Like watching someone enthusiastically geek out and/or hearing about brilliant engineering? HAVE I GOT A POST FOR YOU!
If you've read my last post, you'd know that I'm a pretty huge car nerd. I'm also one who likes pretty much anything. As far as I see it, a good car is a good car. It doesn't matter who makes it. This makes me a rarity in most car communities. Most car people, it seems, like particular makes of car and/or countries that make them. They also dislike particular makes of car and/or countries that make them. I just like cars. Thinking this way is weird, apparently.
There's also a good deal of groupthink, especially when it comes to what they hate. Of all the marques currently making cars, there's one that is almost universally viewed as the epitome of what a car should not be by the people who describe themselves as enthusiasts: Lexus. Ask most car guys what they think of Lexus, they'll admit that they're well engineered and beautifully put together followed by a condemnation of the brand, using words like “boring”, “beige” and “soulless”. As far as they're concerned, a Lexus only exists to eliminate all involvement from the act of driving. A Lexus is a car for people who don't want to notice that they're even at the wheel.
Less a car and more a living room that takes you where you need to go
I, on the other hand, like Lexus a lot. Yes, almost all their cars sensory deprivation tanks and offer nothing for people who like to drive, and as such I don't really want one, but a Lexus is a really great car. Toyota has some of the best engineering minds in the business, and when they design a Lexus, they do so with an obsessive attention to detail. Every component, no matter how small, is the way it is because it's what they deemed to be the best way to make the car as quiet, comfortable and refined as is possible. And the obsessiveness doesn't end when the design is finalized. The cars are built to the highest quality standards in the industry. These guys are really anal about quality control. They count the number of stitches in the seats and on the steering wheel and if there's even just one too many or too few, the car gets sent back. The gaps between the doors are measured with a laser and if they're off by as little as 1/1000th of a millimeter, the car gets sent back. They have specially trained inspectors who do nothing but push every button in each car, making sure it depresses with the correct resistance, bounces back correctly, and makes the proper sound. If a button doesn't, it gets sent back. They build cars the way NASA builds spacecraft, and I respect them hugely for that.
And now for the car this post is about, Lexus' supercar, the LFA. Most enthusiasts, it seems, don't take this car seriously, and when you look at the performance figures, it's easy to see why. The first thing a supercar must do, above all else, is be as fast as the laws of physics allow, and when compared to other supercars, the LFA doesn't fare too well, especially when you factor in the price. 350,000 dollars is a lot of money for a car that's slower than most other cars of this type, including many that cost a whole lot less. I was a bit disappointed, too. I was expecting to be blown away by the numbers this car would produce, since it's a supercar made by those genius obsessives at Lexus, but I wasn't. I, like everyone else, wondered what the point of this car was, why they even bothered making it in the first place. Once I learned what Lexus set out to do with this car, though, and what they did to achieve it, I fell madly in love.
Be still my heart
Lexus didn't set out to build the fastest car they possibly could. Their goal with the LFA was to build the greatest driver's car that the world has ever seen. And that's the best bit of thinking behind a car I have ever heard. To achieve this, Toyota gave their best engineering minds an unlimited amount of time and essentially infinite resources, and after ten years and, if the rumors are to be believed, somewhere between 200 and 400 million dollars, they created something truly amazing.
The car's detractors have a tendency to say that the car lacks “soul” and there was no “passion” in its creation, without actually saying what “soul” and “passion” mean. They'll usually say something about a Ferrari having both and then reminding everybody that the LFA is a Lexus. The thing is, though, the LFA has more “passion” behind its creation than any car since, well, probably ever. The LFA is exactly what all truly great cars tend to be: one man's vision of what a car should be like. The chief engineer, Haruhiko Tanahashi, spent 10 years of his life with his team of engineers doing the Lexus thing and obsessing over every conceivable detail of the car and making sure that they all make the driving experience as enjoyable as is possible.
This is where I start geeking out.
Let's start with the most amazing thing in the car: the engine, which produces 552 horsepower. But that's not what makes it so amazing. Everything else about it does. Tanahashi wanted a high-revving engine, so he went to the best people he had access to for such an motor: both Toyota's Formula One team and Yamaha. The engine they produced is, in my opinion, the greatest engine ever fitted to a road car. It's a 4.8 liter V10 with ten independently computer controlled throttle bodies mounted inside an intake box that continuously changes its internal geometry to optimize the pressure of the air as it enters into the engine. It's smaller than Toyota's V8 and lighter than their V6. The light weight comes from the engine being built out of the lightest materials that could withstand the forces involved. The block is machined out of a solid block of forged aluminum aluminum alloy, the valve covers are made from magnesium, the pistons are forged aluminum and are connected to forged titanium connecting rods. The valves are also made from titanium and are actuated by rocker arms that have been coated in DLC-Si (diamond-like carbon with silicon) to reduce friction and increase wear resistance. The low reciprocating mass means the engine redlines at 9000 RPM going on to a fuel cutoff at 9500, which is quite high for an engine like this, but that's not what blows my mind. That would be how unbelievably fast this thing revs. It goes from idle to 9000 RPM in six tenths of a second. So fast that they had to use a digital tachometer, since an analog one simply couldn't keep up with how quickly it builds revs.
And this being the engine for a driver's car, it had to make a great noise, and thanks to an induction box and manifold-back titanium exhaust that was acoustically tuned by Yamaha's musical instruments division, it, well, just listen.
I need a cigarette after that, especially after watching it downshift at 7 grand. I like the noise it makes so much that it's my ringtone.
And on to the rest of the car. To keep weight down, they originally intended to make the car out of aluminum, which they then decided was to heavy, so they scrapped all the work they did and started from scratch to make it out of carbon fiber. To keep the center of gravity low, they needed to make the pillars supporting the windshield as light as possible, which led to them building one of only two dual-tube rotary looms in the world to weave a tube within a tube out of individual strands of carbon filament. And that's not all they did to keep the center of gravity low. The engine is mounted so low they had to invent a new system which uses a counter gear connected to the crankshaft spinning a now elevated carbon fiber torque tube that sends power into a six speed automated manual transaxle. The result of all this is a center of gravity that is only 17 3/4” above the ground, and the rear-mounted gearbox and radiators and an engine with all the ancillaries located on the back of the engine place it horizontally directly below the steering wheel. On top of this, the entire drivetrain, the engine, the torque tube and the transaxle, is connected to the car via mounts at the geometric extremes of the assembly which eliminates the twisting and flex that the engine's torque would otherwise cause on both the unit and the chassis.
Then there's the trademark Lexus obsessive attention to detail, this time used for good, not evil. The car originally had one of those new and awesome dual-clutch transmissions, which was replaced by a more primitive single clutch H-pattern transmission. This was done for two reasons, one was to reduce the mass the engine would have to spin, which helps it rev as quickly as it does. The other reason is one I love: because the dual clutch transmission would change gears so quickly as to appear seamless, which Tanahashi felt detracted from the driving experience because it removed the sensation of changing gears. And on the subject of changing gears, the paddle that initiates a downshift requires you to pull it with greater force than than the one you use to upshift, which they did to make it feel like you're interacting with the transmission on a mechanical level instead of just, well, flicking paddles. Also, when the vehicle dynamics computer is set into sport mode, the digital tachometer compresses the lower end of the RPM range to give the driver a more accurate readout of engine speed at high revs. My favorite example, though, of their consideration of every last bit of the car that is so thorough they did things that no sane person would ever think to do, is the steering wheel. They made the bottom of the wheel heavier than the top, which means the wheel returns to center in a more smooth and linear way.
You know the president of Toyota? That Japanese man you keep seeing on TV solemnly apologizing? Well, he was part of a team that drove this car in a 24 hour endurance race held on the world's most grueling circuit. They placed 4th in their class. A feat that would make him the world's most awesome businessman if the CEO of Aston Martin wasn't on the team that placed first.
I'm leaving a lot out, like the six-piston 15 inch carbon ceramic brakes and the aerodynamics that cause almost all the air that the car comes in contact with at speed to either create downforce, feed the engine's intake or cool the various components that need cooling. And it's also available in two different shades of brown, which now that I think about is something I'm probably alone in thinking is amazing.
I can't remember the last time a modern car has excited me to such a degree, so when I went to the New York auto show today, I made sure I saw it. I actually saved it for last, so I could spend as much time as I wanted with it. So there I was, standing in a huge crowd of people, watching the very same flat black LFA I've seen a million times in pictures and on video spin around on its display, in my own little car nerd slice of heaven. This period of bliss lasted for roughly two minutes when the guy next to me saw the child-like giddy expression on my face and asked me “How can you be excited by this? It's a Lexus, and it's slower than a Corvette ZR-1 which costs a third as much.” I spent the next few minutes telling him everything I've written above about the car. When I had finished, he didn't say a word. He just stood there like I was, staring at this incredible machine in awed silence. After a little while, he turned to me and said “even though I could never afford one, I sure am glad it exists.”
I love games, quite a bit in fact, but when it comes to things I'm passionate about, they're a distant second to my life's obsession: cars. I love cars so much that they're the one thing I'm interested in where I can't keep my nerd tendencies in check. I love pretty much everything about them, and I love pretty much all of them. A lot. To levels that are kind of scary. I've sort of declared myself an enemy of the green movement because of how they've demonized cars and one of the reasons why I know my girlfriend loves me is because she plays along when I geek out and launch into some impassioned sermon about how amazing and brilliant things like Wankel engines and the hydropneumatic suspension in the Citroen DS are. I am a total and complete car fanboy. It's a sickness.
The great thing about being someone who self-identifies as both a raving loony car nerd and a gamer is there's a game made specifically for raving loony car nerds: Gran Turismo. Even though the amazing experiences I had with Grand Theft Auto IV and Uncharted 2 are what made me decide to start blogging about games in the first place, Gran Turismo is where I've always gone to do that thing that gamers love to do: live out a fantasy. While it might be fun to pretend that you're a hardened criminal shooting his way through New York's underworld or are cheating death as a globetrotting treasure hunter, I don't actually want to do either of those things. What I do want, though, is have a garage full of hundreds of cars that I can drive like a maniac around the world's greatest circuits, once I'm done tinkering with them, of course. I don't want to know what it feels like to be shot at. I do, though, want to know what it feels like to reduce a grown man to tears by introducing him to a world where his Corvette Z06 is 3 seconds a lap slower around Laguna Seca than my brown 1988 Honda Accord. This is what Gran Turismo lets me do, and my god, I love it.
The reason why Gran Turismo is such a great game for obsessive gearheads is the man behind the series, Kazunori Yamauchi, is the world's most obsessive gearhead. And obsessive really is the right word. Yamauchi and his team at Polyphony Digital make the games with an attention to detail you just don't see in other racing games or pretty much any other games, for that matter. I often hear people say that the car lists in the GT games are artificially inflated with different trim levels of the same car (“Gran Turismo 5 will have 1000 cars, and only 50 of them are Skylines!”), but the thing that Gran Turismo does that puts it miles beyond all other racing games is that Polyphony is actually able to discern the differences between different versions of the same car and reproduce them faithfully in game, no matter how subtle. And then there's the tuning. Most racing games these days let you modify cars, some even do the “buying and installing parts” thing better than GT, but no other racing game I've played outside of those ridiculous PC racing sims has done tuning, getting in there and adjusting the settings of those parts you just bought, as well as GT does. You can actually feel the difference in how the car behaves between one fraction of a degree of suspension geometry and the one next to it, especially if you're playing with a 900 degree force feedback wheel, even if it's a minute one.
And this is what keeps me hopelessly addicted to the Gran Turismo games: that never-ending pursuit of perfection. The hours spent going back and forth between two barely different spring rates, trying to decide if the slight reduction in understeer is worth the increased risk of losing control on rough pavement. To some, maybe even most, this may sound tedious, or even the opposite of fun, but to people like me who like that sort of thing, it's bliss.
Which brings me to the horrible, painful thing about being a Gran Turismo fan: the waiting. That endless cycle of delays, each one more agonizing than the last. It's that obsessive attention to detail, the thing that makes the GT games so great, that's causing the delays, which makes them even more maddening, because that means the game is delayed because Yamauchi wants it to be perfect.
The wait for Gran Turismo 5 has been particularly bad. It's not just the five years we've all been waiting in which we've seen all three Forza games be released. It's that GT5 looks to be the game Gran Turismo fans have always dreamed of, one with damage modeling, AI that behaves like racing drivers and not a train, online multiplayer, incredibly advanced driving physics that takes pretty much everything that can influence a car and how it performs into account, even how dense the air is, one thousand cars with interiors including, finally, Ferraris, more diverse racing types including WRC and NASCAR, every track able to be raced on at night, in the rain, or both, a downloadable video service where you can watch automotive and racing programming from around the world and the deepest level of customization ever in a racing game, with “every conceivable part” yours to swap, upgrade and tweak to your heart's content. It's like waiting for the love of your life to come home after a long time abroad, only to see them get stuck out there again and again for years.
GT5 Prologue made things even worse, since it showed us how amazing the game looks and how brilliant the new driving model is. I made the mistake of playing it, and it feels so much better than GT4 does, so much better in fact that it ruined the actual driving part of GT4 for me. And I can't just play GT5P, since that's pretty much all it is, the driving, with only a handful of cars and tracks and only rudimentary level of tuning. It's a tease, and a horrible, nightmarishly frustrating one at that.
So what I've done in the meantime is to do the unthinkable and play other games to try to fill the Gran Turismo shaped hole. It's been a long succession of games that while good, are just not what I so desperately need. It was fun running a racing team in GRID, but there was no customization other than your livery and sponsor decals. I enjoyed how Need For Speed Shift was so immersive that it made a driving model that wasn't actually all that realistic feel pretty damn real, but there were only a handful of cars, the upgrades you could do to your car were broken (installing a bigger turbo, a higher flow intercooler, the associated plumbing that moves air more efficiently and a new engine management system to make the most of those additions adds a lot more than three more horsepower), and the tuning might as well have not been in the game. And then there was the series that this blog entry is actually about: Forza Motorsport.
Forza, as you all know, is Microsoft's take on the Gran Turismo formula. It does all of the things GT does, so this should be what I'm after, but for me it never has been. The first two were good games, don't get me wrong, but there was something off to me about them. It did all the Gran Turismo stuff, just not as well. The car selection was never as good and the cars that were there weren't made with the same attention to detail dedicated to capturing the essence of what the car is like to drive, a problem made worse the driving model, which lacked feel, which led to the double-whammy of cars of similar specification essentially being the same to drive and a tuning system that was a bit of a guessing game where you only had to be close to the ideal settings to optimize your car which made finding a car that is perfectly suited to your driving style nearly impossible, so I never really felt attached to any of my cars. “I wish this is more like Gran Turismo” is not what I want going through my head while playing a game. It's my own damn fault, falling in love with GT like I have, making it into some sort of ideal game, if only in my head.
So when Forza 3 was released, I didn't give it much thought. It just seemed like more of the same, just with more cars and tracks. A good game that just wasn't as good as Gran Turismo. Not even getting it as a Christmas present could get me interested, so outside of a couple brief play sessions it just sat on the shelf. One of my other presents, a Logitech G25, a brilliant piece of hardware that both enhanced GT4 and GT5P exponentially and could not be used with Forza, was the final nail in the coffin. And then, the other day, the new GT5 trailer hit the internet and those new and better Gran Turismo cravings came back, harder than ever. In my desperation, I sat down with Forza 3 again, and somehow I was able to see it not as what I thought it was, a second-rate imitation GT, but what it actually was, a game that does what GT does, just in its own way that, while different, is just as enjoyable. I wasn't playing it because it was like Gran Turismo, I was playing it because it was like Forza 3.
It was the realization that Forza does some things better than Gran Turismo that made the whole thing exciting, but in a naughty sort of way. It felt like I was cheating on my beloved GT, that I had found something new and wonderful, something to go to when I wanted a little sumthin-sumthin on the side, something that Gran Turismo just wasn't giving me. The first thing is it's actually enjoyable with a controller, while a wheel has pretty much been mandatory for Gran Turismo since GT4. And then there's the thing I really like, the customization. You can upgrade a huge variety of parts in Forza, which makes it incredibly satisfying. I can't even begin to explain how happy it makes me to choose from a multitude of engine components instead of just buying “NA Tune 2”. Your control over how the car behaves doesn't come after you buy the parts, it comes with the buying of the parts itself. And then there's the customization option I love the most: engine and drivetrain swaps. Where Gran Turismo required you to hack the game with a Gameshark to swap engines or convert a car from front to rear wheel drive, swaps like this are just a standard part of customization in Forza. I had finally found a game where I could quickly and easily make the stupid yet wonderful monster cars I had always wished I could. I mean, this is a game that lets you drop the V8 out of a Corvette into an Aveo. And that is AWESOME.
One thing I didn't expect to find was a tuning system that actually works, with even more control over your settings than GT has. I now have even more variables to obsess over, and more to obsess over makes me very happy indeed. While the changes you make aren't as apparent as they are in GT, I can still tell what impact the changes I just made have had on the car. And tailoring a stupid car to my driving style gives me that sense of attachment to my cars that I loved so much from GT. I'm not driving the car because the numbers say it's faster, I'm driving it because I like it better than the others, because it is mine. Which is why I'm using the Mitsubishi FTO I bought for the F class championship for 6 grand that I stripped out, dropped the engine out of an Evo in (modified to put out over 700 horsepower, obviously) and converted to all wheel drive, with a 15/85 split front to rear and brakes that lock up the rear wheels and make the thing do hairpins like you wouldn't believe to eat Vipers in the R3 championship using the magic of over 700 horsepower in a car that weighs 2500 pounds and changes directions like a gnat.
As good as I'm finding playing Forza 3 on its own merits to be, there still are lots of things in Gran Turismo that I prefer. Forza's car selection is extensive and varied, but all but a few of the cars are “good”, as in they're logical performance car choices. One of the things I love most about GT is taking a POS econobox that doesn't belong on a racetrack and transforming it into something that can blow the doors off of cars that were purpose built for performance driving. In Forza you can just make fast cars fast, which is still good, just not as rewarding as making something out of nothing. The tuning, while excellent, lacks the feedback that GT has, like I said before, which makes it somewhat less engaging. And the driving physics, while great, are a bit too forgiving at times. I've been able to make it through screwups with little penalty that should have caused me to drop 5 places, which makes the driving feel less rewarding. I want to win a race knowing I won because of how well I drove, not because the game let me get away with things I shouldn't have gotten away with.
Overall, though, I'm quite pleased with Forza, and even more pleased with my realization that the Forza and Gran Turismo can coexist, since they're both provide different enough experiences which are both rewarding in their own ways. I went looking for a game to replace my favorite game while I waited for the next installment but instead I found a new friend to spend time with. And I'm really happy that I did.
Somebody has said something about a game that is different than how you feel about it or given it a review score that you deem to be too low or too high. You're mad. You're screaming at them, telling them they're “bias” toward one thing or another, that they said it to troll for hits, that they're on the payroll of a publisher or manufacturer. If you have ever reacted to a review, blog entry or forum post in this fashion, read on and educate yourself.
Adults, having a mature conversation.
The first thing you need to realize that the assumption that a mature adult thinks the same way you do is false, that just because you have irrational feelings towards certain games or consoles does not mean that everybody else feels the same way about those that they do or do not like. If an adult enjoys or dislikes a game, it is because they enjoyed it or they disliked it. It is as simple as that. It is not because, as you may think, they too have an irrational connection to a particular console or game, or that they, like you, have some secret agenda. An adult considers your way of thinking to be childish and moronic, which it is.
Now, what I'm about to say may seem to you to be impossible or even blasphemous, but it is important for you to understand. An adult is capable of liking multiple things that you may seem to think are in opposition to each other. Where you may, for example, only like the Xbox 360 and feel that the PS3 is inferior in every way and that no game on it can possibly be good, an adult is capable of liking both. It's a strange idea to you, I know, but it's how things are. You see, an adult's world view isn't as narrow as yours is, nor do they feel that the thing they have or like is the only good thing and that a game or console that competes with it is not horrible and must be destroyed.
This next part will probably be the hardest for you to comprehend, but it is something you must come to understand. An adult does not think about things in binary extremes, the way you do, which is to say they are capable of complex opinions. Where you may only be capable of undying love and seething hatred, an adult can like something only a little, and most importantly, an adult can dislike things about something they like or like things about something they do not. This is because they, unlike you, are not idiots and have a grasp on reality, which you do not.
This was not intended to be a comprehensive text on the subject of how mature adults are, but it should provide you, the fanboy, with a basic understanding of how sane people think. Unless you're a retard, which, if you are a fanboy, you most likely are, which means you should just shut the fuck up and let the adults talk.
Even though I've played games for 24 of my 28 years on this planet, I wasn't really passionate about them until fairly recently. I've always loved them and loved playing them, but for most of my life they've been little more than my preferred source of entertainment, the thing I'd do to pass the time in the same way people watch TV. I'd play them, talk to people about them and read about them, but I never really thought about them beyond deciding what I wanted to play. After all, why would I? For most of gaming's history, the majority of games were just that, games, a type of toy or puzzle that you'd play with to amuse yourself. They certainly weren't something you'd do if you wanted to feel something beyond the joy of victory or the frustration of defeat. The reason was simple: I lacked emotional involvement because the majority of games weren't showing us what they were truly capable of; that amazing, wondrous thing they can do that no other form of entertainment can: draw you into another world where you can live another life and do the things you've always dreamed of doing. Most games seem like they would have been doing this on paper, since they weren't really that different at a fundamental level than the games of today, and a few of them did, but for the most part the technology wasn't there. Developers were shackled by the limitations of what the hardware could do. In the past decade, and this generation in particular, most of those limitations have disappeared and the creative minds behind those games could do pretty much whatever they wanted to. The only limit that remained was their imagination. Games, to me and to many others like me, had stopped being something you played with for fun. They had become something you experienced, involving you on a level a million miles beyond any passive form of entertainment.
My new-found excitement about games coincided with the rise of the online gaming press and gaming communities, but my enthusiasm for them was lacking. I wanted hear how people felt about the games they were playing, and share my feelings with them, and debate and discuss the things these games were doing that made us feel the things that we did but the moments I saw this happening were rare and apathy set in. I would read dozens of reviews of a game on dozens of different sites and see most of them say the exact same thing in the same sterile, clinical manner, and most of the discussion I saw was either about how to beat the game in question or people saying that they liked it or it sucked. When blogs started taking off, I thought that I would finally have what I was looking for, but things wound up getting worse. Some people were talking about games as if they were something more than a product and how they made them feel and what they did to make them feel it, but a lot of them were acting like journalists and discussing them as objectively as possible. And the communities tied to most of the blogs and gaming sites started out fine, but eventually became the domain of screaming children, who would throw nasty, horrible fits any time anybody would commit the sin of having an opinion that didn't mesh with theirs. What finally broke my heart, though, is Metacritic and how it made the number at the end more important than what was actually said in the review, and everybody giving the game similar scores, had created what appeared to be a consensus, turning opinion into fact in the minds of many of the readers despite what the critic had to say and instilling many of the critics with the fear that having an opinion outside of the consensus could cost them the respect of not just their readers, but their peers and potentially harm their ties to the industry. This combined with the way hype, excitement, and expectations had in most cases guaranteed major releases, exclusives in particular, nearly unanimous, glowing praise had made criticism of the most popular games all but vanish from the major channels. Destructoid was for me the last bastion of people people discussing games and being open about the opinions they had, and while the contributors to the site are standing firm, along with most of the community, I now see what has happened in the communities everywhere else start to happen here on a massive scale and I just have to say something. I love games too much to keep quiet.
While you may not think games are art, they are creative works, and even though we have entered the fifth decade of games existing in the popular consciousness, the medium is still very much in its infancy. If we want games to continue to grow, evolve and live up to the incredible potential that they have, they must be studied, discussed and debated, not just by those in the industry, but by those who play them. We have to share with others the experiences we have with the games we play, our opinions of them, what they did right, what they did wrong, and how those successes and failures made you feel, and what it was the game did that made you feel that way. And we must also be more than just accepting of differences in opinion, but we must also consider them and gain the insight that comes from seeing things from a different point of view. And we must be honest both about the flaws and failings of the games we enjoy and the successes of games we did not. And we must do this as maturely and intelligently as possible, stating not just how we feel, but why we feel that way. The price of silence is stagnation.
This is an impassioned plea and a rallying cry, going out to all those out there with a love of games and a voice. To the journalists, the bloggers and members of the countless communities, we all need to be open and honest about our opinions and with each other, and we must all do so knowing that differences in opinion are not a divide between us, that they do not invalidate each other and that they are the key to greater understanding. We must think about games critically and attempt to understand what it was that caused you to feel the way that you did, adding the ever important “why” that gives an opinion substance, solidity and, most importantly, a degree of rationality to something as irrational as your personal feelings and beliefs. We must do these things in the unique ways our positions allow us to, to use our particular strengths to their fullest.
I know it isn't easy being a member of the gaming press. You have been marginalized and even ridiculed by those outside of the world of gaming. But you have held fast and provided your audience with much of what they desire, and in a much more professional manner than what members of the mainstream media has led others to believe. You all as journalists bear a heavy burden: objectivity. Opinion has no place in most of what you do, and this is exactly how it should be. The problem arises when you also make efforts to keep opinions out of the one place where they do belong: reviews. A game is a piece of culture, a form of entertainment, which means that outside of the technical aspects of a game such as whether or not there are bugs or if the framerate is stable, all judgments are based solely on the opinions of the person who is doing the review. A game isn't a vacuum cleaner, and you aren't Consumer Reports. You should still review objectively, but only to the extent of keeping an open mind that is free of any preconceived notions you may have about the game. When you try to hide that the opinions contained in the review are in fact opinions, you create the illusion that the things you are saying are somehow fact, and this is made worse by breaking all of the elements down and giving them their own scores, as if there is a way to scientifically test a game to see if it is fun or if the visuals are aesthetically pleasing. The effect this has is the reviews of games turn mostly into a series of statements about what the game is and what it does and how well it does those things, but it doesn't deliver the one thing reviews are supposed to have: what the game was like for you, your experience with it, your thoughts about it, what you liked, what you didn't like, what you thought it did well and where you thought it fell short. Your reviews are often a listing of features with all emotion taken out of the opinions you present, which makes the review read almost like a press release. Watch a car review done by Motorweek. This is what you are doing. Now watch a review done by Top Gear. This is what you should be doing. Don't say what it is, say what it is like, and why you think it is the way that it is, what makes the good things good and the bad things bad in your eyes. And most importantly, be honest. I know reviews are often intended to be consumer advice, but the style of review most of you employ is actually doing the consumer a disservice. Thanks to Metacritic, people aren't just going to one or two places to read reviews of a game, they're going to many, many more, and when they're doing that much research the unique opinions of the multiple critics and the reasons why they felt the way they did allow them to make a more informed choice, since it lets them see who has similar taste to them, and how they enjoyed the game.
I find something off-putting about how a consensus about games tends to form. It strikes me as odd that several different people from different backgrounds with different tastes can all play the same game and all feel essentially the same way about it. This becomes even more off-putting when it's a major release with a lot of hype behind it and high expectations for it and the shared opinions are overwhelmingly positive, especially a few months down the line when we look back on those games and the same people who told us how amazing and flawless the games were start saying that maybe they weren't quite as good as everybody was saying.
I know the reasons why there is so little variance in opinion, but they don't justify it. You may fear that giving a triple-A title a less than stellar review would harm your connections to the industry, costing you the access and exclusives you depend on or the ad revenue that keeps your site up. But here's the thing, they need you a lot more than you need them. You are how they communicate with the public, the way they let the consumers know about their upcoming product and build a buzz about it, which you do by filtering out some of the hype they present the information with and making it seem less like an effort to promote something they want to sell to your readers. They have, for the most part, turned you into an extension of their PR department. You owe them nothing. If anything, they owe you. If they threaten to cut you off or pull their ads over a tepid or negative review, do what a journalist is supposed to do and tell your readers what they have done. See if they do it again after being exposed as trying to extort a good review out of you. You're not supposed to be their friend, you're what keeps them in check. And besides, it's better for them in the long run if you're honest about what you thought the game was like. Think back to the first things you wrote, the critiques you received for them, and about how you write now. Now think about how your writing would be now if the only feedback you got was positive. You'd still be making all the same mistakes and you wouldn't have improved much, if at all. You're doing the same thing to developers with the glowing reviews you give the titles which are expected, for whatever reason, to be good. If nobody is telling them where they failed, they'll continue to fail.
As for the feelings that deviating from the consensus or going against expectations will somehow cost you your credibility, you're doing that with what you're doing now. You wouldn't think there was something wrong with someone else in your field if they had an opinion contrary to the popular consensus, and neither will they. What about your readers? Read the review's comments section and the negative feedback you're getting. You will probably have noticed a few things. There may be a few people respectfully disagreeing with you, and telling you this calmly and politely, but look at how angry the bulk of them are and what they're upset about. It's not what you said in the review, it's the number you attached to it at the end, and how they think it deserved one that was higher, even if the number you gave it still indicated that the game was, in your opinion, good. You will also have noticed all the insults they're throwing at you, using the noun form of “bias” as an adjective and how you're on the payroll of a competing company, or how you just did it to troll for hits, or how you're an idiot and wrong because other sites gave it scores that were two tenths of a point higher, or that you had no taste because you liked something they didn't more. You may be hurt by this, but just keep one thing in mind: they are freaking out and saying all these horrible things not because of what you said about the game, but because the number you gave a game they haven't even played yet wasn't high enough for them to be able to reinforce the high expectations the hype has given them, justify their fandom or, in the case of exclusives, use it as ammunition in the numbers war against other 12 year olds who own the competing console and are doing the same thing to them, along with thinking that everyone else is as delusional as they are and think the same way they do with the same narrow world view and the thought process that everything that isn't contained it their accepted collection of “good” cannot possibly be anything other than horrible and as such must be exposed for the offal that it is and destroyed. These are not rational people, nor are they the majority of your readers.
And now a reality check for the bloggers. You are not journalists, so don't pretend that you are. That wasn't an insult, so don't take it as one. If anything it's a compliment. You are not journalists, which means you have absolutely no reason to be objective in any way, shape or form. You can do more than report the news, you can react to it and give your insights, opinions and commentary. Nobody is expecting you to keep it empty and factual. This is, when you get down to it, is an amazing bit of freedom to have, so use it to your fullest. People are listening, so speak your mind. There is nothing wrong with having opinions, even strong ones. A lot of you are doing this now and are doing a great job, and you should encourage your peers who aren't to do the same. And what I said above about reviews applies to you, too, although a lot of you have been doing this for a while. Keep it up.
And finally, mature members of the community, You know why it may seem like you're surrounded by hooting idiots, and that nothing intelligent is being said? It's because you're not talking. So get to it, post in forums, write community blogs, start sharing ideas and getting into calm, rational debates. If you start doing it, other people will, too. And remember, what you have to say is more important than what the press and the blogs do, since you are the people who actually buy games. Don't think that just because you don't have a large audience for your thoughts that what you say doesn't matter. Ideas travel. And thank you to those that already are, you warm my heart.
So please, let us be open with our opinions, put reasoning behind them, and share them. Let us debate and discuss, study and analyze. Let us move things forward. We have to, it's what gaming deserves.