Technical/General Reviews

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Second April

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Mar 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/26/00
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Again, sorry I'm late.

Frankly, what's been described as a "technical review" sounds more like a
bug or beta-test report, and it seems like bad form to post those to a
public forum at all, generally. It's hard to tell, though, because I don't
think I've ever seen such a review--every review I've ever seen has
focused on the _playing experience_, and has addressed technical issues to
the extent they affect that experience. (That's, like, the point here,
yes? Folks do write IF so that other folks can play it? I'd always kinda
assumed that.)

The difference between, say, Zarf's reviews--which address "technical
issues" like interface and NPC development--and some hypothetical review
that consisted of "well, the plot involved dragons and wizards, and the
puzzles were hard" isn't anything qualitative, it's just thoroughness. The
former takes the trouble to explain what the playing experience is like,
getting into very specific details about what shapes that experience, and
the latter doesn't bother. I'm not saying there's no place for the latter
(which, really, is pretty similar to a classification system), though I
don't think I'd bother to visit a site that either produced "general"
reviews or a classification system, simply because the presence or absence
of a given plot element has no effect I can discern on my enjoyment of a
given game. (Again, when I look at IF I enjoy, I'm hard-pressed to come up
with any common elements other than a high level of competence. There may
be some clustering of IF tastes, but it doesn't seem to hold up for me.)
But when I decide whether to try something, I'd rather read a Zarfian
review than a "general" review.

I've written a bunch of reviews for SPAG, and I don't think many of them
amount to "this game sucked and here's why". I usually try to leave the
reader with an impression of where the game's strong or weak; the point is
to help players who might actually enjoy the game in question discern that
they might enjoy it (and to steer those who wouldn't enjoy it away), and
my intuition is that you need to convey more than the bare plot details
for the reader to figure that out.

If the point is that there's too much review-writing going on and too
little direct author feedback, well, I also do some of the latter, though
admittedly not as much. My sense is that there isn't a lot of either, and
reviews do give authors _some_ feedback, though not as much as a straight
bug report would, obviously.

Duncan Stevens
dns...@merle.acns.nwu.edu

But buy me a singer to sing one song--
Song about nothing--song about sheep--
Over and over, all day long;
Patch me again my thread-bare sleep.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Second April

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Mar 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/26/00
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On Sun, 26 Mar 2000, Second April wrote:

> If the point is that there's too much review-writing going on and too
> little direct author feedback, well, I also do some of the latter, though
> admittedly not as much. My sense is that there isn't a lot of either, and
> reviews do give authors _some_ feedback, though not as much as a straight
> bug report would, obviously.

Whoops--cut that short by accident.

I don't think it can justifiably be argued that there's too much
review-writing going on, so much that people should stop writing reviews
and start, I dunno, doing other things. If someone wants to create a
classification system, and others find it useful, cool. But reviews and
classification are hardly mutually exclusive, and there's no reason why
energy that goes into the latter has to come out of the former.

Is the real point that reviews can be mean, and classification isn't mean
at all? (There are hints to that effect.) If so, the answer is better,
non-mean reviews, not no reviews. And again, it's pretty rare that people
write out-and-out vicious reviews. (The comp-review-fest every year is an
exception, of course--many of those reviews don't spend much time trying
to ferret out good things about the games in question--but even those are
less harsh now than they've been in the past.) For my part, my current
policy is that I don't write a review if the game in question doesn't have
significant redeeming features.

In the end, I still think that a good review is the best way to signal to
the rest of the IF community that something's worth playing--and the more
detailed and thoughtful the review, to my mind, the better.

David Cornelson

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Mar 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/27/00
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"Second April" <dns...@merle.acns.nwu.edu> wrote in message
news:Pine.HPP.3.93.100032...@merle.acns.nwu.edu...

> Again, sorry I'm late.

Damn late and you should be punished.

> Frankly, what's been described as a "technical review" sounds more like a
> bug or beta-test report, and it seems like bad form to post those to a

No. Zarf's reviews are a balance of the general and technical, very well
done I might add. But I'm of the opinion that not everyone is as talented as
Zarf at writing these sorts of reviews. I'd also argue that the absence of
technical information in a graphical game would be inadequate (which was the
review in question 'Zork Grand Inquistor', but removing the technical
details, or subtly hiding them within witty banter, from an IF work is not
the end of the world.

I just think that, as members of this community, we begin at some point to
abbreviate our communication and that to an outsider, things become
incomprehensible. A reviewer should be damned sure not to make any
assumptions about the reader.

If you assume all of the review readers truly understand what you mean by
NPC, PC, Treasure Hunt, Puzzleless, and other common items found in our
threads these days, you are doing a disservice to our community. We should
always point the reviews outward, not inward.

Pointed inward, it becomes a technical review. Not necessarily a bug report,
but possibly filled with inside jokes and R*IF phrasology that an outsider
would have a terrible time deciphering.

Pointed outward, you hide your technical comments within by teaching,
humouring, telling how you _felt_ while playing the game.

Jarb

Second April

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Mar 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/27/00
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On 27 Mar 2000, David Cornelson wrote:

> No. Zarf's reviews are a balance of the general and technical, very well
> done I might add. But I'm of the opinion that not everyone is as talented as
> Zarf at writing these sorts of reviews. I'd also argue that the absence of
> technical information in a graphical game would be inadequate (which was the
> review in question 'Zork Grand Inquistor', but removing the technical
> details, or subtly hiding them within witty banter, from an IF work is not
> the end of the world.
>
> I just think that, as members of this community, we begin at some point to
> abbreviate our communication and that to an outsider, things become
> incomprehensible. A reviewer should be damned sure not to make any
> assumptions about the reader.

Whoa. I thought I'd read the whole thread, but this is new on me--and it
seems like this is an entirely different issue. A review can criticize
technical details of the work without being inaccessible to an "outsider."

> If you assume all of the review readers truly understand what you mean by
> NPC, PC, Treasure Hunt, Puzzleless, and other common items found in our
> threads these days, you are doing a disservice to our community. We should
> always point the reviews outward, not inward.
>
> Pointed inward, it becomes a technical review. Not necessarily a bug report,
> but possibly filled with inside jokes and R*IF phrasology that an outsider
> would have a terrible time deciphering.
>
> Pointed outward, you hide your technical comments within by teaching,
> humouring, telling how you _felt_ while playing the game.

Again, what?

There's a place for reviews that describe the reviewer's emotional state;
games that try to evoke emotional reactions should be described as such.
But (a) not all games fit this category (what emotional reactions do
Bear's Night Out or Spider and Web trigger?), and (b) the focus should
always be on how the game sought to achieve the emotional reaction. That
Reviewer X was moved/scared/angry when playing Game Y frankly doesn't say
much to me unless I know Reviewer X really well, and I want to hear more
about the reasons Reviewer X felt that way than about the emotions
themselves.

Honestly, I don't think the average review is filled with inside jokes.
NPC and PC are the main terms I can think of that aren't entirely
accessible to the outsider; "treasure hunt" and "puzzleless" mean what
they say. "Soup cans" is the primary inside-joke term that gets used in
reviews, but even that doesn't come up very much. Perhaps SPAG could have
a glossary somewhere on its page of terms that might be unfamiliar to the
outsider; I'm not sure it'd be very long, but it couldn't hurt. More to
the point, a review can discuss technical details in inappropriately
explicit terms--"the game didn't recognize this verb and couldn't
distinguish these objects when they're in the room together and didn't
provide for that logical solution of this puzzle"--and still be entirely
comprehensible to the r*if outsider.

dcorn...@my-deja.com

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Mar 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM3/27/00
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In article
<Pine.HPP.3.93.100032...@merle.acns.nwu.edu>,
Second April <dns...@merle.acns.nwu.edu> wrote:

> Whoa. I thought I'd read the whole thread, but this is new on me--and
it
> seems like this is an entirely different issue. A review can criticize
> technical details of the work without being inaccessible to an
"outsider."
>

I simply disagree, that's all. I believe most reviews are directed at
the knowledgable IF person. I think this is unfortunate. Some should be
directed at (on purpose) the absolutely, mind-bogglingly, un-IF
audience, which I believe it's fair to say, is a much larger population
than say, India.

There ya go - we should write our reviews for Indians. We could get a
lot of people into IF if we targeted a bigger audience.

But it _is_ a lot easier to write reviews for a place like, say,
Pecatonica, IL, USA. I believe the population is around 1200. They might
like IF too.

Jarb


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