I mentioned at the end of my last post that I was considering revamping my Final Ratings. I'm not happy with a lot of the results that I've been getting, and the Innovation & Influence category seems to be the primary culprit. I tested some ideas over the last few days, and mocked up some scores to see how the charts came out. I'm fairly satisfied with what I've come up with. (For an explanation of the old system, check the sidebar on the right. It's still going to be roughly the same.)
The Innovation & Influence category has always been a problematic one, in hindsight. I put it in there to recognise games that are of particular historical importance, or that innovated a game feature. Both of those things are worth recognising, but neither of them are necessarily markers of whether a game is good or not. I still think they should be a part of my rating system, but not a part that's weighted as heavily as my other categories.
Another problem is that while I do have a decently broad knowledge of CRPGs and adventure games, not a lot of that knowledge comes first hand. Most of the games I've played are from 1998 and before. I think the most recent CRPG that I've played to completion is Might & Magic VI. I couldn't even hazard a guess as to what the most recent adventure game I've played is. I don't think I actually have the knowledge to rate games in this category accurately. Perhaps I might if I pursue this blog for another decade, but right now? Probably not.
So out goes Innovation & Influence (though not entirely, as you'll see below). What I'm replacing it with is Combat & Puzzles. To me, these seem like the two primary activities of the respective genres I'm tackling. Previously, they'd been folded into Mechanics and Challenge, but I think both are important enough to merit their own category. For the most part, CRPGs will be rated on Combat, and adventure games on Puzzles, but there are going to be cases in which a game has plenty of both. When that happens, I'll make a judgement call on which of the two is more important to the game in question.
(I considered an Exploration category, because I do love games with interesting worlds to explore. I don't want to overhaul the system too drastically though, and I have to stick to seven categories if I want a score out of 100. I'll just have to settle for this being part of Story & Setting.)
The other thing I'm changing are the Bonus Points, which were an arbitrary addition so that my 7 categories with scores out of 7 could add up to 100. Previously I've been awarding bonus points for games that I feel like I'll revisit in the future, but it feels a bit like I'm just giving extra weight to the Fun category there. If I like a game, I'm going to go back to it, you know? Instead I'm using the bonus points for games that are innovative, influential, or that have some other quality that wasn't covered in my other categories. Replayability perhaps, or multiplayer functions that I couldn't experience. We'll see.
The other change I'm making is that I will now allow scores out of 0, for games that are so heinous in a particular category that they have no merit at all. I don't think I've encountered one so far, but this opens up the possibility of scores below 14.
Obviously this means that I need to go back and re-jig the scores of the games I've already played. I'll do that over the next few days, and hopefully will be finished before my Sunday post. Luckily, I only have 38 games to rate; if there had been many more I probably would have persisted with the old system.
Hopefully the new system will produce results that I'm happier with. I realise that it's still somewhat flawed: any rating system designed for both CRPGs and adventure games is bound to have some cracks in it. I won't be changing it again, though: if this one isn't satisfactory, I'm just going to have to grin and bear it. After all, I started this blog to play more games, not to jigger around with numbers. With luck, this will be the last time I do something like this, and I can get on with making some progress on my list.
Oh, and I'm also renaming the whole thing, because "Final Rating" is bland and doring. From now on, it will be the RADNESS Index, standing for Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores.
AKALABETH: RADNESS INDEX
I was supposed to rate Akalabeth in my last post, but I held off until I'd decided whether I was changing things or not. Consider this an example of the new system in action.
Story & Setting: The story here is mostly non-existent, despite some extra detail from the manual. Lord British tells you to kill some monsters, you go kill some monsters, the end. At least it's not a treasure hunt. As for the setting, I have to resist the urge to mark this up for being a precursor to Ultima. Regardless of any future connections, this ain't Britannia just yet. That said, I have to take into consideration how expansive this game is: it's the earliest game I've played that has both an overworld and an underworld. (Moria doesn't count, because it's "overworld" was just another dungeon.) The dungeons are the most immersive seen yet, mostly due to the large first-person view. Unfortunately, these dungeons are all random, and there's nothing to find in them except for monsters and chests. I can't quite bring myself to rate this a 3. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Characters & Monsters: Lord British probably shouldn't count here, as he's nothing more than a quest-giver, with the personality of a generically good king. The monsters are a decent selection, and two have special abilities that can make them something of a pain (the thief and the gremlin). Mostly, though, they're just lumps of hit points, and your tactics rarely change dependent on which you're fighting. All of that becomes moot once you've Lizard Manned up anyway. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Aesthetics: By modern standards this is an ugly game, with wireframe dungeons and very crudely drawn monsters. That said, it's the first 3D CRPG with any sort of immersion and there is a certain claustrophobic quality to the dungeons. Just the fact that you can see the monsters advancing down the corridors towards you must have been quite something in 1979, even though they can look a little ridiculous. I've already mentioned the intro sequence in my last post, but it bears repeating here that it's impressive for the time, and like no other CRPG before it. The sound is sparse, merely the odd beep here and there, and not frequent enough to be truly irritating. Despite some positives, though, it's still too primitive to rate very highly. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Combat: In essence, combat in Akalabeth boils down to pressing A for attack over and over again as your opponent strikes back at you, until one of you drops dead. But because combat is integrated into the same system you use for exploration, there are plenty of other actions you can consider. Perhaps you can turn around and flee? Or use a Magic Amulet to cast a Kill spell or create a ladder to another level so that you can escape. If the monster's at a distance, you might want to pepper it with arrows or axes. Positioning also matters, because monsters can attack you from the back and sides, or corner you in a dead end. It's still not terribly complex, but it has enough options to put it into the top tier for games of its vintage. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Mechanics: On the surface, there are plenty of things to praise about Akalabeth. It has a functional overworld, even if it is a little superfluous, and multiple dungeons that extend down further than any sane person could possibly explore. The spells provided by the Magic Amulet are few but they're all useful, providing options in combat and exploration. Food is a little irritating and rudimentary, however, and when the game's running at the regular speed of an Apple II the dungeon draws painfully slowly. (I played it at normal speed for an hour before cranking it up on the emulator.) And it all falls apart once you realise how the game's randomisation works. Overall, the flaws outweigh the good points. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Challenge: If you ignore the Magic Amulet this game might score pretty well here, at least on the lower difficulty levels. I have to factor in every element of the game though, and Akalabeth is utterly broken by the Magic Amulet and the easily gamed randomisation. Once you've turned yourself into a Lizard Man multiple times, you're in no danger at all. Rating: 1 out of 7.
Fun: Despite all its flaws, though, there is a certain charm that comes through, and I can enjoy a quick game of Akalabeth every now and then. It doesn't hold my attention for very long, but look: I can't hate a game where you win by turning into a Lizard Man and wrecking house. Garriot's youthful enthusiasm shines through, and drags this up out of the basement. Rating 2 out of 7.
Bonus Points: I am giving Akalabeth the full two bonus points. It's a precursor to the premier CRPG series of the 1980s, it does loads of things that CRPGs hadn't done before (especially in terms of visuals) and it has some replayability if you want to challenge yourself to a no-amulet run.
The first seven categories add up to 13, which doubled gives a total of 26. Add the two bonus points, and Akalabeth gets a Final Rating of 28. In the old system, that would put it 30th out of 39 games total. In terms of CRPGs, that would put it equal 14th, with only Devil's Dungeon underneath it. However in the old system it probably would have got a 6 or 7 in Innovation & Influence, and jumped up into the middle somewhere. No doubt once I've recalculated the chart it'll jump up a decent amount.
ADDENDUM: With all the games I've played recalculated, Akalabeth lands equal 22nd overall, and 10th out of sixteen CRPGs.
(For some further reading on Akalabeth, check out this post at The Data Driven Gamer, where Ahab really delves into the code to find out what makes the game tick.)
NEXT: I'm on the cusp of completing Dog Star Adventure, so I might have a post for it up on Sunday. I do want to hold off on it until I've redone all of the Final Ratings though, so it might not appear until Wednesday.