This sections explains what is to be considered when rating the five categories given in a Stronghold rating.
Playability is probably the most subjective element of the scoring. It is simply a gauge of how much fun you had playing this particular scenario. One thing to look out for when reviewing is to only play scenarios that use a style you enjoy. For example, if you hate playing Economic scenarios, don't try to review one since you are bound to not enjoy the scenario. Try to keep within styles that you enjoy.
There really are no specific criteria on how a score is given in Playability but there are quite a few things that can affect playability in a negative manner. Victory condition bugs and any other playability-destroying bugs obviously can ruin a scenario's playability. If a player can complete an objective in a way that the designer obviously did not intend to be possible (i.e. there's a hole in a wall that allows the player to take a castle without effort) that's a playability problem. Anything that adversely affects your enjoyment of a scenario can be deducted from the Playability score.
Some things you might like to consider are –
- How attractive and addictive the scenario is?
- How replayable the scenario is?
- Do you ever get bored playing it? Do you feel like exiting the scenario or do you feel that you just have to finish it?
- Are there any bugs in the scenario? (Do events get piled up on each other, are there easy solutions to victory that would completely ruin the scenario etc. just everything that makes the scenario uncomfortable to play.)
Balance is also somewhat subjective since each player is a different skill level and what might be perfectly balanced for one player, might be way too easy or way too hard for another. As a reviewer, you must take your own skill level into account when giving a balance score. A perfectly balanced scenario should provide a challenge for a veteran player. Most people who are downloading scenarios from the internet have at least played through the campaigns included with the game and have a good knowledge of the game.
Most perfectly balanced scenarios should not be able to be completed without the player losing a few times. If a player is able to complete the entire scenario the first time, the scenario is probably too easy. On the other hand, a player should not need to reload 15 times to get by a certain part of a scenario. That is frustrating and the scenario is probably way too difficult. The ideal scenario balance happens when a player gets stuck, but he knows that it's possible to complete the objective if only he did something a little differently. A player should not win by luck; the scenario should be constructed so that a player can learn from mistakes and use his skill to complete the objective. You should always look at the author’s indicated difficulty setting before you play the scenario and compile a review based on that preference. You may comment that the scenario deserves to be played on a harder/easier setting, but this should not distract from your original score greatly.
Multi-player scenarios are reviewed a bit differently in terms of balance. Each human player should start out in an equal position with equal starting resources and equal starting units. Obviously, the players don't have to match exactly, but they should be balanced. The map should also be examined to determine if all players have access to the same amounts of on-map resources. There are a lot of creative ways that map designers can use to make each player different, yet still balanced. If you choose to review multi-player scenarios, it's your job to ensure that each starting position is balanced with every other starting position.
This score depends completely on the player, but roughly it works like this:
5.0 - The scenario has the perfect balance; it is never too easy; it's hard, but possible; it takes several restarts to finish and you can't win it the first time you play it.
4.0 - The scenario is better balanced than most, but it's just short of perfect.
3.0 - It's not too easy or too hard, but it only has a moderate challenge.
2.0 - The scenario is balanced worse than most, but it's not a complete loss.
1.0 - The scenario is too easy or completely impossible.
Note: When reviewing sieges that specify the game should be played either as attacker or defender, balance should only be rated from this perspective, not from both.
This area is probably second in subjectivity behind playability. Creativity is found in all aspects of a scenario, from map design, to the story, to what units a player is given, to the objectives, to eye-candy used, etc. Every aspect of a scenario factors into creativity. Note that a scenario doesn’t have to be full of the latest tricks or eye-candy to be creative, though these can be considered.
Some things you might like to consider are –
- Is there something truly unique about this scenario?
- Does the author make good use out of the design tools provided?
- Does the scenario stand out in your memory because it features something not found in other scenarios?
- How creative is the map design?
- How creative are the story/events?
- The starting units and positions (the beginning of the scenario)?
This is a less subjective area than some of the other ratings, but still, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Remember that eye candy is not a prerequisite in a scenario. You should never mark down a map if there are no editor tricks present.
Some things to consider when rating map design could be -
- How complex is the map design? Has the author shown a command of the map editor including scripting and the terrain modelling tools?
- Are there ugly points that don’t blend into the map?
- Does the map seem like it has been planned well or is it just a collection of different eye-candies that are not linked to each other in any way?
- How natural does the map look?
- The use of elevation, hill and mountains and how realistic they look.
- Water objects: are there any bad points in water areas, like bad water/land connections or where a river connects to the sea and doesn’t seem to merge properly?
- Does the map seem too sparse or too crammed to you?
This is another less subjective category. If there is no story or instructions, the score is easy... it's a 1. A couple of lines that don’t really explain the map or objectives could be a 2. A basic story that explains what the map is about, as well as some basic instructions would probably score a 3. If the story is good and the instructions are detailed and comprehensive, then normally you would rate it as 4, and an exceptional story and concise instructions can be a 5. If the instructions are wrong, misleading or confusing, the rating goes down.
Hints and History can also be judged here... these two areas are not required, but they can also help boost a scenario's score. The rating should not be affected based on whether the story is fictional or historical. It doesn't make a difference as long as there's either a story that draws the player into the scenario or a comprehensive set of instructions. Historical articles are acceptable as a substitute to a story.
Despite comments to the contrary, awarding a 5.0 score for a Crusader Skirmish map without a story is not acceptable. Skirmish maps can, and should, benefit from either a story and/or composite instructions, or even a short, concise article by the designer explaining what the scenario involves. Reviews where a high score is awarded without sufficient justification will not be approved regardless of the game type.
The last item that factors into the rating of the story and instructions is grammar and spelling. A designer should be diligent in this area of his scenario since it's very easy to copy the text into a word processor and spell check the instructions. Please also remember that this is an English speaking site and your text should be written in English.
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*) denotes a former staff member.