Cross-posted from a Videogame Analysis & Criticism class piece.
I’m of the opinion that, if we’re going to use a scoring method for game reviews, then there should be some level of consistency among them. Whether this consistency occurs in the writings of an individual over the course of several pieces, or if it’s adopted by a group of us is something that I think is up to individual consideration. So then, some thoughts:

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to assume that we’ll be using a traditional 10-point scoring system with one decimal placement; ie, a score can range from 0.1 to 10.0, with any variation in between. Personally, I feel that no single aspect of the game should receive more consideration than another; the score is meant to represent the game as a whole, and therefore it should represent this. This means that the gameplay and mechanics of a game should not be able to outweigh graphical considerations and replay value, or any other scoring variable present. Working from this, I propose the following:

1: Five categories for any given game: Visual Representation, Gameplay and Level of Immersion, Mechanics and Technical Considerations, Quality of Narrative, and Connectivity. A breakdown of each will follow.

2: Each of the given categories are worth a maximum of 2.0 points (or whatever title you wish to give the metric).

3. (This is only an idea) Each of the point values ought to be justified in a short sentence, followed by a possible caveat. Ie, “Visual Representation Score: [World of Warcraft’s] art direction is fantastic, but low-polygon models make it appear dated.”

Category Explanation (Using World of Warcraft as a source)

1: Visual Representation: This includes not merely how advanced and high-tech the graphics of a given game are, but also the artistic direction and merits of them. To use the example from above, World of Warcraft had some of the best art direction I’ve ever seen; at any given moment, the color choices and shapes create a near-flawless harmony between player avatars and the environments they inhabit. However, the low polygon count of any given object in-game, combined with the frequent terribly-mismatched armor and weapons, make it painfully clear that we’re still playing a game and not watching a cartoon. Score: 1.6/2.0

2: Gameplay and Level of Immersion: This is likely to be the most contentious category among critics, as it will likely be the most subjective. This is where the “fun” aspect of a game comes into play – how great does it feel to chop that orcs head off, and how rewarding was beating that final boss? Level of Immersion relates to how integrated you, as a player or writer, feel within the game. Do the sounds create an ambiance that actually makes you scared to open that next door? Do the monsters you encounter feel like living, breathing creatures with purpose, or merely mindless automatons that exist solely to die at your hands? Example: The gameplay in WoW is fast and frenetic and, at times, incredibly demanding of the player due to the staggering variety of possible actions. Unfortunately, it falls to the same issue of most MMO-style games; click a monster to target, press button 4 to use a special attack, and then press button 5 when you dodge to use a stronger special attack. As with most MMO’s, the level of immersion extends only so far as the player is willing to suspend his disbelief; monsters stand stationary or trod along paths, oblivious until an encounter with a player occurs. Even then, most monsters simply stand and swing their weapons, never moving, repositioning, or engaging in anything that might actually make the player believe the monster actually cared about winning the fight. Score: 1.4/2.0

3: Mechanics and Technical Considerations: This is where a writer examines how well the game actually works. Do certain abilities feel grossly underpowered and useless? Do the control inputs lag at critical times? Example: WoW’s combat system has been tuned to the degree of high-caliber military applications, with each ability seemingly weighed in both combination and opposition with all others in the game. While some abilities are very strong, like the warrior’s Execute, it is keenly balanced by only being useable at certain key times. The controls and interface, once customized, are brilliant – information is presented clearly and effectively and work very well with the traditional mouse and keyboard setup. However, the lack of collision detection means that players can run through each other and monsters, and sometimes the character models have overhangs and weapons that stick into their legs. Score: 1.8/2.0

4: Quality of Narrative: How is the writing in the game? If the game is story-based, how believable and compelling is the story? Are the characters well-rounded and interesting, or dull and typical? If there is not a written or even clearly-stated story, how is the extra-literal narrative (Portal is a great example of a game with phenomenal Quality of Narrative without ever actually stating what’s going on) as portrayed by environments and actions? This category can take into consideration other categories, as narrative is a composite of all things represented. Example: Aside from the sarcastic, name-dropping and geek-culture loving jokes found throughout, World of Warcraft isn’t terribly compelling on its own: the main goal is the acquisition of items and gold. Although the various NPCs and enemy monsters generally have a token story behind them, it clearly wasn’t the focus of WoW. However, through clever graphical tricks and relying on the community to create storylines of their own, WoW managed to create a Quality of Narrative a bit ahead of other games released in a similar time window. Score: 1.3/2.0

5: Connectivity: This category relates to how Internet-connected any given game is, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be multiplayer or downloadable content. This is also one of the more flexible categories; obviously, it isn’t fair to attach a hardline weight to multiplayer when a game contains absolutely no connectivity with other players. Therefore, it must be judged on what it does have; is the multiplayer matchmaking system (for FPS, strategy and so on) robust and customizable? Are there indie maps hosted, for free, by the game publisher? Does the game allow for a formalized friend and enemy system? Example: World of Warcraft shines strongest in this department, as do most online games – the nature of playing in an online-only world ensures that one cannot play WoW without doing so without other players. Content patches, which introduce new areas of play, class changes, and other game tweaks, are frequent and, aside from formal expansions, are entirely free. Unfortunately, the patching system – which relies on a bit torrent network – it notoriously finicky, giving some players very high download times and others excessively slow ones. Game servers, in addition to having rather long periods of downtime for patches, servers are also restarted once each day in about hour-long cycles. Obviously, it sucks to be you if your playtime regularly falls during these restarts – which occur very early in the morning. Score: 1.8/2.0

Which gives us a score of 7.9 out of 10 – which seems substantially lower than what I would have given World of Warcraft had I, without categorizing individual aspects of a game, given it initially. This speaks to another question that I’m undecided on: should there be extra points that I can give to WoW in this example? How would having a 0.5 “flex” score work during the review process? It would allow great games that fall just a bit short in several areas to make up a bit of the points if they really are greater than the sum of their parts – and it would allow to reduce the score of a bad game with great individual parts. I’d also like to further explore breaking down the five categories; maybe break some of them down into four 0.5-part segments, a couple of them into two 1.0 segments, and so on. This strikes me as a bit more professional and analytical way to do so – it also seems that it might get the closest at generating an effective composite score. Of course, this system would likely be terribly impractical – especially if justification for each of the segment scores were given.

The thing with game scores is that they tend to merely provide validation of opinion to reader’s; although they might be more inclined to read a review of a game that receives a 9.8 as opposed to 7.8, the most attention is almost always drawn to a game’s score /after/ a reader has played the game. The furor that came from the Edge review of Killzone 2 came almost exclusively from players that had already played the game. I’m curious about an aspect of those verbally-violent readers; were they so upset because Edge was defaming their /game/, or their /opinion of the game/? It strikes me that if a reader adores a game, and reads a review that gives the game a very high score, then the reader will think to himself: I was right – it really was a great game. But should the opposite happen – and the game receive a low or mediocre score – will the reader think to himself, “This author is saying I was wrong!”? I think the verdict is always gonna be out on that one.

Some final thoughts: although this system is by no means as refined as I want for it to be, I believe that it will provide a good starting point. I’m still not sure whether or not games NEED to be scored, as I fear that it unduly influences both how a reader sees a review and a game, and I’m not sure I want that sort of leverage. Just the same, I will be scoring each game I play for 40oz, but posting it intentionally separately from the original article. Those scores can be found here: 40oz Game Scores

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