Writing reviews is hard.
July 23, 2010

Writing reviews is hard. Today I've bounced between several unfinished reviews, trying to get into the stride with at least one of them, but I'm getting nowhere. Today alone I've written about Monkey Island 1 and 2's special editions... Star Ocean 4, Twilight Princess, Smash Bros. Brawl, Tales of Symphonia... ugh.

I think I was a 1 trick pony this year. FFXIII was a fluke. Wind Waker was an unfinished review I managed to finish just in time, and last week I dipped into my backlog out of desperation.

Why did I sign up for this? :P

I can't find the words I need. I mean, I have all these ideas about Monkey Island 2... but how to describe it without spoiling it... how do you objectively describe something like humour? Venter, you make it look so easy. You all do. Even I am mystified that I'm somehow second place in this thing, although I suspect Janus will push me further down the rankings this week. That guy is unstoppable.

I need to get into that writing trance, somehow. When my feet seem to sink into the floor and my fingers become one with the keyboard, my mind becomes one with the words on the screen, and it just flows. But I can't get that uninterrupted stream of consciousness going with reviews because I keep worrying about petty little things like a catchy intro and not describing graphics without any context to the rest of the game. Somehow as a community we've decided that we can't review games as individual parts making a whole. Nope.

If we talk about graphics and sound, it needs to fit somewhere else. Don't bother mentioning mundane aspects like control or gameplay. Talk about the experience, but don't sound too "bloggish"...

Sell the dream, take the reader on a journey. Make the process of reading the review more fun than the game itself. Make the review succinct without being too brief, make it detailed without being too long.

Make it flow from one paragraph to the next. Don't overuse words like boring, brilliant, fun, etc. Think of new words to describe old concepts. But don't get too pretentious about it.

Don't spoil the story, but don't not spoil it if it means your review has less impact.

Have we overcomplicated the process a bit? No wonder this is so hard.

Most recent blog posts from Jerec ...

zigfried zigfried - July 23, 2010 (06:29 PM)
The below is some general advice to everyone, including me.

1. Write. Just write. Let the unconscious mind do its thing without the conscious mind interfering -- so what if I can't think of a better word than "enemy" or "foe"? If I need to, I'll think of something better later.

2. Not every review has to be an immediate masterpiece. It's easy to pretend to be willing to enter that trance state, then second-guess myself when I realize that my writing isn't as good as I wish it were. But it's a mistake to stop there. Sometimes it's better to get what's on your mind out there, let it sit, and refine it as time passes. Just because you write a review this week doesn't mean you use it in the tourney this week... or at all. But more than likely, it will be easier to edit existing words than it is to create new words.

3. I'll always have ideas for people to improve. Giving feedback in hindsight is easy. Coming up with those ideas from the very start -- not so easy. All of the feedback I give people is the same kind of stuff I apply to my own writing. Reading like a list of individual parts isn't bad; I do it too. But if parts of the review sound at odds with the rest of the review, or if the whole thing appears to suffer due to its approach (ie, if those individual parts don't sound like the most important ones to discuss), then I'll point it out.

4. Feedback is about offering ideas to improve the review just read; not necessarily about future reviews. Sure, it'd be great if self-awareness magically stopped us from making "mistakes", but that's not life. In other words, if you finish a new review and realize you just did the same thing someone pointed out before, that doesn't mean the new review is bad. Maybe you'll have time to edit that part, maybe you won't. It could still be a great review anyway.

5. People are people. They have different opinions, and opinions change over time. I just read a review of mine last night -- won't say which one, but I used to think it was good -- and realized it totally goes down the wrong path. It's an important game to me, so I'll be taking the hatchet to that one.

Regarding spoilers, I'm a firm believer in the "half-spoil" -- the kind of spoiler that gives away a cool part but in a way that still lets the reader be surprised/entertained when they play the game. Maybe it means spoiling a fringe impact of a big surprising plot twist; maybe it means spoiling something in a deceptive way. Maybe it means graphically describing the danger of an action scene, without describing the solution -- knowing that readers will therefore experience the same tragic death (and so, the moment has not truly been spoiled).

Most reviews don't analyze things to that degree, which is fine. In a tourney, there's a strong chance people aren't going up against "most" reviews. But don't ever let that stop you from writing, as the "masterpiece" reviews often pop up by surprise.

True True - July 23, 2010 (07:25 PM)
I think you're awesome, Jerec. You've always been one of my favorites. Even some of the best have difficulties, and I can only think of that old saying: Easy writing makes for hard reading. If it's hard, it probably means you're doing it right.
zippdementia zippdementia - July 23, 2010 (07:58 PM)
Amen, Jerec. It IS tough to write reviews. In the last month, with me writing a new review every week, I've learned one thing, at least...

Just write.

Zig says it above, but it's true. The reviews that I come away from liking the most are the ones I thought the least about and just wrote. You can't please everyone, and you can never please yourself, so you may just as well get it out there.

I'm trying to write two new reviews this weekend... I've spent the last three hours working on one very slowly, just trying to let the words come to me.

Sometimes, they don't like to come.
zippdementia zippdementia - July 23, 2010 (08:01 PM)
Another thing... break your own rules as much as possible.
Halon Halon - July 23, 2010 (08:55 PM)
My problem isn't writing the reviews as much as it's coming up with something interesting to say. The fact that my interest in most games is dwindling doesn't help much, either.
bloomer bloomer - July 23, 2010 (08:57 PM)
You're probably over-adviced already now. But I want in!

All I was gonna say was I think Zigfried's point no.1 is the most important one if you're having trouble. IE 'Just write'. Being there (at the computer) is half the battle. If you get bored or think 'this isn't working, I'll go do something else', it's worth tolerating your own bored or stuckness and deliberately not doing something else. It sounds like you are capable of having the good ideas anytime, so beyond that, writing can't be progressed away from the computer.
zippdementia zippdementia - July 23, 2010 (10:49 PM)
Along with Bloomer's statement, if you're not enjoying what you're writing, people probably won't enjoy reading it either. Sometimes it can feel amazingly good to select an entire paragraph you're having trouble with and hitting the delete button.
jerec jerec - July 23, 2010 (11:00 PM)
Good advice all round. But the usual advice I've heard many times before. Does anyone know how to switch off that annoying little inner critic? He's still not letting me write. Got an hour before the deadline. Will probably be throwing up an older review.

...or has this whole performance been a clever ploy to make Janus drop his guard? Mmmhmmmhmmhmmhmmm.
dementedhut dementedhut - July 23, 2010 (11:01 PM)
I actually found recently that writing on paper (gasp!) feels better than writing on a computer. But that's just, because I don't find it very relaxing staring at the screen, thinking of something to write, not very relaxing.

Of course, the downside is that I have to write everything again on my computer afterwards.
jerec jerec - July 24, 2010 (12:38 AM)
Okay so the advice works. Also hot chocolate works. And I somehow spent an hour and a half writing and barely felt the time go by. Sadly, I overshot the deadline by a little bit and haven't had time to proof read it. ...and I'm going out to dinner now so I won't be able to do anything to it until after the judges have had their way with it.
radicaldreamer radicaldreamer - July 24, 2010 (12:55 PM)
Yes, it's very hard.
overdrive overdrive - July 24, 2010 (01:39 PM)
I've noticed for me, writing reviews comes in two difficulty levels.

EASY: Most retro reviews, particularly bash reviews. I'm mainly taking a joking temperament and it seems the words just flow.

EFFIN' HARD: A lot of reviews for more modern games, particularly complex ones like RPGs and stuff.

I think the big thing for me is twofold:

1. When I first started reviewing, I did pretty much very little but retro shooters, platformers and other simple games. It was easy to thoroughly describe the game and give my opinion in a reasonably concise number of words. Even old RPGs were easy to write for, as, let's be real, a game like Dragon Warrior is infinitely simpler than, say, Oblivion. Now, if I'm writing a review for a game like Enchanted Arms, those games are on a larger scale, so it's more of a challenge to pick the elements I feel are MOST worth talking about, because if I try to be too all-encompassing, I'd wind up with the sort of mammoth 2000-word juggernaut that Ashley Winchester wrote on GFAQs.

2. A lot of times, I cruise through the introduction, but then REALLY struggle with bridging into the review. Like, take my new Enchanted Arms review. On Wednesday, I cranked the intro out in a few moments. And then wrote a couple of paragraphs, but wasn't satisfied. I was a bit under the weather with a cold, so I tabled it for the next day. Still felt like crap, so I waiting until yesterday. Tried to work with what I had, scrapped it. Tried something else, scrapped it. Then, finally came up with what I have now, which I liked. I knew I wanted to go from the introduction and use the characters as my bridge...it just took forever to make it work for me. After that was done, I cruised through the rest (I think I had one moment where I stalled for a bit, but it didn't take long to work through that). Then, that night, I proofed it and made a few alterations, but no wholesale changes or anything like that.

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