Spotlight on Games > Features > Random Musings


RANDOM MUSINGS on the fin-de-millénaire games scene . . .

9 May 2003 . . . I was recently pleased to reach the plateau of 1001 different games played – and more significantly, capsule reviewed. Having first conceived this idea and number some four years ago, I was rather chagrined to count up the games to find myself some four hundred short! Well, if it has been slow, at least it's been a pleasant (mostly) climb up the mountain. . . . I count two inspirations: the wonderful title, The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, and Pauline Kael's 5001 Nights at the Movies, although actually, apart from the title I am not that much in sympathy with Kael's views. For content I have drawn inspiration more from the Time Out Film Guide which I recommend for its thoughtful, idiosyncratic views. . . . Some reviewers never write anything about any game in which they find a significant flaw. I suppose this is a valid approach, although it always leaves one wondering whether the reason for a game's absence is its quality or whether the reviewer has just never gotten round to playing it. This approach failed to appeal to me, however. If I have played and found problems, the reader deserves to know. Let others learn from my experience just as I have learned from many reviews over the years. . . . I say "reviews", but of course most of mine are only quick takes and as the site says, I still recommend reading full reviews when available. . . . Folks who like the site often mention that one of the best things is the wide number of games reviewed all from the same point of view. They say that even though their taste is not the same as mine, after a while they are able to formulate an adjustment factor so that based on what I have thought they can form a pretty good idea of their reaction as well. In addition, apart from games where people actually slap one another, I'm pretty much willing to try anything at least once – as long as I can find willing opponents – so I think it has helped readers interested in crossing over into areas in which they don't normally foray. . . . I never hear anything directly, but from time to time I get vibes that I have offended the creators of some games or their fans. To some degree I feel bad about this as creating a game and publishing it are usually more driven by idealism than anything else. Moreover I know from my own experience how disappointing it can be to put thousands of hours of work and thought into project and have reviewers completely fail to mention most of it. Unfortunately though, one can never go into this amount of detail without losing the reader. But apart from realizing that the reader drives the comments, I hope that all of these creators can at least appreciate honest feedback and use it to do better in their future projects. I play a lot of prototypes and it's often quite difficult to come by. Folks are afraid to rock the boat or appear unfriendly. It's much easier to nod and say it was good. It's said one always learns much more from failure than success and I hope the comments can be taken in the same spirit. . . . A great little story of reviewing, not of games, but from the somewhat similar world of mystery novels occurs to me. I first heard this at Bouchercon in 1997 and it has always stuck with me. The teller was Joan Kotker who at one time reviewed mysteries for a newspaper in Washington.

She related how she was given a non-mystery that she didn't particularly want to review, an autobiography set in Snoqualmie by a friend of the editor. Finally she agreed to review it on the basis that she would be absolutely honest about it. As she said, "The book sucked. I said [in the review], 'The book sucks.'" The book had been published by a small press and the paper just happened to leave out the name of the press. The result was that she got a dozen phone calls from people asking, "That book about Snoqualmie? Where can I get that book? I grew up in Snoqualmie; I'd love to read that book." What she learned from the experience is that the fact that the book is reviewed is going to sell the book. As she said, "People are as poor at reading review columns as they are at reading anything else. They go into a store and they say, 'Oh look, look, that's the book that was in the paper, isn't it?' And they don't remember anything that was said about it.
Which tends to bring us back to the "only review what you like" theory. But as I say, creating games is mainly an idealistic activity, an attempt to entertain and create entertainment rather than to earn large profits. So I hope that the other function for the comments is give the game a bit of publicity. This doesn't really matter for the big games from the big publishers who have marketing money, but I will continue to seek out smal publishers and obscure items and try to bring them more attention, if for no other reason than I believe that's where most of the great new ideas are most likely to come from. . . .


by Rick Heli