I have a small suggestion regarding contest categories. In specific, aesthetics, but I will touch on the others a tiny bit as well. This post from algae in the KLDC feedback thread, along with a few things some people have been saying to me recently, inspired me to make this thread.
Here's that post in question:
Originally posted by algae5
Unrelated to that, here is my own opinion on these matters, so what follows will be much more subjective and how I feel aesthetics should be evaluated in romhacking for SMW. I feel that it's not exactly right to reward levels that do complete visual overhauls over levels that prefer vanilla aesthetics. With the way that SMWC works and how fantastic of a resource it is, it would take only 10 minutes for me to download some very aesthetically pleasing GFX packs and to completely re-do the visuals of any level. As a result, choosing vanilla aesthetics isn't something bad that should be punished with a lower score- Vanilla foregrounds are the most well-known, and every player should have no trouble discerning the proper hitbox and function of obstacles when encountering vanilla foreground, so I choose to use them in most everything I do (one level in my hack did not use them, and nearly every player complained that they didn't know what certain tiles functioned as). I understand that perhaps if you were to be creating every resource used in your level, like some design contest where beyond the baseROM every resource has to be made, coded, etc. by you, then a complete visual overhaul would be indicative of a significant amount of work and care. The fact that the winner of the contest involved a complete graphics overhaul and a custom port is perhaps related to this as well- looking at the scoring method on the website, that should hold no addition to their score. Obviously there is a good argument for giving more credit to people who worked harder on crafting the aesthetic of their hack, but with the way that resources are shared and used in the romhacking scene, understanding who put the effort in can be a non-trivial matter. By the same token, my level should not receive more points because I coded the custom sprite myself.
Some very nice points were brought up, and it addresses something I've been thinking about recently as well. First, regarding aesthetics:
Here's what I propose:
1. The aesthetic category description be rewritten a tad bit to make sure that there's an emphasis on atmosphere and how well the aesthetics enhance the flavor of the level, rather than "abundance" of graphical changes. I do not believe that abundance alone should be rewarded, whether it's an abundance of aesthetic changes, or an abundance of level design changes. Should we reward a sloppily made level that is 20 screens long with tons of enemies over a well-made simple romp that is 5 screens? Of course not. "Abundance" and "effort" are not the same thing, and this certainly applies to aesthetics as well. Rewarding effort is fine, but slapping a custom graphic bg and fg and a palette on your level does not count as effort. This should be as baseline as adding a custom sprite to your level, and no one would add extra points just because you've added a custom sprite. It is important to make the distinction between abundance and effort in the rubric. Yes, designers should absolutely be rewarded for going above and beyond in their levels, but I don't believe that having a custom bg, fg, or palette counts as going above and beyond. Rather, going above and beyond is about creating an atmosphere that is consistent, cohesive, and enhances the flavor and feel of the level. This is a vague thing, but it's one of those "you know it when you see it" deals.
2. Some judges have also taken to awarding a base 6/10 or 7/10 for pure vanilla, subtracting points for ugly graphics and adding points for extra effort. I think this is a solid idea, but often, the numbers are arbitrary based on who is judging. It would be nice to have some standardization. Second, pure vanilla is an aesthetic choice that can vary wildly. There are some beautiful looking pure vanilla levels where the designer made great use of vanilla bushes, trees, etc, or they have a really good eye for placing ledges and forming ground in a way that looks pleasant. Other pure vanilla levels feature cement block spam, or the ground tiles are lazily made or just giant landmasses with no structural variety. So we can't simply say that all pure vanilla levels look the same and should be treated equal. Thus, I propose that aesthetics would start at a base of 0, where the aesthetics do absolutely nothing for the judge and simply just exist. If a level's aesthetics detract from the feel/flavor of the level, it would receive a -1, -2, or -3, depending on how egregious it is. On the opposite end, a level that has aesthetics that enhance the design/flavor/feeling of the level would receive a +1, +2, or +3. These numbers could be changed of course. Maybe up to -4 and +4? That way, it's less about saying "hey, your level gets a 60% grade from me" and more like "hey, I recognize your level's visuals are just fine, but they didn't enhance anything for me, so I'm leaving it at the base score".
Also, I want to suggest that visuals that actively damage the design of the level should result in a lower design score. For example, map16 tiles with incorrect act-like settings, stuff that obscures vision and makes playing annoying, or absurdly flashy palettes that make it hard to parse things should affect design. Some judges might already do this, not sure lol. Just wanted to mention it.
Anyway, that's everything with aesthetics, but just a small point on design and creativity. This is more of a talking point than a suggestion, but it's something I've been thinking about. It's no secret that creative levels have an advantage in contests. After all, creativity is its own category lol. But I wonder, does that always mean that every level is judged purely based on how good it is? For example, let's say you have an excellent and wonderfully made romp, the design is spectacular but it doesn't try any crazy tricks or use any weird exploits or enemy interactions. Another level tries all these crazy tricks, but the design ultimately flops, and the level is just kinda a mess. Should effort be rewarded as so, and the creative level score better? Or should the well-made romp score better? The rompy level accomplished its goal to greater success, while the creative level failed at its goal. Should the idea that levels "accomplish their goals successfully or unsuccessfully" be considered in the design and creativity categories? I'm not making any suggestions here, just curious what people's thoughts are. I do think that creativity should be rewarded, but I don't think that an incredibly well made romp should be punished either for lacking creativity, as we want to encourage people to make whatever levels they like making in contests.
Anyway that's all I've got. Gee I hope I'm posting this in the right forum