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This Dumb Industry: This is Why We Can’t Have Short Criticism

By Shamus
on Tuesday Apr 3, 2018
Filed under:
Column

 
 

This is a strange gig. I spend more time thinking about, writing about, and reading comments on videogames than I spend playing videogames. A lot of this job involves arguing. Not the nasty stressful kind of arguing. I mean just general disagreement and confusion. “Oh I can’t believe you like this / how can you not love this” kind of disagreement.

As you work to be understood, you’ll naturally be drawn towards writing longer and longer criticism. I think of it as the Joseph Anderson effect. You might only have 800 words of criticism on a subject, but if you’re trying to avoid arguments then it’ll take you another 12,000 words to support your thesis and harden it against predictable dismissals.

When you’re a new critic, it begins with a simple naive statement of opinion:

“I didn’t like Shoot Guy III.”

But that’s not very interesting. Your review is short and there’s very little for anyone to think about. The whole thing reads like a list of likes and dislikes: I like the shooting, I didn’t like the wacky fast-talking animal sidekick, I thought the zeppelin chase was cool, I thought the ending was dumb.

So then a reader will ask why you didn’t like those things. And yeah, that’s a fair question. So in the future when you write your reviews you spend a little more time describing where the game fell short.

“I didn’t like Shoot Guy III. The animal sidekick was grating and he even managed to ruin the fun parts of the game (the shooting) with his constant chatter and childish bathroom humor.”

Here we have what I consider to be the minimum viable review. This is the basic framework needed to inform the reader and (if you’re foolish / unfortunate enough to assign them) give a final review score.

But then people want to get into specifics. A reader will ask why you didn’t like the animal sidekick. After all, they thought he was hilarious. Maybe they look back through your archives and find another game you reviewed that had an animal sidekick, and you liked that one. Maybe they’ll accuse you of being “biased”, or simply inconsistent.

And okay, if a critic dislikes something you don’t then it’s nice to know why. Sometimes readers are trying to play a game of “gotcha” to invalidate or dismiss your opinion, but sometimes they just want to understand where you’re coming from. Sometimes they’re just trying to figure out if your criticism is relevant to their purchasing decisions.

So in the future when you write your reviews you spend a little more time describing what you wanted / expected and why the game didn’t give you that.

“Shoot Guy III doesn’t work for me. Rocko the foul-mouthed fox might be funny in another context, but in a game that opens with the protagonist’s (now third) wife being killed by the mob, his jokes come off as incredibly obnoxious and unwelcome. In particular, the jokes where Rocko keeps asking our hero to take him to the ‘titty bar’ manage to break the conceit of the character (isn’t he supposed to be a hyper-intelligent fox? So why is he attracted to big-breasted human females?) while clashing with the self-serious tone.”

Your so-called "review" of this RTS is invalid because you used the mouse and not a dual-shock controller, which is the One True Way to play!

Your so-called "review" of this RTS is invalid because you used the mouse and not a dual-shock controller, which is the One True Way to play!

And this is where things start to get crazy. Because now people will accuse you of “cherry picking” and “looking for something to complain about”. After all, Rocko only mentioned the titty bar twice. How can two little throwaway jokes ruin a six-hour game?

So then you need to bolster your case by demonstrating that your examples aren’t just aberrant moments selected to support a false thesis, but are actually representative of the whole.

“Shoot Guy III doesn’t work for me. Over the next few chapters I’m going to exhaustively list the failure points in the story and compare them to other games in the same genre / franchise to show that these are fair and reasonable complaints.”

We’re well past the point where this review is functional as consumer advice. But we’re not quite done yet. Now someone will show up and demand to know why you spend so much time yammering about the STORY in a video GAME. (Or if you like the gameplay and not the story then they come at you from the other direction and tell you to go back to playing DOOM if you’re too dim to appreciate a brilliant story like this one.)

This might be annoying, but in principle this isn’t an unreasonable demand. If you’re going to review a game then why not review it in a holistic sense, rather than focusing on just the bad parts? Which brings us to the final level of long-windedness:

“Shoot Guy III is [thesis statement]. I’m going to spend [number of chapters] talking about the gameplay before [several more chapters] talking about the story. I’ll also spend some time describing what game modes I played, what difficulty modes I tried, what control schemes I favored, what platform I played on, and my level of familiarity with the rest of the games in this genre / franchise. I’ll describe the gameplay so you know that I actually played the thing. Then I’ll relate the events of the story for context and point out the moments of thematic / symbolic importance so you can see I was paying attention and understood what the author was trying to do. Then I’ll explain why it didn’t work. Throughout all of this I’ll sprinkle in good parts and praise so you can see I’m being fair and willing to give the game credit where it’s due, and not just doing the ‘outrage as performance art’ schtick that other people are known for.”

And then after all that work there’s always that one guy:

TL;DR

So that’s how this site evolved from dashed-off essays to these gargantuan retrospectives. It might sound like I’m complaining, but I actually find this process deeply satisfying. Looking back through the archives, these long-form, multi-part analysis series are the bits I’m most proud of. Sure, it’s annoying when people dismiss a 5,000 word article because they found a flaw or oversight somewhere in the middle, but the actual process of making this stuff is really rewarding. The cycle of playing, reflecting, replaying, building a thesis, and ultimately sharing it is the best part of this jobAlthough sometimes the actual writing of the words can get me down. The grunt work of rewrites, proofing, editing, and formatting isn’t my favorite way to spend time..

Somewhat ironically, this article describing why my writing is so long is probably one of the shortest columns I’ve written in years. So there’s that.

Footnotes:

[1] Although sometimes the actual writing of the words can get me down. The grunt work of rewrites, proofing, editing, and formatting isn’t my favorite way to spend time.


 
 
Comments (208)

  1. Dwarf Warden says:

    You didn’t like Shoot Guy III???

    This proves you literally have no taste whatsoever in any video game at all ever. Unscrubscribbled.

    • Canthros says:

      Oh, please. The series peaked in its first outing, and the best parts of Shoot Guy were just ripping off Gunperson IV, anyway.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Typical gunperson elitist.You know that those relics arent even playable these days,what with their outdated hard locked 20 kills per minute and 1024 bullets inventory cap.Shoot guy has pushed the boundary of what makes a good shooter with every installment,making 3 the most refined video game of all times.

      • TheJungerLudendorff says:

        Everyone knows the Stabdude series has better narrative design anyway.

        • Agammamon says:

          C’mon man – Stabdude was just Shootguy with knives.

          • Syal says:

            Although that’s exactly what a lot of people wanted, after coming off the convoluted darkness of Live By The Stab. I still think Live By The Stab is the better game, but sometimes you just want to knife a guy without worrying whether he’s a metaphor for the Industrial Revolution.

          • BlueHorus says:

            Don’t forget Stabdude Revelations: A Stab In The Dark.
            Now that was an interwsting game, designed with a narrative focus. I’m sad it didn’t do as well as the other Stabdude games; it was a great concept, just badly done. I think the dev team weren’t all that clear in what they were making.

            I mean they tried, but it came out as a bit of a stabdud.

        • Version 2.Joe says:

          Its narrative is mostly Cutscene-driven, which is fine. I just wish they had had the good sense to make them skippable. Nothing takes out the joy of seeing Baron Asshole Van BadGuy meticulously stabbed into ground beef like having to watch it 7 times in a row because you missed that hidden Shave Point along the way to the final boss.

      • Pranav Agrawal says:

        That’s what happens when your studio is taken over by game publisher limited

      • Cilon says:

        I think that Shoot Guy series had a rock solid start, but then the Tinycoolwithnomoney Company was brought by The BigEvilGaming Arts, all went downhill.

        That’s why the original creator started a KS campaing for the spiritual sucessor, “Guy That Shoot” will be a blast!

        • Version 2.Joe says:

          Please, just because Isgrid Nilla Ventor came up with the original idea doesn’t mean she should get the whole credit for all the creativity and hard work that went into all the brilliant ShootGuy games. Isn’t it telling that apart from her, all the other creative heads of Ticonomo Company are still with BEGg Arts?
          And the publisher promised to let the devs have more freedom in the next installment. Wouldn’t it send a completely wrong signal to abandon ShootGuy exactly now?

          Add the fact that Ventor is the only person working on “Guy That Shoot” together with the … questionable material in the teaser and trailer on KS; it just makes me very, very wary of that game.
          Just think of ShootGuy II with its stellar ricochet mechanics (including the first instance of realistic in-body bullet fragmentation), its natural inclusion of cover and the almost lifelike bots that react slower to people partially behind visual cover (even if it’s not actual cover vs. bullets).
          How should one single person rebuild that within 3 years, with a budget of 6$/h if we assume her working on it 40h/week?

          • Cilon says:

            Well, this is not a fair point, it is? I mean, c’mon! Nilla “manilla” Ventor is pretty much a big shot these days. If she says: “i’ll make a game about zumbi tomatoes, give me 5 million!”, she’ll get it *cof Salad Warfare cof*. The rest of the team is, well, just the “rest of the team”. So all the other creative heads of Ticonomo Company are still with BEGg Arts because they are not Nilla Ventor and need paychecks.

            But you get a point, i suppose. BEG Arts made surprisingly good revenue with small concept games like “Daddy Issues” series, so i think that may give a chance for more freedom in the next installment. I’ll wait for the review on the “These Ads here do not influence the score Magazine”, let’s see

        • BlueHorus says:

          It’s not Shoot Guy as it was, but Shoot Guy as you remember it!

          What could possibly go wrong?

    • Asdasd says:

      Frankly I’m just amazed anyone managed to struggle through this wall of text to glean the writer’s opinion on a v i d e o g a m e.

      I mean geez, guy, we get you’re a frustrated Lit graduate but maybe save some of this stuff for that self-published novel you obviously work on in the evenings??

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Not only did he not like Shoot Guy III, he didn’t hate it more than Gunmonger VI. It’s not just that your opinion needs to be on the correct side, it needs to be in the correct place on the hierarchy. Remember: Gunmonger III was the best in the series, Gunmonger IV was worse than II, Gunmonger V was almost as good as I but not better than III, VI is cancer and VII is for a system I don’t own so I don’t care.

      What I really want to know is Shamus’ opinion on Shoot Guy High, the dating simulator spinoff. I already know it’s better than Gunblox, but not as good as Gunmon. My question is: which gun is the best girl?

    • BlueBlazeSpear says:

      Shoot Guy III can’t run 60fps on my system’s ultra-high settings and since that’s the only measuring stick I have on whether or a game is good or not, I can only conclude that it’s a dumpster fire.

    • Pyrrhic Gades says:

      I think we’re all aware that the series’ quality peaked in Shootguy II. Shoot Guy III started the trend of adding gimmicks that kept getting added and removed from the Shoot Guy franchise which ended up dividing the base on which is the best Shoot Guy game.

      It doesn’t help that the multiplayer community is divided between the Xbox 360 and Xbone versions. (And don’t get me started about those fanboys that laud over the Japanese Exclusive version of Shoot Guy III on the PS3, with it’s additional content that’s never appeared on a microsoft console)

  2. Olivier FAURE says:

    Since you’re bringing up the subject, a bit of friendly criticism: your Wolfenstein II review is starting to be a little boring. I really liked your other columns, but I feel like this one is becoming pretty repetitive.

    To be specific, I think the parts of your series where you talk about Wolfenstein’s gameplay are varied and interesting, but most of the series focuses on the story, which… kind of stays the same? I’d say you’ve already made all the points you had to make about Wolfenstein’s story (basically “The last one did it better”), and now you’re just repeating them using the different parts of the game as examples.

    And yes, I get that Wolfenstein II is very story-driven, but there’s no rule that says your wordcount on each subject has to be proportional to how much player time that subject covers. Right now, I’d say there’s a lot in the last few chapters that could have been condensed in a few paragraphs with little loss of information.

    (although it’s probably a moot point since you’ve already written the entire series, but hey, feedback is feedback)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I have a suggestion for this actually.Make a few paragraphs that say something like “This is like the earlier parts of the story.Repetitive,pointless,some good voice acting,but overall illogical and drags on for far too long”.Then copy and paste that block in a quote box whenever discussing the next story segment.

    • Lino says:

      I actually really like his approach to the Wolfenstein review. I’ve played nearly all Wolfenstein games after Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but I never got around to playing New Colossus, and after I started reading Shamus’ column, I plan to never play it. I’m so angry that I don’t even want to read a plot summary on Wikipedia! So, his series is currently my favourite column on this blog, and I’d be really bummed out if he cut down on that content.
      But, to each his own, I suppose…

    • Shamus says:

      This column is actually in response to the last comment you made to this effect. It’s always tough to balance things between “You’re just cherry picking” and “Okay we get it already”. I leaned towards an overabundance of examples because I was unloading on a recent, well-reviewed game. I honestly expected a ton of backlash and wanted to make my case as airtight as possible. I really didn’t expect such rapid agreement.

      • Galacticplumber says:

        You can also make the point that if it’s this annoying to read about imagine how much it sucks to play. Hell you can skip forward a few paragraphs trying to find more gameplay talk where to the best of my knowledge the cutscenes are unskippable.

        • Olivier FAURE says:

          Oh come on. “My art is unpleasant because real life in unpleasant” is the worst defense.

          (but yeah, nobody’s making us read Shamus’s columns)

          • Galacticplumber says:

            It’s not a bad defense when the direct purpose of the piece is to inform about the deficiencies of the thing being described.

          • Guest says:

            ‘Oh come on. “My art is unpleasant because real life in unpleasant” is the worst defense.”

            It’s a good thing nobody made it then. To give you some fair play, it’s more “This review is unpleasant, repetitive and overlong, because the art is unpleasant, repetitive and overlong”.

            It’s nothing to do with real life, nor with creating one’s own art, and you know that. If you feel I’ve unfairly represented you, fine, but if you really think you made your point well there, you ought to no you made no point, especially no point worth discussing. And you’ve misrepresented Shamus and the article, to the point where response is almost impossible, because you haven’t even put forth an argument, rather than a strawman about art, instead of even about art criticism.

            Shamus isn’t representing the real world through an artistic lens. He is discussing the way that TNC communicates it’s story and themes, through what is essentially a play by play readthrough. Having a problem with the format is fine. Finding it not worth reading, fine. Finding that the review is flawed because it’s repeating itself, because the game makes the same mistakes, can’t be dismissed with a statement that doesn’t even apply here.

            If you think Shamus ought to summarise these issues, fair enough-say that, don’t bloviate on cliches which don’t even apply.

            • Olivier FAURE says:

              Are you… is this a tongue-in-cheek way to punish me for making a short undeveloped argument in a comment chain about how I think Shamus should write a shorter column?

              (and yeah, I guess I phrased the “my art is real life” thing poorly; whatever, I’m not paid for this)

      • BlueBlazeSpear says:

        I’ve not played a single Wolfenstein game beyond the original, but I’ve been reading your series about The New Colossus because I find merit in it greater than deciding if the game is good or bad. I think that a good contextual criticism can actually “train” a readership to really think about what makes a good game and what makes a bad game in both the objective sense and what we bring to the games with our own subjective experiences. Even if I don’t apply that thinking to this game in particular, it gives me context in thinking about the games I do play and, by comparison, I can ask myself what I like or don’t like about those games with a bigger cognitive tool set.

        When I was in college, I took a course called “Fiction: A Critical Approach.” On the first day, the professor was explaining what the coursework would look like and someone asked a question that this professor clearly had experience answering. The person asked “By breaking down these stories in a critical way, aren’t we stealing the magic away from these works?” The professor said “You can look at a pocket watch and appreciate that it keeps time, but imagine opening up that watch and watching the complex dance of cogs and springs and studying the clockwork for the art that it truly is. When you put all the pieces back together and look at the watch, you’ll have a much deeper appreciation of its time keeping ability.” I generally think of your reviews as deep dives into the clockwork.

        Speaking of parts being subjective, story quality is a valuable piece of the puzzle for me. I’ll take a game with a good story and janky controls over a game with tight controls and a garbage story any day of the week. I’m bringing my own float to the parade here, but I found it surprising that there was some grumbling over your coverage of the story in a game that’s ostensibly trying to tell a story. I’m interested in control schemes and game mechanics and how they interact with the story, but as a story guy, I’m completely interested in hearing the story beats and why they do or don’t work, even if it seems repetitive. If anything, that should say more about the game than your coverage of it.

        I appreciate your method of covering games. As far as I’m concerned, your Mass Effect retrospective is the Platonic ideal of what game coverage could be. It’s a bit distressing to me that you’ve had to defend how you cover games because I personally feel like you’ve been crushing it.

        • Asdasd says:

          I really have to +1 this comment. Story deserves a focus because we’re about 1.5 decades deep into the long, dark night of the cinematic movie-game, and if that’s what developers what to make then critics should absolutely engage their output on those terms (while also giving appropriate consideration to Games Qua Games.)

          There hasn’t been a single long-form series on here where I think Shamus has dropped the ball, Wolfenstein included.

        • Liessa says:

          Another thing to bear in mind is that not everyone reading this series will have played the game. Personally I really appreciate Shamus’ in-depth explanations of what’s wrong with the story, because the problems may not always be obvious without context (aside from really blatant stuff like the ‘severed head’ part). Of course, the downside is that I don’t get the chance to judge for myself without seeing the game through Shamus’ eyes – but then Wolfenstein isn’t my kind of game anyway, so it’s not like this would affect my decision to buy it.

        • Decius says:

          “The original”

          The top-down original, or Wolf3D?

        • Jaaxter says:

          Bingo. I’ve never played a Wolfenstein game… ever. In fact I haven’t played very many video games in total (though what I have played, I sink a lot of hours into). But I always tune in for Shamus’s long-form critiques even if I know nothing about the game itself because I’m interested in reading more about what makes a game good. I enjoy reading about what works, what doesn’t, and why he thinks it does or doesn’t work. I don’t always have to agree with him, but he’s been in the industry long enough to have a much more nuanced and incisive perception of the current issues than I do, even if I still don’t agree with him at the end of the day. Same reason I read Film Crit Hulk’s work- even if I don’t agree, it’s interesting to hear what he has to say.

      • NIX says:

        Idk
        but I’ve always seen video game reviews a lot like the ones I find on Amazon. There’s no point in arguing them if you already have the product. It’s more for if you’re deciding whether or not it’s worth your time and money to buy it/play the game

        • Dev Null says:

          I get your point, but there’s a case to be made (and Shamus actually touches on it in the article above) for needing to read someone’s review of a thing you _do_ know, to judge whether their tastes are similar enough to yours that you should care about their opinions about things you_don’t_ know. As much as we – correctly, I believe – malign review scores as over-simplistic, the better I know a reviewer the more likely I can take their simplifications at face value. Ironically, Shamus is one of the few people from whom I would take review scores, if he gave them. Not because we always agree – we don’t – but because we usually do, and when we don’t I generally understand his reasoning.

          The other reason for reading longer-form criticism of things you’ve already played is that it can help you to define and articulate your own thoughts. Maybe you liked Shoot Guy III quite a lot, but found certain scenes didn’t click well for you, for reasons you’ve never quite been able to put your finger on. And it’s only now that you read about it that you realize they were all scenes with that damned fox…

      • Olivier FAURE says:

        Yay, now I feel special! Unless you’re saying I’m the TL;DR guy, in which case you suck and I’m never reading your blog again.

        And I’m not arguing that you should / should have cut examples. But maybe instead of saying “This scene is an example of problem X because something something”, then “This other scene is an example of problem X because analysis commentary”, etc, you could have put it more succinctly as “Problem X crops up a lot in the game, such as in this scene and this other scene”. Although I guess it does make for a bit awkward structure and people might argue “Hey, this is unfair, this other scene doesn’t *really* have problem X”, so I get your point.

        Also, I think this is more of an issue for someone reading these columns as they come out than someone reading them from an archive (I didn’t really have a problem with the Mass Effect 3 column even though it was objectively similar to the Wolfenstein one), and it’s more of an issue for someone who has already read your previous columns and knows about your stances on suspension of disbelief and the role of story in a video game.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        I guess the choice is between walking through the game front to back, then making your statements about the game whenever a suitable example presents itself, versus walking through the statements you want to make about the game, and listing all the examples from the game which support the given statement.

        And I kind-of agree that for Wolfenstein II, the latter may have worked better, in terms of supporting your arguments.

        On the other hand: I haven’t played the game, am probably not going to, and I enjoy the fact that your way of partitioning up the content means I also get a summary of the story itself, and how it presents itself to the player.

    • Redrock says:

      I agree that the Wolfenstein series seems to be a bit slower than others, but I get the feeling that it’s actually because the game is kinda empty and boring once you are forced to read and think about it without all of the gunfire and explosions to distract you. Because, unless you want to get into a silly discussion about the political significance of a story about Nazis in the USA, there isn’t really all that much to The New Colossus.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Is there any significance really?I mean,I can see how a good story can draw parallels and say meaningful things about nazism and current world events.But what Ive seen on youtube,this game is not a good story about that.Just mentioning something is not the same as actually saying something insightful about it.And I honestly dont see this game saying much of substance.

        • BlueBlazeSpear says:

          While I haven’t played it myself (so take my words with a grain of salt), people seem to be leveling this claim at Far Cry 5 – that it’s telling a story that incorporates a lot of thematically deep real-world events without engaging in the actual real-world conversation.

          It’s easy to say that the game is supposed to be shallow fun and not a political statement, but then I say why attempt to even engage in this type of storytelling at all then? As sour as I’ve been about video game reviewers lately, I sort of understand where they’re coming from when they talk about the game’s story not meeting the expectations that the game itself presented.

          I guess the Wolfenstein games at least acknowledge how ridiculous their premise is and it seems to be treated as the cartoon story that it is. But the impression I’ve been getting from what Shamus has been saying, there seems to be some sort of disconnect between the ridiculous premise and the type of story that The New Colossus is attempting to tell.

          • BlueHorus says:

            people seem to be leveling this claim at Far Cry 5 – that it’s telling a story that incorporates a lot of thematically deep real-world events without engaging in the actual real-world conversation.

            Shallow? A Ubisoft game?! Never!
            You obviously haven’t collected all the things yet.

            Though I think this game might have been asking for said criticism, what with that story.
            But then again…was it advertised as having a deep and profound story?

            • BlueBlazeSpear says:

              This is the rub. It’s completely fair of my fellow gamers to look to the critics on this one and ask “What did you expect from an Ubisoft game?” It’s a fair criticism.

              I’m a story-first kind of guy, so things like “themes” and “tone” matter to me. When I hear “It’s a story about having to infiltrate a religious cult/militia in rural Montana to capture its violent leader,” “shallow fare” doesn’t naturally spring to mind as the type of story being told. A game could no more be advertised to me as “A light-hearted romp about traveling to Africa to help bring an end to child militias.” The material itself seems to imply a theme/tone. But one should realistically re-evaluate such a presumption when the Ubisoft logo pops during the loading screen.

              I certainly don’t need a game to be some sort of indictment of a particular political climate like some reviewers seemed to be calling for, but I’d expect a game to handle itself with a bit of care if this is the kind of story that it’s trying to tackle.

              And I’ll actually speak in Ubisoft’s defense to say that they were pretty up front even back before the game came out that they weren’t trying to put forth any message but that they were just trying to create a fun game. They certainly didn’t explicitly suggest that they were tackling heavy material. To be fair to them, “this game is taking on a real-world problem” was more inferred than implied. But it’s an inference borne of the kind story they decided to tell.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                but I’d expect a game to handle itself with a bit of care if this is the kind of story that it’s trying to tackle.

                Thats the difference between a setting and a theme.Far cry 5 isnt a story about X in a cult in the usa trying to Y,rather its a story about X doing whacky stuff set in a place in the usa dominated by a cult.And while a story can be used to explore a setting in depth,its not really fair to expect that from a silly romp around crazy characters.You can put such a story in any setting,and you really wont get much different from it.And mind you,this does not mean that the story is automatically bad* because of it,its just means that you should not expect it to do things that a different kind of a story would do.

                *Or good,for that matter

                • BlueBlazeSpear says:

                  I’m way out of my element with Far Cry 5 since I have no hands on experience with it, so I wouldn’t be comfortable with evaluating the story as “good” or “bad” despite what tone I would assume with what I’ve seen of it. And I think you’re right that a perceived mis-match between setting and tone alone can’t determine a story’s overall quality. There are stories that have quite successfully played off that mis-match to do something interesting.

                  The thing that gives me pause with this game in particular – and, again, I’m out of my depth on this particular title – is I think it’s possible that certain settings can be so extreme and so specific that the tone (or perceived tone) becomes intrinsically tied to to to them. A cult/militia in rural Montana is a very specific and scary (and very real) setting that I would say smuggles in a complex and dour tone. I can’t say that this is right or wrong, but I can empathize with reviewers who had their expectations confused.

                  But I also wouldn’t let a reviewer off the hook for punishing the game in the review simply for not meeting that expectation.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    If Mel Brooks was able to make a funny musical about nazis,you can put any story into any setting.Of course,some care is still needed to not stumble into any uncomfortable suggestions,like implying that murderous cults are actually a good thing.

                    • Guest says:

                      Mel Brooks himself disagrees, read his 2006 interview.

                    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      Mel Brooks comedies about touchy subjects were EXTREMELY political though. At no point do racists or Nazis or zealots get the right end of the stick in Brooks’ movies. They’re portrayed as buffoons and assholes, believing what they do for stupid or selfish reasons. Far Cry 5 seems to want to portray a murderous, religiously themed cult without examining what that looks like. They went out of their way to make their fictional cult NOT resemble the real thing that it DOES resemble when you hear the premise of the game. It’s almost like they’re afraid of offending someone who would fit in the “insane, gun cult” demographic. Which… why would you be? Grow some stones.

                    • BlueHorus says:

                      It’s almost like they’re afraid of offending someone who would fit in the “insane, gun cult” demographic.

                      I doubt that it’s murderous cults they’re worried about getting complaints from; it’s people who like to over-react. Some folks are going to read too much into the ‘murderous Montana-based cult’ and get offended or angry whatever the story is.
                      Just comes with the territory, like the recent Netflix Punisher series.

                      …hey, it’s almost like the title of this post referenced the Why We Can’t Have Nice Things meme or something.

        • Guest says:

          That was exactly what was being said honey, try to keep up.

      • KarmaTheAlligator says:

        Yeah, that’s also how I saw it. The gameplay is mostly functional, and you can only talk about it so many times because it’s the same thing. But the story, well, it’s not only presented in an in-your-face and boring way, but it also keeps topping itself on how ridiculous it gets.

        • Asdasd says:

          I feel like the discussion of the story only starts to sag if the story itself starts to sag. That hasn’t happened in New Colossus yet. It makes startling, wild turns every moment, almost all of them for the worse, and it’s been plenty interesting (for me anyway) to see Shamus dissecting them at length.

      • Olivier FAURE says:

        Yeah, but that’s what for timeskips are for. You don’t have to detail every single beat of a story to make a critique of it, you’re allowed to say “In this chapter this thing and that other thing happen, I don’t have much to say about it than I haven’t already, let’s move onto the next chapter”.

        I mean, obviously I’m not expecting Shamus to actually say that, but my point is that analysis length doesn’t have to be tied to chapter length.

    • CJ Kerr says:

      I’ve skipped the series after the first two, and IMO that’s fine. I skipped the Final Fantasy series, too, because it didn’t grab me. I’m still pretty likely to read whatever the next one is.

  3. CliveHowlitzer says:

    The Mass Effect retrospective will always be among my favorites.

    • Matt van Riel says:

      And the FF10 one tbh. It was nice to have something positive, lol

      • Henson says:

        Part of what made the FF10 series so good was the comments section. The Rocketeer really went to town on that story.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          Speaking of, I want to mention this article hit the nail on head for me. I know I get a lot of deserved shit for being long-winded, but this is only mostly down to raw self-indulgence, and the fact that I tend to write to organize my own thoughts and have something to refer back to in the future, with the idea that someone else could or would read it more as an afterthought.

          I’ve never actually seen much point in just posting, unasked, merely “I liked/didn’t like [x],” especially when you’re jumping in to gainsay something you don’t like when someone else dares to praise it. Believe it or not, knowing that some anonymous Internet stranger reacted well or poorly to something has about zero value without some supporting commentary a third party might be able to relate to. Unless you believe that your plain opinion is, in itself, some rare and valuable treasure. Counterintuitive as it might be, I think it shows respect to potential readers to try and provide at least a modicum of potentially useful or relatable information by backing up your opinion with where you’re coming from mentally, what did or didn’t engage you, and what specifically you enjoy or dispute in a work— especially if you know you’re about to take a hatchet to something generally beloved.

          Speaking of which, Final Fantasy X in particular is probably the clearest example of me couching my criticism in a great deal of prolepsis: always trying to be very clear exactly what part of the text I’m drawing a conclusion from and, more importantly, admitting when the text is ambiguous or absent and I’m extrapolating or conjecturing. Conjecture and assumption is very risky ground for a critic, and always needs to be admitted forthrightly without trying to hide the ball or overplay your hand. It might seem like exposing your neck to the opponent, but I think it actually creates a middle-ground for amicable disagreement, and exposing lacunae and ambiguities in a work is often important in itself, since they can reveal a lot about a story and its means and ends for good or ill, something else I brushed on while talking about FFX; trying to bend or brush over them to prop up a desired conclusion is bad practice, both in the sense that it’s a missed opportunity and the path of the filthy eisegete. I always tried to meet Final Fantasy X halfway with what the storyteller seemed to be trying to accomplish and how they were pursuing those ends, both because I believed it was in general an excellent game that delivered on its real priorities and a game that many people regard dearly— maybe not quite as many on this particular site, but still a good haul, or so it seemed.

          And Auron can still kiss my ass. Cussed old haint.

  4. Droid says:

    What? Only one picture? How can you call this a column entry if it has only one picture! Literally unreadable!

    Faux outrage aside, the major disadvantage of long-form reviews is that people who happen to not care for one game in particular (or games they have not played in general), consistently have one entry per week less to enjoy over a span of several weeks. With the schedule you had before the Diecast and the Shamecast returned, and with only intermittent help from Rutskarn and Bob Case, that was some major draught in content.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Depends on the game actually.I dont care for either final fantasy or borderlands,yet I went through the whole borderlands series he wrote while I stopped with final fantasy somewhere near the beginning.I still dont care for borderlands,which is why I barely commented in those entries,but I enjoyed reading about it.

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      Exactly what’s going on for me with the Witcher 3 series. I can’t read it because I want to play the game spoiler free (and way too busy to start it any time soon), so that’s one less article a week.

      • Nimrandir says:

        I get that problem. I’ve been hacking away at the first Witcher game so I can play through the sequel on my 360 before trying the third game on my PS4.

        Also, in a moment of weakness, I bought Pillars of Eternity. Oops.

        • KarmaTheAlligator says:

          Well at least I’m on act 4 of the first Witcher, so hopefully it won’t take too long to finish. Then on to Witcher 2. Then 3. How long is that going to take, I wonder…

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not long.Three is rather shortish.You can finish it easily in four,maybe five dozen hours.If you know what you are doing.And ignore all of the side quests.If you want to 100% it,it should take you only maybe three times that long.

            • KarmaTheAlligator says:

              Yeah, I’m one of those “if it exists in the game I’m gonna try to do it” (depends on how tedious the side quest is), so let’s say I’ll be aiming for 100%. And I also know absolutely nothing about it.

              • Version 2.Joe says:

                I also went into it completely blind (as in, I knew nothing about that game in particular, as I have played the previous ones and read the books) and finished it with every sidequest done (afaik) and every side activity with a map marker completed. Took me about 120-130h. (I am currently at 129h55m of game time, but I remember having started a second playthrough on Death March once which accounts for maybe 5-10 hours of that time). And I wouldn’t call myself a particularly gifted/talented player.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                One advice:Dont bother with the non quest related underwater treasure.Youll see why I mean that when you try.But getting the last piece of it will be just as hollow as getting the first.I did it,and it was definitely not worth it.Other than that,3 is great.

              • Nimrandir says:

                I was able to lay off dice poker, but the other side stuff keeps waylaying me.

          • Nimrandir says:

            You’re ahead of me, then; I’m still plugging away on chapter 3. I’ve dealt with most of the side quests (I’m too big a sucker for job boards, especially when it’s a thing my character would be doing in-world), but the game kept crashing on me during one of the critical-path dungeon crawls.

    • MelTorefas says:

      Yeah, this is where I have been for awhile. Unfortunately, the last several games Shamus has reviewed (Batman, Borderlands, Wolfenstein) are all games where I quickly found the story incredibly off-putting and had to stop reading the articles. So it has sadly been awhile since I have been able to enjoy the “main” content here. (The Witcher is also included in this, but that’s not Shamus.)

      I mean, I don’t think this is really an avoidable problem; as you say it is inherent in doing long-form reviews, and I don’t think anyone wants to stop seeing those. I certainly don’t! The ME and FF reviews were amazing. These reviews are probably also very good. But I am looking forward to the next time he does a review of a game with a story I don’t find so repulsive.

      (I mean repulsive literally, in that it repels me.)

    • Cybron says:

      I’m not sure when Shamus last did a long form review of a game I actually played or even really cared about. Fallout 3, I think? But yet, I still read them, because they’re usually worth it for their own sake.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    (isn’t he supposed to be a hyper-intelligent fox? So why is he attracted to big-breasted human females?)

    He is the animal equivalent of a furry.He is a skinny.

  6. Infinitron says:

    You definitely can have short-form criticism – in aggregate. Steam reviews, Metacritic pages.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So then you need to bolster your case by demonstrating that your examples aren’t just aberrant moments selected to support a false thesis, but are actually representative of the whole.

    If you are doing this with sound,its really easy to demonstrate with little effort.At two random points,without warning or reason,insert a 1 second high pitched screech that nearly deafens everyone.I mean,how can two very short one second sounds ruin a review that is 300 times longer?

    We’re well past the point where this review is functional as consumer advice.

    Thats why I prefer there to be a clear distinction between a review and an in depth critique.A critique has a completely different goal.

    Also,you have started from a false premise that all of the criticism needs to be addressed.Theres nothing wrong in building your entire column/blog/channel around 140 character brief descriptions of each game.Heck,seeing how many new games steam vomits out every day,you can practically make long half hour videos just reading out each title and giving a brief “Looks like shit” or “Has potential”.The point is,you should draw the line at the place where it suits you the most,not where youll get the least criticism.Thats why you wont find a Joseph Anderson style video in PewDiePie’s archive,or a PewDiePie style video in Joseph Anderson’s archive.Except maybe occasionally as a joke.

    • Guest says:

      Congratulations. You are the person Shamus described. But not only that, you’re the worst sort of that person. Someone who will deliberately misinterpret what is said because it makes them feel clever (See, we can all engage in bad faith).

      You even managed to oversimplify an misrepresent an article discussing the tradeoffs between writing longer pieces, as an explanation of why this site is the way it is. Bravo. You’re the worst.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Your so-called “review” of this RTS is invalid because you used the mouse and not a dual-shock controller, which is the One True Way to play!

    Ugh!Thats one nasty joke…Even jokingly,those words hurt to read.

    • Redrock says:

      Yup. Everyone knows you need a decent joystick and throttle combo to play an RTS properly.

      • Oliver says:

        You can’t be serious. Every gamer with an opinion worth listening to knows that RTS control schemes peaked with the glorious Steel Battalion controller. With so many buttons, levers, and pedals your APM is unmatchable!

      • Matt van Riel says:

        Pff, please, these days it’s all about the touch screens. So much better using fat fingers than that silly little pointing device.

        On a more serious note, I actually played C&C (mostly Red Alert and Retaliation using the Link Cable with a friend) ON THE ORIGINAL PS1 CONTROLLER. And enjoyed it. Yes, the one before the sticks were added. If you think DS is heresy, try it with a D-pad ;p

        • John says:

          Hah! I played Dune II on a Sega Genesis Pad!

          Though honesty does compel me to admit that it was the Sega Genesis port of Dune II and therefore the Genesis pad was the only way that I could play the game. Fortunately, I played Dune II on the Genesis long before I played Command & Conquer on a PC and my experience was not affected by previous exposure to mouse & keyboard RTS controls.

          • Matt van Riel says:

            Yeah, I didn’t have a PC capable of playing games at the time, so it was all PS1 for me and my friends. I HAD a PC, but a 486 wasn’t really capable of running something like CnC (or my favourite RTS of the period, Warzone 2100) ;p Hell, I was playing WZ on PS1 as well.

    • Joshua says:

      Pfft, they should all be played on Wiimotes.

  9. Redrock says:

    I think we can all agree, that right now game reviews and the surrounding discourse are pretty much fundamentally broken. The problem with video game criticism is that because the nature of games is so nebulous, so is our understanding of what constitutes “good” criticism. Crudely put, games straddle the line between product, service and art. They also usually require a lot of investment – dozens of dollars and dozens of hours, especially when compared to movies, theatre or art exhibitions. So game criticism has to alternate between actual criticism and, well, product reviews akin to those you might read about a new smartphone, detailing features, performance, etc. And those things don’t always mesh with each other. When it comes to film a lot of people might be content with the idea that a review is a personal opinion. But when it comes to games people want actual consumer advice. Also, games are big and multi-layered, and have far more things to like and dislike and all of those things that can have different weight for different people. Like the (lack of) political message in a Far Cry game, or weapon degradation in Breath of the Wild. Then you also have to take into account that game consumption of critics and gamers is often different, and, say, “open world fatigue” might not be a thing for the audience, while being very much a thing for the reviewer (see, for example, the response to “Mad Max”). And so on.

    The solution? There isn’t one, but there are ways to mitigate this whole problem. First, make a clear distinction between consumer advice product reviews and criticism. For example, Shamus’s work very clearly isn’t intended to be consumer advice, and so is free of some of the responsibilty and objectivity requirements that we apply to launch-period reviews. Second, gotta get rid of scores in favor of actual recommendations. As in “people who like this and that would like this game”. If you’re an outlet, have separate official reviews and personal takes by some of the writers, if you have to. That will take away some of the stupid reasons for people to get up in arms about video games. None of this is by any means panacea (that would require importing a better class of sentient beings from somewhere), but it’s a start. Bottom line is, you can’t treat games like art or like a product, you have to account for both of these aspects and then some.

    EDIT: When I say that games aren’t pure art, I mostly mean bigger games. Sure, some of the smaller indies can be considered pure artistic expressions. But in most cases there is a compromise between the art side and the product side. Which is completely fine and also true for blockbuster movies.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      I’m somewhat with you until you say “separate official reviews and personal takes by some of the writers” and then I instantly come to believe your take is gibberish. That’s like saying “we need to separate cooking from all this business of manipulating edible ingredients, then we’d have something”. Explain how a writer would come up with an “official review” that was not a “personal take.” That would read something like this:

      -The story is interesting and well voice acted… but then again, other people might be unimpressed by both of those things. It is impossible to say, you’d have to check on a case by case basis.
      -The controls could be better, they seem a bit loose. However, that is my personal opinion, it is just as valid to say my skill level was inadequate to the task and the controls are perfect as is.
      -The music is very good, but actually maybe it doesn’t sound very good at all, depending on your tastes in this genre of music.
      Etc

      • Redrock says:

        By “personal take” I meant pieces that read more like essays or columns that focus only on specific aspects that the writer found particularly important and don’t necessarily provide coverage of all the various aspects of the game that are needed for solid consumer advice. These pieces also shouldn’t have a score. One example when such a separation is desperately needed would be Polygon’s review of Wolfenstein II The New Colossus. Just let Ben Kuchera write about the politics and “humanity” of Wolfenstein and don’t make the poor man write about such silly things as gameplay. But don’t call it a review, either. A good example of what I’m suggesting would be Forbes: it has a huge and positive scored review of Far Cry 5, but also a number of columns by various contributors with titles like “‘Far Cry 5’ Is Apolitical To The Point Of Absurdity” or “It’s Okay To Love And Hate ‘Far Cry 5’ At The Same Time”.

        As I mentioned before, a good reviewer should be able to at least try to separate personal preferences and hangups from problems that are likely to be important for major parts of their audiences.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          I don’t disagree with your larger point, that some takes are more like essays than reviews. That’s fair. But… that separation exists already. And Ben Kuchera really does do reviews, not essays or editorials, so picking him out is a bad example.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      I’m down for the meta, so here’s my review of your review of everyone’s reviews of video games.

      This review is more tautological than informative.

      It opens with “I think we can all agree”, and then goes on to state things that are true of nearly every aspect of human endeavor. It’s true because it has to be, but isn’t particularly insightful into games or gamer culture.

      By way of example, I’m going to take out the subject and replace it with X. Sure, these work with “game reviews”, but work just as well with “politics” “world religions” or even “franchise fast food administration styles”.

      “right now X and the surrounding discourse are pretty much fundamentally broken.”
      “The problem with X is that because the nature of X is so nebulous…”
      “Crudely put, X straddle the line between product, service and art.”
      I could go on to quote basically the entire article, but you can try it yourself. Take any sentence as referring to some other large societal pursuit and see if it doesn’t make just as much sense.

      Spouting tautologies isn’t insight, though at least it isn’t laziness.
      6/10

  10. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    If you’re going to review a game then why not review it in a holistic sense, rather than focusing on just the bad parts?

    Personally, I do focus only on the bad parts because that’s how I was taught to criticise in art school. Point out what you see as flaws, suggest possible improvements. Anything I don’t mention doesn’t need improving.

    And yes, back when I was commenting on artworks that way, it caused quite a bit of friction with others due to “only being negative” (never mind the suggestions for improvements), to the point I often had to explain why my comments were that way (though some people just cannot take criticism, no matter how constructive it is).

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I never understood the “you are too negative” criticism. Why is focusing on just one aspect somehow worse than focusing on a different one?

      • KarmaTheAlligator says:

        Content creators want to get some praise for their efforts, and only seeing negative criticism doesn’t sit well with some of them.

        Or in the case of a game review, when the readers say it’s too negative, maybe they like parts of it and wish to see if others do, too? It’s often the case that they need others to validate their taste to feel like they’re part of the group.

      • Because it’s difficult for many people to LISTEN to the negatives without some positives too, and it’s much easier to dismiss wholly or mostly negative criticisms. Hearing negative after negative starts to feel like a personal attack (or at least an attack on this thing you made and care about and are possibly quite thrilled that you made).

        I generally go with thinking how I’d receive whatever criticism I’m offering. I know having someone say “I loved the characters in this fic, but you’re using American slang, here are some examples, the dialogue is also really snappy, but I’d have loved more description in this bit, and you got a couple laughs out of me” (most of my criticism experience is from my fanfics).

        Oh, and being able to give both positive and negative generally makes me (at least) think “hey, they liked this enough to want to help me make it better, so it must not completely suck.” I have much more trouble figuring out why bits of a thing work for me and why I think certain bits are good than I do finding stuff I don’t like.

        • Supah Ewok says:

          “Because it’s difficult for many people to LISTEN to the negatives without some positives too, and it’s much easier to dismiss wholly or mostly negative criticisms. Hearing negative after negative starts to feel like a personal attack (or at least an attack on this thing you made and care about and are possibly quite thrilled that you made).”

          It’s not just that. If people care about the work they do, the work feels in some ways like an extension of themselves, for there is indeed something of themselves in it. Therefore critique of their work carries back to themselves. It’s always personal. And if somebody has the least bit shred of pride, they’re going to want others to praise them vis a vis their work, and will at the very least be put down if their work is only viewed negatively.

      • Christopher says:

        What’s the point of trying to please someone who’s only ever gonna talk to you to tell you that you’ve done something bad or could’ve done a better job?

        Reading critics that have a game they love and adore and respect and then the only positive thing they have to say about it is a brief “It’s great, but -” before page upon page of nitpicks can get a bit tiring. If you’re writing about games because you love games, then being able to say why you love them can be just as entertaining and informative to read as why they messed up. You can do deep dives into fun mechanics, clever design, unexpected but reasonable plot twists, likeable characters, some wonderful new piece of tech, excellent graphics or artwork, lore, developer history and trivia, all that good stuff. You don’t _have_ to be Mr. Negative, though I get that it’s cathartic to just rant about shit that annoys you.

      • Olivier FAURE says:

        Signalling.

        When you’re giving only negative criticism on a work, you’re giving off the impression that the only parts of the work that left an impression on you were the negative parts.

        In other words, if you’re only talking about the negatives, you’re signaling that you only noticed negative things, which suggests that the work has no positive aspect and sucks.

      • Kathryn says:

        Because saying what didn’t work is only half of long-form critique – you also need to say what DID work. If element A of the work stunk on ice, element B was so-so, and Element C was excellent, but all you talk about is A, how do I know whether B and C were good or just not bad enough to complain about?

        (Trick question – I will know because when I change C, people who never said anything about it will complain that I changed their favorite part. Hah!)

      • BlueHorus says:

        I never understood the “you are too negative” criticism.

        I am…not surprised.

        Joking snark aside, as others have pointed out people judge you on what they see you do. And if that’s more-often-than-not negative comments…

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        What you all are describing is the feeling that the negative stuff is directed at you,either because its directed at what you made,or at something you liked.But Ive seen the “dont be too negative” criticism even from people who agree with the opinion,or dont care either way.And its fascinating,because both extremes can be equally as dangerous.Just look at celebrity kids who always received only positive comments,and what many of them have turned into.

        But as long as the person making the comment acknowledges “I know the other side exist,but I wont be talking about it”,there should really be no difference.

        • Guest says:

          “Should be” is meaningless.

          There’s a reason your primary teacher told you to give constructive criticism Lucy, and that’s because people aren’t rational, and people take criticism of their artwork personally.

          Making your criticism constructive, acknowledging some positives, can actually improve your ability to point out negatives, and also, if you’re only pointing out negatives, you aren’t really giving advice. You haven’t told them what the core of the thing that you like is, that you’re trying to drive it towards (The key thing they need to know to know if you’re on the same page and if your critique is relevant), and how removing what you see as flaws can help what you see as the best version of the work. If you can’t acknowledge at least one positive aspect, then apart from trimming the negatives, what are they meant to preserve, or enhance, on revision?

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Youve made your point that you hate me,I dont care.But please,for your own sake,dont respond to

            But as long as the person making the comment acknowledges “I know the other side exist,but I wont be talking about it”,there should really be no difference.

            with

            If you can’t acknowledge at least one positive aspect

            and then immediately go on to say

            Someone who will deliberately misinterpret what is said because it makes them feel clever

            unless your goal is to call yourself out.

        • BlueHorus says:

          What you all are describing is the feeling that the negative stuff is directed at you,either because its directed at what you made, or at something you liked.

          And (I assume, tell me if I’m wrong) your point is that you’re criticising the thing, and not the person – so their personally being offended is unnecessary/irrational?

          I agree. It is. And people get upset anyway, and will respond as if you’ve insulted them personally. It’s just how they work.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            No,my point was that the criticism of “being too negative” is happening regardless of someones thought on the work in question.Not just from people who think your negativity is about them personally,but even from people actually agree with that the work has those negatives to it.

        • Syal says:

          Depends on the purpose of the criticism, and especially on the creator. If the point is to complain about a specific thing, then knock yourself out with the negativity. If the point is to assess the game as a whole, only talking about the negatives will give an inaccurately negative impression. And if the creator is an amateur, with no positive feedback they can get the impression there’s no point trying again.

          “I know the other side exist,but I wont be talking about it”

          There’s always an implied “because it’s not as important” there. If it carried equal weight, and the first part was worth saying, why would you skip the second?

          But Ive seen the “dont be too negative” criticism even from people who agree with the opinion,or dont care either way.

          There could be a few reasons for that; could easily just be people trying to avoid conflict. Although I don’t think pure positivity has quite as many downsides, since the creator probably has some criticisms of their own even if no one else says it.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      One of my jobs as a teacher is editing papers the students turn in as part of my grading. It’s… really negative. Confusing punctuation, typos and grammatical errors that render entire paragraphs unintelligible, and word choices that imply the likely opposite of the actual meaning. (Thesauruses are the most dangerous books in the world.) I mark these errors because these are the things that are going to get them in trouble later in life. Writing a bad paper gets you lots of edits. Writing a bad memo causes you considerably more professional heartburn.

      I’m sure it feels nitpicky, and it is. But you don’t get points for what you meant, you get points for what you wrote.

      When students do something notably well -a good turn of phrase, or anticipate and answer a question I have -I will note that they have done so as well.

      At the end of the paper, though, the skill is clear communication. That requires marking every single point of confusion, be it logical, grammatical, or rhetorical.

    • Cubic says:

      That’s why one uses the ‘shit sandwich’ strategy. First, say something nice. Then it’s time for the harshness. Finally, say something nice again.

      • KarmaTheAlligator says:

        I’ll have to remember that.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          There’s another aspect to critique, which Shamus does a lot, but which I think bears some focus.

          A creative work is often a deeply intertwined and deeply personal artifact. There are elements present that the author knows aren’t the best, but were included anyway because they support, echo, or balance other elements. Even when this isn’t true of a particular element, you often can’t convince the creator to just take it out because it’s felt to be an important part of the whole. The creator often doesn’t consciously understand how all these elements work together.

          So it’s not enough to just point out how a particular element offends you. To be helpful, you need to demonstrate that you understand how the element in question fits into the whole creative work, how it impacts the best elements, and how these influences and ties could be improved by the changes you propose. It’s not enough to defend your critique. It’s not even enough to complement the parts you like best. To have an impact you have to show that you deeply comprehend the work, and wish to improve it in a structural way.

          Most people don’t think on this level, so when they hear cosmetic critique, the dislike the superficiality, but don’t know how to say that. They say they dislike you “only being negative”, which is valid if it’s true. But what could also be true is that you are only being superficial, which they can do very well for themselves, and don’t need your help with.

  11. Matt van Riel says:

    “So why is he attracted to big-breasted human females?”

    Probably for the same reason G’Kar in Babylon 5 enjoys foursomes with human women ;p

  12. Nixorbo says:

    Sure, I’ll be that guy:

    […]dual-shock controller[…]
    ::Picture of a 360 controller::

    ::eyetwitch::

  13. Kdansky says:

    Comment sections have (among many things) made reviews so much worse: Now every review needs to come with a ton of foot-notes and a list of clarifications, just to prevent the comment section to get overwhelmed by nitpickers.

    • Asdasd says:

      To cap this all off, you can go to great lengths to proof your piece against all imaginable criticism, and then some ass in the comments (like me!) will take you to task for the way you’re always pre-empting your audience.

    • Guest says:

      overwhelmed by Daemian Lucifer you mean.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Alternatively, I appreciate seeing comments in a review that constructively rebuff some aspect of the review that was either factually inaccurate (this is NEVER explained [then a comment points out the part of the story where it is COMPLETELY explained that the reviewer forgot or did not pay attention to]) or somewhat misguided (the review complements the game on a unique idea… that is quite obviously a derivative of something very popular). Some percent of review comments (like some percent of all comments) are terrible though, for sure.

  14. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    I recently found cleanprincegaming on Youtube, and while he doesn’t do game reviews per se, he does essays on games that are around 10-15min long (which is what I think is close to the perfect Youtube video length) and they are really well set out and have interesting thoughts in them.

  15. John says:

    In the spirt of Shamus’ article, here’s a short list of things that I wish more commenters on internet videogame articles understood.

    Item the First

    Not all videogame articles are reviews or consumer advice. Not all video game articles are supposed to be reviews or consumer advice.

    Item the Second

    No reviewer is obligated to like a game and no game is above criticism. Not liking a game is not a sign of bias. Speaking critically about a game is not a sign of bias.

    Item the Third

    No one’s experience is universal. There is no reason to expect that a reviewer’s experience should necessarily exactly match that of anyone else.

    Item the Fourth

    The score, if there is one, is the least important part of any review. (The important part is all the words.)

    • Ander says:

      On Item the Fourth:
      Please, someone, free us reviewers from having to give a score. It doesn’t matter how much thought we put into it; it’s arbitrary, and people’s personal scales are calibrated in different ways.

      On Item the Second:
      It’s more useful to identify bias than to try to eliminate it.

      • Anonymous says:

        I disagree. Scoring may be a bad way to do so, but it forces the reviewer to boil everything down to a number, although a sentence may be better. This sentence doesn’t contain the review, obviously, but it lights the way (and helps to decide wether to read to whole thing).

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      Really wish people would understand Item the third, and try things themselves, instead of jumping on bandwagons.

      • John says:

        Hm. That’s not really what I had in mind. I suppose what I should have said was that I wish people would stop getting angry when the read a review they don’t agree with simply because they don’t agree with it. There’s nothing personal about game reviews. The reviewer’s job is to honestly report his experience of the game as he played it, not to say what he thinks the reader will want to hear–as if that were even possible when writing for an audience of more than one person.

        Come to think of it, if the commenter has already bought the game and played enough of it to have strong opinions–with which the reviewer must agree or else–why is the commenter reading reviews? Isn’t it a little late for that?

        • KarmaTheAlligator says:

          Come to think of it, if the commenter has already bought the game and played enough of it to have strong opinions–with which the reviewer must agree or else–why is the commenter reading reviews? Isn’t it a little late for that?

          Usually it’s to see if others agree with what you think of the game (imagine, Big Name reviewer agrees with me! I can brag about it), either to feel like they belong (X likes it as well, and we know he’s a true gamer, so I must be a true gamer as well!), or because they want to vent of people who disagree.

        • Kathryn says:

          I’m not going to bother actually arguing most of the time, but I do like to read other people’s perspectives on various media after I have already formed my own. Shamus was bothered by drownball way more than I was, even though I am indeed nitpicky about many things*, so I had to ask myself why I was not nitpicking that area. (There is an NPC somewhere who says something about blitz players practicing holding their breath, and I was willing to accept that on Spira, some people have a supernatural ability to hold their breath that, like Lulu’s supernatural ability to create fire, can be trained.) I like to see other POVs.

          In the case of FFXIII, I don’t think I’ve seen a single review that makes the points I made in my own blog post about it…I’d like to see a better writer express my thoughts.

          *Ok, I can accept for the sake of the story that the fish are intelligent enough to communicate very complex concepts. I can accept that the Tank Gang, which have been around humans their whole lives, can understand spoken English. I’ll even buy that Dory can read. But how can Nemo possibly understand spoken English? (And we know he does bc we see him respond directly to the dentist’s comments.) He’s lived on a coral reef his whole life and was in school for like 30 seconds. And don’t get me started on reproduction in the Monsters Inc universe.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Ill add to this that even if the review has an opinion different from yours,it can still be of value to you.If you find a reviewer who hates X,and you love X,then every time they say “Ugh,this game has X”,you should know that its probably one for you.

  16. BenD says:

    I gather this explains why “But Shamus” faux-interjections are common in your work now! I wonder if you dare relax even a tad. Publishing on your own site should mean that people come here with a certain amount of knowing what they’re in for. A brand new reader who reads one crtitique and leaves because you forgot to praise ShootGuy’s groundbreaking empty shell physics in a chapter of an article analyzing the ShootGuy narrative was never going to stay around here anyway.

  17. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    Shortly before Mass Effect: Andromeda came out, I was eagerly anticipating it and I jumped into the early reviews like a kid in a candy store. That was my first real wakeup to the fact that most modern-day game reviewing/critiquing is a mess. The reviews were a nonsensical mish-mash of claims that EA had desecrated another popular franchise, a detailed accounting of bugs/odd facial animations, and wildly-differing opinions over the quality of characters, story, and combat. Some people would rave about the combat and complain about the characters, then some would celebrate the story and curse the awful combat. It was just this giant patchwork conflicting ideas and opinions without any real accounting for the difference. As someone who was trying to get a sense about the game, this wasn’t helpful: I walked away more confused than informed. I finally got the game myself and found it to be a bit of a mess, but I feel like reviewers across the board failed at their job.

    It’s worth noting that the medium that they’re covering has changed a fair bit and doesn’t necessarily lend itself as well to the old formula. Firstly, games have become far more cinematic and I don’t know that gaming reviewers have quite figured out how to cover that with reviews, particularly short reviews. But I think that the far biggest hurdle has been scale. When video game reviewing became a wide scale thing, the popular games of the day could be played through in a single one-to-two hour sitting. A reviewer could blow through that and have a fully-formed opinion based on the entire game experience. But we’re now in the time of the open world and reviewers are being asked to review games with that same amount of time, but now games take upwards of 60 hours to complete, if not a couple hundred hours. The gaming experience can get stretched mighty thin. Reviews now often come with a proviso that they’re based on a partial playthrough and will be updated as more of the game actually gets played since there’s still the urgency to get something out there as fast as the competition.

    I think that for game reviewing to continue being useful, it needs to change a bit to adapt to the world. There needs to be more room to talk about the narrative since narratives have become more important. The reviews need to grow to match the size of the games they’re covering. I would say that if someone doesn’t have time to read a long-winded review, they probably don’t have time for a 100-hour game. I’m inclined to leave the Tweet-sized reviews for the parents who want to buy their kids a game and are mostly wanting to know if there are boobs and/or blood involved.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      This ties to my response above.In order for any review to be of any help to you,you really need to follow a specific reviewer for a bit.If you find out that they have a strong opinion about something you care about,whether their opinion matches yours or not,thats what you should latch on.Every time they review a game,you know that theyll bring that up and you know how their opinion correlates to yours.

      For example,Shamus cares about stories.So if you care about stories too,but you like the stories he despises,the next time he says “This game has shit story”,you know to get it.

      Having a few reviewers like that is even better,because then you can more accurately judge what you are going into.

      Thats why the current era of self employed reviewers is such a boon.You no longer have to watch if someone is still employed by certain company,if said company had shady dealings with the publisher,etc.

  18. While I personally adore the long-form analysis, it seems to me that another possible strategy here is to decide that anything you post in public is going to resonate with some and be rejected by others, and just decide which segments of the audience you’re writing for.

    However you frame your content, you’re going to bounce off some percentage of the people out there with different preferences, and a vocal minority will disagree with you no matter how strongly you back up your claims. Those people aren’t your audience. So you could just… not write for them. You can’t persuade them and going above and beyond to do so will just bore the people who are already convinced by more reasonable amounts of evidence.

    I get that you, personally, have other goals with lively comment sections and a Patreon that also go into this decision, but I just wanted to put this out there because “you must write multi-chapter analyses” is not the right writing advice for everyone. :)

  19. Christopher says:

    I’ve enjoyed these retrospectives, too. I dunno how they’re doing traffic-wise, but the Mass Effect retrospective in particular is the piece of content here I’ve linked more than any other.

  20. Genericide says:

    I started writing a blog years ago, partially inspired by you, and came across similar issues. My articles used to read more like traditional reviews, which was less interesting because they were filled with bland observations to the tune of “now I need to talk about this part”. These days I write however many articles I want about whatever parts interest me, and it flows much better.

    And even though having too few words is a problem, I’ve also had trouble with too many. My early writing was filled with unnecessary qualifying statements. I’d talk about how feature X was probably not the best idea in this particular circumstance combined with the existing mechanics at least for me, because I really didn’t want to be misunderstood. But that writing was less fun to read, and so burdened with qualifiers that it was still easy to misinterpret.

    I guess there are two takeaways here:

    1. Balancing interesting, concise writing with a critique that feels complete is hard.

    2. Your blog is great, thanks for writing it.

  21. ccesarano says:

    I wish I had more time to more thoroughly read the comments here and join more discussions, rather than just skimming through and dropping my own. This is something I’ve been thinking about A LOT for the past decade, both in my own approach and into the many influences.

    I think, just as video games are still undergoing a variety of growing pains as a mature medium as well as typical growing pains due to the shifting of technology and mass market media (in other words, being… forty? fifty? years old during a time when there’s more content available than ever and all the large companies are banking on broad appeal), people writing about games are also finding their feet. I think there are writers out there that have struck some mid-life crises and are now trying to find meaning, or others that are simply trying to plug their ears, or too much focus to make everyone happy. It’s a weird industry filled with people trying to figure out how to talk about this industry as adults, especially when it feels like the industry itself doesn’t want to treat us as adults.

    When The Escapist started, it was a pseudo-magazine focused on essays and journalism surrounding the culture of gaming or cultural analyses rather than simple consumer advice and copy-paste news cycle. This was awesome for a lot of folks wanting something more meaningful because they were getting older and craving more sophistication, but then they grabbed Zero Punctuation. While I was a fan at the time as well, it was easy to see the imitations didn’t completely get it. Suddenly, intelligent game criticism was brutal. Everything was flawed! Nothing was truly good anymore! Foul language everywhere! Snark and humor!

    Extra Credits, fortunately, was able to come around and introduce a positive, academic, but brief glimpses into this medium.

    But then comes along Red Letter Media, some of my favorite guys on the Internet. What their Phantom Menace review did was prove that there is a market for long-form content. The advantage to long-form content is that it is academic. The problem with academic analysis is that it is rarely entertaining on its own and is, in fact, typically dry.

    Which is where the character of Plinkett comes in.

    Now, I think time enough has passed that a bunch of us are old enough we don’t want Plinkett. We want the character and the jokes to be minor or nonexistent. But what you have is an evolution of what is popular versus what people have learned (via experience, education, or both), and imitation to the point that we’re starting to get a variety of people creating content beyond consumer advice. “Deep dives”.

    I do, however, think there is sometimes a need for restraint. I really like Game Maker’s Toolkit and Red Letter Media, but I don’t always have time to sit down for a Noah-Caldwell Gervais and still have yet to watch a Joseph Anderson. My own latest video could have gone beyond 20 minutes, but I broke everything down to a thesis and wanted to evaluate Metroid Prime: Echoes strictly based around that. Game Maker’s Toolkit focuses on specific topics and glimpses at how a variety of games handle it.

    Which is not to say I think there’s a problem with the more thorough look. I really enjoy following your step-by-step go-through of a game. But I also think that maybe, trying to head off counter-arguments, is something that doesn’t always need to be worried about. I’ll try and research opinion about a game I’m writing about, but otherwise I try to prevent other thoughts from impacting my own thesis (one of the reasons I’m holding off on reading your FFX series until I’ve gotten around to mine).

    Right now I’m recording footage of the game Iconoclasts. I don’t know if I want to focus on just story or not. I’ve made some neat observations regarding its game design and don’t really like it being referred to as a Metroidvania, as I don’t find that term accurate to the end-result. Do I want to tackle that? I don’t know, because that’s sort of its own thesis. I might want to shove it in the video so that I can address it, but maybe I should instead create two videos. What, after all, do I want my conclusion to be?

    At the same time, I guess I’m a bit of a hypocrite because I almost gave up on the idea of doing a video on Iconoclasts after seeing Errant Signal do a video on it and reading the interview where the creator sort of put some cracks in my own reader response interpretations. Sitting down last night to record some of it, however, has me reinvigorated because I love the game, I love what it does, and just figure I’ll note that a lot of what I get out of the game thematically is my own response, and that I can draw that much indicates how very real the characters feel.

    So, yeah, I guess at some point you do grow to head off certain comments and counter-arguments. Perhaps it’s a matter of what you choose to bother with and what you don’t?

    Anyway, all that said, I think it’s clear by now that you’ve always been one of my big inspirations in games writing since I discovered you, oh…. when did I find DM of the Rings again? I cannot even remember. Regardless, top reason I keep doing what I’m doing is in hopes of inspiring others one day. So whatever brought you to your style of writing, Joseph Anderson his style, Bob Case’s his, me mine, Extra Credits theirs, so on and so forth, I think the essential thing to remember is that it has become its own sort of movement in games analysis and writing. More in-depth, more academic, and less of a victim to the marketing machine of what’s the latest and greatest.

    Hopefully that schmaltz will distract everyone from the fact that I don’t even remember why I started writing this comment.

  22. Guest says:

    I felt bad when you reposted the Joseph Anderson Mario review that a whole bunch of people did exactly that in the comments, and obviously hadn’t watched the video. You can go out of your way to explain your point of view and still have people misconstrue you (These people are awful, duck tape was invented for their mouths), or end up in this other dichotomy, which I often end up with with my brother.

    You can assume good faith and respect a certain level of their intelligence and take it as given that some things do not need explaining and regular communication will be fine, because they’re a functioning adult who understands that you assume the best possible interpretation of someone else’s words to keep things quick, and fair. This will bite you in the ass when they nitpick or misconstrue you.

    Or you can explain everything, and get a “That’s too long” “I’m not reading that” or worse, they feel condescended to. In interpersonal communications, it’s at it’s worst. Like, bugger off, the reason I have to use too many words is because you can’t engage in conversation reasonably.

    Joseph Anderson perhaps over-explains things, but his videos at least make alright background distractions even as they stretch overlong. Even at that length though, people misconstrue him “Why’d he mentioned Dark Souls” “He hates Mario” “He’s a masochist who only likes hard games because he’s insecure in his manliness”, the last wasn’t far off one I actually read from someone who took his criticism to mean he thought Mario should be Dark Souls and he was one of those “Git Gud” sorts. Following the throughline of: “This is perhaps the best movemet system of any Mario game ever, but the level design is flawed, and there are too many objectives, most of which constitute cookie cutter filler, and the lack of development of challenges doesn’t utilise the movement system” is too much, because the examples, or textual evidence, are too much, and at the introduction of one, people jump to the conclusion they want.

    i don’t mind these sorts of reviews, the only reason people go to that effort is because they have something to say. But I’m increasingly impatient with people who’re stuck somewhere in that middle. You’re either patient enough to pay attention to the long version and understand where that comes from, generous and smart enough to understand the short version, or a pain in the butt who won’t take good faith given, and yet can’t understand why someone would feel the need to clarify to someone so obnoxious. I’m glad these people drive you and Joseph to make these long form analysis, but I wish they’d shut up a little. The adults are trying to talk.

    • Redrock says:

      I’m probably one of those guys you mentioned. I still maintain that Anderson is a great content creator, but you have to take into account that he has specific tastes, just like everyone. Namely, he likes to be consistently challenged by a game. Challenge and difficulty seem to be very important to him. That doesn’t invalidate his opinion, but it’s a necessary bit of context. I don’t think that this particular impression of mine would change depending on the length of his videos. I mean, I’ve watched most of his work and got even more convinced that he values consistent challenge above all else. And that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. Just that we have different metrics and different tastes, and acknowledging those differences actually makes his content more interesting and useful to me.

  23. Jabberwok says:

    Makes sense to me. All art criticism approaches infinite verbosity the closer it gets to Maximum Academia. Whatever that is…

  24. Ilseroth says:

    I made the mistake of linking one of Joseph Anderson’s videos (the Mario one) in a discord channel I frequent and was immediately put on the defensive. It sucked because a lot of the people there were people I talk to daily, and are more then willing to discuss the ups and downs of games usually.

    But the second they saw the 2 hours length of a critical review they hit me with “There’s no point in making it that long.” as well as a ton of faulty arguments. At first I tried to explain “It takes a while to properly critique a long game like Mario, especially when you’ve got a lot of negative things to say, so you need a lot of evidence to back it up.” But it was like I was speaking a different language, people were actually straight up insulting him without even watching the video (Even the beginning of it)

    I was so taken aback that I just left the room. As I said, these are people who normally are fine with talking about game design and being critical, but for some reason when it came to Odyssey it was as though the video itself was insulting them personally just by existing.

    • Christopher says:

      You’re asking them to watch a critique of Mario that’s as long as a full-on movie.

      Getting people to watch long videos in the first place in the big ask, and then you’re asking them to watch one that’s two hours of Joseph Anderson’s relatively dry talking and clips of the whole game to back up an unpopular opinion.

      I get Shamus’ frustration if someone’s TLDRing a big, built up argument that’s supposed to head off any criticism. But if you do the internet equivalent of showing up to a casual book club meeting with a long list of talking points you want to bring up, an hourlong powerpoint presentation and a feature film you made about the book, I think people are well within their rights to not give a shit. There are only so many hours in the day, so if you show up with a “I hate this and here’s two hours of evidence” a lot of folks aren’t gonna bother, cause they could listen to a twenty-minute video from Campster or a five-minute video from zero punctuation or whatever and not spend an hour watching moons get collected. I love me some Joseph Anderson, but that level of colossal video is not for everyone, and it might be better to make your point in a format that most people can actually stand to watch.

      • Paul says:

        Or they’re just lazy hypocritical assholes.

      • Ilseroth says:

        I gave them the TL;DR rundown of what the video had to say, and if they had just said that they didn’t feel like watching it fine. But they were insulting the long form critique itself and the person behind it (without watching it), instead of the content. I wasn’t saying they should all watch that long video, just that it was there if they wanted to.

        • Redrock says:

          Well, you can have a discussion on the merits of different formats. I’d say that Anderson goes a bit overboard. On the other hand, he has a lot to say. Jim Sterling’s videos often go in circles these days despite being just 15 minutes long. So, it’s very much a case by case thing. Me, I like me some Raycevick these days. Hits the sweet spot when it comes to length and structure.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            To be fair to Sterling,thats fine.Repeating the same thing a dozen times is fine.Theres nothing wrong in saying that a game is just fine.Its fine to say that about a game that you can play for hours and still have nothing meaningful to say about it.Its not that great of a thing to say,but its not that horrible either,its just fine.Nothing wrong with that.Nothing right with that either.Its just fine.A perfectly meh opinion to have about a perfectly meh game.Which is fine.Both the game and the review of the game.They are both simply fine.Just fine.

      • TL;DR isn’t “not giving a shit”, because they DID give a shit–they posted some insulting, attention-getting drivel.

        Anyone posting this sort of thing is intentionally being insulting. If you actually don’t care about something, MOVE ON AND READ SOMETHING ELSE.

        Granted, there are times when a good, hard insult is merited; generally when someone posts a screed that contains neither grammar, punctuation, nor spacing, thus rendering it eye-searingly difficult to read and almost impossible to comprehend. A quick TL;DR can be a good tip to them to make a little effort at learning not to be a witless nincompoop.

        Toward anyone who has actually grasped the fundamentals of communication, it’s rude.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          To be fair, though: If I went “I’m not even going to talk about this until you’ve read Shamus’ tome on Mass Effect” at the mention of the ME franchise, I think an unfriendly reply would be justified …

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Sounds like you should find some new friends. Oh look!

  25. There’s no real reason why anyone HAS to explain or justify their opinions.

    Of course, if you expect anyone to CARE about your opinions . . .

    Oddly, I find the greatest benefit from explaining why I do or don’t like something generally is to myself. I treat it like I’m a detective tracking down the fundamentals that underlie the surface clues.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      From what I’ve gathered about the field of cognitive psychology, humans are really only intelligent when exchanging opinions with others.

      Our brains are really good at two things:
      1: Convince ourselves that the opinions we already hold are correct and probably the only sensible opinion that anyone can hold — that may be because when you’re running away from some noise that may have come from a (proverbial) sabertooth tiger, “hey, let’s stop running and test our hypothesis” is not generally a good idea.
      2: Try and convince other members of our group of our own opinion. This is partially driven by point 1, but also has the advantage for the group that the opinion which “wins” in an argument has a greater chance of being sensible than some individual’s opinion on its own.

      ==> people really only start to apply solid reasoning once they know that others are going to scrutinize their arguments.

      Yes, that does not make me feel to good about some the certainty with which I hold some of my opinions, but I’ve seen enough examples of this in the past, and it’s definitely not something that befalls only other people, because that’s just what your brain would have you believe.

  26. Paul Spooner says:

    The TL;DR response is why I try to provide successive depths of content. A summary, and then a summary of the summary. Which you tend to do in general , and have done with the WII series in particular.

    The Wolfenstein II series opened with an introduction, and the intro opened with eight sentences summarizing the main thrust of your argument. If anything, it could have used a single sentence summary. Perhaps something along the lines of “This game clashes with its launch-day reviews, and I suspect it was designed that way.”

    Maybe you could start providing a chapter summary at the heading of the articles, so we can see where we are in the roadmap of the series, and be reminded of the thesis.

  27. Some_Jackass says:

    Shoot Guy II was better anyway.

  28. NoneCallMeTim says:

    My interpretation is that a lot of criticism starts off as a conversation, but in a conversation you can react to what the person you are talking to is saying. But in a linear document, you have to pre-empt what the person is going to say, so there are a lot of things to cover.

    Imagine if you could have an article written with a dialogue wheel?

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Choose-your-own-videogame-critique, which would itself be a videogame, which would lead to choose-your-own-videogame-critique-videogame-critique.

      In all seriousness though, I’d like to have an easy-to-use nested text authoring tool, which would allow optionally hiding blocks of text. I know it’s possible in html for reading text, but I’d really like to be able to edit in that mode as well.

      • Pete_Volmen says:

        When I make notes for myself I love nested stuff. Doing this for yourself ise easy, just use an IDE or text editor that has some allowances for programming. They pretty much all have comment/codeblock hiding capabilities. Unfortunately There’s not really an equivalent where it transfers well to text meant to be read by others. It’d be great if there was some kind of markdown counterpart.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          That’s not a bad idea really. I can always write a parser in python to convert the text to HTML for display.
          Thanks!

          And favorite IDE? Notepad++ is the last one I used, which was years ago.

          • Zak McKracken says:

            It’s not exactly that, but you might want to gove Zim a try:
            http://zim-wiki.org/

            I use it to keep track of tasks but also to organize notes, and write how-tos for others.
            It recognizes markup, has all auto-indent, and it exports to html, too. It doesn’t export mouse-over or auto-hide things, though, but you would have the hierarchical structure in there.

            My favourite way of presenting written arguments, by the way, is pretty much what the help function in Windows 95 introduced, which is similar to the way Shamus does his “footnotes”. Sometimes I think it might be even cooler to write text in a tree structure, but then nobody would know in what order to read the thing…

  29. Ravens Cry says:

    I love your long form essays. Whether it’s about a game or a programming project or the industry as a whole, it’s by far my favorite part of what you do. Your Reset Button videos on things like Megatexturing or the Internet are neat, but rare, and I honestly can’t get into the podcasts that much, as I find I can’t just play them in the background, but I also don’t find them engaging enough on their own. Hour+ long streams don’t engage me that much either, especially if it’s just a video of the stream and I’m not participating in chat.
    But thousands upon thousands of words on a game series I’ll never play, or on a subject I know only know in the broadest, layman’s strokes? Hook me up! Especially the latter, you have a real gift for explaining things in ways that feel fascinating, even when I know nothing about them. I’ve re-read the Project Frontier series. multiple times. So, yeah, I guess my point is to keep up your awesome work banging out words for me to eat with my eyes.

    • Version 2.Joe says:

      I had the same problem with the podcast as you. I kinda solved it by choosing to play a pretty repetitive, low-effort game (I used Hegemony Gold: Wars of Ancient Greece and the Minecraft mod Agrarian Skies 2 so far). Has been going far better than just sitting there scrolling the page up and down, even though I have to say that the new podcasts with only Shamus and Paul seem to not require this distraction. I don’t know whether that is because they’re not yet out of interesting things to talk about (that they have not already discussed with each other at length before), or because there’s less banter, talking-over-each-other and/or repetition between two people as opposed to up to six (iirc). But they’re definitely different now.

      And the one with SoldierHawke was also great.

      • Paul Spooner says:

        I’m glad you’re enjoying the content, and I hope we don’t run out of things to talk about any time soon. WGT

        have not already discussed with each other at length before

        we don’t actually talk to each other outside the episodes. I mean, other than me leaving comments on the blog. I’ve tried to get him into some e-mail discussions in the past, but Shamus is terrible at responding to emails. Like, you know how often he responds to comments on the blog? That’s about as often as he responds to e-mail as well. So, none of the conversation is being lost outside the podcasts. You get to enjoy it all!

        Oh, and I’ve heard SoldierHawke is coming back soon! Good news all around.

        As far as

        I also don’t find [podcasts] engaging enough on their own

        any suggestions for that? I’ve been thinking about doing an animated podcast highlight reel, but time is short and animations take forever.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its just the nature of the medium though.People who are into podcast are already doing something else while listening.Whether its work,making lunch,playing a low effort game,whatever.Theres really no need to try and fill in that gap when it has already been filled.Besides,one of the draws of a podcast is exactly that:You can listen to it while you are doing a mundane task.

  30. Drathnoxis says:

    Good, short criticism sucks!

    I’m finally getting around to reading your Mass Effect Retrospective, and it’s really making me wish you’d do one on Dragon Age. I never played past the first Mass Effect because I found it kind of boring, but I still have an unquenchable burning hatred for Dragon Age 2 and how it RUINED the fantastic start the franchise had with Origins. 50 entries dissecting the trilogy with hundreds of comments (of the high quality that your site tends to attract) each would be AMAZING.

    It’s kind of funny how many problems Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2 have in common. Goes to show how delusional everybody who said that the EA buyout wouldn’t be the death of Bioware were.

  31. Zak McKracken says:

    This whole thing reminds me a lot of research publications: What do you include, what do you assume the readers will understand?
    At least in the world of academic publishing, there’s a fairly clear line there: You assume that everyone has read most other publications on the topic, and you reference them as needed. The only things you explain in detail are either stuff that you came up with yourself or things established by others which are very central to your own argument.
    There are always publications where somebody will go and write down all the equations for some well-established method, just because they used it, and that’s clearly a waste of their readers’ time. Occasionally, you’ll also find some weird detour, just to prove some fairly obvious point. That tells you that probably one of the reviewers didn’t really understand the whole thing but insisted that some detail be explained before they agreed to have it published.

    … I guess in games criticism the borders are less clear, but in both genres, there’s the distinction between “I need to explain this detail so people who haven’t played the game understand what I mean by ‘the mechanics suck'”, and “I have to smother anyone who played the game and loved it in evidence that makes abundandly clear that the mechanics aren’t good”.

    At least in acememic writing, there’s also the (long, arduous) phase where a paper loses about a third of its length by means of text optimization (everything should be explained exactly once, then referred to), and if needed removing small tangents that aren’t required to support the main hypothesis. It’s amazing how short a text can be but still contain a huge amount of information.

    That said: Academic publications are just about the most boring things to read, so I don’t actually suggest that’s what you should do…

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