Forgivaness, Puhlease. Also, thoughts on reviewing games.

7 11 2007

Many, many apologies for my absence last week. I had a lot of school work and real work to get done, and it took up a lot of my time. This week, however, I’ll be on the ball.

With that said, it’s no secret that I love podcasts, to the point of obsession. Not to say that I listen to every single podcast ever made—in fact I’m quite particular—but as someone who’s never really liked conventional radio, it’s a great alternative. There are a few non-gaming podcasts that I’m partial to—CBC Radio 3, for example, is fantastic—but my favorite ones have to be those of the 1Up Radio Network. Almost ever iteration of each podcast ranges from insightful, irreverent, to fucking hilarious. GFW Radio is usually all three.

Now, I usually listen to my podcasts religiously, but the tar-like bog of work I waded through last week prevented me from getting my fix. A few cold sweats, a Chai tea and some NHL ’08 later, I was finally able to listen to the 10/25 edition of GFW Radio, which was not only all three previously stated adjectives, it also touched on a topic I’ve been thinking about since reading a recent Kotaku article.

Starting at 12:20, the GFW editors begin to discuss the dynamics of game reviews, particularly how the audience can go into anaphylactic shock when a game gets an 8.5 when it was “supposed” to get a 9. Jastrick and I made it a strict policy never to use numbers when reviewing games on this blog, and Shawn Elliot brings up an interesting anecdote that clearly illustrates why:

“I had an interesting post-review discussion with someone at EA, they wanted to get my perspective on Medal of Honor: Airborne. It wasn’t a case of them challenging my review, they just wanted to supplement their understanding of it. And what was funny was that they looked at every line, and it started to seem clear that they were reading it in relation to, every single negative score is like…ok if a game is an 8, and there are only two comments that are explicitly negative, then each one of those must cost a point or something, and maybe if they look hard enough they’ll find 8 positive things.”

Now, I won’t entirely talk about numbers here, but I do find that rating games on a 10-scale is really very arbitrary. To use my own example, I was explaining to a female friend of mine that many men often rank women on a 10-scale that is primarily based in aesthetics. She continued to ask me things like, whatt constitutes a 9? How low will you go before you won’t sleep with the girl? How does a girl change these factors? Every answer on this list is subjective. Sure, there are universal basics that the scale is founded on, but anything beyond that is completely in the eye of the beholder. For example, my 10—a 9 with a healthy-but-not-too-freaky sexual appetite and a love of video games—is going to be far different from someone else. One commonality among most men, I told her, is that we won’t usually touch anything under a 5. So then it really becomes a 5-scale, which is similar to what was suggested in the Kotaku article.

A game review should be interesting, and informative, and should cover the universal factors of a good or a bad game—are the mechanics approachable, is it graphically acceptable, is the frame rate constant, etc. However, like they say in the GFW Podcast, they should also be something that sparks a conversation, not a flame war. It’s myopic to decide that, because you’re getting payed to review a game, you have the power to decide whether a game is a great game, or the greatest game. Everything you decide after the universal factors are subjective, and should be treated accordingly. That doesn’t mean that you have no authority on the matter. It simply means that your role is to make a decision based on your own tastes and give your audience food for their own thoughts and subjective likes/dislikes.

One thing I will say on the Kotaku article, though, is that I disagree with the notion that we too often review games are products instead of works of art. The argument here is that reviewers and gamers focus way to hard on how long a game is, how much time you get out of it instead of the value and enjoyment during that time. I couldn’t disagree more. And, just so I’m being current, I’ll use Orange Box as an example.

Let’s compare Episode 2 with Portal. Now, of the two games, I would say that, while I’m a massive Half-Life freakoid, I much prefer Portal. The game is funny, it’s charming, and the design of each puzzle is great. But the game is unbearably short. It doesn’t even begin to scratch the rusted surface of the oil drum that has “difficult” written on it until the 15th stage, and never does it become unbearable. After it’s over—which takes about 4 hours—you’re treated with a great little diddy at the end, followed by the crushingly depressing knowledge that it all ended far, far too soon.

Episode 2, however, while only a couple hours longer, is paced so well that I barely noticed how short it was. The difference here is that, while both games are below average in length, one game makes it impossible to notice while the other makes it impossible not to. The gripe over the length of a game is purely determined by how well the game hides it. Like Paul E. Dangerously used to say, “hide the negative, accentuate the positive.”





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