Revisiting Game Genres

UPDATED: Added a fourth genre!

The problem of how to categorize games has plagued the industry since its earliest days. Is there a solution that can reorient our thinking and help us escape the counterproductive conventions of the past? In this article I propose new genres to help better simplify and explore game design.

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Review vs. Analysis

I received an email recently from a reader who wasn’t impressed with my review.  He said that it felt like a kneejerk reaction against the game, without all of the nuance and insight that I usually give.  This was my reply to him, which may interest some of you:


My review was written as a judgment, not an analysis.  Most of my articles do not review MGS games, they study them, as you said.  For a review, however, the purpose is to decide what I personally like or dislike, and to criticize the product as a product.  MGSV is a product that costs money, and which either meets or fails to meet expectations of consumers who paid to experience it.  I am one of those consumers.  I’m not a disciple of Kojima.

If you read my actual review of MGS2, which follows at the end of my “Complete Breakdown” analysis, you’ll see that I also give it criticism in ways that I never did elsewhere.  Perhaps it’s rare, but I can simultaneously understand the deep intentions of Kojima and step back and judge his output from a more unbiased point of view.

With that said, my review is positive.  Perhaps you interpreted it as negative because you expected an analysis instead of a review.  My analysis will be in my book, and its too early for me to even get into that side of things at this point.  Once we know about what the hell happened during production with Konami and him I’ll feel more comfortable doing a meta analysis, but honestly, everyone else is pretty much on the same level as me until we hear more.

I appreciate the email and I knew that it would come off that way.  I also felt bad giving a judgment on it as a product, because my role has been an analyst for years, but that’s not nearly all I have to say about the game.  I hope you’ll look forward to a deeper analysis without judgment down the road, because I am too.

Like I said, though, I genuinely give it a positive review and don’t hate it.  Trust me that I can see the attempts at meta things better than anyone else out there, trying to be smart about the artistic intentions and the twist.  I have some important things to say about the meta aspect that I haven’t shared yet.  But i just wanted to get my EVALUATION of the PRODUCT out of the way while it was fresh, and I felt that I may as well articulate what people were experiencing.

I did pretty much insult the way it tried to be clever, but there is a sick habit going around the gaming community as a whole where people defend games based on everything except enjoyment and user experience.  We’re all experts now, familiar with behind-the-scenes production struggles, sympathizing with various creators, or even just what they represent.  “This game isn’t fun but it represents the indie scene and anti-corporate practices so I’m going to defend it!”.  But what about the experience itself?  Is it impossible to separate our view of a product from the production itself?

My REVIEW is about that 16 year old who picks up the game without knowing anything about Konami politics, but played some of the old games and wants to experience something worth their money.  My analysis will be about Kojima and the meaning of it all.

Follow me @GreenlightRview and let’s talk games!

Sick of the game media talking about everything except games?  Wish there was a better way to find out about new indie games without visiting dumps like Kotaku and RockPaperShotgun?  Me too, and that’s why I created @GreenlightRview on Twitter!

greenlight-review

Follow me and you’ll see concise but thoughtful critiques on as many Steam Greenlight projects as I can find.  Already I’ve seen some hilariously bad projects, and some amazingly good ones — like, stuff that I’m actually going to fund on Kickstarter.

Greenlight is one of the biggest forces for change in the history of games, but it needs intelligent people to pay attention and weigh in on the process.  We all know that it’s not perfect, and we know that even Valve is working on replacing it, but in the meantime there are thousands of games waiting to be seen and judged, with hopeful teams whose dreams of game development depend on you and me.  @GreenlightRview is a way for you to share my enthusiasm for upcoming indie projects, discuss game design with me, and help the cream rise to the top.

If you ever felt like there was a lack of game discussion and reviews on this site, you’ll definitely want to follow me there, because I’m going to have the same standards as I would if I was publishing it on this site, with the same wit and sharpness.

Thank you, and I look forward to discussing countless new games with you all!

[Check out @GreenlightRview]

Spec Ops and why I reviewed something I didn’t finish

I got an email from a polite reader about how I wasn’t qualified to review a game without finishing the entire thing. Specifically, my Spec Ops: The Line review.  I didn’t even play long enough to experience the “twist”, and yet I gave it a harsh judgment.  Is that unfair?

Below is my reply, without the original email I was sent.  I think this is a fair question, and I know that plenty of readers would agree that you need to experience the full game in order to appreciate it, so it might be worth sharing my defense.


I got started writing my opinions in a community with some of the biggest assholes and trolls out there, so don’t worry about offending me, I’m way beyond that. I’m glad to defend what I write.

I reviewed Spec Ops: The Line because I had enough spent money and time in order to experience the core gameplay features, difficulty, pacing, and “game design”, and I reached a conclusion. It’s not like I pretended that I finished the story.  But by your logic nobody should be able to review World of Warcraft until they personally reach the “level cap”, do everything there is to do in the “end-game”, and see the credits.  At some point, you make a judgment about quality along the way.  If a game can’t hook me within the first six hours, it’s shitty no matter what it holds in store.

Even if the story twist is mindblowing to some people, I’m perfectly justified in evaluating how much that story twist is worth. To me, it’s worth almost nothing.  I don’t respect games designed badly, and a cheap gimmick at the end doesn’t do anything for me.  “Pulling out the rug” only works if you’re invested in the mindless killing to begin with, which intelligent people wouldn’t be.  Therefore, it’s a game that only stupid people can enjoy.

Knowing how the game ends, I still saw these problems:

  • No compulsion to move forward and experience more (bad design)
  • No investment in the characters or scenario (bad writing/concepts)
  • No interest in the Call of Duty formula or fanbase (irrelevant twist)

I understood everything I needed to understand to evaluate what mattered to me. I did research on the remaining parts, and was equally unimpressed.


 

To me it’s a lot like those who say I shouldn’t review a game unless I’m able to master its gameplay systems.  Only expert who can get a high score should be able to say whether Metal Gear Rising is a good game, because “understanding” the game is a prerequisite for “judging” a game, right?  And I don’t understand a game unless I master it!

One of the main pillars of my reviewing process is that I don’t allow publishers, developers, or the community around a game to control the discourse around it.  I don’t have to judge a game by its own standards, or anyone else’s.  My own standard is what matters to me, and my review is the explanation of why I feel the way I do.  It’s idiotic to pretend that there’s any “objective” or unbiased point of view, so it would be pretentious to act like I’m giving a “fair” score by some universal score card.