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 writers do their best to surf the infinite possibilities of Media Molecule’s Dreams and tell the story of how Rainbow Six Siege turned into a roaring success. Plus, a radical approach to digitizing tabletop gaming, views from our young critics in training, and more!
After seven long years in development (more on that later!), Dreams, the incredibly ambitious art-creation toolkit from the developers of LittleBigPlanet, has finally released in full, pairing its unbelievable creation suite with an eclectic story mode to give players an idea of just how flexible this engine can be. Harold Goldberg reviewed the game for The Washington Post, blazing through Media Molecule’s authored campaign and digging for gems in the already burgeoning universe of player-created Dreams. Regarding the story mode—dubbed “Art’s Dream”—Harold found that while its writing suffered from a real lack of nuance, it serves as a fantastic showcase for the game’s visuals and imagination, with “graphics, levels and scenes [that] are as utterly ingenious as any lauded animated film of our time.”
Last weekend was the culmination Ubisoft’s Six Invitational 2020, the fourth annual installment of the biggest professional Rainbow Six Siege tournament of the year. Back in 2015, when the game first released to a tepid response, its success and long life would have been unthinkable. Just how did Ubisoft patch the game up and turn it into the popular multiplayer service game and esport it is today? Ahead of the Invitational, Annie Pei spoke with a few key figures at Ubisoft to help tell that story.
Many have described the last decade of board gaming as a new Golden Age, with sales, interest, criticism, and design all flourishing. Even with their popularity erupting, one of the biggest hurdles to getting into board gaming remains the Herculean feat of getting a group of real, live people together in a room to play one of the darn things. Many marquee tabletop games have gotten digital conversions to help ease that burden, but Dan Ackerman, tabletop aficionado and designer himself, recently got his hands on an interesting new product that can help people set up online sessions even for games stuck in the realm of cardboard. It’s called Vorpal Board, and it combines an online hub for all the players in your game with livestreamed video and a collection of scanned gaming components to create an online mix of the virtual and the physical. “I found the initial setup required to be a bit daunting,” Dan said, “but once I got my preferred settings dialed in and managed to get the camera properly zoomed on the game board, the experience successfully captured a lot of the interaction and fun of playing a tabletop game with other people in person.”
This week on the Critics Circle site, we had the pleasure of sharing a wonderful piece from Mayia Moore, one of the students in our Lower East Side Critics Circle journalism course. Maiya is a fan of Grand Theft Auto, particularly GTA4, and took a moment to brush aside all the violence and crime to try and pinpoint some of the morals underneath. In the fourth installment, she writes, it’s “not just about violence. It’s about family. And it’s about justice.”
Also this week, senior intern Ronald Gordon shared some of his insights on Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero. Ronald was enthralled by the game’s shifting, collaborative take on storytelling and player choice, as well as, of course, its quietly surreal world. But for him, it’s the melancholy story of Conway, the aged antiques deliveryman at KRZ’s center, that really resonates. “This isn’t someone trying to accomplish a goal or following their dreams,” Ronald wrote, “this is the journey of a man who’s on his way out but just can’t seem to find the exit.”
It was a scintillating time for students at the DreamYard Project’s Bx Start Game Center this week when Critics Circle Board member and 2020 Legend Award winner Reggie Fils-Aimé headed to his old Bronx stomping grounds for a mentoring session. Reggie spoke with the students about his patented “five keys to success,” the constant but necessary struggle to face your fears, and tackling racism in corporate culture. “It’s up to you,” he told them. “It’s not up to someone else.”
From Beyond The Circle
Circling back to Dreams and its lengthy development, in conjunction with the game’s launch last Friday, Eurogamer spoke with Media Molecule co-founders Alex Evans and Mark Healey about all the deceivingly simple work that went into the game since its first big public demonstration in 2015. It’s an insightful and wide-raging discussion, with Evans and Healey stressing that the bulk of development was really about making the creation tools as fun and simple to use as possible and building good tutorials. They also touched on the joys of creation—regardless of how many people, if any, see the final product—and the future of Dreams, which includes the introduction of VR and, hopefully, the adoption of any big changes the game’s users want to see.
Game distribution’s transition to digital storefronts has been great for so many parties—players, developers, even publishers—but it of course has had a massive toll on the biggest brick-and-mortar gaming retailer in the nation, GameStop. The company’s business has been dropping precipitously for years, causing investors to lose confidence and leaving those at the corporate level flailing to find new revenue streams. A new report from Polygon, cites “more than a dozen interviews” with current and former GameStop employees, who spoke to the many issues facing the company (digital sales, plummeting morale, stock issues, poor public perception) and the increasingly desperate sales directives being forced on employees, under the threat of termination, of course.
And finally, we’re happy to highlight a post over on the blog of the AbleGamers Charity by Neesa Sunar, a mental health peer specialist and social worker who does invaluable work at a housing agency in Queens. In the piece, Sunar tells her life story: growing up in a home fraught with domestic abuse and suffering from mental illness at school, in her musical studies, and into adulthood where it became a disability. For her, games were an escape, a comforting outlet without judgment (from outside or within) and a tool for coping and socializing. “I’ve learned that gaming is a coping skill that helps stave off mental illness,” she wrote. “I can immerse myself in alternate worlds, allowing for escape from struggles and discrimination. It also allows for socializing online where I can shed my disability status. It’s a total realm of life-affirming fun!” You can find more of Sunar’s work on her website.
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.