Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How I Purchase and Review Indie Games

As of the writing of this post, I ingest Indie Games on two platforms: WiiWare and PC. XBOX Live and the PS3 are fine services, but my narrowness is defined both by personal taste and financial restriction. I'm not here to play every game ever, just offer my opinion on the games I do choose to play.

I obtain these games via three avenues, ordered by preference thusly:

1. WiiWare
2. Play Greenhouse
3. Steam

If a game is available for both WiiWare and PC, I will play the WiiWare version, (though I might demo it on the PC first), for two reasons: 1) I like playing games on the Wii console, (duh), and 2) I want to support Nintendo's Internet efforts. Yes, Nintendo is already a big successful corporation without my dollar votes, but they have that oh-so-Japanese tendency to completely misunderstand and fear the Internet so I want to encourage these baby-steps.

On the the PC, I want to encourage the Greenhouse because of its relationship with Penny Arcade, a pair of men who have become an important voice in the gaming world. So if a game is available on both Steam and Greenhouse, I'm purchasing it from the Greenhouse because that's where I want my dollar votes to go. After them, however, Steam is still an absolutely wonderful service, and insanely comprehensive.

In the case of PC games, I will not purchase a game that does not offer a demo. In this day and age, not offering a demo is patently stupid. If grocery stores can hand out free samples of food, game developers can hand out free samples of game. Why ignore the opportunity to get shoppers excited about/addicted to your product?

Further, my reviews will discuss the merits of the offered demo, and how well it sells the game. I will also review demos that fail to sell me on a purchase. I want to blog about this because nobody else is, and I think it is an interesting discussion to have. The point of reviewing Indie Games is that I want to help expose the industry, so it follows that I want to see it improve. Proper use of demos is a skill some small game developers lack.

Beyond all this, my standard rules for reviewing apply. My love of games is really a love of problem solving, and games are simply an artistic expression of that activity. Like with everything, I have broad tastes, but I gravitate toward certain genres.

I like strategy and puzzles most, most often in a turn-based environment. This is not a mainstream inclination, I know, which should explain my investment in Indie Gaming, where my tastes are rewarded more often. I'd like to say I like RPGs, but that is a complicated matter, one to be expounded upon in later posts. After that there really isn't any kind of game I don't like, but they have to be mechanically interesting and innovative in some way, and I have to be asked to think and problem solve or I'm going to glaze over and get bored.

About This Blog

At the end of the day this is just a personal blog, but to say so might be misleading. This will not be a place for me to dump my sorrows or my joys or my cat pictures. If you want that, check out my Facebook profile.

At its heart, this blog is two things:

1. Intellectual release for myself.
2. Intellectual stimulation for you.

At this beginning, the content of this blog is going to focus on reviews of media I happen to ingest. I am not looking to be an authoritative nor comprehensive voice. If it is something I read, watch, listen to or play with, I will jot down my thoughts about it here and that will be that. I will try to be critical and thoughtful, but ultimately this blog is just my personal perspective. Think of it as an archive of word-of-mouth.

Now, I will potentially write about anything, but anymore most of my brain-time is used either reading books or playing games, so that is what you will find in most abundance here. Movie reviews will appear with the next highest abundance, but they will be a distant third.

For more detailed information on what I am doing when I review something, read my other posts on the matter:

What My Reviews Are and Are Not
How I Purchase and Review Indie Games
How I Purchase and Review Books

This blog is not really meant to be timely. It is timely only in that it chronicles what I, personally, am doing with my brain at a given point in time. As I mean this blog to be more or less an archive of personal thought and not a news feed, I have labeled some posts as "Essential" and offered them with links on this blog's sidebar. These essential posts are meant to give you the ground rules on my opinions and train of thought so that you can dive into whatever posts you want in whatever order and still understand how to interpret them, distorted as they are through the lens of my mind.

Bear in mind that the scope of this blog will expand as time goes on. The real focus is "intellectual release" - which means that even in these early stages I will sometimes do "the blog thing" and write about what other people are blogging/doing and what my moral/political/artistic/etc thoughts on it are. At the end of the day I'll still just be sharing "what I do with my brain."

How I Purchase and Review Books

I have a reserve of books that I intend to read left over from my days working in a used book store. Used book stores, ultimately, are the primary source of my books. I read both fiction and non-fiction. My criteria for purchasing a book is that it looks interesting to me. What you are left with is eclecticism.

Sort of.

My non-fiction tastes have narrowed to history first and science second. I'm not just reading "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" over and over again, however. Sure, war can be interesting, but there is much more to human civilization than its occasional fits of self-destruction. I try to keep things a bit more broad. In general I'm guided by a desire to know more about the things I don't know anything about.

My fiction tastes generally see me reading science fiction and fantasy. If you are unwilling to accept these as literature, than you and my blog are probably not going to get along. Not to say that some of the books I read aren't fluff, (this goes for non-fiction as well). God forbid I ever enjoy myself.

I move from book to book guided simply by what I feel like picking up next. Often this is influenced by some little idea the previous book got in my head. In fact this thread of thought might yet make for an interesting post some day.

The early days of this blog will give off the impression that I am a reading machine. I am not. I simply have a backlog of books to review. Given my goal of making this place an "archive" I can't imagine a problem.

What My Reviews Are and Are Not

Let's begin by hewing off the edges and defining my reviews by recognizing what they are not:

Current - I review media as I ingest it, not as it is released. Currency may occur. It will be coincidental.
Numeric - I will not give anything a score. This isn't some protest against hierarchy, but recognition that the content of my review is the score. I'm not an industry mag. My goal may be exposure, but not sales.
Comprehensive - I am not out to read and play everything. I'm just sharing my thoughts on the things I do. Similarly, I am putting as much effort into each review as I feel like. Sometimes I will gush. Sometimes I will give you two paragraphs. Or two sentences. Sometimes I will analyze a piece of art like I'm writing a term paper. Other times I will say that it is "neat."
Singular - I might review the same thing more than once, or more than one thing at a time. The former will happen a lot with games, as I might opine differently after more play, (you are never truly finished playing a game). The latter will happen more commonly with movies and books.

As for what they are, my reviews are meant to be useful or interesting. I'm not trying to sell you a game or a book, but I'm hoping my thoughts on the matter might better inform you. Personal tastes will vary. I will try to frame things with comparisons so that I am easier to interpret. I will always balance fun and entertainment with mechanics and form. I will recognize the value of both novelty and chaos, and of discipline and execution. I will not be fair. Instead I will be honest.