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What's Shakin' at the Bacon

The WatchmanThe Watchman Owner

Don't forget - This Sunday is the NerdBacon Game of the Year Awards Spectacular! - 8pm EST on

nerdberryNerdberry Owner

Hope everyone is safe during these hurricanes and wildfires! Irma and Harvey are total b-holes.

elder grapeVariand Owner

Framework and several plugins updated. Several issues fixed. Let me or other admins know if you find goofy stuff

InfiniteKnifeInfiniteKnife Twitch

Thinking of doing a stream series soon. The theme: Retro games I never beat as a kid and want to try again. Thoughts?

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Review Structure – What’s in a Review?

Sometimes thinking about writing a review can be a lot easier than actually writing it.  One of the biggest favors that any writer can do for themselves is adopt a loose structure in which to systematically critique a piece of work.  A review can contain loads of excellent information, but without focus, they’re difficult to read and are less effective at getting one’s point across.  By adhering to a certain framework, you can ensure that your reviews are clearly organized and stand as poignant articulations of your opinions.

Of course other factors come into play when it comes to a great article: writing skill, diction, and one’s rhetoric and ability to entertain, among others.  However, even a great writer needs order in their work, and here’s a loose guideline from the administrators at Nerd Bacon on what we think makes a good review.  Remember, part of our mission statement is to bring informative and in-depth coverage to the world, so we don’t in the least mind getting wordy with our reviews, and we somewhat discourage exceedingly short works rife with erudite references and analogies that so often give “professional” reviews a pretentious and esoteric vibe.

Keep in mind that this is a guideline.  We will not disapprove of reviews that don’t follow this structure (though we will reject bad reviews of any nature) and not all of these points will be applicable in every single review.  Sometimes, for example, the audio quality of a game is neither great enough nor horrible enough to warrant any discussion.  If there’s nothing to say, then don’t force it.  And if you can drive home a point with unconventional structure or tone, then go for it!

  1. Introduction
    1. Ease the reader into your article, perhaps by sharing an amusing anecdote about how you got into the game in question.  Get personable with it; if you’re reviewing an RPG and you hate RPGs, don’t be afraid to say so!  You’ve got great freedom but also great responsibility when it comes to getting a reader into your work.  Be careful though, you don’t want to go on too long, just long enough to pique the reader’s interest.  After all, they’re here to read about the game!
    2. Before going much further, it’s important to make a quick note of any special circumstances that you may’ve played the game under.  Emulation?  Downloadable content?  Game Genie or other enhancer used?  You don’t have to go into copious detail here, and you are free to enjoy the game however you wish, but if you’ve done so through nonstandard means, it’s best to put a little blurb near the beginning pointing out such differences.
    3. Go into a little bit of factual background about the game.  Ask yourself these questions:
      1. Is there an interesting backstory behind the game’s production or development?  (Delays, behind-the-scenes drama, rarity, etc.)  (Be concise!)
      2. What did the video gaming climate look like at the time?  Were there any recent (or possibly future) developments that impacted the game’s development or sales?
      3. How well (or poorly) was the game received by other critics?  Do you strongly agree or disagree with the majority opinion?  Was it a polarizing, divisive, controversial, watershed, or otherwise important release?
      4. Any significant hype or media attention surrounding the release?  Any huge marketing campaigns worth mentioning?
    4. Briefly discuss any game connections; is it part of a series?  How well does it stack up to its predecessors and/or successors?  Is this a reissue or re-release?  And if so, what sets it apart?  Any significant differences between the same game on different platforms?
    5. Give the reader a generalization of your thoughts on the game.  Is it great?  Just ok?  Would you play it again?  Nothing too detailed, but enough so that the reader knows what’s in store.
  2. Meat and Potatoes – Here’s where you begin focusing on your observations, facts and examples to back them up, and any opinionated interjections.
    1. The quality of a game’s story varies wildly, with older games tending to have much simpler plots.  A description of the story shouldn’t include every minor plot point and biographies on all the characters, but clue the reader in to what’s happening in this game; what’s the point?  Where are we?  Who are we?  We don’t have any specific rules about spoilers, though including too many may hurt your reputation as a writer.  Again, with older games the plot is largely nonexistent (good wins, bad loses!), but with increasingly complex modern games, the unfolding of the story line is an important part of the overall experience.  You can get a reader interested in what’s happening without giving away the ending (or even the middle if at all possible!).
    2. An important step, and one that Nerd Bacon wants to use to set itself apart from similar sites, is giving the reader some information about the game.  This should be mostly general, but also include some specific details about what makes the game notable or distinct.  We don’t want a play by play of the game, but indications of the genre and any subgenres are helpful.  The idea here is to give the reader a meaty context by which to understand your critique without getting into an overly detailed and dull explanation of each and every facet of gameplay.  We are writing reviews, not wiki-type articles though we do welcome a basic and competent description of gameplay so that readers can better understand your points.
      1. Sometimes the storyline itself warrants a degree of discussion.  After painting a picture of the game’s setting, use the opportunity to comment on any particularly noteworthy (positive or negative) aspects of the story.  Is it ridiculous?  Hard to follow?  Did it make you cry?  The type of game will determine the amount of weight given to this point (an RPG’s storyline will likely be much more relevant to the overall experience than that of a sidescrolling shooter) but plots are subject to criticism proportionate to their role in the gameplay.  It’s best to get this out of the way before discussing specific mechanics.
    3. After this basic description, and for this step in particular, here’s an important rule of thumb to remember: for every sentence of explanation, you should include at least 2 sentences of commentary.  Don’t get bogged down explaining the game; explain enough for your point to be understood and move on.  In no particular order, here are some point-by-point aspects you may want to discuss as they apply.
      1. Controls – Do the controls work?  Are they logical?  Do they make sense with regards to what the game requires?
      2. In-Game Mechanics – Are the physical laws governing this game world adequate and conducive to the game’s objective(s)?  Controls can be flawless, but what if the character is slower than the enemies?  What if you’re thrown into situations where it’s impossible to survive despite precision controls?
      3. Level Design – Particularly important in platformers, it’s pertinent to assess whether or not the levels have been designed in accordance with what’s possible in a game.  Does every jump require a “last second” button press to clear?  Are levels needlessly confusing?  Is it too easy to get trapped?
      4. Goals and Objectives – Many games simply require the player to “get to the end,” but some can be far more confusing.  Is the direction clear?  Are adequate clues given to games with an inherently puzzling nature?  Are the goals properly outlined?  Is your “mission” clear?
      5. Genre Conventions – Does it fit in well with others of its ilk?  Is it seriously lacking in areas that similar games excel at?  Does it break the mold and push past existing conventions?
      6. Graphics – It’s way too easy to judge a game based on its graphics, but that’s not to say they don’t play an important role.  There are different standards by which to judge the visual quality of a game, and much of it comes down to personal preference.  It goes without saying, remember to judge a game’s graphics in the proper context.  Don’t chide Super Mario Bros. for not looking like Halo, else our readers won’t take you seriously.
      7. Sound – Not always applicable, but there are a few angles one can approach.  How is the sound quality?  How pleasing is the actual music?  Is it fitting for the game’s subject matter?  Too loud, too soft?  What about sound effects; are they annoying?  Amazingly realistic?
      8. Replayability – Is there any reason to play this game again?  Are there sidequests, secrets, or other unlockables?  Is it fun enough to play over and over or so frustrating that, while satisfying, you’re glad to be done?
      9. Difficulty – Is it a tough game?  Is it a reasonable challenge or a needless challenge?  Is the difficulty warranted and intended or the product of poor design and testing?
      10. Pacing and Flow – Does the game consistently entertain and move along?  Are there uneven and unnatural changes in the pace of “action” or typical gameplay?  Is progress steady, cumulative, and purposeful?
      11. Cohesion – Do all of the elements of the game fit together in a cohesive manner?  Is progress logical?  Or do some sections seem out of place?  Does every quirk serve a purpose?  Do some elements and mechanics feel unnecessary?
      12. Fun – Most importantly, is the game fun?  Here’s another opportunity to let your personality flow for a bit.  Maybe there’s no reasonable explanation for why you like (or dislike) the game, you just do!
  3. Conclusion – Here’s where you want to start winding down and wrapping things up.
    1. Give the reader another generalized account of your thoughts and feelings.  Perhaps there were both positives and negatives in your point-by-point analysis, so now’s a good chance to reiterate your overall impression.  Relate back to any game connections or previous statements from your introduction.
    2. If necessary or desired, now would be a good chance to tie in any recommendations: “if you like this, maybe you’ll like this” or other comparisons.  Comparisons and/or recommendations can be extremely helpful to readers, especially if you’ve made your tastes clear throughout and others can relate.
    3. If at all possible, try offering some insight into why the game is successful or unsuccessful.  Using your expertise to draw original conclusions can have a profound effect on the reader if they feel like it’s coming from an authoritative source.
    4. Try to end things on a light, personable note, relating back to your original anecdote or experience from the beginning.  The better you’re able to “bookend” your review with related information, the more complete and cohesive it’ll feel.  End on a humorous note if possible, or on a decisive one at the very least.  Stand firm in your opinions and remember that you’re not wrong just because someone disagrees.  (Unless you really are wrong about one fact or another stated in your article; be very careful of writing incorrect information!)  You want people to walk away satisfied and informed at the very least, entertained and wanting more at the best.
    5. Keep the reader on the site!  Point to another similar article on the site: another game that yours is often compared to or spoken of with, another game in the same series, a related news piece, or even just another article you’ve written that you can draw some sort of connection to!

We can’t guarantee that these tips will make you a great reviewer, but if you get stuck or can’t figure out where to start, hopefully this will push you in the right direction.  Remember that we’re we’re writing reviews!  Intense descriptions of gameplay filled with minutae that serve no end are dull and boring.  The idea here is to write down what you took away from your experience with the game, not to flat-out describe it.  Reviews are about what you think, so let yourself work your way into the text!  Some games will require more or less information but here’s another rule of thumb to remember about article length when it comes to most games:  it takes about 800 words to give an accurate and thorough description and commentary on a game; anything longer than about 2,000 words begins to feel long to the reader.  If you’ve got several points to address then that’s one thing, but be careful about going on for too long about one particular subject.  Provide some context, state your opinions, and move on.

Anyway, we hope this helps, and happy reviewing!

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