Thursday

New standards of revue

I was playing Rymdkapsel one day. Simple, stipped down, short, puzzle/strategy game. About half an hour in, close to the end, it becomes unplayable as the enemies attack too fast for you to do anything in between waves.

And I thought, what score could you give this as a reviewer? Eurogamer gave it a no-surprises 8/10; the same score as Shadow of Mordor.

Now 8/10 from eurogamer is so default that it has become a joke. And giving the same 'pretty good by all accounts' score to two games so massively different in scope seems to be silly.

This is a problem with mobile and casual games in general; Steve Jackson's Sorcery!, an android game adapted from his advanced fighting fantasy* series, maintains its text and illustrations from the 25-year-old paperback and can't really be called on to compete with something like Skyrim, can it? You want to rate the experience, but you need your rating to have some context.

The context could be simply be the price; we could give Rymkapsel 2/10, for example, and leave it to the reader to work out about value for money, and realise that that 2/10 is a damn sight better use of 3 quid than the 2/10 game that costs an order of magnitude more. But I feel that will lead to confusion, and invalid comparions. 

An alternative would be to put a price on a game; what would the reviewer pay for it? How does that compare to the asking price? That will tell you both how good the game is and something about the scope of its ambition.

This is important for me, and it came out of something my daughter said. When I asked her I give the Natural History Museum a score out of 10, she said '10'. I then asked her to rate Buxton museum**; she gave it 5/5. A light went on in my head.

Why do we insist on the same standards for every game? Why not rate both its ambition and it's quality in one fraction. This can capture the essential difference between Portal and Portal 2; 2 games of similar quality, but I'd give Portal 9/3 and Portal 2 9/10. 

I'd happily give Rymkapsel 2/2, and shadow of moroder 8/10. We can now fairly compare the two, as both are positive experiences, but the first is lesser in terms of scope. Compare a 2/2 Rymdkapsel with a 2/10 game; it's obvious which you should play. The 2/2 game will give you a lot of fun, but perhaps not for very long and perhaps not at a very deep level. The 2/10 game will have been a fiasco, with not much enjoyment to be had at all.

It's the same problem as when you see star ratings on a billboard, but you don't know how many stars the individual ratings system use. You might get 5 stars from time out, but not tell your advertisees that try use an 8 star system.

These systems obviously can apply to any media; you can't rate a 90 minute film with the same denominator as a late night sketch show, but you can apply the same principles, so the numbers should be relatable.

*nb. Not to be confused with Advanced Fighting Fantasy, the more weighty RPG rule set for the fighting fantasy universe. The Sorcery! 4-book series was merely more advanced than normal FF books, with a more comprehensive magic system and the ability to maintain a character across 4 books.

** it may not have been these exact musea.
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There's another dimension I've been experimenting with in regards to assessing whether media is worth your time, and it's my "fuckin' 'ell!" test: if a piece of art doesn't make you go fuckin' 'ell at least once, it's not worth bothering with.

I started doing this last autumn, and quite soon it became a defined thing. That moment where you feel your draw drop, or your cogs turn and click into place, or your brain explodes and upgrades itself... That's what's worth living for. Those feelings that make you go fucking hell, are the ones where you feel the the author(s) are taking you somewhere and showing you new things and surprising you because you're the audience and you're not always meant to know where things are going.

It's pretty reliable, and although I can still very much enjoy things that fail the test, it's quite a threshold. We Are The Best was lovely, but it didn't make me go 'fuckin ell'. Under The Skin got 5, with a long gap in the middle; one particularly memorable moment was the dog drowning in the turning tide, looking for all the world like Goya's black painting on the same subject. 

It needn't be a schocking moment, it could be a particularly funny one or a happy surprise. But it's been interesting limiting reviews to this one reaction, and then broadening back out to see what I'm missing.
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