The central idea of any article should be: Why is this game interesting? It seems to be a common misconception that you only write articles about topics that you're a huge fan of, but this doesn't necessarily need to be the case. I've written a lot about Altered Beast and Alien Syndrome, two games I don't care for much - but I'm a huge Sega fan, so I have this obsessive desire to be comprehensive. Even in these cases, you need to be able to identify what made these games popular. For Altered Beast, it was the huge graphics, and the sense of power you get from turning into huge monsters and smashing things. For Alien Syndrome, it's all about the creepy atmosphere, the grotesque monster designs, the sense of urgency, and the fact that it rips off one of the best action movies ever made. Remember, just because you don't specifically like something, doesn't mean that there isn't anything interesting about it. They were popular at some point for a reason, right? You need to figure out what they reason is.
You need to ask: why is this game significant? Final Fight, for example, took the formula from Double Dragon, tightened it up and inspired legions upon legions of clones. That's pretty damn significant. Most importantly, you need to establish a sense of context to understand why something was important. The Lunar games for the Sega CD might seem like kinda generic RPGs in the 21st century, but back in the 16-bit days, it was pretty standout - it was one of the few text heavy console games with a decent translation, it had voiced characters, cinemas and a vocal song, and the publishers didn't feel the need to change the anime-style cover artwork into something more palatable for Americans.
At the same time, you needn't solely wear rose colored glasses. If a game hasn't aged well, talk about it, and be specific. Going back to the Lunar games - localizations have been getting better, far more RPGs have been getting translations, most of the world is more comfortable with anime characters, and people are getting jaded with simplistic battle and character development systems. So with the playing field leveled, the weaknesses become more apparent, so more modern gamers may find them boring.
Your articles should try to stay away from fanboy gushing and aim towards being balanced. All games have flaws, and talking about weaknesses isn't bashing it, it's just to give the reader a clearer idea of what to expect. Plus, be sure to analyze why a given title failed or was received poorly. Lots of people are eager to blame shortsighted critics or poor marketing plans, but in reality, cult games are usually obscure for a reason, because there's some element of the gameplay or graphic design that gamers might find off-putting. Like the graphics and characters of Psychonauts and Beyond Good and Evil were cool and interesting and all, but perhaps a bit too weird for most people to accept. You'll want to analyze these, and give the reader some kind of idea of what side of the fence they'll fall on. Try to be objective too. Obviously, if you're trying to get people to play it, you'd want to skew more towards the positive, but definitely address both sides.
Try to avoid wordiness at all cost. Your pieces should be detailed but still succinct. The biggest changes I make in articles is deleting extraneous information or rewording sentences to make them flow better. Try to avoid small sentences, and try to cram as much as possible without turning it into a run on. Also, remove any redundant information. If you've already established that the graphics are awful and the control sucks, you don't need to bring it back up again in your conclusion sentence. Conclusion sentences aren't even always necessary, depending on how you've written the rest.
Also, try to avoid using the first person. You can when you're relating personal experiences or feelings, but your writing may come across weaker if you rely on it too much. For example:
Bad: "I think the graphics are outstanding."
Better: "The graphics are outstanding."
The latter speaks with more authority and is definitely preferable.
Also, don't be vague in your criticisms or praises. Say more than "The graphics are nice," or "The level designs kinda suck." Give at least one example to support these statements. "The graphics are bright and fluidly animated, especially the main character." Or "The level designs are repetitive, consisting of huge expanses of flat terrain and almost no variation in graphical design."
You can be casual and informal - I'm not a stickler for things like that, and if you want to pepper your article with some humor, go right ahead. Add in with wacky anecdotes if you want, but don't go on too many tangents. Try to avoid cursing unless necessary also. If it helps, pretend you're on a message board, recommending a game to your peers.
I know some places consider it a no-no, but you can (and should) make some comparisons to a more well known games, since they're an easy and direct way to hook readers (ex: "Senko no Ronde is like Virtual On mixed with a bullet hell shooter", "Bubsy is sorta like Sonic except total rubbish"). Since this site is aimed at people who are at least somewhat knowledgeable about games, you should assume they have some vague knowledge as to what these famous titles are, and also assume they're familiar with video game vocabulary like "move sets," "combos," "frames per second," "anti-aliasing" and stuff like that.
Here are just a few short guidelines that make the editor's job easier. For spellings of terms and names, the The Videogame Style Guide and Reference Manual by the IGJA and Games Press (freely available as PDF download) is a good first adress in general, although everything listed below overrides it:
The most obvious difference, as evidenced in the title of that book: Write "video game" as two words.
Write as one word: cutscene, minigame, sidequest, backstory, savegame.
With the exception of headlines, game titles should be italicized. However, for the formatting it would be more useful to put <i> and </i> tags around them instead of using the word processor's function. Titles should only shorten to an acronym when the full name has been mentioned at least once and it is unambiguous (eg. only write GOW if it is absolutely clear whether you're talking about God of War or Gears of War). Acronyms should still be in italics. When using the genitive, the apostrophe is outside of italics.
Avoid all caps for emphasis. Bold text (inside <b> and </b> tags) is preferable.
Punctuation goes inside of closing quotation marks, but outside of closing brackets. Use a simple short dash and straight, non-curled quotation marks.
When referring to decades, prefer full numbers like "1990s." use abbreviations with an apostrophe ("'90s") sparsely, avoid misplacement of the apostrophe, for example "90's."
Important platform name spellings: Famicom, NES, Game Boy, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii, Master System, Mega Drive, Genesis, Saturn, Dreamcast, Neo Geo, Neo Geo Pocket, PC Engine, TurboGrafx-16, PC-88 (or PC-8801), FM-7, FM Towns, X1, X68000, IBM PC (use "IBM PC" for DOS games, "Windows" for Windows games), PlayStation, Xbox, Xbox 360. With the exception of NES, SNES and N64, you should write the full name (minus the manufacturer's name, "Sega Saturn" is redundant unless you somehow find yourself in the odd situation that requires explicit distinction from the planet) at least once. For everything else, check the exact official spelling if unsure.
Some spellings for important software programs: DOSBox, ScummVM (note the difference to the actual SCUMM engine). For Everything else, check the exact official spelling if unsure.
Concerning genre names, "beat-'em-up" means "belt-scrolling brawler" or its modern 3D counterparts, as opposed to "(one-on-one) fighting game." Avoid writing just "shooter", rather distinguish between "first-person shooter" ("FPS") and "shoot-'em-up" / "shmup."
For multiple game articles, it should flow like this:
Rip Off Games/Homages
The later sections can go in any order, and you can restructure various bits where you feel they make sense.
The Intro should establish a sense of historical context. Also do some research on the publisher, the people involved, or what kind of other games they've made. The more information you can find, the better, especially if you know how to dig through the Japanese Wikipedia to search for names, gameographies and connections.
After this, you should talk about the defining aspects of the series, and what elements are constant among all of the games. Beyond the basic game concepts, talk about graphic style (Are they consistent amongst all of the games? Who's the character designer, if they're important? Is it dark/bright, realistic/fantasy, serious/goofy?) and music style (composer, genres, etc.) This way, when you start talking about the actual games, you only need to address what's different/unique about them, instead of stating the main points over and over and over again. For single game entries, separating the introduction is not necessary.
In the actual game section, you're analyzing the specifics of a given title, rather than the general concepts of the series. For certain topics, the first entry may be the briefest, usually because all of the main points were already brought up during the intro. For example: R-Type. Once you detail the gameplay system, talk about the pace and difficulty and graphic style, there's not much to say about the first game.
When talking about later games, you can talk about additions and changes to the formula, what works and what doesn't, changes in graphic or music style, and - most importantly - the high and low points. Try to be specific, if there's a really cool stage or setpiece, or a really annoying plot element or level, bring it up. For, let's say, a Mega Man article - once you've set down what the original games are all about, all you need to address are the different robots, the types of stages, how the music is, how the graphics have improved (if at all), the difficulty, and how it all ties together, while maybe bringing up how cool the dragon was in Dr. Wily's castle or how breathtaking the intro was in Megaman 2, or how Bright Man's stage was complete garbage in Mega Man 4.
Again, you're trying to be balanced - bring up facts, talk about how you feel about those facts, and whether they make for a fun game. If you want to lavish praise or completely bash a game, you should do it reasonably, and make it perfectly clear why this particular entry is totally the best of them, or why this one completely sucks. You should also avoid being too inflammatory, because if you sound too much like a jerk, readers may tend to tune you out. You should also have a good grasp on the attitude of the fanbase towards certain entries, and maybe try to address common complaints in a sensible manner.
Again, bringing up Mega Man - to an outside observer, all six games might seem practically identical. So you might want to bring up that the later games had worse music, or weaker boss designs, or unbalanced difficulty, or however you feel. If a fanbase is particularly nasty towards a game, and you feel that hate is unjust, defend it. If you think it's overrated, make a case for it. Just try to avoid absolutes. For example, you'll hear a lot of people say how Mega Man 4 massively sucks - when, really, you could say it sucks in the context of other Mega Man games, but it's still a fairly decent compared to other NES titles, and shouldn't be ravaged totally - it may just suffer from sequelitis, and fails because it isn't as inspired as later games. Remember, not all gamers play titles in order, so it's very possible someone could play Mega Man 4 before Mega Man 2, and feel the former is superior for whatever reasons.
When writing about RPGs and fighting games, you should talk about the major characters. This way, when readers see artwork or read people referring to them, they'll be able to identify them. Usually RPGs have different rosters in each game, so they can be addressed in each individual sections. Only concentrate on the "main" characters, and perhaps the primary villain, or anyone else that you think is interesting. Fighting games usually have rosters that remain (relatively) consistent throughout each iteration, so they can be addressed in the intro. The exceptions are entries which have completely different character rosters. In the Power Instinct article, the intro covers the characters in all of the games except for Groove on Fight, which has its own unique roster addressed in the game section.
Not entirely necessary, but you may want to examine other games that are extremely similar, or even spiritual successors. Cannon Dancer, for example, is not a Strider game, but is practically a sequel for all intents and purposes. How far in depth you want to go is up to you - even a casual mention is fine.
This is another optional section. It can include random trivia about the series including cameos, cultural influence, additional artwork or screenshots, and stuff like that. For Metal Slug, the boss design is one of the best features of the game, so I included a screenshot gallery showing all of the more impressive enemies.
Talk about the anime, comics, live action movies, or any other appearances. Don't worry about really obscure doujin or koma (4-panel) comics, no one really cares. Try to get firsthand experience on these and analyze them. If that's not possible, just bring up that they exist.
Not completely necessary, but you can round up any remaining thoughts, maybe talk about the future of the series, if any. Other websites should be linked, especially sources you used for your article.
Single Game Articles:
Single game articles obviously need to be more in-depth than series based articles. Professional reviews answer the question "Is this game worth my money?" You should be answering the question "Why is this game important and/or interesting?" Why, of all of the other tons of games that come out every week, is this game special? The object is, simply, to make it better and more detailed than professional reviews. Delve deep into the story, talk about specific scenarios or levels or situations. Detail all of the characters, with pictures, and devote a lot of space to the graphical style or music. Talk about how the game fits into a genre, if at all, and how well it meets its goals compared to its brethren. For example, I spend a lot of time in my Rhythm Tengoku review disseminating the rhythm game genre, and where Rhythm Tengoku fits into the scheme of that. If you're looking for another example, compare HG101's God Hand review to IGN's, and see what it does differently. The Killer7 article analyzed it in a way that most other places didn't. The Psychonauts one went into the characters and a lot of situations that make it so worthwhile, while most reviews written when it came out didn't really go into specifics.
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