The Review Review

This is The Review Review, where we put ourselves on the line and give Developers free rein to respond to our review of their game. This is a chance for the Reviewer to air any greviances they had with our review, delight in plesent any suprises they hadn’t expected and generally lift the curtain on how it feels to read someones review of your game. Also, it’s an awfully good way to hold ourselves accountable and make sure that we’re being fair in our praise and critisism as a site. 

If you’d like to respond to a review we’ve written in this segment, or would like us to review your game (then let you respond) then drop an email to Laurak@indiehaven.com and please let us know what you think of the feature in the comments below, as this is something we’ve not seen attempted before.

Today we’re allowing Mike Bithell to respond to our review of the PSN version of his hugely sucessful game Thomas Was Alone.

Thomas Was Alone PSN Review Review 

I already wrote this review once.

It wasn’t great. It had a lot of words, but it was a bit too ‘clever’. I took the original review, and sort of answered each paragraph, mirroring the structure. But that sucked, and at least 80% of it was me going ‘yes, I am very very clever, thanks for noticing’.

And absolutely no one would enjoy that.

Well I did, and I imagine Laura (the reviewer) might have.

But not you.

Not you, dear reader.

So I deleted that, and am now staring at a blank screen, trying to decide how to write about this review in a way which is interesting. I have come to the realisation that I can’t directly, because it’s too complimentary. I don’t know the score (ed. the review was sent to Mike as plain text, no scores attatched), but it ‘reads like an 8 or 9’.

That’s the problem with Thomas, a lot of the criticism has been very kind. That last sentence was a bit arrogant, but we’ll power on. What I mean is, the game is generally liked. It’s ‘charming’, which is I think the result of David’s music, my words and Danny’s specific and perfect way of saying them. The story powered Thomas through pretty much every review I’ve read.

I didn’t realise it when I was making the thing. Looking back I see just how much attention I paid to story.. but that was born out of insecurity, because I’d never written fiction before. All my work had been design documentation and sales documents.. a mixture of technical verbosity and florid pomposity. I read a lot of books, did a lot of research, and did a lot of try and fix it. That attention seems to have paid off.

And the reviewers love that story, they even (as I believe Laura might have) apply the reading to areas where I didn’t consciously write stuff. The minimalism of the game’s presentation leaves a big gap open for interpretation, which is again a surprise. A very cool one.

The reviews all pick out the same major criticism, difficulty. Its importance on the scale varies, but it’s the biggest negative I repeatedly see. I think I know what happened. It’s all about checkpoints.

I didn’t have any. Well, I didn’t have any at first. I playtested the hell out of the game, and people always complained it was too hard, and repetitive as a result. Getting through a 4 minute level, only to die and reset the level in the last few seconds, was massively annoying. I ended up front loading difficulty and complexity; trailing off difficulty as a level went on. That eased the problem, but I always had that nagging sense that I was ignoring the checkpointing, and had to fix.

So I did, a month before the PC release. I littered the game with them, and patted myself on the back. The problem was, this instantly made the game easier. Further play testing would have shown this, and honestly, game design common sense should have shown this. The result is a game which feels like it’s too easy, and paced oddly in places.

It’s the checkpoints.

(My next game will have its checkpoint system written pre level design).

The side effect of the difficulty being too low is that the game is mega accessible, and I love that Laura’s girlfriend found the game open as a result. There are videos on youtube of kids getting their mums to play, and that stuff tears me up. I love the idea that Thomas might be someone’s first game, a gateway drug to games in general or indie specifically. I want to keep doing that with future stuff. Just consciously, not as a result of a silly decision. I stand by the level design, and didn’t change it for console, because an accident that may harm the game in reviews, seems to help it in the outside world.

Stairs. Bloody stairs. I massively overestimated the pleasure of that.

I’m really pleased Laura liked the commentary track. I worried while doing it that it might be a bit nerdy, but that seems to have been a positive. That’s cool. It’s a relatively easy thing to do, I’d love it if more people did it, as I’d dig that insight on other people’s work. I like too that Sony get the nod in the end. They’re doing something special, and being congratulated publicly for that can only be a good thing. I hope it’s a strategy that works out for them, I’d love to see more indies on the platform.

A great review, a pleasure to read, and I hope my comments were interesting too.

8/10

About The Author

Founding Member

Laura’s gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, designing them, discussing them or writing about them. Why does she want to write about indie games? Because indie devs are awesome and she wants to be their new best friend by telling them how terrible their games are. That’s how it works right? Twitter: @LauraKBuzz Email: Laurak@indiehaven.com

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