Reviewing System
The level rating system used here at the Command Chamber is based on four scores. The first three scores directly correspond to the three main sections of our reviews: level design, dynamics, and experience. The design category sums up the visuals of the level, mainly architecture and texturing. The dynamics encompass the action of the level -- enemy placement, item placement, and other enhancements that bring life to the level. The experience score relates to the atmosphere and overall gaming experience of the level. The final score is independent of the first three, and provides a single number with which the reviewer can sum up the level as a whole. For more specific information, see the category descriptions below.
Design / Visuals
The design score sums up the overall physical design and appearance of the level. That may sound simple, however it covers a variety of topics. First and foremost, the general layout and arrangement is considered. Along with the arrangement are a number of other important topics, such as the detail work, realism, and creativity. Detail might include certain non-essential "eye candy" elements that might enhance the overall look and feel of the level, such as steel support beams in mines, marble pillars in cities, and so on. The more creative and refreshing a level is, the greater the playing experience will be. However, scores concerning level design would not be complete without the complement of architecture: texturing. Texturing can make or break a level, even if it has good architecture. There are many factors to consider when evaluating the texturing of a level, such as stitching, selection and variety. If a level is haphazardly textured, it is obvious to anyone because the textures simply do not line up correctly. While being more of a technical problem then the next two areas, poor attention to stitching and alignment can really destroy a level. Selection and variety are just as important as stitching. If the level does not look what it is supposed to be due to poor texture choices, realism will suffer and it will be just another add-on, not an unforgettable mission experience. Variety is also essential to the evaluation of texturing. If too few textures are used, the level could appear to be bland and uninteresting, but if too many may are used, it could look shoddy and unprofessional. Also considered are the ways in which the textures are chosen and used to mesh with the architecture for maximum aesthetics. For example, things like repeating textures on large surfaces and cut-off texture patterns due to poor placement on the level's architecture are considered.
Dynamics / Interactivity
The physical placement and choices of enemies are essential to creating an entertaining level experience. Smugglers and bounty hunters do not typically associate with Imperials, so we should not see such a "melting pot" of enemies in a level without a rational explanation. In addition, the simple placement of enemies can add or take away from a level. If every enemy is just standing in the middle of a room doing nothing, you again loose realism and the player's attention. Enemies could be active with such duties as guarding doors, monitoring computer panels, and so on. Also, placing enemies above and below the straight ahead line of sight can add to the three dimensional feel of a level by forcing the player to look up or down to fight. The number of enemies is also considered. An overabundance of enemies makes the player irritated, too few make for boring gameplay. A delicate balance of foes must be achieved that challenges the player to continue, but does not drive him or her to quit the mission. Going hand in hand with enemy placement is item placement. In fact, the quality of the item placement depends, in part, on enemy placement. For example, a level may have too many gear pick-ups for its difficulty, or vice versa. In addition, there are many technical issues to consider when evaluating the item placement. Obviously floating items are frowned upon -- they just kill all realism in a level. Also, the logic of item placement is also considered. Gear is not always lying around on the floor, so consider such things as shelves and storerooms to give the level a bit more quality. The use of cogs and new level features, such as 3DOs, keyframes, enemies, cutscenes, and so on, are evaluated in how they enhance the overall feel of the level. Opportunities abound to make a level shine in this area. The whole idea of enhancements are to bring the level to life and keep the player's attention, bringing them into the level's world. The goal of every level author should be to bring the level alive, rather than having the player simply walk around inside a static, dead environment.
Playing Experience / Atmosphere
The atmosphere is generally harder to quantify than, say, architecture or item placement, though it's obvious to reviewers and players alike when a level's atmosphere is done well. The object is to make the level really feel like what the author is trying to create, rather than just being another add-on. Some of the most important areas here include the sure of lighting and sound. A level could have the best architecture ever, but if the lighting is plain and no atmospheric sounds are used, it will be unable to draw the player in. Good use of atmospheric techniques will enable a level author to set the mood and overall feel for the level. Gameplay issues are also considered in the experience score. Technical problems with a level, such as crashes, steps that are too large to walk up without jumping, and other flaws that affect the smooth flow of the level are considered. Repetitive gameplay, such as having to perform certain tasks time after time, can be detracting and frustrating for the player too. Even simple things like doors that open too slowly or shut too fast to get through can hurt the playing experience if they interrupt the fun of playing the level. In a nutshell this score attempts to quantify how the level feels and plays.
Scoring Considerations
In addition to the three main scoring categories, the overall score is the final summation of the quality of the level. This number is independent of the design, dynamics, and experience scores and provides the reviewer the opportunity to place the level into an appropriate score range when considering the entire level as a whole. The score ranges are listed below.
Before you start comparing the numerical scores of levels as if they are totally accurate, just take a moment to consider how much a single number can actually tell you about a level. In reality, it's not all that much. Here at the Command Chamber, we have several different reviewers who each look for certain (different!) things in a level. Additionally, the levels reviewed here span a time ranging from very recent to over four years old! Standards and expectations change over time, so older levels might not fare as well score-wise in the present as they did several years ago. The personal tastes of the reviewers combined with the time factor make comparing scores between levels inconsistant. Now, that's not to say that the scores are worthless. In fact, for the most part they do provide a good general indicator of a level's quality. But a general indicator is all they provide. If you really want to see the merits and drawbacks of a level, read the review! If the score was the only important thing to look at, we would give each level a number and move on. However, we spend a great deal of time writing a full-length review for a reason -- an in-depth analysis of the level by a person is considerably more useful than a single number. Reading the review and seeing how the reviewer perceives and describes the level is the best way to measure the quality of a level.
And remember, don't get hung up on numerical comparisons between levels! Saying one level is better than another simply because it received a higher score is not necessarily true. The scores should be used to indicate how close a level came to being perfect in the reviewer's mind at the time of the review and not necessarily a direct comparison to any other level.
Now that you are educated about just what the score can tell you, the ranges are described (roughly) as follows:
Instant Classic. Something that rises above most other levels.
Great. Exhibits professional quality with few flaws.
Good. With a little more development, this could be something great.
Pretty Good. Lacking a little, but not so bad that it ruins the fun.
Average. Not so good and not so bad.
Fair. Several bad points that diminish enjoyment exist.
Poor. Needed more work.
Bad. More attention and effort required.
Awful. Obvious and major lack of effort.
Terrible. Completely defficient in all respects.