Things that should not affect the rating.
The following points should not affect the rating scores in any way.
The length of a
There is no rule that says a scenario must last more than 15 minutes. The scores should only reflect how good the scenario was while it was being played. A great 5 minutes should score much higher than a mediocre 2 hours. No reduction in score should be made based on the length of a scenario. However it would be hard to hit all the targets if the scenario went for less that 5 minutes.
The number of triggers
within a scenario.
This is irrelevant to how good or bad a scenario is. Lots of designers brag about how many triggers their scenario has, but if the triggers are poorly wired they might as well not be there. A scenario does not need to have very many triggers to be a lot of fun to play.
A scenario should not
be penalised or for not including extras.
Things like custom music files or custom AI files are great items if used effectively and can certainly boost a score, but a scenario should not be rated poorly just because of a lack of extras. A scenario should still be able to achieve a score of 5.0 even without using special extra files. The AoM scenario editor is so rich with extras already that a designer should not be required to use custom files if they can achieve their design goals using what is already built into the design tool.
Playability is probably the most subjective element of the scoring. It is simply a gauge of how much fun you had playing this particular scenario. One thing to look out for when reviewing is to only play scenarios that use a style you enjoy. For example, if you hate playing RPG scenarios, don't try to review one since you are bound to not enjoy the scenario. Try to keep within styles that you enjoy. There really is no specific criteria on how a score is given in Playability but there are quite a few things to look out for that bring the rating down.
The cinematics and cut scenes: If the cinematics are jumpy and hard to view, then that's a playability issue. As well as if they go too slow or too fast to read.
Trigger bugs: Pretty obvious, if something doesn't happen when it is meant to, or if something happens when it isn't meant to that's a trigger bug. One the most common is, if something happens for no apparent reason and you can't make sense of it even after finishing the scenario.
Victory condition bugs: Also very obvious, you can't finish the scenario or you finish the scenario before you are meant to.
Lag: Every player knows what lag is, and it is definatley another playability issue that a scenario can be marked down for.
Objective bugs or confusion: If a player is ever confused about the next goal to accomplish, that's a playability problem. If a player can complete an objective in a way that the author obviously did not intend to be possible (i.e. there's a hole in a wall that allows the player to skip half the scenario), that's a playability problem.
Balance is also somewhat subjective since each player is a different skill level, for instance, 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 knowledge of the game.
Most perfectly balanced single player 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, the scenario is probably too easy. On the other hand, you should not need to reload 10 times to get by a certain part of a scenario. That is frustrating and the scenario is probably way too difficult. The ideal scenario balance happens when a player gets stuck, but he knows that it's possible to complete the objective if only he 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 his skill to complete the objective.
One important item to note about scoring the balance category for scenarios where conquest is not the main objective, such as puzzle scenarios and some rpg style scenarios, is that just because the player cannot die in such scenarios, doesn't mean the scenario isn't balanced. You also need to take the author's original intent into account, giving the author some benefit of the doubt. If the author never intended the player to face a struggle to survive, then there's no reason to knock down the balance score if there isn't any fighting. So keep in mind that you do need to take the intent and goals of the scenario into account when scoring the balance category, especially for those scenarios where fighting is not included.
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 players don't have to match exactly, but they should be balanced. The map should also be examined to determine if all players have access to the same amounts of on-map resources. If you choose to review multi-player supremacy/conquest scenarios, it's also your job to ensure that each starting position is balanced with every other starting position. These guidelines are mainly aimed at supremacy/conquest styled games.
However there are a lot of things other than those stated above, that are included in balance for Multi-player. For instance, on a River Civ map, there should be no area that is overly better than the other. So in one area there might be heaps of resources, however it could be very open to attack via the sea. whilst in another area it could be a very good defensive spot however not much building area. There are a lot of creative ways that map designers can use to make each player different, yet still balanced.
This area is probably second in subjectivity behind playability. Creativity is found in all aspects of a scenario including:
Trigger tricks: If they manipulate the triggers to gain the effect of something that you thought was awesome or something that you've never seen before.
Map design: The way the map is laid out and designed. Just be careful not to go too far in depth here and only bring up the things that you thought were good.
The story: Again, don't go too far in depth as there is a whole other category for this, however by all means mention it.
The units a player is given: A starting TC and starting units isn't very creative. But factor in the other aspects as well, like the following.
The objectives: Probably the equal biggest part of creativity with cinematics and cut scenes. The more unique and entertaining to you, the better.
The sounds used: If there is no sound in the scenario, especially single player you could take a point. The amount of sounds included within AoM are massive and there's no reason why standard sound can't be implemented. The only exception is if you think the designer hasn't the skill to include such a thing. You could also mark a rating down if the music doesn't suit the mood, we don't want cheery music while the main character dies!
The cinematics and cut scenes: If the cinematics are boring, not exciting or nothing happens in them that seems relevant or they're just plain random, then you could knock back a point or a half. However, if you're going to be picky about randomness, make sure that you finish the scenario as what doesn't make sense then might at the end.
Originality & Uniqueness: Obviously if something hasn't been used or done before then this can bring the rating up. This is a lot like trigger tricks, if they do something that has the effect of something that you thought was awesome or something that you've never seen before, then you can add a point or a half.
Every aspect of a scenario factors into creativity. One thing to be careful for is not to knock points off of creativity if the designer uses a trick you've seen used in another scenario. There's nothing wrong with using the same trick that someone else used and no reason to deduct points because of that.
Map design is one of the few categories that's very easy to define and give a rating to. There are pretty clear-cut rules on how map design is scored and this is how it should work. A random map is a 3. All a designer needs to do to score a 3 is to use a generated random map. Random maps look good, they function well and there's nothing wrong with using a random map in a scenario, but it's just average.
A rating of 1 is for a pathetic
map... these consist of large blank areas with lots of square areas, straight
lines and contain an overuse of one type of terrain. These maps look
completely unrealistic and are quite unattractive.
A rating of 2 is somewhere between a pathetic map and a random map. It still may have blank areas, but not as many straight edged elevations and use more than one or two terrains.
A rating of 3 is, like stated before a random map.
A rating of 4 is better than a random map, but sill has some room for improvement(s). These maps usually have no straight edges, use terrain mixing and lighting, contain small extra's within the map and have good eyecandy. Some River Civ's can be considered 4.0.
A rating of 5 is for an outstanding map with lots of special details and concentrated effort to make the map much better than a random map could possibly provide. They will also provide lighting to suit the environment. A rating of 5 has very little or nothing that the author could do to make it better, and should be given out only if you can find nothing that could be done better.
One final note on score map
design, only the portion of the map that can be seen during play should be
scored. If there are large empty areas that a player never sees, that
should not affect the map design rating.
Story / Instructions
If a story is not present and isn't necessary (e.g. the standard Random Map/AoM Supremacy game), the scenario should be judged on instructions alone. However if a story could be integrated into the scenario, then this is another pretty clear-cut category. If there is no story or instructions, the score is easy... it's a 1. If there are instructions but no story, the max score is a 3. If there is story but no instructions, the max is 3. The rating goes up to a 4 if there is story and there are instructions. If the story is really good, the rating can be a 5. If the instructions are wrong, misleading or confusing, the rating goes down. Also, keep in mind that in Age of Mythology, the instructions and the story goes far beyond the pre-scenario instruction screen. Often the story is continued throughout the scenario by using trigger events to move the story along. Also, since objectives can change in the middle of a scenario, the quality of the instructions must be judged throughout the playing of the scenario.
Hints and History can also be judged here... these two areas are not required, but they can also help boost a scenario's score. While an introduction map, hints and history are not required, it would be difficult to give a rating of 5 if all three areas are missing. The rating should not be affected based on whether the story is fictional or historical.
The last item that factors into
the rating of the story and instructions is grammar and spelling. A
designer should have no problem in this area of the scenario since it's very
easy to spell check the instructions, by checking it in a word processor.
There's no excuse for having spelling errors in a scenario... it simply shows a
lack of effort on the part of the designer. The only exception I make is
for designers whose primary language is not English... I am usually quite a bit
more lenient with them.
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