Friday, December 28, 2007

"Professional" Video Game Reviews

I just read a post by Dean Takahashi on his blog about his take on Bioware's Mass Effect.

I don't have a problem with his point of view. I have a problem with how he expresses it.

Takahashi, in his review, goes on to state how certain design decisions were stupid or ridiculous. He also states that he didn't bother to finish the game before writing his review.

First, in my eyes, any reviewer should speak about the work being reviewed as objectively as possible. Obviously you're not going to like everything but as a professional you should be able to avoid using words like stupid when you describe things you didn't like. Secondly, a reviewer should finish reading/watching/listening to the work in its entirety before expressing an opinion on it. When I was in elementary school, I had to read the whole book before writing a report on it. Professional reviewers should not get a pass.

When reviewers don't take the time to write a proper review it shortchanges gamers and developers. If someone is on the fence about a particular title and they look to that review for feedback it's only fair that the gamer gets a complete review of the developers' work. FYI, when I say proper I don't mean positive; if something is poor say so but be prepared to back it up.

Edit Jan 02 2008: Takahashi took a step back and admits in his blog he didn't do his best work in the original review.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Halo 3 Marble Maze

A soccer ball rolls its way around a forged foundry. The video is also available on Mus65tang file share.

read more | digg story

Friday, December 7, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Influence vs. Integrity - Game Publishers vs. Game Reviewers

'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' - George Santayana

"I guess U know me well, I don't like winter But I seem 2 get a kick out of doing U cold Oh, what the hell, U always surrender What's this strange relationship that we hold on 2?"

Lyric from Strange Relationship - Prince

Stop me if you have heard this one before. Video game publisher takes prominent game magazine senior editor to task for a thoroughly unfavorable review of a high profile release. If you're thinking, "Duh you have been blogging about that Gertsmann thing all week"'d be sort of right.

Take this example from 2001 recounted in 2005 for a site once known as Gamedrool. (Links courtesy of The Wayback Machine). Gamepro publishes a negative review of a highly touted release from 3DO called Portal Runner, a spin off of the successful Army Men series, for the PS2. Ironically the game was featured on the cover of the same issue. Trip Hawkins, President of 3DO at the time, sent a scathing letter to Gamepro expressing his dissatisfaction with the review, the reviewer and the magazine and promises to pull his company's advertising. Gamepro stood behind the review and the reviewer and made it clear in no uncertain terms that they were not changing the review.

Based on this bit of history, Gertsmann's sacking for his review does not seem so far fetched. While Hawkins' letter was not the most coherent he did make a very good point. The nature of the relationship between game publishers and magazine publishers is symbiotic. It may have been Hawkins' belief that the relationship should provide for favorable reviews of 3DO games. Because of the weight placed on game reviews I would not be surprised if more publishers felt that way. Ultimately, game reviewers are bound to presenting an opinion of a game solely on its strengths or weaknesses not because the publisher's PR people showed them a really good time the other night.

Does this history mean that Gertsmann was fired for his review?
No. And per human resources and privacy laws we will never know why Gertsmann was fired.

Did CNET/Gamespot handle this appropriately? I don't think so. The actions of management leading up to the exit of Gertsmann made it look like he was being let go for the review. To their credit, they are stepping up and trying to shed some light on the activity this past week. In my opinion, had they taken this action at the time of Gertsmann's exit this wouldn't have blown up as it has.

What's the big deal over this guy anyway?
The big deal is this: Jeff Gertsmann was a senior editor for Gamespot and an 11 year employee before being sent packing last week. Internally at Gamespot, there were many comments about how this was not communicated to the staff. Based on how this was handled, there are folks that are very uncomfortable about who they are working for. And I am not talking about CNET. This controversy has made news in the mainstream press as well and could potentially impact the company financially. Here's how. Publishers pony up ad money to get their titles seen by as many eyeballs as possible. More eyeballs = higher premiums. If people decide to move on to other sites because they feel Gamespot reviews are biased in favor of the game publishers, that means fewer eyeballs. This could also impact Eidos and IO Interactive because this controversy combined with the manufactured quotes blunder will keep people from purchasing Kane and Lynch.

So what does this mean for us as gamers? We need to take reviews from sources of so-so reliability with a grain of salt. If you have a favorite place to read reviews that you trust then by all means continue to support that magazine/site. Especially now. We can be fairly confident that sites that do not rely on game publisher ad support are above the influence of game publishers. We can rely on sites like 2old2play for reviews because they are generally written by our peers, but even then one should be wary because PR people have been known to hire shills to generate positive press about titles either in blogs or forums.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Contempt of Gaming (news)

The Gerstmann issue is simply a symptom of a pervasive malaise: the uneven relationship between the gaming press and game publishers. Simply put: unless the gaming community as a whole takes mass and decisive action, this problem will arise again and again. Trouble is: are we willing to sacrifice our shiny previews and features?

read more | digg story

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Game reviewer axed for the love of money?

If you're a videogame review geek like me, you may have already heard of the messy separation of Gamespot's Former Editorial Director Jeff Gertsmann after 11 years at the company. For the uninitiated, Gerstmann was fired from Gamespot at the end of last week for undisclosed reasons. Because of a lack of information provided by CNET, Gamespot's parent company, and some kind of gag order on Gerstmann preventing him from discussing the reasons for his termination the rumor mill ran overtime this past weekend.

In what may be more than coincidence, Gerstmann's termination comes on the heels of a fairly harsh review of Eidos' Kane and Lynch:Dead Men. On the surface that's not a big deal, however shortly before the game's release all sorts of Kane and Lynch advertising appeared on banners throughout Gamespot. Eidos had made quite the investment in terms of ad dollars hyping the game. Reportedly, clicking through one of the ads brought you to Gerstmann's unfavorable review.

So now we have what appears to be sour grapes on Eidos' part. They gave Gamespot a bunch of ad money and their senior editor craps on their highly touted release. The rumor mill goes on to speculate that Gamespot in an effort to appease Eidos (as well as pocket future ad dollars from them) tried to get Gertsmann to re-evaluate his review. After correcting it for factual errors alone, he was let go because he would not change the content of his review.

After an insane amount of speculation from bloggers and former reviewers at Gamespot, a CNET press release was issued acknowledging that Jeff Gertsmann was let go and that his last review had no impact at all on his separation. That may be well and good but the original video review of Kane and Lynch:Dead Men by Gertsmann was taken down and has yet to be restored.

To add further fuel to this controversy, it appears that Eidos has been misquoting review sites when it comes to scores for this game. Quotes taken from a preview showing of the title at E3 were used to address the final product.

There are only three people that know the story to this and none of them are talking; Gertsmann, CNET and Eidos representatives. If it ever comes to light that Eidos had a hand in "massaging" the Gamespot review, it would not be looked upon favorably especially since their marketing uses quotes out of context. If it comes to pass that Gamespot terminated Gertsmann for his review, it would be most unfortunate not just for Jeff but game-related journalism as a whole. Most reviewers go out of their way to be impartial when it comes to reviews; Dean Takahashi sent back a duffel bag full of about $800 worth of Halo 3 swag to Microsoft because he didn't want to appear to be swayed by such an extravagant gift.

Here's to hoping that this remains an isolated incident and not a sign of things to come for video game journalism. What's your take?