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So remember two weeks ago I talked about making two announcements every Tuesday? Or was it three weeks? Time wizzes by at a speed that it could render anyone daft. I first talked about going to EGX Rezzed two weeks ago, but then last week I suddenly went silent. Well, the reason for it was I was incredibly ill. In fact, I was fortunate that I had written my article a week in an advance or I'd have nothing to deliver. So, a week later and on the far end of illness, I have a cool announcement to make.
Every Thursday and Sunday, I am hoping to do streams on Twitch.
No. Wrong Twitch. Not even an original joke. How are you even meant to stream on it?
On Thursday, from 6pm to 8pm GMT, it will be Riobux's Thursday Conquest (okay, I couldn't think of a good alliteration for Thursday). You see, Mount & Blade: Warband has been one of those games I've been wanting to complete for years upon years. Now though, now I put my shoulder to the plow and finally put my character as ruler on the lands. With the guiding help of the audience who will tell me how to finally put a crown on my head and how to just stop being a complete boob.
On Sunday, from 6pm to 8pm GMT, it will be Riobux's Sunday Snooze. You know those days when you don't know what game to play? You run your finger along your library of games until, at random, you slide the case out. Sunday Snooze is just a day where we get to pick a game at random (perhaps even co-op or multiplayer for audience participation), perhaps talk about it like one does a fine wine and generally banter about various things.
Both these can be found on my channel, right here.
Either way, I do hope the streams will be enjoyable for everyone involved. They'll be starting this week on Thursday, with a somewhat minimalistic build for now (I'm 90% ready, but haven't put into place one or two art/music things). You can make sure the streams will be up by following me on Twitter.
Hey, so today I'll be offering some small tips on how to improve your reviews.
So recently, I ended up in an interesting position. Despite being an amateur reviewer (seriously, compare mine with anyone at Destructoid's, I'm still very shaky, formulaic and dry), I've ended up offering advice out to people trying to get into reviewing. Just some starting tips of how to improve their reviewing style. So I thought I'd write this little article with some advice of how to write your own reviews, with references to my own reviews and reviews on Destructoid as examples. I admit these four nuggets of knowledge are very basic tips, and I am far from a professional, however I do hope they are a launching pad to jump off from. Anyway, may as well get on with the show.
The first important part, as you open up your favourite word document, is to pick the right game to review. I admit this sounds a bit forceful, a tad daunting and maybe a smidge odd as well, however there is a logic to reviewing some games over others. When you set out to review something, you need to consider one thing above all else: “Will someone want to learn about this?”. A handy cheat-sheet for this question is this: “Is the game in the public's interest or is it a good game?”.
Although it does help with your word processor has a spell checker.
To break it down further (I'm really sorry if this comes off as pedantic or patronising), “is it in the public's interest?” means is it in the public's eye currently. These tend to be games with a strong word-of-mouth and/or a lot of hype behind them. Like for instance, it can be a game that is being made by a popular developer (e.g. Nintendo), are part of a popular series (e.g. Call Of Duty) or have been generating a lot of press coverage (e.g. Hatred). The main goal for the reviewer in this scenario is to dispel or reinforce the hype these games have. They are the handy guide of if someone should buy the game or give it a miss, depending on the reasons you give to rate it how you have.
The alternative scenario, “is it a good game?”, sounds like you're rigging the deck to just give positive scores out. However, in this scenario the role of the review isn't to say if the game is good or bad. After all, it isn't even in the public's eye (I'll get to what if it's bad in a moment). The role, rather, is to raise awareness of the game that you feel is good. You're going to be discussing what the game is, how it is good and dwell a bit upon the negative parts, but due to it being a good game you're more likely to talk about the things you did like. The role then is for the reader to consider what you liked and disliked, and conclude if it is a match for them.
However, remember that you are helping the audience work out if the game works for them, rather than just simply selling them on the game. If you perhaps “forget” that the game you really love has game-breaking glitches or features sexualisation and make the game seem faultless (well, sexualisation is a subjective fault) when it does have issues, the end result is a lot of anger. So you still have to review it, rather than do a “fan perspective” where you talk about how it is the best thing since sliced bread.
No matter what, I have to remember that sexualisation is a subjective fault. No matter how hard it is to think otherwise.
Although it is important to note that games in the “is it a good game” category are ones that fly under the radar of attention. So, what if the game is unpopular and isn't good. To put it bluntly: Why review it? The end result will be this: The game escaped people's attentions, so they weren't going to buy it anyway. You'll raise awareness of the game by writing a review of it, just to tell people not to buy it. So then nothing has changed, except now people know of a game that is likely bad in an inoffensive manner and will fade into obscurity once more. So by picking a game that is in the public eye and/or good, there is a chance to change (or don't, if a game has good press, nothing really wrong with reinforcing said positive perceptions) the outcome.
So now you have your game picked, and you're just vomiting words onto the paper. You've never been so excited in your life. However, there is just one more step before you type even word one: Think about who your audience is. I know, I know, “it's for people who play games” and “that's just marketing, I'm just doing small reviews non-professionally”, but this is still important. I mean, you do this anyway whenever you talk to anyone or write anything technically (e.g. you likely wouldn't talk to your friends like you speak to your parents, and vice-versa). Just now you need to think about it on a concious level rather than the sub-concious rules you use when talking to different people.
The main question to work out is this: “What do I expect people who read my reviews to know and like?”. What language you use, what references you make and even what games you review rests upon this. After all, there isn't any point in bringing up the Buddhist term “mu” (as in, “the question is wrong”) if the expected readers are those who may have a very casual understanding of Buddhism at best. Similarly, it may not be a good idea to review a PS4 game and make references to a X-Box One game to an audience that are primarily Nintendo fans.
However, if you really can not work this out at the start, don't worry. As you write to your own style and develop it further, you will tend to gravitate a particular audience. If you tend towards morbid jokes in your reviews, you will draw in those who like that. Similarly, if you start making hyperbolic exaggerated jokes (think Angry Video Game Nerd or, at least, Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation) then people who like those jokes will stick around.
And if you tend towards no jokes, like I mostly do, then that's fine too I suppose.
It is when you begin writing for a website you have to be more careful, as most websites have a particular type of audience they cater to. For instance, Gamers Honest Truth is PG when it comes to reviews/previews so you have to avoid going too far with morbid or sexually-charged humour. Although most websites will tend to recruit based on previous work, so they'll be familiar with your style. Plus, you will likely naturally gravitate towards websites that share your train of thought when applying for a contributor role somewhere.
So while this step may be the hardest to really pin down, it is also the one that is most likely to just slide in place on its own. It just really helps to be able to work it out, especially as it allows you to focus your style more towards what people want. Just like you can notice a subtle style change of Yahtzee Crowshaw pre-Escapist Zero Punctuation and Escapist Zero Punctuation.
So now you're bursting to write something, ANYTHING! You've got writing blue balls as you just want to jump in and worship that amazing game you played or to throw down the stairs that horrid piece of trash you had to experience. However, just wait a little more. You'll get to write something, I promise, but you can't jump into the meat of the matter quite yet.
You see, reviews are like hot baths. You must ease the audience in. If they go in too quickly, they'll just leap back out and complain about 1st degree burns. So you must slide them in gently by using an intro. There are many ways to do this, and it is really about finding your comfort zone. I tend towards making commentary about the videogame scene related to the game (e.g. in Life Is Strange Episode 1, I talked about the genre “episodic choose-your-own adventure”). Jason Faulkner uses personal opinions to create a more personal feel to it in his review of #IDARB. I notice Chris Carter in Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask and Patrick Hancock in Apotheon using the introduction to set the scene by talking about a bit of background. If you do take my proposed route, I tend to feel it is important to just set the scene and introduce the reader into the general area of your game. As strange as it is, I feel a good sign you're on the right path is if you've written a few sentences into the review and you haven't name-dropped the game.
Although some reviewers like Ben Davis in Grow Home and Greg Tito in Nihilumbra do jump straight in by talking their general view of the game without the nitty-gritty, so introductions are really something you have to feel out.
Although, like beginning an interview, I believe its best to not call someone a pathological liar in an introduction.
Another reason why reviews are like hot baths is once you're done, you have to dry up. Otherwise you're soaking wet, you're dripping water around the house and you look like a boob. So you have to wrap up the review in a nice little package before punting it out the door. After all, the majority of your review people are going to remember the best is going to be the conclusion. The most basic of conclusions will just be a quick discussion of your score, your pros, cons and any misc thoughts. Again, this is something you're going to have to feel out.
Failing everything when it comes to introductions and conclusions, feel free to just look through reviews you enjoy reading. Observe how they do it, work out if you like that style and go for it. You will likely subconsciously give a twist to your influence, so don't worry about doing this type of research.
My final piece of advice in this collection is something I admit took me some time to learn. It will save you from talking needlessly about, say, graphics or sound in a game where those parts aren't really important. Plus, it will help focus your piece to be more to-the-point. When you are writing your review, think about your average reader from your targeted audience. Then think on what questions they are likely asking about the game and what they are likely thinking.
For instance, lets assume your target audience are PC gamers who willingly spend 4+ hours a day playing videogames. If you were to review Payday 2, what will they be thinking about and be asking about? Chances are, I wouldn't need to even acknowledge the graphics or the soundtrack (as nice as the soundtrack is, the average reader will likely not pick up on it).
Maybe I'll talk about the levelling system, the amount of weapons and the amount and variation of heists, as they reflect the amount of time a member of my target audience is able to dump into the game before growing bored. I would also mention the stealth system, as this could potentially offer more replayability, although some may get annoyed at the awkward nature of it. It may also be an idea to talk about single player and multiplayer, and how these work, as they would warn the less social members of my target audience that they would likely need to play with others to enjoy themselves.
Payday 2 players who don't already hate the community, tend to be at least mildly peeved the 10th time someone bags all the engines in Big Oil Overkill/Deathwish.
Although if you want something to start off with, I feel answering “what?” (what is the name of the game, and what is it roughly about?), “who?” (who are the developers?), “where?” (what platforms is it on?), “why?” (if it has one, what is the rough plot?), “how?” (what is the gameplay?). These are questions that I'd say about 90% of audiences ask of most games. However, once you know your target audience, you will know more what questions and thoughts they are having about the game you are reviewing.
With these four pieces of advice, I hope you are able to at least start off writing your own reviews. It is only once you start writing reviews that you may begin improving and getting better. Through practice and reading and studying reviews you enjoy you may hone your craft and build a style others will enjoy reading. If you feel your quality of work is good enough and want to get your foot in the door of games journalism, the place that I work for are looking for volunteers to write reviews/previews, you may find more information here. Either way, good luck with writing reviews and I am more than happy to hand out more pieces of advice if people want me to (even if I am still an amateur at what I do).
I love the imagination that videogames bring. I love the inventive stories, I love the new fresh ways mechanics test your mind and I love the imaginative worlds both these two things exist in.
… Okay, perhaps this may be a very vague area, but there is a reason for such vagueness. You see I've already gushed over, what may be, the best game ever made: Zero Escape Virtue's Last Reward. Twice. I've obsessed over how much I love stories in things in an indirect manner (plus I fear repeating myself in terms of things I've said about Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward). I have even talked about my love towards what I feel is the under-rated classic Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (which, amusing enough, the community assignment behind it required the same title system). There is also how useful I've found videogames as a conversation piece. However, what ties this all together in a neat bow? I believe that is imagination.
So, to help make it more defined, I wish to talk about how I love the imagination that videogames distil in three wonderful ways.
I feel one of the fruits of the mind, the one that holds its hand with intellect, is imagination. While the field of facts, figures and truths is a cold sphere, the fantasy our brains can conjure up is an explosive rainbow that colours our world. The world of facts and the realm of ideas are chaotic forms that, when alone, rampage uncontrollably. Although, when put together something wondrous occurs that has inspired awe for centuries upon centuries. When truths combine with imagination, that is when inspiration is born like a blooming rose. A powerful force that helps focus us to do beautiful things.
You better believe that the second-to-last sentence in that paragraph got Kiss From A Rose by Seal stuck in my head.
I love how games have inspired us through their imagination to help us create the things people have and to do the things people have done. I really do adore how the imagination in videogames have inspired further videogames that inspire even further videogames. I really do love how Metroidvania is a genre born from people being inspired by the old Metroid and Castlevania games which then have their own twists on the genre. That these alternative interpretations of the original Castlevania and Metroid games then further inspires games that are even more different from the original form.
I also love how this imagination even inspires media from beyond videogames. I love how the beautiful times I have with videogames have lead me to a point where I am happy to write about them and how they inspire cultures and societies to be affected. I really cherish all the works of art, the videos and the pieces of music that couldn't exist without videogames, from the historically minded A Complete History Of The Soviet Union Through The Eyes Of A Humble Worker, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris by Pig With The Face Of A Boy, to the emotional Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle by Mountain Goats and Kaki King, all the way to the really silly Space Jam remixes of videogame songs (including Dunkganronpa, especially Dunkganronpa).
As this electronic hobby inspires us to contribute our own perceptions of this media, from the single comments to full-on media creation, what we end up with is a magical melting pot of millions of ideas that help inspire other parts of our lives. It inspires us to get up in the mornings, it inspires connections between others and it inspires us to think in new and fascinating ways. While it is hard to deny that it has lead to some pretty shameful things, I love how the good things it influences colossally out-weigh the bad.
It is a pity that video games have inspired lazy journalists/researchers that seek to harvest viewers by creating a moral panic with dubious data.
With such a large imagination that videogames have, I love that it is through this that games are incredibly varied. I love that I can crawl out of bed, scratch my bed-hair and look through my collection on what form of experience I'd like today. I love that on my Steam library, next to Darkest Dungeon (a dungeon crawling game with sanity as a mechanic), is Darkest Hour: A Hearts Of Iron Game (a grand strategy based in World War 2) which is next to Darkest Hour: Europe '44-'45 (a gritty FPS based in World War 2), which is then followed by The Darkness 2 (a comic-book inspired FPS where you can mix gun-play with demonic forces). Just to not have a dull day thanks to videogames is something I am incredibly grateful for.
Just being able to have such a large variation in games breeds not only a lovely diverse mix of fan-inspired material, but also countless things to analyse and comment on. I really am blessed that I can dive into pretty much any videogame and be able to extract something new and interesting to talk about with people. That each and every one can scratch a different precise itch, stand as very precise evidence for a very particular point and be able to speak at least very subtly differently from every other game. This range of imagination promises me that even decades from now, when I think I've dug through the barrel and seen it all, I'll be able to still stumble upon something fresh and unique.
Which leads me magnificently to the third way that I love the imagination in games. Videogames have the ability to help us think of things in new and exciting ways, as we are faced with not just a variety of things (as I said before) but at least most of these things challenge us mentally to think about things in new and exciting ways. They present a problem that would most likely not occur to us personally, and we are asked to fix said problem. This is not only on an over-arching narrative/grand strategy level where you consider your rough scheme to fix the problem (or even decide not to for whatever reason), but on a situational level too. For instance, in Europa 4 we not only have to decide roughly how we're going to progress our nation so it becomes the most successful in the world, but on a moment-by-moment level like “okay, so Sweden is attacking me and I'm Denmark, they're a lot bigger than me, how can I repel off the attackers?”.
Although interesting, it took about 100 years of set-backs to save up enough money to afford to build an embassy.
Just the sheer fact that every problem we solve in a game gets stored in our minds for future use is just something I love. We think about every time we saved the world in a Final Fantasy or every time a heist went bad in Payday 2, and we apply this knowledge wherever we can. Sure, the majority of the time it will stay in the realm of games. After all, it wouldn't be the best of ideas to apply knowledge from Payday 2 to real life. However, sometimes we transfer to our own lives to fix whatever problems arise.
Maybe you'll notice your friend is acting suspiciously quiet and somber. This makes you remember a certain character who acted in a similar way before taking their life, so you then know to just talk to them. To just simply listen to what they have to say, and help guide them so they may push back their own demons. There is also the story of the Norwegian child who used knowledge from World Of Warcraft to save himself and his sister from a moose attack. These are perhaps extreme examples, as games can touch us in ways that are more subtle; such as using Tetris to help organise our rooms or using Elegy For A Dead World to help learn how to write better. As videogames challenge us further to solve unique problems, we grow mentally to face up against such difficulties and come away better people for it.
Sometimes the unique problem we solve is if we're a bad enough dude to shoot aliens in the face, and the answer is always: Yes.
I love how the imaginative forces of games have helped inspire me to write this piece, describe it in a colourful way (or at least I hope it is) and just know that I likely haven't even taken a dip below sea level to spot the rest of this iceberg. As the imagination in this electronic pass-time isn't just vast but seemingly infinite. I love that from this medium, we walk away improved beings that are able to tackle our lives in more interesting and efficient manners. That we learn through play, making this self-improvement more fun than work.
Most of all, and I think is the best way to conclude such an article, I love every single one of you for sharing your perceptions and past-experiences with videogames with everyone one else. After all, the only way we can tap into the endless supply of imagination this medium has to offer, is by us offering our unique life experiences and perceptions of the medium as every single one of us examines the medium we love. I simply love that among the millions of people who play videogames, we will always have at least one person who will speak up with “well, what about...”, and from that a new idea is born. A new idea that will now bloom into a fresh new experience for every one of us to look upon in awe. Which will lead to further ideas, as new people enter the hobby and old ones leave so we always have fresh insight to games. We will forever tap the infinite rainbow well of imagination, and continue on as improved people for it. For that, I love this medium.
Fun fact! I used the word "love" twenty-five times!
Note: So next Tuesday is going to have a special announcement. Just as a teaser, I'll leave this picture here.
Today, I booked my three-day ticket to EGX Rezzed and I wondered if others wanted to meet up and high-five each other.
So about half a week ago, I alluded that I have two revelations that I'm spacing out for two weeks to keep the magic strong. The first one is I've decided to go to my first convention, a daunting moment of "oh god, what is everything". It is something I've been meaning to do for some time, but didn't find just the quite moment to do it. However, I finally managed to leap in with two feet and go to EGX Rezzed.
So, what is EGX Rezzed? EGX Rezzed, based in London, is the smaller brother/sister (what is the gender of social events?) of one of the biggest videogame events in the UK: EGX. Brought alongside the British Academy Games Awards. While at EGX, held in September, they show off AAA games that are looking to be released soon, EGX: Rezzed is a smaller event where you can gawk at various indie games that are looking to be released. Games such as Heat Signature (from the guys who did FTL), Titan Souls (published by Digital Devolver) and Not A Hero (the name alone aludes to your character's nature) will be playable. Even Guild Wars 2: Heart Of Thrones will be up for people. There are also developer sessions for those who want to be sold by the developers that perhaps their game is worth £40, and a games industry fair for those who want to get into development.
Okay, I'll admit I'm not too good at selling the event its self. I've never been to a con.
So, about the meet. What I am hoping to do is arrange a time and place to meet up before the con starts each day. Probably about 10am. We bumble around the event trying games, taking pictures (well, I will be, mostly for the website I work for), mumbling Destructoid jokes and so on. If people want to do night events (e.g. Joypad and EGX's warehouse dance event), go for it although I'll be travelling two hours each way every day so I'll likely duck out before 7pm or 8pm. (Un)surprisingly, it costs about the same or perhaps less for return tickets daily than to try to find a Travel-Lodge for a few nights and eat/drink in London.
However, the lack of any real details of whats what brings me to why I mention this over a month prior to the first day. I was hoping to round up some interest in such a meet, discuss with everyone what type of plan they want (I'm personally happy to just turn up every day, wonder around the event taking photos and trying to score some journalism points (I'm hoping to get to level 2 journalism by the end of the year)) and what day/time they can arrive by. As details slide into place, especially what kind of meet people want, I can start to form a rough plan for the meet. I'll update this blog or make future blog posts detailing as I make plans more concrete.
So, just post if you have any questions, are interested or anything else really.
Today, we get to discuss why videogame scores tend to have a review score curve that isn't evenly distributed, but rather favouring scores above 5.
Review scores are a controversial topic without a shadow of doubt. There really are various topics I could extract out of it to examine such as the purpose of review scores, what system would work with them best (5 star, percentage, out-of-ten, so on) and what is a good way to turn qualitative data into quantitative data. I am even tempted to follow up this article in two weeks time with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of quantitative (numbers) data to help explore more about reviews. However, for now, I with to simply explore a common complaint people have towards reviews: That the scores do tend to be 7s and 8s, that mediocre games aren't given the 5s and 6s they deserve and that games are too freely given 9s and 10s. So I will first talk about what the data suggests on such a trend, I'll suggest some reasons why this may be a case due to reviewers and then developers. Finally, I'll wrap this all up in a neat conclusion on my thoughts on such a phenomena.
Before I jump into the data, let's precisely outline what trend people believe exists. Flicking through various comments on various websites suggest a trend where most games are rated 7 out of 10 or more, any less is an indication of a poor product. Even then, a game only starts becoming good at 8 out of 10. So let us formally set out the theory proposed: That in terms of review scores, 7 out of 10 are the average “it is okay” score rather than the middle 5 out of 10.
To test the idea of “7 out of 10 as an average”, I collected 100 review scores from IGN, GameSpot, Destructoid and Gamers Honest Truth (the website I work for, mostly out of curiosity and partially to see if it being a smaller website would affect the average). I also collected my own review scores, although the fact there's only been 11 published makes it mostly useless beyond simple curiousity. One important factor to keep in mind is within 100 reviews, Gamers Honest Truth's score system does shift from its current “1 to 10, with halves” system the other three websites use, to its older “five star rating, with half stars”. This could, in turn, make the data less varied.
Under more fortunate circumstances, I would use SPSS to create a histrogram that would create a bell-curve (which would give me a lot more data based on distribution) and check myself for significance (even if I am using non-scale data with a scale data statistical test, which would get me flogged by academics). However, since SPSS is expensive, I have to make do with Open Office Calc (imagine Microsoft Excel, but free), so I simply did the mode (score with the highest frequency), median (middle score out of all the data) and mean (average score). On the surface, this would tell us very little. However, it can suggest the rough shape of a bell-curve since perfect distribution would make the mode, median and mean the same number: A perfect middle (in this case, a 5).
Under more fortunate circumstances, I'd get to pay someone to round up 1,000 review scores per website. That way, I'd have the article out last week.
The results of this somewhat simplistic analysis is as follows:
Gamers Honest Truth
The first part to note is how the mode of all three websites are 8, which would guide the area the most scores would likely be. Therefore, it is where the middle of the bell-curve would rest. However, the fact that the median and mean of all three are lower would indicate there are more weight to below 8 than higher (it would have a negative skewness (skewness to the left)). Although this can be due to two aspects.
The first possibility is there are more ratings below 8 than above, with it mostly focused around 6 or 7 rather than 9 or 10. However, the more likely reason is a greater weight pulling it down. With only four (including halves) ratings higher, this makes rating up weaker to the potential fourteen grades lower it could be (from 1 to 7.5). Therefore, there may be small amounts of data below 8 in contrast to high amounts of 9s and 10s, but with the data being 2s and 3s it could pull the median and mean down enough to be below 8.
The second part to notice, and perhaps the most important part of the analysis, is how the mean of three of the four websites are between 7 and 8. With Gamers Honest Truth being the closest to an 8, this could potentially suggest indie websites being more susceptible to rating higher than more mainstream reviewers, although a sample size of one indie website makes it impossible to generalise to other websites.
Surprisingly, despite the Kane & Lynch situation with Jeff Gerstmann, Gamespot has the lowest average at 6.84.
Despite this, it still makes the theory of there being a trend of review scores focusing on 7 as an “okay” score somewhat confirmed, as games are given roughly 7 as average. This data is actually backed by other research by Matt Goode in 2013 where he used a sample of 5, 845 reviews from Gamespot and 7, 329 reviews from IGN to examine the score distribution and mean. The end result are the tables below, and give a very similar interpretation to my results. This includes a 6.7 mean score for Gamespot, although interestingly Goode got 6.93 from IGN.
So, of course, this data has to be due to some form of phenomena occurring. Which I wish to provide reasons based on theories and suggestions how both reviewers and developers/publishers have lead to this current position. So I may as well start with what I have some mild experience with: Reviewers.
The first aspect of being a reviewer that I believe can have them tend to give 7 as an average, is they simply love games. This perhaps feels like an odd thing to state, a mixture of “well, duh?” and “so what?”, but allow me to explain. Assuming a review score is done in a similar manner to me, it is felt out. A game is played, and then thought upon. After all, each score means something to each reviewer, and it is a case of comparing how they felt to the mental review scale.
Usually, at some point, the question of “how much fun did I have?” is sprung up. After all, a perfect 5 is a sign of mediocrity to the point of boredom to some degree. It is apathy distilled. To quote the Destructoid review score guide: “Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit “meh,” really.”.
Although sometimes no one has fun, and that's okay.
Now, do you remember the last time a game rendered you bored enough to fit firmly within the category that can be dubbed “mediocrity made physical”? For me, it was somewhat recently when I was reviewing a PC port of an iOS game. However, typically, I will find at least something that interests me. Something that draws my attention away from the cracks and to the flowers of the room. Something that makes the experience just remotely fun. This could partially be due to personal preference. Like as much as I try to appreciate The Witcher, I do find it a deeply dull game.
This problem can be fixed by tailoring who reviews the game to each reviewer's personal choice, like perhaps I'll be more likely to be picked to do something like Hotline Miami 2 due to my enjoyment of ultra-violent games. On the other hand, perhaps I wouldn't be picked for Sakura Spirit as I would be quickly annoyed by the sexualised nature of it. Which this brings me onto the second part about reviewers that lead to 7 as an average score.
The second thing about reviewers is their tendency to avoid reviewing bad games, unless there is a reason to. Consider the game Demolition Simulator. Currently, it hasn't got a Meta Critic page and even finding reviews for it is hard. Looking at it (and my brief experience playing it), there isn't much of a chance of it getting above a 5 on a review website. So, why would a website review it? All that would occur is those who don't enjoy the niche market of simulator games would have their expectations (i.e. that it isn't their thing at all) confirmed, and the person who reviews it would likely not be part of the niche enough to cater to the specific audience who would enjoy it.
Some games, no one should have to review at all.
A game to be reviewed tends to fall into two camps: Public's interest and much needed shout-out. With regards to the latter, this can occur when a game that looks good to the reviewer pre-playing it is decided there will be review. By giving it a review, the audience is shown a game that perhaps they over-looked or were on-the-fence about getting. This can then lead to it quickly being in the audience's interest to cover it for other websites, which brings me to games that are reviewed due to the public's interest.
Games that fall into the camp of “public interest” are ones that have some popularity about them. This can be due to it being a sequel of a loved game (e.g. Killing Floor 2), having a development team that has made popular games (e.g. Destiny, which was developed by Bungie who made the Halo series), and other similar methods. It can even be as simple as down to good marketing. It is in this category that a lot of games that hit 6s or below stem from, as the audience is sure the game will be good and it is up to the reviewer to warn them with the truth. That, perhaps, it isn't as good as the mental image people have. Even then, disappointing public interest games can still be a solid good game that deserves the 6 or 7 they have.
This slides nicely into the second half of this article: developer causes of the “7 as an average score”. To which, I wish to outline two of these causes.
The first of these is one that I feel may be perhaps a little obvious: Developers do not like making games that are not good or are financially unsuccessful, usually trying to avoid both. After all, it is hard to enjoy making something that you can not feel proud of. This means that it is unlikely that a developer will willingly release a game that is sub-par, at least without another motive (e.g. making money). Therefore it is relatively uncommon for a game to be flat-out bad, at least games that are noticeable enough for reviewers to notice. This tendency for games to be at least okay (scoring about 5.5 to 6.5) means the average will be shifted to at least higher than a 5. However, what of those developers that do intentionally make bad games to minimise budget and maximise profit? It is hard not to acknowledge developers like that exist (e.g. Zynga), but they come at their own cost.
Although some publishers/developers seem to enjoy the challenge of making bad games that are not financially successfully, while keeping the company afloat.
The second developer cause is there is a system in place to prevent bad games being made: Reputation. Developers like Zynga and publishers like EA are notorious for finding ways to make money by all means necessary. This can be through installing adware onto people's computers, making a free-to-play game somewhat unplayable without paying money or finding ways to lower the budget (e.g. not paying over-time) as to maximise profit from sales. As a developer or publisher begins to do unethical activities like this, word-of-mouth spreads as to avoid products by that person or at least use caution.
One such example of this is Denis Dyack, the ex-president of Silicon Knights. After the failures of Too Human and X-Men Destiny, two things occurred. The first was the attempt to blame the failures of Too Human on Epic Games's inability to provide a working game engine in the form of a lawsuit, that lead to Silicon Knights being successfully counter-sued by Epic Games for $4.45 million and having to destroy all unsold retail copies of games built with the Unreal Engine 3 code. The second part was a Kotaku article by Andrew McMillen discussing how, according to anonymous sources, Dyack mistreated employees and incorrectly used funds for X-Men Destiny.
This reputation lead to Denis Dyack's next company, Precursor Games (now multimedia company Quantum Entanglement Entertainment), having difficulties in funding a spiritual sequel to Eternal Darkness. Even though he wasn't in a position of power (he was chief creative officer), the reputation he had lead to a lot of worries about the failure to produce a good game and giving money to someone who was unethical.
Although interestingly, I stopped being interested in Shadow Of The Eternals when they announced they were going to get David Hayter in (while boasting he played as an unnamed Roman centurion in Eternal Darkness) to play as a generic main character.
As we reward good games and punish bad games through post-day 1 sales, this leads to developers wanting to at least try to make a good game. Especially as every instance of unethical behaviour makes people remember and vote with their wallet against those people. So it would be strange for there to be an equal split between good and bad games, considering it would be putting production costs and people's reputations on the line to do so. More likely, there would be more good than bad games due to this risk.
I believe that there are two aspects to consider when concluding this article. The first is I think it is important to consider what scores are meant to represent. The typical representation is 5 as “mediocre”. However, it is possible for someone to design a rating system that, say, makes a game that is scored an eight twice as good as a game that scored a four (i.e. ratio data rather than ordinal). As, with our rating system, favouring above 5 as an average score represents that bad games are somewhat uncommon. It is perhaps a positive message about the quality of the products we get, rather than a statement on the poor quality of reviewers. At the very least, it shows that videogames that are bad remain unpopular and unnoticed while good games become popular enough to be acknowledged and reviewed.
The second part is it is still unavoidable that the current quantitative rating system is far from having an equal distribution. As the sheer concept alone of applying numbers to abstract thoughts is comparable to being asked “on a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you love your partner?” or “out of five stars, how much does the Christmas present you got from your parents show how much they care?”. It is a crazy notion that the data from such a process would lead to statistical nirvana (i.e. perfect distribution with ratio data). Prior to closing, Joystiq announced they would be getting rid of review scores in favour for a quick summary of important points and a breakdown of common questions. With an “excellence award” to particularly good games. Considering how much of a problematic thing review scores are, and the complaints thrown at reviewers for particular scores, I believe it is no wonder Joystiq got rid of such a system.
"I swear, if you give me a negative review on Yelp ever again I will burn all your toys."
So, at the end of the day, if you wish to blame someone or something for why the average score seems to be “7 out of 10”, blame the bizarre concept that a score based on opinion would have a normal distribution of data. I may make further articles on the concept of the problems of review scores, although the list of articles to do still flows like the river.
Note 1: I have some fun announcements to throw out in the coming weeks. I'll be making posts about it during the week around Tuesday on the 10th and 17th of this month.
Note 2: If you want a copy of the data I used, I can send you it. Just PM me about it.
This week, I will recommend to you a game in Early Access which makes you feel like a wizard through vocal commands.
Remember those times spent playing your favourite fantasy videogame? Or perhaps watching Harry Potter? Or reading Lord Of The Rings? How you wanted to be able to bend reality to your will with a flick of your fingers and a mutter of incantation? Remember, how you wish you could be a wizard? It is a particular form of escapism a lot of people wish for, although I admit to preferring to be the cloak-and-dagger who wasn't above throwing salt into people's eyes or flinging rocks at civilians who had wronged me (both I did in pen-and-paper RPGs, the latter ended up accidentally blinding an one-eyed bartender).
In my defence, I did nearly get robbed while playing five-finger fillet and the civilian was gambling with a bag of rocks. The way I saw it, the bartender acted blind to me getting betrayed so he may as well be blind.
However, it is something a lot of people wish for, even if I admit I'm not among them. Despite this, the options on hand are collections of “press 1 to cast spells”s and magical summons with nefariously incompetent motion controls. It is less a cool simulation of bending things to your control in the heat of battle, and more of a press-a-button-to-win moments and wrestling with awkward controls. So this edition of “Riobux Recommends” is a dedication to a game that may be closest we've been to solving the conundrum of wizardry simulation. This week, I wish to present In Verbis Virtus.
In Verbis Virtus is a game that started out as an end-course assessment project (in the form of a demo), turned into a professional game by Italian developer Indomitus Games. In it, you play as a magic-wielding explorer who traverses an ancient ruin so he may find a way to bring his wife back from death. Along the way, he finds out how to cast spells to combat enemies and solve puzzles so he may dig deeper and deeper into a crumbling monument to a time long gone.
The road to ruin is paved with good intentions.
The big hook it uses to reel in those with a fantasy itch is its method of spell casting. To cast a spell, you hold the left-mouse button and speak the incantation down your microphone. You may pick your native tongue or, if you want to go for an interesting immersive twist, you may say the phrase in a made-up in-game language.
Microphone-interactivity, like this game uses, have a rough history. From Tom Clancy's EndWar to Lifeline to Manhunt (where it served a very small purpose). Putting aside technical problems these games have had (perhaps not Manhunt, which only was used as a noise maker), the question has always remained: “why should we have to wrestle with voice commands, when a simple button press will do the job faster and be more reliable?”. In this case, In Verbis Virtus uses the idea of immersing yourself as a wizard who must cast spells as he explores deeper and deeper to discover the answers he must seek. Which, in theory, is a good idea to aim for such a goal as long as they can successfully make microphone implementation as smooth as pressing a button, as frustration can snap someone from immersion like whiplash and into a chore-filled experience. “So” you may wonder “how is the software behind the voice recognition?”.
Watching the crew of Broken Pixels (including Seanbaby) wrestle with Lifeline's microphone feature is a fantastic time that illustrates everything wrong with microphone commands in videogames.
My personal experience with it, as someone with two regional accents that intertwine like snakes upon the staff of Hermes, is it works very well. Even when trying to use the made up language. My only complaint with this regard is it was almost too readily recognising phrases. One such example was when I was casting the light spell (lumeh tial) by saying the place name “Monaco”. However, I never really become frustrated at not recognising phrases, nor was it confusing one spell for another. If you want to look more into how the made-up language was made, which did consider pronunciation recognition of various language-speakers during its creation, you can read about it here.
However, there are two distinct weaknesses this game contains.
The first issue with the game is its use of level design. At least during the first level of the game, I became incredibly lost quickly. This, I believe, occurred for two reasons. The first was a choice of environmental design. By using rocky tunnels mostly, this allowed for paths to exist where I would over look them and for one tunnel to look similar to the other tunnels.
The second reason is its use of back-tracking. This game, at least during the first level, suffers heavily from asking the player to back-track a lot. You'll go down one path, learn a spell. Then you'll find the right junction of tunnel to go down (as there are a few). After that, you'll use the learnt spell to solve a puzzle. You will then have to back track to a third tunnel, solve a puzzle there, pick up another spell, return back to the second tunnel and progress further down. As the game requires a lot of platforming, this quickly becomes mind-numbing and tedious.
The first half an hour of the game can be summed up as this image and "WHERE THE HELL AM I?! CAN MY CHARACTER NOT SCRIBBLE A MAP?!".
The other weakness this game has is its bugs. I had figured I would play through In Verbis Virtus fresh to remember what the game was like. I got to the second level, where my first real enemy (besides the insects) became trapped on some stairs. I was meant to lure said enemy to a particular place, but I really couldn't work out how to free my door-opener from the bear-trap that was the stairs. Although I feel that is more a statement of its current status being in Early Access than anything else.
Perhaps this recommendation sits on shakier ground than I originally thought it would, lacking the intense analysis that Fear Effect and Zero Escape gave. I would say that if you are one of those people forever hunting for an example of good use of microphone-interactivity with the game its self or wanting to feel like an impressive wielder of power to bend the fabric of reality; then In Verbis Virtus is the game for you. However, I really would not blame the average reader for perhaps giving this title a miss and waiting for other microphone games coming in the future like There Came An Echo.
Hopefully There Came An Echo wouldn't confuse "handcuff the unconcious terrorist" with "execute the terrorist and waterboard the civilians".
Note: Due to a lot of work coming up next week, there is a strong chance there wouldn't be an analytical article then. So most likely the analytical article about why do reviews scores tend to be above five will be posted on the 6th of Feburary. Sorry for this.