How tough is too tough?

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

I received an email from a reader today asking that exact question; how tough is too tough? He is writing reviews and has received some negative feedback for those reviews.

I haven’t read any of the reviews in question, so my comments are based on the topic rather than any specifics.

Here is a quote from the email:
So, in your opinion, what do you consider a good compromise between kicking someone in the balls for their hard work and being a yes man that makes all the reviews pointless? I’ve reviewed plenty of paid for games before, but that never got people throwing insults and bile.”

I have never been one to shy away from giving my opinion, which is below, but I though it might make an interesting topic too.

I wrote about reviews in 2006, in a post called Reviewing the Reviews. It discusses the motivation and format of reviews, rather than the content.

In some way I don’t think there should be a compromise. I feel that as amateur reviewers we have no commercial interests and don’t need to worry about anything else except the review. Telling the truth should be all that matters. Being honest and justifying your opinions is more important than writing a review with the objective of pleasing or displeasing anybody.

However, sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that counts.

I believe that we have a responsibility to always be polite. Writing negative reviews that simply try and entertain readers with insults and funny comparisons is cheap, at least in my humble opinion. I used to read some print gaming magazines and the reviews seemed very childish and more interested in being funny than helpful. I eventually stopped buying it.

Saying what you don’t like about a map and justifying your point of view is very important. In many ways, think of it not as a review but more of a feedback essay.

Of course, unlike game reviews, map reviews can often help the mappers, because they can update their map or next piece of work. Also, mappers do what they do for love and are perhaps more emotional in regards to the review.

As a non-mapper I feel my reviews have a valid point of view, even if I missed things and did the wrong things. Sometimes that tells the modder something.

Another point worth making is that there are also lots of of positives in many maps and they should always be mentioned. Not just because a review should be balanced but simply because it’s the right thing to do.

As with everything you can’t please everybody all the time and I know that I like some reviewers and dislike others, so I don’t believe a fair, honest review will be liked by all. People will disagree with your view point and there is nothing you can do about it.

Anyway, over to PP reader to add their opinion.

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12 Comments

  1. My take on this is that you need to be as tough as you feel is warranted, but at least provide some sort of reason for your opinions. It’s the responsibility of the authors of a mod or map to take the criticism along with the praise. If you can’t handle that, then you need to stay out of public view and that’s all there is to it. The world doesn’t coddle you, and on the internet that’s even more true. As long as the supporting reasons are there, no matter how thin or made up they may be, that provides clues for the authors to determine whether they should treat that review of their work as being valid.

    Now, I am of the opinion that the actual numeric rating or recommendation of a mod should be catering to the players and NOT the mod authors. It doesn’t matter how comprehensive a rating system is, there’s no possible way for it to accurately judge the actual merit of ANYTHING, but what it CAN do is provide a general idea of where players should start looking to have the best chance of finding something playable.
    Players have to sort through tens of HUNDREDS of mods that are available to find something they like, and a LOT of those really aren’t all that good. Mod Authors on the other hand only really need to keep track of their own work, so because of this smaller pool, it’s not as much of an issue for them to read all the individual reviews for those mods as it is for players.
    This is why I feel that the recommendation or rating should NOT be geared towards “did the author accomplish his goals in making this mod?” and instead be geared towards “Did I personally enjoy the mod and do I think someone like me would also like to play it?” Reasoning should be supplied to other players why you did or didn’t enjoy the mod, and then if you feel the mod author was attempting to accomplish something other than creating something that you would enjoy playing, you should make not of that AFTER everything else.

  2. Kasperg

    As always, to answer this question we would need a common and agreed definition of what a map/mod review is.
    Personal opinion based on the enjoyment and experience?
    Descriptive analysis of the technical aspects in an objective manner?
    A mix of both?
    An informative recommendation text for other players?
    A means of providing feedback for the author?
    A mix of both?

    You see where I’m getting at.
    I think a map review has to get all of those things right. Tell players what they might like and what they might dislike, and at the same time compliment the author on what he did right and point out what he did wrong. It’s a very simple way of making a review valid for everyone reading it and is based on both subjective appreciations and objective facts.

    So, how tough is tough?
    You cannot ignore the intentions of an map author if your review is going to attack him or his style of doing things directly. As I’ve mentioned other times, many mappers released maps when
    A)They feel the quality standard they have reached is good enough for them and sufficient for most players.
    B)They have spent the time they thought the map or mod deserved and want to move on.
    No matter how much arguing about quality and comparisons you throw out, chances are the mapper won’t really care. No matter how much playtesting you thought was needed, the mapper might have been fed up with tweaks by the time he released it. That’s just the way this works.
    Negative reviews won’t have the same effect on two people. You might think a kick in the pants will get someone to try harder next time, when it could mean serious demotivational element. You never know!

    it’s the responsibility of the authors of a mod or map to take the criticism along with the praise. If you can’t handle that, then you need to stay out of public view and that’s all there is to it

    I can’t really agree with this or any other view that remotely compares a gift (because that’s what user maps and mods really are) with a retail product in terms of criticism, positive or negative. I can’t see why some novel mapper can’t have the desired feedback that public exposure guarantees without having to sort through putdowns and hurtful comments from people who in most cases can’t do much better.
    Are we entitled to bash the things we don’t pay for and which take free time and dedication from others (be it mapping, literature, amateur painting etc) ?
    That’s really the question here. I myself tend to avoid being harsh, maybe because I know what it’s like to be on the other end.

    1. Kyouryuu

      I feel reviews must be written for the potential user first, the modder second. If you think of Half-Life 2 as a gaming platform on which all these mods sit, there’s a gradient of quality from the best mods down to the worst. It makes sense to judge all mods against the bar set by the high end of the gradient rather than “Did the author meet their goals?” I don’t believe in handing out gold stars because people “tried their best.”

      The exception comes when the mod is deliberately catering to a particular audience. That’s when things get quite tricky, because it is easy to mistake an intentional style with a frustrating mechanic. And then where does it fall on that gradient? This is where reading the author’s intentions is important.

      1. Kasperg

        I don’t believe in handing stars AT ALL 🙂
        Although to some of us it might seem logical to judge by that gradient of quality, time has proven that there is a public for all sorts of maps and mods and that objective quality does NOT always equal subjective entertainment.
        And subjective entertainment IS the actual goal here, not a fictional competition for which some people think all mappers and modders are working for. The average quality of total released works for HL2 more than proves me right.

        Your implication about mods catering to a particular audience is really not an exception, it’s actually the rule. Name me a mod that isn’t caterting to a particular audience!
        Mod either stay within the game limits in terms of themes and materials (Riot Act, Minerva, Offshore etc) or try to offer something really different in terms of locations (Strider Mountain, Awakening), voice acting (Rock 24, Riot Act again, Eye of The Storm) or even provide a large quantity of new models (Get a Life, Toronto Conflict).
        It’s very easy to say things like: “Hey, if it looks and plays good, everyone MUST love it and accept its quality” even if it really brings nothing new into the spotlight.
        I think everyone has seen beautifully crafted films that they have not enjoyed at all. Would you acknowledge the quality a recommend them to other viewers or stick to the enjoyment factor? We’re back at square one.

        In case of potential users, I give for granted that the percentage (not total) of standard players who download mods is lower than the percentage of mappers who download mods. Feedback on a map and mod is never exclisvely for the mapper. Others can read it too and apply it to their own work. We all win!

  3. I think everyone has seen beautifully crafted films that they have not enjoyed at all. Would you acknowledge the quality a recommend them to other viewers or stick to the enjoyment factor? We’re back at square one.

    This is PERFECT, not because I agree, but because it is exactly what I need to make my point. Yes I would acknowledge the quality of the mod, BUT

    biiiiiiiig BUT.

    But I would give my recommendations based on MY enjoyment, NOT the enjoyment of ANYONE ELSE. We are not professional reviewers in a magazine where our voice must speak for the entire community, we are but one amongst MANY different reviewers with different tastes and levels of skill who all pool together to represent the community as a whole. We are free to be individuals because it is through all of us expressing our personal opinions that can be taken together as a whole to get a general review that a professional reviewer has to put his own opinions aside in order to achieve.

    The bottom line is that by holding back your personal opinion in order to give a “fair and balanced review” you are actually watering down your own opinion.

    Here’s an analogy for you:
    3 people each have 3 votes (9 votes total) to put towards deciding between 2 people who should be the leader.
    Two of those people decide to review the way you do, they each put 2 votes for the guy they actually want (we’ll call him guy A) but they also decide to recognize the merits of the other guy, so they each give just one vote to guy B. The other guy doesn’t care about merits, he just knows he likes guy B, so he puts all 3 of his votes towards guy B.
    Tallied up, Guy B has 5 votes and guy A has only 4, even though 2 of the 3 guys would have preferred guy A. It’s because they didn’t give an honest representation of their own preferences that you wound up with their preferences not being recognized.

    Now for a mod, there are a lot of people who will give reviews for mods, not just you or me or just phillip. If it REALLY has merits, then SOMEONE will enjoy it and recommend or rate it accordingly, so there’s no need for you to rate it as being good when you didn’t personally enjoy it, and there’s sure as hell no reason to be upset with someone for rating a mod low when they didn’t enjoy it. The only time I get upset with a review is if it supports its opinion with erroneous information (like “this map is bugged, the door wouldn’t open no matter how much I clicked on it” when the door was merely locked and has a big giant keyhole next to it)

    As for the mapper, if they are making a mod for people to enjoy, and people aren’t enjoying it, then they need to take notes and not just blame the player for “not appreciating the “gift” they so graciously bestowed on the player”
    No, I don’t care if it’s free. If it’s a game, and I don’t enjoy it, then to me it’s shit. If you ask me for a burger, and I wipe my ass on a slice of bread and tell you its free, will you eat it? How about if I carefully select and eat foods with just the right amount of fiber, maybe specifically selecting some corn to add texture to my feces. I put a lot of work into that, and I’m giving it to you for free and you’re going to complain about it?

    If the player is NOT trying to make a mod to be enjoyed, but is pushing some other feature, then they need to be ready to not give a crap if people didn’t enjoy it. The only people they should be paying attention to are those who comment on that feature. The people who are complaining about not enjoying the mod no longer qualify as even speaking towards the mapper, they are merely warning other PLAYERS about the quality of a mod, which is a completely warranted and commendable service.

    1. Kasperg

      Here’s an analogy for you:

      Choosing a leader and reviewing a mod? I really don’t see any analogy there besides the afored mentioned “fictional competition” that people think all mods are made to participate in.

      Let me give you another analogy. If I were reviewing the original Tomb Raider game, why would I make a personal review (the tough kind we are talking about) attacking the fact that I feel lonely in the game and think that sucks? Tomb Raider is made to BE a lonely experience and that is one of the key objectives of the game. I can mention the fact that there’s a feeling of loneliness (so that players who don’t like that can avoid it) but using it as a NEGATIVE argument and a way to put down said game would be ridiculous.

      As for the mapper, if they are making a mod for people to enjoy, and people aren’t enjoying it, then they need to take notes and not just blame the player for “not appreciating the ” gift” they so graciously bestowed on the player”

      Or they can skip the notes and do whatever on Earth they want, as free individuals. Or should I guess that releasing a map/mod automatically makes the mapper a free tool for the community’s wishes?
      There’s no contract forcing mappers to reach a standard of quality in what they do, the same way there’s no contract telling them they should improve/listen/care at all. Some do (thank goodness!) some don’t. We have to accept that and move on.

      No, I don’t care if it’s free. If it’s a game, and I don’t enjoy it, then to me it’s shit.

      It’s not very wise to download and play shit, and much less obligatory. A mapper is free to map/not map and we’re free to play/not play.

      I put a lot of work into that, and I’m giving it to you for free and you’re going to complain about it?

      I guess that’s a difference between you and me. I can spot what I’ll like and what I’ll dislike with just a few screenshots and get it right 90% of the time. Hence, I don’t usually bother with slices of bread smeared with feces even when they’re freely offered 😀 I just ignore them completely and don’t waste my time on comments. I always assume that for players like me, those screenshots speak of the map/mod in the same way they do to me. When I do like something, I’ll add a positive review for both the mapper and players. Simple as that.

      If the player is NOT trying to make a mod to be enjoyed, but is pushing some other feature, then they need to be ready to not give a crap if people didn’t enjoy it.

      Once again, you fall into the mistake of thinking that releasing something should somehow seal your mouth and cancel your freedom of speech. A mapper is as entitled to dismiss/mock/bash/disrespect our reviews as we are of doing the exact same thing with his work. It works both ways.

      The people who are complaining about not enjoying the mod no longer qualify as even speaking towards the mapper, they are merely warning other PLAYERS about the quality of a mod

      So which is it, enjoyment or quality? That last paragraph isn’t very clear on that.

      1. Choosing a leader and reviewing a mod? I really don’t see any analogy there besides the afored mentioned “fictional competition” that people think all mods are made to participate in.

        Okay, fine, replace the word “leader” with “best dog.” Sure, the “dogs” never intended to show themselves up as the “best” but that’s never going to change people from putting them in the competition anyway. If you can recognize that the competition is pointless, that’s great. Stay out of it and don’t tell other people how they should run the competition. Since it’s not pointless to them, they can decide how to run it.

        Let me give you another analogy. If I were reviewing the original Tomb Raider game, why would I make a personal review (the tough kind we are talking about) attacking the fact that I feel lonely in the game and think that sucks? Tomb Raider is made to BE a lonely experience and that is one of the key objectives of the game. I can mention the fact that there’s a feeling of loneliness (so that players who don’t like that can avoid it) but using it as a NEGATIVE argument and a way to put down said game would be ridiculous.

        Of course it would be ridiculous, and yes it would be a horrible way to review a mod IF YOU WERE THE ONLY ONE REVIEWING IT.

        BUT YOU ARE NOT ALONE as there are a whole GROUP of people to do reviews. The general tendency will be for people who enjoy a certain type of game will seek it out, while people who don’t will avoid it, and thus never have reason to review. But people who DON’t enjoy the game still should be represented in the average review score which other players use as a quick first impression to see whether a game is worth trying.
        Which is why any game developer or modder could look at that negative review and say “this review doesn’t matter to me, because they aren’t my target audience” but in terms of review score negative reviews based on personal opinion keeps other players from going “wow, everybody rated this really high, it MUST be something I’ll enjoy” but will instead go “oh wow, this was rated really high, but there are a few people that rated it really badly, I wonder what’s up with that, lets see what they’re taking issue with. Oh, that guy doesn’t like lonely feeling games,” and then say either; “Well, that doesn’t matter to me.” OR “I don’t like lonely feeling mods too, I’m so glad I noticed.”
        You’re most basic mistake on this issue is that while you make claims about the competition being fictional, you still seem to place some sort of importance on the numeric value of the average review score for a game, when it’s only purpose is to give potential players a quick visual cue for their odds of liking or not liking a game.
        Just look at metascore, which has Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 as higher scoring than Orange Box, Baldur’s Gate 2, and Twilight Princess. IS SMG a BETTER game then? If that was the case, I personally wouldn’t think SMG should rank above any of those, I’m fairly confident you at least would agree that OB should be scoring above SMG, but they aren’t, because the average review score doesn’t really mean a damn thing about how good a game is on its own. To say that people shouldn’t let their personal preferences affect their actual score is to utterly defeat the only purpose that the average review score ever stood even half a chance of passably serving; getting the average impression of everyone’s opinions together as a whole.

        Or they can skip the notes and do whatever on Earth they want, as free individuals. Or should I guess that releasing a map/mod automatically makes the mapper a free tool for the community’s wishes?
        There’s no contract forcing mappers to reach a standard of quality in what they do, the same way there’s no contract telling them they should improve/listen/care at all. Some do (thank goodness!) some don’t. We have to accept that and move on.

        If ANYONE puts ANY work they do into the public view, then they need to be ready to receive as much criticism as praise. We don’t live in a sparkly fantasy world where unicorns fart rainbows. You telling people that they shouldn’t be criticizing wont stop it from happening, so all you’re doing is giving false expectations to modders and mappers that don’t know any better, and making it so they actually take the criticism personally instead of being able to just brush it off. It’s a skill that is needed to survive in the public view, and far too many people never develop it because they get coddled.
        Of course they have the right to respond to criticism, or ignore it completely, but when that person gets upset at someone’s opinion, it is the same as just coming out and saying “Your opinion matters to me” and if that’s the case, they have four options; cater to those people who are complaining or quit entirely, the third option of telling them that their opinion is wrong is just stupid (unless, as I mentioned before, that opinion was based on faulty facts) and wont accomplish anything except making you look like a douche no matter how correct you are, and the fourth option is to get over themselves and recognize that criticism happens and no single number can ever comprehensibly assess the quality of their work so there’s no point to bitching about it. It’s not that they don’t have the option to open their mouths, it’s merely that getting upset over something that is a normal occurrence, and in no way life altering, makes them look pathetic.

        A mapper is as entitled to dismiss/mock/bash/disrespect our reviews as we are of doing the exact same thing with his work. It works both ways.

        Here you are simply wrong. If I say that I loved or hated the experience I had with a game or mod, then provided I give ANY REASON AT ALL, no matter how stupid or opinionated, it acts to inform the author AND other players (BOTH those who would enjoy the game or not) about what reasons I had for liking it or not liking it. If my reason conflicts with the goals of the developers, then it can be ignored. If my reason comes across stupid, it can still be ignored by those who feel that way, but if someone feels they share my reasoning, they can be notified of that point.
        If the mod author likes or doesn’t like my review and responds to it, he or she accomplishes nothing. The only way that the modder/mapper can accomplish anything by responding to my review of their work is if they inform me of something I didn’t seem to know, or correct an erroneous fact that was used in my reasoning. Getting angry at a negative review or thankful for a positive review I gave does nothing.
        So no, it doesn’t work both ways.

        The ONLY time that a review is ever of actual poor quality is if that person only says “I enjoyed/hated/whatevered it” and then doesn’t give ANY supporting reasons, but a positive review doing this is of just as poor quality as a negative review doing it.

        I guess that’s a difference between you and me. I can spot what I’ll like and what I’ll dislike with just a few screenshots and get it right 90% of the time.

        I don’t give a crap about how a mod looks, but rather the gameplay involved, storytelling(if present) and pacing, none of which screenshots do anything for unless you investigate to a point in which you’ve essentially had the entire game spoiled for you.

        So which is it, enjoyment or quality? That last paragraph isn’t very clear on that.

        You’re right. I mistyped that because I was trying to wrap up quickly, it should have read like this:

        The people who are complaining about not enjoying the mod no longer qualify as even speaking towards the mapper, they are merely warning other PLAYERS about their chances of enjoying the mod.

        1. Kasperg

          Valid points most of them. However:

          If you can recognize that the competition is pointless, that’s great. Stay out of it and don’t tell other people how they should run the competition. Since it’s not pointless to them, they can decide how to run it.

          This sounds great, but when a mapper/modder’s intentions were not participating in that competition or giving 100% of their time or talent, we can’t just assume they ARE doing so and base our attacks in that.
          Sure, you can tell how a Sniperville or Hunterville entry doesn’t really work as one, but telling the author he didn’t make a good Sniperville when it wasn’t his intention? Waste of time!

          you still seem to place some sort of importance on the numeric value of the average review score for a game

          No, and I don’t know where I’ve given that impression. This whole time I’ve been talking about tough negative reviews, which was the original subject of this discussion. Words, not numbers.

          I’m fairly confident you at least would agree that OB should be scoring above SMG

          I really don’t beleive in scoring, seriously. SMG is a better Mario game than the Orange Box and the Orange Box contains better First Person shooters than SMG ever will. You can argue that one has more technical merit/ambition/replay value etc than the other, but what else?

          If ANYONE puts ANY work they do into the public view, then they need to be ready to receive as much criticism as praise. We don’t live in a sparkly fantasy world where unicorns fart rainbows.

          Being ready to receive criticism doesn’t mean having to like it or having to accept it and much less apply it. Big difference there.
          I think the case here is really knowing how to tell a constructive review from a destructive one.

          I don’t give a crap about how a mod looks, but rather the gameplay involved, storytelling(if present) and pacing, none of which screenshots do anything for

          And for me, an non-convincing visual setting is enough to kill my sense of immersion. When it’s actually convincing, an exagerated sensation of “been there done that” can be enough to make me not bother at all…
          If those feelings of immersion and interest in story/location are part of what I value in gameplay, all the fun and imagination in the world probably won’t change my mind about the impression screenshots give me 🙁
          That’s really why I see reviews the way I do. Crappy screenshots and 100 positive reviews still means crappy screenshots.
          You might ask me Why bother with a review if you think screenshots can tell it all?
          And that’s where I’d say: My review confirms the good looking screenshots represent the overall quality of the map/mod and it is in fact coupled with a gameplay/story etc component of similar quality, making the whole thing worth your time.

  4. Major Banter

    I feel it unneccessary to add another dissertation.

    As with all essays, a simple rule must be obeyed; PQC.

    Point, Quote, Comment.

    Make your point, give an example and explain your point thoroughly. By obeying this format you back up everything you say with cold, hard evidence – whether positive or negative. A review is always an opinion and rarely balanced; ergo, PQC is all the more important. The more it’s strayed from, the greater the bias is – that bias in turn could turn the review in a rant, the “yes man” or alternately utter bilge.

    My 2 pennies.

  5. There is no such thing as a FAIR review that is too tough.
    I always read Phillip’s posts and follow up comment.

    I do not read the long rants or ego trips. With regret, I find there are some.
    I read all others; in particular from reviewers I respect and who make their point(s) concisely. Happily there are some.
    I thoroughly recommend you read Major Banters comment above which very well written – and concise.

    Motivation: For fellow players who share my tastes. I read their comments and like to think they read mine.
    For the Authors; I try to be constructive if I can. Otherwise, I keep quiet.
    For PILs or better I like to thank the Author.

    Conciseness can make points efficiently.

  6. Pyro

    I like to judge a lot of things, such as level design and scripted sequences, based on my own ability. A lot of people tend to downgrade Combine Destiny, for instance, because of its poor level design. I saw a lot of myself in the mapping, and it seemed to honestly reflect my ability. I therefore greatly enjoyed the mod’s level design, because I can feel of a lot of atmosphere and a certain level of skill that went into making it.

  7. SPY

    i fully agree with what you said Phillip, it’s not so much what you say but more how you say it. as long as the critsism is honest, and constructive I always can live with it.
    although there is always a difference between what is personal taste and what does count for everyone. because even the review is “only ” the opinion of one guy.

    leon

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