Currently playing: The incredible adventures of Van Helsing, Ravenloft: Strahd´s Possession

July 23, 2012

One year retrospective and rating system explained

One year has passed with my blog today and I thought it would be nice with a little retrospective.

First of all, thank you all readers out there. Your comments encourages me to continue with this. To date 217 comments have been made on my 86 articles and the number of page views and visitors are steadily increasing. The worst month was in october 2011 with 354 hits compared to june 2012 that was ten times as high. By far, most readers come from U.S. but then comes Germany, Sweden, Canada and Russia.

There where a few reasons I started this blog. My first computer roleplaying game was Bard´s Tale on the Commodore 64 in 1988. Up until Commodores demise in 1994 I played every RPG I could get hold of until I was forced to switch to the PC-platform that now had become the major gaming platform. Although several good modern RPGs exist, the golden period is long over.

One day in januari 2010 I found the site Freegameempire that offered preconfigured Dosbox games from the past. I begun by playing Ultima Underworld and was soon hooked and this was followed by Lands of Lore and Planescape torment. I was already back in the past.

When I discovered CRPGAddicts blog in 2010 it was with great joy I begun to read through his efforts to complete every CRPG game released. Many of them were classics I myself played as a teenager. It was then I came up with the idea of sharing my experiences and talk about the games that today for the most part are forgotten by the masses.

His inspiration led me to start my own blog about the golden oldies, although I don´t put nearly as much effort into such an overwhelming task he has set for himself. I have no intention of completing every game I try out, for the simple reason that not every CRPG are worth the effort.

When I stumble into a bad game, or one that begins to be a chore more than enjoyment, I will tell you that, review the game, and then move on. In that way, I will cover more games and be able to put the time and efforts into the really good games out there. I hate to quit games and would prefer to complete them but one has to be realistic. This hobby is just a part of a larger life and that in itself is too short to let the inability to stop playing a bad game rule.

By far the most visited and readed post is about Wizardry VII, double that of the second one about   Demon´s Winter, which was my first revisit. I am quite surprised about both of them. The latter game is really not very well known. On the other hand what is actually read and what is only links of the screenshots is hard to know. 

I´ve never actually tried to explain my rating categories for each game, so let´s go through that once and for all. What is important to understand is that the overall most important rating will always be for the gameplay section, regardless of low points in all other scores. That makes my gameranking list a little bit unreliable since it measures how well-balanced the game as a CRPG is, but undervalues how much enjoyment it gives. I could try to weigh some parts more than others though, but in the end, the ranking of the games compared to each other is not the aim in itself and so is of less importance.

The rating system goes from 1-5 with 0.5 increments. Just double the score if you wish to compare it to a 1-10 grading system.

Gameworld & Story
Here I try to rate first how much efforts has been put into the background story of the game, including how original it is and how well it conveys the story and background through the game. Many games have only the story in the manual and you see nothing of it in the games. A good example is Bard´s Tale.

It is also about how clear your objectives are in the game and wether you always know what you are doing and why and how the game supports and drive the story forward, be it by cut-scenes, narrators, npc voices or pure texts. Most SSI Goldbox games scores highly in this part, as well as for example Shadows over Riva.

Economy
Does the game include an economic system in the form of monetary management with which you could buy items or other character driven things for ? How is the balance ? Do you feel you always lack behind and need more gold ? (that is a good thing), or do you pretty quick disregard money because you have nothing to do with it anyway (this is naturally very bad). What can you do with your money and is that part of the game well structured ? 

Personally, one of the highlights is the feeling of when you are always a bit short of gold but could save up some and then have to prioritize whether you should afford that new better weapon or armour or should you instead spend the money on buying a lot of healing potions and food ? Too much gold, too early is bad for this rating, too less and too late is bad also.

NPC & Interactions
Are there NPC:s in the game that you could speak to and that promotes the story, gives missions or just add to the background or atmosphere of the game ? How can you interact with them. One sided, or can you speak to them in dialogue options ? How does it affect the game ?

Interactions means, interactions with your environment. Perhaps you find something during your explorations and are allowed different approaches to problems or obstacles, like Shadows of Riva is very good at, or perhaps you find things to manipulate and you are given several choices of how to tackle them like in Dark heart of Uukrul. A typical game with excellent score in this category could be Baldurs Gate.

Monsters, Tactics & Combat System
Here I try to rate how well your adversaries are in the game, what - and if - they use any tactics and wether the combat system is any good. With monsters it could mean the variety between them like images, size, movement rate, different attacks (poisonous, gas, slime, rust, acid/fire breathing etc) and if they employ tactics like if they try to surround you, surrender or could retreat from combat.

The Combat System rates how fun it is to go into fight mode. More detailed are often better - but not always - as long as the interface is good. Does different weapons and armour have noticeable effects ? Do you see damage dealt and is combat based on your statistics or more on your reactions ? A typical game with excellent value in this category would be SSI:s Goldbox games like Pool of Radiance while a game scoring low on this section would be Ishar 2 for example.

Magic System (earlier Magic & Spells)
Here I rate the magic system employed by the game. How many spells are there and are they varied and useful enough ? Is it easy to use and does it add something to the game ? How does it work ?

Character generation & development
This section tries to review how well the character generation in the game works. How do you generate your character(s)?, which options are you given?. What happens when you level up and how does the levelling system works? How well balanced is the character development and will you be able to start a new game and try a different route ? This is one of the most important aspects of an CRPG. Games with a high rating in this category are  Shadows over Riva or Wizardry VII.

Map design
How good are the maps of the game, both overland and underground. Are they large, small, varied, fixed squares or irregular. Built with thoughts or just random rooms, doors and corridors without any realism built in ? A game with bad map design is games that randomise the dungeons because there is no thought behind the rooms or corridors. Example of such games could be Daggerfall.

Manual
The manual of a game is all too often overlooked. Not only is the importance of the manual to describe how the game works, your goal, background information and how to use the controls (the interface), but a good manual also describes the underlying game mechanism, have tables and stats, monster encyclopedia, tips and hints, designers notes or is just very entertaining to read. For me personally a good manual is helping to build up the atmosphere and expectations of the game. An example of a good manual is for Demon´s Winter or Wizardry VII. A manual that I could find that preserves the layout as in a PDF file will automatically render a higher score instead of a pure textfile.

Graphics, Sound & Interface
Of these three categories the interface is often the most single important item in a CRPG. Without an easy to use system to control the game it doesn't matter if the graphics and sound are excellent. I try to rate graphics and sound based on what could be expected for a game of the same period and for the same format (ie Amiga vs other Amiga games etc). A game with poor graphics per se but which is clear, easy to grasp and maximise its use could get a higher score than first meets the eye. Sound is based on music and sound effects and the effective use of it. Interface is of course how easy it is to play and use without getting frustrated. It could be how the game handles your inventory, shopping, casting spells or combat commands.

Gameplay
This part is of course the single most important one. How much fun did I have playing the game ? Does it hook my interests 10 hours into it or does it become tedious and repetitive quickly ? Is the game too large but with to little content (read Bard´s Tale 3) or has efforts been put into making each level/dungeon etc so enriched as possible ? Do you feel part of the story, does the story advance and help keep the gaming experience top notch ?

Any suggestions of how to weight the different sections for a better rating ?


Section
Weight
Map design
Manual
Magic system


Gameworld & Story

Economy

NPC & Interactions


Monsters, tactics and combat system
Character generation & development
Graphics, Sound & Interface


Gameplay



8 comments:

  1. I like that gameplay is more heavily weighted than other parts. Even though everything makes up a whole game. If it isn't fun and easy to grasp what's the point? Pool is fun and easy to get the hang of. To me the earlier ultima games can be fun but it takes awhile to get into them.

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  2. Just keep at it. It feels like throwing your voice into a black hole sometimes, but people still read. I'm in a similar situation, but you just have to do it for yourself first and foremost. Plus, getting through all these games is no small feat. Good luck!

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  3. Good stuff... keep it up when you have time. I really enjoy your playthrough's...

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  4. Personally I prefer the individual scores for graphics, combat etc to be separate from the overall score.
    Since there is not a scientific, objective way of weighting the individual scores, I prefer instead the method of giving the game a more or less subjective overall score based mostly on how enjoyable it is.

    I used to review maps for Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic and this was always a problem for me since map A could be more enjoyable than map B even though map B would get a higher score based on more or less irrelevant individual scores, or really enjoyable games would get an underved low overall score just because they failed on one of the individual scores.
    In the end what really matters is how much you enjoy the map/game.

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  5. Why do you think that all the AD&D based games should get a high rating in the character generation & development category ?

    Just look at the classic AD&D games like Pools of Radiance, Hillsfar or Eye of the Beholder. You only choose (not really balanced) classes and stats at creation and there's nothing else to do except grinding XP and levels afterwards, at the start it's already known how the characters will be at the end (except random HP gains at level up and the amount of XP you grind).

    Other games are far superior in this aspect. Compare this to Dungeon Master where the characters develop according to how you use them or games which offer a lot of choices as you level up.

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    Replies
    1. Dungeon Master excells at the system of skills that are increased while using them. But that´s about the single thing which excells regarding character development.
      That point alone is good but not superior overall to the system used in any Goldbox game. That´s my opinion.
      Which other superior system did exist at the time the first Goldbox games arrived like Pools of Radiance in 1988 ?

      I agree that a system which gives you talents, perks, traits or whatever is a good complement. And you see them in later AD&D games like Neverwinter nights or Temple of Elemental Evil. But then we have left the CRPG golden era so that is not a fair comparison.

      There might be even better systems out there but the Goldbox games was the first that come to mind. It does not necessarily rate at 5 but at the very least at 4.

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    2. What does Pool of Radiance offer in terms of character creation and development ?
      You choose character race and class and roll stats.
      When the characters level up they gain more HP and better chances to resist magic, hit better and gain more spells.
      This is standard for crpgs of that time. (some hybrids had less elements)


      Just browse through the games you played in your blog and compare them to PoR, Demon's Winter is older and offers far more character development, Wizardry 7 has quite the same character development as its predecessor W6 and even the first Wizardry released 1981 doesn't offer less in terms of character development.


      Pool of Radiance had great graphics, a great interface and a great tactical combat system but I fail to see something special about character creation and development, the same applies to the later AD&D games.


      I know that AD&D was the Microsoft of tabletop role playing games of that time and therefore paying for using those rules (not made for playing computer games) increased the sales but just being mainstream doesn't make something better.


      Neverwinter Nights and Temple of Elemental Evil are not AD&D games, they are D&D 3rd edition games which use totally different rules.

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    3. Thanks for your input Cure888.

      You might have a point regarding the character development section in that it is predictable what you will be at a certain level and you have few choices of how to be a different level 12 warrior than any other level 12 warrior. Even though as a mage or priest you could choose your spells if I remember correctly.

      But the character generation part have you to tactically choose a careful mix of classes for your party and that mix could be optimised and offers replayability. And you could also change classes later on in the series which makes for even different party setups.

      Anyway, I will take into consideration your objections and remember them when evaluating this part.

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