Level 52: NPCs, Mobile Gaming, and Mario

This week we have two (!!!) Pause Button exclusive articles, cover the new Paper Mario title, and celebrate graduation with some Minecraft

✏️ The Pause Button Exclusives

How to Put More “Character” Into Your NPCs: In this week’s Pause Button exclusive, narrative designer Geoffery Golden joined us to talk about what makes a good NPC (Non-Playable Character).  Even though they’re just bystanders to your playing experience, NPCs play an integral role in building deep and immersive worlds for many of the gaming’s greatest hits. As Geoffrey puts it “there are no small characters, just small sprites” Link 

Can Wild Rift Become the Next Honor of Kings: Mobile gaming expert Jeff “SuiJeneris” Chau joined us to write about Riot Game’s upcoming mobile title Wild Rift and how it stacks up against the current mobile industry leader Honor of Kings. Reading Jeff’s work reminds us just how underappreciated mobile gaming is in the West. With a reported 100M daily active players in 2020, this space is expected to explode in the U.S. sooner or later, it’s just a matter of time. Link

📜 This Week’s Notable News

It’s Me, (Paper) Mario! With reports of no Nintendo Directs in the near future, and nothing on the Summers Gamefest schedule, there has been a ton of speculation on how Nintendo would spread the word for its upcoming releases. Nintendo's response: just drop stuff with zero warning. 

Last Thursday Nintendo announced a new Paper Mario game, set to release in less than two months. It’s a major deviation from the company’s normal marketing tactics, which heavily rely on boosting sales numbers through early announcements and “hype” build up. It’s an interesting approach for a company that prioritizes traditional marketing. Link

A few thoughts on the implication behind Nintendo’s seemingly “random” announcement: 

  • Delays are Imminent:. The lack of upcoming Directs, which are usually bookended with Nintendo first-party news, is not a great sign. We see it as a clear indicator: games are going to come out later in the year than Nintendo expected. The benefit? No E3 means that Nintendo can release content when they want. After all, you can’t let down people if they don't know what they’re missing. 

  • Financial Safety: Traditional “Direct” style announcements for Nintendo are great marketing tools. They generate social media buzz, views, and huge word of mouth content. By just dropping this trailer Nintendo could be implying that they’re not worried about sales for Paper Mario. This could be in part due to the games limited fanbase, or perhaps Nintendo’s assumption that any game featuring Mario will do well, no matter how much marketing it has.

💡 Industry Content

Supercell Turns 10: Mobile gaming giant Supercell, known for games like Clash of Clans, turned 10 last week. To celebrate, IIkka Paananen, the company’s CEO & Co-founder reflected on the 10 most important learnings that have led to Supercell’s multi-billion dollar success. The entire list is worth reading, but if we had to boil it down, IIkka highlights two core concepts: retention & culture. Link

Facebook’s VR Vision: Protocol sat down with Jason Rubin, Facebook’s VP of Special Gaming Initiatives, to get the scoop on the social media giant’s broader gaming strategy. Much of the article is a mix of name dropping and making sense of Facebook’s absurdly complex gaming org chart, but there are a few gems to be found. Most notable is Rubin’s vision on how cloud gaming & VR can partner to create AAA gaming experiences. It sounds a lot like a lot of what consumers want (portable, console-grade AAA experiences) is not happening in the near term. But to Rubin’s point, we may be closer than we think. Link

Dr. Lupo’s + Recode: Popular Twitch streamer Dr. Lupo, made an appearance on Recode Media’s podcast. In his interview, Lupo discusses his rise as a streamer, the implications behind the work he does, and where he plans to go in the future. It’s an interesting opportunity to take a step back and understand how the larger media industry looks at gaming. Link

🎮 Fun & Games

Amazon’s First Game: Amazon (like the package company) released their first major game this week, a MOBA style FPS called Crucible. The game mixes elements of Overwatch, League of Legends, and Dota to create a seemingly unique mix. It’s an interesting first step for Amazon and they expand their gaming footprint outside Twitch. Link

A Minecraft Graduation: COVID-19 has prevented much of the Class of 2020 from truly appreciating the “graduation experience” — but not UC Berkeley. A handful of dedicated students built a 1:1 replica of the university in Minecraft, and last weekend capped it off with a graduation ceremony hosted on the virtual campus. Link

Biz Sims: This is the story of Maxis Business Simulations, a spinoff division of SimCity that made sim games for corporations. Link

Business simulation games were always a bit of a wild idea, and it never really came together as a business. But their work raised a lot of big questions about how much we trust games to teach us about the world around us

😎 Other Cool Reads

The Story of DJWheat: Marcus “djwheat” Graham is a legend to esports: Hall of Famer, broadcaster, professional Quake player, 19th employee at Twitch. The accolades keep running and he’s “not even 5% in”. Djwheat was foundational to the popularization of esports in Twitch and the world beyond. He now heads up creator development at Twitch. This is part one of a two part biography feature. (Warning: #longreads) Link

Gaming’s Very Own Rent-a-Friend: Many of gaming’s biggest products are built on one idea: connection. Platforms like Twitch and Discord are all about removing the barriers between a viewer and creator. This week, Wired covered a new service that takes the concept a step further: E-Pal.gg. The premise is simple: log-on, pick a creator, and pay by game to play with them. It sounds straightforward, but dig a little deeper, and you actually unearth one of gaming’s fundamental problems: a world of sexism, harassment, and the marginalization of female gamers. Link

Our Current Favorites


A few weeks ago I found a Twitter thread talking about the impact gaming had on one woman's son and his friends. Gaming has been a huge social outlet for me over the past few months, and threads like this remind me of just how meaningful digital connection through games can be. Link


I finally got a Valorant beta key...

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