Saturday, 25 August 2012

Upcoming reviews: 25th August 2012

The first list of reviews! Barring unforeseen circumstances, these'll be the reviews coming in for the next few weeks:

Batman Begins
Watchmen - Ultimate Cut
Superman vs. the Elite
The Expendables 2

(All DC titles are part of the New 52 unless stated otherwise. Graphics novels don't count)
Action comics #1-12

Diablo II

Reviewing games

Games are one of the most familiar mediums in which reviews are written, so this should feel pretty familiar. Reviews themselves are easy, too, especially compared to comics. The one interesting thing about reviewing games is that the price also has to be taken into account, partially because it varies so much, partially because the quality is often proportional to the price, and partially because they're often quite expensive. Anyway, on to the criteria.

Story: Is the game's story any good, and should it be? Have the developers and writers made a conscious effort to create a good story and is it relevant to the gameplay? This criterion will judge both the plot and the world that the game creates, as well as its characters and settings. Now, many games won't even have a story, and many don't need one. Of course, when you have a good story where you don't expect to find one, you tend to like the game more, so the story is still a relevant criterion; however, the weighting of this particular category will be related to how important the story is to the particular genre.

Visuals: Does the game have good, original, interesting visuals? Are the standards of the current generation, the console, and the price met? You'll notice I used the term 'visuals' and not 'graphics', because 'graphics' tends to imply only the objective quality and complexity of the game's visual characteristics. As any real gamer will tell you, however, games don't need good graphics to succeed. 'Visuals' refers to a combination of graphics, art style, neatness, etc. Visuals aren't the most important category, but they can greatly enhance a game, and also bring it down a few notches. This latter usually occurs when the game has serious flaws in its visuals, from plain ugliness to technical issues (particularly relevant for PC games).

Audio: Music, sound design, and voice-overs are all judged in this category. Again, not the most crucial element, but one that still serves to greatly improve a game. Bad voice-overs and sound effects can also hurt the game.

Gameplay: The most important factor, obviously, but also the hardest to judge. Gameplay varies infinitely from game to game, so judging a game's worth is only really possible by the entertainment factor and a comparison to peers in the genre. This criterion will be weighted the most in almost all cases, as it is what defines a game; all else can fail, but a game with good gameplay will be remembered for a long time. Creativity and originality are also important; not referring to being an original title (that would be way too harsh given that most major titles are sequels...), but rather ingenuity in gameplay design.

Replayability/worth: Another important factor, this mostly determines whether someone should buy the game at full price, or wait for a sale. Of course, many games don't necessarily need hundreds of hours worth of gameplay (quality over quantity), but some titles really do skimp on the 'content' part, which means that, even if they are solid titles, they're usually not worth the full $60 from the start.

Especially with games, it's worth noting that each category will be weighted quite differently between titles. Also, pay attention to the Replayability/worth criteria if you're on a budget; as I said earlier, even great games may be overpriced.

That's it for the intros; I'll be posting a short list of upcoming reviews and what to expect, then I'll jump right in. As always, criticism and comments are more than welcome, just be civil :-)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Reviewing comics

Comics are a more unfamiliar medium, so it may take reading a few comic reviews to fully 'get it'. However, because of the large similarities that most comic books share, reviewing them is considerably easier and less vague or confusing.

Unlike movies, I won't be splitting comics up into categories since, as said earlier, most comics tend to be quite similar. I will denote whether I read a particular comic as a graphic novel (which are either really long comics or a whole bunch of issues collected together as a single title) or a regular comic issue (which are normally about 25 pages in length).

I will also review them based on multiple criteria; 3, to be exact. They are:

Writing and Dialogue: Technically two criteria, which I may split apart when reviewing graphic novels, but given the small size of regular comics I think it's a solid criteria. Basically, I'll judge both the direction and plot of the comic, as well as the writing itself (think dialogue). This will almost always be the most important factor in a review, though failing in the other criterion will not be excused.

Art: They're comic books, not novels, so the art obviously has to be an important factor. While I don't consider it as important as the writing itself, I think comics should still have good, original art directions and believable character and environment designs.

Fan service (for lack of a better term...): There's a reason comics have hundreds of issues that are all bought and loved by its fans. Readers don't read comics exclusively for the stories (novels are usually superior), nor for the art (uh...I guess the internet takes this one). It's important to note why DC and Marvel are the two comic companies that most often come to mind. It's not because they make the best stories (far from it), but because of they have comic books based on the characters that readers all know and love. That is what this criterion will be judging: whether a comic has enough fanservice in it to make it worthwhile. For example, does a Batman comic portray Batman properly, and have enough well-known Bat content (villains, supporting characters, references to known storylines) to make it an exciting read for Batman fans? Obviously, this criterion isn't always relevant, and isn't as important as the other two categories, but I think it's still an important factor when judging comics.

I'll leave it that for now, since reading a few comic reviews will be more helpful. Just two more posts and we should be getting into the reviews proper.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Reviewing movies (and TV)

Nowadays, movies are probably the most prolific medium in which to write reviews, and so they will obviously feature considerably on this site. Unlike most reviewers, however, I'll actually be splitting movie reviews into two categories: Fun and Art. I think the titles alone should be pretty self-explanatory, but just in case:

Fun films will be movies that should be considered basic entertainment, essentially giving viewers a good, enjoyable watch and supplying different thrills based on genre. Normally these won't be spectacular practices in cinematography or symbolism and whatnot, but can still be good films in their own right.

Art films aren't necessarily part of the 'art film' genre, although they quite often will be. These films will be more high-brow, thought provoking, well crafted movies that seek to do more than just entertain or be 'fun'; they have a deep, complex story, or a message, and usually excel in at least one cinematic category. They should also be films that have a good chance of being nominated for the academy awards.

Now, the distinction between these two categories won't always be clear, but I think this system is needed to help distinguish between the different types of films. You could have two films that are equally good in their own right, but they could be good for very different reasons; one could be an extravagant, over the top action film and another could be a morally significant, well-acted drama, and while both may get 5 stars they'll still be very different, and so the distinction and critical approach needs to be different as well.

When I review something, I'll place it into either category before the actual review, because I'll use a slightly different approach when reviewing each one; you can't judge a family-friendly action movie based on the moral questions it raises (usually, anyway...) and you can't judge a noir drama based on how good the CGI chase scenes are.

Anyway, these are the criteria that I'll be judging films on. Note that not every category is equal in terms of significance, and that their importance varies between the two major categories I set up earlier.

Entertainment - Simply put, how much fun was the film to watch? This 'fun' can range from action sequences, laugh out loud moments, suspense and terror, mind-blowing twists and story quirks etc. The primary criteria for the 'Fun' category.

Script/dialogue - How strong was the script? How was the film's pacing? Was the story hard to follow? (and should it have been?). Also considers the dialogue in the film, judging the lines themselves rather than the execution (for the most part).

Acting/voice-over - How did the actors perform? Specifically, how well did they perform given the context and how did they carry their lines?

Depth - Takes into account everything from the plot, the significance of the film, motifs and symbolism, creativity and originality etc. In general, is the film though provoking, with a lot of substance? The most important criteria for the 'Art' category.

Audio/visual - Basically judging sound editing and music, as well as the visual look of the film. How good was the CGI, if any? How was the soundtrack and how well did the music fit the scenes?

At the end I'll take all the scores and assigning a final score to the film, which may or may not be an average.

These criterion will also be used for reviewing TV shows/episodes, if I ever do any.

You'll get a better understanding of my system after you read a couple of reviews, so stay tuned; after I explain my review process for comics and games, and release the first schedule, I'll put up some film reviews.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Method

I think it's important to explain my review process so that you, the readers, have a resource to fall back on if you have any questions or concerns. I'll be explaining my general approach to reviewing any material, and I'll also go into the specifics of reviewing movies, comics, and games.

The General Approach

Mini rant

I'm not a fan of rating things out of ten. For some odd reason, it's become the most common system, but to me it makes no sense. You've probably heard this particular question before but, what's the difference in value between, say, a 3/10 and a 4/10? Other than some abstract feeling of magnitude, nothing really separates those two scores. More importantly, the level of dislike (in this case, anyway) varies quite a lot from person to person. One person may think 3/10 is just a placeholder score implying that the particular product is really really bad, while another may actually have given a precise 3/10 score based on utilitarian considerations. Combine this with the fact that different mediums have wildly different expectations from scores, and this seeks to confuse people even more.

A good example is comparing games and movies. As far as movies go, in a ten-scale system anything 6 and above is considered "good", with anything 7.5 and above being rare. For video games, anything above a 9 is considered good, something between 8 and 9 is considered decent, but perhaps flawed, 7-8 considered barely considerable, and anything below that garbage. What creates this discrepancy? Is it the fact that games tend to serve as good entertainment more often than films? I don't know, but I do know that there is a huge difference between the ten-scale systems of films and games. As I said earlier, this serves to confuse people, especially on sites where both of these mediums are portrayed.

Bottom line is...rating things out of 10 does not seem to be a good approach, which is why I don't use it.


Now, moving on that what system I will use...choosing between a 4 star and a 5 star system, I prefer the 5 star one, since it gives slightly more leeway. I won't do half stars, either, because then the 5 star system becomes a compressed version of the 10 point system...

That essentially leaves us with 6 possible scores, which makes things a lot simpler and less murky. This is usually what I consider the scores to mean:

5 - Perfection, or as close to it as can be gotten. Usually denoted to things that are both excellent in quality and are highly creative. Highly recommended even for non-fans of the genre/medium/series. Rarely handed out.

4 - Great, something which is definitely worth investing in. Usually given to things that are highly creative and done well, or things which are excellent in quality but might lack originality. Definitely worth it for fans, recommended for non-fans. Uncommon rating.

3 - Decent, something which may be flawed but has enough redeemable qualities to make it worth picking up. May not be the most well crafted and might lack originality and punch. Recommended for fans, maybe worth getting for non-fans if it is interesting enough. Ideally, the most common rating.

2 - Mediocre, something which has some serious flaws, lacks polish or is very formulaic or boring. Usually not recommended, fans may enjoy it but non-fans should probably stay away. Hopefully an uncommon rating.

1 - Bad, plain and simple. Little to nothing good about it, very poorly made, no creativity and/or a bore to experience. Fans should stay away because it's an insult to them, non-fans shouldn't waste their time. Again, hopefully a rating that won't be common.

0 - Apocalyptic. More of a joke rating, reserved for something that is really really terrible, or something which was expected to be good, but ended up with a rating of 1, and so has been bumped down out of shame. Hopefully never given out, ever.

See? Simple stuff. The explanations weren't even necessary; just by looking at the number, you can know all that you need to know.

Of course, some may consider this too simplistic. For example, something might have really good qualities but be brought down by a fatal flaw, perhaps inspiring a rating of 3, while something may be a solid piece of work but without anything particularly engaging, also getting a 3. How do you distinguish between these two similarly rated products? Doesn't a situation like this prove that the 5 star system is flawed?

Well, I would respond that even a ten-scale system can't really alleviate the issue. However, I do recognize the problem, which is why I will be adopting another level of criticism; essentially, a categorical approach to a product's qualities. That means that I'll be reviewing an item based on several different criteria, varying by medium, and give a score for each criteria. I'll then give an overall rating to the product, and that rating may or may not be an averaged score based on the previously rated criteria.

This post is getting rather lengthy, so I'll cut it short here and make another post detailing the different criteria I'll be using for the different mediums. So, for now, adieu!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Introduction - An indirect form of self-boasting.

This is a blog I've wanted to do for a while. I'm calling it a blog because, technically, that's what it is, though to me it will be no different from any other website. I don't have anything personal against blogs, other than my lack of interest in them (for the most part). The word "blog" does appear to have certain connotations in today's world of trigger words and delineative labels; I'll just clear up, for the sake of completion, that this particular blog will not be an expression of my person in the most literal sense i.e. I won't be telling you about my life. Of course, criticism in itself is considered an expression of personal beliefs...

This is where the quote in the title comes in. No, it's nothing profound. In fact, I simply searched up "criticism quotes" on Google, realized I was too lazy to specify "professional criticism", clicked the first hit, and found a quote that was short and could be used in the title. If you're interested, the full quote: "Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting" and you can thank Emmet Fox for that little piece of wisdom.

However, while I did use the quote only because I needed a good hook, it presents an interesting argument. Assuming, for a second, that we apply the quote to relate to professional criticism (or, to make it simpler, professional reviewers), we're left to wonder: Why do we criticize? I'm sure the phrase "Everyone's a critic" is quite well know, but Fox seems to imply that it is born from a deep-set desire to express our own view of the world as we think it should be. This insinuates that every reviewer, from the guy working with your local newspaper to celebrities such as Roger Ebert, are all simply trying to cash in on whatever work they are reviewing by presenting their own version. I mean, that is what reviewers do, isn't it? Present what they think is the right way, which may involve either agreeing or disagreeing with the source material to varying degrees, effectively showing off their own creation to the world?

If this philosophical road trip is getting a bit tiresome, don't worry. This blog is not as high brow as this first introduction post is leading you to believe (two thirds of the blog is about comics and video games, after all). I simply thought that it would be proper to reflect on why I'm starting this blog, and why I choose to be a critic. Of course, that whole philosophical introspection was only part of it.

Why do I, of all people, take reviewing stuff seriously? I know everyone forms their own opinions about what they see and experience, and pretty much anyone can write reviews, assuming they're literate. I'm not going to be an elitist and pretend that I have better taste than the average individual, or that I'm somehow more versed in the mediums (admittedly, I may be more accomplished among my friends, being the only one that actually reads comic books and watches the occasional art film).

To me, this site was a result of two factors: writing and motivation. You need to be able to write well if your reviews are going to be taken seriously. I consider myself a decent writer, but that isn't the reason, in this case; I want to be a better writer, and while my ongoing fiction projects are still running full-steam, I wished to not limit myself and explore other mediums in which to practice my expertise. With this new blog, and hopefully with outside appraisal, I hope to learn new skills and become more accomplished.

Motivation is the other factor which led to the creation of this blog. I said earlier that anyone can be a critic, and I personally believe that everyone should learn to think for themselves and criticize what they see. I then narrowed the field down, suggesting that a penchant for writing is also necessary for consistently providing fresh, well-formed opinions. However, even with the proper skills, you'd have to have a reason for actually sitting down and continuously putting your words on paper (or, in this case, a computer screen). I've long been intent on reviewing and critiquing almost any medium that I encounter, and over the years that has given me enough motivation that, finally, I've made a decision to actually begin my hobby.

I also really like expressing my opinion and making sure other people hear my opinion, so that was another important factor in my choosing to start this review blog.

So, now that we have all the boring backstory out of the way, I think I can begin this site proper. Before I begin putting up some actual reviews, I'll make a few posts going over my review method and format, and maybe also a heads up to what I plan on reviewing (these 'timetable' posts will probably crop up every week or so).

To end, I would just like to say, good luck (to myself), and thank you (to the readers) for taking the time to read over my work. As always, your constructive criticism helps me on my road to become an accomplished writer, so, please...don't be shy!