Talkin’ Games at the Hatchery

The Scheme Hatchery is a strange beast. Andy and I originally created it as a sort of home base of operations for our work on Gemini and whatever else we came up with (such as the pseudo-weekly Mercy’s Shadow). It also gave us a place to review comics, an important process since I was writing Gemini and Mercy’s Shadow before I was reading comics with any sort of regularity, and doing reviews seemed like a good way to get me up to speed on the medium. But I’m probably not surprising the regular Schemers when I say that I’m a games man first and a comics man second. My first games-related piece here was a critique of the so-called comedy in Borderlands 2, which was very much in keeping with the idea that The Scheme Hatchery was a place to do more in-depth discussion of pop culture and, as Andy put it, contribute to the ongoing discussion occurring on the internet instead of just being another voice shouting amongst the masses. As a deconstruction of the game’s writing, my Borderlands piece felt right at home amongst my articles detailing some of my own processes in creating Gemini and felt like the kind of editorial piece you wouldn’t necessarily get at a proper games site.


At that time, the only reviews on the site were our Scheme Team discussions of Wonder Woman and X-O Manowar, and the back-and-forth nature of those pieces made them something very unique to the site, an organic combination of consumer advice and our own personalities. The format itself is in use elsewhere (such as at The A.V. Club) but that particular combination of personalities isn’t, which is why the Scheme Team reviews remain a personal (and fan) favorite. Not long after we dished on X-O Manowar, I produced the site’s first solo review, an account of some time spent with Don’t Starve. My main motivation for writing the review was that it was the rare game that I happened to be playing very close to release (as a PC gamer I can usually pick games up on the cheap a few months after release), so I figured I would put this situation to good use and produce some timely consumer advice. Not long after that review went up, Andy introduced the Comixology Submit Roundup, an ongoing feature that provides some up-or-down verdicts on a handful of fresh indie comics. Inspired by the success of the Roundup, I made a point to review more small or indie games at launch, ultimately tackling Stardrive, Reus, Divekick, Octodadand CloudbuiltAnd this week, I was sitting down to hammer out a review of the larger but still somewhat niche Age of Wonders 3 when I had a look at a recent talk given by Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann in which he mentions the fading relevance of game reviews in an era where large chunks of uninterrupted gameplay footage are available through Quick Looks or Let’s Plays or what have you. More importantly, he talks about his struggles in finding the right tone for reviews, specifically between writing a game review as an objective assessment versus an account of the reviewer’s specific experience.


Gerstmann’s trajectory is actually the perfect thing to look at when thinking about what I want out of our games-related content at the Scheme Hatchery. Gerstmann first made a name for himself at Gamespot, which I grew up reading and a site whose dry, objective take on reviews during the early 2000’s lives on in my own reviews. Now Gerstmann runs the slightly zanier Giant Bomb, whose 5-star review setup I borrowed for my own game reviews before deciding to replace it with a three-tiered “play it, skip it, consider it” scheme for Cloudbuilt (which earned a “skip it”). And just as Gerstmann mulls over the role that scored reviews will continue to play at his site, I wonder if my decision to remove the 5-star scoring system is indicative of a desire to do something a little more personal with our games coverage here. After all, there are plenty of sites offering “objective” written reviews and plenty of ways to see a game in action before making a purchasing decision, so am I really contributing a lot to the discussion by adding yet another review? I’d love to tell you what I think of a game and help you play the winners and skip the clunkers, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way to go about it than a multi-paragraph review.


I think the answer is to use the games I play as inspiration for articles rather than straight reviews. For example, I could review Age of Wonders 3, or I could use my time with the game as a launching point for a look at the history of the turn-based strategy genre and detailing my experience over the years with the CivilizationHeroes of Might and Magic, and Age of Wonders franchises. Or instead of adding yet another Diablo 3 review to the internet, I could discuss in great detail how the first two games in the Diablo franchise demonstrated some incredible storytelling techniques that have been all but forgotten in the series’ mos recent outings. These kinds of articles would allow me to talk about newly released games, but shifts the focus from consumer advice to more genuine criticism and personal reflections, would be more in line with our mission to be more than just another shouting voice on the internet.


But I also want to keep you in the loop about what’s out there, even if there’s not enough for a big ol’ article about it. While the time and monetary investments needed even for small indie games make the “grab-bag” approach we do in the Comixology Submit Roundup unsuitable for games, I’d like to somehow check in every now and then and let you know what I’ve been playing (like a mini version of my end-of-the-year roundup) so you at least have an idea of what to go look up elsewhere. Unfortunately, the current site layout, which favors big, somewhat infrequent posts, poses some implementation problems, but I’m sure we’ll work something out eventually. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you all have to say about the game reviews as they currently are. Would you miss them if I stopped creating them in favor of articles? Are they bits of helpful consumer advice? Do they increase your understanding of game design and criticism? Are they just noise against the larger internet backdrop? Feel free to leave a comment below, use the contact form on the front page, or harangue me on Twitter @peezmachine.


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