Errant Signal: The Novelist

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jan 26, 2014

Filed under: Video Games 18 comments

Link (YouTube)

We talked about this game a few weeks ago on the Diecast. This Errant signal gives a more holistic look look at what the game is and how it works.

Chris uses it as a jumping off point for talking about review scores and the review cycle, and the score he gives at the end is the exact same score I’d give the game.


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18 thoughts on “Errant Signal: The Novelist

  1. KremlinLaptop says:

    So, I’m doing work on the weekend and watching a whole ton of LPs as basically background noise that is amusing to keep me company (Hello, Mindcrack!) and then I clicked over here and saw; oh a new Errant Signal.

    Pressed play and then every minute or so I’m pausing and going back ten seconds like, “Wait, what was that…?”

    Until I realize that, yeah, LPs are something I have on in the background but a new Errant Signal? It’s something that I WATCH.

    And that’s why Errant Signal is great because it’s a valuable source of critique and deeper thought on games media; something that can’t be put on as background noise.

    So y’know what, Chris? Thanks. Thanks for making something that isn’t just noise (And I’ll watch this to completion when I’m not doing something lame like work).

  2. ENC says:

    Main page says there’s a comment here but I click on the comments and there’s none, what is this sourcery? (sorry, I stole that pun from reddit)

    1. KremlinLaptop says:

      I suspect that phantom comments are actually comments stuck in moderation that still show as being posted on the comment count. Maybe.


      1. bucaneer says:

        I think it’s static cache. Instead of dynamically loading the page with all comments on request (which requires a lot of database lookups and harms server performance), the server generates a single static HTML version of the page with comments every X minutes which is served to all visitors. The problem arises when new comments are posted in the X minute long period between cache regeneration and the (presumably dynamic) count on the front page is updated, but the comment page is still showing older cache.

        Pretty sure the performance hit from serving dynamic comment pages was one of the reasons why Shamus had to disable comment editing. But maybe the static cache could be tweaked somehow? Perhaps regenerating it more often for new posts, when the volume of new comments if highest?

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      Which, no doubt, stole it from someone else.

  3. Chuck Henebry says:

    From the appearance of Witch Week about â…” of the way through, the game’s dramatization of a novelist balancing work and family didn’t just remind him of himself.

    I’d love to read another novel by you, Samus, one of these days.

    1. Steve C says:

      In this specific context I think you just asked Shamus to ignore his family. So Chuck, pick who gets the compromise and who the disappointment and we’ll move onto the next round.

  4. Thomas says:

    So this is where I’m differing with Chris on the review thing. What I would consider a ‘good’ review and a more ‘objective’ one would be the one he gave that was neither of those options. IE ‘Game doesn’t ultimately flesh out characters, but has a lot to say to a creative person dealing with these problems’

    His first ‘objective’ one was creating a concrete idea of what a normal person was. A normal person did not have experience writing and so probably wouldn’t be touched by the game.

    His second ‘subjective’ one, was entirely focused on himself. I had this experience so the game is fantastic. And it’s useless to people because it gives no context as to whether they might be like that to.

    The one which I would consider more objective is the one that recognises the reasons they reacted why they did and presents those reasons to the audience. I’m a writer and it struck a chord with me because of that, if I wasn’t I imagine it would go this way…

    Bob does great reviews, but I’m one of those people who has criticised him for not being objective, and I say that because when he gives a review of American Pie he basically said ‘I never cared about the American Pie cast and I don’t care about this film either, it sucks’. What I would like a critic to do is say, ‘As someone who didn’t like the american pie cast, this film failed to get me to like them, aside from my reaction I would say’

    There’s always space for entirely subjective reviews, although to me they function more like opinion pieces, they broaden perspective and encourage thought. But in terms of trying to assess a game or whether I should buy it, attempting to deconsruct the personal reasons a thing provokes an emotional response is important.

    And it’s not completely impossible either, I think both Shamus and Chris have expressed a general belief that they would believe a broad character of people (writers) would tend to like the game because it’s ‘good’ at conveying that conflict

    1. Dave B. says:

      “His second “˜subjective' one, was entirely focused on himself. I had this experience so the game is fantastic. And it's useless to people because it gives no context as to whether they might be like that to.”

      I thought Chris made the distinction quite clear, that the second review was based on his own experience and is only completely true for him.

      The problem with ‘objective’ reviews is that it often requires the reviewer to imagine a hypothetical ‘average person’ and guess what he would or would not like. This rests on two (in my opinion) flawed ideas: 1. that there is such a thing as an ‘average person’ and 2. that the reviewer actually knows what such a person likes. In essence, ‘objective’ reviews begin with a subjective review (what the reviewer thought about it personally) and are converted into an ‘objective’ review by guesses about what the audience would think (a process which is often hidden from that audience.)

      So, why not give the audience your opinion and the context for it, and let them make the application themselves? They might know what they like better than you do.

      1. Chauzuvoy says:

        I’d go even a step farther and say that the fundamental flaw of “objective” reviews is to think that a creative work like a game can be reviewed (much less critiqued) without introducing or reflecting the critic’s own ideas and experiences. Not just for more reflective pieces like The Novelist where the game breaks down if you can’t sympathize with the titular character’s passion for his book, but for bigger works like Bioshock Infinite, which was widely praised by reviewers and gamers who were in a lot of ways so desensitized to the actual content of the gameplay (i.e. floaty, gory violence and swashbuckling action) that they ignored it (or at least, the way it interacted on a tonal level with the better parts of the game) in favor of focusing on the human elements and big ending that earned the game such great reviews. The reason that a lot of reviewers (and players, for that matter) were willing to overlook the games flaws was because, in a lot of cases, First Person Shooting is what they expected from the game due to their experiences with the series and the medium. People who play as Nathan Drake, Lara Croft, and CODSoldier 7 aren’t going to be put off by the fact that Bioshock Infinite routinely breaks off from commenting on racism and religion and game narrative structures and multiverses in order to shoot hundreds of racists in the face, because shooting hundreds of racists (or gangsters, or cultists, or terrorists, or whatever brand of “mook” we’re going with) is what big adventure games do.

        Or look at reactions to GTAV reviews that had the gall to point out that the three protagonists are unlikeable because they do horrible things for inconsistent motivation. Or the reviewers who do point that out in the narrative context, even though they have no compunctions with shooting and running over random civilians in order to toy around with the game systems. The stance a reviewer takes on these or just about any part of a game, as well as the impact they have on the experience of playing the game are just as “subjective” as Chris and Shamus being able to ‘get’ The Novelist in a way that many people won’t or can’t due to their own experiences as creative people. I think acknowledging what parts of your own experience or other views are informing your experience with and opinion of a game (or film, or TV show, or whatever) is really the best we can hope for. Trying to go any farther than that means that you’re going to either remove most of what makes the review worth reading/watching (much less making) by simplifying it to a feature list or you’re going to wind up bringing in your own ‘baggage’ to the game (and thus the review) anyways and try passing it off as “objective” while ignoring your own critical influences.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          “Trying to go any farther than that means that you're going to either remove most of what makes the review worth reading/watching (much less making) by simplifying it to a feature list[.]”

          Yes indeed – here’s a link to Rock Paper Shotgun’s objective review of The Stanley Parable:

          (PS I’m of the opinion that true objectivity is a logical impossibility for any kind of consciousness … which means subjectivity is the only game in town!)

    2. Retsam says:

      I don’t generally agree with the sentiment that “objective” reviews are better for a lot of the reasons mentioned by others. I’d agree with Chauzuvoy and say that “objective” reviews are something of a myth. Even if your review only consists of objective “facts” about the game, which facts you focus on are going to say a lot about you subjectively as a reviewer.

      That being said, I think a rule of thumb that reviewers should follow that might avoid the Moviebob problem here is: “If you can’t enjoy a film/book/game for a reason external to that book/film/game, then you probably shouldn’t review it”. For a critic to say “I didn’t enjoy X because Y” is fine; for them to spend an entire review talking about how much they didn’t enjoy X is probably not helpful.

      I specifically always point to Moviebob’s review of Book of Eli as being essentially 5 minutes of Moviebob having baggage about religion; a valid opinion, but fairly worthless as a way of gauging the merits and quality of the film; (not to bash Moviebob too much, I don’t know too many reviewers who don’t do this from time to time)

      1. Otters34 says:

        An objective review is easy.

        1) Explain what the game tries to do.
        2) Explain how it tries to do it.
        3) Give an assessment on whether it succeeds or fails based on its aims and methods, with a side-order of the eternal question: what mechanical problems might make enjoying or playing it difficult?

        There’s plenty of space for both critique and personality in that.

  5. thebob288 says:

    I enjoy errant signal I find it fascinating how I almost always find at least one thing in every errant signal that I really disagree with but errant signal is the only review show where even when I disagree with its opinion I still feel I gained something from watching and hearing that opinion and that’s really cool. Hope you keep making videos.

  6. WillRiker says:

    As an aside: did anyone else notice how awful the voice acting is? I haven’t played the game, so I’m just basing this on the clips in the video, but man. I wonder if that might somewhat play into Campster’s perception that the characters don’t feel very realized; it’s hard to get invested when the VA is reading something that’s supposed to be deeply emotional as if they’re reading out of the phone book.

    1. Chris says:

      I’m torn on it. On one hand, it does feel stiff and wooden. On the other hand, the game is very much about the mundane and uninteresting; it’s a game that avoids melodrama where possible. Most of the voiced bits are internal monologues or measured letters to friends and family, and so they’re never in the heat of the moment – you never get a snippy conversation between Dan and Linda or a tender moment where Dan tucks Tommy into bed.

      It also doesn’t help that a lot of these speeches are procedurally put together based on what you did or didn’t do in the last round, meaning that the tone needs to be kept consistent – it would be weird to shift wildly back and forth between Dan being angry he didn’t get to go to his thing and thankful he spent time with his son.

      So I’m not sure whether the acting is a consequence of the actors not having much to work or if it really is tied to their skill as actors. I will say that while the acting never moved me emotionally, it also never felt so awkward or inappropriate as to take me out of the experience. I’d consider it a wash, really – neither adding to nor removing from the game.

  7. Dude says:

    Someone else probably said it before, but there’s only one good thing that comes out of Spoiler Warning being on break, and that’s Errant Signal!

  8. Phantos says:

    Only loosely related to novels and novelists, but I just got my copy of The Witch Watch today.

    It is encouraging to know that a person can make a book. Like a human being can get it done, and not some distant Hollywood writing machine but an actual dude can make this happen in their spare time. Gives me hope for some of the half-finished novels stinking up my hard-drive.

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