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 give us the dirty details straight from the Epic v. Apple trial and behind the scenes of the PlayStation 5’s next-gen audio tech. Plus, a new take on old naval warfare, a Monster Hunter skeptic’s love of Rise, and so much more.
At CNET, Scott Stein spoke with the audio engineers who helped bring the newfangled “3D audio” of Returnal and Resident Evil: Village to life on the PlayStation 5. This tech isn’t new, per se, but Sony has tried to make it a focus of the PlayStation 5’s capabilities, and it’s been especially well implemented in these two wickedly intense games. The audio director of Resident Evil: Village provided some especially interesting insights into how this positional audio tech can work to thicken the dread of a horror game.
Speaking of Resident Evil: Village, Harold Goldberg (writing in The Washington Post) looked at the motley crew of monstrous characters with an eye toward the over the top humor which tempers the terrible horror of vampire-like creatures that have stolen protagonist Ethan Winters’ child. Harold also looks at the history of horror and proves that this 25th anniversary edition of the Capcom game is influenced by movies and books of the past.
Stephen Totilo, who recently began his new role heading up games coverage at Axios and also recentlyejoined the Circle (welcome, Stephen!), has been keeping a very close eye on the Epic v. Apple trial. One dispatch that’s especially interesting, and includes tons of links to his other reporting on the proceedings, focuses on Epic’s internal discussions about public perception to its spat with Apple and the company’s strategies for attempting to build public sympathy.
Nick Capozzoli returned to Waypoint for a deep-diving review of Ultimate Admiral: Age of Sail. It hails from the wargame stalwarts at Game-Labs, who this time turn their historical-battling expertise and attention to detail toward naval campaigns during the American and French revolutions. That detail, as Nick tells it, doesn’t quite extend out beyond the satisfaction of captaining a lumbering, powerful fleet, as the game’s on-foot battles lack the same grandeur and it can be said that the developers missed an opportunity to explore broader historical questions.
Jordan Minor has not been a fan of Monster Hunter over the years, but Rise, the series’ Switch debut, turned out to be the one that finally hit the spot. Jordan wrote about the perfect storm of changes, big and small, that helped him turn the corner like streamlining levels and crafting; the increases to mobility; and the big-time buffs given to his chosen weapon, the strange musical mallet known as the hunting horn.
On the Circle site, Jade Entien, one of our high-school writers, dug into Before Your Eyes, a very novel narrative game that uses the player’s webcam and eye-tracking technology as a part of its controls. (In a smart move for accessibility, however, you can play without them.) It allows players to see the story of a man named Benny, from the beginning of his life to the end. Whenever you blink—and the game does mean whenever—the story progresses to its next point, so you can easily miss out on, as Jade writes, “the beautifully designed, dark cinematic moments that enhance the story.”
Also on the Circle site, Makeda Byfield, the Circle’s newest student intern, reviewed Hitchhiker, an amnesia-fueled mystery game that recently released all over the place, including on Apple Arcade. Its mysterious beginnings had Makeda enthralled, but she was soon disappointed as the game and, especially, its dialogue began to drag. Worse, it seemed like all the choices in that dialogue to make didn’t really have an impact on the story. “With a couple of tweaks to the storyline, some serious tightening of the dialog, and some added chapters to the game, maybe Hitchhiker can make the impact it wanted to,” Makeda opined.
Finally, we want to highlight the start of an incredibly exciting internship opportunity that has been cooking for quite a while. At our last New York Game Awards, we announced that the Circle has partnered with Rockstar Games to create a paid internship program, with the work and educational opportunities tailored to the interests of each candidate, so as to highlight the many and varied pathways individuals can take to find work in the games industry. That program has now begun. We’re pleased to say Ronald Gordon, one of the Circle’s earliest student interns, is the first Rockstar intern candidate. Congratulations, Ronald!
From Beyond the Circle
The idea of videogames being a medium for driving social impact has been a critical part of The Circle’s identity since its founding and continues to be an essential part of its educational efforts. The U.S. State Department might be cottoning on to that idea as well. As Noah Smith reported for The Washington Post, the Department of State has given a grant to Games for Change to launch a multinational “Game Exchange” program where students from across the world are paired up to cooperatively develop games based on social issues. The hope is that the program will continue on in perpetuity, with past students returning as mentors.
Nintendo’s fitness games have been tremendous successes, but its first foray into the space, Wii Fit, has had a lasting impact on some players that the company surely did not intend. For Polygon, Ana Diaz wrote about how the game’s problematic use of BMI and its overbearing, overly simplistic health standards have had a lasting psychological effect, especially on young players who encountered the game while still finding their way in a world where so much stigma is attached body types.
USC Games, the University of Southern California’s game-design program, has announced the establishment of The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students, a new endowment aimed at increasing minority representation in the gaming and tech industries. The fund, which was established with the help of a donation from Take-Two Interactive, is named after Jerry Lawson, a pioneering Black engineer who led the development of the first interchangeable videogame cartridges. The Critics Circle honored Lawson this past January with a New York Game Awards Andrew Yoon Legend Award, which was presented to his son Anderson, who also participated in a great discussion with Circle founder Harold Goldberg and Circle board member Reggie Fils-Aimé. USA Today’s Mike Snider published a terrific write-up about the establishment of the fund, what change USC Games hopes this endowment will accomplish, and of Lawson’s achievements and legacy.
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.