Like I said last week, I’m listing a bunch of YouTube channels that I find particularly interesting or noteworthy. The ordering of the list just reflects my own preferences and viewing habits, not the quality of the channel or its content.
- Wait until a game has been out long enough that everyone has had a chance to reflect on it.
- Play through – usually multiple times – to get a sense of the work in full and see how the parts all work together, as opposed to just focusing on the obvious or superficial elements.
- Do a long-form review that looks at the game as a holistic work: Gameplay narrative, presentation, usability, etc.
Sure, Joseph Anderson makes videos and I usually stick to text, but our approaches have a lot in common and I think if you’re a fan of one you’ll probably really like the other. Anderson’s problem is that video like this is murderously time-consuming to produce, so you’re going to need a lot of patience once you’re done with the archive binge. If you subscribe to his channel you’re not going to see a lot of content in your feed. But when one does show up, you’ll have a nice long video to think about and enjoy. Some of his reviews are the length of feature films.
This is one creator that I’d love to see become successful enough to go full-time.
I’ve often wondered if long-form creators like this wouldn’t benefit from breaking up their content. If the review is broken into three conceptual parts, then maybe releasing it as a three-part series would help make the content more approachable for newcomers. If you need to step away from a long video then it’s easier to remember, “I watched part 1 and 2” than to remember, “I think I left off somewhere around the 50-minute mark or so? Maybe?”
On the other hand, doing things this way will add to the complexity of the overall structure. If I need to talk about gameplay for 45 minutes, the narrative for 15 minutes, and the sloppy console port for 5, then there’s no good way to cut that up into even pieces. You’ll end up trying to divide a single thesis into multiple segments, which can really undercut or confuse what you’re trying to say. If you spend one segment laying the groundwork and the next segment tying it all together to make a point, then you really want people to see both of them, together, in the proper order.
I don’t know. There aren’t any easy answers. This new world of random-length content doesn’t have a lot of rules, and we’re still figuring out what people want. At the same time, we’ve got the YouTube suggestion algorithms that prioritize and reward frequent short-form content at the expense of infrequent but higher-quality offeringsOr simply content that takes time to produce, which obviously isn’t a guarantee of quality.. I’ll talk a bit more about YouTube’s rules later in this list.
The only reason he’s not significantly higher on this list is because our personal tastes differ quite a bit, which means it’s pretty rare for him to review something I’m into.
Viewing suggestion: Rise of the Tomb Raider Critique
Viewing suggestion: A Lesson in Failure: The Rise of the Mars Candy Company
Back in the eighteenth century, Charles Messier was looking for comets. The telescopes of the day were pretty limited, and so it was hard to tell the fuzzy-looking comets from all the other fuzzy-looking things that weren’t comets. To help things along, he began cataloging all these boring “duds”, perhaps so that they could be ignored in future comet hunts. In the end he had a list of 110 things that were not comets, and this list came to be known as the Messier Catalogue.
Deep Sky Videos has two main forms of content. One is a series touring modern telescope facilities and talking about how they work, and the other is a series where they step through the Messier Catalogue and talk about what all of these non-comets turned out to be once our technology allowed us to see them more clearly. Along the way you’ll learn a lot about astronomy.
Viewing suggestion: Hubble Space Telescope
However, my work as a videogame critic has been gradually pulling me into the topic out of basic necessity. Very often I’d find myself playing a game and thinking, “Why doesn’t this story work?” As AAA developers have increased their efforts to design and market games using the language of cinema, I’ve had to learn what they were trying to do so I could criticize them properly. Which has led to me following a handful of people like Folding Ideas who can explain why stories and scenes work, or don’t work.
In Folding Ideas, creator Dan Olson talks about cinema, editing, narrative theory, and the mechanisms of storytelling. Sadly, there are a lot of videos in his backlog that are hard for me to watch because he chose to express his essay through a puppet, and those videos don’t totally work. The puppet isn’t a part of the channel anymore, but I want to talk about it anyway because it was such an unusual idea…
In theory, I think a puppet is a really good gimmick for a show like this. We have tons of YouTube channels where Some Dude talks into The Camera, and after a while they kind of start to blur together. You can just remain an enigma and never show your face (which is what I do) but that can make your channel feel a little distant and impersonal. You can get around this by using hand-drawn images, but that’s obviously an expensive and time-consuming approach. Not good for your typical one-person micro-budget YouTube show.
Better yet, speaking through a character like this allows you to create some distance between the critic and their persona, which can help defuse your typical fanboy backlash. Zero Punctuation is built around this idea. People understand that the hyper-picky, pervasively profane ZP style is a deliberate affect and that the critic is over-exaggerating his position for comedic impact. The audience is encouraged to focus on the criticism rather than the critic, because after all, “That’s just how the character works”.
The same is true for Mr. Plinkett of Red Letter Media. If the review makes you mad because you disagree, then what are you going to do? Are you going to try to insult a drunken 150 year old psychotic serial killer who has sex with cats? He’s designed to be a loathsome monster. You’d just be participating in the fiction of the character. Worse, getting mad at a serial killer over his movie opinions makes you look ridiculous. How can you hope to denigrate someone who is already horrible in every way? The only way to engage without looking like a rank-and-file internet dumbass is to ignore the character and address the criticism itself: Is the author’s claim about the movie valid? A puppet could accomplish the same thing. It would hide the author and leave the audience with nothing to aim their anger at except a homunculus of felt and googly eyes.
The problem is that the Folding Ideas puppet was completely un-expressive and the puppetry was just amateur enough to be frustrating. It was like watching a movie where the audio is just a half second out of sync. I think Dan Olson was onto a good idea with the puppet, but it needed refinement and iteration.
In any case, he moved on from the puppet and now works in the YouTube standard style of talking directly into a camera. Maybe that’s less inventive, but it works and the author seems to have found his groove. When Olson is on his game he makes some excellent (and for me, educational) content.
Viewing suggestion: The Art of Editing and Suicide Squad
For my money, Errant Signal (the next channel on my list) is the stronger channel. This is not to say that Mark Brown has anything to be ashamed of. He produces a great show and I really enjoy it. But I think Errant Signal digs just a little deeper and is a little more incisive. Maybe you disagree and you think that GMTK is the better channel. That’s fine. But I find it hard to believe that GMTK is three or four times better than Errant Signal, which is what you get if you compare them according to view count.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe GMTK really is that much better. Or maybe Veritasium is correct and the YouTube algorithm rewards “frequent but shallow” content at the expense of “deep but rare” offerings.
Viewing suggestion: Arkham Knight and the Scourge of Scale
I’ve watched his entire library multiple times. I’d love it if his Patreon took off to the point where he could produce Errant Signal full time. I’d love to see what that looks like.
Viewing suggestion: Saints Row IV and Kitsch.
Viewing suggestion: The Moonpig Bug: How 3,000,000 Customers’ Details Were Exposed
That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll wrap up the list.
 Or simply content that takes time to produce, which obviously isn’t a guarantee of quality.
In Defense of Crunch
Crunch-mode game development isn't good, but sometimes it happens for good reasons.
Crash Dot Com
Back in 1999, I rode the dot-com bubble. Got rich. Worked hard. Went crazy. Turned poor. It was fun.
The true story of three strange days in 1989, when the last months of my adolescence ran out and the first few sparks of adulthood appeared.
Batman: Arkham Origins
A breakdown of how this game faltered when the franchise was given to a different studio.
Quakecon 2011 Keynote Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.