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** 9 (outstanding) -- Again, maybe not a perfect game, but one where the problems weren't a distraction. Great story, great plot pace; a setting I found especially appealing; fun to play, fun to read, well-clued puzzles. This may also be a game where the author has made great use of his or her story, game structure, and characters. There may be very little (or no) technical difference between a “9” and a “10” on my scale. The difference is probably based on that “wow” factor, where a “9” is great but lacks some kind of emotional connection that would bring a “10” to life.
** 8 (very good) -- One I enjoyed, but thought "it might have been even better if..." This might also be an outstanding game that just didn't hit me right; a genre I don't personally favor, for instance, but I was still able to appreciate the quality of the work. It's still a game I enjoyed playing. An “8” should have good writing, and if it has puzzles, they’ll be good and clued fairly. Generally, I will have no big complaints about an “8”, except maybe that the story, game structure, or characters may not have been used to their full potential.
** 7 (good) -- A game worthy of the competition, but it could use some polishing. My hope is that most of what I play won't fall below this mark. This is a game I liked, but with noticeable typos, obvious omissions, suspicious puzzles, sparsely-implemented scenery, maybe a few bugs… just things to be improved upon for an updated release. This could also be a game that still seemed to fall short of its potential, even if the prior things (puzzles, scenery, etc) weren’t very problematic. This would be a game where these problems didn't really detract much from the experience for me, although I would expect the ratings of other reviewers to be less forgiving. This could also be a game that might have been a “6” or even a “5”, except that the story or premise seemed unexpectedly good, making up for the more serious problems.
** 6 (average) -- A game with a few more problems. Maybe this means more typos than usual, some bugs in the game that might either render it unfinishable or begin to detract from the experience, not enough implementation of the scenery, or quirks that just seem misplaced or unintentional. This could also be a game where frustrating, badly-clued, or overly-complicated puzzles bring down a score that might otherwise have been better due to the game’s other strengths. Some instances of any of these things can still make it into a higher ranking for me (even a “10”, if it’s the right game), but this score would imply that the game seemed a little rushed, unpolished, or unbalanced.
** 5 (below average) -- This would be a game with quite a number of problems, or one I found frustrating to play. It could still be a game that I ultimately liked, just one that would put my entire ranking criteria under suspicion if I were to rate it higher. This is probably a game that has potential -- the author is on the right track -- it just needs more work. It has probably failed in more than one area -- puzzles, writing, story, etc -- or has really failed in a particular single area.
** 4 (poor) -- This game would be one in which I felt quite a bit of frustration, either with too many problems in the writing, the programming, the puzzles, the setting, or all of the above. This is a game in which I started to lose interest, began to cringe quite a bit, or just really disliked the obscurity of the puzzles (or the bad writing or uninspired plot). This is probably a game that felt more amateur as opposed to merely rushed and unpolished.
** 3 (very bad) -- This would be a more extreme case of what a “4” represents. This is a game where it could be difficult or impossible to finish due to the problems; major bugs, glaring mistakes in the text; maybe even blatant attempts to make the player mad (without any indication that the emotion is helpful to the story). This is where it becomes more difficult to pick out the redeeming qualities in the game, because it isn’t much fun to play.
** 2 (horrible) -- At this stage, I’ve found very little in your game to be excited about. It will have some kind of quality that sets it above a “1”, but only by a small margin. Maybe something you wrote was especially clever, or I found the setting to be interesting even if the entire implementation was not. I will consider this just a step above “unplayable.”
** 1 (unplayable) -- I don’t mean that I can’t run it at all, because it wouldn’t be fair for me to rank a game I can’t even try. However, even though I can run it, I might as well have played with mud for two hours. I can find nothing of interest in the game, no reason or justification to bump it up to a “2” - basically, I strongly dislike the game.
A plus by any score indicates a positive bias. Maybe it featured some plot twist I really liked, or a character I enjoyed, or clever writing that couldn’t really be factored into the score. A minus indicates a negative bias. Maybe it was intentionally insulting, or I expected more from the author, or it was in a genre I really dislike. Unlike previous years, these skews won’t affect the numerical score, but may shift games with the same score up or down within their own group.