I once read a post where someone proved, once and for all, that Gears of War is better than Killzone 2. You see, Gears of War was given a 94 rating on Metacritic and Killzone only got a 91. That guy’s crazy, right? Well, he’s not alone. Executives brag about their company’s average scores in press releases and even employee bonuses have been dependent on looking good on Metacritic. The industry is crying out for an objective way to determine the worth of a game (you know, beyond sales) and I mean to give it to them.
I start out by looking at two factors: pressure and complexity. Neither of these can be given a narrow rating, so games are instead put into three broad qualitative categories: low, mid, and high.
As you can see in the chart above, complexity is simply how many kinds of interaction the player has with the game. In LEGO games you generally just smash things, while Minecraft gives you a full suite of tools for interacting with the environment. Then there is pressure, which is how close the game keeps you to the fail-state. In Touhou you are never more than a centimeter from death, while in The Sims you have to actively try to fail.
Note that neither pressure or complexity is directly related to difficulty. It is easy to see that Zelda is more complex than Super Mario, but it isn’t exactly harder. Higher pressure games are often found to be more difficult than games with less pressure, but even Starcraft can be toned down into something anyone can play. Difficulty is a little too subjective, and therefore has no place here.
While shoving games into categories is fun, it’s more interesting when you consider games that fall into multiple categories. Lets start with one that plots vertically.
Bejeweled in it’s default mode has a pressure rating of mid: you can fail if you don’t make a match in time, but it isn’t as if one wrong move will cause you to loose. The game also comes with zen mode, where the timer is turned off, relieving the game of all pressure. Then there is lighting mode, where the timer doesn’t recharge with a match and you race to get as many points as possible.
In order for a game to offer varying levels of pressure it often needs to offer different modes or difficulty settings. Varying complexity sometimes works this way as well, but it’s a bit more interesting when a game supports different styles of play within the same mode.
Deus Ex is the king of this idea. Every mission can be completed multiple ways, and it’s up to the player to choose what option they are going to take. Will you simply blast your way through, or take advantage of the game’s more complex systems? By getting the balance right between the different options the game still feels fresh a decade later.
Lastly, there are the rare games that can be played at whatever pressure and complexity the player wants to.
The universal critical praise for Mass Effect 2 seems inevitable when you conciser that it can morph itself to be whatever the player wants it to be. It can be played as a straightforward cover shooter, or the player can experiment with the different companions to find powerful ways to combine their attacks. At the highest difficulty the game can really put the pressure on, while in casual mode the game is content to let the player just experiment and explore. It’s a hard game not to like.
Game developers seek to fill as many of these boxes as possible. When a game can be played in so many different ways it stands to be enjoyed by a wide variety of people. Still, there is a trap in spreading out too far. The games I talk about here are so well respected not just because you can play them so many different ways but because every way you can play them is rewarding.
So here is how to calculate a TeslaCritic score:
1. Count how many of the above play styles your game serves.
2. Add a point for an original setting. This is X.
3. Subtract X from 10.
4. Divide that number by the number of similar games that have come out in the past three years, excepting games that are part of the same series. This is Y.
5. Add X and Y and subtract it from 10. This is Z.
6. How many years did it take the game to make? This is A. Subtract A*Y from Z.
7. Divide Z by 100 and then multiply by the number of awesome explosions the game has. Add it to Z to get AA.
8. If AA is less than five check to see if the game sold well. If it didn’t give it an underdog point.
9. If AA is less than seven check how old it is. If it was made before 2000 give it an oldie point. And yes, the cut off is 2000, games that came after 2000 aren’t old yet, no matter how old they actually are.
10. Is AA greater than ten? Then go check your math. Still too high? Well, ignore me then I don’t know what I’m talking about.
11. Does the game have a fan site? Does it have anything of value? Does it have more than one fan site? Do the fans only love the game ironically? Ponder these questions while you write AA down in your copybook.
12. Gaze at AA for a while. Does it change it’s value? If it does find the difference between past AA and present AA. This is Q.
13. Divide X by Q. This is the final score.
14. Do you realize what you have here? It is a purely objective measure of the worth of a game! It’s creators will finally find out of the thousands of hours of work they put into it was worth it, or if they were just wasting their time, earning a paycheck producing crap when they should have been crafting a masterpiece. Take a moment to let that sink in. Ponder over the score for just a while longer.
15. Realize that this score doesn’t mean anything and give the game a 7 out of 10.