Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 14, 2011
Numbering subjectivity

Anjin from Bullet Points has a great post up about review scores. He quotes several reviews of the same game, complaining about the same weakness in that game, and then notes how different the review scores are. Quote: "What is funny about all of these reviews, and several others that I looked at was that they all agreed about what they liked and did not like about Uncharted 3. What they differed on was the degree to which that swayed their opinion of the game. There are several 100 point scores on Metacritic, several in the 80s, and then there is Tom Chick with his 40. A 40 has the same problems with the game as everyone else, but could not overlook those problems like nearly everyone else."

I found that interesting because this weekend I had a similar impression when listening to various commenters talking about Skyrim. Some people really liked the game (to the point where they got aggressive towards people not playing it. Apparently that sort of behavior isn't limited to MMORPGs.). Others were unimpressed. But I don't think that people disagreed about actual facts, it was only that their overall impression was swayed to different degrees by those facts.

Fact is that Skyrim has a control system with the cursor fixed in the middle of the screen. Fact is that it is a console port, inheriting both textures and a control scheme that isn't optimized for keyboard and mouse from the console version. The difference is that some people think that the game is so great that they don't mind these problems, while for others they are game killers. One reader suggested that if Skyrim caused me video game nausea, I should drug myself with seasickness pills to be able to play, because otherwise I would miss a decade-defining game. Another reader called it "a potentially amazing title... ruined by horrendous animations (npcs/monsters) and an absolutely stupid and crappy inventory system (direct port from consoles, requires WASD keys)." I do think people agree what are the strengths and weaknesses of the game, they just assign very different scores to them.

Personally I think these are perfect examples of why I don't give review scores on my blog. I just say what I like and dislike about a game. That still gets some of the fans upset ("How dare you to talk about a weakness of my favorite game!!!"), but I think it would be a lot worse if I gave a low score. Some problems I might have with a game *are* extremely personal, with motion sickness being an example, and really shouldn't keep anybody else who doesn't have the same problem from buying that game. It would be extremely unfair if I gave a low review score to a game just because its camera system makes me puke. However I insist on my right to chose not to play a game that makes me puke.

I suggest you don't play COD:MW3 then, as the FOV is fixed in that too and you don't want to be dissing that on the internet and have a quiet life :P

I didn't check all the responses to your previous post. I presume it has been suggested, but I would reinforce any suggestions that you experiment on an existing game you own that makes you ill that allows you to modify the FOV.

And assuming that you may have done this in the past and its not worked, and other tricks (such as sitting further from the screen) are just as useless (for what ever reason), then I send my sympathy. Especially being I personally am enjoying Skyrim more than any other single player game in recent memory.
Actually the FOV value can be modified in Skyrim by hitting the tilde to get the console and typing FOV 100 or whatever value you want.

But that isn't the problem that causes the nausea. The nausea is caused because the cursor is fixed in the middle of the screen, so you can't target anything without moving the camera. That leads to a lot more camera movement than in a game which lets you target by clicking on anything on the screen without moving the camera.

That control scheme works better for first-person-shooters, because in that sort of game you tend not to have to look down to pick up loot from a corpse or target chests every 5 seconds. There is a reason why most shooters have auto-pickup of "loot" by walking over it.
First thing I always do in a game: rebind my keys to the numpad. Guess what, this game does not allow you to rebind keys...

It's a potential game killer to me, played a few hours with my X-360 gamepad but it doesn't feel very comfortable to me. It just doesn't feel very right to aim a bow with a stick, which forces me to go melee. In any case, if I had known that I cannot rebind my keys I probably would have waited a few months to buy it.

As for changing the FOV: opening the console automatically disqualifies you for the "I finished the game" achievement.
I find the reviews that actually focus more on discussing specific features of the game, and the authors opinion, better than those that rely on a score. Especially when you know the writers bias and how it firs with your own tastes.

Skyrim seems cool, but decade defining is pushing it really. I might get it at some point, but Oblivion has put me off the series for now.
I might get it at some point

That is actually an interesting way to express a personal review score: How much are you willing to pay for that game? Usually, thanks to Steam, games can be had for a lower price if you buy them later. Thus the longer you are willing to wait, and the less you are willing to pay, ultimately is *your* score of the game.
One of the advantages of waiting a while after release to play games is that it removes a lot of the emotion attached to review scores. Around release time the army of fanboys who have eagerly fed upon the hype leading up to launch will pounce on anyone who dares to criticise their beloved game (often this happens even before they have played the game).

Wait a few months and the smoke will have cleared somewhat. You can see whether or not people are still playing the game and get opinions based on experience rather than emotion.

The passage of time also allows the review averaging sites like Metacritic and Game Rankings to accumulate enough scores to eliminate individual bias but if you use those sites I think you need to be cogniscent that game reviewers themselves are not immune to hype and that blockbuster titles seem to be marked out of a higher scale than indies in general.

Ultimately though it still boils down to personal preference and I know that I will probably get more pleasure out of a 7/10 game in a genre I like than a 10/10 game in a genre I don't.
Well, I found Skyrim really entertaining. It's also another of the really few games that allows me to play singleplayer for more then 10 hours (It's actually 100+ hrs) and that's rare.
Combat animations compared to Witcher2 are dull, and the interface is very cumbersome.
I am overlooking this, because the game is breathtaking when it comes to visuals and immersion.
The camera movement issue fortunately does not affect me at all, so I can enjoy the game like I haven't enjoy a game for a long time. I think my last experiences with a game that can be compared to this one is Baldur's Gate, Morrowind or KotoR.
What adds to the score is the fact that the internet always has the same two complains about the game. In my experience if the internet is quiet about something it actually is good. And that makes me believe, that Skyrim is a big game in terms of scores like Morrowind once was. The two major issues will not put off the whole pool of players that tried the game, and so it will be a tremendous success. I'm not sure about 'decade defining', but I sure hope that other would like to see other games with combat AIs similiar to Skyrim. Dragon fighting with a dragon that actually uses his ability to fly and breathe fire in a completely non-scripted fashion is a purely awesome feature, so is the level of interaction with the world. I'd like to see more of that in the future for sure.
One curious side effect of a game like Skyrim that intentionally starts you off with very little information about how everything (including the interface) works is illustrated by your commenter that said you need WASD to navigate through the inventory system - which is nonsense. I'm not about to rave about Skyrim's interface, but that one just ain't true.

As for your decision not to play it... well, it's a shame you're going to miss it, because I agree with the other guy who said it's likely to be one of the banner games of the decade. It's amazing, but it's not worth barfing over, or taking drugs to be able to endure. As I said elsewhere, everybody should play it, but I understand that some will need to take a pass on it until it's at least inexpensive.
It's further kind of silly for them to use a 100 point scale. Movies are also quite subjective, but at least critics have the sense to use a 4 or 5 point scale.

Of course you have the right to refuse to play a game that makes you nauseous, but on the other hand you do write a gaming blog and we NEED you to play it. Kidding.

If you ever do get a chance to demo it, try a few pieces if candied ginger 15 minutes before. One of the few "herbal" remedies that has pretty good evidence behind it. Cruise ships typically have plates of it sitting around.

Once you get through a session without getting sick, you may be OK thereafter. Nausea has a huge anticipatory and learned component to it.
intentionally starts you off with very little information about how everything (including the interface) works

I don't think that withholding information about how the interface works is a good idea.
The nausea is caused because the cursor is fixed in the middle of the screen, so you can't target anything without moving the camera....That control scheme works better for first-person-shooters,

This is where I have issue with most people classifying this as anything other than an FPS. It may be a fantasy FPS, but it is still an FPS.

One possibility you could try is zooming out, playing in 3rd person view.

that intentionally starts you off with very little information about how everything

This is a bit of an unfair claim as well, and needs 'Intentionally starts you off in a tutorial beginning to teach you the controls in case you didn't read the manual.'

But back to the motion sickness...

One thing that helps my fiance was learning to play games with the Y axis inverted, and turning off such things as the bobbing-while-walking. Another thing she tries is to stick more towards ranged characters so there is a lot less bouncing.
I see three kinds of "reviews"

1) a blogger / forum commenter saying what they thought about the game. This is quite subjective - it is OK to not like a game because it has too much red tint in the atmosphere or they find the NPC names too alliterative; it is their opinion completely. But I don't see it as that relevant to whether I would like it.

2) The interesting "inside baseball" review of a game at place like GDC where designers analyze what works and doesn't; what's innovative or evolutionary or revolutionary.

3) There is a review - from a reputable site/publication, if such things exist, - designed to tell me whether I will like the game. In this case, I am not that interested in whether the reviewer liked the game. Except for obvious avoids, e.g. $200 with frequent crashes, there are not good or bad games as much as games that are good or bad for me. So a reviewer who says a game is 7/10 is not nearly as informative as someone who provides the information so that, for example, a COD/MW player with upper ladder SC experience would think it is 9/10 and a Barlett explorer with extensive EQ crafting experience would give it a 1/10. Minecraft or Halo are not "bad" games just because a significant subgroup of people who buy games don't like them.

IMO, reviews that are designed to inform the reader say who will like the game and why and who will not like the game and why.
Well, interface in Skyrim leaves a lot to be desired. An example: there is a family of spells that give you an armor buff that lasts 60 seconds. To cast it you need:
1) Press your hotkey (1-8) for the buff spell
2) Right-click to cast it
3) Press your hotkey for whatever you had in your hand before casting the buff

That's the best case, assuming that both the buff spell and your current left hand contents are hotkeyed. Did I say there are only 8 hotkeys? If the item is not hotkeyed, then it's 3 keypresses to select it from the favorites list (and you probably will have to scroll the list as well because it can't display even 8 items at once). And remember, the buff only lasts 60 seconds...

If you play, say, a battlemage that switches a lot between different spells and weapons, you spend more time in menus than actually fighting enemies.

Seriously, this game would be so much better with a WoW-style action bar. I'm completely baffled how reviewers can give this game such scores as 95 or even 100. Even if the rest is perfect, do they seriously consider UI being only a 5% of a game?
Why is nobody complaining about the game itself, but rather, just the peripherals...controls, fixed cursor, etc. It's because the peripherals are the only thing to really complain about. The game has interesting quests that immerse you in the game. It's well written and huge in scope. The combat is fun. The graphics are great. What else do you want?!!! (Disclaimer: I don't get motion sickness.)
Reading various reviews, it seems that the biggest problems are due to being ported from the Xbox. I'm tired of feeling like a 2nd class gamer because I choose to play on a superior system, with a superior control system - that sells fewer copies of the game than other systems.

When reading some posts on various websites about controlls and keybindings, a lot of the suggestions are to get a Xbox controller for your PC. Seems like the worst of both worlds IMO, smaller screen (but higher res) with limited controls.

Bottom line - if I wanted an inferior gaming experience, I would have bought an Xbox. Quit trying to sell me Xbox games for my PC. Voting with my wallet on this one, sorry Bethesda.
Why is nobody complaining about the game itself

Oh, but they are! Read for example this quote from Nils' Blog: It sometimes feels like Bethesda created a huge and beautiful fantasy land, added a quest to every NPC and then tacked some gameplay to it. Blizzard would probably consider this gameplay a failed alpha.

On the same post Nils is saying that while you have complete freedom to level up whatever skill you want, monsters get stronger when you gain more skills. Thus if you learn non-combat skills a lot, you get weaker compared to the monsters. Quote: "Wrong incentives at Wall Street are harmless compared to this."
I have left many posts on those commentators who had issues with Skyrim. The single biggest issue is that the blogger needed to RTFM! So much of what they complained about was in the manual. The PC version while being a port still had hotkeys and mouse methods to select things where you didn't need to use the WASD keys.

My conculsion is most are too lazy to actually L2P or to RTFM.
@Goodmongo: Telling players to RTFM is code for "I designed a shitty unfamiliar user interface, deal with it." It's unacceptable in this day and age to require players to read a manual to play any game.

What do you have to say in response to Jason's comment 4 posts above yours? It seems like he does use hotkeys and the mouse and whatever else, but the UI/controls still has issues because it just isn't optimized at all for kb+mouse control.
You know what Tobold, I think Skyrim is a great game. Great in terms of size, amount of content, and potential EXPLORATION for those Bartle types to enjoy. Like many others my friends and I lap it up and love the opportunity to build our own character how we want as we go.

But that doesn't stop the pc interface from being awful, I got it on 360 just for that reason. The animations are ancient. The gameplay I often have a hard time forgetting its not Fallout 3 or New Vegas. The story is through reaading or lots of exposition through stationary NPCs standing around, combat is more level vs level than strategy.

And a million fanboys would ravage me for saying the above paragraph. But like you stated, those facts don't lessen my enjoyment as I'm willing to overlook them. I wouldn't be suprised if people weren't. The game sacrifices a great deal to be the huge open world that it is. My wife misses NPCs responding to her based on who she is or what she has done that other recent RPGs have made sure to include.

Thus the great problem of the incestuous game industry, no big review site is 'allowed' to give a triple A title a review of less then 80 or suffer severe sanctions. Also, sorry some games make you sea-sick. "mouselook" should be an option, not mandatory.

Oops, I love the game yet recognize it's many weaknesses. That used to be the case for almost ALL genre titles. It's a time for zealots and extremists.
I said RTFm because how would anyone know that the "P" key is a hotkey for spells, shouts and so forth? This doesn't mean its a crappy UI it means you need to educate yourself.

Also, some have complained that they sprint all the time. There are three methods to move (walk, run, sprint). You need to RTFM or search the keyboard mappings to know this. No UI in the world would convey that information. Hell you wouldn't even know it exists without doing some reading.

Is it perfect? Far from it. Can it be improved? Very much so. And my guess there will be mods to do that soon enough.

Jason's issue was that from Oblivion to Skyrim there was a change in how spells are cast. In Oblivion you could hold a shield, weapon and magically raise your hand and cast a spell. In Skyrim you need to 'equip' the spell. So the hotkeys are equipping the different spells. Buffs are spells and the game makes no difference for them. Would Jason complain if he had to press a hot key to switch to bow then mouse click to fire ti and then another hotkey for a sword? I mean it's been that way since before Morrowind which was not a port.

So his issue is that the designers made a design issue where spells are treated like weapons.
Skyrim is good game for those who like sandboxy single player RPGs but "decade defining" ??? This is quite a bit of exaggeration. Its mostly oblivion 2.0 with worse UI

The elder scrolls game are one of a kind but there is nothing of a breaktrough with skyrim. It's a quality game with quality gameplay very similiar to other Bethesda RPGs ( Fallout3 for example)

If you never played any of those? -Then you missing out for sure. But if you played any of them you pretty much know what all of them are like.
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