny."
Occult Space | Cultist Simulator (Sam Zucci / Heterotopias - ARTICLE)
"The real draw of Cultist Simulator is its occult topography. The Mansus—the game’s occult centre—is another name for a feudal unit of land measurement and so expectedly, progress through the Mansus is framed as spatial, as the player moves from The Wood to the White Gate and so on."
There’s not enough videogames; everyone should be encouraged to make them (or, videogames are just art) (Brendan Keogh / BRKeogh.com - ARTICLE)
"The problem with much of the Indiepocalypse discourse is that it perpetuates the misunderstanding that ‘making videogames’ is first and foremost an economic activity. Of course, for a whole lot of people, making videogames is an economic activity; it’s their job! The thing is, you can make videogames without it being your job."
The Little Things That Matter A Lot (Ben Brode / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Ben Brode kicks off PAX Dev 2018 with a talk about the little details of game development that can end up having a huge impact on players and developers... Come laugh and hear a few stories from the former Hearthstone game director as he transitions into his new role as chief creative officer of Second Dinner."
Breaking fences, escaping dinosaurs?! Oh my, it's Parkasaurus' developers (John Harris / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"Canadian microstudio Washbear's new simulation, Parkasaurus, recently released on Steam Early Access to general delight from players, since it's a lighthearted romp into the world of dino management and theme park wonder with a jovial 'sim' bent."
The state of indie dev and why it will not get easier (Cliffski / Cliffski's Blog - ARTICLE)
"In practice it seems that indie development is still seen as attractive enough that there is another decade or so of new entrants coming in to replace every developer who drops out when their finances run dry. I really cannot see the ‘number of games released on steam this week’ metric dropping a lot in the medium term."
The future of GOG: mod support, Steam rivalry and problematic tweets (Robert Purchese / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"Almost 10 years ago to the day, CD Projekt launched the online digital game store Good Old Games. The operation and scope was small - a handful of people salvaging iconic old PC games for modern operating systems - but the prices, customer service and DRM-free message were right, and slowly the service grew. And grew, and grew. And today things are different."
The Tragic End Of Telltale Games (Megan Farokhmanesh / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"When employees showed up for work on Friday, September 21st, at Telltale Games, there was nothing to suggest the day would be different than any other. The second episode of The Walking Dead’s final season would ship the following week; developers across multiple teams were busy with plans for in-progress titles. But only hours later, 250 people would find themselves with no job, no severance, and health insurance that would be gone by month’s end — just nine days."
A Brief History of Speedrunning (Kat Brewster / Read Only Memory - ARTICLE)
"A good speedrun is hypnotising to watch – this goes for ones showcased at GDQ, or the ones which get circulated around the internet for their insane jumps or cutscene skips or lightning fast movement. They’re a dizzying show of hard won skill and palpable effort."
[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend 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 & an advisor to indie publisher No More Robots, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]