REVIEWING FOR DUMMIES

Guidelines for reviewing games

So, you want to write a review, huh? Need some pointers or something? Okay, let’s take it from the top.

1. WHAT IS REVIEW???

Good question! What exactly are we trying to do here? We’re stringing together a bunch of words to post on the internet for people who make and play games. As such is the case, a review should serve at least one of these two purposes:

- give feedback to the developer

The person who made the game is certainly going to want to know what you thought. Your review should tell them exactly that. It should explain how you felt about the game’s various aspects.

- tell players what the game is like

The other people reading are probably wondering if they should play the game or not. Your description of your experience should give them a clear idea of what they can expect.

So, that’s the mission. How will we accomplish it? Hmm…

2. PREPARING FOR REVIEW

You can’t just sit down and write this thing! There are a few steps you should take before you even type one word.

- play the game

Hurr durr, really? Yes, you should play the game before trying to review it. Not just play it, but play as much of it as you can. Give it an honest chance, even if it’s not your kind of game. Heck, if it’s really not your thing, perhaps you shouldn’t be reviewing it in the first place (though if you do decide to review it anyway, you should point this out at the start).

- take notes

This step helps most if you started the game with the intention of reviewing it. As you’re playing, write down anything and everything you notice. This will save you the trouble of remembering specifics you wanted to mention. Whether it's good stuff, bad stuff; doesn’t matter! If it was significant enough you noticed it, write it down!

- use multiple saves

If possible, it can be wise to make new save files and keep old ones hanging around. You can use these to revisit certain parts of the game later to refresh your memory. This also helps with the next point:

- take screenshots

One of the best things you can do for yourself later. If you see something you definitely want to mention, sometimes it’s best to just save the screenshot and show it in the review later. See that button on your keyboard that says ‘PrtScn SysRq’? Pressing that copies exactly what you see on your monitor. You can then open MS Paint (or your image editor of choice) and paste the screen there (and save it, duh). A picture’s worth a thousand words.

That wasn’t so bad, right? Playing the game as best you can and going as far as you can helps qualify your opinion. It’s preferable to play the game all the way through, but this may not always be an option. If the game is very long, you may write the review before finishing. Or you may have quit because you got impossibly stuck. Or maybe the game was just rubbing you all kinds of the wrong way, and you finally couldn’t bear it anymore. That’s fine! No need to torture yourself. Take notes on the reasons that spurred you to quit early. These can be especially helpful in the review.

3. WRITING THE REVIEW

All right, we familiarized ourselves with the material and filled a 70-page loose leaf notebook with observations. We’re ready to put our thoughts into words! But it’s not that simple, is it? Geez, there’s a lot to cover here. What should we say first? And what comes after that? Is there some format we should follow? Well…yes and no.

- formatting the review

The format of the review is…completely up to you! There are all sorts of formats that work. As long as the information is communicated logically and effectively, the actual format hardly matters. What’s more important is covering the areas you need to in a way the reader will understand.

- expressing your thoughts

This is the tricky part. You need to describe what it was you did and didn’t like about the game. Whether you liked or hated it isn’t really important; what IS important is WHY you liked or hated it. Don’t just say ‘this game was fun.’ Explain WHY you found it fun. Likewise, if you would’ve said ‘this game sucks’ then there must be reasons why you felt that way. It could even be as simple as ‘it failed to draw me in’. For every point you wanted to mention, be sure to ask yourself ‘WHY?’ This will help you develop your ideas and make your experience clear to the readers.

- share good AND bad

When being critical, it's easy to slam a game with everything it did wrong. But that's not all that's worth writing about. You should let the readers know what the game did well, too. This can make your review better received, and the game's creator will appreciate it.

- don’t summarize

It’s all too tempting to plainly describe the events seen in the game to illustrate a point. This should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. You don’t want to spoil the game for the people reading. You might use a simple scenario from the game to better explain something, but you should never be rattling off plot details wholesale. Give them only what they need to understand where you’re coming from. If you need an entire paragraph of plot summary to explain a point, you may be better off with a different example!

- be professional

This is possibly the most important part of writing your review. This isn’t just some comment on the game page or forum. This is an article that others will look to for advice. It should be presented in an unbiased manner and taken seriously. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any humor in it; a little light-hearted joking can keep it from being too dull. But this is not your stand-up act. No matter how laughably bad the game may be, you’re not here to tear it apart with witty remarks. Your review should contain no personal attacks against the game or its creator, and curse words simply don’t belong. If you thought the game was a piece of shit, don’t just say so, but don’t sugarcoat it too much either. State politely you felt the game was lacking, and then explain the reasons why. It’s not that hard. Just have confidence in what you’re saying without being a jerk.

4. WHAT AM I WRITING ABOUT ARGH

Games have many different aspects, and looking at each aspect separately can help you sort your thoughts out. While it’s not always necessary to cover every single one, your review should at least touch on each of the following in some way.

- gameplay

Could it be more obvious? This is how the game plays. What kind of game is it? Does it control well? Does it have multiple types of gameplay? Were some parts better balanced than others? Since this aspect is the core of the game itself, you should be as thorough as you can with it. Without gameplay, a game just isn’t a game. In other words, describe here what made this a game!

- graphics

Ooh, shiny! These are all the little colored squares that make the game something to look at. Everything visual belongs in this category. What kind of graphics did the game use? Were they 8-bit, original, rips from other games, etc.? Were they used properly and consistently? Did anything clash or look out of place? Even font types can fit in here. If you saw it in the game, here’s where to talk about it.

- audio

Audio is music AND sound. All the noises your computer is making while you play should be discussed here. For music, you should think about whether each track fit the situation it was played in. Perhaps the music was ripped from another game you recognized and made it better for you (or worse!). Feel free to bring up such things. Likewise, sound choices should be evaluated on whether they were appropriate where they were used. Sounds tell the player all sorts of things, so be sure to mention any that may have confused you. Or tell them about ones you really liked! Or tell them about places there were no sounds, but should’ve been!

- story

The story is the game’s presentation and progression of events. This can be more important for some games than others (no one plays Tetris for its riveting plot). Before knocking a game for having a specific story type, consider if the story suits the game it’s in. Regardless of the kind of story used, you should point out any parts that did or didn’t work for you. Evaluations of characters can fit here, too. Was their dialogue natural? Do they have their own voices, or all talk the same? Did they behave in ways you expected? This category can be extremely important depending on the type of game you’re playing, so develop your thoughts here as much as possible.

5. PRESENTING YOUR THOUGHTS

I said earlier the review’s format is up to you, but here are some pointers on how to (or not to) present the boatload of information you’re typing up.

- scored aspects

One semi-popular way of doing things is to assign a numeric score to each category of the game. So, for the gameplay, graphics, audio, and story mentioned above, you’d have X/5 for each one. I’m going to advise you NOT use this method. Numerical values are highly subjective, and the individual scores given will look arbitrary. The readers can only vaguely construe what these numbers mean, even if you tell them outright. You’re better off without them.

- use pictures

Got all those screenshots from while you were playing? Good! Don’t be afraid to use them! Sometimes, describing what happened and how you felt about it can be quite difficult. With a screenshot, you can show the reader exactly what you mean, and describe further underneath the picture. Also, people love to look at stuff, so screenshots can help your review appear less of a daunting read.

6. REVIEW SCORE

The last thing you must do is choose the score you’re assigning the game. This is another critical area that can be very difficult to determine. This score affects the game’s overall score on RMN. It’s also likely to be the first thing a reader sees, even before your witty review title. Many have tried to define this phenomenon and failed. So why will this time be any different? Because, dear reader, we’re not defining anything. We are merely examining how these scores are likely to be perceived.

RMN’s review scores range from ‘unrated’ to ‘5’, creating eleven options for the score you give (unrated, .5, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, and 5). The way these scores are perceived actually knocks out four of these. Which four? Where do they go? Let’s take a look here.

- unrated

This is the most ambiguous rating you can give. It tells the reader absolutely nothing. There is no value assigned, so no valid judgment can be made on the game in question. This may cause some to shy away or others to have their interest piqued. Ultimately, this rating best suits demos and projects in production. It has no impact on the overall game score, and won't drag the game down after its completion. It leaves room for improvement.

- .5

This score is the absolute bottom rung, and although it IS greater than zero, most readers would perceive it AS zero. Gee whiz, this game didn’t even get one full star! It must be completely awful! Games with this score will be believed not to be even worth the time it takes to download them.

- 1 and 1.5

These scores are not viewed much better than their .5 predecessor. Anyone looking at this score would believe the game to be quite terrible, possibly even unplayable. They might download it just to laugh at how bad it is.

- 2 and 2.5

These scores are viewed as below average. Even though 2.5 is technically middle of the road, readers will believe these games to be lacking in several ways. They might think these projects have hope for a better future with more development time and effort.

- 3 and 3.5

Although these are technically higher grades, games with these scores will be viewed as average. They may be lacking in a few ways or require a little more polish. Players looking for something different may pick these up to play.

- 4 and 4.5

Games with these scores are viewed as ‘worth playing’. They do enough of everything right to present a solid gaming experience. Any faults they may have are forgivable enough to put up with.

- 5

This score is heavily loaded and debated, as most perceive it to indicate perfection. Games with this have virtually nothing wrong with them, and present a stellar experience that amazes players and makes them play it again and recommend it to their friends and not put it down for weeks. Or something like that.

Please note that the above descriptions are not to be taken as hard fact. They are merely perceptions; things people will think and believe when they view the scores. If you want to get really technical, these are only my perceptions of what I believe others would perceive! The point to be made here is that numerical scores are too subjective to ever be properly defined, and people will always have different thoughts on what each value constitutes.

So when choosing a score, it’s best not to consider what YOU think each number means, but how others will view that number. Don’t fret over differences of half a star; the only perceptual distinctions made are between solid stars. So, your only real options are 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or unrated. By the end of the review, it should be no surprise to the reader what score you chose.

7. REVIEW YOUR REVIEW

Yay, it’s all typed up and ready for the interwebz! Or is it? Ah, shit…

- check spelling and grammar

You typed this up on a computer, right? Do you see little green and red squiggles under some of your words? That means you suck at spelling and grammar. At the very least, correct your review until all those squiggles are gone! If you don’t understand what’s wrong with something, ask someone or look it up. Even if there are no squiggles, you’d do well to have someone else proofread it.

- check your codes

RMN uses BB codes in brackets to change how things look. If you used bold, italics, underline, screenshots, or any sort of special thingamabob, make sure you set the code tags right before you submit. The submission page has a ‘Preview’ button. Use it! You can see exactly how your review will look. If you see something wrong…fix it!

- it’s too late!

Oh, you already submitted the review and you spotted something wrong with it? That’s okay! You can edit it any time. You can always find it in your submissions tab on RMN. You can edit it however you need there. Even after it’s approved, you can go in and change the contents as needed.

- did I do that right?

You should read over your review, even after you got all the spelling, grammar, and code stuff right. You need to make sure it’s clear and understandable! And be sure to weigh what you typed against the score you gave. Does the score you chose make sense based on what you said? Remember, it should be no surprise to the reader by the end. If the score is higher than it sounds like it should be, describe better the game’s redeeming qualities. If the score sounds lower than it should, explain more about its problems, and check over to make sure you didn’t sugarcoat things or wave away too many issues.

8. BRACE FOR IMPACT

The last thing you need to do? Don’t take the replies to the review personally! Like any other kind of feedback, you need to consider what others are telling you and work toward improving. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, maybe YOU’RE wrong. Who knows? We’re only human. Heed the advice in this guide, and you’ll be writing solid reviews in no time.

Posts

Pages: 1
Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
8404
- 3 and 3.5

Although these are technically higher grades, games with these scores will be viewed as average. They may be lacking in a few ways or require a little more polish. Players looking for something different may pick these up to play.


I sure hope these scores are perceived better than you seem to think.
Could be! It's not like I took a poll or anything. In general, I look at the 3rd star as the difference between solid and lacking games. If it has three, it's not great, but it's okay. If it has less, then it's missing something necessary. Aren't opinions fun?
chana
(Socrates would certainly not contadict me!)
1584
Right, that's about the way I view it (if there was an even number of stars, I suppose it would be vey different).
Thanks, very useful.

I wrote a review of Alter AILA some long time ago, and it was rejected for unknown reason. Now I think I understand, why it was rejected. A few days right after this I had a "how to write a rewiev" topic at class in my college, but in the end - it sucked and didn't help me with this whatsoever :p

Again, thanks :)
I'm planning of doing a derivative of this article (mostly is about the points you use, because is kinda loose version what I got written by now haha). I like the reviewing activity, so I'm like trying to promote it hahaha.
I do it as a derivative mostly because I'm doing it for a non-english community, so if I try to translate it, most of the "original spirit will be gone".

I'm awaiting response, I don't like to make things... like... that way,
Orochii Zouveleki
Well, I see nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't just run this article through Google Translate or something. :P
Hahaha, nope, I would never do that :P. Google is not efficient, as it makes huge unnatural mistakes ahaha (I use it only as dictionary).

Thanks for your response, time and permission,
Orochii Zouveleki
Pages: 1