By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s weekly look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. This week, our critics get angry in Ape Out, find disappointing racism on the streets of pixelated New York, and dig into the special sauce behind the Fortnite phenomenon. Plus, a vital games conference returns to New York and Apex Legends gives its female players a bittersweet respite.
Respawn’s Apex Legends dropped onto the battle royale landscape and immediately attracted tons of players and media attention, leaving many wondering what kind of effect its success might have on the genre’s free-to-play juggernaut, Fortnite. This week, Felicia Miranda wrote that Fortnite is doing just fine, and in fact, it’s borrowing some popular ideas from its new competitor to make it better than ever. This willingness to iterate on the game quickly and effectively is Fortnite’s biggest innovation, Felicia argues, and it’s an advantage that has helped Epic hold the attention of its massive audience.
Christopher Byrd reviewed Ape Out for The Washington Post this week. The game, which has roots in and developers from the NYU Game Center, fuses gorilla-on-human ultraviolence with Saul Bass-inspired visuals and a reactive jazz soundtrack. Chris found himself troublingly caught up in all the brutality, but it was the detail and allusions of the game’s aesthetic that he says “energized” Ape Out’s simplistic game design.
For Unwinnable’s February issue—and recently published online—Sara Clemens reviewed the police adventure Beat Cop. While Sara was charmed by the game’s colorful, pixelated Brooklyn, she was left baffled by its mounds of unquestioned racism and sexism. The game’s developers—who aren’t American, it’s worth pointing out—went so far as to begin Beat Cop with a message about its ’80s inspirations, which, Sara writes, ends up coming off more like a “directive to ‘relax’ about the various white characters incessantly calling the black ones ‘darkies’ or referring to an Asian dry cleaner (yikes) as a ‘gook’ (double yikes).”
All signs point to us being on the precipice of a huge shift in the way we consume video games. In addition to physical copies and digital downloads, we may soon also have the option of all-you-can-play streaming subscriptions a la Netflix. And with GDC around the corner, Jordan Minor reported on how one of the biggest players in this upcoming fight, Google, is teasing some sort of announcement at that annual industry gathering. As Jordan mentions, Google has already had a solid showing with its game streaming tech, which began public testing earlier this year, and made a major hire by bringing on Andrew Yoon Legend Award winner Jade Raymond, famed former Assassin’s Creed producer, as a vice president. We’ll see what Google has to say about its gaming plans on March 19.
Ronald Gordon, former DreamYard intern and founder of the City Tech Videogame Critics Circle, shared some thoughts about the high-flying platformer The King’s Bird. Ronald was smitten with the art and music, but it was the game’s smooth, freeform sense of flight that captured his imagination. It’s “a game that can help you realize how good it is to be free,” he wrote.
And finally, we have an exciting bit of Circle news to announce. We’ve entered a partnership with the American Museum Of Natural History! Our first contribution to this indelible New York institution will be a panel discussing T. rexes in video games (among other things) on March 21 as part of the museum’s T. rex exhibit and its teen gaming night. We can’t wait!
From Beyond The Circle
The organizers of the Game Devs Of Color Expo announced this week the conference will return to the Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture in Harlem on July 27, 2019. This is the fourth annual GDOC Expo and the third year it’s being held at the Schomburg Center. This vital event includes an expo where games will be on display and a conference track with talks and panels, all with the goal of showcasing creators of color and holding important conversations about videogames. You can find out more about the expo at its official site and you can purchase tickets here.
Speaking of important conversations, talk about the dire state of videogame preservation is one that’s happening more and more these days. This week, it actually made it into a mainstream publication, with a speculative article in The Washington Post. The author, Beau Brunson, wondered what could be done with copyright to make playing old games easier and offered some thoughts about what it means to lose access to cherished retro titles. “Admittedly, losing The Goonies II to the ash heap of history would not be a great tragedy, he wrote. “But it would be a small one, and I would lose the ability to share a small joy of my childhood with my daughter.”
Thankfully, there are some folks out there working very hard to help preserve games and game culture. One such group is the Video Game History Foundation, a non-profit founded by developer and former journalist Frank Cifaldi. The organization is putting together and digitizing archives of gaming ephemera, like marketing materials, and it famously unearthed and released the unreleased NES version of SimCity. Procuring these materials and preserving them properly is expensive business, and to help, the History Foundation excepts donations, as well as supporters on Patreon. And starting this week, anyone who purchases the current StoryBundle collection of independent books on game history and development can choose to donate 10 percent of their purchase price to the Video Game History Foundation. Books and charity? What could be better?
Getting back to Apex Legends for a second, Eurogamer this week published an op-ed by Elizabeth Henges about how its wealth of built-in communication tools makes it “a game-changing multiplayer experience for women.” Respawn’s shooter has rightfully been praised for its innovative systems that let players coordinate without speaking, but Henges argues this is more than just a novel communication tool; it’s been a godsend for women who are afraid of exposing themselves and opening themselves up to the awful, gendered harassment that plagues online gaming. As helpful as it might have been for women, Henges notes this is kind of like slapping a Band-Aid on a broken arm. “Its robust pinging system offers a solution for women who don’t want to engage verbally with random teammates and hide behind the anonymity of usernames and the voices of their chosen Legend,” she writes. “But the fact of the matter is, women shouldn’t have to hide their identities in the first place.”
That’s all we’ve got for you this week. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you next week!
Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.