By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. In this installment, our writers go behind the scenes of Hitman 3 to explore its storytelling philosophy, dig into the labor laws and practices that sustain crunch, and get personal about their changing relationship with games. Plus, the latest on Cyberpunk and CD Projekt, a brief history of Crash Bandicoot, and a wonderful interview with Logan Cunningham from one of our students.
Hitman 3 was received with plenty of acclaim when it launched earlier this year. If there was one common point of contention among critics, though, it was the game’s surprising emphasis on its narrative elements at the expense, at times, of its beloved freeform assassinations. Samit Sarkar spoke at length with members of the development team about their reasoning behind this slight change in direction for Agent 47’s latest outing, a few of the game’s most poignant moments, and the challenge of getting players to care about a story that many of them have spent two games just skipping through.
We’ve seen the conversation around exploitive, harmful labor practices in the games industry get so much louder and more productive in recent years. But how and why did it get to this place and what will it take to change? Writing for The Washington Post, Former Circle member Michael Thomsen looked for answers about the persistence of crunch, and while there are plenty of complicating factors, the biggest reason is also the most simple: Crunch happens because it’s legal. Thomsen and his expert sources point to a handful of labor laws that create exemptions in state and federal overtime protections for certain professionals. Game companies can lump their employees under those exemptions, making it perfectly legal to withhold overtime pay. And this practice only becomes more appealing for companies when you factor in the strict, milestone-based nature of industry contracts.
Michelle Ehrhardt hit us with another update from the somehow still ongoing Cyberpunk 2077 fallout. After its legendarily disastrous launch and a handful of small updates, CD Projekt has just delivered the game’s biggest patch yet, addressing a novella’s worth of issues. Looking much further ahead, though, the company also announced that, probably as a result of this whole Cyberpunk situation, it’s changing up the way it markets games. Specifically, it’s looking to cut down the window between announcement and release, which certainly would have helped manage some expectations last time around.
Lisa Marie Segarra published a very personal essay with Kotaku, looking back at her relationship with games throughout her career in the press and during the COVID pandemic. After being laid off from her previous staff job in the middle of the pandemic, Lisa found solace and structure in the games that had, just a few months earlier, been devouring her time and mental well-being. “It wasn’t the same as when I got paid to write about games and lead a gaming section,” she wrote. “I was playing what I wanted and checking off the boxes I cared about. I made spreadsheets to collect certain items or creatures in Animal Crossing. I tracked my shrine progress in a new playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I couldn’t tell you how many charts I had for Stardew Valley. I know that playing this way likely sounds terrible for most people, but it made me fall back in love with gaming.”
Last week was the 25th anniversary of the Crash Bandicoot series, and the milestone had Harold Goldberg looking back at the series’ history. As someone who’s been covering games for most of that time, Harold has a pretty unique view of Crash’s emergence and its impact on both the dynamics of the games industry at large and the internal dynamics of Sony’s gaming operation. Today, though, Crash and his crew are starring in a new mobile game, which Harold has enjoyed but has found to be mired in tutorials and microtransactions.
Also on the Circle site, Makeda Byfield, our newest intern and a high-school drama student, had the awesome opportunity to interview Logan Cunningham, the recurring and iconic Supergiant voice actor. Makeda and Logan discussed his entry into theater and acting, the serendipitous way he stumbled into voiceover and the breakout role of Bastion’s narrator, and his inspirations—both in acting and in life. It’s a really joyful and insightful conversation, so give it a read!
From Beyond The Circle
In our last roundup, we talked all about the controversy surrounding the return of Six Days in Fallujah, the gritty first-person shooter that wants to put players in the boots of American troops during the Iraq War’s incredibly tragic and deadly Second Battle of Fallujah. This story has, of course, continued to stir up a lot of conversation. IGN’s Rebekah Valentine penned a great feature highlighting developers and critics of Iraqi and Arab descent to give them a platform for their feelings about the unavoidable political undertones of the game.
A few days later, however, as part of the game’s ongoing marketing campaign, IGN gave it a high-profile spotlight including the “exclusive” debut of a “gameplay reveal” trailer. The uncritical way that the site handled the trailer, which features military veterans talking about the battle in ways that valorize American actions but largely contradict the horrifying version of events that Iraqis and reporters later established, led to some major backlash and discussion about press practices. Kotaku’s Ethan Gach wrote an editorial about the responsibility of outlets to do their job and, if they’re going to present this sort of material at all, to at least do so with context and criticism. After the backlash to that trailer debut, Valentine had the opportunity to publish another piece for IGN, this time getting her sources’ reactions to the trailer and whether it did anything to assuage their concerns about how the game would represent this conflict and their people. The answer was a hard “no.”
IGN also recently published an important piece from Matt T.M. Kim about Asian representation in games and the experiences of Asian-American developers working in the industry. The surge in hate crimes and racism aimed at people of Asian descent in this country has brought these issues to the forefront, but that doesn’t mean they’re anything new. Kim spoke with more than a dozen developers about the inherent problems with this monolithic concept of “Asian” and “Asian-American” identity, the experience of growing up as a part of the Asian Diaspora, and the importance of media and workforce representation.
And at Waypoint, Duncan Fyfe put together a fascinating profile of Jane Jensen, the former Sierra developer best known as the writer and designer of Gabriel Knight. Jensen departed from that vaunted studio in 1999 to pursue a career as a novelist, but after feeling disillusioned with this new path, attempted to return to the world of adventure games, only to find it had completely evaporated. Fyfe recounts Jensen’s time toiling away on low-budget “hidden object” games and her long struggle to produce her big comeback work, Gray Matter. Most interesting, perhaps, is the way he digs into her writing style and her love for authoring campy romances and hot male characters, a proclivity that has blossomed into her latest creative persona: Eli Easton, successful author of gay erotic fiction.
That’ll do it for this Roundup. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you again soon.
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.