Coffee Talk #4: Game Review Scores and You

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, whether the Motorola Cliq will turn the company around, why the hell it’s raining in Los Angeles, or bellybutton lint, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

In Coffee Talk #2, reader rbee90 brought up the topic of game reviews, which led to a conversation about review scores. The discussion started to get interesting and reader RRODisHere suggested that I write about the topic in Coffee Talk. Well here it is!

I have a ton of problems with the way most — not all — game reviews work. Scoring is a huge pet peeve of mine. 100-point scales are just stupid. I’d love for someone to (intelligently) explain the one-point difference between a game that gets an 87 and one that gets an 88. Five-point scales — which I like a whole lot better — are a problem because of the way the business uses scores and how some consumers interpret them. Here’s a pro tip for you — three stars out of five is not the same as 60 percent. Yet that’s the way a three-out-of-five is treated by review aggregators (most of the time). What’s worse is that some publishers base royalties on aggregate review scores, which is completely unfair to developers.

Borat Thumbs Up

Personally, I think there should only be three review scores — buy it, rent it, eff it, symbolized by thumbs up, thumbs in the middle, and a thumbs down (or Megan Fox’s thumbs). Isn’t purchasing, renting, or passing what it all comes down to anyway? I pushed for this system when I worked at GameSpy, but nobody was buying it. Oddly enough, my boss at GameSpy eventually went to Crispy Gamer, which uses a scale like the one I suggested. Anyway, the bottom line is that scores have become so important that the words behind them are often overlooked and sometimes ignored.

Then there’s the way some games are reviewed. Some publishers send code to reviewers days before they’re allowed to publish their reviews. For competitive reasons, everyone wants to get the review up the second the embargo lifts. This has the reviewer cramming a pint glass of gameplay into a shot glass of time. Another practice that bugs the hell out of me is when publishers have reviewers play the game off site. In these cases, a reviewer has to commute to a hotel suite or a conference room to play the game for a few days before writing the review. Again, the short amount of time introduces a problem, but it’s compounded by having to play the game in a completely unnatural setting. My issue here is that reviewers have to play games in a way that few consumers would. Do most people play 50-hour games in three days? Of course not. Do most people make daily commutes to play games in a conference room? No.

Okay, I’m getting angry about the whole deal. What I’d like to know from you is what you expect from game reviews. Do you like like 100-point scales or do you prefer five-star systems? What information is most important to you in a game review? Do you think that the unnatural way reviewers have to play games leads to an unnatural view of the game? Leave a comment and let me know (please)!

German Advocacy Group to Hold Protest Against Violent Games

Killer Games

A German group called Aktionsbündnis Amoklauf Winnenden is holding a protest against violent games on October 17. The country has had its issues with violent videogames over the last few years and things appear to be escalating. According to Game Politics:

A German advocacy group has organized an event designed to get participants to bring their “killer games” to in order to dispose of them in a trash can.

Aktionsbündnis Amoklauf Winnenden, or Action Alliance (loosely translated), has setup the event for this Saturday, October 17 in front of the Stuttgart State Opera. One game tosser will win a signed jersey from the German national soccer team. No word on what will be done with the “donated” games, but presumably they will be smashed or discarded in some way.

I hate these kinds of protests. They’re stupid. Is the group holding a similar event so that people can trash their violent DVDs en masse? I thought it was lame when people protested The Beatles and The Dixie Chicks with mass album burnings or silly gatherings to destroy CDs. On a side note, I think it’s funny that the above quote says “game tosser”. That sounds like a phrase British gamers would use over Xbox Live.

What do you think of this protest?

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Street Fighter IV’s Abel Was Supposed to be a Girlie Man

Street Fighter IV Abel

Street Fighter IV’s Abel is a brawny and burly character, but apparently that wasn’t the original vision for him. At first, Abel was supposed to be a scrawny French judo master that looked like a girl. Andriasang translated Capcom battle planner Taisaku Okada from the Street Fighter IV blog:

With Abel, we wanted to make someone representative of ‘the weak can beat the strong,’ and so he was originally a small judo character who could be mistaken for a girl.

I know a lot of SFIV players that dig Abel, but I have to wonder if they’d still be into the character if he were a puny girlie man.

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Coffee Talk #3: Gaming Guilty Pleasures

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, celebrating Rocktober, when you expect to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

Yesterday, I was incredibly pleased to have R.A. Salvatore’s The Ghost King arrive at my doorstep. His books about Drizzt Do’Urden and friends are one of my guilty pleasures. Some of them are pretty good (The Dark Elf Trilogy and Jarlaxle’s books are my favorite), but a lot of them…aren’t the best. Still, I read all of them — sometimes over and over again — and thoroughly enjoy them.

Britney's Dance Beat

This got me thinking about my gaming guilty pleasures. I’m sure you know what I mean — games that you know aren’t great (or sometimes not even good), but can’t stop playing. The two biggest offenders in my collection are Britney’s Dance Beat for PlayStation 2 and Wakeboarding Unleashed for Xbox. For the former, I should really just be playing Bust-a-Groove, but I love how corny the game is with Britney’s music. As for Wakeboarding Unleashed, it’s certainly not in the same league as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but I may or may not have dated one of the girls in the game and it was always amazingly amusing to play as her.

Today I’d like to know about your gaming guilty pleasures. Are there any mediocre or bad games you can’t stop playing? Why can’t you shake them?

SwitchGames SoCal Game Trading Meetup!

Switch Games logoCalling all SoCal residents! The excellent people at SwitchGames are trying to organize an event where you can eat, drink, be merry, and trade games! Think of it as an evening swap meet for gamers. Here are some details:

DJ Sonic Pony spins the best indie rock, electronic, pop, classics and whatever else she feels like playing.

Food and drink will be available for purchase at the venue. All ages welcome. You must be 21+ to drink alcoholic beverages (ID required).

Plenty of parking (discount validation is available).

It sounds like a cool event. If my knee is cooperating, I’ll be there. It would be excellent to see you at the event! Even if you can’t attend this time around, be sure to sign up so that you can receive updates on future events.

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Coffee Talk #2: Fantasy Games vs. SciFi Games

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, the Toy Story 3 trailer, the upcoming “Super 6” middleweight tournament, or Rob Schneider’s birthday, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

Fantasy vs. SciFi — it’s a debate that will last an eternity. Most gamers I know enjoy both settings, but strongly lean towards one or the other. Some folks dig games with swords and sorcery, others prefer laser rifles and warp drives. Personally, I’m way more of a fantasy guy than a sci-fi guy. Space battles are cool and all, but I rather jump into an adventure filled with mystical spells, magic weapons, and cool frickin’ dragons. I liked Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but I loved Baldur’s Gate.

Dragon Age Origins chicky

My reasoning is simple; fantasy settings are more ridiculous, ergo more imaginative. Science fiction — good science fiction anyway — is often based on…(get this) science. Sure, it might be theoretical, but in many cases it’s plausible and not a huge leap from reality. Even though a lot of sci-fi features alien races and futuristic weaponry, it’s just too “real” for me. At the end of the day I see science as cold and clinical (I’m sure a psychiatrist would tell me that I’m just afraid of death).

Fantasy is more fun for me. A sword of sharpness? Ludicrous. A bag of holding? Preposterous. A race of miniature creatures that live inside trees and bake cookies? Waitaminute…those actually exist. So many elements in fantasy games, books, etc. are just impossible. Call me a romantic, but I enjoy dreaming about the impossible.

I’d love to hear about your preference. Are you SciFi or fantasy? Pick a side and explain your choice (please)!

Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford Equates Game Design With Magic

Borderlands

I have the utmost respect for game developers. They work so hard to craft the fantastic experiences that we all enjoy. The art of making games, to use some of Queen’s lyrics, “It’s a kind of magic.” According to Gearbox Software co-founder Randy Pitchford (Borderlands), game making and magic have a lot in common. The former professional magician (as opposed to the amateurs that cast spells in the Olympics) told Gamasutra:

A magician can create wonder by creating a set of logic, and then proving that the logic is impossible and false. Now if I repeat the same trick over and over again, as long as it’s still surprising, it’s fine. I’ve got you. But as soon as you start understanding how the trick works, you get bored and you lose interest. So, I’ve got to create a new trick. I’ve got to hit you with new magic.

I’ve always pegged Pitchford as some sort of sorcerer. I’m pretty sure he just admitted it in the quote above. I wonder what house he belonged to. Gryffindor? Hufflepuff maybe?

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