IF Comp 2011: More on Andromeda Awakening, and comp reviewing in general

This started out as a response to a blog post by Francesco Cordella (here’s the version in the original Italian), but it got much too long for that context.

Francesco’s contention is that I severely underrated Andromeda Awakening, and, in doing so, unreasonably harmed the chances of the first new Italian IF author to come along in many a moon. Francesco also argues that it was unfair of me to review the game without playing it to completion or at least at much greater length.

So a couple of things here.

First of all, I don’t think it is, in fact, unfair for comp reviewers to stop playing after some period of time and explain why a game didn’t grab them. Playing comp games is something like reading a slush pile; there’s a certain amount of stuff that is difficult to get very far with, and an experienced player often is able to tell after a short period if a game is just not working for him. Faced with a game you can’t or don’t want to finish, you have two choices: move on without saying anything about the game (which is what typically I do in contexts other than a competition) or write some words about why the hook didn’t work for you. The latter is traditional in comp reviewing, and is one of the reasons why the IF comp tends to produce vastly more feedback (even if some of it is negative) than other modes of publishing a game. Comp “reviews” include reader reports as well as full-length reviews in the proper sense.

That said, I’ve known Francesco for many years (via email and internet postings only, but still) and I respect the guy enough to take his distress seriously. So I went back and played through the rest of the game.

My initial reaction doesn’t fade in light of this further evidence as much as Francesco might have hoped. Andromeda Awakening is an ambitious game in many respects, but I continued to find it a challenge exactly at the point where writing and implementation intersect. That is, there were descriptions that left me not clear about how the room was set up or where the exits were; there were command phrasings that I don’t think I would have guessed at from the promptings of the text; there were important interactive objects that I didn’t realize were important at all until the walkthrough guided me to them. One of the commands in the walkthrough is something I’m not sure a native English speaker would ever type as a first instinct.

Overall, though I acknowledge that there are a bunch of cool ideas, in practice I found it a high-friction experience. It took a lot of effort to make progress, I had to hold a lot of ambiguity in my head at once, and I fell back on the walkthrough many many times. Since I tend to get a bit stressed by games where I have a hard time parsing the text into things I can envision clearly, I was never more than half immersed in the story and environment. To change this would require revisions both of writing style and of implementation. Other people may react differently, but that was my experience.

That said, Francesco has a reasonable point in the following respect: Italian IF conventions, like Italian prose idioms, are simply different from the ones that pertain in English. I’ve frequently felt this when I’ve played translated games. My experience of this is that Italian IF often rewards the player for imaginative guesses about what to do next to move the story forward, in contrast with English, where the player is expected to spend more time extracting exposition from environmental hints, and any non-standard syntax and actions are likely to be heavily clued by the game text. From my perspective, in Italian IF it often feels like there’s a lot of guess-the-verb work to do and sketchy implementation of supporting objects. From the Italian perspective, I don’t know how this feels, obviously, but I assume it’s a positive rather than negative experience — if an Italian IF player would even agree with me about the differences. (But I think from my reading of the Italian IF history article in the IF Theory Reader that I’m not alone in thinking there are differences in how communities of players approach playing.)

Given that the things I found hard in this game are exactly the things I often find hard in translated foreign IF, the difference in idiom may mean that I had a drastically different reaction to Andromeda Awakening than an Italian IF player would have done. With that in mind, I open an invitation: if an Italian reviewer — Francesco himself, or someone else — would like to write a review (in English, or that we can translate into English) about Andromeda Awakening, I would be happy to host that review on this blog as a counterpoint to my own experience. That way it will reach the same audience as my own opinion, and perhaps the contrast will be instructive.

I’ve also moved Andromeda Awakening from Not Recommended to Not Rated in my overall list, to allow for the possibility that I’m not really in a position to review it fairly. (Even if I was before, this discussion has certainly complicated my feelings.)

There’s one other point that Francesco brings up that I want to address, and that’s the role of my reviews in the community. He asserts that I’ve singlehandedly damaged the prospects of Andromeda Awakening in a way that only concerted upvoting by the whole Italian IF community could hope to offset. I doubt I have that strong an effect — I’ve disliked some games that placed high in past years, and admired others that came in solidly in the middle of the pack — but the perception concerns me. It goes along with other feedback I’ve received from authors in 2010 and 2011 that has a different tone from feedback in earlier years. I’ve heard from people who were very concerned to see that I not skip their game for any reason, or who expressed disappointment or frustration if I got to them late in the queue, or mentioned that they’d been waiting for my review with trepidation bordering on fear; or told me that they felt my disinclination/inability to cover homebrew or ADRIFT games did significant harm to those sub-communities; or suggested that my “no beta-testers = no review” policy should be highlighted on the IF Comp website, as though a review from me were in some way a formal feature of the competition.

That’s not a healthy role for me to have. IF Comp is a community event, not an editor-led publishing venture. Lots of other people are writing reviews, and their voices deserve to be heard; meanwhile, I’m not capable of singlehandedly providing the wide range of things the community needs from comp reviews.

As a matter of fact, it’s logically impossible for all those things to occur in a single review set. I’ve heard that I’m too discouraging to new authors, and also that I don’t do enough to raise quality standards in IF; that I don’t give enough specific feedback about points authors can act on, and also that my reviews are pedantic to the point of bludgeoning authors with the nitpickery; that some players won’t play comp games at all until they’ve seen my best-of list, and that others think I’m overhyping stuff that doesn’t represent us well to the wider indie gaming community; that I need to work harder to set a proper tone for other reviewers and name-and-shame those who write hurtful things; and that if I’m criticizing someone’s work, I really ought to be willing to beta-test or work with the author on his next release.

I take a bunch of that reaction with a dose of salt. Reviewing is an inevitably personal process; there is no such thing as an objective review; and I try to write the most illuminating things I have to say about each piece while staying informative to players and courteous to authors. I’m sure I don’t say everything or meet every need and that sometimes I misjudge what the author is ready to hear, and I just have to hope, in that case, that someone else’s review will pick up the slack.

But I do want to change the dynamic around my reviews. I’m not going to alter my approach midstream this year. I’m sure that too would produce ill-feeling, and I am still thinking about what would be best to do. But I’m not, in the rest of my life, an amateur at this any more. Possibly it’s time to review the comp like a professional also — which is to say, much more selectively, with more attention to each game I do cover, and in a paid venue. Possibly some other change would be suitable. I will think.

Right. Enough of that homily. A few final spoilery thoughts about the end of Andromeda Awakening:

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

For me the best aspect of this game was its interest in an alien past, together with the imagery. Sometimes that was vague, but when I did understand what the author meant, as I mentioned in my initial review, it was often pretty cool.

Re. the walkthrough command I mentioned feeling a bit off, it’s PUSH WAX SOAP ON OBJECT. I haven’t run into the expression PUSH SOMETHING ON SOMETHING much in English, except in the sense of making a hard sell, like PUSH REPLICA WATCH ON NAIVE TOURIST. If I did read it as a physical action, I’d expect it to mean “push across,” like an air hockey puck sliding over the surface of the table. But what’s actually intended by this command is more like PRESS INTO — we’re to take an impression of the object with the soap. There were some alternative phrasings accepted — I think I also tried PUSH ONTO, and that did work — but I had the strong sense of the author’s expectations being at odds with mine.

I had mixed feelings about the twist ending. It approximates one of the absolutely standard tropes of twist science fiction, in which The “Aliens” Turn Out To Have Been Earthlings All Along; it’s not exactly the same as, but pretty close to, 9b in the Strange Horizons list of overused tropes, with a little initial garnish of 9g. Still, it’s a more interesting outcome than “congratulations! you saved the planet!”, which would have felt out of place; the beginning (in which we helplessly watch another subway rider die) and the ending (in which we are forced into the same view of the planet as a whole) are thematically linked. And I did like the graceful melancholy of the ending concept, which reminded me a little of The Endling Archive. I suppose I felt like in the final paragraphs the author was trying simultaneously to make a statement about mortality and the passing of civilizations (good, fitting the rest) and also surprise me with the reveal that the ancient probe had Earth origin (which is comparatively a cheap trick). The Earth origin does have some relevance thematically, but in that case maybe it should have been introduced interactively and just a bit earlier?

I don’t know. It’s possible that in this regard also I am reading the text at odds with the author’s intent. Your Mileage May Vary.

25 thoughts on “IF Comp 2011: More on Andromeda Awakening, and comp reviewing in general

  1. I just want to say that while I appreciate your reviews (I always enjoy reading them), I still form my own opinions and vote based on my own playing experience. I hope these some people’s extreme responses do not deter you from publishing comp reviews in the future.

  2. Possibly it’s time to review the comp like a professional also — which is to say, much more selectively, with more attention to each game I do cover, and in a paid venue.

    :’-(

    i understand your concerns (and that ceterus paribus getting paid is better than not) and those of the people who feel your reviews are influential in a way that might call for this, but I also enjoy bouncing off your reviews — reading the other reviews is one of my rewards for finishing a game — and hope you don’t wind up cutting back on coverage. Maybe one solution would be to post the general reviews in a less visible place, like intfiction.org? (That would also get you built-in spoiler tags — but maybe it wouldn’t lower the profile of the reviews in the community as much as people might like.)

    • I don’t particularly feel a need to be paid for IF stuff; it’s more that being volunteer sometimes entails more social-norm obligations than I can reasonably meet and therefore creates bad feeling. A financial relationship clarifies the rights and responsibilities of both parties; if venue X pays me Y to write Z, that’s a relationship I have with the venue (for one thing) rather than the community at large, and secondly the nature of Z and expectations concerning it are clearly spelled out. (See also the chapter on social norms in Predictably Irrational.)

      Maybe one solution would be to post the general reviews in a less visible place, like intfiction.org?

      I could, but I think that might be the wrong tactic — they’d still be visible within the community, but substantially less visible to the outside world. To my mind, one significant reason for allowing reviews during the comp rather than at the end is that this produces a steady stream of visible coverage about the competition — and indie blogs notice that and link our stuff, or pass on recommendations, and the comp gets a lot more attention than it used to in the days when there was radio silence until the end.

      Anyway, I’m still not sure. Thanks for your thoughts.

      And now a sample of the pedantic nitpickery: it’s ceteris paribus — ablative absolute.

  3. “Influential” does not necessarily mean “professional”. You get this much feedback on your reviews because your previous work in this area has been thoughtful, and well-written, and you’ve consistently taken the subject seriously for many years. So, of course people are going to want you to have a good opinion of them, because they respect your opinion a lot.

    I don’t have any comment on how you conduct your reviews in the future – clearly you know better than I do. I just wanted to point out that being very publicly good at something for a long time will inevitably bring about a position of greater status within the community of people who care about that thing :).

    • “Influential” does not necessarily mean “professional”.

      No, I know. But the argument here seems to be, essentially, that because of that influence, it’s no longer workable for me to follow the comp-coverage strategy that I’ve historically followed, leaving some games unfinished and explaining why. On the other hand, I have neither the time nor the inclination to guarantee I’ll play each game from beginning to end. If that’s the only kind of review I can issue without causing harm, then I need to change my approach.

      One possible way would be to adopt a model more like the one I use for professional work, which is much more intensive but would only cover, say, three or four games in a two-month period, and only those that I felt were worth the time to dig into deeply.

      Another option that’s been recommended to me is to write authors privately with a detailed assessment of their work, but that’s not a course I’m inclined to pursue: it wouldn’t accomplish the outreach (beyond the IF community) that is an important purpose of comp reviews, and it would establish a kind of unbounded volunteer relationship I’m just not interested in entering. (If someone actually wants me as a narrative consultant, I’m happy to talk about my fees.)

  4. I agree with glyph. In past Comp years I’ve been interested in all reviews, but I waited with bated breath for yours, not because your review is some imprimatur, but simply because you have approached reviewing in a thorough, extensive manner and your corpus of existing work (games, reviews, and the Inform language itself) gives your reviews a natural authority.

    By all means get yourself paid if that’s possible for you, but I also agree with the other matt w — your reviews are a part of what makes Comp season so enjoyable. Please continue!

  5. Also, this is well put:

    “I try to write the most illuminating things I have to say about each piece while staying informative to players and courteous to authors.”

    There are few of us who review like this (with my reviews this year I’m trying to take this approach as well), and I think it’s very valuable to do so.

  6. I particularly enjoy your reviews because it seems that your criteria are very much in line with my own (playability, polish, lack of cliché), and, more often than not, our opinions of a work are similar; your reviews are, to a greater extent than many other reviewers, useful to me when I am trying to figure out whether or not I want to play a given game. So I’m a bit surprised that apparently everyone else considers your reviews in the same light, since it’s clearly true that we don’t all have the same taste or priorities. Of course, your reviews are also articulate and well-thought-out, which is a more universally-favored quality, but plenty of other reviewers are a joy to read as well. (Although another of my favorites is rule-fived out this year — Victor, please write some post-Comp reviews!) Maybe part of the problem is that not enough of them are hitting Planet IF.

  7. Ms. Short, I’m sure none of your readers want to see you violate your own conscience or personal needs in your work. If you find it necessary to revamp your critical approach, we will certainly adjust.

    However. It seems to me that there is potential for a rather unfortunate precedent to be set. If the community perceives you to adjust your style in response to this complaint, my fear would be the following messages would be sent:

    1) It’s not possible to have valid complaints about the early game. Specifically, the onus is on the reader and not the author to establish whether the game rewards extended play.

    You’d never see an editor worth his salt asserting such a thing in the static fiction realm.

    2) It’s not fair to criticize new community members.

    Who, probably by definition have the most to learn, and should be valuing well-considered feedback. In the comments of your original review, while it was clear the author was dealing with a bruised ego, he actually seemed quite clear on this point. Which makes it odd, in my mind, that someone else felt the need to go to bat for him. But I digress.

    3) That if a critic is demonstrating disproportionate influence over the community, the solution is to get rid of or tone down the critic.

    Even if the respect for the critic in question derives from demonstrated prowess in the medium, in addition to a body of considered and clear critical writings, and not due to bad faith attempts at manipulation, power play, etc. This rankles the most. What is being brought to light here is that the community is ready for a more expanded and diverse critical tradition. Whatever undue influence you may have would likely recede if you weren’t perceived as being practically the only game in town. (I oversimplify, of course. No disrespect to Gijbers and a few others, but you guys are obviously still a minority.)

    As the “serious” IF community has grown away from its hobbyist roots, we’ve seen sea changes in the expectations about playability, accessibility, literary potential, etc. Consequently, the writings on serious IF theory have exploded. However, it seems that our critical tradition is lagging seriously behind. The solution is not to ask the most accomplished IF critic to reconsider her approach in a way likely to stop her from VOLUNTEERING her time reviewing an amateur competition! That seems ass-backwards to me. The solution is to ask others who take this tradition seriously to start stepping it up, and if necessary to start offering serious critical counterpoints to your opinions–but ones that are also considered, thoughtful and thematically engaging.

    • To take the last first, let’s not misunderstand; Francesco didn’t suggest that I should stop reviewing.

      What is being brought to light here is that the community is ready for a more expanded and diverse critical tradition… However, it seems that our critical tradition is lagging seriously behind.

      I think we do have some interesting critical strands currently — SPAG Specifics has gotten some play in recent years, for instance, and that’s pretty much always valuable reading; meanwhile we do get reviews sometimes, usually for isolated and/or highly-placed games, on TIGSource, Jay Is Games, the Onion AV club, Gamers With Jobs, GameSetWatch, and other hardcasual/indie game venues. But I agree we could use a lot more.

      Something that complicates this situation is that comp reviews now have a broader audience than they used to. It used to be that the challenge was mostly to write for frequently-playing IF community members; comp reviews got posted to rec.games.int-fiction in a big glorious glut, often in the five minutes after the close-of-comp deadline, and if you were hardcore into this stuff, you stayed up until 3 AM reading every word in your terminal window using tin. And there was a LOT of it, and some of it was really, really vitriolic. (Much more so than recently, to be honest. I say this not to defend vitriol — I’m not a champion of that — but for a little perspective about the nature of the current situation in criticism. There were reviewers who got deeply, personally angry at authors. Some of those old reviews, you expected to see your screen dotted with spittle after you read them.) At the same time, and I’m not sure whether this exacerbated or mitigated the vitriolic stuff, it was all very personal. Pretty much everyone who cared about IF knew, at least by reputation, everyone else who cared about IF; you could have reviews where half of it was an in-joke and the other half was kind of about how the reviewer felt about the author in general, and the typical reader had all the necessary context to parse that stuff. On top of which, RAIFers were pretty much all amateurs together.

      (At least, that’s how I remember it. Nostalgia, you know. 1998 is a long time ago.)

      Now it really doesn’t work that way. Now we have authors coming to the competition from the larger indie gaming community, new media courses, and interactive reading; others who stumbled across Inform or Get Lamp and tried their hand with virtually no prior exposure to the produce of the IF community. At the same time, the reviews are going up in venues where they can be widely seen, and in some cases promoted to large game-designer or game-player audiences. In the player base, we have casual novices sampling IF for the first time, hardcore IF players, and pro game designers curious about what they could learn from the petri dish that is IF.

      That’s great, but it means we need more kinds of output representing more types of standards. I’ve been really pleased, for instance, to see Leandro Ribeiro writing about the design of IF cover art — a topic that is almost completely off the radar in the traditions of community reviewing, but something we could stand to take seriously as we try to get IF covered more widely on blogs and across the web. Reviews that talk about UI, or about how IF stacks up against other indie games or new media, would be hugely useful and welcome, and we need that stuff.

      So I think you’re totally right that we need more people writing, and writing in more ways, for more audiences — and that includes both more critical, high-end reviews and more warm welcoming responses to novices. (I semi-jokingly proposed a month or so ago that someone should start an IF comp blog where the coverage is exclusively positive: not saying false things about games, but simply choosing to highlight only what was good about each piece. In that form, it’s a pretty Friendship is Magic!-flavored suggestion, but I do genuinely think that it would be good to have a venue that’s about cheerleading rather than critique, alongside the other strands that we have.)

      Simultaneously, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the best thing is for me to keep on doing what I’ve been doing; it may be that my current approach isn’t serving the community as it’s currently composed (and the hypothetical future in which more people are writing more coverage remains pretty much imaginary at the moment). So we’ll see. But I appreciate the input.

  8. “I’ve heard from people who were very concerned to see that I not skip their game for any reason, or who expressed disappointment or frustration if I got to them late in the queue, or mentioned that they’d been waiting for my review with trepidation bordering on fear; or told me that they felt my disinclination/inability to cover homebrew or ADRIFT games did significant harm to those sub-communities”

    For me, it wasn’t so much the feeling that people would disregard the ADRIFT community if you chose not to review the games (that might happen but I don’t think one person, however well respected they might be, has that kind of influence). It was more a case of: is it fair to not review games written with a system because a few users of that system in the past have taken issue with reviews you’ve written. I don’t remember who it was who took issue with the reviews you wrote (was it me? If so, apologies) but I’d bet money on the fact that the two other ADRIFT writers in this year IFComp didn’t take issue. Is it really fair to not review all ADRIFT games because a minority disagreed with something you said in the past? Put another way, if my neighbour broke the law, would it be fair for the police to arrest everyone on the street just because we all live close to the guilty party?

    I’ve reviewed AIF games before and sometimes I’ve written very negative reviews because I’ve felt the games in question have been bugged to high heaven. A few times I’ve received comments that I hate the AIF scene, that I’ve missed the point of the game, that I’m complaining about issues no one else gives a damn about, etc. (One game didn’t feature location descriptions in any location – just the room title, no description of what was in the location at all. When I commented upon this in this review, I was told that it didn’t matter.) The thing is, when you say negative things about a game someone likes, people will take issue with what you’re saying. Whether you’re making a valid point or not is pretty much irrelevant as far as they’re concerned.

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re a pretty damn fair reviewer, not to mention a damn good one. You give each game a fair play and your reviews come across as a lot more professional than many other reviewers.

    • For me, it wasn’t so much the feeling that people would disregard the ADRIFT community if you chose not to review the games (that might happen but I don’t think one person, however well respected they might be, has that kind of influence).

      For what it’s worth, I don’t either. But you’re not the only person who expressed concern about this to me.

      It was more a case of: is it fair to not review games written with a system because a few users of that system in the past have taken issue with reviews you’ve written. I don’t remember who it was who took issue with the reviews you wrote (was it me? If so, apologies)

      I don’t think it was, but it’s been a couple of years now. I did go back and look for the thread on the Adrift forum to see whether I could refresh my memory about what was said precisely, but I didn’t succeed in digging it up.

      In any case, what affected my decision was only partly the direct response to my reviews. Partly it was a more general set of sentiments, frequently expressed on the ADRIFT forum a few years ago, about how RAIF-style parser expectations (back when RAIF was a thing, remember that?) were simply unfair to apply to ADRIFT games, ADRIFT authors just wanted to have fun, etc. And the parser alone made me pretty crazy on a lot of games, but I didn’t want to start off every review with a gripe about the parser. So I put the ADRIFT games mentally in the category “games probably designed around other criteria than the ones I am looking for, so my reviewing them is unlikely to help anyone” and moved on.

      I’m revisiting that this year for several reasons — the existence of ADRIFT 5 and the development of the WebRunner mean some of my concerns may have been laid to rest, there’s popular request that I change my stance — but the original decision wasn’t purely a knee-jerk reaction to a handful of people.

      Is it really fair to not review all ADRIFT games because a minority disagreed with something you said in the past? Put another way, if my neighbour broke the law, would it be fair for the police to arrest everyone on the street just because we all live close to the guilty party?

      Thaaaat’s a pretty stretched analogy. I don’t skip games as a punishment, or in order to protect the rest of society (what would that even mean?). Constructing the argument that way makes it sound as though I owe every author a review unless she somehow misbehaves. Which is ludicrous, I think you’ll agree.

      I mean, I get the point underlying it, but I think I’ve addressed that already above.

  9. One thing that might help would be putting your reviews out after the comp; that way, they wouldn’t influence voting at all. If you’re concerned about losing the advertising effect of reviews in getting word out about the comp while it’s going on, you could do other things– non-endorsing interviews with game creators or comp organizers, maybe, or other promotional pieces. I admit I would be personally sad to see you do this, as I like the way you have been doing the reviews, but it would both enable you to do reviews of the number of games you want at your own schedule and keep things from getting so fraught.

  10. Just some quick encouragement after reading your original post and the comment threads:
    1. I don’t disagree with your ideas for new reviewing directions, except the idea of more focused, strenuous reviews limited to only a few works. That exception is merely selfish in that I’d rather have many of your already-detailed impressions rather than your more carefully-studied analysis. However, I’m more fascinated by your picking-it-all-apart analysis than anything else you write, so I suppose I couldn’t protest much.
    2. I greatly prefer your current method to anything else suggested. You have a wonderfully efficient, fair method which gives far more to the community than anyone should ever be expected to for free. You don’t have any responsibility to distribute and guide your influence in order to promote any particular IF minorities (new authors, Italian IF, etc.) You have good standards, even better than the alternatives you’ve offhandedly proposed. I hope you stick to those and keep providing us an invaluable service. Still, if you change something, that’s entirely your business, and I trust you to provide quality anyway. (See #1.)

  11. Emily,
    I’m on the fringe of the IF community; I play only a few games per year and haven’t (yet!) written a game. I just wanted to say that your insightful reviews and enthusiastic promotion of games on this blog were one of the reasons I started paying attention to the IFComp and looking forward to the new games every fall. If you no longer find writing reviews rewarding, or are uncomfortable with the attention they garner, by all means stop — but please don’t give undue weight to the complaints of the vitriolic few.

  12. Pingback: IF Comp 2011: Overview | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  13. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but I consider myself to be a newbie in IF. I like the concept of IF, and I’ve gotten the hang of the basic commands, and I have a general idea of what things I can try if I get stuck, but I don’t feel I’m particularly good at IF games yet. When I get stuck, I still have trouble telling whether my problem is that I’m a newbie or if the game just isn’t well written, so I rely heavily on reviews to prevent me from downloading something that will be too frustrating for me.

    Your reviews are helpful to me because if an experienced person says the puzzles are fair, I’m more willing to explore and try harder (and conversely, if an experienced person says they had trouble with the parser then as a newbie I’ll likely have even more trouble and should probably just skip that game.) I like to know what I’m getting myself into when I download a new game. You’ve helped me decide which games to download and try to play.

    I played Six this evening, and found it difficult in parts, but solved it eventually without looking at any walkthroughs. I got stuck in a few parts, but kept wandering around and trying different things and got my way few. Perhaps it would be helpful to me to read other reviewers as well, but yours is the blog I came across and you review more games than I will ever get around to playing (even taking into account that I only download the ones that I think won’t be too difficult for me and are in genres I’m interested in), so I haven’t had much reason to branch out. As a newbie, though, I won’t be voting in anything. I don’t think it would be fair to the authors of the games I didn’t try, and I probably won’t try more than 3 or 4 of them.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I find your reviews helpful, and that I think playing games and reviewing them should be fun, not a chore. You shouldn’t implement any changes into your reviewing methods that would make it a chore for you, and you should play as much or as little as is enjoyable for you. I’ve gotten burnt out on things that I previously enjoyed, and it sucked. It sounds like you would be risking burn out if you tried to implement all the things people ask of you. I think it’s more important to take steps to prevent burn out than to bend over backwards trying to please people.

  14. I might suggest linking a few other blogs from your “Overview” pages that bookend your reviews. Maga, Jenny Polodna, Yoon Han Lee, Sarah Morayati — they also review most every game in the comp, and sometimes are more thorough, insightful, or funny than your own. I’m not suggesting you do IF-Wiki’s job of course, but cherry-picking a few other great blogs to provide counterpoint to your own opinions would be an easy way to help everyone and help address any perceived imbalances, I think.

    • Generally, I’ve been hesitant cherry-pick the blogs I like because I actually think that reinforces the idea that I’m somehow arbitrating what’s worth reading, and/or endorsing the views of those reviewers. (And it has happened a few times that a reviewer I was otherwise a fan of has posted something I thought was over-the-top mean. Everyone gets to draw their own lines about what’s appropriate, but I’d feel awkward if I’d posted ‘Hey, this review set is awesome!’ and then something popped up on that blog that I thought was just gratuitously unkind to the author.)

      So it’s seemed more useful to point to the full list and let people make up their own minds about whose reviews they find insightful, thorough, funny, etc.

  15. I’m reading through your reviews now, having just played all the games (except the ones that don’t run on my computer).

    Seems to me that most sensible members of the public who are playing (and voting on) the competition games would probably do the same thing – why read a review of a game before you play it? It’s not like a commercial game where you want to know if it’s good before you spend the money. And if the game’s awful, those are actually the easiest ones to judge – you can stop playing it in ten minutes unless you are a masochist. I want to play and rate crap games, to make sure I contribute to a hopefully-low average score.

    Hopefully those who don’t intend to vote on games will have the sense to wait until after the competition when there will be a convenient ordered aggregate list of the games they should probably (on average) try. Or maybe they can read reviews. But it doesn’t matter because they won’t be affecting anyone’s ‘chances’ anyhow…

    To put it another way – eh, drama, whatever. Lots of people like reading your reviews, but I’m sure all those people have the strength of mind to come to their own different conclusions whether you reviewed the game or didn’t.

    Re the Italian game it was obvious that the English wasn’t quite right, but I felt the game was actually good in its story (at least compared to other comp games) and some of the puzzles too. To some extent there’s no solution to this problem, although I agree that avoiding words like ‘cyanotic’ would be a good idea. If there are other submissions by people with less than perfect English, my recommendation would be that they make a really slick hint system (the kind that doesn’t show spoiler headings for things you haven’t even seen yet, removes things you’ve done so you can clearly see a ‘what are the things I should be doing next’ right there, and advises you in ways that really are gradually more helpful) and encourage players to use it.

    There were certainly several games by native English speakers that – while a bit easier to understand – had much worse writing (and less interesting stories). So I’d rather play more games like this one, even if the prose *is* somewhat… heliotropic.

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