Video Game Deep Cuts: A Warframe In The Arizona Sunshine

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[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from curator/video game industry veteran Simon Carless, rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.

This week’s highlights include why Warframe is a (somewhat more) ethical approach to free-to-play, bringing Arizona Sunshine to PlayStation VR, and lots more.

Well, it’s the New Year, and there’s a LOAD of stuff going on already. Regarding GDC 2018 announcements, we had a bunch of announcements this week, including the Independent Games Festival finalists for 2018, and more Vision Track talks – Supercell’s CEO & the brilliant Frank Lantz – as well as the Game Developers Choice Awards nominees – a plethora of standout games being honored by their peers here.

And we’ve got quite a few more things to come – look out for a Classic Postmortem announce that I’m personally tickled by, next week, and a bunch of other neatness besides – our talk line-up is really swelling in size. And while you’re waiting for the show, why not check out a bunch of neat links about vidya games?

Until next time…
– Simon, curator.]

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2017 In Interactive Fiction (Emily Short / Interactive Storytelling – ARTICLE)
“Traditionally I try to do some kind of year-in-review post about trends in IF for the year. There’s always the risk that I’ll be leaving out a lot when I do this. That’s especially true this year, when I’ve had an especially demanding work and travel schedule, and haven’t played nearly all the games I should have played. But with apologies for many omissions, here are a couple of items I noticed.”

Top ten games of 2017 (Tom Chick / Quarter To Three – ARTICLE)
“This is the first year that none of my ten favorite games were popular AAA titles from larger publishers (with the possible exception of my #9 pick). I liked plenty of popular AAA titles from larger publishers! Destiny 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Warhammer II, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Wolfenstein II, for instance. But there were at least ten games I liked better. [SIMON’S NOTE: You haven’t seen a Top 10 like this anywhere else!]”

Game Design Deep Dive: Bringing Arizona Sunshine to the PSVR Aim (Trevor Blom / Gamasutra – ARTICLE)
“The core mechanic in Arizona Sunshine is shooting zombies, so it is the most important thing for us to get absolutely right. Needless to say, we got really excited once we heard about the Aim controller and that the launch for this peripheral was close to our intended launch date of the Playstation port.”

We Made Our Own Myths in 2017’s Photo Modes (Dia Lacina / Waypoint – ARTICLE)
“As I watched my friends and colleagues stress over their end of the year lists, I immediately opted out. Because amidst all the great games this year, what mattered most to me was clear—this was the Year of the Photo Mode. [SIMON’S NOTE: Waypoint’s Pantheon Of Games series has a whole bunch more ‘best of’ and ‘2017’s trends’ articles that are well worth checking out.]”

Developers Share Their Favorite Games Of 2017 (Thomas Faust / IndieGames.com – ARTICLE)
“2017 has been a banner year for videogames, with many successful and important titles getting released throughout the year. Instead of presenting you our favorite 2017 games, we asked developers which titles resonated with them instead. [SIMON’S NOTE: I noticed last week that IndieGames.com turned 10 years old (!!) just after Xmas. I originally asked Wee Tim Boon to host and pay for his independent gaming blog on the UBM/Gamasutra URL and servers back in 2007. Happy anniversary!]

The Shrouded Isle (Errant Signal / YouTube – VIDEO)
“The Shrouded Isle is a game about sacrificing people in the name of a dark elder god who probably doesn’t like you. It’s moody and monochromatic and maybe a little sacrilegious. Also you can steal cookies from people you’re torturing, so that’s a plus.”

How the Endless series reimagined the 4X strategy genre (Robert Zak / PC Gamer – ARTICLE)
“But between 2012 and 2017, a trifecta of games from an upstart French developer shook up this 4X hegemony. Amplitude Studios’ Endless Space (2012), Endless Legend (2014) and Endless Space 2 (2017) reinterpreted the 4X playbook, working within its strict rulesets to push the genre further than it had ever gone before.”

How Warframe built an ethical free-to-play economy (Ben Kuchera / Polygon – ARTICLE)
“While Digital Extremes won’t talk about the conversion rate of free to paid players or how large the audience is, outside of noting the daily active players of 2017 was double what it was in 2016, they will talk about how they got here by crafting one of the few non-abusive free-to-play systems in the industry.”

Q&A: Applying cubism and minimalism to game design in AER: Memories of Old (Gamasutra staff / Gamasutra – ARTICLE / VIDEO)
“Of everything we streamed last year, AER: Memories of Old was one of the most visually striking and emotionally calming games we encountered. We had a lot of questions about how AER’s small indie team figured out such a strong flying mechanic, so we invited game director Robin Hjelte to join us on the Gamasutra Twitch channel for a conversation about the game’s design.”

Observer (Critique Quest / YouTube – VIDEO)
“[SIMON’S NOTE: An excellent YouTube longform criticism channel that I wasn’t previously aware of.]”

What goes into creating a memorable soundtrack? (Sammy Maine / PC Gamer – ARTICLE)
“Whether you’re switching radio stations in GTA or trekking across epic mountains in The Elder Scrolls as a choir serenades you, music and games often go hand in hand. A soundtrack can make or break a game’s success, even more so when it’s emotionally and narratively driven.”

The Mysteries of 2017 (Ethan Johnson / The History Of How We Play – ARTICLE)
“Instead of how I did my post last year, stating rather matter-of-factly the things that I’ve heard, I am going to pose each bit of information as a question which will give some background on the question itself. [SIMON’S NOTE: This is a really good DEEP game history blog!]”

Deus Ex to Dishonored (Harvey Smith) – Noclip Sessions (Noclip / YouTube – VIDEO)
“We sit down with celebrated immersive sim designer Harvey Smith to talk about game design, maturing as a developer, life abroad and the long shadow of his early work.”

Eurogamer readers’ top 50 games of 2017 (Eurogamer staff / Eurogamer – ARTICLE)
“Happy New Year, everyone! We have high hopes for 2018, and happily it’s starting well with this, a list of the top 50 games of 2017 as decided by you. Thank you so much for all of your votes. Now, enjoy!”

Exposition Demolition: Just let us start playing the game (John Walker / RockPaperShotgun – ARTICLE)
“A challenge to game developers: let the first thing the player sees on starting a new game be the game itself. Let the player be immediately in control. And let them keep that control at least until it has at least become familiar.”

Tone Control Episode 17: Charles Webb (Steve Gaynor / Idle Thumbs – PODCAST)
“Charles Webb, self-styled “Senior Black Writer” at Hangar 13, joined the Mafia III team after a long and winding path that included writing narrative-driven cell phone games in the early 2000’s (!), a stint at Microsoft, a bit of professional film criticism, and more. Join us on the journey that led Charles to help bring one of the most fascinating game characters in recent years to life.”

The 12 Best Video Games Of 2017 (Kirk Hamilton / Kotaku – ARTICLE)
“We downloaded, we installed, we played. We nominated, we debated, we decided. Here, in alphabetical order, are Kotaku’s top 12 video games of 2017.”

Three Statistical Tests Every Game Developer Should Know (Elan Ruskin / GDC / YouTube – VIDEO)
“In this 2016 GDC session, Insomniac Games’ Elan Ruskin gives a how-to on statistics for answering questions like “does this new camera control scheme make players happier?”, “how many players do I need to test this design change on to prove whether it works better?” and “does the framerate really get faster when I do this thing or is it just a fluke of measurement?”

Tabletop games are exploding on Kickstarter, video games are flat (Charlie Hall / Polygon – ARTICLE)
“Crowdfunding for games was up overall on Kickstarter last year, with a massive increase of nearly 30 percent. But that boost was entirely due the success of tabletop games. Video games remained relatively flat. [SIMON’S NOTE: I got some additional stats & posted ’em on Twitter – as I noted, ‘Percentage of successful video game projects (21%) vs. table top projects (61%) is particularly interesting. (Though many board/card game projects have low goals to fund physical printing minimums, since the game’s already designed.)’]”

Where next for the video game power fantasy? (Simon Parkin / Gamasutra – ARTICLE)
“Forced to recount the litany of sins that we have committed in the virtual world to a priest, the average video game player might not exit the confessional booth for some time. It’s not just the body-count, which, for even the mildest-mannered of players, is of genocidal proportions.”

5 Classic Video Game Weaknesses, Psychoanalyzed (Merritt K / Dorkly – ARTICLE)
“As long as there have been video games, there have been protagonists. And yet, these heroes cannot stand alone: without the obstacles which define them, they are little more than collections of pixels, imbued with neither bravery nor resolve. Much as New York is herself a player in classic film, the hurdles faced by our friends Mario, the Toad, and Donkey Kong are characters themselves, tailored to test our heroes’ specific skills.”

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[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 vgdeepcuts@simoncarless.com. 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!]

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