About

Me

My name’s Peter Shafer.  I’m a 24-year-old that’s played a lot of video games, and continue to do so.  I studied computer science in college, and while it was my intention to use that education to get a real job I was also trying to learn more about making video games as well.  I’m interested in studying human-computer interfaces and making, or writing about games in my spare time.

This Site

After I finish a game I record my thoughts here in review format.  They were initially shorter entries but for better or worse I find myself wanting to say more about them now.  Games are scored on a scale of zero to four stars (no half stars.)  In general, this is what each score means:

4: It’s hard to come up with ways this game could be improved.

3: A couple of key flaws that detract from an otherwise very good experience.

2: While an enjoyable, it is not hard to envision how this game could be much better.

1: It is difficult, but not impossible to enjoy this game.

0: The entire game should have been scrapped.

More info about the ratings scale.

A Good Game?

Having a review scale is useless though without criteria to judge a game by.  Here is what I look for in a good game:

Games (electronic or otherwise) are a creative medium.  It is an intrinsically interactive medium and a game is successful when it compels people to interact with itself, and with other people.  Much of the time we are compelled to play games because they are fun.  But games don’t have to be strictly fun though, they just need to be able to engage you in some shape or form, as long as they keep you willing to contribute.  A good game may not even be fun at all, but satisfying in a completely different regard.  Its value lies in how much the player personally invests in it and how the game decides to respond to that.

Whatever the game chooses to do to compel you to play it must start doing this quickly and consistently.  Super Mario Bros. didn’t start with an introduction movie, it just let you run, jump, and crash into blocks as well as pop open question boxes.  It was instantly satisfying and compelled you to continue playing with the mechanic.  Silent Hill 2, on the other hand, started with a sympathetic character and a paradox: a man who lost his wife to disease but recently received a letter from her.  Feeling sorry for James, you are compelled to find out  what exactly the truth is about him and his wife.  Throughout both of these games the idea that initially got you to begin playing is built upon and grew more complex, demanding that you invest more.  The climax of the game is resolution of that idea.

The game isn’t about a story being told to you, it is the story of how you played that game.  While a good story can be told at the same time, the game’s success hinges on how interesting the actual experience of playing it is.  When Sephiroth murdered Aeris in Final Fantasy VII players were inexplicably distraught.  Aeris was not an incredibly dynamic character in her own right, but players had invested a lot in their party of rebels and their attempts to thwart Sephiroth.  The death of Aeris was a huge setback to that party and their cause.  Due to the player’s personal investment in that effort they too were affected.

A good game is aware of this dimension of the experience and provides consistent attention to it.  It can be as simple as chess, as fun as Super Mario Bros., as engrossing as Final Fantasy VII, or any combination.  They all share a common thread of compelling the player to interact.

I’m not a big fan of looking at a game within its genre, and will mostly try to evaluate how the game stands on its own.  I just don’t play enough games to judge how much progress any particular game contributes to a genre as a whole.  Plus I’m not trying to advise you on whether a game is worth purchasing, just whether it’s worth playing.

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