Eurogamer in 2009: Score Analysis

18 January 2010

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I really liked last.fm’s end-of-year charts. I also really liked this analysis of Pitchfork’s scoring in 2009, just for the statistical fun. And then I thought about my favourite score-oriented website, and wondered why no-one’s done this for Eurogamer yet. I’d be the first to argue that scores in reviews aren’t that important – but everybody loves arguing about them in comments threads, and besides, they make for interesting statistics. What I’d really like would be something like the Pitchfork analysis, but looking a bit more like the last.fm site.

And then after two days I just decided to build it myself.

It’s relatively straightforward: a small app to explore a year’s worth of review scores, built around the pillars of reviews, writers, and scores. Most blue things are clickable; writers have pages that show their reviews, as well as their own averages, deviance from EG’s norm, and the scale of their contribution to the overall average. That latter figure is something I call influence; it took a long while to get to, and I write about it more here. Here’s Simon Parkin’s page as a good example of a writer’s page.

Reviews also have pages – here’s one for Modern Warfare 2, which show how the review compares to the site’s average, the writer’s average, and also to Metacritic. And, of course, you can see just how many games scored 7 – or any other score – if you want. Basically: have a click around.

I started two weeks ago, and guess I stopped committing in the middle of last week, but towards the endit was just front-end tweaks. It’s not been a big project at all – about an hour or two’s work a day on average, in evenings, and lunch-hours, over about ten days.

It’s not a very advanced project, and touches lots of bases I’m working with a lot right now – data analysis, visualisation, scraping. That said, it’s got some interesting stuff under the hood. I’m using Typekit for the attractive type, and it’s been a pleasure to work with. The graphs are a combination of the Google Charts API and gRaphaël, which I’ve had reasonable results from recently. gRaphaël’s strength are beautiful visualisations, rather than ultra-accurate charting, so the pair of tools are used for their strengths. Finally, it’s all deployed on Heroku, which has been a joy as ever; cloud deployment of databased apps, on dynamic hosting, as simple as pushing to a new git repo. And, for the scale of the Eurogamer tool, totally free.

So there you go. A little exploration of some numbers, which bring some interesting figures to light, and was also fun to build. It only felt right to share it. As the site says, scores aren’t everything – you should read reviews too, folks – but when you’ve got numerical data, it seems a shame not to do anything with it.

  • "The premise was this: Division 9 would have put players (and their friends) in the middle of an ever-encroaching zombie menace. Co-op gameplay, scarce resources, base-building, and strategic rescues were a part of the conceptual blueprint." Big interview with Ken Levine – including some video footage – of Irrational's cancelled take on the zombie genre. In a nutshell: slower, more strategic, more long-term survival than L4D's short campaigns, and had it been released, would have come out around 2006/2007.
  • "This suggestion was derided by EA execs at the time — they literally couldn't imagine going to Wall Street with a message of increased profitability rather than top-line revenue growth. They wanted to make the transition to digital while continuing to grow the packaged goods business." Great Mitch Lasky post on the problems facing EA – and, indeed, almost every big games company out there. Though it stems from their announcement that they missed their targets last year (again), really, it's about the changing shape of the games industry.
  • "Die Hard asks naive but powerful questions: If you have to get from A to B—that is, from the 31st floor to the lobby, or from the 26th floor to the roof—why not blast, carve, shoot, lockpick, and climb your way there, hitchhiking rides atop elevator cars and meandering through the labyrinthine, previously unexposed back-corridors of the built environment?" Marvellous, marvellous article, citing that Weizman piece I always end up citing, and looking how John McClane traverses the Nakatomi Plaza tower not through its corridors and elevators, but by literally infesting it.
  • "As computer technology has evolved to make artificial images look ever more real – so that the latest generation of shooter and war games will look as realistic as possible – ajpeg is intended to go the opposite way: Instead of creating an image artificially with the intent of making it look as photo-realistic as possible, it takes an image captured from life and transforms it into something that looks real and not real at the same time." Beautiful.
  • "But I think to succeed eReaders need to meet the needs, not just of the direct user, but of those around them, the friends and family who may not welcome their loved one’s absorption in this exciting new media. They are the “next largest context” within which the new device must win acceptance… The first question [with a digital device] is no longer “what are you reading?” It’s “what are you doing?” – a question that somehow already carries a hint of reproach."
  • Beautiful: capturing graffiti with an ultra-basic setup (torch sellotaped to pen and webcam), and then translating that into vector geometry that can be stored as an XML dialect. I like how simple and open it is, and the fact that Graffiti Markup Language is designed to be used in the field (even if it can't be yet).
  • "In one sense, Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker! is a truly exotic bit of esoterica — a game on the Columbia riots, printed back in 1969 in the pages of the Columbia Daily Spectator, and designed by James F. Dunnigan, one of the finest and most prolific designers of board wargames… In Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker! you play either as Columbia University's administration, or as the radicals who have seized control of Fayerweather Hall. You are attempting to influence the opinions of various stakeholders in the university — students of different sorts, the alumni, and so on. Random event cards influence play. Ultimately, the side that gains the greatest sympathy on the part of university stakeholders wins."
  • "Zoom in on that spot there." Blade Runner has a lot to answer for; notably, this.
  • Dan on Torchlight and Borderlands: "…they both tickle the same fetishistic urge to collect, developing bigger and better attacks to have much the same effect on bigger and better monsters as your last set of attacks had on the last set of monsters. Every single decent-sized beastie in each one drops loot when they die. Throw in a two-car carport and this is a precise map of adult life, except fun." I really need to do my goty.cx write-up quite soon.
  • "Use [ffffl*ckr] to find the photography you like using the simple idea that people whose work you like, probably like stuff you'll like. You start with a set of pictures – if you authenticate, it'll use 20 of your last 100 favorites – otherwise it'll start with somebody's favorites. Click any picture to load more. Don't like what that person likes? Scroll back and click a different picture you like. It's that simple."
  • Fascinating: GPS satellites are both high enough, and travelling fast enough, that you need to correct for relativistic effects in order for them to be effective.
  • "To whomever it may concern, In response to the unfortunate circumstances, some wives of Rockstar San Diego employees have collected themselves to assert their concerns and announce a necessary rejoinder, in the form of an immediate action to ameliorate conditions of employees." Jesus. Once again: the games industry treats its staff appallingly. As the first commenter says: "It's a video game people. Find a way to make one without imposing unethical, illegal, and debilitating working conditions."
  • "One of the world's finest compact fountain pens, the excellent Tasche measures just 98mm closed, but opened up becomes a full-size pen at 145mm long. The secret is the extra-long cap, which almost entirely swallows the rest of the pen when closed, but posts firmly onto the top of the pen to create the full length." Possibly another distraction before I succumb to buying a Vanishing Point
  • "Use and create Delicious bookmarks from the Safari web browser" – with a single keyboard shortcut. My main reason for sticking with Firefox was its Delicious integration, but if this is any cop, I think I'm save from terrible memory leaks for the future.
  • "I tend to see them as having much more in common with the approach of an architect or landscape designer in terms of shaping and creating flows, confluences and possibilities for enjoyment… As a result I really do think that critical appreciation and commentary from the world of architecture and design could be illuminating and progressive." Jones on the lack of perception – outside games criticism – of games as design objects (rather than media objects). It is excellent; I agree with it all.
  • Card-based dungeon-crawling game. Basically: card-driven roguelike. Should print it out and take a squint sometime.
  • "Taps is a temporary web service you run on a server that has access to the database you want to export. You can then run the client to connect to that service and pull data out of it in chunks. It works through firewalls, doesn’t require a direct ssh connection, and – best of all – it’s database independent. So you can export from a MySQL database and import to PostgreSQL, or vice versa."
  • Vast, detailed CHUD article on an older treatment Cameron wrote for Avatar, which does sound more interesting than the version we got; sadly, it also sounds very sprawling – there's even more world-building going on. Still, some elements cut from it – notably, Hegner – seem like a real shame to have lost.

Links & notes for this month