TomChick - News - 03/12/06 - Link
I never thought I'd say this, but Wagner James Au has a point. It's not a very good point. And it's not particularly well thought out. In fact, I'm not even sure it's the point he's trying to make.
But at any rate, he's right that previews are sloppy and rely too much on stupid hyperbole. Of course, so does most other games coverage, so I'm not sure why he singles out previews. And he does get carried away with this idea that bad previews hurt the industry, all the while missing the larger and more obvious point that it's really bad writing in general that hurts the industry.
But the fact remains that -- like most game writing -- there are more bad previews than good previews. So kudos to Wagner James Au for noting that, however elliptically. I know there are plenty of bad previews partly because I've written my share of them. I remember being enamoured of a game called Trespasser many years ago.
Until it came out.
But until then, boy, was I enthusiastic listening to Seamus Blackley and Brady Bell tell me all about what it was going to be like. I could probably cull some excerpts from those previews and we could all enjoy a good laugh. I might even be eligible for some sort of special recognition from Wagner James Au's Preview Ho Awards.
But as someone who writes a lot of previews, perhaps I can do my part for preview writers, not by laughing at them and giving them Tom Chick's Preview Ho Awards, but by instead offering a few tips for how I've learned to do it without being too ridiculous.
Think of writing a preview as reporting. You're there to watch a presentation, admittedly sugar covered, almost always carefully staged, and often with a relatively sauve frontman conducting the whole thing for you. Sometimes you'll even be handed a sheet with the bullet points you're supposed to hit.
But my advice to you is to ignore all this and write about the points you think are most important. Describe what you've been shown, and interpret whatever you think are the most relevant parts. Feel free to be excited about what you've seen, but avoid making assumptions about how it's going to turn out.
Do research before you go in by reading whatever preview coverage has already been done. Ask questions. Bring up other games. Talk to a developer -- and good lord, try to avoid those previews where you're only dealing with a producer -- about what he or she has worked on before. Look him up on Mobygames before you go in. A good preview should be interactive and have personality and context.
Usually, you should give the developer the benefit of the doubt. Credit your readers with enough intelligence to know you're not looking at a finished game. However, it is okay to occasionally remind readers with verbal cues, such as 'the game is supposed to be blah blah blah', 'the developers intend such-and-such', or 'so-and-so says it will do x, y, and z'. These measures are not only known as 'covering your ass', but they're a way to make it clear that for all you know, the game will turn out as bad as Trespasser. For instance.
The trick is figuring out how much of your own judgment to write into a preview. You don't want to be boring. But you don't want to attract Wagner James Au's probing hype-o-meter. This would be a good time to learn the difference between 'uninterested' and 'disinterested'. Avoid hyperbole. Also, learn the difference between comparatives and superlatives, and avoid them, especially the latter. That's the worst thing you can do in a preview. Get it? 'The worst thing'? A superlative! Ha ha.
At any rate, I'm getting into grammar school teacher stuff, and if that's the level of help you need, well, some of the bigger gaming sites will still take you on. But mainly, I'm just trying to make it hard for Wagner James Au's Preview Ho Awards to find recipients. Because if there's one thing that hurts the industry more than bad writing, it's the industry being policed by bad writers.
And, yes, that last comment was an example of the kind of hyperbole you'll want to avoid in a preview.