Hello there.

I hope you have had a good time over the festive season. Around this time of year, we’ve been known to publish a so-called ‘Review of the Year‘, taking a look at what we’ve been up to over the last 12 months.

As a bit of a change of gear, though, this time we thought we’d try something a bit different. Both Stoo and I had been considering looking back across the whole history of the site and looking at some stats to see if they told us anything interesting about patterns and trends over the years.

So we figured we may as well do a discussion piece on the topic. It didn’t end up being as stats-focused as we (or certainly I) had imagined, but the stats were still a good starting point for a lengthy back and forth on all things FFG, an edited version of which appears below.

Hope you enjoy it!

The Elder Days of Objective Games Criticism

Rik: Ok, well I guess the setup is that we normally have a bit of a look back at the year, but this time we thought it might be fun to have a look back at the whole history, in terms of games covered.

Stoo: Starting with the Elder Days of 2001…because we really have been doing this for nearly 2 decades.

Rik: Argh! I think we’ve sort of been ok at marking milestones, but bizarrely have never really looked at the overall picture, which I think could be interesting (readers may of course disagree).

Stoo: Fortunately I’m a massive nerd and keep a summary of reviews so I can handily look up stats on how much we wrote each year, what sort of scores we hand out and so on.

Rik: It’s work I admire, and am grateful for.

Stoo: I just like graphs.

Rik: So is there anything that struck you looking at everything overall?

Stoo: Well, it does remind me that I was a lot more prolific in the sites early years. I guess because I was churning through all the games I played in my childhood.

Rik: You did it the proper way, I reckon: reviews driven by passion for beloved classic games. My sketchiness and short attention span is evident in my early work. Blade Runner and Wing Commander 3 and 4 were probably the only games I finished back then.

Stoo: The Wing Commander reviews were some of the sites early highlights! I covered favourites like UFO, System Shock, Azrael’s Tear right away. Probably rather embarrassingly fanboyish writing, although most of those articles have been edited over the years.

Rik: Apart from the ones already mentioned, my early stuff was the likes of TOCA Touring Cars, Stunts, Puma World Football ’98 and Interstate ’76 – many of which I said weren’t all that good by modern standards, which was apparently an obsession of mine for some reason.

Stoo: Well early on we were fixated on setting aside nostalgia and being objective.

Blade Runner: one of the few games Rik managed to finish in the early days.

Rik: Yes. Possibly fired by abandonware sites giving everything brief and overwhelmingly positive reviews? But how embarrassing to recall we were early proponents of so-called ‘objective games criticism’…

Stoo: As if we could review these classics the same way you do a modern game…

Rik: But we obviously did think we would stay forever in touch with modern gaming. And that our standards would remain rigorous, and unaffected by nostalgia.

Stoo: We would be the stern paragons of rigorous criticism…it was a position that became increasingly untenable. As we moved into the 2010s I became increasingly out of touch with modern gaming, apart from buying 5-year old games in Steam sales.

Rik: It was probably earlier for me…until 2008 or so, my PC was still only able to run the kind of stuff we could have covered on FFG. So I sort of missed out on the 00s in terms of cutting-edge PC gaming (although I did sort of stay in touch more generally through my PS2) and kind of have been wanting to catch up ever since. Until about five years ago, though, I was still vaguely aware of what was happening, even if I wasn’t playing any of those games. Now, I genuinely have no idea.

Stoo: Same here. For a while I was at least vaguely keeping up with genres of interest to me, even if I was a few years behind with stuff like Bioshock and Fallout. Now I’m entirely lost. MOBAS, map-moppers, battle royales – it’s a baffling blur. I stopped reading modern gaming sites, even RPS, because none of it meant much to me. So I guess our point is, we had to let go of holding games to any sort of modern standard.

Rik: I think we did, relatively early on.

Stoo: And it seemed a pointless endeavour anyway. It’s ok to be nostalgic, and it’s ok to enjoy an old game on its own merits instead of trying to compare it to the latest Call of Duty or whatever. I mean, we can still assess how well a game’s mechanics work, if the artwork is appealing, it doesn’t have to be totally fawning and misty-eyed. We’re just accepting this is a separate category of entertainment to modern games, I guess.


Evading the Retro Police

Rik: So in terms of the raw numbers, I was reassured that most of our games were from the 90s [194 games out of a total 337 reviewed], and received a mark of 6 or over [225].

Stoo: Yes, both those facts make sense.

Rik: So we’re still looking at old games, and good games, in the main. I was worried my sketchy tastes and endless football game reviews had diluted the initially honourable intentions of the site.

Stoo: We’ve shown solid commitment to the 90s, which were great times in PC gaming. It went from a boring beige box for spreadsheets and flight sims, to a serious gaming machine, aided by the rise of first person shooters, real-time strategy, and a golden age for space sims.

Rik: Yes. As I’ve said before elsewhere I think, I kind of consider X-Wing (shamefully absent from FFG) and TIE Fighter as the first games that were ‘must have’ PC titles. And Doom of course.

Stoo: For sure, those were the PC flexing its muscles, doing things the SNES and Amiga couldn’t (well Doom had a SNES port, but it doesn’t look particularly good).

Rik: Yes, not just platform games, at the risk of sounding like dreadful snob.

Stoo: Well, we’re not tedious ‘PC Master Race’ types…

Rik: I do hope not!

Stoo: I was around for PC gaming in the 80s, it sucked. And nowadays consoles are very capable…I just like to look upon the 90s as exciting times for the PC.

Rik: Yes, we’ve only covered a handful of 80s games here [7 in total] and they haven’t fared too well in terms of our ratings. Kind of before our time really.

Stoo: Yeah, we won’t venture into that decade often. As time goes by, more 2000s games feature. We’re fairly flexible on what we consider ‘old’.

Rik: I think we were actually even more flexible in the old days. In some cases, 3 years or so was considered old enough.

Stoo: Actually, true.

Rik: I’m thinking stuff like Voyager: Elite Force (released in 2000, reviewed in 2003) or Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine (released late 1999, reviewed in 2002).

Stoo remains a big fan of both System Shock games.

Stoo: System Shock 2 (1999, 2002) and Wizardry 8 (2001, 2003) also (lol fanboy).

Rik: Nowadays we’re much more cautious.

Stoo: We are more cautious but also the 2000s are, gulp, a decade ago (a fact I still have trouble fully accepting).

Rik: I think we only have 10 from the current decade. And in the main, there’s a through line from older games. Like Need for Speed, for example.

Stoo: Right, long-runners of particular interest…

Rik: Or the indie point-and-click revival, which made me enjoy adventure games again. I don’t think we just launch into something new for the sake of it. Or been waiting for the clock to tick down on a set amount of time, just so we can cover game X.

Stoo: No, we just have a somewhat vague and fluid boundary as to what we call old enough (with some more recent exceptions, as mentioned). Some folks would probably object to calling, say, Morrowind a retro game but I’m quite happy to include that period.

Rik: The retro police.

Stoo: (Car siren sounds like an Amstrad CPC bleeping)


Scores on the doors

Rik: So I know we don’t obsess too much about scores any more, but I found it an interesting thing to track. Overall, your scores are generally higher than mine, over 7, whereas mine are just under an average of 6. I blame sports games.

Stoo: Haha yes, you have churned through a lot of old football games. Admirably thorough coverage.

Rik: I should say that I enjoy the process, regardless of the game’s merits, and I wouldn’t keep plugging away otherwise!

Stoo: I think the retro police may come after you for not loving Sensible Soccer.

Rik: I’ve tried, I really have. But it’s a lost cause.

Stoo: (It’s mandatory for 40 year old men, I believe)

Rik: In general, though, as I keep repeating in various write-ups, it was a more interesting time when it was possible for virtually anyone to release a football game and have a chance of success.

Stoo: I can imagine, more different visions and ideas thrown into the mix, even if they didn’t all work out.

Rik: Also, a footy game can be dissected relatively easily. A lot of your reviews of strategy or RPG games, there’s a time investment there, which means if it isn’t good, you aren’t likely to get to a write-up.

Stoo: Yeah, if I’m not enjoying a lengthy game to at least give it a 6/10, I will probably park it and look elsewhere.

Rik: Well, I think there are very few below 6 in those categories [the average rating across RPG/Strategy sections is over 7.5, with only Nox and Titan Quest getting below 6]. In fact, you have reviewed very little crap. All the games at the bottom are mine.

Stoo: MegaRace!

Rik: Zone Raiders, UEFA Champions League…and MegaRace, yes. Although I think I was perhaps a bit harsh on it.

Stoo: Maybe. I find it does carry some sort of weird attraction, a reminder of those CD-ROM FMV days.

Rik: I was actually impressed with it in the mid-90s, but there’s really very little to it. And ultimately I think I was disappointed that there’s no proper ending, just the same clips looping over and over.

Stoo: My worst game is CSI: Miami, which I bought purely because I was going through a CSI phase. That was fairly dull.

Rik: Yes, those early CSI games aren’t great. The later ones weren’t much better either (my CSI phase lasted longer than yours!)

Stoo: Then Golden Axe and LHX which both got 4, and I don’t know why I was so harsh on either.

Rik: I think in old currency that’s 2 blobs [earlier incarnations of the site showed the rating in terms of silver ‘blobs’ out of 5, although half marks were permitted, so they were out of 10 really], which somehow seemed a bit better.

Stoo: Probably I was in my ‘be objective’ phase.

Rik: I think of 4 as not bad as such, but not something I’d be queueing up to play again.

Stoo: Hmm, maybe. I don’t mind giving a game 5 or 6 if I think it has some merit but a few hours will be enough for most people. I shy away from 4 or below…

Rik: But, let’s be honest, the scoring is a bit all over the place. As it was – and is – always likely to be.

Stoo: Yeah, I’ve never had a solid handle on numerical scoring. I’ve occasionally wanted to dump it. But I guess some sort of summarising factor is required.

Rik: I’ve tended to dish out a lot of 5s and 6s. And probably some 5s could have been 6s, and some 6s could have been 7s. I think at various points we’ve both considered going through old reviews and correcting the scores somehow.

Stoo: Oh huh, I gave Wolfenstein 3D a 4…

But what if you could talk to the aliens? [You’re fired – Ed.]

Rik: Well, I only gave Doom a 7. Which…makes it not as good as XIII.

Stoo: (Sirens going again)

Rik: Heresy from a retro fraud!

Stoo: I do find myself rethinking a lot of old scores, but not sure if I want to devote time to picking over old ground, when I’m not writing enough new content!

Rik: I guess, why tinker with the score without tinkering with the writing. And the latter is a dangerous thread to pull. I mean, I did rewrite a couple of mine [Toonstruck and Speedball 2, in 2016], when I felt I actually wanted to play the games again, I guess that’s my barometer.

Stoo: I rewrote one or two, when I felt their historical context needed updating. Since I first wrote about Diablo a whole load of action-RPGs followed in the footsteps of its sequels, but even that relies on keeping aware of developments in the genre which, as we mentioned before, is becoming harder to do.

Rik: I feel like you have also deleted reviews altogether. I-War 2? Total Annihilation?

Stoo: A few. Some because I hated them, I get too fussy over my writing. Some because I felt they were a bit under-informed.

Rik: On that basis, I probably should delete some of my old ones.


Sims and RPGs

Stoo: I had one or two more flight sims, which was a genre I enjoyed as a kid but totally lost track of in the 2000s.

Rik: Simulation is our shortest section.

Stoo: Heh. I always wanted to write about the ancient LucasArts flight sims, but they had extensive campaign modes I never even tried and would find daunting today.

Rik: Tempted to go back to any?

Stoo: I could revisit some of the ones from Dynamix – Aces of the Pacific, A10 Tank Killer etc.

Rik: I was generous with King of the Road. I feel sure Euro Truck Simulator (guest reviewed by The J Man) is better, but truck sims were more of a niche market when I wrote my review, and I must have given points for originality.

Stoo: “Elite, but with trucks” did sound appealing, I should try one of them sometime.

Rik: ETS 2 is fun, based on what little I’ve played.

Stoo: You’re quite right in that Simulation is the most meagre section on FFG. We really need more RPGs also.

Rik: I did manage to play Oblivion.

Stoo: Yes, that was an excellent read.

Rik: Aw, thanks!

Stoo: Without all the baggage of a Morrowind fanatic that I would have brought to it.

Rik: I think that would have been interesting too…I only gave it a go because you said you wouldn’t.

Stoo: And you gave it 9!

Rik: I liked it!

Stoo: Well, there you go everyone: Oblivion is actually pretty damn good.

Rik: RPG games are more accessible now, some would probably call them action games with extra bits.

Stoo: Yep, not like the bad old days of complex mechanics, brutally unfair fights and swift death for walking into the wrong forest too early.

Rik: The proper old school ones are a bit hardcore.

Stoo: Yeah, and as much as I want to play more, the time commitment is colossal. And I’m a dad now.

Might and Magic…coming to FFG, one day.

Rik: Yes, congratulations!

Stoo: Heh, thanks, she is a wonderful little girl. But does not leave me a lot of time for fighting goblins. God knows when I will ever finish Might and Magic 6.

Rik: I keep toying with the idea of doing Dungeon Master, but it’s big and tough. I also find what I plan to do and what I actually do differ greatly, and I don’t just mean flaking out, but starting a year thinking, ‘you should do this’, then getting distracted by another thought and following that instead. But I feel like having a set plan and sticking to it would make it feel like work.

Stoo: It can be good to have a plan, but ultimately this can’t become too much of an obligation. Myself, I probably should have planned more. And that plan should have been ‘play less World of Warcraft‘.

Rik: Heh, well I was mainly playing Pro Evolution Soccer on PS2 in the 00s.


Action and Adventure

Rik: So I had a look at the stats, and we’ve mentioned the bottom games in terms of ratings, all of which are mine. You also have 9 of the 11 top marked games: Homeworld and HW: Cataclysm, System Shock 2

Stoo: I guess I can get passionate about my favourites…

Rik: Deus Ex, Thief 1 and 2, Anachronox, Outcast and Planescape Torment. Half-Life and Monkey Island are my two.

Stoo: I figure I shouldn’t be afraid to hand out some 10s, it doesn’t imply perfection, not on my scale anyway, rather an excellent game that leaves a profound impression.

Rik: I wish I had a few more. I think my favourites just have big and obvious flaws that you just can’t ignore and prevent them from being in the very top bracket.

Stoo: Heh well I wish I reviewed as many games as you!

Rik: I do try and put time into decent ones these days, even if the old football games and Need for Speed do still come calling. I did notice that things seem to have dried up a little in the Action section, particularly FPS games, we don’t really go past 2004 much. I was wondering if that had anything to do with the lack of Half-Life 2

Stoo: We really should add that sometime. I can think of other 2000s action games worth a mention. The Sands of Time trilogy for example. I was also considering the first Assassin’s Creed but have held off because I’m not familiar enough with the rest of the series.

Rik: Yes, I’ve had similar thoughts about Assassin’s Creed. What about FPS games?

Stoo: I feel like in the 2000s all the war shooters took off, like Call of Duty, and I never really got into those.

Rik: I did Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, but I’d sort of had enough for a while after that. I’d also like to try Crysis, Far Cry 2, Bioshock

Stoo: Ah yes, I have played Bioshock, at the time it felt a bit too recent.

Rik: Well they have remastered it too, which I find weird.

Stoo: Slightly sharper textures, I guess?

Rik: Yeah, I mean that must be a sign of age that the original still seems fairly shiny to us, while clearly the majority of modern gamers are more bothered by such things. However, have any of them played Knight Rider: The Game? Clearly my priorities are in order.

All the crappest games on here have been reviewed by Rik. But now you all know the unvarnished truth about Knight Rider: The Game!

Stoo: It’s cool to have some more obscure games on the site, like, we are probably the top resource for info on Puma World Football.

Rik: Annoyingly, there are a few more YouTube videos now. The Laa-Laa goal has peaked in terms of views.

Stoo: I think we’ve got good Adventure game coverage. Most LucasArts stuff is there, just about.

Rik: Sierra, well we have tried…but it’s no surprise that Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail is among the lowest rated in that section. I was reassured though, recently, flicking through some old PC Format mags my brother-in-law gave me, and seeing Larry getting a kicking from UK mags back in the 90s.

Stoo: I do plan on doing more Sierra games, I found Space Quest 3 more fun than expected.

Rik: Yes, good work on Space Quest. I think I’m done with that series. I do think about…Phantasmagoria, maybe? That’s the kind of thing, as previously discussed, I intend to do then never get around to.

Stoo: I’d like to add a few more Quests to the line-up. But am not in a hurry to play more Leisure Suit Larry. Also maybe not the really early Quest games in general.

Rik: We’ve done Police Quest at least.

Stoo: With all the sudden death for walking up a staircase the wrong way.

Rik: Yes, walking around your car, before getting in. I find myself doing that sometimes in real life, and I always think of the first PQ game.

Stoo: Sonny Bonds is our top gaming cop!



Rik: I think I’m unlikely to do any more strategy games. Every time I try, it goes wrong very early.

Stoo: I will never be as good at them as I wish I was.

Rik: And I probably should have got further in the ones I have covered.

Stoo: I keep meaning to review an early Civilization game.

Rik: I tried Alpha Centauri

Stoo: I beat that, once, on easy mode.

Rik: Genuinely, I had no clue. Even booting up Master of Orion 2 to grab some screenshots for a Vault of Regret article, I thought, ‘could I actually…play for a bit?’ But no, I couldn’t.

Stoo: I get the principles of these games but lack the patience to really formulate winning strategies.

Rik: I think you’re one – at least – ahead of me.

Stoo: Heh, it’s ok, I suck at everything that involves driving.

Rik: I guess I’d be ok if there was a strategy equivalent of Championship Manager. Like, you don’t have to win, you can just stay in mid-table. But that’s not really consistent with a setup based around taking over the galaxy.

Stoo: I would like to review Shogun: Total War, or maybe Medieval: Total War, those were pretty important.

Rik: I think in the old days I would buy Shogun, just because it got good reviews, and they would say ‘a must, regardless of your interest in the genre!’ But that’s not true. Did you ever play Total War, at the time?

Strategy games: Stoo can play them, Rik can’t.

Stoo: I wanted to, they are totally my kind of thing – [Ridley Scott films] Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven in game form – but I somehow never got anywhere. I tried Shogun, Medieval, Rome, they all fizzled out.

Rik: These days, I make the mistake of putting failure down to youthful impatience, when it’s actually something more fundamental. Like, I genuinely am bad at Command and Conquer, even when I’m trying really hard.

Stoo: Those RTS games can involve spinning a lot of plates: rapid actions and decision making. I enjoy them but later missions can be rough, and god knows i’d get crucified at multiplayer.

Rik: Would Homeworld count, as that kind of experience?

Stoo: Homeworld dials back the base building stuff to focus on the actual battles. There’s not so much fussing over whether to build a helicopter factory or another storage shed. Also it’s so masterfully done, I was motivated to try harder. Also, I massively abused the ship-stealing mechanics, haha!

Rik: Heh!

Stoo: Are you interested in reviewing the Red Alert sequels? Since you did the original?

Rik: Well I tried Red Alert 2. And got stuck pathetically early. It made me wonder how far through Tiberian Sun I got. Further than Red Alert 2 probably, but maybe not far enough. I think maybe Command and Conquer isn’t for me.


Summing up, and wildly unlikely future plans

Rik: Ok I’m aware it’s getting fairly late. I think we covered most of what I had notes on – anything you want to add or talk about?

Stoo: I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. But, with all this in mind, any particular plans for future coverage?

Rik: I have some ideas. Maybe the Quarantine sequel, maybe one of the Terminator FPS games from Bethesda. I’ve also been playing Jazz Jackrabbit a bit recently, on the older end. At the more recent end, I did intend to do Vice City this year, after GTA III, so I might go back to that. And possibly Alpha Protocol? We’d also talked about a Monkey Island discussion, too. But I guess with all of this, we’ll see how it goes, bearing in mind what we’ve already said about plans going awry.

Stoo: I am hoping my new Surface will make it easier to game in front of the TV. Time is now limited, of course, and I can’t hide away on my desktop for hours any more. But I will definitely aim to cover some more Sierra games.

Rik: Cool. Well, I think it’s good we’re still going with some evident enthusiasm, within what’s possible for us both.

Stoo: Yep. We’ve never been the most prolific site, but we endure somehow. So we could easily still be here in another 10 years. And I still won’t have finished Might and Magic 6.