2018 is coming to a close and I've put together a list of some of the best writing I saw throughout the year. Created with the goal of highlighting the work of some of the best writers and journalists in the industry and to share topics that can enhance understanding of the game industry, events of the previous year, and of the games themselves.
These articles might focus on developer and game history, what working in the industry is like, what games make us think and feel, things that have effected the industry this year, the effects of games on people and culture, entertaining stories, and the lessons learned and connections that can be established through games. Links are included to author's social media accounts and it is worth following them and their work if you are interested in games and the industry. Many of these have been shared in my weekly This Week In Gaming articles throughout the year.
The Best Videos of 2018 can be found here.
Previous Best Games Writing Articles
History of the Industry, Developers, and Games
Research and interviews examining the life and work of developers and studios and the games and franchises they created
"From the Sword Coast to the Deadfire archipelago, Beneath a Starless Sky explores the making of the Infinity Engine RPGs, the history of Black Isle Studios, and the development of Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity franchise."
David L Craddock's 200,000 word feature chronicles the history of Black Isle Studios, the making of the Infinity Engine, and the games that they lead to and inspired. Book length and splint between 28 chapters, just some of what it covers includes engine design, studio culture, multiple classic games and their legacies, music, writing for the D&D settings, and multiple interviews with the lead designers and studio heads.
“I remember sitting there with about 10 people watching Sony’s press conference and the $599 and laughing. Then the motion control thing. We were laughing about it at first and then it dawned on us, ‘Shit, [Sony is] going to make us use this,’” says designer Dubrofsky."
Matt Paprocki covers the events that lead Factor 5 to working with Sony after their deals with Lucasarts and Microsoft fell through, the games that were shelved, the original pitch and ideas behind Lair as an anti-war game, the mistake of rewriting their old tools for the new console generation, trying to make use of motion controls, and the culture of the studio. Matt also talked a bit about the difficulty of writing pieces like this, finding places that will feature them, and the need for people to share and support quality content.
"When Ken Williams, the chief executive of Sierra On-Line, brought the company's newest game designer to the office, some staff stayed home. Better to get in trouble with management than meet the man accused of fostering a culture of police brutality on a city-wide scale."
Duncan Fyfe on the backstory of Police Quest: Open Season, how and why the studio head chose to work with a disgraced former police chief while ignoring the protests of his staff, and the final product being a piece of wish fulfillment from a man in disgrace.
"‘Panzer Dragoon Saga’ remains one of the greatest video games of all time. Twenty years after its creation, it also remains nearly impossible to play, a cult classic whose elusiveness mirrors the misery that suffused its development, setting, and story."
Ben Lindbergh talks to some of the people behind the development of Panzer Dragoon Saga and talks about his experience playing it for the first time 20 years after its release. James Mielke covers the oral history of Panzer Dragoon Saga and the studio behind it as told by 13 of the people that worked on it.
"If it isn’t the women of Atari who paint a bad picture of Nolan Bushnell, it’s the culture he created there that, decades later, has mushroomed into something else. It’s a culture where bragging about “stacked” secretaries as late as 2012 garnishes Atari’s mythos instead of muddying it. It’s a culture where Carol Kantor’s groundbreaking research isn’t evoked as often as a hot tub purchased to lure in new talent. It’s a culture that, today, celebrates the sexiness of Atari’s early women employees more loudly than their contributions. If it isn’t the women of Atari who paint a bad picture of Nolan Bushnell, it is his braggadocio attitude, his carnival-barker hype with a chauvinist tinge, that does."
Cecilia D'Anastasio discusses and interviews former employees about the culture of Atari in the 70s.
"We don’t think of popular video games—the kinds that sell millions of copies—as peaceful or intimate. But with the beloved Stardew Valley, Eric Barone discovered the alchemy of quiet gamemaking. All it took was nearly life-ruining levels of obsessiveness."
Sam White profiles the developer of Stardew Valley, Eric Barone, and learns what it was like for him to develop Stardew Valley as a one person team.
"It wasn't until her conversations with Xbox architect Seamus Blackley, J Allard (the "father" of the console's follow-up, the Xbox 360) and her now ex-husband Rob Wyatt that Chaudhari realized the hand she'd been dealt: The circuit boards, already manufactured and ready to go, were comically oversized."
Timothy J. Seppala on the origins of the original Xbox controller, the people that worked on it, designing it for comfort even with forced technical constraints, and Japanese companies and a Japanese translator's refusal to work with them.
"On one bleary day among many during the development of StarCraft, Blizzard VP of research and development Patrick Wyatt, who ranked third in the company’s hierarchy, walked into the office of StarCraft lead designer James Phinney. “I came to ask him for some design clarification on something, and he’s like, ‘Hang on a second,’” Wyatt says. “He leans over, and he vomits in a trash can because he’s been working so hard. And then he’s like, ‘OK, what was your question?’ So yeah, it was pretty physically taxing.”
Ben Lindbergh writes about the creation and staying power of StarCraft to celebrate its 20th anniversary. What got the team started on the game, the E3 presentations that made them redesign everything, the long hours and delays during production, and finding success in Korea and with esports.
"What happened? How did such a promising studio hit so many roadblocks? Since February, I’ve interviewed a dozen people familiar with goings-on at Hangar 13, all of whom spoke under condition of anonymity in order to protect their careers. They’ve told stories of Mafia III’s rocky development, of the studio’s troubled 2017, and of visions of a canceled Berlin spy game that might have made for a fascinating successor to Mafia III, if it weren’t reworked into something else entirely."
After developing a game that pushed the boundaries of game storytelling and acting with Mafia 3, Hanger 13 has lost much of their team and scraped ideas for future projects. Jason Schreier talks to Hangar 13 employees to learn about what has happened to the company in the last two years, as well as covering the creation of the company and their time and issues with developing Mafia 3.
"Former BottleRocket associate producer Dan Tovar, who had been with the project from its earliest point, recalls that day: “What followed was one of the most unpleasant experiences I have had to date in my professional career.” Tovar continues, “There were grown men crying. [...] ‘Hellish’ doesn’t quite summarize it.”
Matt Paprocki learns about the origins and troubled development of 2010's Splatterhouse game.
"When Laidlaw first joined Bell's call centre, he worked the phones. Later, he got promoted to lead a team on the phones, "which was somehow way worse than being on the phones," Laidlaw told me last March, the day after his star turn at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. "I went in and said, I'm sorry, I'm quitting. I'm not coming in tomorrow. They said, 'you can't quit two days before Christmas! If you quit you'll never work here again!' I said, 'that is pretty much the plan, yes.' So I walked out, and a bunch of people high-fived me because - yay! - I got out."
Wesley Yin-Poole profiles former Bioware employee and Dragon Age lead Mike Laidlaw.
"It’s 2000. A shiny new Ferrari pulls into the parking lot of Retro Studios’ enormous Austin, Texas headquarters. Founder Jeff Spangenberg steps out of the car. It’s the first time he’s been to the studio in months. He’s there to lay off people. A lot of people. He’s there to lay off half of the company’s employees. It’s not the only time this will happen."
Blake Hester tells the story of Retro Studios' early days.
"The first time that Cyberdreams producer David Mullich showed author Harlan Ellison a page of the dialogue he’d written for the 1995 game based on his short story “I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream,” Ellison asked, “Who wrote this shit?” When Mullich replied that he had, Ellison got visibly embarrassed and apologized. “No, that’s all right,” Mullich replied. “It is shit compared to your writing. So, take it and make it better.”
Peter Tieryas tells the story of the work done by David Mullich and Harlan Ellison to make a game based on I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream that would honor Ellison's original short story.
"Myst really was outselling Quake; and the industry’s fear of the reality that this truth represented grew by the day. To many insiders, this was the reality of non-gamers, outsiders, people who didn’t understand quality, idiots, the unwashed masses banging on the hallowed gates. Reflecting on the 1997 performance of Myst and its sequel, a nameless staff writer for PC Gamer commented that “the hard-core gamers here at PC Gamer are still trying to figure out how the gruesome twosome of Riven and Myst continue to sell in phenomenal amounts.”
John Gabriel Adkins on the importance of Myst and the dueling narratives that arose in an attempt to explain the game's success.
"The community view was, 'What the fuck is some American guy doing coming in and destroying our game?' I was even getting death threats on a daily basis from the community," Sharpe says. "We had one THQ actually turned over to the authorities because it was pretty violent what it said was going to be done to me." For a long time there was caricature of him going around the internet with the slogan "The Castration of Stalker". I see why Sharpe prefers life off the radar."
Robert Purchese tells how Californian, Dean Sharpe, was sent to save development of Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl.
"Fans were happy, reviews were great, awards were given, and sales were strong. Obviously the team behind the game were elated, right? Well, not really. See, Blizzard Entertainment has shipped games before, like Warcraft 3, Starcraft, and Diablo. The difference between those game and World of Warcraft is they were done once shipped. Sure, Blizzard would offer patches and the occasional expansion, but the team had the ability to take a breather. All the WoW team had was panic."
Mike Williams speaks with the developers of World of Warcraft to tell the story of the game's development from beta to the modern day.
"Sure, it made a lot of money. But it also rewrote the rules for what a superhero game could be. Here’s the story behind Treyarch's 2004 masterpiece."
Alex Kane speaks with some of the developers of what is often the most fondly remembered and influential of the Spider-Man games.
"It’s perhaps fitting that a game with the tagline “nothing is true; everything is permitted” emerged from creative director Patrice Désilets bending the rules. Assassin’s Creed began life as a Prince of Persia game, expanded and reimagined for a new generation of consoles. You might say it even ended up feeling like one, though Désilets’ creative interpretation of Ubisoft’s mandate layered on many additional challenges for the team at Ubisoft Montreal."
Richard Moss learns the history of the original Assassin's Creed from the team that created it.
"Over the coming months, this series will explore the history and evolution of computer and console RPGs by documenting the milestones of the genre. The goal: To understand what it means to be an “RPG,” precisely, and how different designers have reinterpreted the concepts that D&D laid down. When possible, we’ve spoken to the people behind these landmark games to better appreciate the reasons they made the choices they did, and to better understand their relationship with the genre."
A monthly series of articles by Retronauts co-host Jeremy Parish that seeks to explore the evolution of the RPG genre and the effects they have had on the wider industry. So far he has taken a look at Ultima, Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, Dragon Quest, and Wasteland.
Writing On Games
Articles on the games themselves, effects they had on the industry, the stories they tell, how gameplay is used, deeper meanings of titles, etc.
"To defend himself from Ruvik, he made an unacknowledged alliance with another presence in STEM: the player. Sebastian and the player met through a virtual environment. To him, it was STEM. To the player, it was the game The Evil Within. Sebastian shared his mind and behavior with the player in every way that he rejected Ruvik's influence."
This long-form essay by James Howell discusses the meta-narrative of The Evil Within 2 and healing through reenactment.
"There is a deep tragedy at the heart of the story of video games, an attempt at transcendence born from a tacky, clunky, consumer-based digital frame. We may have armies of employee footsoldiers working long hours to build robust digital infrastructures and simulated worlds in extreme detail. We might have incredibly smooth framerates and 4K definition. But there is no game maker who doesn't still struggle with how to make their game mean something."
Liz Ryerson uses Doom and obscure mods as a starting point to discuss the medium and art subcultures.
"When John Carmack coined the phrase “game engine” to describe the original DOOM‘s programming code, he meant it to evoke a car: a manufactured thing, assembled in sequence by multiple hands. Much like the rest of Carmack’s career, it was a deliberate attempt at image and tone control, as much a piece of social engineering as the game was computer engineering. It reflected his endless pursuit of building impressive hardware architecture to create super-efficient ways of thinking about very old representational problems and presenting them as innovative solutions. The small size of id Software’s team during DOOM‘s development means his ideas about engineering linger vividly in the game’s architecture to this day."
Tara Hillegeist writes about corporate branding and the use of the term engine as it relates to the Doom series.
"These are important things to note and critique, but there is an additional element many players forget. While its basic themes are universal in nature, the presentation and dialogue of the characters in Catherine (as well as other titles headed by director Katsura Hashino, who’s become quite infamous among fans for his distasteful portrayals of minorities) is deeply Japanese. Despite the Western “flavor” of the almost six-year-old puzzler, the themes of these games are intrinsically Japanese and the reflection of Japanese ideologies are deeply written into the narrative."
Kazuma Hashimoto looks at media through the lens of the culture that created it by talking about how Japanese society and cultural norms are reflected by the narrative of Catherine when it comes to transgender rights and the Yakuza series when it comes to orphans and what those series do with these topics. The website hosting the second article has gone down so it is represented by a screenshot I took before removal.
"Imagine yourself in the shoes of a designer who’s just decided to make a game about everything. How do you even begin? What rules, what mechanics, what interface can you possibly employ? It is, needless to say, a daunting prospect. Game design being an art of the possible, you inevitably begin to pare away at your grand vision, trying to arrive at some core which you can actually hope to implement. In the process, though, you also begin cutting into the soul of the idea, until you arrive at a dispiriting shadow of it like Global Conquest or The Global Dilemma. Sid Meier, by contrast, never really decided to make a game about everything at all; his design just kind of went there on its own. Thus while Bunten and Crawford were cutting back on their ambitions, Meier was expanding on his."
Jimmy Maher covers a variety of games, developers, and companies on his blog The Digital Antiquarian and it is well worth a look if you want to read more articles like this. In this series of ten articles, he talks about the creation and people behind the development of Civilization and how the games deal with the concept of progress, politics, geography, gameplay, religion, government, etc.
"Eat Create Sleep aims to ‘ask tough questions with their games’; in this piece, then, I will turn the tables and ask tough questions of the developer, but also of myself, and my role as a critic in the West."
Seva Kritskiy on the problems with Crest claim to having an Afrofuturist aesthetic.
"It’s alluring to escape into that world. To be transported to a place where you can completely invest yourself but still be safe, where there aren’t really consequences outside of a passing feeling of triumph or the bittersweet feeling of loss. The Show games let us do that better than just about any other sports game I’ve ever played, perhaps because the simplicity of baseball lends itself to convincing simulation in a way that football or soccer do not."
Rob Zacny writes about the allure of escaping from the world and the portrayal and action of baseball that gives it the feel of a save haven.
"Where Joseph Seed reacts to the futility of Far Cry's on-going war with righteous sorrow, the Jackal with grim horror and Vaas with a train of expletives, Far Cry 4's dapper tyrant Pagan Min is alone in seeing the funny side."
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell on the villains of the Far Cry series representing the definition of insanity and your and the Jackal's failure in Far Cry 2.
"Everyone, from the patriots of the US Army to the patriots of the militias to the patriot that is the cult-killing, order-restoring Deputy, has blended into a single, malevolent sickness that the game makes clear is distinctly American in character."
Reid McCarter covers the only fully formed and compelling argument that Far Cry 5 makes by looking at the origins of the ideology of both the game's cult and the militia fighting them.
"God of War begins with a handprint. A testament to where a woman—a mother—once stood and thought about her child. It’s a marker, we learn, that says “I was here to keep you safe,” as much as it hides “I was here to restrict you.” It’s our first taste of how, in God of War, mothers are interchangeably flat, and come in two varieties: dead or alive. But one thing remains constant—mothers keep secrets. In fairness, everyone in God of War is keeping some kind of secret. The narrative overemphasizes Kratos’ secret, but it is the secrets mothers keep that form its core."
Dia Lacina on the portrayals of motherhood found in God of War and her experiences with her own mother.
"There are so many example of creators tackling new and challenging aspects of what robots and artificial intelligence mean for humanity, so many marginal and unheard voices struggling to carve a space out of a market crowded with stale ones, that all of the extra attached pain and humiliation that fueled the creation of Detroit feels that much more needless, and so that much more cruel."
Yussef Cole writes about Detroit's subject matter in relation to real world movements as well as the culture of the studio that created the game and the poor understanding and use of civil rights movements, stereotypical characters, and pop-culture caricatures of historic figures that Detroit takes from in order to tell its story.
"The franchise was quite rare in that while it seemed like just more male gaze centered media that objectified women, it celebrated women’s sexuality in a way that hasn’t been replicated much. In a world that crucifies women for having lots of consensual sex while men who commit sexual assault get forgiven for it in less time than sending an email? Seeing a game that let a woman character off scot-free for casual sex was refreshing, and even the briefest of lovers were still treated like human beings."
Rachel Presser finds more positive messages about the agency of female characters, consent, and the way sex in games is portrayed in a series usually looked back at more negatively.
"Long before I sat down to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I was skeptical. But when I found out Jill Murray was tapped as Lead Writer, I remembered how impressed I was by Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, which set players as the leader of a slave rebellion in the Caribbean. Hearing that the developers had added “Contact Resistant Peoples” to their vocabulary? That this game would feature an “immersive language” option where Spanish, Quechua, and Yucatec would be spoken by NPCs, and Lara Croft would finally have to wrestle with her actions—it gave me hope. Not much, but a glimmer."
Dia Lacina's review of Shadow of the Tomb Raider covers the way the developers marketed the game and if they were able to tackle Lara's legacy and handling of other cultures better than her previous games.
"The model of the humanoid used in modeling nonhuman life forms, as is the case with my Mass Effect crushes, strikingly tends to appear like a certain kind of human. A human upright with proper stature, fine and narrow facial features, a slim frame, uses standardized English, overly able. Gendered in a binary, too, and if a woman oversexualized, and if a man hypermasculine. Heterosexual, usually. This is not all humanity, these features of body and anatomy and desire presents no real universal. What, then, does my choice in romancing Tali say about my own desires?"
Marcos Gonsalez thoughts on what compelled him as a gay man to romance Tali, unknown possibilities, and the limits of imagination when human aspirational norm is the model.
"The denouement, in which the player learns that Henry was wrong (and doesn't even get the consolation prize of winning Delilah, the game's princess stand-in), can feel disappointing. Or, to frame it the way this article will, it feels emasculating within the context of traditional videogame constructions of masculinity. Here we have a hero living a modern version of cowboy life: a rugged loner in the Wyoming woods, an unacknowledged alcoholic trying to escape a tragic past, essentially a videogame John Wayne. But Henry's hypermasculine presentation is continuously undermined by the game's mechanics, story and genre. The character exists in an interesting relationship with his masculinity—he performs the motions but is thwarted by a game that disrupts hypermasculine performance at every turn."
Melissa Kagen on how Firewatch problematizes toxic hypermasculinity through its use of a hypermasculine protagonist in a walking simulator, how masculinity is typically performed in video games, and how walking simulators in general reject or undermine power fantasies.
"Life Is Strange effectively operates the same logic. Like this globalised 21st century capitalism, it places us in a world whose systems and rules we don’t fully comprehend. It continuously saddles us with ambiguous dilemmas that may or may not be significant. It claims to give us access to the insight and agency necessary to make wise decisions. It uses the concept of agency and free choice to make us responsible for problematic results. And, underneath it all, it ensures that the decisions which plague our conscience actually rarely matter."
Jon Bailes reflects on how the design and choices in Life Is Strange mirror the real world beliefs that we are responsible for things that are out of our control.
"It is defiantly slow-paced, exuberantly unfun, and wholly unconcerned with catering to the needs or wants of its players. It is also captivating, poignant, and at times shockingly entertaining. It moves with the clumsy heaviness of a 19th century locomotive, but like that locomotive becomes unstoppable once it builds up a head of steam. Whether intentionally or not, its tale of failure and doom reflects the tribulations of its own creation, as a charismatic and self-deluded leader tries ever more desperately to convince his underlings to follow him off a cliff. Paradise awaits, he promises. Just push a little bit further; sacrifice a little bit more; hang in there a little bit longer."
Kirk Hamilton's eloquent review of Red Dead Redemption 2 focusing on the themes, gameplay, and feel of the final product and how it can be read as a critique of Rockstar's own culture and the human cost of making games.
"To be clear, I don’t think that these little mini-quests (the man with the snakebite, the wagon with the broken wheel, the woman whose horse died miles from home) offer any interesting choices. But friction doesn’t need to be about choice, only effect and resistance. And like Kotaku’s Heather Alexandra, I think that, despite all of the marketing pretense about the game being a hyper-detailed wild west simulation, Red Dead Redemption 2 is actually more of a theme park totally all centered on you, the player. Unlike something like Crusader Kings 2, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series (especially when modded), or Dwarf Fortress, RDR2’s NPCs aren’t independent agents operating on the same “level” of the game as you are. If the game is a theme park, they’re the ride attendants. The thing is, the rides they operate are all about getting you into trouble, all about causing friction."
'Red Dead Redemption 2' Is Defined By Its Rough Edges, It's Worth Keeping 'Red Dead Redemption 2' at a Distance, and 'Red Dead Redemption 2' Is a Game of Big Mistakes and Little Victories (By Austin Walker, Patrick Klepek, and Robert Zacny)
Instead of a more conventional review, the editors of Waypoint (Austin Walker, Patrick Klepek, and Robert Zacny) share their thoughts on Red Dead Redemption 2 through a series of letters to each other. Through their thoughts on the games they each decide on one word to best sum up their experience, those words being friction, distance, and excess.
"The contradictions of outlaw and institutional American violence are never resolved by the game because, ultimately, it’s honest enough not to offer a pat resolution for the horrors that birthed the United States and characterize the nation to this day. Still, Red Dead 2 is not content simply to wallow in the misery it’s quite right to identify as central to any Western story—or to let its protagonist reach the end of the plot simply as a melancholy sad sack, resigned to despondency because he’s recognized his part in it."
Reid McCarter on the characterization of Red Dead Redemption 2's Arthur Morgan as a man wanting to do good in a setting that makes it seem impossible.
"To make stories out of that type of pain is to accept them as true, and important, because they’re ours. Swery is not an openly queer creator, but through consultation and work with various queer people and a desire to tell a story that accepts people where they are, he and White Owls Inc. have crafted an experience that encapsulates everything I find valuable about depicting queer pain. This is not to praise Swery, exactly, or to elevate his work above the countless queer creators working in the same spaces with powerful intimacy. It’s simply to recognize when a story flirts so close to the mainstream while retaining these transgressive, powerful themes, whether those themes are broached on purpose or not."
Julie Muncy on the story and themes of Swery's The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories.
"One reason I would encourage people to sometimes spill the beans on where their narratives are going is that only stories with plot points we know in advance can speak to the experience of encountering the inevitable in our own lives. The most unavoidable and perhaps most meaningful of these fatalistic events in our lives is death, and a story which lets any character cheat death or which cuts off before we see them have to face down their mortality can never speak to our experiences with the end of life. This is why, to be a game that stares death unflinchingly in the face, What Remains of Edith Finch must let its protagonist, and by extension, us, know that there's only one place they and the other characters can ultimately end up, and its the grave. What Remains is, for a perfectly good reason, a game which spoils itself."
Giant Bomb moderator, Gamer_152, on how spoilers and death are viewed and how What Remains of Edith Finch talks about death instead of just featuring it.
"If you’re interested in understanding Valve, and, how, in turn, this led them to make Artifact the way they did, you need to look at the history and, in particular, its knack for finding novel ways to make money. Valve—which is not publicly traded, maintains one of the smallest workforces of any firm of its prestige, and is thought to have the highest profit per employee of any American company—is not like other game companies, and operates according to a different, but specific, set of principles. That fact makes Valve both fascinating and predictable."
Will Partin examines Valve's Artifact, not just as a game, but as a service, "a machine for capturing metagames."
"Despite its superficial antiwar message, the game is obscenely pro-war. Each ‘War Story’ is showcases a highly specific way for a soldier to attain glory, the most important thing to achieve on the battlefield. Auxiliary to this are colonialism in Tirailleur and Nazism in The Last Tiger, mere narrative devices through which more soldiers get to experience the glory of war."
Ruben Ferdinand on how we remember war and the way Battlefield 5 presents a war glorifying an apolitical history devoid of meaningful context. Inspired by one of last years best articles, Watching History Fade Away in 'Call of Duty: WWII' by Rob Zacny.
"It's also revealing that battles about "historical accuracy" so often about race and gender, and never about things like armies of Ptolemaic Egypt looking more like they belong in Age of Mythology than Total War, or the fact that Battlefield V shows V-1 rockets being used as tactical support weapons in 1940? What's being protected here is not the actual reality of the past (few players complain when ancient combat is made so fantastical it looks more like Lord of the Rings or The 300) but a popular historical memory that has consistently valorized Great Men and Martial Glory and ignored just about everything and everyone else."
Archaeologist Justin Reeve discusses multiple games taking place in the past, what and who is represented, why that can be the case, the biases of recorded history and discovery new information, and how most historic liberties get completely ignored by the people most frequently complaining about historical accuracy.
Articles that focus on game design and the ideas and processes behind it
"He runs what some call a “concept team,” a small, independent group that generates game ideas and designs, and then partners with other studios to see those plans through. While not a new approach, this type of team has become more common in recent years — especially among developers who have established a bit of celebrity, and especially in Japan."
Matt Leone looks at the rise of concept teams in the Japanese game industry, focusing on developers such as Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Yoko Taro, Swery65, and Fumito Ueda.
"From the animation to the art, from the gameplay to online infrastructure, from concept to marketing, there are many disciplines involved. That’s why we’ve put together this resource after chatting with people from all over the industry, so we can all better understand what it takes to make a video game and release it into the world."
Kirk McKeand talks to developers, from a wide variety of disciplines, about their role in a game's creation.
"A writer's job is basically putting out fires every single day," Will Porter, one of the writers behind No Man's Sky (pre-patch) and Alien: Isolation tells me over coffee during this year's Game Developers Conference. "Everyone always assumes that like the end product is just the straight line. [...] [When] it's basically an ever-moving puzzle board, then someone shouts 'stop!' and you just have to hope that everything is in the right place." He likens writing for games, big budget ones at least, more to being a puzzle designer; the steward of spreadsheets."
Caty McCarthy speaks to multiple writers about how games writing has evolved over the years in this three part article.
"I know from working as a Lead Designer how much games rely on individual team members taking ownership over the parts they are given and making it their own. We all find it more expedient to credit entire projects to the figureheads in the media, but isn’t it fascinating to think that videogames are actually a huge melting pot of creative people? All making personal choices, all leaving their mark, all sneaking something that is uniquely theirs into the game. Just because it means something to them. Just because they think it’s fun and cool."
Steven Thornton talks to developers about the kinds of things they sneak into games during development and why they do it.
Working In the Game Industry
Articles focused on what it is like to work in the game industry or in fields connected to the game industry.
"Since I started nine years ago, finding audiences for games criticism has not gotten any easier – in fact, it might now be harder than ever. I say this after spending almost three years curating it every week for Critical Distance. So I’m going to use a series of blog posts to articulate some of the factors that make “real” games criticism relatively invisible."
Zoyander Street, the Director of Content at Critical Distance, wrote a series of five articles about game criticism, why it can be more difficult to find quality criticism, barriers to critical writing, keeping publication going, and how the culture and algorithms of Youtube shape discourse.
"These practices and attitudes that are so prevalent at the managerial level happen to fit hand in glove with the infamously poisonous behaviour of many gamers, who as a group have earned a reputation for their harassment of critics, dissident employees and anyone else they can target for blame for real or imagined slights. Harmful company practices, from crunch to mass layoffs, are so common as to be considered routine in the industry, whereas the incandescent rage that became so apparent during the height of Gamergate, is treated more like an embarrassing indiscretion of consumers that isn’t sanctioned by respectable corporate figures in the industry. But that’s a lie that has only become more obvious over time, especially as workers and marginalized people in the subculture have made their voices louder. Angry gamers can easily be understood as a pool of reactionary scabs that serve as a resource for videogame companies that prefer it when its workforce is afraid, quiet, and deprived of the leverage it needs."
Lana Polansky reports about working conditions in the game industry using past events, developer stories, company statements, and other reports to discuss the usual tactics companies have to exploit employees, how companies make use of angry gamers against developers, and how the now frequent exposure to this has helped to unite more workers.
"Work had become rote, and his coworkers’ persistent skepticism had eaten away at his own excitement to be working in the games industry. When he joined Virtuos in 2007, he was surprised to learn his first assignment would be working on EA’s Medal of Honor: Airborne, the same project his Russian employer had been working on, though there he was working on the game’s military uniforms and in Shanghai he’d be responsible for making the game’s vintage gun models. He’d come halfway around the world only to end up working on the same game."
Michael Thomsen talks to employees at one of the biggest outsourcing companies in the games industry.
"I went to meet with another former colleague on the board," Kennedy added, "and said 'you're telling the team it's okay but it's not, this is the terrain warning on the plane saying 'pull up', and you have to do something. The response I got was 'everything's fine, everything will be great when we go to full launch, you don't understand how the company works any more'.
Tom Phillips speaks to Failbetter employees about the complex picture of life inside the studio before and after a surprising announcement lead to layoffs at the small company.
"The story of Telltale — its rise, decline, and potential reformation — is not just the story of the missteps of one studio. It’s a shocking window into the $36 billion video game industry (which is now so large and lucrative that it rivals the film industry), and how its worst practices can grind down and burn out even the most devoted and valuable employees."
Back in March, Megan Farokhmanesh reported on how toxic management cost Telltale its best developers and how their story is also a window into the workings of the larger game industry. Six months later, after the sudden closure of the studio, she talks to former employees about the abrupt closure.
"The aim of this post is to take stock of the current situation, briefly explore the history of unionisation in games and adjacent industries, identify the lessons that could be learned from this history, and propose a set of goals that the movement should aspire to."
Seva Kritskiy on the path to unionizing the game industry, past attempts at unionization in the early days of the tech industry, and links to other stories with information on other countries, hiring practices, etc.
"Every time, someone says something that makes me go think, puts into words a feeling I couldn’t articulate, or argues in a way that forces a re-examination of conclusions. The opinions of others help me better form my own. It’s a process built on my reaction, and the result is a delightful mixture. What’s important is the fluidity, keeping one’s mind open to the possibility of not only challenging a personal reaction, but willing to admit you could be wrong."
Patrick Klepek on changing your mind about a game as you process your thoughts and the views of others and how a review can often only reflect a fixed moment in time.
"For all the media talk of how much money the video game industry makes, the number of major studios in America is vanishingly small, and far flung. When it comes to blockbuster studios most towns, so the saying goes, aren’t big enough for the both of them. In five years, D’Angelo was forced to move between states no fewer than four times. “Some folks might be more comfortable with this type of lifestyle, bouncing around the country every year, but it wasn’t for me,” he says. At one low point, D’Angelo relocated his family to a more expensive part of the country for a contract role only to be laid off two months after arriving, in a sweep of cost-cutting redundancies. Locked into a rental agreement based on previous earnings, he burned through the family’s savings. In the twelve months it took to find another position in the area, he was forced to moonlight at a job in a local warehouse."
Simon Parkin talks to developers about the realities of working in the game industry and how it causes people to leave it behind.
"So the problems our team of moderators faced were on multiple fronts. We had players who felt it was their right to offend and/or didn’t respect the rules that they agreed to upon making their account. On the other end we had our hands tied by management. We weren’t there to serve players, or deal with bad actors. We were there to service and maintain—“embiggen”—the Money Hose."
Game Companies Can Serve Communities or Customers, But Rarely Both (By Christopher Williams)
Former moderator Christopher Williams talks about his experiences working in the community management side of game companies.
"It’s not unusual for a tech or gaming company to struggle with sexism and lack of diversity. In recent years, some studios have tried to reckon with that reality, taking steps to hire more women and making games that showcase more diverse characters. But at Riot, the fundamental values fueling its celebrated culture of “core gamers” and Riot devotees over the past decade may also be the root causes of an ingrained sexism that manifests in both blatant and subtle ways."
Inside The Culture Of Sexism At Riot Games, 'We're Sorry': Riot Pledges Sweeping Changes To Address Accusations Of Sexism, and Riot Games Says It Wants To Clean Up Its Mess, But The People Who Made It Are Still There (By Cecilia D'Anastasio)
Cecilia D'Anastasio speaks to current and former Riot employees about the culture of the studio. Her second article covers the response by Riot and links to former Riot employees (Meagan Marie, Yonah Bex Gerber, Katie De Sousa, Kristen Fuller, Barry Hawkins, and Zoë Curnoe) that expand on Cecilia's report by detailing their own experiences with the company. Her final article covers company actions shortly after and the problem with addressing problems when the people that caused them are all still there. Cecilia's initial article was nominated for a WGA award and Riot is currently being sued for gender discrimination and has had their COO suspended for misconduct.
"They're our best — and often only — record of the human labor that goes into game development, serving not only as a reminder that games are made by people — sometimes lots of them — but also as a tool for developers to advance their careers."
Richard Moss on the way crediting is treated in the industry and its importance when it comes to issues of labor, history, and authorship.
"Rockstar is usually a fortress of silence, a company which lets its games do the talking. But these past few weeks have seen the dam break and its staff speak out - some for the first time in their careers - about the sacrifices they have made and the fear they may have to do this again."
Jason Schreier speaks with over 70 current and former Rockstar employees and reports his findings on the company's culture. Tom Phillips later spoke to some additional employees and posits that it is up to us to listen to them to change how games are made.
Life, Culture, and Games
Articles on the meaning that games can have for people, connections they help create, how we look at them, how they influence people, and why they matter.
"By successfully convincing video game writing of its automatic importance and making the former dependent on its existence, the blockbuster circumvents any need to justify its own existence. Safe from reproach, it laughs at any form of game lesser than itself for daring to think it has value. Only the blockbuster is deserving of any real attention, regardless of what it does to warrant that attention. “Behold!”, it announces to all it has forced to listen. “The nothing I proclaim is more important than anything you will ever say. My easily predicted failures will always be more deserving of discussion than the greatest success you could possibly muster.”
Brian Crimmins' essay on the unearned significance people give to blockbuster games and the historical importance of mods and bootlegs to both the companies that create them and the course of gaming's history.
"In his talk, Cranford mentioned that people had sometimes approached him over the years and told him that The Bard’s Tale had really impacted their lives. This didn’t surprise me at all, of course. They were extraordinary games for their time, taking the barebones foundation of the early Wizardry games and bringing it to life. Cranford said that he wanted his talk to convey to attendees his philosophy for how to create games that might change people’s lives. I was intrigued. But by the time he was done speaking, I felt that his ideas about this were narrow, and belonged back in 1985 alongside his innovative masterpiece."
Carolyn Petit on GDC, gaming's past and present, a game she loved in 1985, a game she loved in 2017, and the games that don't get created.
"God of War didn’t give me the numbness I’d wanted, but it turned out I needed the non-numbness more. When my dad died, I didn’t have any actual ashes to scatter or cathartic quests to undertake. I had a controller, and Kratos, and Kratos’s son."
Ben Lindbergh tells a personal story about his father and of his experience playing God of War.
"For me, this is maybe the ultimate takeaway of this extended ramble through the history of the the critic and the reviewer. We don’t need help finding more good games—many of us have a virtual stack larger than we could ever play. What we do need is help figuring out what to do with this panoply of digital delights."
Eron Rauch looks at the history of review and criticism in a variety of areas and how it relates to video games.
"I think the thing I really wanted from the Wii, more than motion controls or Miis or the ability to very slowly check the forecast, was a chance to feel like I was adequate. If Sony and Microsoft treated the “console wars” like an athletic competition, Nintendo saw it as more of a challenge in identity."
Matthew Koester on what the Wii meant to him and finding beauty in its limitations.
"When one of World of Warcraft’s top ten guilds recruited Cam as their chief hunter, his suicidal thoughts surged. To earn the enviable invitation, Cam had spent 16 hours a day grinding on WoW, to the detriment of everything else. He told his father he’d scored a job at a local restaurant, but every day after his dad dropped him off at the McDonald’s across the street, Cam would hop the first bus home and log back on. There was no job. There would be no paycheck. Cam’s only obligation was to his night elf hunter, and it was an all-consuming commitment."
The World Health Organization’s recently approved the classification of gaming disorder, Cecilia interviews former gamers about their addiction to playing games and a psychologist that has been researching gaming addiction since 1999 to learn their stories and whether or not declaring someone addicting to games is likely to overlook larger issues that can be the root cause of their behavior.
"It eventually became evident that I wasn’t looking for escapism with this video game, but rather enlightenment."
Chris Compendio on how Night in the Woods helped them to navigate through the trauma of losing a friend.
"What many who have invested their careers and identities into indie games fail to face is that legitimacy is never something that the dominant culture just gives to you. It’s something that’s earned over years and years of fights to change culture and values. Videogames may still be mostly associated with mindless and soul-sucking escapism for many, but in the meantime they’ve become an increasingly ever-present part of our culture. Youtubers and livestreamers who primarily play videogames easily have more viewers than any of the major networks or streaming services. Many on the outside will decry this as the end of culture, but they ignore that this just how culture works."
Liz Ryerson's response to the article, "There are too many video games. What now?". Ryerson covers why the modern day industry is not like the industry of 1983, the wave of creativity that is taking games to places that weren't thought of or possible in the past, making games for the art of it, legitimacy, and games becoming an increasingly relevant and present part of culture.
"A ComicBook.com article about Soulcalibur VI refers to Ivy as a “scantily clad boob monster” not once but twice. Metro’s coverage of the game described Ivy’s “design and attire” as “problematic” without mentioning the other female fighters, presumably because Ivy is the go-to example. In one Twitch stream that I watched of Soulcalibur VI, the hosts joked that Ivy Valentine was “not stream-appropriate” and didn’t select her, although characters like Talim and Seong Mi-Na didn’t seem to embarrass them."
Maddy Myers on the attire of the women of Soulcalibur and how her feelings on the character Ivy have changed over time as conversations surrounding Ivy tended to be based around body shaming.
"Mastering Pac-Man was more useful to me. I was becoming, years later, a scholar of mazes. This is the way out, Mr. Uston’s book said. It taught me that there was, in fact, a safe path through the labyrinth; that there was an opaque logic beneath the pixels. All I had to do was put in the time to study; study and learn, and eventually I’d be okay again. Study and learn, and maybe, against all odds, I’d find my way out of this."
Scott C. Jones tells a personal story of childhood traumas and how games helped to guide him through them and to heal in adulthood.
"I walk around the Solace and realize that all of this is now mine. I have a spacious office for business, a hanger with ships, a massive bridge full of consoles, and even a small bar. I am the lord of my very own castle. The proud owner of a huge starship. And I have nothing to do with it. All I can do is sit down in my lonely office and remember my now-absent friends."
Heather Alexandra revisits an old home in Star Wars The Old Republic and reminisces on what the game meant to her and the meaningful connections we forge in games.
Articles focused on the world of competitive gaming and companies and players involved in it
"Tran doesn’t live in the mansion; he has his own apartment. Roston Yoo, the team manager, lives upstairs in a bedroom of his own. Yoo’s bedroom is the only one with a fully stocked liquor cabinet. “That,” Tran says, gesturing towards the bottles, “is how you make it four months with four days off.” Yoo, for his part, joked that whenever he’s had a drink in the past, he has “walked it off” whenever any of the pro gamers comes to his room in the middle of the night to tell him they had a nightmare."
Maddy Myers tours three esports organizations and interviews players about how they live, their schedules, how they keep healthy, their thoughts on unions and burnout, and how they can grow to see each other as family.
"The complete story of how one of esports’s biggest franchises, rose, fell, and may yet live again"
Will Partin tells the story of the game that made him love esports.
Game Industry Abroad
Articles covering the game industry of different countries, mostly focused on the ones that we don't often associate with video games, or covering how the industry is growing and effecting people and places worldwide.
"In Poland, being a supporter of the environment has been a [concern] of the Left. If you are pro-environment, you are a leftist, you are a hippy. We noticed that a lot of people are supporting the Polish government logging the forest, just because they don’t want to be connected to the leftists. The scientific community supports leaving the forest alone. We wanted to reach out to kids. They don’t have this polarised view of reality yet. We wanted to create a neutral ground.”
Kirk McKeand on how Minecraft helped to stop logging in the Białowieża forest in Poland.
"Having traveled widely in Asia, I’ve yet to find a country where games don’t have a foothold. I’ve chatted about Overwatch with tour guides in Vietnam, and watched novice monks play Candy Crush in Thailand. In Namche Bazaar, a supply town sitting at 11,286 feet in the Khumbu region of Nepal, I met a young man who plays Clash of Clans. Mobile titles fit well into a life spent walking between mountain villages. But this Vietnamese poster was the first time I’d detected a religious backlash to video games. Intrigued, I started to dig, reading internet comments about phone-addicted monks. I studied interviews with the Karmapa Lama, the second-highest ranked Lama in Tibetan Buddhism—and an avid FPS player."
Robert Rath discusses life, games, and reincarnation with Buddhist monks in Thailand.
"As GDC approached, Ismail posted updates on Facebook asking if anyone could contribute. Soon, the fourth of his six panelists was prevented from entering the United States. #1ReasonToBe was quickly turning into #NotEnoughPanelistsToExist."
Imad Khan reports on the struggles of developers attempting to attend GDC and how the panel that was focusing on having developers from around the world telling their stories had more than half of its original panelists prevented from entering the United States. Gwendelyn Foster, one of the GDC speakers denied a visa, on being treated with diplomatic hostility in a global industry.
"For two years, vigilante swarms of gamers have been picking through South Korean games professionals’ social media profiles, sniffing out the slightest hint of feminist ideology. Anything from innocuous Twitter “likes” to public pleas for gender equality have provoked harassment from these hostile freelance detectives. It doesn’t end at hate mail and online pile-ons; jobs have been put in jeopardy."
Cecilia D'Anastasio and Seung Park report on human rights organizations findings in South Korea, the targeting of game developers that are found talking about women's rights by South Korean gamers, and the companies that give into gamer's threats.
"Ecuador is not a place known for its gaming culture. Only larger cities like Guayaquil, Manta and the capital, Quito, have any substantial cyber cafe presence. And although these small, family-run establishments offer rental time on PCs and consoles, they pale in comparison to the massive, hundred-person LAN cafes and esports arenas that exist in many parts of Europe and Asia, where gamers pack in elbow to elbow for marathon sessions on high-end machines in smoky rooms."
The video games of Ecuadorean fishing village Santa Marianita (By Kimberly Koenig)
Kimberly Koenig visitis Ecuadorian fishing village Santa Marianita, discovering how people find ways to play games everywhere.