How To Review

By Dave E

Originally published in EUG #45

One of the new features of your new EUG, which begins this issue, is a 'Reviews' section of both new and existing Electron software. These are designed to be concise, informative and of products which are professional either because they are stylish or commercially released. To an extent they follow the format of the Electron User magazines; this is not entirely accidental.

However, in the first few years of publication, all of this magazine's reviews could be summarised: "A forty-something remarking on how a game he had originally thought would be dull was 'smashing' when he played it."

Fortunately, the situation got better as the magazine got older but it doesn't get off that lightly by EUG's standards. In this article I hope to dissuade any potential reviewers for this magazine from adopting a similar style to that mentioned above - by means of the worst example. Which also means we can goggle and chuckle at the following from Electron User 1. 4 Page 12.

"Always look on the bright side," was evidently Peter Gray's motto when a "program" called Horoscopes (from a company called Third Program) landed on his desk. Now I haven't ever played this particular piece of software before but I can glean from his review that any of the following words would have accurately described it; tacky, overpriced, useless, pathetic, ridiculous...

This £9.95 program asked for its player's name and date of birth then printed out not a horoscope but simply details of their starsign. No graphics. No sound. Zilcho besides text - and each starsign's details were the same no matter what name and date of birth were entered!

Now a harsh but correct response to something like this, even at a time when standards expected of commercial programs were not very high, should have rightly been to berate it in print and laugh it out of the office. But no, Peter Gray went and found a use for it; a fete! To offload it to some other smuck, you might think. Wrong! Gray actually thought people would pay a small fee to use it - which could be forwarded to good causes!! Incredibly, he titled his review "Fun and fund-raising"!

Now I was six when this review was written [1984, fact fans - Ed] and Acornsoft's Arcadians was in the local arcade for 10p a go. This is the type of game which is "fun" (which lasted around ten minutes!). If I'd been expected to pay 10p for starsign information I could get free from TV's Russell Grant, it would have been as big a con then as it would today! "Fun"? What place is there for "fun" when £9.95 was buying you a mere few hours of programming time?

"I was hooked as soon as Horoscopes came into the office," Gray spouts. "All interesting stuff and good fun...I can see it making a fortune!" I am being deliberately selective here and missing out his complaints but these imply that there was some hope for this product. What on earth would have disappointed this man?! A lawnmower simulator would have probably had him turning cartwheels! A program printing a player's name in different colours all over the screen would undoubtedly have resulted in sleepless nights consumed with the anticipation of watching it again! The code of this program should've been listed in the magazine, not promoted as professional software through it!

Reviews should be fair and obscure uses don't really have a place unless the programmer specifically intended they be utilised in such a field. Truly awful programs like Horoscopes - which claim to be what they are not and have been produced with minimum effort - as controversial as it may seem, should be torn to pieces by a reviewer. You don't need to be insulting toward the author ["Engineered by a moron and manufactured by a git!" - Gary Strang reviewing an alarm, 'Men Behaving Badly'] but neither you should censor a view to feeling "a little disappointed as...(it's)...rather limited." If you hate the software, qualify the hate with reasoning. And, obvious as it may seem, don't attempt to review your own software!

With Horoscopes, you're left wondering if this was indeed the case and Gray was moonlighting away his lunch-break at the Third Program shack. Maybe Horoscopes' author had some compromising material he was holding over Gray or perhaps Gray was worried that, at a time when the Electron badly needed support from software houses, a rough review might scare Third Program away from the Elk.

But there cannot be any real excuse for such a review making publication in today's EUG magazine. Therefore, please contribute reviews - particularly of new Electron software/utilities - but keep them in the context of the millennium they are being produced in. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I would rather play Sir Nathaniel's Saving Game on the Electron than Goldeneye on the N64!" provided of course that you mention such a quote followed seven hours' of non-stop Goldeneye gaming.

If you send submissions for review by the editor, an honest appraisal of the work will appear in the next available issue. Like Electron User, there will be four reviews per issue. If the 'Formats:' box contains "ADFS 1D00" or "DFS" in addition to "Tape", you can order the product from us at the same price as a subscription disk.

Dave E, EUG #45