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 go to war—and school—in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, introduce us to a virtual art museum, and take us inside Concrete Genie’s artful adventure.
Over its long history, Fire Emblem has gone from Japan-only obscurity to cult obsession to legitimate hit. Now, with the Switch’s runaway success and an added dash of Harry Potter-esque fantasy boarding-school simulation, the series’ latest installment, Three Houses, is poised to be its biggest yet. Our critics are loving it, too. In his review, Austin Walker called it “the reinvention the series needed,” lauding the new edition for giving players even more time and more meaningful ways to invest in their soldiers. That’s partially because they’re not just knights and mages anymore; they’re also your students, and the game manages to communicate all the joy of watching them grow, Austin argues.
And Russ Frushtick echoed those thoughts in his Three Houses review, marveling at how the game’s two seemingly disparate halves—at once a game of turn-based fantasy warfare and a game of micro-managing a school for teenage soldiers—come together into something seamless, replayable, and moving. “What’s so bizarre is that none of these elements play second fiddle,” Russ wrote. “The story, the relationships, the tactical gameplay — they’re all treated as equally important, building to an even greater crescendo as they collide.”
At Unwinnable, Stu Horvath took readers on a tour of The Kremer Museum, a “surreal,” as Stu describes it, virtual reality space housing 74 paintings from the Kremer Collection’s assemblage of Dutch & Flemish 17th century art. While “There is nothing like seeing a painting in person,” Stu says, this sort of virtual reality simulation is a step toward making humanity’s incredible works that much more readily available to that many more people. Stu also interviewed one of the co-founder’s of the program, who shared plenty of insight into the real-world Kremer Collection and the making of this stunning virtual exhibition.
Over on the Critics Circle site, intern Isaac Espinosa gave us his take on Mario Maker 2. He was blown away by the many additions Nintendo brought for this sequel, particularly the items and enemies that are so unique they have to be exclusive to just one Mario Maker style. “Whether you’re the one playing the levels, or making them for others to enjoy, Super Mario Maker 2 truly deserves recognition as one of the best Mario games to date,” he wrote.
Also on the Circle site this week, founder Harold Goldberg and senior intern Kimari Rennis recorded a two part podcast about their hands-on experience with PixelOpus’ upcoming game, Concrete Genie. Part 1 (also embedded above) features the duo discussing the game, its themes, its look, and its creation, while Part 2 features an interview PixelOpus creative director Dominic Robilliard and Art Director Jeff Sangalli.
And finally, let’s check back in with our exciting summer games journalism course. This week, the class took a trip to CBS Interactive headquarters, where Circe member Dan Ackerman gave everyone a tour of the CNET studio and talked to students about finding your way into a career in media. Thanks, Dan!
From Beyond The Circle
Speaking of the summer journalism program: One of the class’ big themes is confronting bullying and harassment. It’s an issue for high-school age students, but there’s also the tremendous wave of toxicity that the constantly crashes into members of the games media. And of course, there’s the anonymous harassment many players have come up against while playing games online, something that, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League, is depressingly common. According to the ADL, data suggests 74 percent of adults who play games online say they have experienced harassment of some sort. The report also attempts to extrapolate the effect of online harassment beyond the confines of a nasty gaming session, saying “23 percent of harassed players become less social and 15 percent feel isolated as a result of in-game harassment.” You can read the full report for further information on these and many other metrics.
Blizzard recently unveiled its next Overwatch character, Sigma, a scientist who suffered extreme psychological damage after being exposed to a black hole. The character’s origin story and Blizzard’s use of mental illness tropes to depict a villainous character attracted criticism in the ensuing days, particularly one Overwatch artist’s explanation that Sigma doesn’t wear shoes because bare feet “sell the ‘asylum’ look a bit more” and “in many institutions, patients are not allowed to have shoes because they might cause harm with the laces.” (In an interview with Polygon, Blizzard staff later offered a simpler, less ignorant explanation: Sigma floats instead of walking, and therefore doesn’t need to wear shoes.) Take This, a mental health advocacy group for the gaming industry, chimed in on the character as well, noting, among other concerns, how this representation of psychiatric treatment facilities is inaccurate and, ultimately, helps add to the stigma surrounding mental health treatment.
The always excellent Game Devs of Color Expo went down in Harlem this past weekend and was another roaring success. A video featuring every panel and talk—including an appearance by Circle member Sherri Smith—has been made available on the GDoC Expo YouTube page (and is embedded above). Also, be sure to check out this enlightening profile of the Expo and why the diverse space it creates for marginalized artists is so important over at GameDaily.Biz.
That’ll do 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.