The Roundup: Oxenfree II, Team17 Indie Games, Thirsty Suitors, Ratchet and Clank, Games For Change, SAAM Arcade, More!

By Ronald Gordon

Hello and welcome once again to the Roundup, where the Circle’s Interns and Members are highlighted for their excellent work. The summer is heating up, and while I’m trying my best not to melt in the sun, I’ve also been finding it hard to not think about the game releases to come later in the year. The excitement is building especially with events like E3, where most people would get news on games they were excited for, no longer happening this year. But this week we’ve got reviews of Oxenfree II, Jade’s overview of Thirsty Suitors, hopes for Multiplayer games to copy Exoprimal, Games for Change, SAAM Arcade, and so much more! 

First of all, I’d like to give a big congratulations to Jordan Minor, who’s recently celebrating the first week release of his book “Video Game of the Year”. Having written one of the most in-depth and personal looks at Video Game history, Jordan got to celebrate his book release at the Microsoft Experience Center alongside Ryan O’ Callaghan who spoke of his goals as the Circle’s new Executive Director. Drinks were shared and Pizza was eaten, Alia Jones-Harvey from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment attended, and it was a great time altogether. I especially enjoyed seeing the various contributors to “Video Game of the Year” happily signing their names near their reviews in the book. I highly suggest the book if you’re looking for an interesting take on the offerings that have come and gone through the years, and what sort of experiences have stuck since games first took off so many decades ago. 

To start us off, we have two reviews of the same game, one from founder Harold Goldberg at Observer, and the other from our talented intern Khloe Wilkerson on the NYVGCC site, both being a game called Oxenfree II: Lost Signals. Harold has many things to say about the game: “First and foremost, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is about relationships fostered by charming, witty, then seriously dramatic communication. What makes this supernatural science fiction story work well is humanity and empathy. If your thing is shooting and fast-paced action with a thin plot, Oxenfree II wouldn’t attract your attention. If you care about narrative, if you crave tension that grows like a Lynch or Hitchcock film, oh, how this game will get under your skin.” Understanding the importance of the human connection that Oxenfree II hones in on, Harold was rightfully moved by the story emotionally. 

Meanwhile, in Khloe’s eyes, Oxenfree was a terrific experience overall, “The watercolor-inspired look of the artwork substantially contributes to the surreal ambiance. The game develops its own voice and avoids being a boring repetition in favor of an emotional and surprising journey, thanks to certain small but very affecting changes. For example, a stroll up a hill may appear to be the most calm place in the world for one minute. However, due to a sudden jump scare and a distressing glitch of red static, it quickly becomes a horrifying location.” Both writers offer insightful looks at what Oxenfree II: Lost Signals has to offer with both horror and storytelling, and I highly suggest giving both a read. 

Taking to the field, mentor Isaac Espinosa wrote about a batch of promising Indie games from an upcoming British developer/publisher known as Team17. From the new Moving Out 2 sequel to Blasphemous 2 getting its own follow up, Isaac fully enjoyed these game demos because of their potential: “It’s always fascinating to learn about the love and care that goes into Indie titles. Not only are they some of the most interesting takes on what a video game can be, but they are also the lifeblood of the gaming community as a whole. Indie Games are what inspire a lot of us to try and make our own video games, and I was grateful for the opportunity to see what Team17 has in store.” It just goes to show that not every company needs millions and not every game needs to be a AAA title: any game can succeed when given the proper tools to do so.  

 Jade Entien brings their overview f the Thirsty Suitors Demo and talks about its interesting handling of romance. The upcoming dating game from Annapurna Interactive brings with it a lot more than just cute romance, but heartfelt relationships to build/rebuild with potential soulmates. Writes Jade, “From about 30 minutes of demo gameplay, I could tell that this game is something to get excited about, not least because of the companies that created it. Annapurna Interactive, a subdivision of the entertainment company Annapurna, specializes in video games, film, and television shows. The company is well-known for games such as Florence, Stray, and Twelve Minutes, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Annapurna was also responsible for that R-rated rollercoaster ride of a movie, Sausage Party. Still, I know them best for shaping my appreciation for the arts with their productions of theatrical plays such as Fleabag and Death of a Salesman.” Jade’s appreciation for Annapurna Interactive’s works is well-founded, due to their knack for bringing quality games to the spotlight, but a publisher wouldn’t be anything without the masterful goals of the creators. “Outerloop, Thirsty Suitors’ developer, focuses on games that value and uplift the voices of minorities and underrepresented communities, and those that fight against cultural erasure. So I was thrilled to have the chance to check out the demo, which will feature South-Asian, African and Caribbean characters among others. As a West Indian myself, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store.” 

Jorge Jimenez has some words on Ratchet and Clank’s GPU decompression. When it comes to how games run on certain systems or machines, I’ve never taken then time or the effort to look deeper down into the possibilities of compression and adapting other CPUs to handle certain games. Luckily, Jorge took it upon himself to tell everyone that Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart can, in fact, run on a hard drive system. Hearing the creative director of the game say its gameplay “would not have been possible without the solid-state drive of the PlayStation 5,” makes one wonder just what made Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart so inaccessible to hard drive systems until now. Writes Jorge, “With DirectStorage 1.2, developers can now use the same code for HDDs as well. Although legacy HDDs previously had some level of DirectStorage support, developers just had to jump through some extra hoops to make it work.” 

Stephen Totilo highlights the strange turn of events that is E3’s absence by talking about an E3 dedicated entirely to Web3 games. While there weren’t many well known developers within the event, there were lots of people interested in Crypto and Blockchain investing through gaming. “3XP was set up in the Pasadena Convention Center like a mini-E3, in one10th the space: a 55,000-square foot exhibit hall with booths, demo kiosks and industry professionals. There’s little overlap between traditional gaming and Web3: No Nintendo, Xbox or even crypto-dabbling publishers like Ubisoft at an event like this, instead booths for the likes of Avalanche, Immutable and lead show sponsor Game7. Organizers estimated about 1,700 attendees across the two-day show.” While I am excited to see that smaller developers are putting together their own version of E3 to celebrate game releases, I’m a bit skeptical of their focus towards Cryptocurrency and Blockchain investment through game sales. Games shouldn’t be made to turn a profit, let alone be backed entirely by the blockchain. But more power to them if these Web3 games they’ve dedicated time to end up being great experiences in the long run.  

More games need to learn from Exoprimal, says Giovanni Colantonio in his article about what companies should learn from Exoprimal’s multiplayer. “Exoprimal contains a handful of ideas so ingenious that I can’t believe they aren’t common practice in multiplayer games. That’s especially true in its approach to storytelling. Its mysterious story about a dinosaur outbreak and a suspicious AI program doesn’t just happen in one opening cutscene or in extra lore you can find on Capcom’s YouTube channel.” Giovanni’s words on Exoprimal speak to its masterful handling of how to tell a multiplayer story, “It’s all integrated into the online game and dished out gradually between matches. It’s a potentially innovative system that makes a multiplayer title feel like a single-player campaign. Take note, Overwatch.” In truth, not a lot of Multiplayer games can showcase stories told as well as Exoprimal’s, but that doesn’t mean that all online games are doomed. If a game about fighting dinosaurs with swords and guns is anything to go by, there’s tons of things that can happen to tell a great talein the multiplayer medium, and Exoprimal is hopefully the first of many to do it right. 

Beyond the Circle

The 20th Games for Change Festival has come and gone, and what a potpourri of ideas and theories it was. Founder Harold Goldberg spoke about the Circle’s work with unhouse students. But there was so much more. Here are some takeaways:

Awesome Award winners were announced. Congrats to them!

–There was a preponderance of research presented. One deep dive that saw a widely disseminated press release was from the JED Foundation. The report stresses that more work is needed in the Metaverse to ensure the safety of young people.

–The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment announced the first recipient of its marketing credit program. Everyrealm Inc. will receive “free advertising in NYC subway cars” as part of its marketing campaign. There’s more about how to qualify for the program at the link above.

The Smithsonian is doing something new this coming weekend, bringing to light the importance of the connection between games & music with their SAAM Arcade 2023-Thinking Musically event. From bringing out classic arcade games to exploring recent games such as Cosmo D Studios’ Betrayal at Club Low, the Smithsonian seeks to dedicate an entire exhibit to exploring games and music and how they have both evolved alongside each other. The event takes place this Saturday, July 22nd, and is free for the public to interact with. I highly suggest checking it out, even if you’re not a gamer because appreciation for all types of music will also be featured at the event, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy!

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