Cycle of the Triforce
- May 16, 2011 6:29 am GMT
- 8 Comments
There's been some talk of Skyward Sword being migrated to the Wii's successor console (code named 'Project Cafe'). While this rumor has been passively denied, the famliarity of the circumstances echoes the release of Twilight Princess; written for Gamecube, but moved forward to the Wii. This has always been a sore point for purists, who are yet to experience a premier Zelda title coded for the Wii hardware from conception.
This situation could now make two heavily anticipated releases, both thought to revitalize their respective platforms, that have/may be pushed forward to a completely new hardware system. (Whether the Wii would receive a lighter version of Skyward Sword if this were to happen is an issue that I will respectfully ignore).
The animated series. Cla55ic design.
The question that I ask myself is "since when did the Zelda releases become so out-of-phase with console life-spans?". Surely, the most popular single-player adventure game deserves a clear, well-timed release bracket that the console owners can buy with confidence. It seems increasingly difficult to rely on this series to provide a consistently clear release schedule; it seems to be especially prone to shifting technologies, distinct control schemes and incompatible demands from the players.
Can anything be learned by examining the console lifetimes in relation to the main series (console) releases? I thought that this approach might reveal something about the future of Zelda. (Console launches are represented by the coloured tiles).
(Click on the image to view it in full resolution)
What can be learnt here?
- The first two games are the closest in their releases, while
- The N64 releases are a close second
- The largest distance between games is approx. 7 years
- The games are most densely distributed around the GCN era
- Twilight Princess is the only Zelda game available at launch.
Other than those preliminary deductions, it doesn't reveal anything sinister or subversive to my eye. But what if we stripped the data down to strict divisions of 'console launch' and 'Zelda release'?
(Click on the image to view it in full resolution)
What can be learnt here?
- You can notice the slight but ever decreasing distance between consoles ('Project Cafe' excluded)
- The clumping of titles around the 5th & 6th generations
- The possibilty of the second launch title Zelda seems clearer here
- The distance between 3D Zeldas is steadily increasing
Oh, and will Tingle return?
It seems that as consoles become more sophisticated, and games become more produced, tested and anticipated, the time required for the development increases. This is typical for any on-going project, so that's nothing new.
But another noteworthy observation is that when the series undergoes a dramatic alteration of gameplay (2D - 3D, dual-analog to motion, comical to realism) the game always requires more development. This is hardly news either, but if this trend continues, it goes to show that Skyward Sword really is a significant change in direction. The mix-up of the traditional dungeon/field/dungeon/sidequest must be at least partially true, and the promise of revolutionary sword-play may follow too.
A modern, evocative 5tyle. Excellent.
At any rate, Skyward Sword is bound to be unique in at least some sense, but if it is released solely on the Wii, it's going to be doubly special. For on inspection of the release cycle, it can be seen that for all the eccentricity and seemingly illogical milestones of console Zelda releases, you can be sure that there are none launched at the retirement of a console exclusively.
I believe the game will be released on the Wii: the user-base is enormous, and there is a new audience due to Nintendo's (controversial) marketing decisions that may have a new familiarity with Link. This, coupled with Link's traditional audience makes the Wii a suitable economic choice, if not technological.
Whose got some other ideas?
Whose fault is identity theft?
- May 13, 2011 7:15 pm GMT
- 3 Comments
With the recent news about Sony's PSN and SOE services being hacked, this reminded me of the all too common problem of identity theft. I'm usually very careful and very guarded about my personal information. I don't like to give it out and try to limit who has access to it. Unfortunately, just about everyone from your department store to your dentist wants your personal info. Name, address, Date of birth, social security number, etc. etc. etc. Basically, everything someone would need to steal your identity. I've often refused to give out some of this information, but I am always assured that it has to be given. Otherwise, I won't be able to partake in whatever service I wanted.
Honestly, I think a lot of it is bogus. The only people that really need to know your info are probably the government and maybe whatever bank or credit card company gives you a loan. The problem with companies having your personal info, is that they are often careless with it. I've personally been notified several times by various companies that some files or documents may have been compromised and that my personal info was among them. Some have offered to give me free credit monitoring for a year. Others suggest you watch your credit, but won't provide you with a complimentary service.
Jumping back to the PSN issue, it's known that credit card info may have been lost. Honestly, that doesn't bother me that much. Fixing a stolen credit card is easy. It's relatively easy to monitor your statements and look for unknown charges. Most credit card companies have fraud protection and will not hold you liable for charges you did not make. Simply cancel your card and the crisis is over. Not so easy with your personal info. If that gets stolen, you may have to fight for months to years to assure the safety of your identity. There is no easy fix and no great service to try. Often times, you may not even know that someone is using your identity to purchase things, take out loans, etc. I've heard horror stories of people struggling with that for months, spending time and money to get back their identity.
It's frustrating. I wish the government would do more to limit what information companies can keep on you. Certainly they like to do their research, but it should not be at so great a risk. If they can't keep that info safe, then they shouldn't take it.
A thesis on Portal 2's ending
- May 9, 2011 7:19 am GMT
- 62 Comments
WARNING: Spoilers abound for Portal 2.
So, while rewatching the ending to Portal 2 a little while back, a couple things struck me as not really fitting into the bigger picture. The more I looked into them, the more I started to feel that there was something else there that the "official" ending wasn't directly telling us. As my thought and research on the matter has finally come to a completion, I'd like to present to you the results, which form my official thesis on what was really going on in the ending to Portal 2:
Is Originality Enough?
- May 7, 2011 3:12 am GMT
- 17 Comments
In 1995, a small development team named Crack Dot Com released an incredible piece of software, a 2D side scroller named Abuse. I remember the shock of playing that game for the first time in 1999 (Hey, I didn't even have a PC up to 1997) - The idea of controlling the character just like in any other 2D platformer while using the mouse to aim at enemies across the screen was so refreshing, and so different, that I still remember it as vividly to this day as I do Schwarzenegger's traumatizing Terminator 2 smile. I only wish I could get past that damned 14th level.
Abuse. Revolutionary controls
There's something about uniqueness that we love. The thrill of playing something different, something special, is hard to match by something that's completely devoid of anything it can call its own. Yes, this is why acting master Vin Diesel's Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, despite having a few problems with pacing and level design, was much more exciting for me than the action-packed, adrenaline-pumping, never-stopping experience of Sgt. Soap Mactavish's war. Riddick could have done with an English accent, though.
Insert long sigh accompanied by smile.
If only we were to get more of that.
Unfortunately, not all is jolly in the world of original games. Having recently played DICE's hybrid platformer/first-person action game, Mirror's Edge, I came to realize that uniqueness is not to be considered the main attraction of a game. After all, what good is something that you've never seen before if it makes you go bananas with frustration? While it did feel like a breath of fresh air with its stunning visuals and fast parkour concept, this feeling often quickly switched seats with frustration as I missed that jump for the seventh time or met my demise by the hands of that cop for the twelveth. What kind of sick bastard fires at a woman, anyway?
Mirror's Edge. More frustrating than anything, really
Here comes our first question – what is originality to us? Is it a staggering, never-seen-before setting of an underwater city? Is it that twist on co-operative play? Is it the frightning feeling of being chased by Something Terrible, unable to fight back? Is it a story and writing like which we've never seen anything before? Or is it about gameplay and what we actually do within this setting with a friend while running away from Something Terrible, trying to unveil the story?
Playing Dead Space and Mirror's Edge closely together was a bit of an enlightenment for me, in that I realized that anything that revolves around a woman makes a game great.
...in that I realized that one or two original elements (be it story, characters, gameplay, setting, you pick) are enough to make a game stand out in a world of derivation and franchise-milking. But, everything else in the game simply MUST get the same loving treatment for it to become a truly uplifting experience. Take Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, for example. I remember that as well as I do Abuse. Maybe that's because I played it a few years later. Nevermind. Sam Fisher was so much fun to play because he could do all this stuff and he looked so good doing it, and the game was as balanced as it gets. Everything just dripped with so much love and attention to detail that we only saw the cool gadgets, enemy interrogation and croch-tearing split-jumping rather than the fact that games like Hitman, Deus Ex and No One Lives Forever have done the whole stealth thing before. To cut a long story short, it clicked.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. It clicked.
So the second, BIG question is: is originality more important than refined gameplay?
On one hand, I'm getting mighty tired of playing the same old get-to-cover-to-automatically-replenish-your-health and we'll-lead-you-by-the-hand-so-you-don't-see-invisible-walls gameplay. It feels like treading through increasingly familiar waters, and as those games keep coming, they only serve the purpose of becoming stale. Oh, and selling. The gaming industry, just like any other industry, is driven by money. But BioShock sold as well. Crysis sold nicely considering no computer at the time of release could run it respectably. Portal sold beautifully. There's something those games have in common – apart from introducing new stuff, they were all very well-promoted and reached out to a large audience of people that opened up their wallets and bought them. So we see that polished derivation is only an easy solution that people keep forking money over for.
On the other hand, if our new game-we've-never-seen-before is flawed to the point of becoming merely decent, or even mediocre and less, it's simply not worth it. Developers should find the balance between original game mechanics and what makes a game... click. We all had a lot of fun traversing Far Cry's lush jungle setting, playing cat & mouse with witty mercenaries, but how did it feel when we were killed by a mutant just a second before we reached the end of the last, long checkpoint? That really didn't click with me. I'd rather play a game where everything... ok ok, almost everything (let's be realistic here), is made right, and you're still given the privilege of experiencing something refreshing, like a gravity gun, or stretegic dismemberment, or Lance Henriksen.
I would like to take a moment and salute smaller independent developers, for not fearing to release refreshing games on a regular basis. Trine, The Ball, World of Goo, Gish, Eufloria and Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time are just a handful of examples of good games released recently by independent developers that are special enough to stand out above some of the bigger names in the industry as memorable experiences. Could salvation come from them? Maybe. All I know is, as those development teams keep getting more support from Steam and the likes, they have a better chance of keeping their heads above the water and delivering more interesting concepts. Just like mod teams (let us not forget that Portal, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat and Team Fortress all took their first steps as mods before becoming commercial hits), independent developers hold an incredible amount of potential and I hope big game publishers and developers pull a Valve - look more closely at these dudes and hire them so that more of the big names can deliver more of the special goods.
Trine. A unique experience from an indie developer
I see now that my Abuse example isn't all that great, because that game was so difficult that I've never even beaten it. But in no way does that change my opinion – Even though I don't want to play the same thing time and time again, I also don't want my unique experience to be spoiled by broken gameplay, annoying bugs or poor controls. I want my game to be whole – I want everything about it to be great, and I want it to be better than the sum of its parts, all while being special enough to stand out. It's time for individuality to take over. I call out to game publishers and developers – don't limit creativity. Make original games, and strive to find the right balance between refinement and originality.
I may be naive, but I also decide which games I buy. One can only hope that more gamers grow tired of the same-old, same-old, and that developers would take note of that and start encouraging experimentation. The world would be a better place.
Then, we can smile. Just like Ahnuld.
Why Puzzle Games are Best on Portable Gaming Devices
- May 5, 2011 8:47 am GMT
- 17 Comments
It occured to me recently (somewhat chronologically simultaneous to my getting an iphone) that puzzle games have often seemed to fare better on portable gaming devices than on "traditional" platforms like the consoles/pc. While such thoughts were originally directed at the iphone's stunning puzzle game linup (more to come on that), it didn't take long to realize that the iphone's successful run of puzzle games is nothing new. Rather, puzzle games have, by and large, almost universally done better on portable devices.
Don't believe me? Let's go to the GS puzzle game review page...
There are 50 games on the first page (GS scores ranging from 8.1 to 9.5) consisting of all puzzle games GS has ever reviewed. Sounds like a good place to start. Of these 50 games (and yes, a few are double platform) spanning from 1997 to 2011, 32 are on portable gaming devices (leaving 18 that aren't).That's a solid 64%. Quite frankly, I'm not entirely sure what percentage of games released during that time peroid were portable versus non-portable, but that's a surprising number i think. Or is it?
Why Puzzle Games are best on Portable Devices
Here's my hypotheses:
1) Puzzle games are best enjoyed in shorter snippets of time, rather than multi-hour marathons
I don't know about you, but when i'm playing a game on my Xbox360, PC, or PS2, I expect to play for a good block of time, ranging from 1 to many many hours on end. Typically, that block will be spent with one or at most two games. However, when I play a game on my iphone, it tends to be in shorter increments, between 5 and 60 minutes, or at least generally less than 1 hour.
Because Puzzle Games in particular are often easy to put down and pick back up, allow meaningful progress in short increments, and generally lack traditional game archetypes like narrative, they are easier to play in spurts. For instance, playing Fallout for 15 minutes is not nearly as satisfying as playing Zen Bound for 15 minutes. These types of games (RPG v. Puzzle) have very different senses of Time.
2) Puzzle games tend to require more thought and reflection and are less immersive or intensive
How many people when working on a crossword puzzle like to take a break and come back to it, or any puzzle for that matter? Now, how many people find similar success from breathers while playing a Shooter? My guess is that, whereas a Shooter is all about being "in the moment", in the flow, and engaged or immersed, by contrast most puzzle games are about logical processes, geometrical cognition, etc. In other words, puzzle games work just as well, and in some cases better, through time-mediation, which allows the player to "figure it out". By contrast, most other kinds of games leave one more lost and out of tune after taking a longer break.
In other words, while all games require something called "thinking", there are very different kinds of thought happening when we play, and the kind that we tend to find associated with puzzle games is the kind of thinking upon which reflection improves the chances for success. Often, the opposite is true in other types of games.
3) iphone apps are just less expensive, and more in line for pricing for a puzzle game over other genres
I also think it comes down to cost. This would be less a concern for the player and more for the devs. Sure, you can sell a puzzle game on other platforms for $10-$60 (Portal 2 is still basically a glorified puzzle game). But quite frankly, anything over $5 for most puzzle games feels like a rip-off. Not that the games aren't good (they obviously are) but rather pertaining to content. Mobile platforms are more suited to great puzzlers because the pricing expectations fall in line with the content of the game.
Portable Devices Stop Mimicking the Traditonal Platforms
Now clearly there are exceptions. Tetris, for one, was immensly successful even before the launch of the Gameboy. And puzzle games have continued to find success here and there on the traditional platforms. But if 64% of the top 50 games being on portable devices isn't convincing, perhaps a glance at the incredible puzzle games on portables will suffice.
Now I don't own a PSP or 3DS, though I did own a Gameboy when I was 11 years old (I believe Marios Cement Factory counts as puzzle...). However, it turns out that the iphone might be the very best platform for puzzle games at the moment, bettering both well-known pure-gaming rivals. With the advent of the touch-screen and gyroscope, we now have some of the very best mechanics in puzzle games ever: mechanics that don't just mimic the console/pc, but rather are more natural to the portable systems at large.
10 Best Puzzle game on iphone
So, if you're looking for some of the very best puzzle games on any platform period, give a long look at these gaming darlings here, because it turns out that PSP and 3DS aside (and that's a long aside, with Prof. Layton et al.), some of the very best puzzle games are right here. In fact, of the games here that are also on PC or other platforms, in most cases (World of Goo being the exception i think) the iphone version is far superior.
1. Zen Bound
5. World of Goo
7. Glow Artisan
9. Master of Alchemy
10. Helsing's Fire
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How to build a better NCAA Football game
I have something of an unhealthy obsession with EA's NCAA Football games. While I know they've long been the redheaded stepchild next to the more popular Madden franchise, I honestly feel that there's a ton more relevance to the games if you are, like me, a gamer who doesn't come from a city with an NFL franchise in it or even have one nearby.
- Apr 21, 2011 3:13 pm GMT
- 38 Comments
Disclaimer, I am an ardent Boise State University Bronco fan where I got my undergraduate degree from. My other rooting school of interest is the University of Oregon where I got my Masters degree.
With that out of the way, there are a lot of ways that EA could really improve this franchise if they had the inclination and were willing to put in the time and effort to do so. The EA tagline for their sports games used to be:
"If it's in the game, it's in the game."
This was later shortened to simple, "It's in the game."
With the NCAA Football games, however, this simply is not true. I'm here to prove it by listing a few new features that would freshen up a franchise that has begun to feel a bit like a ripoff due to lack of innovations and customers paying full price for what effectively has amounted to a fresh coat of paint and a roster update in recent years.
1. Let me act like the Athletic Director if I want to.
For years, NCAA football has allowed you to assume the role of head coach when you're not actively running plays. You recruit players. You call the plays. You manage the substitution patterns. That's all well and good, even if player recruitment is basically nothing more than a glorified mini-game.
But what about the other aspects of college football? True, you can do custom scheduling. But how about letting me raise funds for stadium expansion? Or facilities upgrades? What about managing some finances? As a BSU fan, I know that my school is at a large competitive disadvantage due to not being a member of an AQ conference. Our athletic budget is tiny compared to many others. Our stadium is small, which makes getting teams to come and play us at home very difficult and also has a very real impact on recruitment of top blue chip players. My team has succeeded nicely on the field despite some of these handicaps for years, but wouldn't it be fun if these sorts of things were included somehow?
Imagine how much fun it would be to have options to raise funds and then purchase optional stadium upgrades to improve your program. There are all sorts of things you could include in this feature. Additional seating, better jumbotrons, improved sound-system, stadium designs that trapped noise to give a better home field advantage, etc. In addition to making the game as a whole more realistic, it would make fans of schools that don't already have these things in place have even more fun playing out their dreams in real time.
2. Update recruiting to reflect reality a little better.
This can tie into #1 above by beefing up the GM aspect so you have to actually work to improve things like TV exposure and scheduling top opponents or bigger/better stadiums, but other things that could be included could be the ability to make under-the-table deals with recruits. Several of the biggest name schools in the nation are currently either under investigation, or have just recently finished being investigated, for shady/illegal recruiting practices.
Getting rid of the smiling footballs was nice and all, but what about the option to offer money or other benefits to a prospect under the table? How about incorporating the risk of being caught and, if caught, the option to assess your own penalties or stonewall similar to what exists in the real world of college football.
Do you think it might be an exciting thing to run the risk of being banned from postseason play or having scholarships revoked in return for better odds of landing a true blue-chip stud player? How about if doing this was combined with an auto-save feature so you're stuck with the consequences either way and can't reset and go back to where you were before?
3. Expand player stats to include things other than their athletic skill.
Each year there are thousands of kids coming out of high school who have a chance to play football at the next level. Some are good kids. Some are bad kids. Some are smart and excel in the classroom. Others struggle to qualify academically and end up at Junior Colleges. Some obey all team rules and show exceptional leadership. Others pull crap like this and then fight with fans and cops on the way out.
My point? Other than the fact that Blount is a complete jackass I mean?
Well, my point is that some people - some college football players - ARE complete jackasses. Why not have stats to reflect that? You can recruit "troubled" talent if you want to do so and are willing to accept the risk of something like the video I linked taking place. Maybe they get involved with steroids or something else instead? Or you can recruit players with low academics scores and run the risk of them failing to make the grades and missing crucial games.
Alternatively, maybe there are kids out there with sky-high leadership stats that can help keep troublemakers in line? Perhaps kids with good leadership talent also help in recruiting by reaching out to kids that came from their same high school but are a couple of years behind them? The possibilities are as limitless as reality and completely unexplored at present with EA's recent offerings. But the point of all this is that it would actually make the kids on your team more "real" to you. If the tagline of EA's sports games is to make the game feel as authentic and real as possible, then why not?
I know at this point some people are probably thinking that there's a limit to how realistic that they want their games and if you add too much of this stuff in, then you could genuinely get in the way of being able to go out and "just play some ****ing football!"
So, make these things optional. You can turn them on or off without losing a thing.
4. Personalize the schools better. (Note: It looks like NCAA Football 2012 is attempting this.)
The franchise is off to a nice start with this. They've got each team's unique stadium. They flash little bits of trivia information during loading screens. They show mascots.
But part of what makes college football great is the pageantry of it all. Using my own school as an example, one of the trivia bits that gets shown to people while Boise State games load is that, yes, we do have a real horse that a hot blonde babe rides around the stadium on the track after each Bronco touchdown.
Author's Note: Bronco riding blonde babe, if you happen to be a gamer and you're reading this and ever want to say hello at some point. Please feel free to drop me a PM.
So why not show that? Or Notre Dame's "Touchdown Jesus"? Or any of the thousand or so OTHER unique things that each school has? You don't have to go overboard, but including maybe one or two unique things for each school as a way to make them stand out a little more could only aid in immersion.
These are the sorts of ongoing and continual innovations that could be added gradually over time with each new iteration of the franchise that would partially justify the currently absurd $60 price tag for each new yearly NCAA Football release.
Those are my ideas. What does everyone think?
Combining video games timelines
- Apr 18, 2011 2:23 am GMT
- 7 Comments
I'm not much of a movie goer thus the backstory of any game has to be at least coherent. Yet I had a thought and imagined what if I combined every game I've played into one timeline. Well check out the list below and by all means this is not complete…
1925 Vito born (Mafia II)
1939 Beginning of WW2
1943 Vito failed robbery - goes to war (Mafia II) / Silent Storm
1945 End of WW2 / Vito goes to Jail (Mafia II)
1951 (April) - Vito released from Jail (Mafia II) / Thomas Angelo dies (Mafia)
1952 Stalin Subway
1968 Bioshock 2 / Feb 14 - Lara Croft born
1984 Lara (age 16) infiltrated a Russian military base attempting to retrieve an artifact called the Spear of Destiny (TRC)
1986 Chernobyl Incident (26/4)
1989 Lara shipwrecked (age 21) / Lara visited Rome in search of the Philosopher's Stone (TRC)
1990 Lara searches for the Scion (TR1)
1991 Lara grabs the Dagger of Xian (TR2)
1992 Lara - Shadow of the Cat (TRUB)
1993 Lara - Returns to Atlantis (TRUB)
1994 Lara - Golden Mask (TR2)
1995 Lara steals the Iris from Von Croy (TRC)
1999 Lara Dead ? (age 31)
2000 Black Mesa destroyed (Half Life)
2004 (Sept 8 - province of Ryanggang) Instinct
2006 Chernobyl Incident II (13/4 - STALKER)
2012 STALKER (16/6)
2020 Half Life 2
2027 Deus Ex 3 / Homefront
2028 Meteor striked at Cali's Mojive Desert (CORE DS)
2048 CORE (DS)
2052 Deus Ex
2058 Moon (DS)
2060 Stroggs invades Earth (Quake Wars)
2072 System Shock
2114 System Shock 2
2145 Doom 3 (Mars)
2552 Dead Space / Halo saga (Aug 30 - Reach / Sept 19 - Halo)
2555 Dead Space 2
So here are some interesting facts:
- Lara was born in the same year as Bioshock 2
- Deus Ex 3 and Homefront share the same year (what a contrast)
- Whilst Isaac was fighting off the Necromorphs, Master Chief got his hands full with The Covenant in the very same year (2552)
- A mysterious hatch was discovered on the Moon and just two years later the Stroggs invaded Earth.
So what a world we live in aye!
And feel free to add.
96% Jaquio Azghouls
What's in a Number: Analyzing Gamespot's Ratings Record
- Apr 4, 2011 12:29 pm GMT
- 134 Comments
A brief analysis where I compare Gamespot ratings (1/1/11 to 4/2/11) compared to Metacritic ratings
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UPDATE: I've recently compiled the data for GS ratings for Xbox360 for all of 2010 as well, for a larger sample size. The results are strikingly in line with my earlier findings. However, it appears that Gamespot is over-average for games 70 to 100 and rates under average for under average games. Still, however the totals are in line, and "natural" inflation of scores (ie, not intentional, but because of the rating system itself).
You might need to zoom in to see the 2010 Data figures FYI
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What's in a number?
That's the question that many of us have put a lot of time and energy figuring out. I dare say, whether a premier title (say Dragon Age II) gets a 6.5 or 9.5 is big news in the gaming world, as it affects our expectations on purchases, our enjoyment given pre-concieved notions of the game, and a standard from which we can measure our own opions in relation to any given game.
At this point in time, there are now more gaming review sites than I could possibly track in one day. The game-review world is alive and well, as its lifeblood of video games continues to rise in the long run. Gamespot is by no means the only or necessarily best site out there (though it is where I call home), but I've often felt that, on the whole, the review of Gamespot have been relativiely accurate compared to my expectations of games, with good review content and passionate reviewers.I coudldn't say that about all review sites. More than one in the world SEEM to bloat ratings (which will remain nameless at the moment). And some tend to low-ball ratings too.
What sparked my curiosity about how Gamespot Reviews compared to the average review, then, was an interest to analyse the following:
1) In general, to what extent do Gamespot reviews AGREE with the review average or trends for any given game?
2) How useful is the numbered ratings system overall? Where does it work and where does it fall apart. Does it just feed on itself (circular) or does it stand up after scrutiny?
After analysing these factors, I'll make a couple of theoretical remarks or recommendations for review-sites in general, and the largely used numbered ratings system.
The data I've used for this (too brief) analysis are the Gamespot Xbox 360 ratings from 1/1/11 to 4/2/11 in comparison to Metacritic's ratings for the same games.This is certainly a small sample size, and so i'll try to keep any extrapolations ballanced with the thought that more analysis may vary these results.
*As a note, credit is due to Nate Silver who has spent his career analyzing baseball statistics, and more recently American political date through fivethirtyeight.com and the NewYorkTimes. I love his work, and this is clearly indebted to him.
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This list is organized by Gamespot ratings, with the highest rated titles on top down to the lowest ratings. Metacritic ratings fall to the left and theRatings Differenceis to the right. Any rating difference greater than 5 I've colored red. At the top you'll see the statistics for overall Average and Median. Average takes all the games divided by their score, whereas the Median takes the middle score in the series.
1st Result: Gamespot ratings are, all together, slightly lower than Metacric, but very slightly. On average, GS ratings areless than 1 point lower than Metacritic. The mean game is 3 points less than Metacritic. While the average rating is virtually, well, AVERAGE, the median shows a slightly conservative tilt to ratings versus the average.
Here's some additional data based on the original data above:
In this chart, I've taken the source data, but organized it first by Gamespot's primary ratings numbers. This is to see more clearly the differences WITHIN EACH GRADE of ratings. By analysing the numbers in group sets, we can start to dissect the information in a useful manner. You can already see some interesting stuff by looking at the Mean Difference column, as well as the range ofRatings Differenceswithin each of Gamespot's ratings groups on the right. You can also see the number of Enties to any ratings group, so again keep in mind sample sizes.
2nd Result: The lower Gamespot grades a game, the more likely it is to diverge from the average grade. Highly rated games, however, tend to agree between Gamespot and Metacritic more closely.
To help see this all more clearly, however, here's a few charts:
The blue line tracks Gamespot's ratings, which is why they start high and then drop level by level, 5 points at a time. The red line is Metacrtic's ratings, and the green line below is theRatings Difference. The second chart also tracks the hard numbers for each point, which is especially helpful when looking at theRatings Differencein green.
3rd Finding: Below any Gamespot rating of 70, the divergence from the average begins to vary wildly. However, I don't believe this is Gamespot's problem. Rather, I believe that if we looked at any ratings site, we'd find largely the same trend.
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Analysis of Question 1
In response to question1) In general, to what extent do Gamespot reviews AGREE with the review average or trends for any given game?
In general, it seems that if Gamespot scores a game at 70 or greater, that score is highly likely to be within 5 points of the average Metacritic score. However, if a game is scored by Gamespot to be less than 70, that score is very likely to diverge from the average by more than 5 points.
In essense, Gamespot is a very average ratings site (not average in the mediocre way, of course) for the most part. While generally scores tend to fall just shy of average, commonly between 1 to 3 points below average, that is probably the score you're often looking for. Not optimistic, but generally fair. What does it mean to be fair? we'll come back to that.
We can also see that most game review sites tend to agree on what counts as a good to great game, but disagree on how bad the average to bad games are.
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Analysis of Question 2
In response to Question2) How useful is the numbered ratings system overall? Where does it work and where does it fall apart. Does it just feed on itself (circular) or does it stand up after scrutiny?
The first thing I'll note is that game review sites tend to use the same grading system employed in American schools. 90+ is an A, 80+ is a B, 70+ is a C (or "average"), 60+ is a D (or below "average") and below 60 is an F (for FAIL).
Given that the break in the number for Gamespot are as following: 29 games graded "average" (what GS calls "Good") and 12 were graded below average (what GS calls "Fair", bad, etc) and the bulk of the games (17 of 41) earned a 70 or 75 out of 100, Gamespot seems to stick pretty closely to the education model. Of course, in much of Europe they use the 20-point grading system, but I digress. It makes sense for Americans in particular, espeically students, because it's a number system they're familiar with.
What that means, however, is that out of 100 possible points, most games earned at least 70, while the rest earned at least 30, with none coming in below 30.There's clearly a concentration at the top, which makes for a race to 100 and a cluster of "great" games which vie for the elite scoresbetween 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5 and the ellusive 10. Then, there's a host of games which are scattered across the rest of the spectrum, but again, edging close to that "average" 70 mark. What this means is that we could practically throw away the scores of 0 through 50 and retain 50 through 100 for ratings purposes.
In many ways, this seems to be the logical reason why games below the 70 mark tend to vary more wildly in their scores compared to average.There's 70 points of room to be graded poorly, but only 30 points of room to be graded well.But with 70% of games landing the 70+ grade, it's sure clustered at the top.There's a lot of great games out there, but many don't belong with the elite, and many "elite" get inflated to that status.
This ratings system, therefore, seems to trend towards inflating game reviews, even though Gamespot was slightly on the deflationary side of things, in my sample data.
One possible theory for this would be the circular nature of reviews and review sites.If gamespot was wildly divergent from the average, would you trust it more or less?Would you think they were doing a good and fair job to the games, or would you think that the review site was slanting their grades towards the average (something I'm NOT accusing anyone of doing, to be clear).
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Ideas for Different Methods of Ratings
So with all of that in mind, I've got a couple of ideas bouncing around (as i'm sure many of you do) as to how to improve the system to be A) more accurate and B) less inflated and clustered at the top.
1) Do Away with Ratings Scores?
Of course, we could always just do away with the numbers game altogether. I know many people feel strongly that way. I however, find that numbers can be an effective way to quantify something (which is admitadly of quality, not quantity) to properly orient oneself to the reviewer's perspective. Also, it's a useful metric from which to compare opinions in the grand scale. So while it's always an option, and sometimes a good one, I think there's more interesting ways to go about revamping the ratings system.
2) Use 50 as Average.
Using 50 as average rather than 70 would actually do a lot to improve the situation. Sites could take datafrom the previously compiled year to establish a general metric for overall average quality, and use key games which are widely agreed upon as examples. In this scenario, we're much more likely to see games converge around the average of 50, with equally spread numbers up and down. There's 50 points of space to be better or worse than average, which would separate games far more effectively, especially for those average or better.
3) Embrace the divergence
For hotly anticipated games, have 2 or 3 reviews and ratings for that game. I know GS and other sites aren't "rolling in the dough" to use 3 people's time on 1 game, but this would more accurately reflect the divergence of real opinions. Clearly, no number encapsulates a game, but this would make it more likely a review site was taking divergent views into account. Call Dragon Age 2 a 9.5 and a 4 on two different reviews (or 70 and 20 on the 50-average metric), because there's lots of opnions. This would also free reviewers to be more critical of games which they like but feel need to be pointed out. [thanks to Taxonomic for giving me this idea!].One of the reasons I think scores below 70 tend to diverge is that in this range, reviewers feel more free to score how they feel, and less hamstrung by the numbers.
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Thats all for now. I hope you've found this as interesting to investigate as i have. Comments, questions on my thinking, and feedback, as always, are appreciated.
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PS - I just accumulated the data for all of xbox 2010 games for GS v. Metacritic. Results are very similar. Will post in the near future.
The Stagnation of MMOs Part 2
- Mar 29, 2011 3:52 pm GMT
- 121 Comments
I wrote a piece over a year ago which brought to attention the extremely slow progress MMOs have made over the past ten years. In fact, that original article is what brought my writing to the attention of Jody and, in turn, gave me the soapbox emblem. This is a subject that I am rather passionate about because the first game that really took me to another world and immersed me into a rich, carefree culture was the original Everquest. I've played countless MMOs both before and after this experience but none have captivated me in the same way (especially afterward.)
The first good 3D MMO (Guild war going on here.)
The causes of the current stagnation are numerous, but I believe I have whittled them down to a handful of main concerns which, if addressed, could begin a renaissance of sorts in the MMO world. The following are only a few of these concerns. More will be written in another part later in the year.
Throwing loot at players has been an easy way of sustaining prolonged connection to a game. The player gets the feeling of progress while also having the desire to push on to find even more riches in the deeper sections of the dungeon. This, however, is a very artificial form of accomplishment, and the history of loot hording will not be something the player looks back on and relishes. Does the player get excited because they just defeated the greatest threat in the city by slaying the massive dragon and freeing the people from fear, or is the player mostly excited about the +3 Sword of Raging Inferno that dropped from the "mob" which the player has been salivating over for months on forums? If the later is the prime reason for slaying the dragon, then I believe the game is not a rich RPG experience but an infinitely deep database designed to slowly doll out ever more powerful items like cocaine on the streets. Just like drugs, the rewards have to be continually more colorful with more flames, more damage, and loonier designs to keep the increasingly desensitized player lulled into cutting the monthly check.
There needs to be a connection with the character and the world in which the user plays. There needs to be a purpose for killing, questing, and helping (or hurting) the other players and non-player characters (NPCs) in the game. Without a connection to the players and actors in the game, there is not purpose or emotional attachment to, say, freeing the slaves from the slaver's ship, skinning hides for the local leather shop, or bringing a message to a long lost lover.
Did William Wallace fight against the king to obtain theCrown of Beguile and Backstabbing? No, he fought passionately for his country, his land, and his people. There was emotion there, a sense of purpose that drove the conflict not a loot table.
He did it all for the purples?
To facilitate the connection between the player and the character in which they assume, a stockpile of previous actions needs to be recorded in the character's profile to be used to shape the future interactions with NPCs and other players. Did the player kill a merchant in the next city over and then run to their current city? After a few days, word would have gotten around and merchants may not do business with the player until the debt is sufficiently paid to society (or coin pays the merchants off.)
I'm not talking about canned general responses to exact criteria. I'm talking about a behavioral simulation system which runs in the background using your past deeds as the input. The point is, you shape the world and how it interacts with you due to your past actions. This is only one step in the right direction.
I briefly touched on this at the end of my last piece. Creation as it is now is hand generated. Developers toil over creating the landscape to be "just-so", design entire cities with a blueprint in mind, and try to create a world which seems possible but new, and exciting. This is the main portion of the cost and design of a game. The bad part is, this is exactly the portion of the game which ends up making the game feel dated and boring for a veteran player. This content is static, never changing from the time the developer penned the area during the early stages of the game. Some games have addressed this by overhauling the entire game (Cataclysm.) This is only a band aid fix because one to two years from now they will be exactly in the same spot as before. Boring, static landscape.
Instead of investing heavily into hundreds of people working on every detail, have them work on an underlying physics engine which can produce varied, unique, and rich landscapes using variables which can be changed depending on the situation. This generated landscape can then be brushed up and important features added (such as starter cities, monuments, and other cultural items.)
The Earth we see today was created (well… hopefully I don't open a can of worms here) by physical systems. The Grand Canyon by erosion, mountain ranges by plate activity, caves through water channels, and many more weren't created by some artist sitting in a chair for hours. Using an adequately complex simulator could bring about landscape features never dreamed of.
Simply look at the most basic system which Minecraft uses. Only having a handful of blocks and a very simple algorithm, Minecraft makes completely new worlds in seconds which hide all sorts of fantastic secrets. Just think of the possibilities if a few million dollars are sunk into a natural physics simulation.
The best part about having an underlying physics simulation which created some portion of the content is not only the natural feel of the land but the fact that the simulation can easily continue when the game goes live. There would be weather models which could simulate something as simple as a summer rain fall to complex blizzards, hurricanes, and tornados which do actual destruction to the land and player buildings. Earthquakes could happen, seasons change, meteors hit, and the list goes on. All this could happen and the developers may not even know it. It would be simulated with the rules set by the developers, but without their direct interaction.
Supercomputers model all sorts of extremely complex systems.
Perhaps the player takes a year off of the game. Instead of coming back to the exact same thing in which they left, the player is greeted by massive changes. The forest was harvested and a city built, the old capital burnt down from conflict, and the player's house long looted with homesteaders shacked up there.
Great side effect? Every server would be entirely different after some amount of time.
A dynamic world is what we live in, why not play there too?
Before This Gets Too Long
I'm going to have to cut this short, but I have a lot more to say (for another editorial.) One of the problems with MMOs is the fact they do nothing to affect me, as a person. They prey on my wish for more power and ever higher rewards, but fail to deliver real long-term accomplishment. Practically every MMO has a linear path to rewards which everyone follows, even step-by-step guides are sold. Level up to max level (usually a straight shot), get this set of gear, get these skill ups, and then wait for more gear. Strip a max character down in most MMOs to only their underwear and they are all identical.
These brave souls fighting the mighty Arthas are all the same underneath the shiny gear.
A simulated reality will help differentiate the good players from the players who purchase or view guides to progress in a game. It will give purpose and change to the world which will in turn make it seem more real and immersive. Cities can burn down, houses can be attacked, and players can lose their empire through natural events. This brings a sense of risk and a feeling of the unknown into play which is sorely lacking in today's games.
We need simulated realities based on physical laws so we can manipulate them in game for our purposes, just like in real life. We need simulated behavioral laws for the NPCs so, again, we can manipulate them for all sorts of wild purposes. This dynamic, changing world is the next frontier not only for MMOs but for videogames in general.
I'll end on what I wrote in my previous piece:
The MMO arena is stagnant. We wait for expansion packs that keep us busy for a few months or a hyped up game that might leave us 100 dollars poorer only to have wasted our time. We need a game changer. We need something so radically different that it brings us directly into the next generation of MMOs. I am waiting and see nothing on the horizon that will do that.
More to come in Part 3.
What irks you about the current generation of MMOs?
What is the number one thing you believe needs to be addressed?
What is actually good that should stay with the genre as it progresses to the next generation?
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