Reviewing levels is a difficult topic. The critic has to judge other peoples’ works and thats not as easy as one might think at first.
Of course, every review only gives the subjective, personal opinion of the reviewer, which is caused by emotional impressions and feelings. Nonetheless, a review has to be objective in a certain manner. It has to be fair and unbiased.
In my humble opinion, the most important points when reviewing a level are the following: design/layout (how are the platforms placed?, how easy is it to navigate around the level? is the level circular or linear? how is the weapon selection and how are the weapons placed?), eyecandy/layer work (how many layers did the author use? whats on the layers? how “beautiful” is it?), music selection (does the background music fit to the atmosphere of the level? how large is it?), tileset choice (does the level use most of the tiles in the set? is the set overused?). All of those aspects go into each of my reviews. It’s not just the “level itself”, as some people mistakenly think.
Regarding tilesets, the size (it should have at least 50 tiles), the kind of tiles that are included (useful or not?), the colours, the transparencies and the masking play the important roles. Not to forget the filesize, because most people who play on the net will have to download the set, and sets that are large for no reason could cause problems like the annoying download lag. There are sets that are bigger than 250 KB but that should always be exceptions. Most people don’t know how smart color reducing could help decreasing the file size.
Every reviewer has a different opinion on all of the above mentioned factors, no doubt about that. For example, I prefer certain tilesets to others (I find Carrotus and Diamondus boring, to name two examples), I have a favourite style of tracked modules (demostyle!) and I definitely like a certain way of level building better than others (I prefer levels that use custom and/or new tilesets, I prefer custom music for custom tilesets [d’uh :
] and I love open and circular maps). People are different, thats what makes the world an interesting place :) Hey, sorry… I had the feeling I should repeat all these stock phrases because many people sometimes forget about them. Be tolerant, respect other opinions. Of course, every reviewer should stick to the facts. If I criticize a level, it’s never meant as a personal attack. Believe me.
In my own reviews, and as you probably know, I’ve done many for J2O, I try to follow these rules. I’m pretty sure it’s not always fair and sometimes I am really completely undecided about my final rating. In the beginning, when (the “new”) J2O started, it seemed that I frightened some people with my “harsh” reviews. Later, about a month after the start, most other reviewers also got more into what they called “harsh” reviewing.
My theory on this matter is that reviews HAVE TO BE what they called “harsh”. Actually, I think “harsh” is only a different word for “fair”. If you have a level pack like, let’s say, “Another Story” by stripe, that contains about eight levels, loads of great custom music and an animated GIF, you can’t give it the same rating as a one-level submission, even if the latter is nearly perfect. I think you just have to compare the work and effort that was put into it. And if you need orientation, you should always remember that 5 is the average and a 10 (which I never gave) would mean a perfect level in every way, and there wouldn’t be anything better forever after. Isn’t that unlikely?
At the end of this article I would to draw your attention on the other major Jazz2 download sites that were big in the past (you will probably come up with lots of other sites I forgot to mention :-). In my opinion they were Jazz2City and, for a short time, from January until August 2000, UniverseJazz.
The Jazz2City download section was maintained by Steven Wakeman and in my opinion it really was (aside from the JMMB) the heart of the “community” at that time. Everyone submitted his or her work by e-mail and Wakeman actually wasn’t able to post and review them all quickly because it was so much work. But he did. And he really deserves our respect for all that hard work.
The J2C d/l section had about 2000 levels(!) when it closed in early 2000 and it still (at the time this article was written) is a great source for downloading levels and tilesets. Naturally, there were also some downsides on it: the authors weren’t able to submit their creations immediately, and there was only one reviewer who had all the load on his shoulders. Also, the rating system was, this is only my opinion, a bit underdeveloped. In the beginning there was a system using a 1-4/1-5 scale which was too limited, then it changed to a 3-star-system that is quite legendary now.
The reason for this fact is that Wakeman was a very good (others may say “harsh”) reviewer. His english was quite exacting (at least from a non-english speaking view :-) and only the elite submissions received the famous 3-star-download-recommendation.
Unfortunately, the download section got a bit week near the end of J2C, the reviews got very short and it took too long of a time before the levels were posted. Thats probably why Wakeman quit after over one year. But boy…he did an awesome job! I’m bowing down again.
However, a site called UniverseJazz came and tried to take J2C’s place. It pretty much copied most of the content of J2C, but it wasn’t able to copy the download section. The reason for this was that Alienators reviews were good, but most people found them too harmless and uncritical. He and the other staff members that posted the download also used the 3-star-rating-system that was made famous by J2C. I already described the disadvantages and this time they showed up better. There were simply too many bad levels that got a three star rating. There also was a download ratings “highscore” (there already was something similar at J2C) that counted every click on that download link. To be honest, I never liked that idea because it’s too easy to manipulate and cheat. But apart from that, and the way how UJ suddenly died, we also should pay respect for Alienator’s work as the download master of his site. It kept people making levels.
On a side note, i would like to say that I really think J2O has the best rating system ever. Be it the possibility for everyone to rate (everyone is able to rate and give his opinion, that is what we call DEMOCRACY) or be it the rating scale from 1-10 (including the less useful .X ratings), everything is just cool. The sort and statistics functions shows the user interesting facts and gives the abilities to compare authors, submissions and reviewers (for example, how “harsh” a reviewer is). Of course, there is always space for some improvements (hint, hint).
Okay guys, NOW you noticed it. I only wrote this useless article for one fair reason…here goes my plea: Do some reviews! It’s fun :-)
P.S.: Sorry for my bad english (vocabulary+grammar) (partially fixed by Violet CLM)
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.