Poll Question 131 – Should reviews always help the author?

11th July 2009

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

Let me clarify that this question is specifically is interested in community made maps and mods, not retail games, films or other forms of entertainment. Now, with that out of the way my answer is No. Reviews are reviews not feedback or beta testing responses. That said a lot can be learnt by the author if they listen carefully.

Target Audience

This is key. Who is the target audience of the review? In most cases it’s other players, in some cases it’s other mappers. In some aspects this question is closely related to Poll Question 129 – Do you prefer reviews by mappers or players?, but differs slightly.

On a recent broadcast of Podcast17 (I can’t remember exactly which episode) NOPK was discussing his review of Neotokyo with William and the other guests. Although slightly off topic, NOPK argued that his review was to entertain not to inform and without getting into the specifics, I generally agree with this statement.

If I pay to read a review then my expectations can be different, but since all the reviews on PlanetPhillip are free, as are the things they review, the reviewer really can say almost anything they want. Clearly I run the site with an iron fist and if somebody reviewed a map or mod without even mentioning it or was particularly abusive then I wouldn’t hesitate to delete it. My point? Reviews on PP are generally written for other players, not the mapper or author.

Not too long ago Kasperg mentioned a review of mine didn’t provide him with any useful information. (I just want to say that I am using this example as a general example, not picking on Kasperg) I disagreed but by the time I got around to thinking about replying I thought it was too late. I disagreed because, in this particular case, I stated exactly what I didn’t like, without saying how to improve it. Often saying you don’t like something IS feedback to the author, as is the number of downloads a mod gets, plus lots of other information.

I believe a review should provide information to other players, to tell them whether they should download and play a map or mod or not, not to explicitly provide feedback to the author.

Ideally, both should occur, but that assumes the reviewer knows how to improve things. Some players know what they like but don’t know why.

In some ways I feel a little presumptuous if I tell a mapper how to improve something. I currently can’t map or code 0r model or do anything, so why should I tell mappers what to do? All I can do is give you my opinion, and sometimes explain why I have that opinion, and let the reader decide if they like the sound of the map or not.

What do you think?

The Poll


  1. Kasperg

    This is an interesing question that arises because of the way PP works. In sites like Moddb, TWHL, Snarkpit etc, it’s mappers themselves who make an entry for their map and mod in question. With this knowledge, anyone reviewing knows that the authors will read it sooner or later. Since most of these sites take for granted that an amateur map or mod can always be worked on more (it’s not a closed issue like retail games were before patches became standard), any constructive feedback is thought of as useful.

    As a mapper myself, I can’t play a map without imagining the person who made it pulling the strings, and a reference to technical issues, suggestions or merely my subjective opinion on the process and the result is bound to show up in any review I make.

    The difference between subjective and objective opinions isn’t the same as the difference between useful and less useful feedback. Let me explain:
    An objective opinion regarding a map is usually the acknowledgement of something that is there for everyone to see and who every player will experience more or less in the same way. A subjective opinion is the actual impact of that something in each one of us. I could say that a map has objectively very few enemies, but the fact that I might like the atmosphere of solitude it conveys is entirely subjective. Another person could mention the same objective lack of enemies but argue how it subjectively makes for a very boring map.
    Exclusively subjective opinions can however be useful if they are positive. An author will be motivated by “I love it!” messages even if they don’t say much, but the effect of simple “I hated it” messages is in my opinion worthless.

    PP mentions how not liking something is feedback to the author, but without a reasonable explanation, and faced with opposite opinions of those who did like the exact same thing, I don’t see the useful feedback anywhere. Like I said in a previous poll question, a mapper is usually mapping for the personal enjoyment first, and the appreciation of others in second place. The likes and dislikes of other people can’t force a person to dedicate the huge amounts of time mapping requires to making something they as mappers don’t really like.

  2. Da Fat Cat

    A good review should both inform potential players and help the author. The review should be written for the players. They need to be warned about the flaws of the mod in addition to the better aspects of it. An author can use this information to improve their work.

    The players are the target audience of a review, not the author. That doesn’t mean the review can’t help them.

  3. firba1

    I have to say I said “yes,” but I don’t think that is the primary reason for reviews. Honestly, I find myself with less and less time to play mods and maps. In fact the first mod/map I’ve downloaded in almost a year was Mission Improbable. I was compelled to by the great number of 5 star and personal favorite reviews, as well as a Hall of Fame review from Phillip. So, I downloaded the mod. However, I was less impressed at this mod than most were. However, I feel that when I wrote my review it was the only one with a rating under 5 stars. I felt my purpose was to show my feelings on this mod so that others might be compelled, or not, to download and play it. These days I seldom play any mods that are not recommended greatly. So I feel, if I am going to write a review its essentially a bid for or against a mod’s worthiness to spend your time on. But I feel that feedback to the author is almost as important. If I don’t tell the author what I don’t like about their map or mod, I will never hope to find a map or mod from this person which I will like a lot.

  4. Mel

    I would not normally aim a review at the author, I tend to write for the prospective gamer, however I may add a comment of encouragements, thanks or request for more, also occasion may advise on how a sequence could have been designed better from a gameplay or visual point of view.

    So unless I have something specifically to say to the author my reviews center around the playing experience, what I found good, bad or indifferent hopefully giving a clear indication to other gamers what to expect.

    As for Kesperg response, make sense if a bit deep, I would only question one point i.e. “The likes and dislikes of other people can’t force a person to dedicate the huge amounts of time mapping requires to making something they as mappers don’t really like”.

    I don’t think that’s the point of anyone’s review, no one is seriously think that they can persuade an establish mapper to work on something he dislikes.

    The point here is that the most inexperience gamer/mapper has the ability so see something from a different view point, something in many cases the author overlooked or did not consider, what the author does with such feedback is not the concern of the reviewer.

  5. Jeff

    I write my comments to encourage players to play mods I enjoy, and warn when I think a mod has a narrow audience (like “just for players who love smashing fast zombies with an axe” for example).

    An attentive author, however, might be able to discern that I pretty much hate having to use only an axe when fighting fast zombies.

    I feel no obligation to help the author improve the mod, but I will offer advice when 1) I have a clear idea about what went wrong, 2) I think my ideas might be heard, and 3) I think the author has the skill to implement them.

  6. Kasperg

    What I mean is that given both subjective responses ( “Liked it” or “Didn’t like it”), the fact that someone didn’t like it with arguments that surpass the merely technical and functional aspects, is only valuable to other players but not authors. If some level designer has a particular fondness for zombies or antlions, all my “I hate zombies, I hate antlions” comments give an information to the author with which he can do very little.
    IF everyone who played a map or mod had to forcefully leave a comment, only then would there be some use for the subjective likes and dislikes in terms of something like surveys (favourite mod length, least liked enemies, preferred weapon etc).
    I like to use the Minerva example: How does my dislike for backtracking through whole maps or my preference for mods with talking ally NPCs serve as feedback for Adam Foster?
    I think feedback is useful when the player understands the intention with which the map or mod was made, not by comparing the actual mod with “the mod of my dreams”.

  7. Jasper

    I cannot vote because, for me anyway, there is a problem with the question: Should reviews always help the author? It is the inclusion of the word “always’. My comments, in order, are for:
    1. Other gamers.
    2. Authors of good maps so that I can show my appreciation.
    3. Authors of average maps so that I can show my appreciation but comment on elements I disliked.
    4. Authors of, in my opinion, bad maps and comment on why I thought so.
    5. Authors of awful maps, where, regrettably, I cannot help but be brusque and very definitely not helpful.
    This is a huge simplification but I do not want to drivel on and it makes my point.

  8. Mel

    What authors conceive has useful feedback is down to the individual and will be proportional to the experience of the mapper. I don’t see how it can be down to one person to define in general what is useful or not, you’re going to get authors that request feedback no matter what, other authors will be more discerning with feedback, some will ignore all, and it’s not that difficult to see this response in authors that release more then just a one-off.

    No review is going to make a good author better; at the most it can only point out something that may have not occurred to the author, something for future reference. Whether any review can make a bad mapper better is another subject, certainly constructive comments and advice from gamers and mapper alike can help a first timer.

    I don’t seek to influence authors, just enjoy commenting on how I felt playing their work, if in doing so the author find the content of some use then all the better.

  9. Kyouryuu

    I think it kind of goes back to what Kasperg said at the top. Not all authors check PP. I believe that if I know an author does, I’ll subconsciously tailor my comments toward the author first, player second. Otherwise, I’m just writing into the “void” that will never be read by an author, so then I’d focus on the player.

  10. Zockopa

    Probably I wouldve answered this question diffenrently ten years ago when a whole bunch of reviewsites were still alive, but nowadays it seems to me that SP-Mod and Map reviews are mostly adressed to potential players and that are not enough reviewers still reviewing who are mappers themselfes and can add another point of view to a review than that of a player.

    There are a few exceptions like Unrealsp for example but – as sad as it is – SP-Mod players are a small minority. They always were but now even much smaller than ten years ago. However,i think some kind of feedback is anticipated by a mapper/modder who spent a lot of time and work for the ppl out there. If its a review or just a mail.

    Some mappers get easily pissed by critizism of any kind,others are more open minded. Its clear that reviews not always help but at least its a way to reach the public. In fact I think a map/mod review is – if positive – the best advertisement this kind of work can get.

  11. Berrie

    Most reviews (for mods and maps) have other players as the target.
    A reviewer tests the mod/map and states why and what he/she liked or disliked. This mostly benefits people interested in getting the product.
    But depending on how much the reviewer delves into, a author can get quite a bit of feedback out of it.

    So no a review shouldn’t always help the author. But a good review can and will contain things the author can use.

    Perhaps authors need to look at other avenues to get feedback. Through things like a feedback (sub)-forum (when you have a forum) or perhaps a simple survey.

  12. Kasperg

    A review directed at players can still have a lot of useful information for the author but as I mentioned before only if the aspects discussed aren’t a total matter of opinion. Of course, I understand that each person likes different things even if they like the same HL games but for that same reason, a review directed at players will only be useful to a certain group of players that think and have the same tastes as the reviewer.

  13. reaper47

    Well, with all these (interesting) question I usually arrive at: Why not both?

    The main problem of a mapper/modder is that he will never get that “first impression” a map creates for a player. He will always have the blueprint, the entity work and all the background story he might have made up in his head. No matter how hard you try, after testing your map for the gazillionth time, you will unconsciously follow a pattern, play certain parts the same way over and over again without realizing you could play them completely differently (and break the map 🙂 ).

    But even less mechanical things like “atmosphere” fall into this category. Some of my favorite reviews just describe the FEELING the reviewer had when playing it. It’s often hard to put into words, but if done right, it might give both players and designers an invaluable look into the kind of experience a map/mod provides. Maybe even the subconscious part…

    I doubt mappers are really looking for feedback like “the scripted_sequence that triggers the func_breakable was canceled to early”, at least not at sites like this.

    A good mapper should instead try hard to interpret even the more abstract information hidden in a review. If that information is missing, however, the review is neither particularly interesting to the designer nor the player.

  14. TigerTom

    Simple answer: it depends on the intended audience of the review.

  15. reviews from other mappers should be geared towards helping the author, reviews from players should be geared towards giving a fair recommendation to other players and stating what issues they had with a map in the hopes of seeing those aspects improved/fixed.

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