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 look back to the creation of a transcendent classic and look forward to a few buzzworthy releases on the horizon.
The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series turned 20 recently, and over at The Ringer, Circle member Anthony John Agnello assembled a huge oral history chronicling the making and cultural impact of the epochal original. Anthony spoke with tons of figures who played key roles in the game’s development and release, from veteran developers, who recalled its decidedly silly beginnings as an outgrowth of the Bruce Willis videogame vehicle Apocalypse, to Les Claypool of the band Primus, whose song “Jerrry Was a Race Car Driver” appeared on the game’s celebrated soundtrack, to Tony Hawk himself.
While Anthony was looking back to an all-time classic and bona fide cultural phenomenon, a few of our critics were looking ahead with previews of bold upcoming releases. First there’s Ebenezer Samuel, who gave us a sneak peek at the next game from Obsidian Entertainment, The Outer Worlds. It’s a first-person role-playing game in the style of modern Fallout, explicitly calling back to Obsidian’s work on the celebrated, morally complex spinoff Fallout: New Vegas. Ebenezer’s 90-minute demo, full of plans gone wrong and wild firefights, left him feeling like this is the true New Vegas successor so many Fallout fans have been clamoring for.
And at Tom’s Guide, Jorge Jimenez looked way ahead to 2020 and Disintegration, the debut game from V1 Interactive, a studio co-founded by creators of Halo and SOCOM. As you might expect from a descendant of those titles, it’s a shooter (of sorts), with a big emphasis on online multiplayer. But unlike those straightforward shoot’em ups, Disintegration puts you above the battlefield, piloting a small, heavily armed aircraft and ordering around a bunch of grounded soldiers. Its combination of flexible first-person combat and battlefield tactics, both of which are expanded even further by a wide variety of character classes and abilities, had Jorge “excited to see what else” the game has to offer, especially considering we haven’t yet to even see its singleplayer modes.
Also this week, Circle intern Ronald Gordon took us deep into the prehistoric survival drama of Panache Digital’s Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. This new, long-gestating game—designed by Patrice Désilets, the celebrated director behind Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Assassin’s Creed—throws players all the way back to the dawn of man, charging them with surviving in the prehistoric jungles of Africa and fostering their lineage of primates as they learn, adapt, and evolve over eight million years. Needless to say, it’s a perilous task, but Ronald was especially impressed with how Ancestors employed the evolutionary notion of adaptability as the player’s primary means of keeping themselves alive. “You have to do as much as you can, and interact with anything you can, in order to prolong your survival,” Ronald wrote, “even if only by a bit.”
And finally, we’ll take a slight detour from the world of games for an excellent essay by Sara Clemens in Unwinnable about Netflix’s series GLOW and its exploration of performance—in art, in life, and in everything in between. Considering its subject, the fictionalized lives of the cast behind a real-world women’s pro wrestling TV show, it’s an extremely appropriate theme for the series to obsess over. But as Sara writes, this rumination goes well beyond the confines of the squared circle to reflect the way performance “so often becomes a way to discover personal truths or to try new identities […] or a way to keep aspects of personal identity hidden, for safety or comfort.” It’s one of the best shows on TV today.
From Beyond The Circle
This week, GamesIndustry.Biz brought us another chapter in the long-simmering conversation about major game publishers—particularly Ubisoft—dressing up their works with modern social and political themes while, in the end, trying not to advocate for any explicit viewpoints and sheepishly denying there’s anything “political” about them. The site spoke with Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot to discuss the issue, with the exec rolling out the same “all sides” and “games need to be fun” reasoning that has left so many critics and journalists endlessly frustrated. “We have to be careful to remain entertaining,” Guillemot said. “There are other mediums that can tell you more about different subjects. The goal each time is to make it believable, but still fun and interesting. It’s a thin line we have to follow as an industry.”
As many games writers have said about this thorny subject, the creators working at Ubisoft and other major publishers know their games contain political messages and themes, whether explicit or implicit, but the people in charge have decided this song and dance is better for their public image than risking raising the ire of abusive online vocal minorities. Rather than waiting around for these international corporations to change and own up, the onus is on us critics to deconstruct their games and hold them accountable for what they’re saying about the world. Circle member Nick Capozzoli’s old review of The Division, another troubling Ubisoft game, is a perfect, ever-relevant example.
We here at the Critics Circle always like to keep an eye on games-related education opportunities, particularly those in New York. Manhattan College has an interesting non-credit program about to start up that’s all about the intersection of esports and game streaming with traditional business topics like brand building, content marketing, and audience activation. The six-week course is diving into everything from planning, managing, and broadcasting esports events to technical aspects of video production and pursuing sponsorship opportunities.
Also this week, Circle founder Harold Goldberg was interviewed by members of the website NoobFeed. It was a wide-ranging chat that touched on his career, journalistic ethics, and tips for young writers, but it was also a great chance to talk about the Circle’s outreach projects and the New York Game Awards. Nice job, Harold!
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.