Eng298 Debate and Discussion

Here is the place that we can come to so that we might, verbally, throw fireballs and sledgehammers at one another.  Lets try and keep away from silliness though; limit logical fallacies as much as possible and avoid ad hominem attacks, methinks.  As I do not have the php skillz to craft a rudimentary forum for 40oz, we can do this through comments to this page.

So, to get things rolling; we’ll start under the premise that video game reviews ought to have a score at the end (or beginning) of them.  For now, we’ll ignore the debate over whether or not they should have a score, and focus instead on what those numbers should mean.  So as not to artificially weight my own words, I’ll add to this post just like everybody else: in the comments.

  1. d4niel on 09.24.2009

    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.

  2. Djnlady on 09.25.2009

    I tend to like PSMs take on the 10 point system. It’s basically a gradient on how advisable it is to buy the game. I shy away from ‘hard’ scoring tactics because 1- I loathe math, and 2- deciding on a specific set of values for each thing takes away from the overall picture. Sure some games get higher scores for prettier graphics, but that’s part of the experience.

    That said, just because a game has awesome graphics, doesn’t mean that it deserves a 9 out of 10. But I think that it should still be left up to the reviewer to take into account on their score but also to justify the number it’s given.

    Just like in the Fallout review, they went on about the short comings of the game for two pages, but those might’ve just made the game a bit annoying at times. It’s like scoring the DS games down because of the stylus mini games. It’s part of the game and so long as it is a minor annoyance or occasional poke from reality, it can still be a fabulous game.

  3. Vukcic on 09.25.2009

    I agree wholeheartedly with the categories system of scoring. Not only will it make the reviews much easier to write when each aspect of the game in question is separated, it will give actual weight to the score itself.

    In your WoW example, I think the score totted up at the end is a good indication of what you would give the game as a whole. Like you said, 7.9 seems low, but if it were to be higher, the individual category scores would have to be higher. You gave perfect explanation of why you gave it the score you did, and for the actual number, there had to be a reason you chose the amount you did.

    While in the scheme of things, the numbers really hold no weight unto themselves. But with good writing backing them up, the numbers become relevant. I think that’s the most important thing for us to remember.

    But back on point; yes, I agree with categories. However, the actual categories you suggest may not be compatible with every genre of game. I plan to review EA’s NHL 10 at one point, and a category like “narrative” wouldn’t really be appropriate. So should we as a class decide on a standard set of categories under which to review, or should we alter them on an individual basis to better suit each particular game?

  4. d4niel on 09.25.2009

    Vukcic –
    I think that Quality of Narrative fits rather well in with non-plot-driven games, although not quite in the traditional sense that narrative is considered. I should probably explain that this definition of narrative extends beyond plot and character development – it, as I said, is a composite of all things the game presents to us. Let’s use your example of EA’s NHL 10; superficially, two teams, made up of names and numbers, come against each other on the frozen rink. Each tries to get a little black disc into a rather small rectangular net, but this doesn’t tell much of a story.

    What’s the winning record of each team? Does one have a near-perfect, lossless season and the other a season of heavy losses? If this were the case, then the match is no longer ‘just another game’ – it now becomes a potential story of an underdog team challenging a titan, and maybe winning. How well would NHL 10 present this narrative to the player? Is the weight of any given game shown well (through menus, stats and so on) through the game, treating hugely important games with the weight they deserve? Does NHL 10 ever approach the intensity some hockey teams have with each other, setting the stage for the coming game to be more than ‘just another game’?

    Is every game in NHL 10 ‘just another game,’ or do some of them tell a story?

    I’m of the opinion that every game, whether it wants to or not, is telling a story. An excellent example of a game with beautiful narrative that never directly states any facet of this is the Total War series of games. Each game plays out radically differently than the last, regardless of how much effort is made for consistency. One game, England might conquer the isles, France, Spain, Portugal, and subjugate the Muslim world. Another, Scotland might win their war for independence and actually assimilate the Saxons into their own culture and go on to dominate Europe. The narrative is mostly a mental one; the player is not told of the figures in the campaigns, but TW:M2 provides the player an excellent platform by which to create his own narrative.

    Can a hockey game, and indeed any sports game, do this? I’d have to play a contemporary sports game to provide examples, but I think so. Games like Doom, with the advent of the rocket-jump, have shown us that players can create narratives and experiences completely independent of the games they’re found in – but still require the game as a platform in order to do so. Sometimes, as with TW:M2, quality of narrative is more about this platform than about any tacit statement on behalf of a game.

  5. Vanslithe07 on 09.26.2009

    I do have to agree with you scoring things. But like the above poster said, you gave specific reasons as to why it got the score it did. I don’t think we should be giving out extra points because to me it would seem unfair.

    Other than that I think its a solid review system to follow. It seems to me that it almost follows the pattern of IGN. Personally I don’t like the point system. It gives to much leverage with the .5’s or .7’s and etc.

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