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 fall into the wordy embrace of massive, wordy computer RPGs, both new and old. Plus, a new Star Wars game impresses, a new skating game breaks the mold, and education takes center stage at an illuminating Ubisoft event. And stand by NoLimitJay (See below)!
We might be in the middle of a deluge of hot new fall releases, but it’s worth taking a break to acknowledge just how amazing it is that the three of the most influential PC role-playing games of all time—Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, and Planescape: Torment—made their way onto consoles for the first time ever this week. Joshua Rivera took this opportunity to write about the games on Kotaku, espousing the complex decision-making, reactive worlds, and literary sensibilities that make them classics worth playing today. “Games are about interesting decisions, the stories told by the choices that we make in them,” he wrote. “Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment make this a literal part of the stories they tell, with a level of nuance rarely seen in games before them and since.”
However, some of the critics delivering rave reviews for the recently released Disco Elysium might contend that it belongs in the same conversation. A surreal descendant of those Dungeons & Dragons-inspired classics, ZA/UM’s Disco Elysium mammoth RPG concerns an amnesiac detective maneuvering through the city Revachol, doing all the sleuthing, interrogating, imbibing, fighting, or nothing that your heart desires. Christopher Byrd wrote about the game at The Washington Post’s newly launched “Launcher” gaming section, calling it “riveting delirium” that he’d “recommend to anyone who can click a mouse or has a taste for the surreal.”
Looking ahead to one of the biggest games still on the horizon for this season, Felicia Miranda reported in with impressions from a recent hands-on session with Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Like many observers, Felicia says the game’s reveal at E3 earlier this year had her doubting whether this would be a Star Wars adventure worth taking, but this recent preview has raised her expectations. That’s mostly for the game’s open-ended exploration and intense combat, which Felicia feels, at least in the portion she played, is setting the game apart far more than its ho-hum hero and unspectacular writing.
At Polygon, Samit Sarkar gave us an overview of and behind the scenes look at Session, a new skateboarding simulation game that hit Steam Early Access last month. The operative word in that sentence is “simulation,” as Session deviates about as far from the quick and fantastical skating of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as you could possibly imagine. And that’s precisely what its creators wanted, with Marc-André Houde, co-founder of developer Crea-ture Studios, telling Samit that his craving for a more realistic skating game goes all the way back to loving the slower, harder-to-master version of digital skateboarding he got after enabling the “Sim Mode” cheat in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.
And finally, Circle intern Isaac Espinosa shared his experience attending the “Keys to Learn” event hosted by Ubisoft and Games for Change. The exhibition showcased Ubisoft’s recent attempts to branch out into educational gaming, especially with the use of some of its most recognizable series. Isaac tried his hand at Rabbids Coding, which turns computer programming concepts into easy to understand puzzles, and Discover Tour: Ancient Greece, the exploration and education mode released for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. But it was the prototype for something Ubi is calling Project Oikos, a two-player game that teaches ecology and science through cooperative play, that captured his attention. More important still were the lessons about games as tools for education—in the sciences, politics, and just plain expressions of the human experience—that Isaac says he came away with. “It may be more difficult to engage young people with games for education at first, but the ultimate result of learning many new points of view in new ways can be really potent,” he wrote.
From Beyond The Circle
The opening of The Washington Post’s “Launcher” section also brought with it an insightful look at how videogames and streaming can offer a particularly potent escape for disabled players. Reporter Hawken Miller spoke with several players and streamers who’ve found support and strength through playing games and the online communities devoted to them. The story also includes some input from Fred Davison, the current designer of the QuadStick, an alternative hands-free controller that allows people to control games with just their mouths and breathing through the customization of various sensors. “This is a whole other level of satisfaction and tremendous reward with the things people say to me,” Davison told The Post. “I wish I would have come across this a lot earlier.”
Over on Kotaku, data reporter Dhruv Mehrotralast and last year’s New York Videogame Award winner for game journalism, Cecilia D’Anastasio, published a huge story chronicling all the innovations and controversies throughout the history of the location-tracking tech behind Niantic’s games—and trying to figure out what data Niantic is collecting on its players and why. The result is a fascinating (and unnerving) piece of data journalism, with the reporters combing through a number of Niantic data reports received straight from European players who used the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation to requisition them from the developer.
And last but not least, The New York Times published a beautiful digital feature about the games industry’s problems with diversity, representation, and toxicity and the struggles of minority creators to overcome them. Reporters spoke with a diverse array of developers who shared disheartening anecdotes about working at large studios, but also uplifting thoughts on the healing power of creation and community.
Finally, it’s not news to state that bullying is too prevalent online. But it need to be stamped out. In its mentoring and classes, The Circle has had panels about how to deal with the problem, most recently at our daily journalism course in the Bronx. It goes beyond muting the mic. Here, the bullying of NoLimitJay is horrible to witness, but the streamer bravely defended himself and the terrible digs against his mother. In the end, Twitter rose up to defend him. Kudos to NoLimitJay. We salute you. We support you. And we stand by you. –Harold Goldberg
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.