My Big-Screen Debut

Tom explores what it was like to see his review for Super Meat Boy in Indie Game: The Movie.

by

I watched a woman cry because of my words Tuesday night.

Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary that follows the development of three video games: Braid, Fez, and Super Meat Boy. During the tail end of the movie, Super Meat Boy developer Edmund McMillien is shown alongside his wife Danielle as they watch my review of the game that they both sacrificed so much for to see through to completion. My voice plays in the background, reading from a script I wrote more than 18 months ago. I mentioned the precise controls and the way the game skirted frustration while Edmund and Danielle sit on a couch listening to my words. When the review concludes, Danielle ducks behind her laptop, overcome with emotion. "They get it," She said. "They understood what you were doing."

The face of meat sure is expressive.

Watching people react to my review made me feel like a dirty voyeur peering behind a curtain. Ever since I got hired by GameSpot almost four years ago, I have actively tried to shield myself from anything that could potentially taint my opinion of a game before I sit down to review it. Avoiding previews has been one such tactic because they have a tendency to build unrealistic expectations that cloud my thoughts. Talking to developers is even more problematic. Though conducting interviews is occasionally part of my job, I go to great lengths to keep things distant and impersonal, so I never dive below the surface of the work to reveal the person beneath it.

My entire philosophy of hiding from anything that could influence my evaluation was shattered Tuesday night. Now, I am fully aware of how people might react to my words. Livelihoods--even futures--are determined based on the success or failure of a given game, and reviews can shift the buying public's feelings.

I almost wished I hadn't watched Indie Game: The Movie at all.

It was sobering to see the raw emotional reaction to my words displayed on the big screen.
But that's a silly notion. I always knew in the back of my mind that my reviews can have an impact. I've heard that certain companies determine bonuses based on the Metacritic average of a game, and I've seen forum members passionately argue about review scores for games they haven't even played. I've always known the power of reviews; it was just sobering to see the raw emotional reaction to my words displayed on the big screen. So that's something I have to accept and overcome. Developers are real people who are affected by reviews. But their reactions won't change how I approach my work, so I shouldn't let Danielle's tears get to me.

So what do I take from that scene? Honestly, I feel pride in my review. Not every review of mine is up to the high standards I hold for myself, and there are some that I wish I could write again. But Super Meat Boy was a review that I slaved over, and I felt even at the time that I was getting to the heart of what makes the experience so incredible. To see Danielle and Edmund say that I understood what made the game so special felt empowering. Their reaction solidified my belief that with hard work I can separate the special quality every game carries.

I still remember the reaction when I sent my review around the office to be read before it was published. We have an extensive QA process for every review at GameSpot where we read each other's work and suggest ways to possibly improve it. Usually, these changes boil down to sentence structure and other grammatical quibbles. But sometimes, opinions are challenged. Super Meat Boy was just a simple-looking 2D platformer, and I was the only one who had spent extensive time with it. Of course people were going to question my preposterously high score (9.5!) and bold claims (Frustration free? But it's so difficult!).

That doctor is one mean tempered fetus.

But I defended my review with as much passion as anything I can remember in my professional life. Super Meat Boy was a game I fully believed in, and I needed to explain that it really was everything I had said it was. It's rare for a game to come along that conjures the strong emotional response Super Meat Boy tapped into, and trying to get across just how much of a leap it offered from comparable games was not an easy task. I fought to have certain statements and ideas make it through, and it was a relief to see the developers back up the claims of my strong assertions.

I realize how self-indulgent this editorial has become. And I do apologize for focusing so much on myself and my review process. But this is the one time in my short career that I have really seen how much of an impact my reviews can have, and it certainly hit me extremely hard. My words and opinions have unpredictable ramifications once I publish them. I just have to accept this idea and then move on before I freeze from the terrifying pressure of outside forces.

Discussion

68 comments
Cryptic_Shadow
Cryptic_Shadow

I would be proud of receiving an overall rating of 9.5. I think you would need thick skin in this industry to listen to all the criticism; negative or positive.

Longini
Longini

@Barrakas21 "what these guys do for a montly pay we do it for free" That's why people pay a lot of money to watch professional athletes even though anybody can play a pick up game, or why stand-up comedians make money when anybody can tell a joke.

Longini
Longini

@Kevin-V I know a lot of times I'll click on "Read the Review" just to see "The Good" and "The Bad" that was listed to get a basic idea of if I'll be interested in a game. Sometime if there's a game I've decided to get I won't read the review as not to spoil anything, and not just because of "spoilers" but so I can go into the game with a blank slate and not knowing what to expect so that I'm discovering what the game has to offer for the first time.

acidjam
acidjam

I'm sure your reviews have made lots of people cry, Tom.

Antherian_being
Antherian_being

@Barrakas21 They chose his review for much more than its score. Mc Shea is actually a fantastic writer, and this review was one of his strongest. Also, the video review was well put-together and appropriate for the film. Yes, Mc Shea is paid monthly for a task "we do... for free", but at least he capitalises his sentences.

NorseLax09
NorseLax09

McShea you dog, you've done it again! Love the solid reviews that you put out.

Barrakas21
Barrakas21

is this a TomMcShea blog?? or gamespot? cry me a river lol

Barrakas21
Barrakas21

and they only choose his review because he gave 9.5 lol lol what these guys do for a montly pay we do it for free

Barrakas21
Barrakas21

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

deviant74
deviant74

@nintendo-naut $15 $50. price isn't everything but it has to be a consideration. If you went to the store and bought it for the 360 for $60 you just bought a game that scored a 2.

EdibleFood
EdibleFood

Too many people attack reviewers for having their own opinions about a game. Tom McShae is one of my favorite Gamespot reviewers, the only review I had an issue with was the Infamous 2 (VIDEO) review, but after reading the full written review I found that he addressed the complaint I had with it. People put too much emphasis on the reviewer's score, I think all of the big review sites should try to find a way to abandon the scoring system because different people have different perceptions of their scoring scales. Some people think like this: Anything below 8 is bad, 8.5 is good, 9 is great, 9.5 is excellent. The reviewer is just one person, he shouldn't be punished for having a different opinion than you.

Chunkman
Chunkman

I feel like I may be in the minority of people commenting here who believes Tom is a solid reviewer. It seems like understands the objective qualities that make certain games stand out from the others. I'm not saying that he's right all the time, and there are (like any reviewer, if you follow their work long enough) some options upon which I 100% disagree, but all in all, he can look at a game with a rather unbiased opinion.

nintendo-naut
nintendo-naut

[quote]Super Meat Boy: Indie developed N+ clone platformer with little to no story and flash animation - 9.5 "Strong Emotional Response" Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword: Big budget flagship Nintendo title full of unique story beautiful hardware pushing graphics and groundbreaking controls - 7.5 "The controls don't work."[/quote] @psuedospike *high five* Couldn't have said it better myself.

starerik
starerik

You spelled his name "Edmond".

TomMcShea
TomMcShea

@PinnacleGamingP -- Off the top of my head, I can think of two reviews I wish I could write over again: With Braid, I was so worried about potentially spoiling parts of the game, I never really dove into what made it special. It deserved a more thorough analysis than I offered. Reading responses to my Infamous 2 review, I clearly didn't explain my position clearly enough. I found serious problems in that game and I wish I had communicated my position better. @hickabickabooya -- I was referring to people in my office who had played Super Meat Boy, not the industry at large. Super Meat Boy has a 90 on Metacritic, but before the embargo lifted, no one in GameSpot realized just how beloved it would become to both the press and consumers.

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

Wow, Tom,you are really pushing your own name. Are you also selling tickets?

hickabickabooya
hickabickabooya

If you were the "the only one who had spent extensive time with it" does that mean yours was the only really high (and scripted/verbal) review? I'm just wondering how much competition your review had to appear in this movie. Granted, kudos to you (and your work) for being noted, bur please remember that you really aren't "they" (meaning you may get "it" but not everyone else may agree)

psuedospike
psuedospike

@Leir_Bag : I actually think your points are invalid as I don't understand them. It's like the old saying, "Those who can't do teach and those who can't teach criticize." Reviews are just one person's opinion. Nothin more nothing less. No need to decide what games you are or aren't going to play based on one buttmunch's opinion. If you react that way to a movie or game review you are sheeple and should be treated as such. Tom is just a bad reviewer plain and simple. Most of his articles are poorly written and I have read on more than one occasion instances where he completely negates a point he made a paragraph or sentence ago. Maybe you are just too young and don't understand that when you grow up playing games all your life you have just as much a valid opinion on any particular game as a so-called professional. I do think that if you are going to give games numerical scores there should be a standard that all games are judged against. Is it fair to judge Super Meat Boy with Zelda, sure, why not? They are both games, just one was kinda fun and the other spawned a million spin-offs, sequels and products. Anyway, all that aside how can anyone defend the article above? It is ridiculousness. But, what do I know my favorite Zelda games are Minish Cap and Wind Waker.

QOSMSTR
QOSMSTR

Whats next, Indie Movie: The Game? :P

Leir_Bag
Leir_Bag

@psuedospike : Fair enough. at least you are educated, so I'll give you a point for that. I was actually expecting a mad rant from a blind fan, or no response at all :) Now that I know a little bit more about you, I'll just advice you that you shouldn't bother getting mad at reviews you don't like, but you also shouldn't just not give a crap about reviewers. Sometimes they get too much credit? Maybe. Maybe they jobs aren't as hard as they say as well, after all, you taste and judge, if you close your ears to the outside world for you not hear the effect of your criticisms, you can keep going just fine. But then, their jobs are important, at least for me, not just for us to decide whatever we want to buy next in therms of games and movies, but to apreciate stuff in your game, or movie, that you wouldn't pay atention to, if you hadn't read that one review, somewhere. But in one thing you were wrong. I love Zelda, I sleep almost everyday with my Zelda T-shirt and all... I'm just crazy for it. But comparing the scores it got with the scores Super Meat Boy got, and then comparing budgets and developers "sizes", it was just wrong. You know that, right? Some free games from random people are way better then multi-million ones from big developers. And I don't care if you hate Tom McShae, I just don't like that you hate him for reasons I think are "invalid". Plus, I like discussing with people with different tastes and opinions.

psuedospike
psuedospike

@Leir_Bag: tl;dnr My favorite "reviewer" is Dave Halverson because he likes what he likes and I happen to like most of the games and companies he likes, so yes my personal opinion is going to sway my preferred reviewer and game, but again it is personal preference which is why I think people who criticize games and movies etc. get too much credit. Who really cares what one person thinks anyway? Why do you care that I hate Tom McShea? On this site I think Kevin and that American McGee kid are the best reviewers cause they have decent senses of humor. Bottom line I come to Gamespot for the News, New Releases and for the great new shows like Screentears and for those lovely British kids and the great specials like the 24 hour Dark Souls marathon, which was awesome. I do not come to this site to see some guy who has gotten popular by trolling more times than not in his reviews inflate his own overgrown ego. If you don't agree, fine. All in all I give my review of Tom's review of his old review in a movie an 8.2 for solid arguments but predictable controls and response.

Leir_Bag
Leir_Bag

@psuedospike : And, for last, If you don't agree with one score or review when the whole world praises this game you like for being something like the holy grail, then why to come to a game review website and whine like a b*tch? Everybody is saying that Skyward Sword is perfect, but McShea found a solid point why it is only great. Even if you don't think this point has so much importance, it is there, and if it is important or not is a matter of opinion that changes from reviewer to reviewer.

Leir_Bag
Leir_Bag

@psuedospike : I don't believe that you actually mean anything you said, except that you can't stand McShae, which is really clear. You call his article "narcissistic, self-indulgent and most importantly unnecessary", but if his words were words you actually liked hearing, your thoughts would be very different. It is clear that these thoughts you are having about him are false, you just don't like him because you don't agree with his reviews, or worse, his scores. Give yourself time to read a review and you will find out why it is given such score. And the quality of a game doesn't have anything to do with it's budget or the developer behind it. Take Dragon Age 2 or Duke Nukem Forever, big development time with large budget, and a good developer with, again, a large budget, and both were failures, for completely different reasons. If you don't think your gaming is important enouth to realise the importance of a gaming review or a gaming reviewer, I don't know what you are doing here. Gamespot is a big reviewer and it's opinions, together with some others magazines and sites, could possibly crush developers, or at least huge budget projects.

Leir_Bag
Leir_Bag

I have said before and will aways say, my favourite reviewer in Tom McShae, and I first started hating him. It's funny how we gamers seem to think sometimes that the whole world needs to like whatever we like playing.

psuedospike
psuedospike

Super Meat Boy: Indie developed N+ clone platformer with little to no story and flash animation - 9.5 "Strong Emotional Response" Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword: Big budget flagship Nintendo title full of unique story beautiful hardware pushing graphics and groundbreaking controls - 7.5 "The controls don't work." I rest my case. Reviews of any kind don't matter especially ones written by Tom McShea.

pizzaboyuk
pizzaboyuk

Well done Tom. Really enjoy your reviews.

GriffinBalls
GriffinBalls

Keep up the good work Tom. Personally I find yours and KVO's reviews the best on the site. Not to take anything away from any of the other reviewers, but consistently you two churn out very good reviews that I agree with usually on all points. I've avoided Super Meat Boy for a long time as I was scared of it, lol. But after seeing this review again, I'm gonna pick it up tonight, braid too, avoided both for way too long.

calvinsora
calvinsora

You're one of the best reviewers I know of, Tom, so congratulations to you :) You tread your own path and don't let the ideas of the masses influence your own opinion.

theshonen8899
theshonen8899

CONGRATS TOM! You're a fantastic reviewer, even if people often get into fights about your scores. The scores mean nothing, its the great analysis you do with the games that always impress me :)

DrAmazinDood
DrAmazinDood

First of all, Congratulations Tom! Second, can't wait to see the movie, Tom McShea is a true critic and has no fear saying the things some people are to afraid to say, which, in my opinion, is one of his greatest qualities, saying the truth and standing by it, so keep up the amazing work Tom.

mehrdad19872010
mehrdad19872010

Tom McShea is one of the best reviewers I've ever seen. He understands what the specific game is trying to do and whether they were successful in doing it. Personal preferences don't get much in his way and this is rare. Keep up the good work, Tom.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

@Kevin-V I know on some shows like the Hotspot, staff talks more in depth about their reviews. I know Tom did talk about Infamous 2 much more in depth and after hearing that and his side of things in a much more open setting where he could say what he felt and not what he needed to say in the quick review I understood his reasoning much more. It would be nice to have a show where it is essentially the staff sitting around talking about things like reviews and hear the opinions on games that aren't directly the ones they worked on. I know this happens a bit during the Hotspot and I know you guys are quite busy. It is fun to listen to staff members bounce ideas off each other when talking about games in a very raw setting where they can say what they truly want to.

sirkibble2
sirkibble2

It boggles my mind how some people can generate such disgust for a person based on someone's writing and they don't know the person behind the writing. Either it's jealousy or some other self-deprecating mentality.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

@SYMFONICOLOSSUS His KDA makes him special of course. He is too busy pwning noobs to care about alternative genres that many people care about and love.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

@psuedospike There is probably a new Call of Duty map pack coming for you soon. For the rest of us that care about quality and content and the effort behind the thing we all love, there are things like this.

psycho75
psycho75

Tom,did really needed to watch the reaction to your review to acknowledge the inpact it has on sales?what about the feedback you have here on the site? your Zelda SS review had a strong negative reaction and not only here on GS...in my opinion the score should be abolished,its a very generic system and only generate controversy.

PinnacleGamingP
PinnacleGamingP

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

joce667
joce667

@Kevin-V Thank you for that clarification . This is something i really like about this site the reviewer like you take time to answer question of us little people . Ha ha ha Keep up the good work !

Renunciation
Renunciation

Yeah, there is some narcissism behind the article. People can criticize it all they want. But the honest truth is that it's a pretty damned significant feeling to know that you did something which had a profound (and presumptuously positive) effect on a person by simply doing your job. And you can thank people for feeling that way, or we'd have no doctors, teachers, firefighters, cooks, or... musicians, graphic artists, video game critics. Writing, however technical, is still an art form. Art is subjective by nature, and thus meant for public or private viewing -- and when anyone views the art, their lives are affected in some way. Even if the reaction is no more than a shrug, the brain processes the image(s) and must decide whether or not it is worthy of further attention. ...And so, again: knowing that your job and your art had such an impact on someone is great. I appreciate knowing that any artist takes such pride in their work.

TheTNWrestler
TheTNWrestler

Tom McShea is SO emotional about his work. You can see it in his reviews as well as when he is interviewed. I personally think his interviews are mostly focused on the negatives rather than the positives. That is a turn off to me personally, but that doesn't mean there aren't those who want that critical analysis. Another thing is that Tom wants creativity and not the same formula, even if that formula is a golden one that works (aka Zelda), which is why Tom is so excitable over games such as Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (he was showing some MAJOR love for that game on the handheld game of the year video). I do agree that this is a very self loving article, though, even if he tries to admit it partially in the end. Rather than appreciating his work being shown, he instead has to write about how he made a huge impact in gaming. Pseudospike became emotional and lost control with wishing threats on Tom (which is always a way to take away the strengths of your argument fyi), but I do see this as a self loving article. Tom is a little too high on his horse. Go ahead with the thumbs down since I'm not agreeing with the majority, but you have to admit it's self loving.

Giancarlo
Giancarlo moderator

@psuedospike I get it, but there are people who work damn hard to make the games you play and the games you don't play. Aren't you ever interested in how something you spend so much time with comes into being, or is it simply out of sight, out of mind?

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@joce667 -- The sad fact is that video reviews are shorter because almost no one watches even an 8-minute review until the end. The audience has changed--they watch more videos, but for less time per play. I won't even bother to tell you the percentage of people that click on the first page of a review that then click on the second page. It might make you weep!

SYMFONICOLOSSUS
SYMFONICOLOSSUS

psuedospike should be banned from this site. What exactly do you do that makes you so special...? Prick

starduke
starduke

Hmm, I doubt very much if he had said "this game sucks...it's the worst game ever!" they would have put it in the movie.

Looiook
Looiook

I don't understand why folks are upset about a game review being critical. That is what their jobs are after all. They're critics. If you think game reviewers aren't important, let alone reviews. Then don't read them on this site. If you don't like watching videos about gaming culture..then don't watch videos on this site. And if this particular film, article and reviewer don't interest you. Then don't read it or comment? there's no reason to insert your self into a situation you feel uncomfortable in.