Friday, 6 November 2009

Previews, reviews and comment - Writing about Games

Any type of press will face issues, whether that is strict deadlines, budget cuts or even nothing interesting to write about and it is no different for the gaming press. The games press has certain needs and limitations just like any other press. Games reviewers face extremely strict deadlines in which they would need to research (Q and A’s, game demos etc) and have to write at least 60,000 words to fill a 150 page magazine each month. And, each month, there is a rush from review to review to be ready for the next which obviously leaves no time for serious contemplation, therefore a reviewer is basically ‘forced’ to make a decision on what he or she feels are the strong and weak points of a game. How the reviewer feels to have the right to share their review with the world when they might not even receive a full game, might only receive a copy of a ‘review game’, and probably won’t have time to play through the whole thing anyway baffles me. But, I have to accept that this is their job, and they will no longer have that job if they can’t review a game within their set deadline.

So, how do I feel most reviews, whether it come from a magazine or on the internet, combat these issues, particularly the time issue? Personally I see that the majority of reviews are based on some certain set of generic rules or guidelines, i.e. a score is given on the games graphics, gameplay, sound, presentation etc and at the end an average total score is calculated which the game then receives along with some sort of block of writing, which is more of a commentary on the games graphics, gameplay, sound, you get the point. So, my argument is, if these rules do work, with which scale do the reviewers use to apply these scores to the games that is exactly the same for every other game? Or is it just a case that no such objective scale could be applied to all games reviews? A metre will always be a meter anywhere in the world, same goes for temperature, speed, a decibel, but, will a 9/10 for a game in one review written by one reviewer be the same for another review written by another reviewer? No. It isn’t possible, quite simply the thing that dictates the scale for a game is ‘opinion’, a review is at the end of the day an opinion, and although a journalist may have been trained to give some level of objectivity in what he or she is writing, as long as you have any amount of interest in something you will have an opinion on it. It will always be an opinion.

So, what do I feel could be done to combat this issue of generic reviews? I feel that the majority of games reviews in magazines or on the internet are designed to cater for idiots who have no knowledge of how a game is put together or how it works technically. Now that I have become a little familiar with how a game could be put together on 3DS Max I realise how much time and effort can go into a game to make it technically perfect, where as some games look amazing (so receive a high score in the graphics part of the review) yet have used cheap tricks, such as skimping on points where the gamer won’t notice as much. For example, I read this article on Forza 3 recently ( ), which, make of it what you will highlights some of Turn10’s techniques to make Forza 3 visually better that Forza 2. Some of the things that are highlighted include, artistic decisions are much improved, lighting is no longer inconsistent, specular maps on roads, better reflection textures, less crowds (saves fill-rate and polygons), no anisotropic filtering (saves texture processing and bandwidth), so, although the game looks better to play, its only technically the same just that some areas have been neglected to focus on others. One main thing I picked up on was that Forza 3 has a warped camera perspective. While GT5 uses a realistic field of view, Forza 3 artificially warps it so that distant objects appear even farther away than they really are. The benefit of this from a performance standpoint is that you can use lower detail models for much of the environment until the car is closer to them. Just like Gears of War 2 the way they got improvements in lighting and textures was by cutting back where they felt people will notice it the least. You could argue that this is all part of a refining process, but to me a next gen game should be technically and graphically advanced in all areas, not withheld in some. So I am asking should Forza 3 receive the high scores it has been getting for its graphics when, because of limited capabilities, they have only improved over Forza 2 because some aspects of the game have worsened?

Maybe then, for us more technically minded people, they should make a games magazine which reviews games based on its specs, which for anything, is the only real way to determine how good or bad something is regardless of opinion. For example a 1.6 Ford Focus and a 1.6 Volkswagen Golf would probably have similar specs, so, would receive a similar review. But personally I would prefer a Focus because that is my opinion.

Hmmm, reviews based on the technical specifications of a game....... if it ever happens I’ve decided it will be called ‘The Tech Evolution’!
NGJ may be heading in the right direction, which is odd as the attention is more focused on the subjective experience of the person playing the game. To me this works in some areas but not in others. It works because creative analyses are used to explore game design, play, culture and other personal experiences and anecdotes which create a unique story that doesn’t seem to be restricted by any scoring system. On the other hand, there is no doubt that these qualities can and will lead to some highly opinionated views from untrained eyes, they are after all ‘personal experiences’.

Maybe the only fair and completely unbiased review, where you could obtain complete subjectivity, would be from somebody who knows a lot about the production, development and workings of a video game but didn’t really give a shit about playing them and “whose exclusive game is better than others!” I doubt this will ever happen, so for now I’ll probably have to stick with Edge Magazine. Only, bollocks to getting ripped off and paying £5 for some guy’s opinion, who is probably a complete nob anyway!

1 comment: