The Roundup: Sea Of Thieves’ Evolution, Kingdom Hearts’ Fandom And Weedcraft Inc.’s Big Issues

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 the lowdown on the never-ending development of live games, take a trip to the heart of Kingdom Hearts fandom, break down an unusually quiet scene from the latest Marvel movie, and fill us in on some good old fashioned virtual corruption.

A few weeks back, we highlighted Heather Alexandra’s recap of the bumpy road Sea Of Thieves has taken to get to its much-improved current state. This week, Heather published an interview with Joe Neate, the game’s executive producer, about where the now one-year-old game has been and where it’s going. Neate gives some tasty tidbits about the multiplayer modes and new stories players will be able to find, but his most interesting insights came when talking about the process of launching a live game, watching the feedback flood in, and determining how to address it.

And a few months back, we noted Waypoint’s podcast mini-series about the story of Kingdom Hearts, where Austin Walker and members of the site’s staff worked to untangle the series’ infamously convoluted mythology. That mini-series came to a close this week with a finale focused on letters from Kingdom Hearts fans who wrote in to describe why the series means so much to them. People not in the know might be surprised to hear just how formative Kingdom Hearts was for players of a certain age. The letters highlighted here provide a great—and occasionally very personal and emotional—gateway into the connection these characters and stories formed with their most passionate fans.

Leave it to EVE Online to give us one of the stranger—but not all that surprising—stories of the week. Jordan Minor broke down the tale of corrupt space politician Brisc Rubal, who was ousted from his seat on a player advocacy council and banned from the game after developers found out he was sharing confidential information to benefit himself and his associates. Turns out, Brisc Rubal is the online persona of a real-life politician, which provides this story with an extra helping of catharsis. (Eve Online has a diverse political ecosystem itself, including a well-known robotic scientist who goes by the name of Space Pope, complete with the proper religious garb, as we pointed out a while back.)

Our critics are able to write with verve and insight about a whole lot more than just games. For example, in Unwinnable’s March issue—and recently published onlineSara Clemens took some inspiration from Gay Talese’s classic profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” to get to the heart of an intimate, domestic scene tucked into the whiz-bang action of Captain Marvel.

And finally, we have another bit of stimulating audio goodness this week. Harold Goldberg recorded a conversation with Scott Alexander, a former Critics Circle member and now a frequent game writer for Devolver Digital projects, talking about his latest game, Weedcraft Inc. Alexander talks about how the game approaches the many nuanced issues stemming from marijuana use today, the research that went into constructing its script, and the difficulty of bringing the game to market.

From Beyond The Circle

Sports and culture site The Undefeated published a very interesting, accessible profile of Victor “Punk” Woodley, a Philadelphia-born Street Fighter phenom who’s found his way back to the top of Street Fighter V’s competitive scene. The article’s author, Brando Simeo Starkey, spoke to Woodley and players who’ve either observed or competed against him throughout his rise to find out what makes him such a superior talent. To help explain and contextualize these difficult concepts, Starkey keenly draws a parallel between Woodley and next-level NBA star Steph Curry, both of whom boast the uncanny ability to read opponents and make perfect split-second decisions.

Writing for Variety, Emily Gera went deep into the future of input devices and so-called “serious games,” those designed for some utility other than entertainment, such as education or training. Much of her focus was on CTRL-labs, a New York-based start-up that’s developing a neural-interface that fits inside a wristband and can read the impulses a person sends to their hands. The company envisions it as the future of interaction with technology at large, but for now, it’s also a fun way to play Asteroids without a controller.

It’s long been reported that Amazon shipping warehouses use game-like techniques to push their overworked employees to work even harder, but a recent Medium post from an employee at one of those “Fulfillment Centers” shows the company might be leaning into gamifying work in some distressing ways. The writer, Postyn Smith, described a suite of honest-to-goodness videogames Amazon has paid to develop and install on screens all over his warehouse with the supposed aim of helping workers “pass the time a little better.” Smith claims the reality is these “games,” which often involve employees competing with one another, are all about slowing down the dreadfully high turnover rate at Amazon facilities and, of course, tricking these stressed out workers into working even harder.

That’s 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.

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