[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 impressions of the fetching Advance Wars-like Wargroove, the new Subnautica standalone follow-up, as well as a look at Fortnite's concert rendezvous with Marshmello, among a bumper crop of links.
So I guess I made the mistake of looking at the email addresses of some of my new (and older) subscribers, and wow, there's some seriously interesting people reading this newsletter weekly. Thank you for giving it some time - there's a lot of great stuff out there, and it's so difficult to distill nowadays. I do my best to boil it down.
I'd love to write more opinion pieces, too, like Joost Van Dongen's excellent musings. But my current position makes it tricky to be, uh, opinion-y in public. Maybe in a few years I'll semi-retire and go all Lefsetz Letter, unfettered by ties? Please look forward - or not, haha - to it...
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
In the Future, Video Games Will Care About You (Keith Stuart / Medium - ARTICLE)
"Eight years ago, game developer Bethesda attempted a radical experiment with its epic role-playing adventure Skyrimâ—âand it went horribly, beautifully wrong. To make players feel like they were a part of a living, breathing world, the designers created an artificial intelligence system named Radiant, which gave computer-controlled characters (nonplayer characters, or NPCs) a range of needs, ambitions, and personality quirks and allowed them to act on those elements dynamically."
Changes of perspective are vital to representation in games (Malindy Hetfield / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"These games want to make you their hero. You're supposed to have an empowering experience, punishing you for any action seems counterproductive. Having diverse heroes in such games is often especially great because people of certain backgrounds rarely see themselves depicted as heroes."
‘Crackdown 3’: Less Than It Was Meant to Be, But Still Stupid Fun (Michael Futter / Variety - ARTICLE)
"What is clear is that it is not the same game that Microsoft was promised back in 2015. Series creator Dave Jones and Reagent Games are off the project, with Sumo Digital handling the campaign and “Crackdown 2” developer Ruffian tackling multiplayer."
Quake 2 Path Tracing/ Ray Tracing Analysis: Retro Meets Nvidia RTX! (Digital Foundry / YouTube - VIDEO)
"This is fascinating! Not only has Nvidia RTX tech been brought to bear on Quake 2, but the entire renderer has been rewritten with full path-tracing. In short, not just reflections, shadows or lighting - but EVERYTHING is rendered here with ray tracing. So how well does it run and how does it look? Join John and Alex for a detailed discussion."
Fortnite’s Marshmello concert was a bizarre and exciting glimpse of the future (Nick Statt / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"Even if you’re not a huge fan of electronic music or have never heard of the EDM producer Marshmello, Fortnite’s live in-game concert was still a shockingly stunning sight to behold — it was also an unprecedented moment in gaming. It truly felt like a glimpse into the future of interactive entertainment, where the worlds of gaming, music, and celebrity combined to create a virtual experience we’ve never quite seen before."
How do you rejuvenate the skateboarding genre? Put a bird on it! (Aron Garst / Gamasutra - ARTICLE)
"The idea behind SkateBird, a charming skater featuring a bird shredding through a table-top sized, Toy Story-like park, came after Fox found a gif of a real bird skating around on a half pipe in a mini-skatepark."
Subnautica: Below Zero thrills with its chills, even at this early stage (John Walker / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Co-created with its players, but confident enough to maintain its creative direction, the result is one of the best games of the last few years. So perhaps it’s not ultimately that surprising that Unknown Worlds would repeat the practice for their follow-up, Subnautica: Below Zero. Once again we’re under the sea, albeit in frostier conditions, with the first few hours and earliest biomes of a whole new adventure."
‘Guitar Hero' Streamer Conquers Track Previously Thought to Be Impossible (Wajeeh Maaz / Motherboard - ARTICLE)
"“IT IS F*CKING OVER. I AM GOD. GOOD F*CKING NIGHT” reads the description of YouTuber DarklyInDarkness’s latest video, which he posted on Wednesday night. The video shows the streamer accomplishing what no Guitar Hero player before him has ever done: not missing a single note (known as a Full Combo or FC) on “Soulless 4,” one of the most ridiculously difficult Guitar Hero tracks ever created."
Can Old Games Have Great Animation? (New Frame Plus / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Older video game animation may have been limited by technology, but does that make it worse? LET'S TALK ABOUT IT."
The fall of Starbreeze (Wesley Yin-Poole / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"At Starbreeze's 2016 Christmas meeting, held in a cinema close by to the studio's Stockholm headquarters, CEO Bo Andersson told staff the company was in rude health. Payday 2, a co-op first-person shooter Steam hit, was still making money, virtual reality investments were about getting ahead of the game, and in-development titles, such as Raid: World War 2 and Overkill's The Walking Dead, were on course for success. [SIMON'S NOTE: great piece - don't miss it!]"
Oculus Quest feels like the Nintendo Switch of VR (Scott Stein / CNet - ARTICLE)
"And, really, I saw nothing else as exciting as the Quest at the whole show. It won my personal best in show in Las Vegas without officially setting foot on the convention floor -- and unlike a lot of stuff at CES, it should be just a few weeks away, not years (or never)."
Model Metropolis (Kevin T. Baker / Logic Magazine - ARTICLE)
"In 1984, the developer Will Wright had just finished work on his first video game, a shoot-em-up called Raid on Bungeling Bay. In it, the player controls a helicopter dropping bombs on enemy targets on a series of islands. Wright was happy with the game, which was a commercial and critical success, but even after it was released, he continued tinkering with the terrain editor he had used to design Raid’s levels."
Christine Love (Digital: A Love Story, Analogue: A Hate Story, Ladykiller In A Bind)(Adam Conover / Humans Who Make Games - PODCAST)
"This episode tracks Christine Love's unique path into the games industry, the process of creating a visual novel -- (from the writing, to the programming, to figuring out what choices to give the player), the design considerations that go into creating an erotic game, and much more! [SIMON'S NOTE: there's also a new Derek Yu interview in there.]"
Forking Hell: A Decade of Devolver Digital (Piotr Bajda / Kotaku UK - ARTICLE)
"Devolver Digital is many things: a voice of the counterculture in video games, an outlet for independent creators with visions that rarely align with those of traditional publishers, a champion of the people that’s not afraid to mercilessly mock the games industry. But most of all, Devolver is a principled, well-run company that helped reshape indie publishing in less than a decade."
Roguelikes, Persistency, and Progression (Game Maker's Toolkit / YouTube - VIDEO)
"One of the biggest decisions for any developer making a roguelike, is whether or not to add persistent upgrades. Should every run be the same, like Spelunky? Or should your character get more powerful over time, like Rogue Legacy? Let’s look at the pros and cons of both approaches."
You should play Wargroove just to meet its lovable characters (Jeff Ramos / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"In turn-based strategy games, characters often take a backseat to gameplay... In Wargroove, not only have I fallen in love with the storylines Chucklefish crafted for each character, but I’ve also come to appreciate how those backstories align perfectly with how characters perform on the battlefield."
‘Heroin for middle-class nerds’: how Warhammer conquered gaming (Alex Hern / The Guardian - ARTICLE)
"How has Games Workshop, a fantasy war games company founded in a London shop 40 years ago, become worth more than £1bn? By ruthlessly recruiting followers, and creating vast, fascinating worlds that diehard players never want to leave."
Exclusive Interview: Campfire chat with the stars of Red Dead Redemption 2 (Staff / ShackNews - ARTICLE)
"Red Dead Redemption 2 was one of the biggest games of 2018, and an adventure many of us won't soon forget... But for the amazing design work, writing, and graphical polish the game brings to the table, by far some of its biggest stars are the people who brought its memorable characters to life."
Biggest crowdfunding campaign in gaming history - Star Citizen (Levels / Red Bull Gaming / YouTube - VIDEO)
"1 man, 1 plan and $200 million. But can Chris Roberts and his ambitious team live up to the expectations of the most crowdfunded project of all time, by creating the biggest space game this world has ever seen?"
The Real Story Behind Pioneer, The Troubled Sci-Fi Game Teased In Watch Dogs 2(Jason Schreier / Kotaku - ARTICLE)
"A tweet two weeks ago from a former Ubisoft director led the gaming world to believe that Pioneer, the sci-fi game that was teased inside of Watch Dogs 2, was canceled. Is it, though? The answer to that question is hazy, and may depend on your definition of “canceled.”"
From Super Fan to Producer: An Insider's Perspective on Silent Hill (Tom Hulett / USGamer - ARTICLE)
"A Silent Hill producer reflects on what drew him to the perennially haunted series, and what it was like to work on it during its troubled years. [SIMON'S NOTE: An interesting musing on a series that's been, frankly, not the best managed in recent years.]"
The story behind the Oblivion mod Terry Pratchett worked on (Cian Maher / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"Most people know Pratchett as the author of Discworld, the famous fantasy series about a flat planet balanced on the backs of four elephants. However, what many people don't know is that the knighted author was also a massive fan of video games - so much so that he actually worked on mods for Oblivion, most of which were spearheaded by a Morrowind modder named Emma."
[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!]