On this page you can read about 1) the different types of content on this site, 2) the meaning of our numerical scores and our scale, and 3) the meaning of our graded sections under the 8-Bit Review.
Our Content Types:
The Critique – Long-form (and the occasional short-form) critique is what The Well-Red Mage is built on. Reviews come in many shapes and forms across the internet, from consumer reports to personal takes, but our critiques are aimed at covering multiple elements of each subject and delving as deep into the history, narrative, mechanics, context, and architecture as possible. Critiques come with an 8-part grading system meant to analyze a variety of concepts. Longer games can receive critiques between 2k to (currently at most) 17k words, whereas shorter games can have critiques as short as 1k words.
The Book Review – Book reviews are short, digestible explanations of how good a book is, with a simple, single score at the end to put everything in a nutshell.
The Hardware Review – Like book reviews, hardware reviews contain a single score at the end, but they also address the context, history, limitations, and specs of the hardware in question.
The Editorial – Opinion pieces, think pieces, thoughts of the day, whatever you want to call them, a variety of posts of different lengths fall under this category, so long as they reflect the opinion of the writer without taking the form of a review or critique.
The Collab – Collaborative projects are something we’re passionate about because they are so inclusive! Collabs come in all shapes and sizes, and can include mages, patrons, readers, and sometimes even anybody at all. Collabs feature unique rules and limitations, so pay attention to the fine print before participating. Challenge posts that we’ve done in the past are examples of collabs.
The Column – Columns are any recurring series that posts an entry on a regular basis, typically weekly but sometimes monthly. They are generally topical, centered around a basic theme.
The Second Opinion – Sometimes we disagree. That’s ok. Unity without unanimity. In such a case, a Second Opinion might be needed: a re-review of a currently reviewed game, a re-critique, intended not to be inflammatory but merely to present another view. These are permissible where there is a significant departure in perspective.
The Interview – Interviewing industry professionals, developers, writers, other bloggers are something you can expect to see now and then. Typically in written form, these take the form of a series of questions and answers.
Eyes On Me – Highlighting a single game from any era, console, or company, the Eyes On Me post represents a brief 400- to 800-word look at a game which the writer feels is underappreciated, unloved, obscure, or otherwise unknown. These are not critiques and talk much more broadly about games.
Demo Disk – First impressions are something worth capturing and so you may spot posts like these when a new release hits the shelves or before a new game cools off entirely. The goal is to capture the writers earliest and rawest feelings about a game, before they’ve had the chance to completely and exhaustively examine it in a critique, generally 400- to 800-words long.
The Podcast – The Well-Red Mage hosts two podcasts (Mage Cast and Side Quests) and we are a part of the Little Fella Media Podcast Network, hosted by Buzzsprout. As such, we post about new episodes and new podcasts you should definitely check out for your listening pleasure.
TWRM Radio – Speaking of listening pleasure, we feature musical interludes tying together multiple tracks from many different video games into mixes based around themes and ideas. You can find these hosted on our YouTube channel but they will be posted about here, as well.
Anatomy of a Review – This is a more academically-minded series which aims to discuss the nature of criticism, art history, interactive media, and the current state of appreciation.
Asking Big Questions – These posts throw out a big question to the void, in case anyone is listening. Anyone is free to share their thoughts in response. We provide an open and free space without persecution for the purposes of discussion and sharing ideas, and you can respond either in the comments section or on their own blog.
The GOTY Event – A recurring reader’s choice event which invites people to vote on what game they think we should nominate as Game of the Year for the specific years in question. The polls open on a Monday and close the following Friday, and these posts appear no more than once a month.
The Blog Post – Just in case we missed anything… There are posts that serve as journals, Thunderdome posts that compare games with each other, essays that dive into literature, commentary, walkthroughs, tips and hints, social media events, anything, really. These may each have their own category but it’s a delicious mixed bag.
Celebratory – Everyone should have something to celebrate. This category is for big milestones and announcements.
At TWRM, we’re currently utilizing a 10-point grading scale with a baseline of 5/10 as “average”, what may be called a non-skewed or non-inflated scale, one which has been compared to the scales used before the millennium. We score down to the tenth value to provide some flexibility toward the upper and lower end of each bracket (e.g. 5.1/10 vs 5.9/10).
10/10 – The highest possible score. Rare, a perfect score takes historical context, built-in limitations, and authorial intent into consideration and posits that the game is a flawless execution.
9/10 – This score is awarded to games which are so awesome they have come to define the industry. Only one major or a few minor flaws bar it from perfection.
8/10 – This score is for the greats, games which you’ll remember for years. These engender a fondness that never fades.
7/10 – This score is for titles we commend to you on the basis of their many merits, despite some gray areas and some cracks.
6/10 – This is our above average score. Above average games stand out from the crowd on a few good traits, some innovation, or an interesting vision. Still worth playing.
5/10 – Average is not a bad thing. It’s not the same thing as “pedestrian” or “forgettable”. You can still have a good time with these: filler games between the greats. Those with less time and finances should look upward on the scale.
4/10 – Exactly what it says, this is our below average score. Something in the game is lacking and its failures standout more so than its better qualities. A mixed bag with mostly licorice M&Ms.
3/10 – This score is for games that turned us off and made us turn them off. This is when we begin to think of a score as “harsh” or “brutal”. It’s hard to find redeeming qualities in games with this score, games which displease instead of entertain.
2/10 – This score is for games in which nearly everything has gone wrong. Perhaps only the tiniest shred of light prevents it from being…
1/10 – We played it so you don’t have to. A learning experience that’s thankfully rare. The game must be absolutely broken, tedious, unplayable.
Here’s a breakdown of how we rate the various core elements of a subject. Our readers can choose to either read the bulk of the review or get a glance at 8 core elements under review, or both. The 8 elements that we select for any specific subject being reviewed will be chosen based on its genre, context, and content. It would be unfair to give a bad score for narrative on a multiplayer racing game that has almost no story, so elements like multiplayer would be chosen instead of narrative. You get the idea.
These sections explain and unpack the writer’s numerical scores, which serve merely as placeholders for the actual discussion. Writers should purpose to be as objective as possible (while allowing for and being aware of the subjectivity of bias) by gathering and presenting data, information, intent, and function regarding the game as their subject.
The purpose of this system is to allow the reviewer the opportunity to analyze the entire game as a whole as well as its individual parts and their relationships. These are the possible elements:
The writer explains their score for the visuals of the game, considering things like fidelity, definition, how far the subject pushes the hardware’s limitations, context, art design, clarity, user interface, legibility, and theories of beauty. It’s not enough merely to say “it’s pretty”. Why is it pretty? And how do the game’s graphics serve the game itself? Do they prevent the player from experiencing the game or do they aid the player? Age should be taken into consideration and this is where historical context becomes important: it’s obvious that a game from 20 years ago does not have the visual detail of a AAA from today, but set within the context of 20 years ago, how does it measure up?
Sound design is under scrutiny when it comes to audio, which may include things like music, soundtrack, sound effects, and voice acting. Musical taste is one thing, but explaining how well a track fits the themes presented in the game, how well an actor performed, or even the balance of the audio effects is another thing entirely. Music is communication, so what is the communication of the music like? Is it intelligible? Is it clear? Is it mumbling? Is it unskilled?
Structure, architecture, glitches, fixes, bugs, patches, systems, menus, mechanics, battles, fighting, speed, responsiveness, inputs, controls, load times, technical talk… there is so much to talk about with gameplay, the subject of the bones of the video game. This is about examining the functionality of the game, and as such it’s maybe the most important of the graded sections (just don’t tell the others that).
For cooperative or competitive gameplay, the goal of this category is to examine the efficiency of the game’s multiplayer systems. Are they needlessly complex or simple to use? Are they fun for all players or do they favor one player over another? Are they fair? Are they easily teachable? Even silly party games can miss the mark here.
Going online can open the horizon for new kinds of gameplay, but this category is for judging the online experience, specifically for games with internet connectivity, obviously. This represents considering things like activity, stability, communication, and features which connect players in as many ways as possible.
What’s the difference between a good story and a bad story, between an amateur’s and a master’s? If storytelling is a craft (which it is) and storytelling can be skilled or unskilled (which it can be), then it can be scrutinized and criticized, its value and worth measured. Plotting, characters, character development, story execution, setting, thematic considerations, bare premise, heck even mixed metaphors are all things we want to look out for.
This is about execution. How well does the game communicate and stick to its themes? Are they too vague and incomprehensible? Contrariwise, are they too transparent and preachy? The development of thematic elements can take place over the course of an entire game, so for a critique, our writers are encouraged to finish the games before critiquing.
This is almost exclusively for books. Linguistics measures how well a writer uses language and follows native rules, punctuation, spelling, typos, mistranslations, and grammar.
Accessibility represents two concepts: how easy the game is to learn and what features it contains to make itself more accessible. The first consideration can examine things like demos, tutorials, over-tutorializing and hand-holding, withholding too much information, convoluted control schemes, and more. The second can examine things like age-appropriateness, the capabilities of features for the color blind, and even availability. This second consideration should only be graded when a game intentionally includes such features.
Is the game too hard and why? Is the game too easy and why? Is the difficulty curve too steep or too shallow? Being too hard isn’t necessarily good, because a game may be too hard because it is broken, glitchy, unfair, or unfinished. A game may be too easy for the same reasons, or because it patronizes you. More challenge doesn’t equal a higher score. Better implementation of challenge equals a higher score.
This is solely for updated remixes, compilations and HD remasters, many of which are being released now. This category judges the merit of a collection in terms of its additional perks, side content, unlockables, art, historical tidbits, faithfulness and accuracy, or the titles included in the collection.
Replayability is replay value, measured by things like how many difficulty modes there are, the presence of new game plus, the addition of DLC, the multitude of collectibles, the game’s addictive properties. What keeps you coming back? What specifically makes the game a longer play?
Derivative versus innovative, that’s the question which this category attempts to answer. Uniqueness requires special consideration of context and making connections between a subject and pre-existent, similar subjects which may or may not have served as direct inspirations. Should uniqueness be graded? Surely there’s more value in something fresh and new rather than something that comes off as a rip-off or copy cat. Other considerations aside, how unique is the game?
My Personal Grade
Recognizing that subjectivity is an inseparable part of the consumption of media and playing video games, this category is always here for the writer to outline their personal experiences, personal memories, and most personal takes on the game. Maybe it made them cry or shout or scream? It might not do the same for you, but that’s the beauty of the Personal Grade. It is the most human.
*Note that a final aggregated score based on the eight categories chosen by the writer will conclude each critique.