- The Golden Number
- Common Terminology
- Character Concepts
- Droid Effect
- Babylon 5 Effect
- Expansion Effect
- Dragon Quest Effect
- Lindblum Effect
- Sons of Mogh Effect
- Seesaw Effect
- Familiarity Effect
- TOR Effect
- The Cloud Effect
- Flash Gordon Effect
- Princess Bride Effect
- Dragon Age 2 Syndrome
- Factory Worker Syndrome
- Bullet Point Syndrome
- Vampire Ego Syndrome
- Dr Who Syndrome
- Voyager Syndrome
- The Four Types Of Villains
- Tiers of Insertion
- Tier 0: Hardcore Mode
- Tier 1: Convenience Options
- Tier 2: Some Options
- Tier 3: Full Acclimation
- Tier 4: Full Customization
- Tier 5: Total Control
- Types of Time Travel
- The Six Points Of Gameplay
- The Six Points Of Story
- Warcraft Types of Undead
- Type 1: Artificial Construct
- Type 2: Natural Undead
- Type 3a: Soulless Undead
- Type 3b: Free-Willed Intelligent
- Type 4: Perfect Undead
- Distinctions of Robots / AI
The Golden Number
The Golden Number is the final review score for any given game we review on the show.
The Golden Number takes into account the net Story and net Gameplay scores, then goes through a handful of formulas to weight the ratio of positives to total points, the density of points, and the variance between story and gameplay.
The number itself is only useful relative to other numbers, and thus has no hard limit up or down. That being said the scale is deliberately slanted, so while it can go up pretty easily it’s much harder to go down. What this means in action is a -1 Golden Number is much worse than a +1 Golden Number is good. (this is why the worst game we’ve reviewed only hits double digits, but the best go up into triple)
As an aside, MMOs operate on a slightly different scale, which is why they’re in their own sheet.
A term referring to something that one can acknowledge as being good or of high quality, but you simply cannot enjoy because it’s just not your thing. No matter how good the cup of coffee, if you don’t like coffee, it’s still not your thing.
Example: “Sorry, I don’t like Dark Souls. It’s not a bad game, just Coffee to me.”
A term referring to a game or work that just clicks with you in a way that’s hard to otherwise describe. It may not be the best, and may be overshadowed by other games you like or that are better, but a Sushi game just fits you perfectly.
Example: “While Subnautica isn’t exactly my highest reviewed game, it really hit the right spots. Definitely Sushi for me.”
A game remake that, by definition, is very good and changes the game in some significant way (either story or gameplay wise). Obviously this is variable to the individual’s opinion but unless a game is both substantially different (a remake) and good (proper) then it doesn’t qualify.
Example: “Final Fantasy IV was a fine game, but it wasn’t until it got a Proper Remake on the DS that I really got into it.”
The deliberate mis-use of copyright in an immoral, stupid, or out-dated fashion. Usually done to try and enforce a policy on others.
Example: “I had to mute half the trailer because the music playing in it would be Copywronged if I didn’t.”
A specific type of dynamic music where the layers of the song are either added to or subtracted from based on what’s happening in the game. So named after Super Mario World, one of the earliest examples of Yoshi Drums.
Example: “While I enjoy Devil May Cry 5’s music plenty, the Yoshi Drums as you ramp up in rank really make it kick.”
A specific element of game design, almost always towards the end of the game, where the player has sufficiently ‘earned it’ to be given some ridiculous power up or strength or gun or whatever that allows them to just go nuts for a while. Almost always done as a form of catharsis or reward. Note that it’s quite possible to do this badly and end up being boring instead.
Example: “One of my favorite parts of Half Life 2 is when they give you the souped up Gravity Gun and you get to have a great Hyper Beam Moment as you charge through the Citadel.”
A specific type of writing wherein everything was planned out in advance. This has the advantages of Babylon 5 Effect (listed later in this document) but also allows you to do more with foreshadowing and build-up to eventual pay off. Note this is not necessarily superior to Back-Loaded Storytelling.
Example: Babylon 5 was pretty mapped out well in advance, utilizing tons of Front-Loaded Storytelling to slowly build up the mysteries and conflicts.”
A specific type of writing wherein everything is made up as they go. A form of improv, this has advantages of more or less mandating creativity and allowing for previously un-thought-of concepts to come to fruition. Note that this is not necessarily superior to Front-Loaded Storytelling.
Example: Deep Space Nine had a few ideas of where they were going, but they were constantly retconning and making up new things as they went, pretty clear Back-Loaded Storytelling.”
A term coined by Blizzard Entertainment that refers to the little detailed items added to a scene to make it look better. An often ignored aspect of visual design, good Doodad placement and utilization is critical both for gameplay and story purposes.
Example: “It’s hard to not appreciate the usage of Doodads in the opening section of Twilight Princess, they add so much detail to otherwise plain buildings.”
A term a friend of mine coined many years ago that refers to a type of playstyle where you both avoid no enemy encounters but also don’t seek out any. This could be considered an intended ‘normal’ playstyle; aka in a properly designed game you should always be at the rough level of power you ‘should’ be at if you avoid nothing but also don’t sit and grind.
Example: “I was having issues until I started Korean Method’ing my way through the dungeons, caught up pretty quickly then.”
A literary concept wherein a lot of text is used to say very little, thus ’empty’ text. Or to quote Worf, talking much and saying little. Unfortunately endemic to several RPGs where huge swaths of dialogue tend to drag the pacing down to a crawl.
Example: “For all the good in Tales of Vesperia, my goodness did it have a lot of Empty Text.”
A type of game that’s not necessarily bad but, ultimately, has no real lasting appeal or investment for the player. Also means they don’t want to replay it, generally.
Example: “While I liked Phantom Hourglass, it was such a Popcorn Game that I’ve never felt the urge to replay it.”
A form of technicality which is either irrelevant or a deliberate attempt to deceive by using loopholes or ‘technical truths’.
Example: “Well techcnkdkically Obi-Wan didn’t lie to Luke about his father, so he never tried to deceive him.”
A type of game where limitations of design, intent, or technology limits it to the point where it’s mandatory for the player to interpret things rather than events being laid out clearly. This often leads to multiple scenes with no actual narrative ‘bridges’ between them, so you have to just sort of figure it out for yourself.
Example: “Kingdom Hearts 1’s early chapters are a huge example of SNES RPG, so much you need to just infer.”
A concept in fiction referring to a species or group of people that encounter another species or group of people and, surprise, both are mutually benevolent. This leads to cooperation and an unprecedented era of prosperity (which also usually does not last). A “Vulcan Moment”, so named for Star Trek’s First Contact, is by design a sea change in the setting and usually serves to completely upset the status quo.
Example: When Humanity first encountered the Azimdi, their friendship and cooperation led to the foundation of the Concordat and allowed for a massive magical and technological revolution. A true Vulcan Moment for both.”
A specific problem, not just limited to MMOs, where we just sort of have to assume things aren’t the size they’re shown. Denerim isn’t just the market square, South Figaro isn’t just like 12 houses, and Elwynn Forest isn’t a couple minutes walk from Duskwood.
Example: “It’s sometimes hard to remember that in Final Fantasy VIII most of the towns are supposed to represent city-states or nations, have to account for that MMO Scale.”
A specific flaw in directing where there is no music playing when there should be, and it actively hurts the scene. Note that this does not apply to scenes which have no music and are done properly.
Example: “Man I love Kingdom Hearts 3, they finally fixed the No Music problem of the previous entries.”
A term referring to an industry or a sub-sect of an industry that has an artificially inflated value disproportionate to how much it’s actually worth. Almost always because of greed, stupidity, or both.
Example: “Marketing in general is such a Diamond Industry, they charge so much for so little.”
A new term referring to the sub-sect of the Gaming Industry which is entirely focused on trying to produce games that are designed to rip money out of people’s pockets as horribly as possible, often in deliberately predatory and immoral ways.
Example: “It’s hard to believe how badly EA dipped into the Whaling Industry with their mobile titles, even for EA that’s low.”
A Krennic is specifically a type of character that thinks they are more important or powerful than they are when shown in direct contrast to characters that are actually important/powerful. A little fish in a big pond that thinks it’s a big fish (or a shark). Often a Krennic will be a significant element of the plot specifically because of their delusions.
Example: “Steve Haines is such a Krennic that if you choose to go after him and kill him hardly anyone cares. Even the guy filming him doesn’t know his name.”
A character who specifically wants short term gains in a situation where it costs them long term. This can mean financially, personally, politically, or in terms of personal power depending on the setting. Often causes a lot of damage around them due to their short-sightedness.
Example: “Narud is such a Dimitri, he constantly and aggressively throws away those around him in search of advancing his plans now, and it always bites him in the back.”
Pretty self explanatory. There’s characters you don’t like, there’s characters you love to hate, and then there’s characters that you just honestly wish were not in the work at all. This is obviously very subjective and thus dependent upon the individual’s opinion. As such, no examples.
A type of character who is a genuinely good person and, importantly, exists within a setting where they are allowed to be such a good person without it blowing up in their face (or worse).
Example: James Raynor tries his best to be the Mario but honestly he just doesn’t manage it because of how the Koprulu Sector is.”
The everyman! A type of character who, by their nature, is simple, down-to-earth, and relatable. They often serve as either viewpoint characters for the audience or sympathy magnets.
Example: Laguna is definitely an O’Brien. Even people who don’t like Final Fantasy VIII like him.”
A Justice Lord is a type of character that will do bad things to accomplish good… and normalizes it. They firmly believe what they are doing is right, feel no guilt for their actions, and usually slide into actual villainy over time.
Example: “The Practical Incarnation was definitely more of a Justice Lord than the Nameless One.”
A Sisko is a type of character that will do bad things to accomplish good… and hates it. The guilt they carry with them for their actions leads to severe regret. Often this can serve as a form of a confession, a change in their personality, or an alteration to the setting’s story arc.
Example: “For all that he did, Ramza never stopped being a Sisko.”
The theory that the more someone hears about a particular direction regarding a thing, the more inclined you are to go against that direction. Not to be confused with contrarianism, but often happens when you hear overwhelming positivity or negativity regarding a thing, thus inclining you against it.
Example: “Man, people would not shut up about Avatar. It’s probably a perfectly fine movie but Pendulum Effect really pushes me against it.”
A theory that posits the following; The larger an audience or group of people, the more you will notice outspoken minorities in that community. Thus, to use made up numbers, if 1% of a game’s players are actually toxic and it has 100 players then you’re only dealing with 1 toxic person. But if that game has 100,000 players then you’re dealing with 1,000 horrible people… which changes the perception and makes one think they’re the majority, not the minority.
Example: “People talk all the time about how awful WoW players are, but I’m pretty sure that’s just Sample Size. I meet more good people than bad personally.”
A fictional concept referring to a group of people who, despite being more powerful than ‘normal’ people, have to maintain a masquerade of some sorts lest they be overwhelmed. The core theory is the idea that the ‘normals’ are, by virtue of numbers, organization, and technology can actually overwhelm the ‘more powerful’ group if they knew who they were and what they were doing.
Example: “Several monsters in the Witcher series aren’t as strong as they seem, and while no deliberate attempt is being made to keep this knowledge from people it still leads to some Masquerade Theory going on.”
A trope referring to an entity or species which has three important criteria; Sufficiently advanced to develop sentience and sapience, sufficient external stimuli, and sufficient time. Thus a being can undergo Droid Effect over time to go from non-sentient/sapient to fully sentient/sapient. An extremely common trope in fiction.
Example: “We could argue several people back and forth in Star Trek, but I think The Doctor from Voyager definitely grew into a fully sentient sapient being thanks to Droid Effect.”
A specific type of foreshadowing that can only be properly done when a story is built with Front-Loaded Storytelling. It refers to when the first time through you see things in a certain light, and then the second time through because of all you know and have learned you realize it was something else entirely. This altered perspective is the crucial element of Babylon 5 Effect.
Example: Loghain feels completely different the second time around and so much of what he does makes so much more sense thanks to Babylon 5 Effect.”
A term referring to a specific scenario where a sequel or expansion is significantly superior to the previous work primarily because the developers, writers, actors, directors, and whoever else was working on it were far more experienced with the work and comfortable with each other to simply do a better job all around.
Example: “Don’t mistake me, I enjoyed Neverwinter Nights, but the Expansion Effect of Hordes of the Underdark blew it out of the water.”
A specific type of story which is portrayed as light-hearted or happy, usually in visuals or audio, but is in fact a very dark and serious story. Surprisingly common amongst JRPGs.
Example: Undertale definitely has some Dragon Quest Effect going on. You wouldn’t imagine at first glance how deeply character driven and starkly serious it is.”
The process by which a fictional work, usually a game, spends lots of time and attention adding believability and connecting points and fleshed out characters and architecture and other background details. This has the finished effect of making the world feel far more lived in and believable.
Example: “Grandia’s initial towns had so many people and details and history that there was a lot of Lindblum Effect going on. Really felt like an actual city.”
This is technically a character archetype, but it refers to a situation where someone holds to an ideal of a thing (whether that thing is a concept, species, or organization) which does not adhere to reality. Thus they sort of end up being a better example of that thing than the thing they espouse to. Originally named Worf Effect, but had to be renamed due to… the pre-existing Worf Effect which refers to something completely different.
Example: “Alistair is arguably more of a Grey Warden than those in Weisshaupt because of Sons of Mogh Effect, given that he never really had a chance to deal with the reality of the task.”
A simple term that refers to when you start going down a particular path and it A: Becomes easier to keep going that way and B: Becomes harder to reverse direction, metaphorically. To use a common example, if you start messing up in the middle of a video game it becomes easier to mess up on future attempts.
Example: “Seifer reached a point in his story where Seesaw Effect took hold, and he just could not stop himself from doing more and more horrible things.”
A concept referring to the idea that we enjoy things more if there’s a familiar element to them. A map based on your hometown, a Game of Thrones mod in Crusader Kings II, or a mug with Mario on it.
Example: “While I praise many things about Heroes of the Storm, the strong Familiary Effect of the characters and environments helps a lot.”
An unfortunate byproduct of simplifying dialogue options in RPGs, where you choose something and what is actually said is either different or, in extreme cases, totally the opposite of what you were after. Specifically refers to when the entire actual dialogue is not on screen, like in Dragon Age 2. First started, arguably, in the Song of Leliana but very prevalent in The Old Republic.
Example: “So there I was in Alpha Protocol, and I only had a few seconds to pick an option and holy crap that wasn’t what I was going after at all.”
A very simple concept that refers to a work that has a stupid or ridiculous premise, but somehow ends up being really good. The narrative opposite of Voyager Syndrome
Example: “If I’m completely honest, Shovel Knight is a total The Cloud Effect, considering how great that game is.”
A type of story that is cheesy, silly, stupid… and absolutely embraces it, making the work better as a result. By unashamedly accepting what it is it’s far more enjoyable.
Example: “Y’know, Expendables shouldn’t be the types of movie I enjoy, but damned if Flash Gordon Effect doesn’t elevate them in my mind.”
Specifically refers to a work that bombed when it was released (for whatever reason, but usually marketing related) but over time as it becomes more exposed to a larger audience people start to realize how good it is, and it becomes critically acclaimed. Unfortunately common.
Example: “While it had a strong release in Japan, Earthbound has some serious Princess Bride Effect over in the States.”
Put simply; a game with fun but shallow gameplay that wears out its welcome. All three elements are critical; the gameplay is fun, but not sufficiently advanced or complex, and the game drags on so after a while what was fun simply becomes boring.
Example: “Look, I like the idea of a Warhammer 40k ship game, but Battlefleet Gothic 2 was a total Dragon Age 2 Syndrome.”
An aspect of game design that does several things in combination; The gameplay is difficult (requiring high attention and time), the gameplay is repetitive (requiring you to do it over and over), and the gameplay is punishing (for if you screw up). So named for the concept of working on a factory line (boring, repetitive, and if you screw up…)
Example: “While the core gameplay of Pathfinder Kingmaker was good stuff, man it had some serious Factory Worker Syndrome going on.”
A very, very common element of real life wherein people will look at something that is complex, complicated, or otherwise multi-layered and break it down to bullet points, losing all the nuance and meaning of it in the process.
Example: Honestly just look at almost any major AAA gaming label for an example. Yeesh.
A very common trope, unique to fiction, wherein someone gains a (relatively) small amount of personal power and their ego blows it way out of proportion. For this to apply they have to think of themselves as vastly superior to people who are barely weaker than themselves. Often leads to false proclamations of godhood.
Example: “The Sith on Korriban are hilariously Vampire Ego Syndrome, thinking that the ability to move small objects with their minds make them gods amongst men.”
A very… very common trope in fiction to exaggerate excessively. This can be in terms of size, quantity, time, whatever. Thooousands of years across miiillions of galaxies, etc. Only valid when applied literally and seriously, sometimes a work does this comically and that does not count.
Example: Warcraft has some of the worst Dr Who Syndrome I’ve ever seen, with tens of thousands of years of nothing passing relative to everything else.”
A narrative concept which refers to when a story has a fantastic premise… and completely fails to deliver. Effectively the opposite of The Cloud Effect.
Example: “I really wish Warlords of Draenor was as amazing as it could have been, but alas, Voyager Syndrome took hold.”
Someone villainous, maybe a darker reflection of the protagonists, and definitely evil… but they have either a good actor, charisma, or other traits that make the character enjoyable. Often includes villains who drift away from this over time as layers are added.
Someone who is more understandable or relatable due to their past or their goals. Maybe they’re after something but going about it the wrong way. Maybe they went through some horrible stuff in their life and got worse because of it. Usually has a decent amount of depth to them, but not always (can often lead into ‘excuse’ villains who ‘are evil because my mother died’ and other simplistic approaches). It’s quite common for villains in long standing series to drift into this over time.
Nearly the opposite of the Type 2, this is someone you just despise. Not at the point of ‘get off my screen’, but it’s someone you can’t stand. They smarm and smug all over the camera, and when they finally get their comeuppance the audience is cheering. Often used deliberately to give the audience a reason to root against them (and to build motivation for the protagonists).
The name says it all. A Type 4 has no redeeming traits (in character). They are evil, they know they are evil, and they have no remorse about being evil. They will almost always go further than other villains in pursuit of their goals and are almost always more selfish. Often tends to alienate their followers by virtue of their actions.
Tiers of Insertion
In brief. A common discussion amongst fans of speculative fiction is the idea of, ‘if you had to end up in one of (insert setting here), which would you pick and why?’ It’s so obvious why this type of question comes up so frequently that explanation on this topic is not necessary. However, this topic has come up so often that the Lorerunner has, even before the show actually got going, used a classification of the ‘types’ of how one could be inserted into a fictional setting. Establishing ground rules, as it were, to more easily allow for discussion and discourse. Generally the higher the number of the Tier, the more freedom of choice given to the person being asked the question.
This is the idea of you being dumped into the setting, straight. No changes whatsoever. This means your immune system isn’t setup for whatever is there, your stomach isn’t used to the food, you probably don’t speak or read the language, and you’re just a lost squishy human. Have fuuun. Tier 0 is, by design, the most difficult choice to pick because of how little choice you have.
The idea is you get dumped into the setting but you get some convenience choices with regards to the setting; no real disease issues, language issues, and the like. Otherwise you’re still a powerless squishy human.
The same basic idea of Tier 1 but with some choices in where and when. This is one of the two most common Tiers used when people ask the ‘If you were in suchandsuch’, because it generally refers to a specific era or place (eg. Star Wars during the prequel trilogy). You still have the convenience options of Tier 1 as well, but alas are still a squishy human.
The other ‘most common’ choice, this one has all the elements of Tier 2 with one huge exception; you can get acclimated to the setting. This means you could use the Force in Star Wars… you could change your species, gender, age, etc… you could use (or learn to use) magic, become undead, and whatever else is specific to that work of fiction that doesn’t exist in real life.
A recently added Tier which is basically the ability to 100% customize how you get inserted into the setting. You can choose who, when, where, what, you’re fully acclimated, and if you wanted you could choose to ‘replace’ an existing character in that setting and ‘play’ as them going forwards.
I like to call this the Holodeck Option because this is Tier 4 but all the time. See, the limitation of Tier 4 is you only get total choice during the insertion, but after that you’re stuck. Tier 5 you retain that absolute control. You could completely rewrite the setting and story if you wanted, on the fly, while in it. Y’know, like in a Holodeck.
The idea here is that time is a long, unmovable concept. Thus any time travel that happens always did and always will. As such you actually cannot change history in such a setting, only complete what already happened(s). Probably the hardest type of time travel to write for because it requires the writer to write everything out in advance to account for this.
Probably the most common Type when people think of time travel. This is where there’s just one timeline, but time travel can and does alter it. Can lead to some far-reaching consequences depending on the severity of alterations. Commonly used alongside the ‘butterfly effect’. Side note: While it applies in virtually all cases, the Time Traveller’s Exemption Clause is most pronounced in Type 2 time travel stories (the clause being that the traveler is immune to alterations in the timeline) since if they were not, writing the story becomes significantly more complicated as the time traveler becomes altered by their decision to time travel the moment they accomplish it.
Type 3 time travel is the ‘many universes’ time travel. This means that any and all alterations to time, time travel trips, or other altercations lead to multiple separate timelines being ‘made’ as a consequence. Thus the original timeline from when the traveler left goes on, unaltered (and now absent the traveler), but the traveler has now built a new timeline (which they are now within). Type 3 time travel is by far the easiest to write for, because it involves no actual complexity in the current timeline, since the current timeline only has to take into account the current ’round’ of changes (since any additional alterations or trips would craft still more timelines).
The core meat of any game, the gameplay mechanics are what really drive a game forward. Jumping and shooting, solving puzzles, conquering enemy lands, flying, racing, the works. This element is, by far, the most important element when it comes to Gameplay, and truly great games like Mega Man X1, Star Fox 64, and Doom 4 shine in this area. It is of course possible to have great core gameplay mechanics without having the remaining elements of Gameplay though. Games such as the original XCOM and its tightly designed strategy and tactics, yet struggles with the problem of older UI and hard to perceive graphics, and a general lack of proper sound. Arcanum of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, with its heavy emphasis on multiple solutions, extensive NPC interactions, and small but well done variety of combat options, yet similarly has issues with interface, flow, and sound design. Or Dwarf Fortress, who’s core gameplay is still enjoyable to this day, but remains buried in an awful interface with almost no proper graphical or sound design.
It is also possible to have a good overall presentation of the other 5 elements and yet lack good core gameplay mechanics. No Man’s Sky, for all its flair and good design, as its core was immensely boring and disinteresting. Final Fantasy XIII has brilliant interface, excellent music, great graphics, and some of the most disinteresting leveling and combat in the series. And the last of the Kane series, Command & Conquer 4, has a nice UI with good music and graphics and just generally overall bad core gameplay.
Interface refers to two aspects of gameplay; one, the in-game menus and methods by which one accesses the gameplay, as well as the more literal and physical methods by which the player access the game. Thus, button control layout, usage of the mouse, or reliance on additional hardware would qualify for Interface the same as in-game interactions. Good interface is a bit harder to define than other things, though a usual rule of thumb is the more accessible it is to the player the better, and the less ‘clicks’ the better. Another common concept is the idea of ‘at-a-glance’, IE the more you can tell immediately and without having to open a menu or pause the game to interrupt flow, the better.
Stellaris, bizarrely, has an absolutely excellent Interface that takes very little time to get used to and a lot of ‘at-a-glance’ information. Earthbound, while not the most sophisticated of older Dragon Quest-style RPGs, nevertheless has tons of convenience features that let you equip items from the shop menu, compare and contrast easily, and even the ability to interact with the environment one-handed. Homeworld Deserts of Kharak is one of my personal examples of textbook good interface, with almost everything readily available from one screen, and tons of information neatly displayed. And some games, like Freelancer, just instantly click with the player so they don’t even have to think about what’s where, because it all makes sense instantly.
Some excellent games with lacking or actively bad UIs include: Europa Universalis IV, for all its excellent aspects, has an Interface that takes forever to ‘get the hang of’ and eventually reach a point where you can do what you wish to do in the game. Similarly, Zelda Phantom Hourglass, while generally a pretty good game, relies on using the stylus and touch screen to physically play the game, which can be tough to use for some and actively aggravating for others. I of course am pretty infamous for refusing to replay Skyward Sword given the fact that the motion controls cause me literal, physical pain to play. And there’s also the recent Star Fox 0 and its bizarre double control scheme, which some can acclimate to and some cannot.
Graphics are obvious; the visual presentation of the game. This can boil down to two general categories; quality and style. The quality of graphics are relatively easy to judge, and generally the more modern the better. But the style is where Graphics really matter in a game; how they are used, not merely what. Some would argue any pixel-art game can get away on nostalgia alone, but there’s a world of difference between badly designed graphics and good ones, pixel-art or no. Similarly, things being visually distinct from each other, allowing visual cues for things to interact with (and how) are very important aspects of good graphics design.
Zelda Link To The Past is an example of a game that, to this day, has aged quite well. Everything is immediately distinguishable from each other, and you can tell the types of tools you can use where based on repeated visual styles. Wind Waker would be another example, though I hate to keep using Zeldas. Virtually every Metroid game falls into this category, but probably strongest is Super Metroid, where the level design and visual presentation thereof informs the player’s journey and both assists and encourages exploration. And of course, Symphony of the Night is an amazing masterpiece in terms of animation, presentation, distinction, and general visual design.
On the flip side, Doom 3 is a game with atrocious visual cues, bad lighting, and repeated graphics. Even worse than that is the old Quest 64 game, where in several areas the textures are repeated so often that you can literally get turned around without even realizing it, nevermind the uninspired enemies or lack of any visual flare. And one of the worst of all, Daggerfall; for all its positives and up sides, the visual design is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, with near constant repeating textures in same-looking areas, inside and out, as well as making it difficult to know what one can properly interact with unless it’s moving and/or attacking you.
Good sound design can make or break a gaming experience. Being able to immediately tell what’s happening where without looking, hearing that quiet drip or that horrific skitter in the distance, or literally being able to play blind. Sound design is all about not just the sounds themselves but, like graphics, how they are used. It’s one thing to put a lot of well voice-acted audio clips in your game, but another to make the footsteps or ambient noise something that doesn’t just add to the experience, but helps the player play the game.
Homeworld… well, all the Homeworld games really, have fantastic overall sound design. Not just in the ships and how they move, or the ambient noise that mixes beautifully with the music, but the chatter that helps keep the player immersed and invested. Half Life 2 lets the player literally feel what’s happening next thanks to fluid voice acting, clear and distinct sounds helping to distinguish different types of actors from each other, and the horrifying sounds of most of the game can contribute to an absolutely incredible, immersive experience. But special credit must be given to Zelda Ocarina of Time, a game that can and has literally been played blind thanks to the mind bogglingly good sound design in every facet and aspect.
Of course, most games merely have good sound design, the type you’re not supposed to notice. Thus, bad sound design tends to drag one out of the experience, jarring the player from what they might otherwise enjoy. Mega Man X7 isn’t a particularly good game overall, but special mention has to be given for the colossally bad sound design that spams the player with useless voice clips, doesn’t inform the player upon certain actions, or triggers at wrong moments. Sonic Adventure 2, an otherwise fairly enjoyable game, has some truly face palming sound design, which is especially egregious for a Sonic game, and shows up most noticeably during cutscenes as voice actors are almost impossible to hear. But worst of all has to be Ride to Hell Retribution, and its face palmingly bad design of sound effects, voice clips, and general direction.
Music is the easiest category of gameplay to understand, and arguably the most subjective. What one person considers good music another is likely to disagree on. However, regardless of the actual quality of music, there are elements of utilizing music properly in game design, similar to graphics and sound. If you hear the same song over and over and over in cutscenes without variation, this is not good design. Nor is forcing the player to listen to the first 15 seconds of a song every time they partake in a particular activity, like a random battle.
Some games can be elevated in enjoyment with the inclusion of good music. Gems like Morrowind (or any game by Jeremy Soule) are a good example, as is the otherwise lackluster Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Similarly, some games use music very particularly and only in certain sections, such as the Homeworld games, or Half Life. And some games prefer for the music to effectively form a backdrop to the main focus of the game, something pleasant but not meant to be focused on, like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect.
Of course, some games don’t use music particularly well. As mentioned earlier, some games like to repeat a single song to the point where it becomes irritating or frustrating, like in Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories which repeats the same two songs over and over for cutscenes. Many older games suffer from the problem of being unable to properly ‘save’ the player’s ‘place’ in a song, leading to everytime one enters or exits battle the song starts over, which can get old quickly. And then there’s games like The Old Republic which, while having relatively good music, actively rehashes many songs from the movies (often in ways that don’t make sense or aren’t thematically appropriate), and has the problem of certain events repeating the same songs over and over.
Flow is something that applies similarly to Story and Gameplay both, but is usually referred to as Pace or Pacing when it comes to Story. In Gameplay, Flow is how the overall other elements of Gameplay mesh together and how the experience works from beginning to end, as well as following some kind of proper peaks and valleys in terms of tempo, tone, and action. Not every game has to follow the same pattern, or even the same types of events for peaks and valleys, but has to find something that consistently works for the type of art being created.
A great example of a game with excellent flow that doesn’t follow normal patterns is Earthbound, a game that slowly winds up until the finale, then slowly winds down up to and including the ending. Chrono Trigger is another fantastic example of proper flow, actually having two separate patterns of pacing to it that bisect the game and both flow smoothly into each other. And probably one of the textbook examples of proper flow and pacing in gameplay is God of War 2, which starts strong, shifts down, and doesn’t linger too long in any given tone or type of mechanics.
Of course, a good game can have bad overall flow of action. Shadow of the Colossus, while a fairly excellent game, alternates wildly between excessive valleys followed without build or preamble by intense and awesome fights, then plummeting right back into the valley of exploration, which can cause a rather lurching tone. Similarly, while an otherwise fantastic game, Zelda Wind Waker follows a consistent flow right up until a certain point in the game, at which point the game slams on the breaks and everything slumps uncomfortably in tone and style. And while many people would argue the quality of the game as a whole, Dragon Age 2 suffers severely in terms of flow as each combat section lasts too long even on easier difficulties (making them drag and overstay their welcome), dungeons are too short and offer too little activity other than travel, and dialogue and NPC moments are spaced oddly throughout.
The plot refers to the specific sequence of events that form the core central structure of a story. Usually can be summarized fairly simply, such as A New Hope being a plot about saving a princess and defeating an evil empire’s powerful battle station, but that does not speak to the value or strength of the plot itself. A truly strong plot will have significant events, movement, flow, and sometimes twists to it that keep it interesting and engaging. For example, I would say that Final Fantasy Tactics has a very strong plot, whereas Mass Effect 2 has a very weak one. I use both of these as an example since I feel both have good stories, and to demonstrate how a good plot isn’t integral to a good story.
Characterization refers specifically to how much depth and fleshing out a particular character has. It often blends with and into Character Growth, but is critically distinct from it as a surprisingly large number of characters across fiction have a decent amount of characterization but absolutely no growth or arc to them. For example, Rendon Howe from Dragon Age has a decent amount of characterization to him, but never changes or moves throughout the game. Similarly, Demyx over in the Kingdom Hearts series has several scenes dedicated to fleshing him out as a person, but again he never changes or grows from that point. There’s also the G-Man from the Half Life series, but most notably in Half Life 2, where his personality and perspectives are quite distinct yet he effectively never changes throughout the series.
Character Growth is almost always related to Characterization, and usually the best characters in a fictional work have strong elements of both. Character Growth is how someone changes or alters over time, a true character arc showcasing how their feelings, or mentalities, or even personality can alter thanks to what they go through and how they do it. Luke Skywalker going from the childish farmboy to the jedi hero through the original trilogy. Dante going from a bored (yet cool) guy with a sibling rivalry to understanding sacrifice, relevance, and purpose across Devil May Cry 3. John Crighton’s slow shift from the fish out of water in love with exploration, to the more battle-hardened and cynical man fighting for his family.
Setting is nice and obvious; the setting in which a fictional work exists. I prefer to use the term ‘setting’ since it more encapsulates an entire fictional body, rather than limiting it by geography. For easy explanation; Star Trek has the five shows (six if you count animated) and the movies, but it also has the Kelvin Universe stuff with 2009, Into Darkness, etc. These exist in separate timelines, but are still within the same setting as each other (and they even affect each other). Plenty of different fictional works have a strong emphasis on setting, in some cases overwhelming the other aspects of Story (such as with Pillars of Eternity, for example). Mass Effect is an excellent example of a universe with a wide breadth of lore, history, culture, and other aspects helping to flesh out the ‘world’ of it. These kinds of details (most notably about culture, such as food, holidays, social gatherings) help to really breath life into a given setting and make it truly enjoyable.
Themes is one of the least concretely defined aspects of Story, since different people will divine different themes from the same work. Often a given work’s author(s) may intend one theme, and viewers, readers, or gamers will perceive something entirely separate. Themes relate to over-arcing concepts or ideas, such as Kingdom Hearts and its recurring themes of the bonds connecting people, the false dichotomies of light and dark, and the tragedy of circumstance. Or Planescape Torment and its heavily recurring theme of torment itself, and the emotional and mental anguish people suffer and, most importantly, how they deal with that torment. Or Earthbound, and its consistent themes of growing up, forging one’s own future, the many lives we touch, and the most obvious–motherhood.
Fun is the hardest aspect of a Story to properly quantify and, of course, depends on the individual perceiving the work. It’s entirely possible to have a story that is very well constructed and designed with the Five primary points, but still isn’t enjoyable to read. I, personally, would put the Lord of the Rings books as an example of this. It’s also entirely possible to have a work that has an extremely weak overall Story, yet is still enjoyable throughout. Examples include Metal Wolf Chaos in all its ridiculous glory, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in all its stupidity, and Command & Conquer 3 with its wonderfully over the top acting and alien invasion. All of these are very fun stories, even if somewhat lacking in the primary elements.
Type 1 Undead is the easiest to explain, as it’s basically not really undead at all. A Type 1 is just re-animated matter; whether it be bones, flesh, or worse, there’s no soul or real intellect behind a Type 1; it is effectively just a golem. As such, any Type 1’s tend to be less effective than other Types, and are easy to neutralize since all you have to do is remove the animator. As an aside, until fairly recently in Warcraft history the overwhelming majority of necromancy centered around Type 1, since more complex necromancy was unheard of in all but the rarest of cases.
Type 2 Undead by definition cannot be raised by an external source, since a Type 2 is what’s known as a ‘natural’ undead. If a great battle happens and some of the ghosts of the fallen linger in that place, those are Type 2 Undead. Now, one can still engineer a situation in which Type 2’s might come to be (such as the aforementioned battle), or by doing horrible atrocity things, but this is always a chance, not a guarantee. Most Type 2’s can reach a state of either being at peace, at which point they dissipate and move on, or be destroyed, at which point they are cessated.
A Type 3a Undead is a relatively new invention into Warcraft’s history, at least on any scale. A Type 3 Undead in general is effectively a true Undead being; regardless of physical makeup (ghoul, zombie, skeleton, lich, abomination, etc.) the definition of Type 3 is to be an intelligent, sapient, and sentient being that happens to be dead but still going. In Warcraft this is functionally treated as a different species, with different rules and structure to it. The classification of the ‘a’ means that a Type 3 is missing its soul. Either the soul is destroyed, removed, kept distant, or any other number of possibilities which means the resulting individual is effectively a different person than their real self. In almost all cases a Type 3a Undead is being controlled or manipulated by a larger-scope Necromancer, the most famous one being the First and Second Lich Kings. It is worth noting that this same division of soul could also theoretically apply to Type 4.
A Type 3b Undead, like Type 3a, is a fully sentient and sapient Undead, functionally a new species of ‘life’. The difference is the ‘b’ qualifier means their soul is still attached to them, meaning their mind and thoughts are their own. Obviously people can and will still change from the horrifying trauma of dying and being brought back, but there is no artificial external pressure changing them into a more horrible or violent being like with Type 3a. The overwhelming majority of Forsaken currently wandering around are Type 3b, and form the bulk of the ‘normal’ Undead species.
Type 4 Undead are a relatively new retcon / reclassification added thanks in part to new information as of Legion. The general idea is that Types 1 and 3 both still have issues with rotting, as well as not being able to do more mundane things like grow muscle, repair wounds naturally, or otherwise. They are animated to keep going, but their body has effectively stopped working. A Type 4 bypasses all that, being effectively a ‘pure’ Undead, wherein their body is fully preserved and functional. Thus a Type 4 has all of the benefits of Undeath (longevity, durability, etc.) and none of the drawbacks. The catch is that making a Type 4 takes a special amount of power, knowledge, and skill. A lesser Necromancer could hypothetically craft a Type 4, but only with something to augment their abilities (such as was the case with Nathanos, who only became a Type 4 thanks to the sacrifice used to fuel the spell). The various Lich Kings could, hypothetically, craft Type 4’s at will. It is most likely, though not 100% certain, that the Death Knights are all Type 4.
A Robot or ‘dumb AI’ is incapable of true thought and outside-parameter decision making. All three robots shall be explained using the two empty room comparisons.
Imagine an empty room. If a robot or dumb AI is put inside this room with no directives, it will sit there doing nothing.
Now imagine the robot is put in the room but given a directive like ‘light the fireplace’, however there is no fireplace inside the room. A robot or dumb AI will proceed to explore and peruse the room looking for the fireplace, never finding it (as the room is empty), and being stuck at that point forevermore until some external force interrupts them.
An Androbot, or ‘VI’ (Virtual Intelligence) is incapable of true choice and freedom of will, but has baseline troubleshooting and decision making capacity. As before, we shall use the empty rooms comparison.
Imagine an empty room. If an androbot or VI is put inside this room with no directives, they will sit there doing nothing.
Now imagine the Androbot is put in the room but given a directive like ‘light the fireplace’, however there is no fireplace inside the room. The Androbot or VI will proceed to explore and peruse the room looking for the fireplace, not finding one, and then proceed to figure out how to leave the room in order to continue their search for the fireplace, eventually finding the hidden switch to proceed outside.
An android or a true AI is a person, just digital. That really is the easiest way to explain it. They have full choice capability, capacity to take ideas and develop them, et cetera. Per before, the empty rooms comparison.
Imagine an empty room. If an android or AI is put inside this room with no directives, they will get very bored and shortly thereafter simply leave the room because there’s nothing to do.
Now imagine they are put in the room and given a directive like ‘light the fireplace’, however there is no fireplace inside the room. They will determine the absence of the fireplace at a glance, immediately figure out that they need to leave the room, find the hidden switch and leave.