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 their hands on crafty Nintendo games, try to keep their nerve against Lovecraftian horrors, and share a travel diary from a particularly harrowing Train Jam.
Everyone thought it was crazy when Nintendo revealed the initial Labo kits, but the company hasn’t stopped there. The next step is Labo VR, which mixes the Switch-meets-cardboard toy line with simple virtual-reality experiences. Felicia Miranda recently went hands-on with Nintendo’s first steps into VR and provided impressions from her session. She felt that, despite the surprising announcement, Labo VR makes a ton of sense as a new addition to the Switch family and has a promising future.
Nintendo’s fascination with crafting goes well beyond those cardboard toys, though. The company’s latest game is Yoshi’s Crafted World, the third game in a loose series of platformers adorably rendered with real-world crafting materials. Jordan Minor reviewed the easygoing Yoshi adventure, finding it rises above its simplicity with dense, clever levels built to feel as tactile as possible. “You want to reach out and feel the fuzz,” he wrote.
We talked last week about Google’s big unveiling of its game streaming service, Stadia. Plenty of journalists, analysts, and developers have weighed in on the platform’s potential—and potential downsides—but Mike Andronico spoke to another group of creators who have a stake in how this thing shakes out: YouTubers. Google claims Stadia will have an array of YouTube integration, letting you easily livestream your play session and even allowing viewers to access your play session in their own games as if they were loading up a custom save file. Like everything else Stadia-related, the personalities Mike interviewed were excited by some of the prospects but had even more concerns about unaddressed details.
At Polygon, recently departed Circle member Chelsea Stark reported on the announcement of Telling Lies, the next game from Sam Barlow, the creator of Her Story. This follow-up revisits many of the same concepts that made Barlow’s indie debut such a jarring smash hit, letting players gumshoe their way through a database of interview footage found on an NSA hard drive. Telling Lies biggest difference from its predecessor looks to be its size: more video footage, a larger cast, and a much wider mystery to piece together.
Every year since 2014, the annual Train Jam has had developers riding the rails from Chicago to GDC in San Francisco and spending those 52 hours making games. Elizabeth Ballou was aboard the train this year and wrote a diary of her experiences, painting a portrait of the people she met, the games they made, and the sights she saw along the way. It was a harrowing journey, made much more difficult by the recent horrific flooding in the mid-west, but Elizabeth came out the other end with a thoughtful game and a fantastic story.
And finally, Ronald Gordon shared his thoughts on Conarium, a recent horror game inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of the weird. Unnerved at every scare, Ronald found himself caught up in the game’s unrelenting dread, a product of eerie silence and claustrophobic surroundings. “I learned quickly, Lovecraftian stories are much more unnerving to play than they are to read,” he said.
From Beyond The Circle
High school esports programs have been rolling out across the country over the last few years, and this week LoHud, the online presence for The Journal News, reported on efforts to to get competitive gaming recognized as a high school sport in New York and New Jersey. Unsurprisingly, it’s a complicated question, with the various governing bodies that oversee high school athletics needing to decide whether esports have enough of a positive impact on students.
Meanwhile, for The New York Times, Laura Parker reported on something undeniably positive: the growing wave of games that explore mental health issues. Pointing to indie hits like Night In The Woods, Celeste, and Hellblade, Parker notes that the interactivity in these games gives them a leg up on communicating themes and educating players about mental illness, and with the upcoming Sea Of Solitude published by EA, even major publishers are taking part in the trend.
The developers of those games built them to tell deeply human stories, but over on Kotaku, Luke Winkie reported on a YouTube channel dedicated to the phenomenon of players telling their own tales through a wacky VR chat room. The intrepid documentarian, Syrmor Sherazee, culls stories from the weird world of VRChat, an app that allows users to hang out in digital spaces as one of many strange avatars. Most of Sheazee’s videos are recordings of the kind of foul-mouthed online hijinks you might expect, but his most popular are a special few that capture users telling incredibly personal real-life stories about things like bullying, homelessness, grief, and living with debilitating diseases.
The Elder Scrolls recently celebrated its 25 anniversary, and Polygon marked the occasion with a wonderful oral history of the game that changed the series—and all role-playing games—forever: Morrowind. Reporter Alex Kane tracked down 10 members of the development team to discuss everything from the origins of the game’s unique aesthetic to the making of one of its most infamous quests, “A Falling Wizard”
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.