Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Design Theory 03: Who can be trusted?
Firstly, the image accompanying this is a new, updated Airship game sprite sheet! Nothing in their hasn't been posted in some of the newish screenshots, but this is just a big spread of all o' em!
Anyways, I'd actually like to talk about critics in the industry that actually know what they're talking about. This is rarer than you might think, but lets start out with why I (and so many others) dislike the way the "Big Name" critics (IGN, Gamespot, GamePro, Gametrailer, etc.) handle reviews, and also why the way consumers view these reviews is flawed.
Lets start with a nice analogue. I recently saw the film "The Adjustment Bureau", and enjoyed it. It's different, it deals with some high minded concepts, and my personal favorite, it pulls a "District 9" and falsely represented itself in trailers and commercials. I actually like this because it tricks people into watching films they might otherwise pass off. But I digress, upon getting home, I checked Metacritic to see its score, and was unsurprised to see it landed an aggregate of 60.
This isn't too unheard of. The film was "above average" but not by much, and I had a rough idea what these reviews might say before I even read them. It's not a film for everyone, but thats part of the charm here, I didn't necessarily want to see a film that appealed to as large a cross section as possible. But heres the thing, my friends and I enjoy plenty of average range films. Not so much with games...
When a AAA release comes out, if its not greeted with 9/10's or higher you get two things: One group saying that it was terrible, and another saying it was reviewed by an idiot.
That's a really broken review model. I've seen folks say that 7/10 is complete trash, and that 8/10 is only barely average. Only 9.0 or higher is even worth your consideration. But the worst part of this is, they aren't completely wrong. The average review score for video games is WAY higher than 5/10. Thats not right, not everything can be "above average", because those games should now be considered the average!
This isn't something thats going to change any time soon either, though a few sites have attempted to change this. 1UP notably abandoned number scores for letter grades, though this is still skewed by aggregators such as metacritic, and Kotaku (which, by the way, has suffered from Gawkers terrible redesign, but thats a different rant altogether) simply lists pros and cons, though some editors handle it better than others.
As a result of this broken review system that both consumers and critics are equally responsible for, I've found myself more interested in critics that actually spend time debating minutia of game design, or broad concepts inherent to genres or the industry as a whole, that then use games as examples of these.
There are two that fill this niche, and although I'm sure there are more that I'll add as time goes by, at this moment these are the only ones I really follow religiously:
Sessler's Soapbox: http://www.g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/tag/301/sesslers-soapbox/
Extra Credits: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/profiles/articles/Extracredits
Adam Sessler is one of the closest things to a "face" the gaming industry has. In an industry with no actors, it's even more anonymous than the directors or music producers for film. You might associate names with products, but thats about it. He's also the only thing that could possibly redeem any aspect of "G4tv", a channel that still claims to be for gamers, but somehow ends up filling its schedule with week long marathons of C.O.P.S. He's knowledgeable, he's passionate, and he isn't jaded into thinking that things are perfect in the industry right now, but he's not so cynical that he thinks its ruined either. Reasonable.
Extra Credits features a group of three game industry veterans doing short, 7-10 minute shows that really aim for the important aspects of the industry. They don't shy away from the hard hitingt issues, like LGBT representation, piracy, and sexuality in games. They aren't up in arms about it either though, and touch upon the issues with enough lightheartedness to make it entertaining, but enough brevity to understand the seriousness of the topics.
Lastly, EgoRaptor, a prominent flash cartoonist with a great sense of humor, recently released his first 15 minute show about game design, title "Sequelitis":
It's an impressive piece of discerning talk that covers one of my favorite game debates,the argument of linear vs. non-linear game play, using the examples of Castlevania and Castlevania: Simon's Quest. A great piece of work that I hope to see followed up even more than his animations.
So, there you have it, my list of trusted reviewers and critics. This isn't to say I don't trust anyone else, or am constantly casting a "shifty eyed" stare their way, but these are the ones that I generally agree with, but always respect.