• "Now that we know some of the problems, how does Curiosity solve it? The answer is: it does not. It saddens me but the game does not even appear to have realized what the problem with the design might be. The cleverness in the execution seems to stop after realizing that transmitting all the blocks at one time is a bad idea. Instead of looking at this as a form of interesting engineering problem nobody thought anything at any point…" Ouch. Great analysis of the problem, depressing analysis of the implementation. You'd really have thought game developers building a game around these very issues would have thought they'd have been critical to solve. Hey-ho.
  • "Parametric models indicate how a change to one component of a structure causes ripples of changes through all the other connected elements, mapped across structural loads but also environmental characteristics, financial models and construction sequencing. FC Barcelona's activity is also clearly parametric in this sense. It cannot be understood through sensors tracking individuals but only through assembling the whole into one harmonious, interdependent system: the symphony and orchestra, rather than the midfield string section, or Lionel Messi as the first violinist." A brilliant article from Max; finally, he's written his long-promised article on 'realtime sports graphics' and it's really excellent: insightful about football and data visualisation alike. Top stuff.
  • "To apply the same point to videogames, ‘we’ are exceptionally good at the analytic mode and extremely poor at the rhetorical persuasion. As a cohort, we’re remarkably analytical. There are not many writers, bloggers, critics, etc of videogames who are either committed to the persuasive communication of the veracity of their feelings, moods, and strange hunches about videogames, but there sure is a lot of people willing to point out the textual or dramaturgical features of XYZ latest game." This, many, many times over. It's one reason I tire of so much wordy criticism at the moment: it is exhaustive, but lacks direction. (This, for me, was the gap between my first years at university and my final year: finding the courage to make my own arguments, rather than just synthesizing everything around me).

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.

  • "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.
  • "Eons ago, in 1996, Next Generation magazine asked me for a list of game design tips for narrative games. Here’s what I gave them. Reading it today, some of it feels dated (like the way I refer to the player throughout as “he”), but a lot is as relevant as ever. I especially like #8 and #9." Jordan Mechner is a smart chap; nice to know he was on the right lines so long ago.
  • "A rain-proof planetarium machine could be installed in public, anchored to the plinth indefinitely. Lurking over the square with its strange insectile geometries, the high-tech projector would rotate, dip, light up, and turn its bowed head to shine the lights of stars onto overcast skies above. Tourists in Covent Garden see Orion's Belt on the all-enveloping stratus clouds—even a family out in Surrey spies a veil of illuminated nebulae in the sky." This is lovely, though no idea if it'd, you know, work.
  • "Noticings is possibly one of the first services to integrate the Yahoo Geoplanet Data deeply". Tom explains how we're using Geoplanet inside Rails. Really good stuff if you're interested in that geo malarkey
  • "if the Choose Your Own Adventure books are just another Finite State Machine, it should be possible to use some of the same techniques to examine their structure." And so begins a lovely, lovely post on data visualisation, and what visualisation can tell us about the changing editorial strategy of CYOA books. Be sure to check out the "animations" at the top of the page. It's all very beautiful.