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 clash with FromSoftware’s latest punishing adventure, breakdown Google’s big streaming plans, and look back at the legacy of a few games, old and new(ish).
This week’s big new release is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the new game from vaunted developer FromSoftware and the latest installment in its oeuvre of taxing, stolid action RPGs. Reviews aren’t ready yet, but Austin Walker wrote some critical impressions at Waypoint analyzing his first 20 hours with the game. Although it’s cut from the same cloth as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, Austin argues Sekiro is set apart by the way it pressures players into action and danger, rather than allowing would-be warriors to keep their distance. “From the game’s combat design, to its traversal and stealth mechanics, and through its narrative themes, this is a game about clashing,” Austin writes. “Said differently, Sekiro demands you come into risky contact with the people and world around you.”
The biggest gaming news of the week was of course Google’s announcement of Stadia, a game streaming service the tech company plans to launch in 2019. Dan Howley wrote a comprehensive rundown of all the details Google was willing to share at its big GDC coming out party—details that don’t include how people will actually pay for Stadia games and how game creators will be paid for letting Google profit off their hard work. As Dan mentions, Google is also taking steps to ramp up internal game development, such as hiring Jade Raymond, famed game producer of series like Assassin’s Creed and this year’s New York Game Awards Legend Award winner, to lead its first-party development house.
While Google was looking way into gaming’s future, Anthony John Agnello took a look back at one of the most beloved landmarks of its past. Super Metroid’s original Japanese release occurred 25 years ago this week, and Anthony celebrated with an ode to what he argued is its most lasting, unmatched achievement: its living, uncompromising wilderness. “The best games it inspired are infused with that same organic potency,” he writes. “Failing to capture that essence is why so many modern games that borrow its structure fail to feel as powerful as Nintendo and Sakamoto’s work. The coolest, most intricate map and the neatest weapons are no replacement for the sense of a living world.”
Heather Alexandra was looking back, too, at Rare’s ever-changing multiplayer pirate adventure Sea Of Thieves and the highs and lows of its first year since release. As Heather details, it’s been a long road of updates and expansions—and a surprising growth in Twitch viewers—but by the accounts of dedicated players, the game has grown into the freewheeling, easy-to-consume pirate playset they always wanted it to be. And as the announcement of even more big changes goes to show, Rare isn’t stopping just yet.
At The Esports Observer, Imad Khan was investigating a possible future of a different sort: a future where VR has a permanent home in the world of esports. Oculus has partnered with esports promoter ESL to build competitive scenes around action multiplayer games like Ready At Dawn’s Echo Combat, but right now, Imad reports, viewership remains low. Accessibility to the games themselves might be one hurdle, as “esports viewers tend to watch games they themselves personally play or are familiar with,” Imad says, and the financial barrier around modern VR is still too high for many people. That could change as the technology becomes cheaper and arcade-style VR centers become more popular, but time will tell.
And finally, our newest Circle intern Zante Barker provided us with some thoughts about Tetris 99, the surprising and vicious competitive Tetris game that landed on Switch earlier this year. Zante has been a lifelong Tetris fan and loves 99’s cutthroat competition. But she finds the pressure for precision is at odds with the Switch’s controls. Also, would it have killed them to add a little more music?
From Beyond The Circle
While there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the technological advances Stadia represents, there’s just as much room to be concerned about its implications for games and the people who make their living creating them, especially given Google’s product history and business practices. BBC tech reporter Dave Lee did a good job summing up the questions and the possible slippery slope a Stadia success story could lead us down, and a panel of industry analysts interviewed by GamesIndustry.biz echoed similar wariness, especially if Google chooses to go with a subscription model that would encourage companies to keep users playing by any means possible. We’re many years away from any of this playing out, but with the number of loose threads Google has left dangling with its announcement, the anxieties are already there.
Google’s big announcement emanated from the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco (more on that next week, most likely), where this year, one of the big topics is labor in the game industry. In addition to all the discussions about unionization, one of the more talked-about sessions in GDC’s early days involved forming studios that operate as worker cooperatives, where the company operates without a hierarchy and is owned and operated by the workers. Emma Kidwell reported on the panel, which was hosted by the founders of The Glory Society, one of the worker co-ops that has popped up in the industry over the last few years along with KO-OP, developers of GNOG, and Motion Twin, developers of Dead Cells. Naomi Clark, a professor and co-chair at the NYU Game Center, published a great Twitter thread from the panel, providing photos and commentary.
One of the common threads in The Roundup over the last several weeks has been praise for Apex Legends’ handling of inclusivity, whether through its diverse cast or accessible, anonymous in-game communication tools. Perhaps looking to capitalize on that goodwill and prove to the ridiculous haters of the world that, yes, inclusion is what people want, EA this week published the results of a survey saying the overwhelming majority of players support such initiatives. The publisher found that 45 percent of responders said they would be “likelier to play” a game with diverse characters, accessibility options, and friendlier in-game chat. Be sure to check out Jenny Shi’s full report on the study’s data for some more interesting, heartening statistics.
That does it for this week’s Roundup. 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.