Thursday, September 10, 2009

Big Red Potion Episode# 21 Afterword

My newest appearance on Big Red Potion opposite Justin McElroy (Joystiq) is up at I was unusually quiet during this week's podcast as I was so fascinated by the discussion already happening around me and my rant about Assassin's Creed was cut probably because Sinan was worried what would happen if we said bad things about Ubisoft*. More accurately, I found myself too shy to interrupt such great conversations, instead opting to think of brilliant things to say and then not finding the opportune moment to say them. Until now, that is...

I've already written about the topic of game reviews here, but I wanted to talk about price and value bit. My feeling is that value is an incredibly subjective thing and based on three things: game quality, the budget of the consumer, and the free time available to them. The latter two are specific to the individual and cannot be judged by a critic.

We all want the best bang for our buck, but there's a stigma in our society that that somehow means longest game for least amount of money. Now that makes sense for some. I certainly remember when I was young and my parents would only buy me one or two games a year, so I'd have to make sure to get the longest games possible (provided they were also good, of course). If you have little money and lots of free time, you'll fall into this camp and be wise to spend your $60 on Fallout 3 rather than say, Mirror's Edge.

However, for many, price may not matter all that much. What matters more is quality. And we've reached a point where there are so many great games being produced that it's nigh on impossible to keep up with them all. As such, greater gaming enthusiasts (such as myself) will want shorter games, so we have time to check out more of them. Obviously my view is a bit skewed as I'm a far greater game enthusiast than most and often get free games to review, but it's not uncommon for gamers to have a backlog of games they'd like to play, but just not had the time for for one reason or another. As such, the prospect of a great 6-8 hour game priced the same as a 60-80 hour game doesn't seem as skewed as it would have to me when I was younger.

Of course, one could argue that you could just rent shorter games and then buy them later after a price drop. That's a totally acceptable way to go about it and entirely economical, but let's face it; people like to collect stuff. Think about movies. How many times do you think the average person watches the average movie that they buy? Conversely, think how cheap and easy it is to rent movies these days. It would probably be cheaper to just rent whatever they want to see when they want to see it (even if it means renting it multiple times). Though there's something very appealing about just having it there at a moment's notice. Going back to games, I think it's important to mention things like length and replayability for the those in the small budget/lots of free time camp, but criticizing a game for being too short isn't really a criticism at all as far as I can tell. It sounds more like praise and that the game was so good and that they didn't want it to end. So yeah, value is in the eye of the beholder and docking a review score for a game being too short is akin to a food critic rating a burrito poorly for not being lasagna. Damn review scores! (Which I hear were invented by Paul Rooney.)

I also wanted to go into the concept of rating a rerelease. I disagree with Justin about them not needing a review. I think it's great to reevaluate how well a game holds up. Saying something was great "for the time" just doesn't cut it with me. I want to know how well it hold up to the current competition.

The Secret of Monkey Island is an interesting case though. Based on what I've seen and heard, the remade elements aren't that great (notably the new character model for Guybrush. Seriously. What were they thinking?), but the original game (included as part of the package) still holds up amazingly well. So how the hell do you score that? It's taking a great game and making it worse, so it should get a terrible score. Yet it still has that great game on it. Personally, I'd say the original game itself is worth $10 easy, and a reviewer could go into lots of detail on why that is and why it's held up so well over the years.

Beyond that, I feel like a review is little more than an interpretation of a game- or rather the experience playing it. We're all going to approach a game from our own perspective, and I've always personally found reading other people's perspectives on a game fascinating. It helps shape my own and often leaves me appreciating a game more for reasons I wouldn't have thought of on my own (or criticizing a game for reasons I wouldn't have though of). Writing about what's in the game isn't enough. A reviewer should write about what stood out to them, what it was like to play, and what things frustrated or delighted them about the design. A game is an interactive medium. As such, a review needs to focus on that interaction. Readers will be able to figure out from there whether it sounds like their cup of tea or not.
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