VGDC: Brandon Sheffield's 'All Time Greats' article/video picks
Thoughts from a specific & lovely aesthetic!
[Time for our third Video Game Deep Cuts guest post, following Kyle Orland’s & Bennett Foddy’s ‘best ever game article/video’ picks. This time, Brandon Sheffield of Necrosoft Games & the Insert Credit podcast (sign up for the Patreon!) contributes some great, often retro & Japanese-focused picks for his favorite game culture links of all time.
Coincidentally, Brandon - also my friend/former colleague on Gamasutra & Game Developer magazine - is also currently in the news for finding a ‘lost’ Samurai Shodown game for the upcoming Samurai Shodown Neo Geo Collection, thanks to some stellar detective work. So… we’ll call this column timing fortuitous, eh?]
Two interviews with Japanese devs who like the Mega Drive (Takayan and Hideyuki Suganami, Shmuplations, 2004 & 1995 - links are below.)
I feel that these two Shmuplations articles are somehow companion pieces. Shmuplations does excellent work translating vintage Japanese game dev interviews, and this one about the obscurity Battle Mania 📰, and this one about the better-known obscurity Alien Soldier 📰, both show developers who love the Mega Drive [aka the Genesis], hate Nintendo, and just want to do what they want to do, no matter what.
It's really interesting to see people being so honest with themselves, with their preferences and tastes, and almost using game development as a flag to rally around, or personal therapy (though the success of this therapy is debatable). Especially interesting when remembering the Mega Drive was not so popular in Japan.
"Recipe: Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom" (Frank Cifaldi, Insert Credit - 2011 📰)
I miss having fun while writing about video games. My own attempts at game journalism always gets so ponderous and serious! Frank's article about the NES obscurity Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom reminds us that you can still have a good time with game journalism, turning (mostly) the entire kingdom into a recipe for a salad, complete with vinaigrette.
"Welcome To The Club" (Anne Krueger, Video Games magazine, 1983 📰)
Way back in 1983, in an obscure video game magazine called "Video Games," writer Anne Krueger highlights some of the early women of game development, and shows how their struggles for recognition, compensation, and just general respect have... frankly not changed that much over the years.
At the same time, it shows the resilience of a group of people who are really passionate about the medium, how they've always been here, always been influential, and how hard they've worked to make the industry a better place, and make games more fun.
Road to the IGF: Zachtronics' Eliza (Matthew Burns & Joel Couture , Gamasutra, 2020 📰)
It can be a struggle to keep a positive view of games and the future in general at times. I think one of the best things you can do is make a video game about that feeling. Matthew Burns' dissection of his own game Eliza (a visual novel about a "virtual therapy" startup) gets into some great thoughts about what it means to externalize your internal fears, and to try to share them with others in a way that resonates.
I feel like visual novels "with a point" require that you trust the author to take you somewhere that won't go against your values. If one did not already know Matthew Burns, this article would go a long way toward building that trust.
Game Design Psychology: The Full Hirokazu Yasuhara Interview (Hirokazu Yasuhara & Brandon Sheffield - Gamasutra / Game Developer magazine, 2008 📰)
Hirokazu Yasuhara, the map designer of Sonic the Hedgehog 1 to 3, Uncharted, et cetera, has the most crystalline and easy to understand ideas about game design of anyone I've ever met.
Doing this interview opened my eyes to the world of game design as a methodology and a mental state, rather than spreadsheets or seat-of-your-pants ideas. I keep coming back to this conversation year after year, and really wish he'd write a book. (Full disclosure, I did this interview, but I'm sharing it for the content, not for my amazing writing!)
Sega Saturn Graphic In-depth Investigations (Low Score Boy, 2015 📽)
I really like looking at the early days of 3D finding its footing in the console space, so the 5th generation of consoles has a special place in my heart. The Saturn, especially, which got a 3D chip kind of bolted onto it at the end of production, and which had terrible documentation for devs, basically required a combo of finesse and absolute brute force to get anything good out of.
Naturally, I love that.📰Low Score Boy breaks down the arcane summoning circle one must construct in order to get some of the most interesting graphical achievements of the generation moving on screen, across the console's two (and a bit) main graphics chips. For bonus watching, here's a discussion of the Saturn's video formats📽. And if you like radical obscurity, be sure to check out his investigation of the Taiwanese-exclusive console, the Super A'Can.📽
Amazing 16-bit Effects from every GENESIS game we've ever made (Jon Burton / GameHut, 2019 📽)
It's nearly impossible to choose a favorite GameHut video for me. GameHut is Traveller's Tales co-founder Jon Burton's channel, in which he reveals how he and his team pushed the boundaries of vintage consoles (Genesis through PS2, basically). There's so much to be impressed with here. The "3D" depth effects in Toy Story 📽, environment-mapped polygons in Sonic R 📽, the "3D" tower in Mickey Mania 📽, and on and on.
The dedication he shows to the craft of making games look good is palpable. For some reason he uses clickbait titles on each video, but the content is laid out so carefully that even the layperson can grasp the concepts behind the tricks. Each video is a fantastic peak behind the curtain of vintage game development.
PS1 Bad Games Vol.1 (Yawaraka uchū kenkyūjo aka "soft space research institute", 2015 📽)
This one only has Japanese text, but you'll probably get the gist just by watching the footage. Essentially, it's a collection of Kusoge (shitty games) for PS1, from King of Crusher, in which a guy who has to kick everything to death, to terrible fighting games, to terrible RPGs. In Volume 2 📽, you get the excellent "Not Treasure Hunter" which had 50 endings, most of which just involve you accidentally falling off a cliff.
In the "weird games" series 📽series, you can enjoy Suzuki Bakuhatsu [cover semi-pictured], a game about a woman who must defuse bombs contained in an increasingly unusual series of household objects. Ultimately this is about discovering new obscurities. If you like that, you'll probably enjoy a lot of this YouTube playlist. 📽I must admit the particular linked video is not my favorite of all time - it's the SERIES that's my favorite.
TAS Brain Age DS in 4:08 (Ryuto, 2010 📽)
Tool Assisted Speedruns are mostly about completing games as quickly as possible. But I especially like when runners trick a game into thinking they're doing the right thing when you're actually doing something else.
In this TAS, runner Ryuto convinces Brain Age that they've written the answer to an addition problem when actually drawing Star Fox characters. It calls to mind the classic (somewhat problematic) Jeopardy TAS 📽with answers like "I bathed Keanu Reeves" turning into the correct "Baker."
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Museum section (Digital Eclipse, 2019 📽)
Okay, I worked on this one, but I'm putting it forward as a potential (very expensive) evolution of the video game article, and something I'd love to see more of. In the museum section of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection game we are able to show a curated view of the evolution of an entire company, in this case SNK.
Through an interactive slideshow you are given a glimpse into the company's roots, and why what they did mattered for the future. And when we hit on a game that's actually playable in the collection, you can drop in and actually see for yourself what we're talking about, either through watching a video or playing the game yourself.