How do I review games, and for God's sake why? The answer to the second question is easier, so I will write it first - I review because I like it and I can do it. If you are interested how I review games, then read on, this short article will explain how I do it, so you don't wonder why I gave game X such a high score when it is really crap, and game Y such a crappy score when it really is a brilliant gem.
I read a lot of reviews, and I am interested in other games. So
I am really annoyed when I read a formulaic review that does not say anything
about the game quality, but rambles about its content, control method or some
particular aspect that the reviewer didn't like. You have seen it yourself - the
review starts with 2 paragraphs of useless info that everyone knows about: what
the game is, who published it, were there any prequels and what other game's
glory is it trying to mimic. Occasionally, these paragraphs will contain also
some smart ass comments about the state of the industry which become completely
irrelevant two weeks after the review is published. So I say - off with this
boring introductory paragraph.
Next, reviewers think its OK to bore you with the story setup for the game - so this usually takes up another fat paragraph. Look, the setup of the story is the first thing the player will see when he plays the game, and the first thing he will watch when searching for trailers on the game on the internet. Plus, it is critically unimportant to the quality of the game. Why does virtually every reviewer include this - beats me, it must be in "How to write reviews in one easy lesson". So I won't be including such a paragraph in my reviews.
Next, reviews seem to focus really heavily on secondary aspects of the game experience - was the story on par with Hollywood movies, did the actors record the dialog properly, was the music score brilliant. While I agree that all these ingredients are important, they cannot break or make a game for me. If I want to watch clever dialogue and an engaging story, I will watch a movie - that is the primary medium to look to for such qualities. When I play a game, its important for me that I participate in the game, not just watch it. And for that, I will allow that the story is simplistic and the dialog adequate. If we place the priority on those things, then inevitably the gameplay will suffer - as we can see in recent games.
We need to encourage developers to think in game mode - not movie mode. This means thinking about what the situation is, and how to give the player options to affect the situation, so he can arrive at another situation that he will have a whole different set of options. Instead, we encourage the developers to think what would be cool for the player to see on screen while absently tapping on some control key. No game like should ever get a decent score.
Plus, games are an investment. They cost some 50 bucks, and if you read reviews, you will see people complaining that game X and Y is too complicated, and requires the player to go though a learning curve - to play the game. Reviewers want to be able to pick up the game straight away and finish it quickly, and they are transferring this mentality to the player consumer. Then they complain that some games are too short, or too easy. This is creating the infamous "casual gamer" target audience (that doesn't exist, btw) that all the publishers try to cater to. Ultimately, this lowers the quality and longevity of the games that are produced.
I will try to minimize all the things I mention here in my reviews. The following Q&A section discusses the actual scoring process:
|Q:||What is the scale of the review scores?|
|A:||The review scale used to be 0-100 but I changed it to 0-10. Less digits to write, and it can easily be transformed to the old scale. The whole scale is used in the reviews, not just the upper 4 digits, so a score of 5 means an average game, while a score of 8 or 9 means a very good game indeed.|
|Q:||What aspects of the game do you score?|
|A:||The review score is a composite of the following categories: Duration and Variety, Story and Pacing, Gameplay, Visual Quality, Sound Quality and Impression. The reviewer cannot give the game a final score, it is automatically calculated from these categories. The equation changes from time to time to better reflect an average.|
|Q:||What does the Duration and Variety category mean?|
|A:||This scores the length of the game in hours, since I maintain that a game should provide much more entertainment time than say, a movie. If a game is longer, then it will receive a higher score. The variety section determines how much of the game's actual length is fresh content, and not repetition of a mechanic, content or environment. If the game has good variety - it changes locales, modes of play, control mechanisms and types of enemies, it will score higher in this category. Duration and variety are a natural pair, since long duration without variety is meaningless, and variety without duration is equally pointless. So, to sum up, games that have a decent length and are varied though the end receive a high score in this category.|
|Q:||What does the Story and Pacing category mean?|
|A:||This category scores the quality of the story in the game, as well as how that story is paced through the course of the game. Games with great stories that unravel quickly or in weird moments will receive a lower score. The dynamics of the story (how it unfolds) is equally important to the impression as the story itself. Just like Duration and Variety, these two categories naturally supplement each other.|
|Q:||What does the Gameplay category encompass?|
|A:||Even though I am not a big fan of composite scores, the gameplay category scores a lot of things: the control method, enemy challenge, AI quality, interface complexity, game interaction depth etc. These all sound like good categories, but ultimately none of them can stand on its own - so I rolled them all in the gameplay category, and this is the single most important category in the overall score calculation.|
|Q:||What do the Visual and Sound Quality categories score?|
|A:||They score their own respective field. The visual quality scores the quality of the environments, lighting, models, animation etc. The sound quality scores the musical score, the sound effects, voice over etc. They are naturally separate, and contribute to the overall score, but not in a way that the previous 3 categories. I maintain that while high scores in these areas are important, they cannot produce a high overall score if the more important categories are not scored high.|
|Q:||What does the Impression category mean?|
|A:||This is a personal score modifier that the reviewer can give to the game. It is what the reviewer would have given the game as a score had he only had ONE number to give it. It should represent a personal score for the game from the reviewer. It can be used to affect the overall score positively or negatively, but its influence is not big enough to affect the overall score dramatically.|
|Q:||How is the overall score calculated?|
|A:||The overall score is not kept in the database, it is always calculated on the fly. To calculate it, I use a simple weighted average of all the categories. The actual weight of each category changes from time to time, but their relationship never changes. For example, gameplay is always the most important category - followed by duration and variety, then story and pacing, then visual and sound quality and finally the modifier is the least important category. All the categories contribute to the final score, but the reviewer cannot tailor the score to a particular value, he can just weigh it towards some value if he is careful: however, reviewers should be encouraged to focus on scoring each category separately, and not worry about the overall score, since that can change at any time by changing the calculation formula.|