Last updated Sept. 8, 2010
What's this all about?Put simply, Games for Lunch is a playlog. Three times a week, I play one game for an hour and write about my experience in a stream-of-consciousness-blog style. At the end, I review the game based on the only real criteria that matters to me at that point: Do I want to keep playing?
One hour? That's no way to review a game.Maybe not, but I think it works well enough. No, playing a game for just an hour isn't entirely fair to games that start slowly or games whose strategies take a while to master. Still, I feel that, after an hour, you've seen most of what most games have to offer (and if you haven't, then the game's design leaves something to be desired). With the wide array of gaming choices out there these days, a game has to make a strong first impression to keep me interested. Even if the game is a slow starter, it has to at least show the promise of something new or interesting to keep me playing for longer than 60 minutes.
What does the answer to "Would I play this game for more than an hour?" really mean?
A "no" means just that ... I don't want to play anymore after just an hour. A "yes" means I would like to play it more, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I will -- professional obligations and the limited number of hours in a day mean I don't always come back to every game I would like to.
Of course, not all yeses and nos are created equal -- that's why it's important to also read the "Why?" that summarizes the thinking behind the decision.
How do you pick what games to play for lunch?First off, it has to be a game I haven't played before. I'll sometimes make exceptions to this rule if I've only played a little bit, or if I only played a trade show demo, or if I played the game a long time ago, but usually I want to go in fresh.
Secondly, I'll make an honest attempt to play any game to which I'm given access by a publisher or developer. I prefer retail builds, but I will consider debug or beta versions, as well as representative demos such as those available on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. Want me to play your game? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Otherwise, I get most of my games from my membership in Gamefly or from plain old retail purchases. When picking Games for Lunch games, I try to keep a good variety among genres, systems and publishers. I try to mix it up between games I'm interested in (generally: platforming, racing, puzzle, party and rhythm games, as well as anything original and/or quirky) and games that fall outside my normal tastes (such as first-person shooter [FPS], real-time strategy [RTS] and role-playing games [RPG] -- basically anything that can be abbreviated with three letters).
I'll sometimes pick a game based on a recommendation from friends or readers, or based on articles I've read in the game press. I generally focus on recent systems, because they have the most games that are new and interesting to me, but I'll consider games for classic systems, as well. I also try to avoid games that are designed to be played for only a few minutes total (such as many Web-based games). The point of Games for Lunch isn't just to play the latest and greatest, but to increase the breadth of my gaming experience, both past and present.
Are those time stamps accurate? Do you really write these as you play?Yes and no. Usually I will pause the game and make quick, time-stamped notes as thoughts occur to me during the first hour of play. Later, once I'm done, I'll go through and edit the notes to make them more readable (and remove notes that no longer make sense). The clock isn't frozen while I'm typing notes, so the "hour" of gameplay is usually actually more like 50 minutes of real "play."
Note that games are not always played on the day that a review goes up on the site. Reviews are sometimes written ahead of time and set aside to run at a later date. And no, I don't always play at lunchtime...it's just a catchy title.
How do you factor “special situation X” into your hour of play?
- Download/install/loading times: Time spent downloading or installing a game/demo is usually not taken into account while playing (though exceptions will sometimes be made for especially gratuitous setup time). Once the game is started, though, the clock doesn't stop for loading.
- Options: The first thing I do with a new game, usually, is take a quick gander at the options screen to set things up. I don't stop the clock for this, but I tend not to spend more than a minute on the options screen. In the rare cases where setting options does take a significant amount of time, I usually make a note in the review.
- Cut scenes: In general, I feel if the developer felt a cut scene was important enough to put in the first hour, then it's important for me to watch without skipping. With some games, this means the first hour of "gameplay" might be nothing more than an hour of watching movies. While this does make it hard to judge the gameplay itself, if the first hour of the game is dominated by cut scenes, then the gameplay probably isn't that important anyway.
- Tutorials: I usually play through any and all introductory tutorials presented unless it's a series I have played extensively and I am confident that I know how to play. This can occasionally lead much of the first hour to be taken up by slow, uninteresting tutorial play, but this is what the first hour of play will be like for many, if not most, players, so I don't feel too bad about it.
- Multiplayer/online games: If the game has a non-trivial single-player component, I will play that for an hour. If a game is explicitly focused on multiplayer or online play, though, I will try to play that mode.