Behind the Curtain
Reclaiming Reclaim
Inspiration From a Review

By Toronto Thumbs Staff - September 20th, 2014

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Toronto Thumbs has been around for a while now, and we have always tried to be a fun site to read. We strive for honestly, and our approach to reviews is to pretend that we are sitting down and talking to a friend about something that we played. If we liked it, we say why we liked it; if we don’t, we say what we feel is wrong and how we think it can be fixed. While, at times, our frustration may get the better of us, we do try to be as professional as humanly possible. Invariably, we often get feedback on reviews that we write, and we though it would be interesting (with permission from our contacts) to share what can be a positive experience.

This first entry in the Behind the Curtain column was inspired by an exchange between one of our writers (Dave McLean) and the person representing No-Pact’s iOS title, Reclaim. Dave wasn’t happy with the game, but I feel that the follow up discussion was constructive. The conversation has been converted to fit into a dialogue format.

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Cem, our chat partner, is the awesomely-bearded dude in the foreground.

Jorge: Hey Cem. Here is the review. It was not my writer’s favourite, to be truthful. It is going up on Sept 4.

Cem: Big thanks for the review, it means a lot for us that Dave put in the time to play Reclaim and to write about his experience :)

I see he’s perceiving the game as repetitive, and to be honest, after playing the game for hours during the alpha test I sometimes thought the same thing. We spent a lot of time getting the core mechanics to work (shooting, avoiding obstacles, collecting resources and doing these three at the same time) which didn’t leave us enough room to add more variety in level themes and play modes.

We are well aware the game can offer more, so nowadays we are working on creating new level themes, new levels (obstacle courses and enemy encounters that play differently) and new gunships with different play styles so hopefully it will feel less repetitive. I also get from the review we need to communicate things like upgrades and missions better: we’re aware we haven’t done a great job there to say the least. But we’re working on it and I believe we’ll get there.

If it’s possible I’d like to get in touch with Dave to get his view on what he liked in the game in addition to what he disliked. For instance, did he like the core gameplay (shooting, avoiding, collecting)? I’m gathering every bit of feedback to make sure we’re working on the right updates which will satisfy our players. By the way, just to let him know, there are indeed players who play the game like crazy and achieving scores as high as 90 million :)

Thanks again for featuring our game and thanks to Dave putting his time into this review.

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A screenshot from the game in question.

You know what’s awesome? When people can tell each other the truth and make something better out of it. This is why we don’t do “scores” or “marks” for games. Our whole premise has been to write as if we’re having a conversation with friends.

Your reply brings meaning to indie game development, and we love being a part of it. Sometimes our reviews may come across as harsh, but we love to ensure that there is advice woven into the dialogue. We are not programmers – so we don’t understand the exact nuances and the amount of work – but we can definitely appreciate it.

Dave: Hi Cem. Thanks for taking my review so well. I don’t take pride in giving games a bad review – I really do appreciate all the work that goes into a project like this, and it’s an especially big achievement when you’re an indie developer.

We make assumptions when we write reviews, and my assumption (probably too often) is that everyone is like me – everyone will be passionate about the things that I’m passionate about, and everyone be bored by the things that bore me. But clearly, with players achieving 90 million+ scores in Reclaim, a lot of people disagree with me.

I did like the overall idea of the game: dodging oncoming obstacles while also engaging enemy ships. Controls were really responsive. Graphics were perfectly good. But my big problem was that no matter how much I played it, one run was indistinguishable from the next. Obviously my overall progress varied from game to game, but I felt like I was running the same course over and over again. Some people are driven by a quest for perfection in games, whereas I’m a bigger fan of seeing what’s next.

Hi Dave. Thanks a lot for your feedback. We received the “there isn’t anything new or surprising in the game” feedback a few times and we mostly receive it from players who really want Reclaim to be a better game, a game they can play regularly without being bored of it, like you. We have a few things in the pipeline to hopefully cater to this need. Anyway, we’re working hard to make it!

Short feedback from my side: It would be a nice nod to the developer to mention more explicitly the positive elements of the game. Most indie devs work with extremely tight schedules and no marketing budgets, so every little bit helps to get players to give our game a try. Some players would outright say “the reviewer says it’s boring so I won’t play it” and that’s ok, not everybody has to like our game at first sight. However some might say “the reviewer says it has nice graphics, tight controls and a nice feeling of action, it might be repetitive now but I’ll give it a try and maybe it’ll be updated with new stuff soon”. You might think the last one’s a stretch, but as I mentioned earlier, every little bit helps.

Thanks again for reviewing Reclaim.

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Dave is an honest soul.

First off, one of the things I love most about app-based games is ability for the developer to push subsequent updates to the player. I’ve seen updates change and improve games dramatically — and we’re more than happy to take a second look and write a second review if you do send out a big update for Reclaim. Second, let me further stress that I have a great appreciation for indie game developers. I don’t know firsthand exactly what your day-top-day work involves, but I used to write fiction a long, long time ago, so at the very least I know what it’s like to pour effort and passion into something, only to have someone give you a thumbs down and a raspberry as feedback.

Now, did I write a completely balanced review? In hindsight, no. But I don’t necessarily want to retract or amend it. The positive things I’ve since said are true, but that’s not what I’ll remember about the game two months from now. I’ll remember that I wished it wasn’t so repetitive. Across the site, our iOS reviews are probably less thorough than our console reviews, but it’s a reflection of volume. There’s just a flood of iOS titles out there and people view these games as disposable. I’m writing for my audience (which probably don’t share my exact taste and preferences as much as I’d like to think they do), so my reviews in this area don’t tend to be an exhaustive list of pros and cons, it’s more focused on did I like it? and would I recommend it? That said, I don’t want to boil a review down to just thumbs up or thumbs down; if I love it, I explain why, and if I don’t, I try to explain what could be improved.

But I’m no expert, I’m just a guy who plays games and has opinions. And I don’t think anyone on this site thinks any more of themselves than that.

Dave, just to clarify one thing about my feedback: I neither can, nor would ask you to modify your review in any way. That’s personal stuff and I have full respect for that. I hope we’ll deliver solid updates to turn the “sigh” around for you and for players who share your view. Thanks for being open to a second review.

In a way this dialogue is similar to the ongoing app updates Dave mentioned. The more we update each other, the better the press-developer dialogue gets :)

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