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Review Guidelines

Introduction

Welcome! This article will provide a description of how to write quality reviews for Age of Empires III Heaven. Quality reviews that are considered such when scored consistently between reviewers, and proves useful for both the file's creator as well as the potential downloader. This tutorial is an adaption of the review guidelines at Age of Kings Heaven written by Angel Spineman, and edited for Age of Mythology Heaven by Angel Rasher. When you submit a rating or review, it will be assumed you have already read and will comply with these guidelines.

My name is Angel NAT; as the Angel in charge of reviewing, it's my job to ensure that reviews remain a valuable tool for both designers and downloaders.

General Guidelines

The first thing to always keep in mind is that reviews serve a double purpose. They are written for both the scenario designer and the site visitor who is considering downloading the file. As such, reviews need to praise the designer for things that are done well, but point out areas where the designer can improve. Reviews also need to provide enough information about the scenario so that potential downloaders will know if the scenario matches their interests. Obviously, don't give away the plot or reveal secrets that should be discovered while playing; instead let the downloader know what the scenario is about, whether it's an RPG, Build & Destroy-style match-up, or something else. No matter the case, a downloader should know what to expect from a scenario after reading a review.

Comments and reviews can be brief, but should always be constructive and not insulting; profanity of any kind is strictly prohibited. Reviews should be written according to the guidelines below and there should be a brief reason given for each score. If you post a review without adequate reasons, you will be contacted and asked to explain it more clearly; if you do not respond within about a week, the review will be removed. Reviewing your own maps is strictly prohibited.

Try as hard as possible to avoid vague statements in reviews. Make sure that your review answers more questions than it raises (i.e., don't ever say something like "the first part of the 2nd scenario was good" without providing further explanation). 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 that the author could build on. Do as much as you can to help the designer improve his or her work.

Always spell check your reviews. We've seen far too many reviews that take points off a rating because of poor spelling yet the review itself is full of errors. Don't embarrass yourself - spell check your work.

Lastly, the review should contain a short explanation of why you scored each category the way you did. This does not need to be lengthy, sometimes a sentence is enough; however, at other times, a paragraph for each category is needed.

Category Scoring Guidelines

Before I explain what is expected for each category, there are some general scoring guidelines to make note of. All of the categories are subjective, some more than others, but try to be as consistent as you can with your own scoring. Also, take special note of a few things that should NOT affect the score of a scenario. These things should be noted in the review, but they should not affect the rating scores in any way.

First is the length of a scenario, or how many scenarios are included in a campaign. 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.

Second is the number of triggers in a scenario. This is simply irrelevant to how good or bad a scenario scores. Many designers might brag about how many triggers their scenario has, but if the triggers are poorly constructed and don't contribute to gameplay, they might as well not have any triggers at all. A scenario does not need to have very many triggers to be a lot of fun to play. Scores should be based on playing the scenario, not opening it in the editor and counting the triggers.

Finally, a scenario should not be penalized for not including special extras like music files or custom AI files. These extra items are great if used effectively and certainly can 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 AoE III scenario editor is already so rich with extras that a designer should not be required to use custom files if they can achieve their design goals using what is already built into it.

Playability

Playability is probably the most subjective element of the scoring; it's 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 that can effect playability in a negative manner. Trigger bugs, victory condition bugs and any other playability-destroying bugs obviously can ruin a scenario's playability. Lag is another playability issue that a scenario can be marked down for. 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., if there's a hole in a wall that allows the player to skip half the scenario), that's a playability problem. Anything that adversely affects your enjoyment of a scenario can be deducted from the playability score.

Likewise, when reviewing a cinematic or scenario that relies heavily on cinematics, you should take into account how the cinematic enhanced or detracted from your overall enjoyment of the scenario.

Balance

Balance is also somewhat subjective since each player is 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, having many of the basic skills necessary to play. Many designers include an integrated skill system into their scenarios, allowing you to choose a difficulty beforehand.

Most perfectly balanced scenarios should not be able to be completed without the player losing at least once. If a player is able to complete the entire scenario the first time on the Hardest difficulty, the scenario is probably too easy. On the other hand, a player should not need to reload 15 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 they know that it's possible to complete the objective if only they 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 can use their skills 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 cut-scenes, puzzles and some RPG-style scenarios, is that just because the player cannot die in such scenarios, that 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.

Creativity

This area is probably second in subjectivity behind playability. Creativity is found in all aspects of a scenario, from trigger tricks, to map design, to the story, to what units a player is given, to the objectives, to sounds used, to cinematics and cutscenes, etc.... 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 there's no reason to deduct points because of that.

Probably the biggest creativity factors are the starting position and the victory conditions. For example, any scenario that starts with a TC and three settlers with a conquest victory condition is simply not very creative. The further a player gets from a random map, the better the creativity score.

Map Design

Map design is one of the few categories that's very easy to define and give a rating to. We have 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. From that basis, it's easy to figure out where scores of 1, 2, 4 and 5 come from.

A rating of 1 is for a very poor map... these usually consist of large blank areas with lots of patchy areas and straight lines. These maps look completely unrealistic and are quite unattractive. A rating of 2 is somewhere between a poor map and a random map.

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. Obviously, a rating of 4 is given for maps that are much better than a random, but undeserving of a perfect score.

The style and scenery of any cinematics should be factored in when calculating the score for Map Design. In addition to the scenery used, you should also be critiqueing the 'directing' skills of the designer. For example, does the cinematic flow smoothly? Are the various camera angles and lighting effects put to good use? Do the little extras and special effects add to the overall feel of the cinematic?

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

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 any story at all, the rating goes up to a 4 and 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 Empires III, 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. The rating should not be effected 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 item that factors into the rating of the story and instructions is grammar and spelling. A designer should be diligent in this area of their scenario since it's very easy to copy the text into a word processor and spell check the instructions. 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 we make is for designers whose primary language is not English... we are usually quite a bit more lenient with them.

Score Overview

This is a summary of a lot of the scoring points raised in the paragraphs above:

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, 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.

Final Thoughts

The above instructions are specifically for writing scenario and campaign reviews. However, we allow reviews of all file types available for download so you can rate and write reviews on Mods, Random Maps, AI Files, Utilities and Recorded Games! However, these reviews will not use a 5 category system, instead you will give a single rating to the file. When you write your review, simply include enough information to explain why you gave the rating that you did. No matter what download you are reviewing, a basic rule of thumb is as follows:

Make your review long enough to thoroughly explain why you gave the rating you gave. There are a few rare cases that a couple sentences may be adequete, but these are the exception rather then the rule. The bottom line is that a good review will always be lengthy enough to thoroughly explain the reviewer's choice of rating(s). A review consisting solely of "This scenario was pretty cool!" or "This recorded game sucked!" simply won't cut it.

Now that you've made it all the way through this document, you are ready to write reviews! If you have any further questions about what is expected of you, please direct them to Angel NAT. Make sure that you are familiar with all guidelines before writing a review. If you do not adhere to these guidelines, you risk having your review removed or converted to a comment. In the event that your review is removed, there's no need to be discouraged. This is not an insult or derogatory statement about you, simply an indication that you need to go over what you wrote and see what you can improve. No one is asking you to have the style or technique of a professional critic; all that we ask is that you take the time to write it.

We appreciate your reviews!

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