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 look at the 20-year gap between Final Fantasy VII and its ambitious remake, dissect the design of the new PlayStation 5 controller, take a brutal trip to feudal Japan, and talk with an electronics company that has shifted its NYC factory to manufacture medical supplies.
Nearly 22 years removed from the original game’s release and revolutionary impact, the ornately rebuilt Final Fantasy VII Remake has arrived. But videogames and, you know, the world have changed a lot since that chunky, moody classic broke through the RPG glass ceiling back in 1998, and Imad Khan spoke with key developers from both the first FF7 and its remake (as well as the Circle’s own Harold Goldberg) to get some insight into just how big of a difference those 22 years have made. The insightful conversation mostly focuses on the cold, hard technology—the near exponential growth in polygon counts for characters and environments, for example—and the move from purely turn-based combat to a hybrid system that had some fans in a tizzy.
Last week also brought the surprise reveal of the DualSense, Sony’s revamped take on the classic DualShock controller design that’ll be accompanying the PlayStation 5 when it launches later this year. On Tom’s Guide, Mike Andronico dug into the details of the device and a few reactions to actually handling the thing to see what really separates it from its predecessor. Specifically, Mike pointed to a few tweets from Bethesda’s Pete Hines who, after using the new controller, talked up its haptic feedback features, ultimately saying “You sort of immediately forget about a PS4 controller.” As Mike points out, this is a big difference from the Xbox Series X’s new controller refresh, which largely sticks to the standard Xbox design and makes little more than a few welcome tweaks.
At Tom’s Hardware, Michelle Ehrhardt reported on a New York-based computer-hardware company that’s converted its 50,000-square-foot Manhattan manufacturing space into a mini-medical-supply factory. Instead of LCD screens and computer boards the company, Adafruit, is now turning out face shields and ventilator components, in hopes of protecting New Yorkers and the city’s healthcare workers as they battle through the pandemic. Michelle spoke with the company’s managing director to get the scoop on its transition, the state of global supply chains, and what we all can do help contribute during these terrifying times.
On the Circle site, Mayia Moore, one of the students from our Lower East Side mentoring project, took the super-hard Nioh 2 for a spin and reported back with impressions from its dangerous, fantastical feudal Japan. Mayia really gets to the emotional experience of playing the game, interrogating its music and moody visuals before bringing us along on an attempt to get through its grueling levels. “This game simulates teaching what it takes to be a hero and that you can’t back out of something that’s destiny or fate,” she wrote. “People aren’t born heroes; people are born with some resilience and the right amount of tolerance for difficult situations. Playing this game has taught me you have to have an overwhelming amount of both of those things in order to win against enemies and really conquer the toughest monsters.”
From Beyond The Circle
In recent weeks, in addition to its usual selection of writing from around world of games, this section of the Roundup has served as a showcase for the creative uses of games and game design that educators are tapping in order to keep on teaching during the pandemic. This week, The Washington Post’s Elise Favis brings us another look at teaching in the COVID-19 age, featuring stories of educators and programs that have started conducting lessons in games like Assassin’s Creed, Minecraft, and Roblox and the game-makers who’ve helped make these virtual classrooms happen. “Some would look at the current situation and say it’s a handicap to not be at school,” one educator told Favis. “But me, I see it as an opportunity to go further; to try different techniques within the world of education.”
As soon as Final Fantasy VII Remake was actually announced, critics immediately started wondering how a game made in 2020 would handle the original’s Wall Market sequence, which infamously, insensitively fumbled its way through scenes involving queerness and threats of sexual violence. Todd Harper wrote about Remake’s handling of the scene for Kotaku. He argues that it does a fine job of celebrating queerness and avoiding the homophobia of the original, which is laudable, but it does so in the most mainstream, expected way possible. “I think we need to accept this scene for what it is: colorful and campy and fun, but not much more than that,” he writes. “It’s great that Nomura and company knew this needed to be updated for modern times, but the result was something extremely safe and unchallenging in a world where RuPaul’s Drag Race is a water cooler discussion topic for straight people.”
Shawn Alexander Allen, a New York game developer and friend of the Circle, Kickstarted his Treachery in Beatdown City project more than six whole years ago. And it has finally arrived on the Switch and PC as a whip-smart, beat-’em-up/JRPG hybrid that proudly wears its politics and New York roots on its sleeve. Dia Lacina sums up its perspective and appeal nicely at Paste: This is a game made by people of color, reflecting, on the one hand, the little everyday annoyances of New York City living and, on the other, the tremendous institutional powers threatening New York City living through political, existential violence. In both cases, Beatdown City invites players to say enough is enough and start throwing punches. And that is, as Lacina writes, “a catharsis for everyone who has to deal with this shit daily. A place to unapologetically throw hands at all the people who need to catch them. It’s a power fantasy for everyone left out of the normal videogame power fantasy.”
Finally, for something a little lighter, we recently got an email from an enterprising 16-year-old in Brazil who taught themselves to code, built their first game, self-released it on the Google Play store, and really just wants to get some people to play it and give them feedback. It’s a simple little touchscreen game called Climb Quake, and you can find it on the Google store here. Awesome job, Marco, and good luck!
That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading. Stay safe. Stay healthy. 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.