Sunday, January 5, 2014

Structure of Game Reviews - Criteria

One feature on the Gaming Journalist Gazette blog will be articles that review games, which is something that gamers have grown accustomed to reading over the years. Reviewing games isn't rocket science but it is something to be careful about if you happen to be a game reviewer because more often than not gamers will be looking at game reviewers for information on a game that they are not sure about. A gamer wants to be informed on what he or she is potentially interested in buying in a game and having the right information is critical.

Unfortunately, some reviewers have been guilty of being biased towards certain gaming franchises and being biased against certain gaming franchises, and this is troubling because the truth about the quality of a game can get lost in the shuffle of a biased review. While reviews need to be entertaining and interesting, they always have to be honest and informative. It comes down to the experience of the one who reviews the game when he or she sits down and plays through the game and it comes down to how the reviewer truly feels about the game. A reviewer has to be aware of what goes on in a game and if there are any glaring or minimal flaws in a game, the reviewer has to be prepared to properly pick apart those flaws. This is what we call constructive criticism.

The structures of game reviews vary between reviewing groups and I happen to have my own structure. I have my own format and it's nothing flashy by any means, but it's straight to the point and it highlights the aspects of a game that need to be highlighted. I will be reviewing various types of games that range between generations and for the time being I will be reviewing games from past generations. When it comes to the newer game consoles I don't have the resources available to me right now and I don't know exactly when those resources will become available. In general, though, I have experience playing games and I know how games function. I have a basic idea of what makes a game fun and memorable and it's that fun and those memories that gamers will always take along with them going forward that matter the most.

So allow me to break down my game reviewing formula, so to speak.

Gameplay Controls

This is the most basic category. The core of a game must be the gameplay controls. If the gameplay controls are not functioning correctly, then there is very little hope that the video game itself will be successful on the market. This is the heartbeat of a video game and it must be treated with care. Development teams must know how the gameplay controls are going to work because it will be a strong representation of that team's vision of the game. Glitches can be compared to that of the good ol' flu bug. Any glitches found in a game would be considered hiccups made by the development team that weren't caught by the Quality Assurance team for whatever reason.

Controls have to respond on time for the action of the character to work. There has to be a flow to the action that the gamer wants to perform for the character. It is also important that the controls aren't too complex because not many gamers would want to spend time figuring out gameplay mechanics that are in the range of Algebra 2 or Calculus. Finally, do the gameplay controls enhance the overall experience for the gamer?

Graphics

This is more of a subjective category because of the many generations video games have gone through. Even though graphics from games of the Atari 2600 or the Intellivision will clearly never stand up to the more advanced graphics of the Nintendo Gamecube, Playstation 2 of the Xbox doesn't mean an old game should automatically lose review points for the obsolete graphics. In the times of the 1970's and 1980's, Atari and Intellivision graphics were the ceiling of visual quality for gamers back then, so in no way should an old game be viewed in a drastically different light.

In modern times, though, graphics have become a more touchy subject to tackle. Because of the technology that game companies have today, the possibilities are much more broad for them to expand the visual ceiling of a game's environment. We have to take into account the various kinds of art styles that games will use, such as cel-shaded animation, cartoon animation, realistic animation, etc. We have to take into account how well the graphic designers implemented the vision that was introduced by the heads of the development team, and here again, glitches come into play. Part of a game's appeal is how it comes across visually to the gamer. It doesn't need to be a cinematic masterpiece, but it also shouldn't be chicken scratch that could be easily trumped by less experienced people.

Story

As an aspiring scriptwriter,  this part of a game sparks my imagination the most. Mainly out of curiosity as a writer do I pay attention to this part of a game because I would like to know how a game development team implements stories to their games, if there's a story attached to the game at all. In some cases a story can be an integral part of the game and a story can compliment the gameplay controls. You could say that in some cases the story and the gameplay controls play off each other and carry each other. If the story turns out to be compelling and intriguing for the gamer to experience, then it would be a great bonus scored by the development team.

Many factors are in play when determining a solid game story. How are the plot twists in the game executed? When you get about halfway through the game and then experience a sudden shift in the story's direction, what will you feel? What is the story like? Is it simplistic or complex? Writers are needed in the development process so that they can have a better understanding of what the producers want in their vision of a game, and with that understanding, the writers will have a better chance of bringing that vision out through storytelling. I will surely be touching on this category quite a bit.

Some games don't even require a story to carry the overall gaming experience, and when reviewing these kinds of games, it won't make me view those games in a negative light as long as they pull off what they envision to have with everything else. For example, Tetris doesn't need a gripping story filled with cutscenes in order to get the gamer to put the pieces together and form lines. Tetris is a simplistic puzzle game that is very successful without the use of a story, and it will continue to be successful even today. 

Music

Just like the Graphics category, this is also a subjective category. Gamers certainly don't mind listening to soundtracks in a game that are pleasant for their ears, and even in minimal ways, the music of a game enhances the overall gaming experience. Some soundtracks will strongly relate to the game itself, such as your typical platformer game, and other soundtracks might not have anything to do with the game, such as sports games, but regardless of what kinds of soundtracks the game development teams are pushing for they have to make sure that the soundtracks aren't too out of place or else it might be off-putting to the gamer.

The soundtracks to a game have to be appropriate for the game and what it's about. Not many gamers would want to sit down and play a game that has the feeling of a relaxed Techno/Elevator music environment and then suddenly have to hear booming Heavy Metal Rock music. There is a measure of common sense to be used when applying soundtracks to games Plus, when you hear a soundtrack that absolutely stands out from the rest while you play the game, it makes the experience all the more satisfying.

Replayability

This category is very critical to me. I find this to be super important. Is the Replayability Factor there for me as a gamer? After I beat the game, can I go back to the game and play it again for different reasons? Will I be provided different motivations for wanting to play the game after beating it once? Will the setting of the game change after I beat the game? Will the extra objectives in this "post-game" environment have a lasting impact on the gamer? Will the game as a whole be memorable enough for the gamer to go back to it and play it over and over again? We honestly can't confuse the Replayability Factor with the Fun Factor because I believe they are pretty much close cousins.

Motivation is the key for gamers. Development teams have to motivate the gamers to take the entire experience of their game by means that involves a few extra features that weren't originally presented the first go around of the game. For example, the classic Super Nintendo game Super Mario World gave the gamer plenty of reasons to keep playing it even after beating it once. After they found all of the secrets (every single last one of them), they unlocked new visuals, most of which were nice touches. Challenge and motivation... I consider this to be the engine of a game.

Unfortunately, some modern games have been said to not have the Replayability Factor, as in although some of them were amazing to play the first go around, there wasn't any real reason to give it a second go around, and that can become a problem if a development team wants the gamers to have a lasting impression on their breakout main hero characters. Gamers would like to reference back to a game where they beat once but went back to that game anyway because they realized they had more things to accomplish, and extra things that were worth going after.

Review Point Structure
5 Categories - Maximum 20 Points Each (# out of 100 Points)
(Bonus Points can be rewarded in some cases)

I will now wrap up this article by saying that with all my reviews I will be fair when I go through a game. This is all in good fun and this is something to keep in the right perspective. I hope that you will find my future reviews honest and informative. I will try my very best to talk about what mattered in a game and what I found to stand out. I appreciate all of the comments that I will get. Have a nice day.

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