Recommended Reading highlights the best long-form writing on technology and more in print and on the web. Some weeks, you'll also find short reviews of books that we think are worth your time. We hope you enjoy the read.

How Madden Ratings are Made
by Neil Paine
FiveThirtyEight

If you've ever played a Madden title, at some point, you've questioned how player ratings are compiled. Heck, players are even critical of their own scores. Well, the stats experts over at FiveThirtyEight dive deep on the matter, offering a load of background information and a method for compiling and grading your own abilities... or lack thereof.

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Many RPGs have more than one ending, but even then you still have limited ways to control the story or to interact with the characters. Disney Research, however, wants to make real interactive games -- ones where your actions can affect how it progresses and ends -- so it has created a platform that can help developers do so more easily than if they use traditional tools. This platform makes it simpler for creators to spin as many story arcs as they want that can be triggered any time by your actions. It also automatically detects and fixes conflicts in the storyline that you'll inevitably cause as you interact with the characters. Take the bears in the video below the fold, for example.

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Smile for the camera -- and for the TV, and during the walk to the store, and while you're sitting in the living room, in the dark, all alone. Smile, because if you don't, they will come for you. That's the story behind the first trailer for We Happy Few, the new game from Compulsion Studios, maker of PlayStation 4 launch game Contrast. We Happy Few features a "drug-fueled, retrofuturistic city in an alternative 1960s England," filled with citizens with permanent smiles literally affixed to their faces. It's creepy, unsettling and cheerful all at the same time. Think BioShock with a splash of V for Vendetta and a smattering of picture-perfect Stepford.

"I will say that Bioshock wasn't a direct inspiration, it's just that our interests have kind of always aligned with Irrational's games (people made the same comparison with Contrast)," Compulsion marketing director Sam Abbott says. "It's a pretty daunting comparison, given that we're less than one-tenth their size."

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London, UK. 30/11/12.A gamer dressed up as a character from the Super Mario Bros who has been camping outside HMV since Saturday

It's easy to hate on Nintendo. With the Wii U, the company played right into negative consumer expectations by releasing a product derided for its kid-friendly appeal, Fisher-Price toy-like looks, less-than-bleeding-edge silicon, confusing branding and (initially) clunky operating system. The message to the market at the system's launch seemed clear: The gaming giant had fallen behind the times. But that's not quite the truth.

There's a well-reasoned and deeply entrenched philosophy behind the often baffling, public-facing decisions Nintendo makes and that's to deliver high-quality and accessible entertainment experiences on cheap-to-produce (often older), innovative hardware. It's the Nintendo recipe for success as concocted by the domineering former president Hiroshi Yamauchi. It's the reason why Nintendo sits on billions of dollars of cash; why its famed first-party studio -- the home of Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto -- is called Entertainment Analysis and Development, or EAD. The company quite literally agonizes over ways to innovate the concept of "fun."

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In Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, the city of Ombre resembles a fantastical, medieval Venice: elegant stone towers are lined with heavy wood furniture and the people dress in lush fabrics, wielding swords and spears. But Ombre is not Venice; it's an entirely secular society whose citizens put no stock in the idea of an afterlife, and it's a land where powerful magic stems from a collection of rare masks. The Inspettore, Cicero Gavar, returns from exile to investigate an earth-shattering kidnapping, with the help of spells, weapons, his team -- and his sexuality.

"While having the main character be gay and allowing a romance, as BioWare does, is very empowering to a gay player, we hope to serve them in another way -- to show our audience the beauty and humanity of a gay character and how it would translate to real world situations," lead developer Ian Gregory says.

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Remember Ingress, the Google-developed project that entices you to get outside with the promise of some light gaming? On top of iOS and Android, it'll soon work on Android Wear, meaning you can join in the fun with your smartwatch rather than just your smartphone (though you'll still need that too, of course). The idea is to get teams together to play on either on the "enlightened" (establishment) side, or as a rebel on team "resistance." Senior members can create missions, in which players attack, defend or reinforce "portals" based on local landmarks like village squares or statues. The game notifies you when friendly or enemy portals are in range, and whether or not they're under attack -- with a Google Now-style card guiding you to the precise location, as shown below.

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Now you can add "price" alongside "gameplay" to the list of aspects that separates Fable Legends from its forebears. That's because the game's launching as a free-to-play title on Windows 10 and gratis with an Xbox Live Gold subscription on Xbox One. What's it all entail? A lot of similar bits if you've paid attention to how free-to-play stuff typically works (microtransactions for cosmetic items, for example), but with a few unique wrinkles. The official FAQ stresses that you'll be able to play the game from beginning to end without spending any real cash, and that all quests and storylines will be free -- same goes for "everything that affects gameplay." There's a possibility that some customization options won't be purchasable with the in-game currency you earn, and with its rotating system for playable characters, you have the option to permanently unlock a favorite character with cold hard cash, too.

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Finally, a game where the pricing structure is as clever as its mechanics. A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is an adorable puzzle game about a monster trying to make snowmen, from established puzzle-game designer Alan Hazelden, co-creator Benjamin Davis and composer Ryan Roth. It's charming, cute and surprisingly complex, and it's available for $8 right now, though that number will probably change tomorrow. You see, the game's price directly reflects the celsius temperature in London, Hazelden's and Davis' home base, from now through March 10. After such a rough winter for many people, A Good Snowman is Hard to Build offers a cool reason to be thankful for chilly temperatures.

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What seemed so novel and strange about Kirby: Canvas Curse ​when it came out now seems almost quaint. Only one part of the screen can be touched at a time? There aren't gyroscope controls? What is this, an Android store launch game? Please. Just shy of its tenth birthday, though, Canvas Curse still feels like a pristine lesson in touch-control video game design despite its antiquity. It had the depth and challenge of a classic arcade game as well as a strange but clean, immediately understandable interface. Canvas Curse was a colorful dollop of fun that begged for a follow up. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is finally here, and we're playing it for the very first time today on JXE Streams.

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It's odd to feel excited about the return of something that sounds as awful as "toejam," but here we are. The co-creator of ToeJam & Earl, a cult-hit dungeon crawler that launched on the Sega Genesis in 1991, is developing a brand new entry in the series, subtitled Back in the Groove. That's fairly adorable, considering the franchise involves a bunch of hip hop and funk. Creator Greg Johnson and his new team at Humanature Studios have gone full-on indie, currently seeking $400,000 by March 27 on Kickstarter. As of publication, they're more than a quarter of the way there, so things are looking groovy.

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