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, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for our critics, who had barely just enough time to recover from E3 before being confronted with an onslaught of compelling new releases. Plus, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft team up to oppose an especially dangerous foe.
Games have risen from their post-E3 slumber in a big way, dousing our critics in a deluge of new releases. First up, there’s Judgment, a detective-themed spinoff from Sega’s beloved Yakuza series. Taking place in the same seedy, bustling Tokyo neighborhood as the main series, this offshoot put players not in the shoes of a mobster with a heart of gold but a disgraced lawyer turned private eye. In his review, Jorge Jimenez noted that the overall game is a bit thinner than its jam-packed Yakuza counterparts, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style and legal drama. You may even “learn a bit of the Japanese legal system along the way,” Jorge says.
And then there’s Super Mario Maker 2, Nintendo’s sequel to its ingenious Mario construction set. Jordan Minor has been playing the game and, as expected, he reports it’s a whole lot more of the same stuff that made the first game so brilliant. What Jordan didn’t expect was for his girlfriend, who doesn’t usually spend much time playing games, to take over the Mario-making duties and play the game more than him. One of this series’ great beauties is the sandbox it creates for experimenting and learning the most fundamental elements of game design, and that’s definitely been in play here as Jordan experiences the joy of watching his partner’s “artistic growth” from “baby levels” to malicious death traps.
Dan Ackerman took a look at another recent release starring an investigator: Frogwares’ Lovecraft-inspired The Sinking City. Calling it “A Lovecraft game as reimagined by David Lynch” (which is a heck of a sell), Dan felt the game’s atmosphere—“all rain and ruin” in a flooded New England town—and investigative bent lifted it beyond the limitations of its mid-budget development. You can read more of his thoughts on the game here, and while he was at it, Dan also rounded up a handful of other Lovecraft-tinged titles he recommends for fans of weird fiction. [Author’s note: Might I also suggest the The Last Door, a two-season episodic adventure game that builds more atmosphere and dread with lo-fi pixel art than most games do with a bazillion polygons?]
Circle intern Ronald Gordon also dipped into some horror gaming, as he delivered his Insight into Layers Of Fear 2. While the first game explored the twisted past and wild hallucinations of an ambitious painter, this new sequel puts you in the mind of a troubled actor and, Ronald surmises, asks the question “But what if an actor’s character wasn’t something he had to develop, but instead was a product of his own demons?”
And finally, in non-new release content, the latest episode of “Unmissable,” Sara Clemens’ pop-culture podcast for Unwinnable, is out, and it’s all about Mass Effect. Sara and her regular co-host, David Shimomura, are joined by Unwinnable contributor Gavin Craig to cover all the highs and lows of BioWare’s space-opera series. There’s some especially great discussion of the much-decried ending of Mass Effect 3, specifically Sara’s recollection of a few small, powerful moments that not all players would’ve had the chance to see.
From Beyond The Circle
This week, Kotaku published yet another investigative report on a major game studio’s distressing work culture. This time it’s Treyarch, the Activision-owned studio that most recently produced Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 last year. Jason Schreier interviewed numerous developers who worked on that game and described a chaotic creative process, full of discarded work and a race to the finish that had many developers working more than 60 hours per week for long stretches. But the biggest impropriety here is the treatment of contract workers, who are the most vulnerable, worst paid, and often most exploited workers in the industry. Schreier’s sources paint an especially dire life for contractors and testers at Treyarch, who struggled through regular 12+ hour days in an attempt to pay the rent and were allegedly treated like second-class citizens. The saddest thing about this story is that, as we’ve seen in recent years through these sorts of exposes, these practices are the norm at major publishers. Hopefully, with more dutifully reported stories like this and a more informed gaming public, that culture might finally change.
And speaking of sad things, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have done the unthinkable and joined forces to fight a common threat: the Trump administration’s proposed tariffs on consumer goods manufactured in China. That list happens to include videogame consoles, which would get slapped with a 25 percent tariff if this proposal ever became reality. As Gamasutra reports, the three major console makers wrote a joint letter arguing against the proposal, saying this tariff would have an “enormous impact and undue economic harm[…]on the entire video game ecosystem” and “disrupt our companies’ businesses and add significant costs that would depress sales of video game consoles and the games and services that drive the profitability of this market segment.” The full letter is available to read here.
Morgan Romine is a lot of impressive things: researcher, holder of a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, co-founder of the historic Frag Dolls esports team. These days, she’s also the director of AnyKey, an advocacy group promoting diversity in esports and gaming at large that primarily focuses on expanding the presence of women in esports. Romine and AnyKey have spent several years studying the barriers that hold women back from esports competition and the best methods for tearing those barriers down. This week, Romine published a Medium post weighing in on the debate over women’s esports competitions, concluding that while these tournaments “must not be the only tool we use to increase the participation of women in competitive gaming” they are an important method for “increasing visibility, competitive experience, and confidence among girl and women players.” The whole post is essential reading, offering up a snapshot of AnyKey’s research into this woefully under-discussed topic.
That’s all for this week. Thanks 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.