Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How I Write Reviews

After spending most of my afternoon writing the Rise of the Argonauts review, I suppose it's fitting that today's post is about how I write reviews. Everyone writes and approaches reviews differently. For example, I know my method is quite different than jackanape's. Here's how I do it:


Naturally, I have to play a game before I can review it. I try not to read other reviews before doing my own, as those could bias my thinking. I play the games on their default settings, like most people would. When working on a game that I'm reviewing, I don't treat the game like something I'm simply trying to get all of the points out of until the draft is done. It's important to check out every feature and option in the game, even if I personally won't use them down the line.

As I play, I keep a pad of paper next to me, where I jot down extremely brief notes on my opinions as I play. These notes are rarely more than 3 words each, but serve as reminders of topics I want to cover in the review. For example, while playing Warhammer: Battle March, I had a list of notes that included entries like this:

-No resource management
-Bad controls
-Voice acting
-Fugly graphics
-Load times

They don't have to be polite, or even make sense to anyone but me, since nobody else sees them. I'll play a game long enough to feel I have an understanding of everything the game has to offer, then start writing the review. This does not mean I complete games in their entirety before writing the review. For Warhammer, I didn't even finish a campaign before writing that review, but trust me, I'd seen enough. I also didn't finish Fallout 3, but I had 30+ hours invested by the time I started typing. All the other games I've completed first.


After playing a game enough, I take my random jumble of notes and beat them into an outline. I have a pretty set structure. If you haven't noticed by now, I write reviews in this pattern:

  1. Introduction
  2. Story
  3. Significant game mechanics
  4. Single Player
  5. Multiplayer
  6. Complaining about what stinks
  7. Graphics
  8. Audio
  9. Achievements
  10. Conclusion

That's the general format for my reviews, and it's also the order I write the review in. I'm a very sequential person with writing; I have to start at the beginning and end at the end. Jackanape can write his reviews in any order he wants, and then just slap the paragraphs in the order he wants them, but I can't do that. I find my reviews flow better and my transitions come more naturally when I write from beginning to end.

I'd like to go on the record as saying I HATE INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPHS. Why? I find them incredibly hard to write, especially for games I don't know so much about. Is my intro too explanatory? Too boring? Too much about something other than the game I'm reviewing? Intro paragraphs are the only place where I deviate from my pattern of starting at the beginning. If an intro does not come to me naturally, I'll start a review with the story, write everything, then go back and hammer out an introduction at the very end. Intro paragraphs are the last things I wrote for Dead Space, Gears 2, Fallout 3, Argonauts... okay, more often than not, the intro comes last, but I would write it first if I could. I wrote two different intros for Gears, Fallout, and Dead Space, before settling on ones I liked. Trust me, the original introduction to Dead Space was BAD, and that baby had already been coded and was ready for publication. I pretty much had divine inspiration at the last minute and completely rewrote the intro for that one not long before Webb posted it... that one was too close, but it remains my favorite intro from any of my reviews.

When possible, I like to write the review drafts completely in one sitting. I've found that drafts can take anywhere from three to six hours for me to write (and make sure they meet my expectations), which makes for long afternoons, but it's nice to then be done with them. Generally I take the rest of the day off, and work on part 3 the following day.


Once the review is done, I go through it very carefully to make sure I have no spelling errors or grammar mistakes in my draft. Only after I've check it 2-3 times will I post it in the review team board for peer review (just ask my fellow members of the review team, they rarely find mistakes because I obsessively weed them out first =P). While the review is posted for peer review, I add the HTML coding that the review needs, as well as choose the images I want in the review, resize and attach them, and write captions for them. If anyone sees something confusing or incorrect in my review, I make the necessary changes, and then it's up on the main page for your reading enjoyment!

Rise of the Argonauts is currently on Part 3 of this process, and I'll be done working it up tomorrow, so you should be reading it within the next couple days.

I hope you've enjoyed this look at my review process, and a bit on how the x360a review process in general works. When you read anything I've written for x360a, you'll now have a better understanding of how that review came to be.

Happy gaming all =)

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