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Scenario Design

AoW2 Scenario Review Guide

(updated 08-30-2002)

This review guide contains the rules and guidelines for all scenario reviews and comments submitted to the AoW2 Heaven Downloads Section. It is intended to offer reviewers (and scenario designers) some helpful advice and factors to consider when rating a scenario and writing a critical review about it.

When you submit a review or comment, it will be assumed you have read and agree with these Review Guidelines. Whenever a review is deemed to fall short of these review standards, the reviewer will be contacted by our Reeve of the Reviews, Angel Bluecollarheaven. She will ask you to update/explain your rating or you will run the risk of having it removed. You will have about one week to comply.

Please note that a Review consists of a rated score along with a written review about a scenario. A Comment does not rate a scenario and offers only a short general commentary.

Table of Contents
(click on a link below to jump to that section)

  1. Introduction
    - What are Reviews?
    - Why write a Review?
  2. General Review Guidelines
  3. Scoring Overview
  4. Rating Categories
    - Playability
    - Balance
    - Creativity
    - Map Design
    - Story/Instructions
  5. Closing Comments
    - A personal note from Bluecollarheaven
    - Edition notes

 

I. Introduction
Let's start with explaining some basic premises about reviewing in general.

What are Reviews?
Reviews are a way of voicing your opinion on someone's work. They consist of two parts: (1) rating a scenario by assigning a score of 1-5 to five categories and (2) written comments. Reviews not only provide valuable feedback to a designer, but also helps others in deciding whether or not to download and play the scenario.

Why write a Review?
Scenario designers like to get feedback on their work. Reviews are meant to encourage the quality of scenario design in general and push it to the next level. Writing a review forces oneself to carefully examine another's work and either learn from the techniques used in its creation, or to offer advice to the designer so that he or she avoids similar mistakes in the future, as well was anyone reading the review. Being reviewed by your peers is both inspiring challenging. Knowing their work will be examined by the collective public eye will hopefully encourage scenario designers to put their best foot forward.


II. General Review Guidelines
A "full review" consists of scoring the five main categories and a written review that should--essentially--contain explanations of why you scored each category the way you did. This does not need to be lengthy; sometimes a short sentence is enough but other times a paragraph or more for each category is needed.

Written comments are the most important part of a review because the ratings score does not always paint a true picture of whether a scenario is good or bad. For example, a multiplayer map could score a '1' for Story/Instructions (thus lowering the overall final rating) but it could still be the best multiplayer map ever designed because it is well-balanced, has many of creative elements and is fun to play.

An RPG/story-driven scenario may be poor in terms of Balance, but score high for Story/Instructions because the story is engaging, the map is highly detailed and there are many smart puzzles and clever scripting.

Avoid making vague statements in your written review; your comments should answer more questions than it raises. It is essential you try to always include an example from the scenario to back up any points that you make. If you are pointing out something to the designer that you feel could be improved, try to provide some ideas the author can build upon. Do as much as you can to help the designer improve his or her work.

All scenarios have good aspects and bad aspects. Try to always say at least one good thing about any scenario you review and never personally insult a designer. They might not be as good a designer as you, but even if you are handing out a score of 1.0, you still should never insult or ridicule the designer.  Be honest about the scenario but make every effort to encourage the designer to do better next time.

Avoid giving away too much about the winning strategies you used, or surprises that the mission holds, as you don’t want to spoil the fun for future players.

Taking the time to go through your work and spell check it before submitting your review is essential. Copy and paste the text into your email program for a  quick spell checker. Nobody likes to see someone criticize another person's work for poor spelling when the reviewer's grammar is no better.


III. Scoring Overview
There are five rating categories to which you can individually assign a score of 1-5: Playability; Balance; Creativity; Map Design and Story/Instructions. All of the rating categories are subjective--some more than others--but try to be as consistent as you can with your own scoring.

5.0 - OUTSTANDING
Give this score only if there's something stunning and breathtaking in the scenario. This score should only be given to scenarios that are almost perfect, so be very careful when giving this score. For example, you read the storyline and wish it was a book, you see the map and can imagine wanting to stroll along that little river. Scenarios with 5.0 average scores are rare and creators of these scenarios are masters of Scenario Design. Consider the 5.0 score as something you would give rarely.

4.0 - EXCELLENT
If you think the category you're rating is definitely better than average, but hasn't reached the near perfection expected from a 5.0, give this score.

3.0 - AVERAGE
A good scenario; no glaring problems, but there are still plenty of things that can be improved in that category.

2.0 - BELOW AVERAGE
Is mediocre or has errors or many points that need improving, but the scenario can be played and completed.

1.0 - WELL BELOW AVERAGE
The lowest score you can give. For example, if there's nothing in the story box, or a bug means the game can’t be played then for that category it’s a 1.0.


IV. Rating Categories
The following factors should be considered when scoring the five rating categories.

PLAYABILITY
This is probably the most subjective element of rating a scenario. It is simply a gauge of how much fun you had playing this particular scenario. Players come with different preferences, and therefore fun is subjective to that. Some people prefer lots of combat against overwhelming odds, while others prefer a difficult challenge along with an engaging story, but nothing too impossible. There is a reason why scenario designers are required to state if their map is for "novices" or "experts." This new system is fairer than the previous "Easy" or "Difficult" rating indications. It is less subjective to a designer's playing level.

There are quite a few things that can negatively affect playability. Victory condition bugs and any other 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 (e.g., exploiting an A.I. bug) that's a playability problem.

Some other things you might like to consider are:

  • Is this scenario fun to play?
  • Do you feel like playing on even after 20, 40, 100 turns?
  • Are there any bugs in this scenario? Do any custom-made events run properly?
  • Are there enough encounters/events on the map? Are there too many?
  • Are the events well executed or do they get in the way of the game?
  • Would you like to play this map again after finishing it?

There is a reason why mapmakers are required to state if their map is for novices or experts. This new system is fairer than the previous "Easy" or "Difficult" rating indications. It is less subjective to mapmakers playing level.


BALANCE

The key to fair gameplay is a balanced scenario, especially when one is talking about scenarios made for multiplayer or play-by-email (PBEM). Balance is also somewhat subjective since each player is at 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 working knowledge of gameplay mechanics.

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, then it's probably too easy for their level of play. On the other hand, a player should not need to reload 15 times to get by a certain part of a scenario. The ideal scenario balance happens when a player gets stuck, but she knows it's possible to complete the objective if only she 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 her skill to complete the objective.

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 set-ups don't have to match exactly, but they should be balanced. There are many creative techniques scenario designers can use to make each player's experience different, yet still balanced. If you choose to review multiplayer scenarios, it's your job to ensure that each starting position is balanced with every other starting position.

Note that non-playable sides may have been deliberately boosted to add challenge and thrill to the gameplay and are not usually considered when assessing balance. Also keep in mind the designer may also have specifically made one of the playable positions more difficult than the others. If so, the designer should state this somewhere in the scenario's description or instructions.

Some other factors to consider are:

  • Does every side have an equal chance of winning?
  • Are the starting positions for each side equal in terms of distance to resources?
  • Are the starting wizards, heroes and units equal in strength or advantages?

Some suggestions for scoring Balance are:

5.0 - The scenario has the perfect balance. It is never too easy; it's hard, but not impossible, and it probably can't be won the first time you play it. This is a rare score to give a scenario.
4.0 - The scenario has excellent balance. It's better than most, but just short of perfect.
3.0 - It's not too easy or too hard, but only provides a moderate challenge (e.g., you were never seriously in danger of loosing).
2.0 - The scenario has worse balance than most, but it's not a complete loss.
1.0 - The scenario is way too easy or completely impossible.

Note: When reviewing scenarios that specify the game should only be played for certain types of gameplay (i.e., multiplayer and PBEM), balance should only be rated from this perspective, not from all styles of gameplay.


CREATIVITY

This category is probably second in subjectivity behind Playability, but possibly the most difficult to score. 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 use and manipulation of scripts, to eye-candy, 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, but these are the most common factors that are taken into consideration.

Some things you might like to consider are:

  • Is there something truly unique about this scenario?
  • Does the author make good use of the design tools provided?
  • Does the scenario stand out in your memory because it features something not found in other scenarios?
  • Was the designer able to increase the effectiveness of the AI?
  • Was the map made better by well-placed independent units or teleport networks?
  • Did the designer use a cleverly constructed script to add surprise and depth to the map?
  • Are the ideas on this map original?
  • Has the author spun a fresh new take on an old idea (e.g., an alternate history in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" fantasy world).


MAP DESIGN
This category is less subjective than some of the other ratings, but still beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Map design in the Age of Wonders has two primary aspects: graphic use and placement of objects.

Graphic Use:

  • Is the map beautiful to look at? Does it look "natural?"
  • Does the map seem like it has been well planned, or is simply a collection of eye-candies that are not linked to each other in any way?
  • Are different combinations of graphic tiles used to create the "environment" (e.g., a forest or mountainous area) rather than the use of the same particular tile over and over to create the effect?
  • Does the landscape look interesting?
  • Is the use of elevation, hills and mountains realistically implemented?
  • Are any roads placed on the map used effectively?
  • Are the underground levels well "carved out?"
  • Does the map seem too sparse or too cramped?

Map beauty probably isn't very relevant to the strategic elements of the map. The basic thing they do is to create "obstacles to movement." But no one denies that there is more joy in playing a good balanced map that is beautiful, rather than one that is plain or empty.

Placement of Objects:

  • Are there enough explorative places to make the map interesting? (e.g., ruins to explore, resources to capture)
  • Has the author gone overboard with explorative places, making map seem cramped and overcrowded?
  • Are teleporters used effectively?
  • Are there signs placed to give the map a more "established lands" feel?
  • How did the designer apply the use of scripts to the map?
  • Are independent unit stacks cleverly placed? And how do they react when encountered?

Items and guarding units in explorative places have some effect on balance in multiplayer maps. Teleport locations and destinations are used to increase the speed in which forces move over the map (especially for the AI). Signs are related to the scenario's story and aid in creating a realistic geographical world. Independent stacks increase encounters and make sure there is constantly a degree of action going on in the map.


STORY/INSTRUCTIONS

This is another less subjective category. If the instructions are wrong, misleading or confusing, the rating goes down. Please keep in mind the type of gameplay the author intended for their scenario. You should not criticize the author of a slugfest-type map for not providing a detailed background story and quests for their scenario. However, a slugfest-type map should have good instructions that explain the scenario's gameplay objectives. And if it does happen to have an interesting background story, then that's another feather in its cap.

Stories and instructions are more important in role playing-type maps where the story given in the introduction and pop-up texts leads the player through "quests" and gives hints on how to solve puzzles. Single-player and PBEMs maps may also be story enhanced to increase the enjoyment of the game.  However, maps intended for live online multiplayer games should not have too many message events during mid-game where it may be considered more disruptive than enjoyable.

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 a story that draws the player into the scenario.

The last factor you should consider when rating a scenario's story and instructions is grammar and spelling. A designer should be diligent in this area of his/her scenario since it's very easy to copy the text into a word processor or email program to spell check the text.

Some additional things you might like to consider are:

  • Is there a background story for the scenario?
  • Does the story increase the depth and feel of the scenario?
  • Were message events used to enhance the story or historical background of the scenario?
  • Did the author give any hint on what type of scenario this is? (i.e., RPG vs. a slugfest type map.)

Some suggestions for scoring Story/Instructions are:

1.0 - There is no background story or instructions.
2.0 - A few lines of text that don’t really explain the map or objectives anyway.
3.0 - A basic background story that explains what the map is about and explains the basic gameplay objectives.
4.0 - The story is particularly engaging and really draws you into the scenario.
5.0 - The designer has made their scenario come alive with an exceptional story, interesting quests and puzzles for the player.

Subtract 1 from whatever rating you would award if there are horrendous spelling or grammar mistakes. Do take note, however, if the author is not writing in their native language.


V. Closing Comments

  • If you feel you have to write a particularly negative review because of glaring errors made by the designer, please be so kind to notify him or her by email first and allow them a decent interval of time to fix the problems before submitting a scathing review. It is appreciated, however, if you put up a comment (i.e., no rating score) the scenario is seriously flawed.
  • A rating will be based strictly on the scenario itself. No points should be deducted for missing README files, strange zipping methods or other external factors. Informing the author (by email) of the problems you experienced is appreciated though.

A personal note from Angel Bluecollarheaven:
This Review Guide was written with the player in mind. I know that many of you look forward to getting your ratings and enjoy receiving comments about your maps. It feels wonderful to get good feedback and it hurts when you are criticized. However, it's okay to feel that way because it means you have put a lot of care and effort into your design and thus care a lot for it. Care about the maps you make and the players will care too, and their honest, helpful feedback will benefit your next design. Quality is more important than quantity. Feel free to ask for comments on the forum if you don’t see your scenario getting rated. Use the ratings to see what players want in general and how to improve your design. All in all, I wish you all happy gaming and happy mapmaking!


Edition Notes

The AoW2 Review Guide was drafted based upon similar documents at Stronghold Heaven, Age of Kings Heaven, Empire Earth Heaven, the writings of Angel Bluecollarheaven and discussions held in the AoW2 Heaven Scenario Design forum. It is not identical to these other documents and can be amended when deemed necessary. These guidelines are meant to obtain the highest amount of fairness and usefulness for rating and reviewing scenarios.

This page was last updated: July 25, 2002
For comments, suggestions or complaints please contact Draco.

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