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  1. quote:Have you ever had a company kinda hint to you that they would make it worth your while if you give them an extra star? "You know Jeff, Nicole Kidman is in town, and she's single. We could set up a nice evening for you two. All you gotta do is give Moulin Rouge: the GAME a five star rating. Whadayasay?"I've had some publishers (very few, though) exert various types of pressure. However: A nice evening with Nicole Kidman? How about SIX stars?!?! LOL (actually, my wife wouldn't be real tickled with that one. )
  2. Well, like I said, I can only speak for the mags and sites I write for. There are some really bad sites that freelancers joke about privately. I'd probably be terrible at being on the other side of the fence. The first time I read a review by someone who obviously didn't play the game and who was an obvious ignorant so-and-so, I'm sure I'd go ballistic. I've had publishers' PR folks (rarely) come after me on a review I've written, but when I ask them, point by point from the review, what was inaccurate, they usually start babbling. Not to say I haven't ever gotten a review wrong; in all the years I've done this, I've written a few stinkers! But I don't think I've ever gotten anything factually wrong. Just had a really bad opinion a few times. Jeff Lackey
  3. You know, you bring up an interesting point. There are a couple of approaches to writing a review. One is to try to figure out if the public (at least the audience who reads your magazine) will like the game. The other is to say the heck with what I think other people will like - I'm going to write my opinion. Interestingly enough, the editors for the magazines for which I write are pretty adamant that you write your opinion, regardless of what the prevailing public opinion may be. Now - they try to keep a good stable of experts in different genres, so that you're writing in an genre in which you have proven experience and expertise. Thus, I write a lot in the sim, sports, strategy, and wargaming genres. But I rarely review anything in the RTS genre (I like them, but I don't have a lot of expertise in them.) So, if I play a game and hate it, even if its probably going to be a hit, my editors want me to write my opinion. Of course, I need to tell WHY I hate it, so that if my reasons for hating it wouldn't bother someone else, they may decide to get it anyway. Same if I love a game that the rest of the world may hate. Now, it's never happened to me, but I have known of a couple of cases where an editor read a review of a game and it was so off-base that they asked the writer about it, and eventually took the review away and gave it to someone else. But I've only seen that happen (where I write, which is primarily CGW, CGM/CGO, and Gamespy) when the editor thought the writer was just factually wrong. And they would have to be REAL wacko - like someone playing Civ2 and saying that it had no replayability, was poorly designed, and the gameplay was destroyed because it lacked fancy graphics. And contrary to popular belief - I've never, ever, EVER seen an editor try to sway or change a review (for the places I write) because of a publisher's displeasure. In fact, we were talking about this at a press event (Microsoft Game Show this past week) and editors were proudly comparing who had pissed off the biggest publishers. I know editors who've seen ads pulled by big companies, and they still refused to back down from a review. I was looking at this aspect of things REAL closely when I first started writing in this biz - it isn't so clean cut in some other areas. Jeff
  4. I'll disagree with you on one point: most good professional writers aren't any more afraid to mention a bug in a highly hyped game than in a crappy game. The problem you run into is precisely what you mentioned before: separating a true bug from a problem with your specific system setup. A bug worth mentioning, in my mind, is if a program has a problem that is reproducible on almost all systems. Or if a program crashes on all 3dfx equipped systems, but works on nVidia systems. However, if I'm running BlackIce Defender as the firewall and I'm running Norton Crashguard in the background and the beta drivers for my GeForce (plus I have it overclocked) and a program crashes, and I can disable BlackIce and the program works on that system, I don't consider that to be a bug, certainly not something to talk about in a review. I have 3 systems that I currently run at home. Two are kinda similar, one is intentionally pretty different. When I see a "bug" in a program, I run it on the other systems to see if it is truly a bug, or if it is something odd about my system. Here's a good example of how you can make a big mistake in a globally read magazine if you're not careful. I was reviewing a program on my main reviewing machine back a few years ago. It had a problem that was causing the mouse cursor to move incredibly slowly across the screen, so much so that the game was practically unplayable. I shut down everything in the background via ctrl-alt-del, still it was having this problem. Oddly, no one else seemed to be reporting the problem, but I had never seen a problem like this with ANY program on this machine, so it HAD to be a bug in the program. (How many times to tech support people hear this?) I had written the review up for CGW and had given this highly anticipated game a very low mark due to this problem. Just before I sent the review in to my editor, I had this "brain-fart" in the middle of the night, so I slipped out of bed, started my computer up, and ran a process checking utility (one of those utilities that shows everything going on in your system.) I was surprised to find out that my CPU activity was running aroung 90%, constantly, even when nothing was running in the background. To make a long story short, I found out that there was a utility running in the background, even though it didn't show up in the ctrl-alt-del screen nor in the startup folder - it had been installed on the stealth by a program from way back, and didn't uninstall when I uninstalled the program (it was running from a registry call.) When I managed to go into the registry and get rid of this leech, the program I was reviewing ran perfectly. My personal experience is that the better writers out there, the real pros, will mention bugs without worrying about who produced the program. Hell, I hang out with these guys, and we LOVE to find flaws in highly hyped programs (remember, we are high intensity gamers too.) I think when you see bugs being not mentioned, it's either because the reviewer didn't experience the bug, or because the reviewer didn't play the game enough to see the bug, or because the reviewer is a crappy reviewer. FWIW, I wrote an article that is on the website www.quartertothree.com called "Why Game Writing Sucks" It talks about a lot of this stuff. Jeff Lackey
  5. To the question someone asked of why some games get reviewed later than others (I think that's what was asked): frankly it's a matter of how hyped and "hot" the release is. The more hyped a release is, the more the mags and web sites want to have a review up as soon as possible. This has been taken to a real extreme, unfortunately. A lot of web sites will have a review up so quickly that the reviewer only has a few days with the game. The result is often a review that misses a lot of items, such as bugs or gameplay issues that only show up after a LOT of play. BCM is an indie game, with not nearly the marketing push that a game like The Sims or Freelancer will get. The average Joe or Jill who walks into Best Buy or Walmart to buy a game probably hasn't heard much about BCM. So the pressure to have a review out isn't as strong. The good news is that Denny and I had more time than we might normally have to play the game and review it (although you'd really like to have about a month for a game like BCM!) Jeff Lackey
  6. OK, I've got a cup of coffee this morning and I'm in a good mood - so let me play devil's advocate. I've got a few programs here that I have to review in the next couple of weeks. Let's grab one off the top of the pile... Tiger Woods 2002, from EA Sports. This is from a new production team for EA Sports. Let's throw word counts out as a factor - it's the responsibility of the reviewer to tell the reader what the reader needs to know to make a purchasing decision, regardless of word count. So let's just assume that the game has a lot of new features for the Tiger Woods franchise (it does) and a couple of small problems. What am I supposed to write about the support? The only way to truly know how the game will be supported will be to watch for about six months and see how they respond to issues. Let's say in this case there are no serious bugs. How will I know how the EA tech support team is responding to the hundreds of tech support calls that they will get from people with all kinds of problems? Ask Derek - 90% of the tech support that people ask for has nothing to do with bugs in the program, they are usually problems from people's ignorance about how to run their computer or from odd system setups, etc. So - what is one supposed to write about with regard to support in the first weeks of release? It's bogus to write about how past games have been supported - you can't assume future games will be supported in the same way (good or bad). BCM is a very unusual situation in that it is being reviewed significantly later than its release date. Normally programs are reviewed when they reach gold status. In fact, one issue that is debated is whether a program should be reviewed with patches applied or not. The answer that most mainstream pubs have made is the program must be reviewed "out of the box" versus patched - because the average person on the street gets the unpatched, boxed version. And what we often forget is that MOST people aren't very internet or computer savvy and may never know about a patch. This pisses off a lot of publishers, who call you up and gripe about a review: "Hey, you talked about the game crashing when you select the Gamma robots, but we released a patch to fix that." However, a lot of data shows that most people will buy the game from Best Buy, then when they get the crash they will shelve the game (actually, what I'll do, if a patch is already out is base the score on the boxed version but tack on an addendum that points people to the patch.) The other reason for basing reviews on the release version versus the patched version (and Derek can relate to this one, with his Take Two experiences) is to discourage the practice of releasing games with known bugs just to meet a release date and then assuming you can just fix it later. Anyway - back to the support in a review question: for 99.9% of the reviews, the program is only a couple of weeks old, so you can't knowledgably comment on the support. And since the support that MOST readers end up needing is holding their hand because they don't understand computers very well, I'm not sure how you would test that support anyway. But I LOVE a good debate - so please disagree with me! Jeff Lackey
  7. My two cents worth, as someone who writes for print (Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine) and web (Gamespy, Computer Games Online). Why not normally mention support when reviewing a game? First: you normally don't have enough data to write intelligently about the support of a game. In most cases, you're reviewing a game within weeks of release. There's no way to know what the long term support is going to be like. Secondly, as Derek mentioned, when you've got 500 or 700 or even 1000 words, most readers want you to use that space to better describe the game. The other aspect of the question is what do you mean by support? For some people it means fast patches to fix any problems. For others it's having someone hold their hand because they don't know how to turn off the virus program that came preloaded on their Acer and it's interfering with the program running. For others it's releasing free add-ons and feature updates. Just mentioning one isn't going to cover what the others want to know, and if you simply say "Joe's Software gives great support" doesn't really mean a lot. But frankly, the main factors are the fact that you just don't know how a program will be supported at the time of release and readers by and large are a lot more interested in the gameplay. OTOH - sometimes you do mention some specific aspect of support that does relate directly to gameplay. For example, for various reasons Stardock's Brad Wardell had a couple of new and free market/product add-ons available for download at the time the Corporate Machine box hit the shelves, and since that directly impacted the gameplay I mentioned it in the review in CGW. FWIW Jeff Lackey
  8. Well, the way the mags work these days (at least CGM and CGW) is that they have a standard word count per page. Thus, the review I turned in recently to CGM for Flight Sim 2002 was about 700 words, 1 page, CGM's word count per page. CGW's used to be 650 words, then they made it about 600, and now they've decided to make the screen shots in the review larger, which takes up space, and thus the standard word count per page is 500 words. Way too small for most writers' liking. The only way you can get the word count up is if you can convince them to make it a two page review. Of course, they have a set number of pages per month, so if you get a 2 page review, that's one less 1 page review they can publish. When it's really tough is when they tell you at the last minute "hey, we're a little short this month, can you cut that review down to a 1/3 pager?" Then you basically have about 150 words, or a paragraph, for the review. Some games are very reviewable in a few words. And the benefit of shorter word counts is that it forces the writer to focus on the heart of the game, rather than spend a page talking about how his home-made joystick/optical reader wouldn't work with the game until he used a patch from wonksareus.com, or rambling on about how when the writer was in high school he had an Atari, and how cool pong was, but now his mama doesn't let him play on the TV downstairs, etc. Also, a LOT of writers on some web sites, with virtually unlimited word count, spend a lot of that space listing stuff like feature lists that come off the box or official web page, but never really talk about the gaming experience. Still, I think 1000 words (that's Gamespy's approximate count) is a good length. As for BCM, here's my mini-review: A huge, freeform universe in which you can do just about anything you want to do, from trade to fighting to just wandering around. Sound and graphics aren't awe inspiring, but they're good enough. The game doesn't lay a story out for you, you have to create the role-playing aspect in your mind, but if you like that type of open-ended gameplay, BCM provides a huge and rich universe in which to play and you'll absolutely love the game. If you need a story-line laid out for you, or lots of interactivity such as NPC conversations, etc., you'll hate this. The End
  9. Oh yeah - it will be interesting to see if they keep the sub-heading that I used for the review title: Battlecruiser Millenium - In space, no one can hear you flame. Actually, I just went back and read the review. Man, it's REALLY hard to capture a game like BC in about 500 words. Try it yourself. As a comparison, when I write a review for Computer Games Magazine/Online, a one page review is about 700 words - a typical review for Gamespy is (looking at my SimGolf article...) about 1000 words.
  10. I'd be surprised if it didn't come out in the upcoming issue (April?) I turned it in back in middle January. I know I had a couple of reviews that I turned in a while back bumped back a month or two - they're always juggling the schedule. Jeff Lackey
  11. There's no doubt that a lot of PR around a game or the developer can be either a huge boost, or more often, a huge yoke. Look at Daikatana. Now, I've chatted with Romero a lot in the past (he and I are huge Apple II buffs) but the worst thing in the world he could have done was bragged about his game so publically for so long. It just sets you up with a lot of folks who can't wait to see you fail. Now, in the case of Daikatana, the game was really bad - but I'm sure that most reviewers went into the review just chomping their bits, looking for something that would give them a chance to attack the game, and thus Romero. The same thing holds for books, movies, whatever - if the designer publically tells the world, for an extended time, how great his product is going to be, he's setting himself up for a lot of folks. That's just the way life is. There are a number of good writers out there, however, who write good reviews and do a good job of evaluating the product, putting aside the side issues (let's face it, 90% of the people who buy computer games see them for the first time at EB or Best Buy and don't have a clue about all this other stuff.) Even if I strongly disagree with their opinions, I respect their writing and I respect them (and I know them personally.) Tom Chick, Mark Asher, Bruce Geryk, Denny Atkiin, Raphael Libetore, Andy Mahood, Bill Abner, and I know I'm missing some. OTOH, there are some writers who are well known that I know for whom I have less respect (and I'm not gonna name them here.) But I'm sure there are a lot who feel the same way about me (the latter.) I really expected BCM to be pretty much a hack. I played the original BC 3000AD, before a lot of the patches, and since I wasn't reviewing it and my plate was full, I never saw it fully patched - thus my opinion was "great idea, poor execution." BCM has a couple of areas in which I think it could benefit from some additions/improvements, and I've mentioned those in email with Derek. If XP1 does all Derek hopes, it will cover most of the areas I think it could use some improvement. Personally, I'm still playing the game. But I wouldn't dream of recommending it to some people that I know - and I have highly recommended it to others. It's that kind of game. Cheers, Jeff Lackey
  12. OK - been flying as a military commander for a while (getting my butt kicked) so I thought I't try something different. So I started a career/roam as a Terran Commercial Commander. I figured I'd be a trader but with the teeth of an armed transport (Generis.) So, I've been deploying mining drones on moons, etc. for a while in my other careers. Here, I run out to Pluto, go to a moon, set up a deploy drone waypoint on the moon fo SC1. No prob. Since I have no pilots, I send a marine to pilot SC1. OK, he'e in place. I try to launch the shuttle - no go. I get my flight engineer's face on screen when I try to launch the shuttle, but he doesn't say anything, and nothing happens. The shuttle is bright green, the marine is in place, but it just ignores me when I try to launch (the flight officer's face shows up with no message.) I tried another shuttle - same results. I tried a flight engineer instead of the marine, I tried an officer, all with the same result. I KNOW this is something dumb (although it sure would help if the flight officer would actually say something instead of just showing his face.) So - someone tell me what DOH! thing I'm doing here. Please. Oh yeah - using the latest patch that just came out today. Thanks, Jeff Lackey
  13. Do you get credit for the delivered starship?
  14. Heh, no I want to play by the rules - I'm a gamer first, a writer second. Hopefully the sig will show up correctly now. I'm also getting my butt kicked by the game, big time. Still trying to figure out a lot of things, through reading here, reading the help files and tutorials on disk, the manual, but mostly by trial and error. For example: I saw an insurgent fighter floating in space, sending out an SOS. So I sent out a shuttle to tow it back to my carrier. However, it couldn't dock with the fighter in tow. Never did figure out what to do with it. I'm also struggling a bit trying to figure out cargo in general - when I dock, is all of the cargo I might have picked up via floating cargo from wrecks picked up by shuttles, minerals mined by drones, etc. automatically available for trade? First impressions: this is a game that demands a lot of study, a lot of time, and a lot of playing if you want to get the most out of it and enjoy it. If you want a traditional game that lays out a story for you, this isn't it - if you like creating a story in your mind, a la old fashioned role playing, BCM gives you a large universe in which to do so. Jeff
  15. Thanks for the replies - just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something (VERY easy to do in this game, with the wide variety of options.) My understanding and experience is that the SOS call only calls for a tow, not for military assistance, correct? - Jeff
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