How to recognize webmasters who don't care about old games from quite a long way away

If you think this is going to be a rant about sites with just downloads and no information, you're wrong. There is nothing to dispute there, these sites don't even deserve to be mentioned. Most people who are 'active' in the 'scene' agree on that. By the same token, once a site with long reviews pops up, everybody is clapping their hands. But are long reviews really enough?

I want to talk about certain signs in game reviews which can tell a lot about their writer. This is not going to be a coherent train of thought, I'll just list a few aspects which I consider the worst sins of reviewing. If you stumble across any of these, stop reading immediately and laugh (or spit, depending on the severity of the offense to all serious gamers) in the writer's face!

1. Past Tense

Writing about old games, a part of a review should and will always be dedicated to memories. But the main point of such an article always has to be the analysis from a current point of view! If the reviewer says "the graphics were brilliant", you should get suspicious. If something like "but from today's point of view, they've lost some of their magic" or "and they still are amongst the top class" follows, we have a winner here - this person has thought about historical importance as well as today's standards. If it stops with the first sentence however and then goes on like this for the whole review ("I loved the music", "the interface was the best",...), forget about it. The person who wrote this review might have some fond memories of the game, but would never touch it again now! He/she is probably playing the latest 3D shooter as you're reading his/her text.

2. Comparisons

Sometimes, the easiest way to explain something about a game is to mention similar titles. That helps both the reader and the writer. There is one critical point though: comparisons with newer games. These are still good in general and advisable, but it depends on the exact wording. If the writer says "this has later been imitated in game x", there is nothing wrong with that. This person apparantely knows something about historical development. If it comes over more in the style of "this reminds me of game x" (x being a pretty new game), one thing is for sure: this person has played the newer game first and the classic later! You might rightfully say this is a question of age. Being young is an excuse for not having played many games when they first came out for sure. But is it also an excuse for ignoring the 'natural development' of a genre, for measuring old games by new ones? Of course not! I am convinced old games don't have to fear being objectively compared to newer titles, but it does not make the slightest bit of sense to consider a new game a 'standard' old games have to be measured by - it has to be the other way round, because that is the way it really happened! No old game can be a 'Diablo-clone' - Diablo is a Hack-clone! One can't say "the controls in Dune 2 are bad because Command & Conquer's are better", because C&C wasn't even thought of when Dune 2 was being worked on! The writer of such a review sees old games only as curiosities to be stored behind glass in a museum, he/she has definitely not played them in their own time.

3. Parts of a series of games

If a successful game spawned off a series, the older parts automatically get more attention than individual games. Only sometimes by the wrong people! A review on King's Quest 2 should be about King's Quest 2. Does everybody agree? Yes? Then why are there so many reviews out there which say King's Quest 2 in the title and then talk about a newer part of the same series most of the time? If you're forced to read "This game is already a lot like the later parts of the series. In fact, I just finished the 6th part which has a lot better graphics and a really great story. bla bla bla bla" take cover hehind the nearest tree - the 'reviewer' apparantely is only interested in some current part of the series, was only impressed by the 'big name' and never really tried the older titles. He/she doesn't have the slightest bit of understanding about the inner development of the series!

3.2. Part 1

The 'first parts' of series are a special case of this. They're very often listed with the number one - of course, they are the first part of the series after all. But wait: does the name "Monkey Island 1" really make sense? Does such a game exist? When does a game get a number? Only when there is more than one in the series of course! When a game which later became the 'first part of the series' was first made and released, it was just a single, individual game (with the exception of shareware games with 'episode 1' of course, but that is a question of the business model, so it doesn't matter here). Who would be so foolish to put a '1' behind the name? Nobody! Following the same logic some people use to entitle 'Simon the Sorcerer' 'Simon the Sorcerer 1', one could list all games which never spawned a sequel with a '1' after the name! This may sound like really bad nitpicking, but if you ask me, it very often shows a person is looking at a game only from the historical point of view.

4.Wrong dates

Again, a seemingly trivial subject, but it can get very important to get the historically right perspective on a game. "After Populous 2, Bullfrog went the wrong way and made the controls less comfortable again in their next game Powermonger." Meep, wrong! Why should that be wrong when Populous 2 is dated 1992 and Powermonger 1993? Because Powermonger's original release was 1990, just not on the PC - both games were native on another system and the conversions didn't take equally long! So let's see what the correct order is: Populous (1989), Powermonger (1990), Populous 2 (1991). Gives you a whole different perspective which the reviewer who is wearing blinkers has missed.

I'm not saying a review containing any of these aspects is necessarily bad. It depends on the purpose it was written for! If the writer's intention is solely to get across memories and clearly states so (that is important, because otherwise, how should the visitor/reader know?), the first point might be excusable. The other point also don't make a review completely forgettable immediately. But all this detracts from the quality a lot! And most importantly, it is all unnecessary! The reader now has to filter out the still usable information from a largely unusable review, it is no fun reading it, it can easily lead the casual reader on the wrong track.

In conclusion, I think I can safely claim in reference to the introduction, that most 'insiders' who always rave about 'long reviews' don't have any real insight themselves. Most likely, they've never even read the 'oh-so-great' review! Otherwise, they would have noticed how much it sucks...

Footnote: examples for all of these bad cases can easily be found on this particular site. Just mentioning it to soften the extremely arrogant tone of this article a bit ;)

Mr Creosote