Steps Towards An Elitist Critic Future

By Kieron Gillen on August 21st, 2008 at 11:05 am.

I played it on the PC, so its a PC game. Doh.
And I don’t mean that in a bad way.

There’s a traditional idea that the critics – that’s us guys who write stuff about games and lob a number between 6 and 10 at the end to drum up a comments thread and/or death-threats – have rarefied and/or completely counter-populist tastes. We’d more happily hail a game made entirely of the string and weeds that’s emerged blinking into the sunlight from the anus of a man quoting Proust than a good four-square solid meat-and-potato game like our mum used to make. And, to a degree, it’s true. Problem is, it’s just not true enough.

But I think it’s growing more so, and there’s a chance this year could be the turning point.

The thing to understand is that while you may think games writers pretty hoity, in reality, the vast majority of our taste matches the mass majority of gamers. In terms of games aimed at gamers, the games which get the highest score are almost certainly the most popular ones. World of Warcraft. GTA4. Oblivion. Take your pick. Scores highly. Sells well.

(At which point you’re probably saying “I’m a hardcore gamer and I hate GTA/WoW/Oblivion” ergo critics aren’t hardcore enough and… silence, mortal. Bear with me. You’re right, but we need to go the long way round to get there.)

Most cultural forms don’t work like us. You look at the critical end of year lists in music or film, and you’re going to get a far greater proportion of works more akin to the string+weeds-constructed/anus-emerging/Proust-quoting of the opening and less of the just lovely, nice and fun stuff. Sure, the populist will show its face, but they’re not nearly as naturally predominant. On average, critics will hail odd stuff more, because… well, mainly because it’s more interesting and worthy of note, but people like to think it’s because critics are a snooty bunch of toe-rags. Point being, games don’t. In games, we’re voting the equivalent of The Dark Knight universally to Number 1 in the end of year round ups. The peaks of mass-market entertainment. And, yes, I’m sure Dark Knight may be on some lists as film of the year… but it won’t be on all of them. If films were like games, if Dark Knight wasn’t topping your list, you’ll probably have to deal with 2000 comment-thread posts and death-threats.

The exceptions are interesting. There are games which sell enormously and score badly, but they’re actually the equivalent of pop music. Most pop music sells a lot, but doesn’t get in the NME’s (or else actually credible) list. A few years ago, I sat through a seminar of Paulina Bozek, Producer of Singstar, talking about how she was disappointed its marks grew more lacklustre in games magazines with each versions. The mechanistic changes those magazines desired just weren’t what the audience would be interested in, and the magazine should understand that. I wish I’d put her straight – the people who buy her game don’t care about magazines and the people who buy magazines don’t care about her game – and it’s for /those/ people who critics are writing. To follow the music analogy, you don’t see genuinely trashy fun pop bands get much time in the traditional music press. Just make do with your enormous sales. It takes a certain sort of weirdo to want to read about any cultural form, and they’re rarely interested in what’s culturally predominant.

(As an aside, there are of course REALLY weird weirdos who are deeply into obsessive analysis of absolutely mainstream pop records. Hell, I’m one of them. But there’s never been enough of them to sell a magazine solely based of it, and the critics who attempt to hail it do it as part of forwarding a grander aesthetic. And the ones who are /really/ radical may go end up having to actually put their entryist theories into practice. I suspect the same is true of games – I think of Ste Curran Ex-Edge forwarding his PARTY GAMES ARE THE BEST GAMES mandate, who I suspect by crossing over to development may be videogames’ Paul Morley. But I’m really digressing now, as I’m drinking.)

Returning properly to games – in end of year lists you’ll generally get the big hits which appeal to the audience (i.e. Things which appeal to the same part of the hindbrain as the Terminator) interspersed with random pop-esoterica that have caught people’s eyes. Eurogamer – who become important later in this piece – are a good example, with their last few years Top 10s including things like Brain Training and Wii Sports, much to the ridicule of a certain sort of fan. This is, returning to the analogy, is the equivalent of Rhianna’s Umbrella: a pop-song which transcends and appeals to even cold-hearted critics.

But in games what you don’t often get is the really fucking odd stuff in end of year charts. For even the equivalent of pop-records which show up have the maintream’s level of production and accessibility – both in terms of being able to pick up and play and the fact they may have actually seen a copy. There are two problems in getting genuinely indie stuff hailed. Firstly, the problem in that not enough critics have actually experienced it. Secondly, the problem of expectation, with critics failing to understand their emotional response to the game is what counts, not some odd check-list of what a “great” game should be. On the 360, Earth Defence Force 2017 is a better game than Gears of War. Stepping more PC and indie, Desktop Tower Defence is a better game than Supreme Commander. Until critics are willing to actually fight for stuff they actually believe in, we’re screwed.

I think both problems are well on the way to a solution.

Last week I found myself on a press trip with Eurogamer’s Tom “Tom Bramwell” Bramwell. We ended up talking about what may end up top in Eurogamer’s Top 50. Which is always fun. It’s an absolutely democratic system – literally, the reviewers collating their votes and the numeric totals deciding the victor. No sneaking in things people haven’t voted for, which leads to major, major games missing their places, which drives the threads mad. But it’s fundamentally honest, which leads to some genuine and surprising results.

Two years back it was Psychonauts. A game from a major team which critically underperformed but created its own distinctive vision which enchanted the majority of critics.

A year back it was Portal. A game from a tiny part of a major team – an indie dev team snapped up by a supportive mother company – which charmed everyone through its wit and twisted mechanics. Tiny, yet perfect.

You can see the way that’s heading. But what’s it to be this year?

Tom suggested one dark horse.

Trials 2. After I introduced it to them, it obsessed virtually everyone at Eurogamer. If everyone votes for it at all – and, if they are honest, they should – it’d collect a healthy enough spread of marks to claim a high position. Hell, it could even claim number one.

Hmm.

And then I look at the rapturous, semen-throwing reviews of the rapture-and-semen-lobbing- provokingly-brilliant Braid, which is clocking up a metacritic score to rival pretty much everything. And I think of Audiosurf outselling Call of Duty 4 on Steam for much of the early part of the year. And…

The key thing is that these most obscure games are easily available. The console direct sale routes. The PC direct download culture which, I suppose that RPS exists to forward. That means more critics will have played them, because it’s so much easier to do so, which deals with the first of my problems. And the progression in Eurogamer’s Number 1 to ever-esoteric quarters shows the second is also beingdealt with. I think if people are considering voting for these games over the mega-hits, I think it’s not nearly as big a leap from those games to – say – an arty webgame or Sumotori Dreams or whatever. And suddenly critics are voting in these polls for stuff they find interesting rather than stuff which is just what people expect to be in it.

In other words, rather than an end of year list including all the games you know about, it includes many games you simply don’t. As a listener, I use music end of year lists as a way to catch up on all the great stuff I missed. Come December, I find all the incredible records which slipped me by. That’s a big chunk of the part of criticism for me – and games writing, traditionally, has been obsessed with talking about stuff people already know about, and ignored the Stuff You’ve Never Heard Of But You Desperately Need To part of the gig. But as gaming grows ever-more mainstream, the former loses importance – if you can find out about the latest Nintendo game by opening the daily paper, why read the game press? – and the latter grows ever more important, as those disillusioned by the mainstream pay attention to those who help them locate something to sate their ennui.

In other words, the weirder and more abstruse the critics become, the more chance they’ll be of use to you, the gamer who’s looking for something a little new. If they’re not afraid to say they prefer Trial 2 or Braid over GTA4, the chance of them doing their real job – that is, leading to you to nifty stuff – is increased hugely.

With any luck, the End of Year lists this year will provoke an unprecedented cries claiming these critics are crazy and just trying to appear cool. Because if they manage to do that, then we’re well on the way to doing our jobs the way we should be.

, .

104 Comments »

  1. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    That would be lovely…. I regularly use Pitchfork’s ‘best of’ lists to beef up my music collection with consistently great stuff… and it’d be nice to have something similar in the gaming world. Hell, I found out about Pyschonauts through the RPS chatroom guys going on and on about it, and I wouldn’t've otherwise.

  2. cullnean says:

    the thing is most people who read this(rps regulars) will know it to be true anyway…..id hope.

  3. The Hammer says:

    Great article! I was pretty pleased with the glowing praise that Braid has gotten (even EDGE saw fit to award it a 9, despite its earlier criticisms of its narrative, which I didn’t really agree with), and if it does top a few end-of-year lists, instead of, say, GOW2, then that would be fab.

    Actually, the reason I got into Eurogamer in the first place was because of its placement of Psychonauts as its best game of the year, so that was nifty. It’d probably have been mine that year, too.

    I mean, I use RPS a lot to hear about games I’ve either not heard of, or passed me by. Dungeon Keeper, for instance. But, and this may just be my fuzzy head, I sort of get the idea you’re saying that a journalists job isn’t to praise games, but praise the games that no one has heard of, because everyone’s gonna buy the popular games anyway. If that’s what you’re saying, then I disagree on that point. Because if a game is doing something right, it deserves to be shouted about from the rooftops.

    I suppose a “cult” end of year list may be better, but then again, “cult” can alienate many gamers, who just see them as weird, and not particularly well presented. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that GTA4, Oblivion and WOW have as much right to get on the list, and the top part of the list too, as Braid, Psychonauts and Trials 2, because it’s not about popularity, it’s about quality.

    Sure, popularity often means there are quite easy going subjects involved, which aren’t challenging and are easy to sink in on (whether that be narrative, controls, gameplay mechanics…) but some very meaningful games have been popular as well. Civilization 4, Bioshock, to name two.

    Eh. I’m in a muddle. I loved RPS’s 2007 rundown, as it included a good mix of the two. If that’s what you’re proposing, I’m all for it.

  4. Sideath says:

    Interesting comments, Kieron. In many ways I agree with things said in this article – it’s definetly true that I now read RPS and games press not to catch up on the latest Nintendo fan-chise but to rather see what magic stuff like Braid and Trials 2 that I may have been missing, which was definetly not the case five years ago.

    I’m still not entirely sure about scores as a medium to compare games as of yet. And end of year top 20/50/100/10,000 lists seem a bit silly anyway. Why not just have a ‘here’s 50 games that we like, in alphabetical order, that you should check out’?

  5. dartt says:

    Is that a manifest- oh shi-!

  6. AndrewC says:

    Ramblier than usual but as dead interesting as usual too. But – you focus on the critics and the writing, but it seems what you want to be getting at (where the article keeps ending up) is the readers – who we are, why we read this stuff, why we should read this stuff, and what we will be wanting/needing to read in the future. Maybe you feel telling us who we are or should be might be a bit patronising, but maybe you should bite the bullet. The balance of journalism reflecting the readership and journalism shaping the readership, and the same balance between journalism and the industry. Go on.

  7. houseinrlyeh says:

    Brilliant piece. I also agree that games criticism working more like actual criticism would be wonderful.
    The best thing about the release of GTA 4 for me was that this meant every gaming site on the planet would finally shut up about something anyone interested (aka “not me”) would buy and play anyway and spare a little room for something more original.
    My dream print magazine would eschew the real mainstream stuff completely…Not realistic, I know, but I can dream.

  8. cullnean says:

    mainstream, indie and plain weird should not be mutualy
    exclusive quality and fun is key and what i want to know about

  9. ImperialCreed says:

    Interesting points, well made. Not sure I agree entirely KG, but it’s hard to argue with your concluding mini-paragraphs.

    I was pulled up short by the likes of “the equivalent of Rhianna’s Umbrella: a pop-song which transcends and appeals to even cold-hearted critics” and “Desktop Tower Defence is a better game than Supreme Commander”.

    I might be nit-picking and missing the fundamental point, but I think the music analogy is broken by the example you use. Umbrella is a charmless piece of derivative dreck that revels in the repetition of a single syllable. It’s not fun and it takes itself far too seriously, wringing every last bit of faux-angsty emotion out of it’s shitty lyrics. It’s the worst pop music has to offer.

    The likes of Brain Training and Wii Sports probably appeal because they are the opposite of this – games driven by a single idea that have never really been done before, or if they have, been done with such focus. Using a glorified wireless weighing scale to make people more aware of their own health and fitness in a cute, friendly way in the comfort of their own home is nothing short of modest genius (either that or a triumph of marketing). Ditto for Brain Training – it’s a simple, novel idea packaged in a way people haven’t seen before.

    The X is better than Y statement is dodgy too. By what criteria is it better? I love Tower Defence – it’s like an addictive drug that I can’t keep away from. I also hate it, because it’s like an addictive drug I can’t keep away from. Do I enjoy it? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’ve ever had fun playing it, I just keep coming back to it as a welcome distraction from real work. It provokes frustration in me more than any sense of satisfaction. Contrast with my experience of Supreme Commander – not as addictive as DTTD, but I certainly enjoy ploughing a couple of Spiderbots into an army of puny mechs much more. If I had to pick one, I’d pick SupComm, if only because I actually enjoy it more.

    But yeah, that’s probably nit-picking. Opinion away!

    EDIT: And I’m still not entirely sold on Braid – it’s beautiful and does something that makes traditional platforming feel like a new idea, but in terms of it being a proper, good “game”…I haven’t finished it yet, but for one thing, the difficulty curve is broken. I’m with Tom Chick in his review over at Fidgit – it’s brilliant, brainy, but off the mark, and I’m a bit disappointed everyone else seems to not want to acknowledge it. To quote him “So I’ll just say that once I realized I had to precisely time when I jumped onto a little monster’s head to the exact nano-second and the exact pixel, I promptly lost interest and quit out”. We used to crucify games for doing this…

  10. gulag says:

    Something tangental (But hopefully connected) to this just popped into my head.

    Movies get rated out of 5/10/%, Albums get the same, but individual songs don’t. Resturants do, but plays/theater doesn’t. And of course games most definately do go under the “Marks-out-of-Something” hammer.

    Some cultural experiences are seen as fit for objective measuring and some are held as being too subjective for such absolute treatment. If game critics are finally making the move from mere heralds of the popular choice to forward scouts on the cultural fringes, will the next move be to drop the arbitary numbers? Is it even possible to ‘shape the readership’ that far? How would the publishers react?

  11. Smee says:

    Well, I have no problem admitting that Karoshi 2.0 was one of the best games I played this year.

    http://www.acid-play.com/download/karoshi-2/

    I think the hardest part of getting the less populist titles more widespread is just finding the right games to play, surely? It’s all about following the right sort of blogs, which unfortunately tend to be mostly…um, poorly written? Although I find that Auntie Pixelante is the best for that sort of writing.

    http://www.auntiepixelante.com/

  12. Jarmo says:

    Kieron, you’re absolutely right. This is exactly the direction game writing should be taking all more often, for precisely the reason you enunciate.

    Game critics, don’t be shopping center information desks. Be wilderness guides on a new continent. Please.

  13. Fost says:

    This is exactly how I’ve been feeling. When you ingest a high proportion of any media – music/games/film – you inevitably get bored of the same old things and hunt out more esoteric works.

    In the same way I completely burned myself out on first person shooters on both the pc and consoles. Halo 3 was the most empty gaming experience I’ve had in the past ten years. I’ve been loving Braid but as an indie game developer myself I’m worried for Jonathan Blow. He’s sunk a huge amount of money into making that game and if he doesn’t make it back then the industry has failed him. People like Jonathan deserve to make bin bags of money – if they don’t then they’ll not be back to make more. Still, Braid is a game for gamers and not the Wii generation. That’s why critics and long term gamers are rightly putting it on a pedestal. It’s a ‘proper’ puzzle game and not anything ‘casual’ that might necessarily appeal to the masses.

    I wonder, truly, how much critics can push the majority in the direction of great works. It doesn’t happen that much with film – most people still go and see all the summer blockbusters and avoid subtitled and/or black&white :)
    It’s a step in the right direction – maybe Braid will be a turning point. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    Imperial Creed: With the greatest of respect, music critics were all over Umbrella. You don’t have to like it or dislike it. The point is merely “Critics go gaga over occasional bits of pop, while not acclaiming big chunks of it”. I could have used a load of examples, but Umbrella was 2007′s pop song that got picked up by the critics, so was the most recent.

    KG

  15. Gap Gen says:

    The cynic in me believes that the reason Audiosurf outsold CoD4 on Steam was because CoD4′s Steam sales were probably less than 10% of total sales, as opposed to 100% for Audiosurf. But hey, it’s a victory whatever.

    I think the current balance is OK. Even though CoD4 is derivative and (shudder) leans towards a grind-fest in multiplayer (how many more times do I have to use this gun to level up?, etc) it’s a very professional game that’s a great experience – and emotional reaction is an important part of gaming.

    Besides, Deus Ex has been at No. 2 on the PCG Top 100 since the Voxel Ages, but then arguably even Deus Ex was still a kinda big-budget game in comparison to Audiosurf.

    On the point of Sup Com – its biggest problem is the fact that its scalability means that it’s a bit like an RPG – fighting rats at level 1 is just as hard as fighting dragons at level a billion, because otherwise the experience would be dull or frustrating. So while the explosions are bigger when you’re fronting Experimentals, you’re zoomed out more so it doesn’t make a difference. If you watch the Rooster Teeth Sup Com parody, you find yourself thinking “Wow, that Galactic Colossus genuinely is ginormous.” Because there, at least you have a sense of scale with the tiny level 1 units.

  16. Gap Gen says:

    I think also that games have to be more attuned to technical quality than other art forms, because less films/music screw up as badly as the most buggy games. Uwe Boll films as games would still get marks in the 60s, because while they’re not great, at least they’re not broken. And few albums are produced so badly that they’re impossible to listen to.

  17. ImperialCreed says:

    KG: You’re right of course, and as I said, I was probably missing the wider point.

  18. Seniath says:

    “bremxjones Shit. I may have written another manifesto. about 14 hours ago”

    I must admit, when I saw this last night I did shudder a little.

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s less manifestoy now in its second draft, I’m pleased to say.

    KG

  20. ImperialCreed says:

    KG never really seems content unless he’s shifting a paradigm ;)

  21. Brother None says:

    An interesting piece, Kieron. I agree on the basic premise: critical culture has to be elitist culture. This is a kind of platitude when you consider popular culture is well capable of taking care of itself. You don’t have to tell an average teenager to like Popular Product B, advertising already got this message through to him.

    Of course – and coming from me you can probably feel this one coming – that brings up the obvious issue with the development you hope will happen; the gaming industry has always had a collusion of interests between the gaming media and gaming PR. They exist in a kind of co-dependent relationship, and that’s a structuralist problem that won’t just fade with good intentions.

    And I’m sure publishers will be fine with critics picking up occasional oddities to glorify once a year or so, but if journalists start consistently praising niche/experimental games over the mainstream AAA titles, we’ll get a major conflict of interests. In a lot of ways, the company’s PR provides both the information stream (on which every gaming site/magazine is dependent) and the ad revenue (on which practically every gaming site/magazine is dependent).

    If you’re a small site, like GameBanshee (which is the biggest independent RPG-specialist site but still small), you can just duck under the radar. Sure, Bethesda never bothered with us (even before I was hired) because GB elects to be critical of their games, but on the other hand we have excellent relationships with the smaller studios like Troika or Obsidian, and occasionally with independent developers to hook us into companies. And that works for us because we don’t need to generate that much of our own content to keep our readers happy, but that’s obviously not true of every place.

    So we dodge the pressure and – like RPS – are capable of covering and highlighting and criticizing whatever the hell we feel like. But what about GameSpot? IGN? GameSpy? We’ve seen rumblings of what happens if they try to break the journalist-PR bond.

    Now if all journalists would simultaneously do a 180-degree turn and face PR head-on then sure, there would no longer be a problem. But right now being big means primarily being in good favour with all publishers, and that entails a certain…proper treatment of AAA titles.

    So, let’s call it a paradigm shift to be properly pretentious. Mr Gillen, do you feel this paradigm shift in the discursive formations of professional or even non-professional journalists – if I may – is possible without a cessation of this co-dependent relationship?

    The problem with breaking this relationship is obvious: no one loses in the existing relationship, except the consumer, and they’re irrelevant. Both PR and gaming media benefit from their relationship, and have no real business incentive to change anything.

  22. James says:

    Hrm. A very interesting article, Kieron. A couple of odd points that will probably be eaten up amongst the conversation, though:

    I think I agree with other posters saying that a wonderful, professional game by a big developer has no right to be toppled from a spot on the list simply by being an indie game. A game is a game, no matter who it is produced by. It deserves to be viewed, rated and acknowledged in that fashion, at least when dealing in the “This game is better than this game” school of lists – a method which I consider pretty foolish, but they seem to be pretty ingrained into the gaming culture. But if you’re going to do it, at least do it on its merits alone.

    What I do really like is the points about journalism taking steps towards examining the fringes of the gaming culture. It’s what I come to RPS for, and I’ve picked up countless fun little indie games and distractions that have happily eaten up a significant portion of my time. If more websites could take up your more balanced indie/big-name balance of coverage, I think the gaming community would be better for it.

    At the very least, I’ll be interested to read the conversation that the article generates.

  23. Joe says:

    Personally, I just wish my game of the year could be Toribash. I can’t put that fucker down, so it’s just a shame I’m late to the party on that one.

    As always, one has to bear in mind the audience too. Eurogamer can do one thing, whereas here at BT we have a different setup and have to do it another way to make it a truly representative list and not just *my* top ten or whatever. The BT audience has different expectations to the EG audience and though I’m not making semantic excuses there *IS* a difference between “The Best Games of 2008″ and “My Favourite Games of 2008″.

    Take Sin: Episodes for example. I love that game – the combat and pistol action is awesome and I voted it as game of the year for the staff count at Pro-G…but it isn’t the best game of the year. Really, it isn’t even all that good a game, I just happen to really like it.

    M’eh. Gripes for another day. Roll on the next Beyond Good and Evil, Brutal Legend, etc.

  24. BrokenSymmetry says:

    Yes, another Kieron Gillen manifesto!

    Kieron, you say “the problem of expectation, with critics failing to understand their emotional response to the game is what counts, not some odd check-list of what a “great” game should be”. Is this something innate to the persons that become game critics, or is this caused by external pressure from editors or reader forums?

  25. Ian says:

    I don’t think enough criticism is levelled (not by Kieron/this article/this site, but in general) at the way gamers themselves treat reviews.

    I’m a long way from the hardcore I-shall-loathe-anything-other-people-love brigade, but neither am I instantly drawn in by the Halo 3 and GTA IVs of this world getting the world all giddy. Even the games reviewers who gush over these games invariably tell you what you need to know if you’re prepared to read their review and not just look at the summary and scores.

    There are widely-praised games which I’ve read reviews for and knew I’d like (such as Oblivion, to cite an example of a sequel game I hadn’t played a prequel of to guide my preconceptions) and ones I knew I wouldn’t (Battlefield 2, again when I didn’t have experience of the prequel to sway me). I know people who won’t play a game which get reviews under a set number (8/10, 80%, 4/5, whatever) and to hell with what the reviewer actually has to say.

    If I’m talking to somebody about a game and reference a site, I would never stop at saying, “IGN/Eurogamer/PC Gamer/whoever gave it 8/10″ and leave it at that because that’s fairly meaningless. Usually for me such statements are followed by a “because they thought…” or a “but…” to put the score in perspective.

    I don’t think smaller, less heralded games should necessarily get more attention (than mainstream games, I mean) because of being just that (unless that’s what a site or magazine is dedicated to, naturally) any more than I can really talk about music to those people who hate a band as soon as they get more than 1000 other fans. What I feel is just that they should be put on a more equal footing, and less reviewing the likes of Braid with “for an indy game…”-type analyses you’ll get from some reviewers.

    If games can just be games (not ‘indy’ or ‘mainstream’ or ‘cult’ or those kinds of tag) and reviewed more equally then that’d be best. And I think that can be more the case with games than it’ll ever be with movies or music. There’s music out there that will never be widely popular because it’s so far removed from what Flavour of the Month have got to the top of the charts for their umpteenth number one. There are films which fall into a similar category, but I’ve not played that many games (even the obscure ones) which a mainstream gamer couldn’t relate to on some level. If your average reviewer starts to treat games like (to use one your examples) Trials 2 as a game and not an oddity they’re paying attention to out of the goodness of their heart then surely the attitude would eventually spread to the gamers?

    I don’t consider myself to be especially enlightened when it comes to gaming, but I’d hope I’m in the ideal middle ground. I love Crysis because I love it, not because it got reviews and is mainstream. I also love Fantastic Contraption, because I love it and not because I live for free/cheap games and to hell with the mainstream. On the flipside, I disliked Halo and Halo 2 because I don’t think they’re very good rather than a desire to go against what high-score charts and fancy sales figures say it is A Good Game. I also couldn’t bring myself to really like N, because it just didn’t grab me rather than an aversion to visually simplistic games that don’t make my graphics card weep.

    In short, I find the problem to be just as much with the review-readers as the review writers. The call in here for more critics to just do a little more criticising where necessary is the key rather than the shunning of mainstream game coverage.

    And sorry if I rambled a bit (lot) and/or misunderstood any of the points made.

  26. Okami says:

    @Imperial Creed:

    [Gears of War/Halo/Insert Popular Mainstream Game Here] is a charmless piece of derivative dreck that revels in the repetition of a single syllable gameplay element. It’s not fun and it takes itself far too seriously, wringing every last bit of faux-angsty emotion out of it’s shitty lyrics drab. brown visuals and uninspired gameplay. It’s the worst pop music gaming has to offer.

    I think the music analogy works quite well…

    EDIT: I enjoyed Halo, Gears and a lot of other big titles games immensely. They are games, that are very good at what they are trying to do. Just as “The Dark Knight” is very good at what it’s trying to do. And three times out of four, I’ll rather watch a hollywood blockbuster than an european drama, just as I’ll rather play a AAA shooter/rts/rpg/whatever instead of an indie game.

  27. Nuyan says:

    The RPS December list reminded me of quite a few games I had completely missed in 2007 as well.

  28. ImperialCreed says:

    Okami: If we’re talking Gears or Halo here, the thing to remember is that while they may rely on the repetition of a singular mechanic or element they at least took the time to do it with some panache and style, and both remembered to be fun. While both were hardly revolutionary, there were hardly the same, tired old hat that you could classify Umbrella as.

    Most popular games aren’t the worst gaming has to offer. Gears, Halo, GTA are all good, solid chunks of entertainment. Laud them away. Rhianna and her ilk are bottom of the barrel musical trash.

  29. Andrew says:

    “Desktop Tower Defence is a better game than Supreme Commander”

    Cup-and-ball with a zoomable tactical map and dual monitor support would be better than Supreme Commander.

  30. Muzman says:

    Seconding thet point that discovering offbeat, obscure and cheap (even disposable) little games is part of what keeps me reading RPS (that and the scintilating reparte of course)

    I’ve often thought that the critic’s perspective is a little weird because they try to play so much stuff and that should be accounted for when reading their words. It’s partly why they often don’t get why hard core types got so annoyed with Bioshock’s limitations; to them it stands out among a mass of things about games and game culture they observe everyday. To us it sits on a specific game design trajectory, at best continuing a plateau. (and that’s obviously only how I characterise it).
    We live in strange times though, where populism and anti-intellectualism are rife. Reviewers supposedly only like No Country For Old Men because of its ‘thinky’ narrative-convention busting structure. That said structure is alienating to many people means that it has failed to do its job as a movie, like a bad child standing on a desk for attention and the teacher calling it self expression. Likewise Halo 3 must get tens because it is popular and has brilliant multiplayer; that is what the audience cares about ergo it performs the job of a game perfectly. To rate it by any other measure in gaming (story, creativity, design, acting) is a false measure and dereliction of reviewer duty. And if you use needlessly big “five dollar” words like dereliction you’re just a wanker to be ignored anyway (so I have to tell you all about in the comments).
    Marketing and the mass media has been very happy with this situation for years now and I don’t think it’s doing things any good. It’s more than just accurate for critics to represent their experience and interests in ratings, reviews and end of year lists, it’s almost desperately necessary.

  31. Joe says:

    FABLED LANDS!

    Ha, yeah – that should be my game of the year.

    http://au.geocities.com/jemann75/

    Why don’t more people adapt Gamebooks like that?

  32. Tom Bramwell says:

    Sideath:

    “And end of year top 20/50/100/10,000 lists seem a bit silly anyway. Why not just have a ‘here’s 50 games that we like, in alphabetical order, that you should check out’?”

    When we do it, it’s partly because it’s interesting to see what sort of story the accumulated votes tell about the writers, and it’s partly out of a sense of mischief. We’re always careful to tag it “Eurogamer’s Top 50 Games”, and specify how the list is constructed. It’s our favourite games added up. Watching it enrage rude people always tickles.

  33. araczynski says:

    I guess I’m just the anti-pop guy, no interest in Psychonauts, demo of Portal was nice, but not enough to want to waste money on the rest of it, Trials 2 never heard of, yawned on Audiosurf and Braid, hate modern shooters, so Call of Duty 4 was an instant bore, ah, but wait, Desktop Tower Defense, THAT i actually enjoyed. I guess I’m not the anti-pop guy anymore, phew!.

  34. Daz says:

    I believe this in part what communities promote when they succeed. The most obvious example to me – merely because I was there rather than overwrought nostalgia – is State. Even in its latter days, the irc channel was promoting pricking about in little known games and enjoying them.

    RPS has the opportunity to do something similar. Rather turning into generico PC gaming site, there appears to be a community and common enthusiasm forming. That can do well.

    Anyway. Yay for Refreshingly New Games Journalism?

  35. Cooper says:

    Preaching to the converted, nay?

    Not that that makes you any less right.

  36. ImperialCreed says:

    “…Watching it enrage rude people always tickles.”

    And that’s why I like Tom Bramwell.

  37. Naurgul says:

    I would completely agree if the other media’s critics weren’t so obsessed with obscure and unintuitive works that I question their judgement. When reading videogame reviews with good scores I am worried it’s just hype. When reading film or book reviews I am equally worried they are praising it just because it was weird.

    The main problem is that at some point you need to show a little trust to reviewers. After you spend your money, there is confirmation bias. You want them to be well spent so you’ll tend to agree with the critic. Hell, you may even be biased before actually experiencing the thing. If it was possible to experience a game or a film or a book without any presumptions on wasted money or time, then one could develop a sense about which reviewers to trust and in what ways.

    But to return to the topic at hand: This whole suggestion is a double-edged sword. I mean, there are people who want to be entertained and not be really involved. Even if the more mainstream games are for them, that doesn’t mean that every over-hyped game is equally good. Don’t they need critics to tell those games apart? Also, there’s the problem with critics being so excited with anything different that their analysis becomes so obscure and esoteric that it possibly doesn’t even make any sense.

    So, maybe the whole review structure is at fault. Maybe reviews shouldn’t be about whether you should buy something or not. Maybe they should be just an opinion highlighting what it is about, what should one expect to experience by playing it. Then, if this is objective enough, the reader should be able to apply his own criteria and decide if he wants to do it or not. However, what reviews shouldn’t be is plain criticism. That’s useful to the developers, feedback makes them better, but not exactly what the end-user is interested with. There’s a fine difference between the two, I think, and a journalist should strive to find it.

    Edit: Now that I’ve read the rest of the comments, I wanted to mention I liked Brother None’s practical point of view.

  38. Woges says:

    GonzoGames.com?

    More coverage for more interesting games will never be a bad thing. Finding the time and the games is not always an easy thing mind, with so many releases (and platforms) now you know you’re missing something.

  39. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @ImperialCreed
    pop music and games is an average complexity, an acceptable amount of new mixed with the familiar, people don’t like too much unfamiliar and the majority are less familiar with a media than people who specialise, my point being that pop games or whatever are always going to err on the side of stagnant for people who play too much games, just like pop music err’s on the side of stagnant for people who’ve heard it all before

  40. SwiftRanger says:

    It’s a nice idea, trying to give every kind of game attention and worthy praise, though in the end there is (a bit of) love in every game and sometimes it just takes a while for some peeps to see that, whether you are a critic or a raging fanboy.

    Instead of a single list with a ranking which has been the most unimaginitive ‘feature’ in any kind of media for ages, I’d much prefer complete coverage all-the-time. If EG or any other big site for that matter wants to be serious about it then they should make as much newsposts/articles of smaller titles as they do about the bigwigs. A higher ranking of Trials2 than GTA IV in the top50 is going to upset the wrecking (read: flaming) crew, get some interest from people who wonder what that game is. And those are respectively hilarious and great things but in the end you can’t expect a list to be viewed every day by every visitor on a site until the list of the next year appears. Lists aren’t always bad of course but I didn’t check or try out all the 365 free games on that recent PC Gamer UK list, the constantly present Extra Life section is more convenient to highlight this kind of stuff imo.

    “Desktop Tower Defence is a better game than Supreme Commander”

    Emotional response and addiction level is very high here for both, but SupCom wins it for me. I’d even say the latter was neglected a lot more (by press and audience) or better put; folks gave up on it way, way too fast.

  41. Meat Circus says:

    The problem is, of course, that 90% of people are stupid.

    And you’re not. There’s an inherent disjunct here that is insurmountable except by brain transplants.

    Stop worrying about what the thickos think. It hurts to think down to their level, and you can leave that to Gamespot and IGN, who have years of practice.

  42. Meat Circus says:

    Oh, and GAME OF THE FUCKING YEAR 2008 is Braid.

    Don’t argue. You know it’s true.

  43. CrashT says:

    @Meat Circus:
    No… It’s not.

  44. andrei.dumitrescu says:

    I say more lists and more outrage… the gaming world needs controversy to sustain its existence.

  45. Meat Circus says:

    @CrashT:

    Oh, it so is you filthy boy. So, what do you reckon your GoTY will be? What side of the divide are you?

    I haven’t had the all encompassing unity of sensation in my brain and body from one game in a long time. But Braid… Wow.

    Braid is a revelation, on so many levels. Deeply in love with it, I am. I find it hard to imagine a game so… elegantly complete and internally consistent wringing out so much gushing admiration from me in a very long time.

    Braid is love.

  46. alphaxion says:

    personally I’d love to see the end of “x out of y” and percentage based reviews and to simply have the reviewer wind up the review with a comment on whether they enjoyed playing it or not? Cause that’s the key thng you’re interested in isn’t it? Are you going to enjoy the experience?

    “Was great fun”, “a laugh but you won’t find yourself coming back”, “can’t stop playing the damn thing”, “dominates my every waking hour with such a crack like addiction that I don’t even know why I play it!”.

    Something with context and meaning rather than “um, I’ll give it a 6″.. force those lazy buggers to read instead of number skim!

  47. Bobsy says:

    Yes, well let’s wait out the next four months shall we? There’s a lot of good just around the corner. Like Spore.

  48. Matt says:

    More articles and less news on RPS would make me a happy panda.

  49. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    *Konspicuously ignores youtube link to Umbrella*

    I’ve always had it in for the “traditional” gaming press, and the “shopping guide” culture most reviews skew towards. That, and they’re easy to buy off, while informal straight-talk reviews are less so. I suspect because there’s probably the lingering suspicion that if anybody attempted to bribe a certain group of PC Gamer bloggers, they’d just pocket the money. And either stay home, mention a cat, a bear, or a band, depending on who got bribed when and for how much.

    I like this age of the indie, the critic, the artsy, the “I’m-honestly-kind-of-tired-of-this-samey-wamey-stuff” guy.

    And since there’s a delightful Braid pic gracing the top, I’ll say that I’m still waiting for Braid PC to show up. I don’t think those XBLArpers appreciate what it is they’ve got. Honestly, I pay twice its price on weekly trips to the gas station alone. Do these people all live off allowances or something?

    And I’m a bit sad I didn’t get to catch the post in manifesto format. I always miss out on the fun, pre-Edit stuff.

  50. CrashT says:

    @Meat Circus:
    Braid is… Braid… It left me feeling like I was missing something. Everybody talked about the great interweaving of narrative and gameplay and I really didn’t see it. I can’t help but think of the Emperor’s New Clothes when I think of Braid, like people who “get” it do so because they don’t want to look stupid. They going into it feeling they should love it so they do.

    GOTY for me? Probably Patapon right now. If Braid is Love, Patapon is Joy.