The Roundup: Game of the Year, FF XV, Unexpected Joy & Yonder!

(I will totally play a Stranger Things x Final Fantasy crossover. There needs to be an serendipitous elevator encounter between the Duffer Brothers and Phil Rogers to make this happen.)

Hello Circle people! It’s Jon again, back with another Circle Roundup and hoping you’ve all had a lovely Thanksgiving.

Today’s Roundup is brought to you by my personal hero of the week, Manabu Ikeda. Ikeda just finished a massive, 13 x 10 foot illustration titled Rebirth. The piece is so intricate it took him 3 and a half years to complete it, and if that wasn’t impressive enough, he was forced to draw with his non-dominant hand for months after dislocating his right shoulder in a skiing accident. Be sure to watch the video at the end of the article to get a better understanding of how huge this piece is, and watch this to see all the narrative details he packed into it.

And with that, the Roundup:

Chelsea Stark reported on Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, a beautiful upcoming game by new developer Prideful Sloth. So far, the most interesting thing about the game is that it seems completely pacifist. Yonder is set on the island of Gemea, a magical place which is being threatened by an evil force. Your character will assist Gemea’s residents through farming, crafting, cooking, fishing, and brewing, with not a word mentioned about combat. Read Chelsea’s full report here.

Digging the new HBO show Westworld? Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have repeatedly mentioned videogames as a big influence on the show. Joshua Rivera has 10 games that Nolan and Joy probably drew their inspiration from, selected for their approach to open-world environments and shocking narrative upsets. Check out Joshua’s list here.

With 2017 dawning over us, Christopher Byrd and Michael Thomsen compiled their top 10 videogames of 2016. 2016 was a year where gamers seemed to demand more innovation: blockbuster titles like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare made less of a splash than their predecessors, VR is on the cusp of mass adoption, and smaller titles like INSIDE were met with critical acclaim. Personally, their top 10 list is my favorite so far because of its variety and celebration of bold yet well-executed design goals. Read Chris and Michael’s list here.

A while back, Heather Alexandra wrote about how repetition in videogames can be an unexpected source of joy. The sort of joy she’s talking about is distinct from grinding, however, which is repetition in a game as a Skinner box to get loot or character progress. Heather spoke of how these repetitive tasks can “ground you in a space, connect you to certain feelings, and provide a unique kind of comfort”. It made me think of the sorts of repetitive things that cultivate fond nostalgia, like how my mother always made noodles on rainy days (to this day, I crave noodles whenever it rains). It also made me think of why we, as human beings, have traditions. Once a year, sirens throughout the entire country of Israel ring for exactly two minutes. For those two minutes, every Israeli stops what they are doing and stands in silence to observe Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), even if they are driving on the highway. This practice is the antithesis of comfort, but it certainly connects us to some powerful feelings and places us on somber, dare I say holy, ground. Read (and listen!) to Heather’s piece here.

Jordan Minor picked a Game of the Year for 2016, and it’s a game that doesn’t exist, although it really should. Star Wars 1313 was too awesome to see the light of day. It starred a young, ruthless Boba Fett beginning his career as a bounty hunter in the crime-infested 1313th level of Coruscant, where the wretched villains and criminals of the Star Wars underworld plied their dark trade. For a franchise that constantly took on the lofty perspective of a Jedi knight, Star Wars 1313 was refreshing. Republic Commando showed us what the galaxy far, far away looked through the eyes of war-weathered clone commando. What we saw were 12 foot wookiees that hurled battle droids like sweatshirts and trandoshans that had to be gutted apart with vibroblades rather than the graceful, sterilizing slash of a lightsaber. Star Wars 1313 promised us a return ticket to that dangerous, gritty side of the galaxy, but alas, it was killed after the franchise was purchased by Disney. Yes, Jordan — I am a fellow lamentor. Read Jordan’s dirge for Star Wars 1313 here.

And now for news outside of the Circle. . .

IGN says that Fallout and Baldur’s Gate changed RPGs forever, and if you don’t believe that, I think you’d at least have to concede that they set the bar for RPGs pretty high. I never owned a PlayStation, so while the rest of my generation was playing Final Fantasy 7 as their formative RPG, Fallout was mine. It was a radical title for me, mainly because it was the first game I ever played that wasn’t about good vs. evil. It was about opportunity vs. sacrifice. It also ended on a total bummer, because your big reward at the end was permanent exile. Although you saved your vault from certain extinction, you were also walking proof of a thriving outside world, and the curiosity that incites was a liability the overseer was not willing to accept. Never before have I been completely screwed over in a videogame for doing the right thing. It was awesome. See IGN (and Cup Noodle, apparently?) break down why Fallout and BG were landmark RPGs here.

The first reviews for Final Fantasy XV, the game that Conan O’Brien brutally dismissed as “an epic waste of time”, are finally coming in! So far, the reception has been good. Everyone digs it. What reviewers are split on, however, is the story. Read some of the summaries here.

Videogames are synonymous with violence. I mean, let’s face it, the games that aren’t about pewpew and slashslash make up a tiny, tiny fraction of the medium. Could that prevalence of violence in videogames actually be holding the medium back? An upcoming VR game called The American Dream is challenging what seems to be a national fetishization of guns, but writer Lucy O’Brien considered how our wholesale acceptance of violence as a given of the medium can perpetuate bad writing. For example, Marcus Holloway, the protagonist of Watch Dogs 2, is portrayed as mirthful and easy-going. Yet during the course of the game, he kills dozens of people without a moment of doubt or reflection. For anyone that hasn’t grown up on videogames, this is a glaring narrative hole that either completely suspends disbelief or leads us to believe that Marcus is a horrifying sociopath. Read more here.

What makes a game an esport? In the old days, any game could be tagged as an esport as long as there was a rigorous competitive community, but the new League of Legends patch is a step towards making the esport label more exclusive and distinct. Riot Games will be adding a practice mode to League of Legends with patch 6.24, at the behest of players who have been asking for training tools since the game’s release. Currently, the only way to get better at League is to play matches. You can’t run drills to refine specific skills like you can in traditional sports. On December 7, League players will finally be able to train in the same way that Steph Curry can practice 250 shots (minimum!) a day. This is a huge precedent that can radically change the way we view and play esports. Read more here.

And that’s all he wrote! Tune in next week for another Circle Roundup!

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