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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 roundup includes a look at Sony's new AAA title Days Gone from multiple perspectives, a unique story of an Atari arcade game 'leaked' in an odd way, Fortnite's unpalatable developer crunch, parallax in games, Mortal Kombat 11's grindy glories, and a plethora of other standouts besides.
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
How Fortnite’s success led to months of intense crunch at Epic Games (Colin Campbell / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"In a dozen interviews conducted by Polygon over a period of several months, current and former employees say they regularly worked in excess of 70-hour weeks, with some reporting 100-hour weeks. Contract staff in Epic’s quality assurance and customer service departments spoke of a stressful and hostile working environment in which working overtime — while officially voluntary — was an expected service to the company."
How God Of War’s Most Impactful Moment Almost Didn’t Happen (GameSpot / YouTube - VIDEO)
"The Blades of Chaos almost didn't make it into God of War, but the game's development team wouldn't let them go. Cory Barlog breaks down how he and the team at Sony Santa Monica wrote the powerful scene where Kratos uncovers them."
Super Smash Bros. – 1999 Developer Interview (Shmuplations / Nice Games - ARTICLE)
"In this interview with the short-lived Nice Games magazine, Kirby series creator Masahiro Sakurai discusses the inspiration behind the newly-released Nintendo 64 4-player fighting game, Super Smash Bros, and the challenges that faced him both before and after release: game balance, marketing, critical reception and the surprising liabilities that came with adopting a Nintendo All-Stars conceit."
Snapchat will let you play as your Bitmoji in video games (Josh Contine / Techcrunch - ARTICLE)
"Soon you’ll be able to scan an in-game code with Snapchat to play as your personalized Bitmoji avatar on PC, console and mobile games. Today Snapchat announced its new Bitmoji for Games SDK that will let hand-selected partners integrate 3D Bitmoji as a replacement for their character skins."
The Making of the Xbox Adaptive Controller (GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 GDC talk, Microsoft's Bryce Johnson and Craig Hospital's Erin Muston-Firsch share their experiences developing the Xbox Adaptive Controller and give you tips on how you can design better control schemes or input for people with limited mobility in your hardware or games."
Days Gone review – a game of fun and fury, signifying nothing (Keith Stuart / The Guardian - ARTICLE)
"After only 10 minutes, you realise something about Days Gone that will come to mind throughout the next 20 hours or so: it is as if Far Cry was set in a B-movie version of The Last of Us universe. If you’re okay with that, you’re going to have a heck of a ride. [SIMON'S NOTE: sadly, given how much effort has gone into it, a fairly mixed reaction from critics - similar middling feelings from Ars Technica, among others.]"
Red Dead Redemption 2: six months later (Film Crit Hulk / Polygon - ARTICLE)
"I want to be clear about two things. The first is that I understand making video games is an insanely difficult thing to do, and I have huge amounts of empathy for the process and those at Rockstar Games who brought forth this effort. And the second is that I more or less ended up liking this game, and I’ll be getting into every little aspect of why, from its story to characterization to themes and more."
Review: S. (J. J. Abrams, Doug Dorst) (Emily Short / Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling - ARTICLE)
"S is a puzzle-novel with feelies, imagined by J. J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst. The premise is that there’s a novel, The Ship of Theseus, written by the mysterious VM Straka and edited by his devoted editor FX Caldeira. This novel is the object of considerable academic debate and political struggle. [SIMON'S NOTE: an intriguing way of interactive storytelling.]"
The Beauty of Parallax (Dan Root / YouTube - VIDEO)
"Let's look at how much prettier games look thanks to some moving background layers called parallax scrolling! [SIMON'S NOTE: these Dan Root game animation videos are uniformly excellent/entertaining.]"
Playing video games generally not harmful to boys' social development (Society for Research in Child Development / Science Daily - ARTICLE SUMMARY)
"The study findings suggest that... Time boys spent gaming did not affect their social development... Girls who spent more time playing video games at age 10 developed weaker social skills two years later than girls who spent less time playing games. [SIMON'S NOTE: these surveys have a bunch of causation/correlation issues, but all research does, so it's interesting to see these particular results.]"
Mortal Kombat 11 review: Flawed victory (Ozzie Meija / Shacknews - ARTICLE)
"And while Mortal Kombat 11 is at its best when it comes down to bare fists and bloody battles, there are a lot of problems in trying to get the full MK11 experience. If you're hoping to get into the game's slew of unlockables, you're going to either be there a while or you're going to be ponying up some money. [SIMON'S NOTE: lots more detail from Kotaku - overall reviews are good, though - here's a fun The Verge chat with Ed Boon about nearly 30 years of MK!]
Did a vigilante ROM leaker go too far to “preserve” a lost Atari ROM? (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica - ARTICLE)
"Earlier this month, the digital preservationists at The Dumping Union made an important announcement in the world of arcade game emulation. The collective had gotten its hands on a ROM image of Akka Arrh, an extremely rare Atari arcade prototype and one of the most prominent remaining cabinets that had, to that point, never been available through emulation on MAME (the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator)."
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's VR update isn't really VR, but it is a fun new way to play (Martin Robinson / Eurogamer - ARTICLE)
"First of all, set your expectations accordingly. The new VR updates for two of Nintendo Switch's most popular games do not hold a candle to the best experiences you might have had on Vive, on Oculus, or even on PSVR. [SIMON'S NOTE: also see The Verge's view of Breath Of The Wild VR as an 'ugly, uncomfortable experience'.]
How Magic Leap, Video Games Are Defining Future of Royal Shakespeare Company (Emily Gera / Variety - ARTICLE)
"At the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon, Sarah Ellis has the difficult job of figuring out where theater of the 1500s fits into the 21st century. As Director of Digital Development, a title which might seem out of place in an industry ruled by live, human performances, Ellis represents a recent seachange on the hallowed grounds of the RSC, to incorporate new virtual and augmented technologies with the work of a centuries-old playwright. [SIMON'S NOTE: not sure if 'defining', in actuality, but here's another recent experiment, with Intel.]
Owlchemy Labs Case Study: Lessons Learned from JOB to VACATION (Devon Reimer & Andrew Eiche / Oculus Blog - ARTICLE)
"We knew we wanted to spend more time in the Bot universe and expand on many of the design principles we first tackled in Job Simulator. The premise seemed simple enough— first you JOB, then you VACATION— but expanding the world of Vacation Simulator meant expanding on practically every major system in Job Simulator."
Put Your Name on Your Game, a Talk by Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage (GDC / YouTube - VIDEO)
"In this 2019 GDC session, game developers Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage explore why game developers are one of the few types of craftspeople that don't sign their work, and why indie developers might benefit from putting their name on their games."
Nowpunk and the politics of the personal in Neo Cab (Alice Bell / RockPaperShotgun - ARTICLE)
"Lina’s car swept around the purple streets, the view cutting between different angles that made me think of fixed dash cams in reality TV shows: her face, with the passenger and the city moving in reverse behind; her eyes in the rear view mirror, seen from the back seat; her hands on the steering wheel and the passenger in the mirror instead."
Behind the scenes with Perfume, Japan's most futuristic pop group (Sam Byford / The Verge - ARTICLE)
"They certainly do that — Perfume’s live shows are like nothing you’ve seen before. Using advanced 3D-scanned visuals and complex transparent screen arrangements, each song has an aggressively stark aesthetic that elevates the choreography and the music itself. [SIMON'S NOTE: not quite games, true, but lots of use of real-time visual processing & computation, both onstage and video of performances, as showcased on Twitter recently.]"
"Shovel Knight is Not Done:" Yacht Club Games on the Road to King of Cards and Beyond (Kat Bailey / USGamer - ARTICLE)
"[On why the Plague Of Shadows expansion was free.] Yeah. We said, "Let's do it for the advertising." When people see Plague of Shadows, they'll go and they'll buy Shovel Knight again. Maybe people will buy it on another platform, which is something we hear on the show floor all the time, right? "Oh I love Shovel Knight, I bought on my Wii U and my Switch and my PS4 and I have it on everything." Or, "I bought it for friends.""
Podcast: Shuhei Yoshida of Sony Interactive Entertainment (AIAS Game Maker's Handbook / Libsyn - PODCAST)
"Shuhei Yoshida joins Ted [Price] to talk about Sony's approach to new IP, his thoughts on VR, where the industry is heading, how players are evolving and what it means for developers. Shuhei Yoshida is the President of Sony's Worldwide Studios for Sony Interactive Entertainment. The Worldwide Studios operation includes over a dozen studios globally, across US, Europe, and Japan."
Supply chain hackers snuck malware into videogames (Andy Greenberg / Wired - ARTICLE)
"The security sector is waking up to the insidious threat posed by software supply chain attacks, where hackers don't attack individual devices or networks directly, but rather the companies that distribute the code used by their targets. Now researchers at security firms Kaspersky and ESET have uncovered evidence that the same hackers who targeted Asus with that sort of supply chain hack earlier this year have also targeted three different videogame developers—this time aiming even higher upstream, corrupting the programming tools relied on by game developers."
[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!]