As more and more trials are being published via AAO, more and more trials are being subjected to critiques. It's a natural part of publishing: receiving feedback. However, all reviewers and critics are responsible for what they say. They own the review, so they own the consequences linked to that. In order to reduce liability on part of the critics, there is a code of ethics to be established to guide critics and reviewers on their job. Remember, the goal of the review/criticism is to help the trial author improve his/her case and improve his/her writing so that he/she can produce higher quality cases.
But before you decide to write out a critique/review, you need to have a philosophy to guide your writing. The best way to define your philosophy as a critic is to ask yourself the following and ask your self these questions several times deeply:
- What do you think is a good trial? What makes a trial “good?”
- What do you think is most important in attaining greatness in a trial?
- What have you noticed about the trials that you’ve played?
- Why are you critiquing this trial?
- How open are you to creative licenses?
- How hard/easy is it to create a trial?
- Have you created a trial and published one before?
- What matters more to you? A great, epic story? Memorable characters? Pretty graphics? Or the most authentic case that imitates Ace Attorney at its very finest?
- What do you consider to be a bad trial? What makes a trial “bad”?
After mulling the questions above, you can start to review cases.
No matter which system of review you use, this code applies to the actual writing of the review.
- First and foremost, be as honest and complete as you can when you deliver criticisms. Nothing is worse than when a reviewer is missing obvious errors in the review (that are not addressed in any way). If a certain review is clearly lacking sections that others picked up on, it may mean that:
- The reviewer doesn't have good eyes.
- The critic has extremely low standards.
- The critic is holding back his/her true critique.
- The critic is being clearly biased (and not admitting to it).
On the subject of completeness...
- Try not to leave your incomplete critique hanging if you have to stop because of life. We all have lives outside of AAO, which is fine. However, you should try to complete your review as soon as you come back. Just like showcasing a trial half finished (outside the context of competitions, as part of an ongoing series of parts, trailers and teasers) will make the author look very unprofessional and sloppy, leaving your critique half-finished will make you sloppy and very unprofessional.
- If you play a trial that you want to critique, finish the trial and complete the review. Period. It doesn’t matter if the trial looks very sloppy, half-finished, or just plainly not presentable. The author took the time to work on the Editor to showcase something (even if he/she's trolling). It's very disrespectful to the author to not finish the case all the way through. If you have to take a break from playing for awhile, then do so. But get the job done so the author can look to fixing up his/her case.
However, if you encounter problems in the trial that don't allow you to continue, you should address it in the thread and not include it in the critique unless you have completed the trial and the problem wasn't resolved by then. Alternatively, you can PM the author yourself (perferred method). These are the only things that need to be addressed before a review (and these should be placed in spoiler tags):
- A major bug that prevents you from advancing through the trial. Make sure the bug is something that can be fixed and/or Unas already knows about it. If Unas doesn't know about it and the author doesn't know how to fix it, report it to the Bug Reports section.
- Sudden "Game Over" screens. That's usually when an action that involves "go to x frame" doesn't have a value or is valued at "0." This is more likely to happen in a newbie author's trial than a veteran author's trial.
As an addendum, do note if you're using save states or advancement links. There is currently a save bug that is messing with Game Over redirects.
- Parts of the trial you seem to be stuck on and it's perfectly playable.
- All criticisms pertaining to trials should stay in the Your Trials section. You should NOT talk about any negative criticism of a trial outside of the section. More likely than not, it's going to look like you're talking crap about the author behind his/her back as a form of slander. Please don't do that. It's unprofessional and never called for. You know the saying: "Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." Keep it that way, please.
On the other side of the token, if you're using a part of your positive criticism to help promote a case, then it's totally fine, so long as you don’t overhype it. If you overhype it, chances are it’ll come off as you seeking attention (including raising expectations that will overrate the trial). It’s just as unprofessional as criticizing outside the trial thread.
- Do not let anger fully take over your reviews. At some point, you might get angry over certain sections or aspects of the trial. It’s okay to be angry when playing some parts of the trial. After all, we’re human, not saints. (No, NOT the New Orleans Saints).
Anger is appropriate in the actual critique when you temper it. Don't let your anger loose while writing a review. It'll look like flaming unless you can solidly back up your reasons for being angry at the parts of the trial.
As an addendum, don't try to copy That Guy With the Glasses or Angry Video Game Nerd. There's a methodology to their anger in their reviews. When done poorly, it's just cruel.
- The critique should contain both positive and negative aspects of a trial. While it's natural to point out the negative aspects of a trial, you should also be looking for things the author has done well. As an author, knowing what you did right is just as important as knowing what you did wrong. Remember: a critique is aimed at helping the author. A review that's full of negative criticisms is not going to help the author in any way.
- When you write out the actual review, accentuate the positives first, then bring out the negative. Professional critics will always start their reviews with things that were good about a certain thing before bringing out the bad. That being said, you should try to balance out the time you take to write out the positives with the time you take to write the negatives. Depending on the trial, you might find more things that you can praise or things you can criticize, but in general try to balance it out, with the positives first.
- If you do a comparison, make sure that the comparison is fair, and that it makes sense. A comparison is to explain aspects of criticism that can't be said easily or may be complicated to explain in technical terms. Whenever you make a comparison, take into account the context of the thing you're comparing to the thing you're comparing it with/against. For example, if the trial music has unfitting Soul Calibur Music, a fair comparison could be "Soul Calibur is nice to listen to, but it's totally unfitting as court music. Because of the music, I feel as if I'm going to go to war with the cursed sword rather than deliberate my client's case in a court of law."
- Try not to compare somebody's work to another person's work if you can't explain it fully. It's just bad form to compare two different pieces of work if there's nothing to note or nothing to justify. As an example, unless a newbie's trial is as good as Blackrune's, don't compare that trial to Blackrune's work.
- Choose your vocabulary carefully. When you write the review, be careful on how you word your sentences. You should keep in mind two major concepts: denotation vs. connotation. Denotation is the literal dictionary definition. Connotation is the alignment in terms of positive or negative and how strong a word is compared to a synonym. Connotation can, and often does, lead to misunderstandings. If English is not your strong suit, don’t use synonyms if you don’t know how strong that word is.
Take for example these two words: dislike and hate. Both are synonyms and mean relatively the same thing. However, hate is a strong word that should be used only in the most serious of situations. There's a difference between hating a book as opposed to disliking a book. Don’t say you hate something when you merely dislike it. Also take into account certain words or phrases may be offensive to the author.
If you’re using a scale or grading system or continuum system to grade the trial, the following code applies only to the actual rating section:
- Before you start, you must define your baseline averages. What this means is that you should define what is good, what is bad, and what is simply average. In Danielinhoni’s Good point/Bad points system, anything that receives a negative score is considered bad, anything that receives a positive score is considered good and anything that averages out to 0 means it’s average. In a more recent example, E.D.’s grading system listed “C” to “B-” as the baseline average, where anything lower than a “C” means it’s not good/bad and anything above “B” is considered good. If you forget to define your baseline averages, then you must make sure that the author can assume from your review of what your baseline averages are.
You may look at these examples of how a baseline average is defined.
- You need to consistently define how heavy the errors are in relation to your grading system. You should not be all over the place when you consider grading. Example: Two sections, Section A of a trial and Section B of a trial, have exactly one minor spelling error, ceteris paribus (with all other being the same). However, Section A receives an A- and Section B receives a F for the exact error. It makes your review look really unfair and unjustified throughout.
- You must make sure you are thorough in your review when you use the grading system. It takes time and effort to review a trial based on a grading system. If you can’t take the time to write up a long report, it’s best you don’t use the grading system at all. See point number 7 for the true reason you need to write up a long report.
- You should always tackle the major points that a trial is supposed to succeed on by dividing up the sections (e.g. story, music, presentation, graphics, etc). This makes your review easy to read, easy to follow, and most important of all: easy for the trial author to figure out what he/she needs to work on according to said review.
- You must separate a bug report from the review!!! They are not the same thing and should not be combined together. It’s usually convenient for the author if you introduce a bug report FIRST in your post before you post up your review. A bug report consists of obvious errors in a trial, such as spelling errors, improper syntax/grammar, glitches, missing sprites, wrong sounds. This is ONLY supposed to contain minor writing aspects, i.e. things that can be edited.
- You should make a “General Observation report.” This report allows you to note what you noticed in the story, use of music, sequence of story, logic. In other words, a “stream of consciousness” report. The only things allowed to be put in this General Observation report are major writing aspects that may need revision.
- You may separate it from the grading review, or you can combine it with the grade review (so long as the observation comes FIRST before any grading is done). Remember: anything that you note in your General Observation report should guide your review.
- The grade needs to be end-result of the review, not the core. What I mean is that the grade is the culmination of each aspect/trial's good and bad points. For this reason, you need to write out objectively what you thought about each aspect/trial and explain it fully before you give the grade.
- When you give your grade, do make sure you justify it in some form or way. Even if no one agrees with the grade you give out, giving a justification will paint a clear picture as to why you gave said grade. (It doesn’t matter if it’s an A- to an F).
- You may decide to give a mini-review per part to combine it as a whole, OR you may rate the trial overall.
- When you think you are finished with your grading, wrap it up with a conclusion of whether or not you, yourself, PERSONALLY think said trial is recommended/feature-worthy. (Either the trial as a whole, or through parts).
- When you are completely finished with your grading/review, ALWAYS cross-check your review with at LEAST two different people.This is to ensure you have been completely fair in your grades/justifications throughout your review! It will further your reliability as a critic immensely! However, be careful if one of your cross-checkers is VERY biased regarding the trial you’re reviewing.
I hope you found this code of ethics to be useful. This code should help guide your practice of critiquing and reviewing trials in a responsible manner. Before you start to review, introspect as to what you think a trial should be and ask yourself philosophical questions. Once you have established your philosophy, you can start to review trials. While each person has a different way of reviewing trials, the code of ethics applies to all, in general. As stated before, the grading system has an added responsibility to justify every grade you give. If you follow the code of ethics, you should be within the rules of AAO. And if you do your review correctly, both the author and the critic can benefit from it.