Alan Hewston's "Many Faces of . . ." Articles - Inside Information & Background

This is where I've told you in the Retrogaming Times some of my thinking, planing, and research that has gone in to this project.
This is work in progress - not yet updated as of 10/20/03.

Go to the Main Many Faces of Database of all the Many Faces of Scores, and plans for what is to come.
To see some History from the Retrogaming Times, about what has been done before.
The Initial background, on my efforts to bring this all together. Still work in progress.

"Inside the Many Faces of . . . "
Alan Hewston

Is it soup yet?
For about 6 months now I've been telling myself and a fellow VG collector at work, Tim Roach, that I’ll post my Many Faces of data (spreadsheet) online. The contains the scores and other data and from all of my articles & research for the games on the following systems: Apple II, Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, 8 bit computers (XEGS), CoCo, Colecovision, Commodore 64, Intellivison, Odyssey 2, Sinclair Spectrum, TI-99, Vic 20 & Vectrex. I kept tweaking it to make it better, and adding more data and realized that it is good enough for now. I also had to set up the html files for posting it online etc. OK, you want to see it already . . . right? So click on the link below and then come back and finish reading this article later.

Years of Research
People have asked me why I’ve done so much work and also what do I use to base my scores on. Let me start with the research. I've been working on the Many Faces of project for over 4 years now. My work began well before you read my first review, the Many Faces of Q*bert in Retrogaming Times (RT) issue #33. There was a lot of research that I felt was necessary I were to do a proper job filling the hole left when Doug Saxon gave up the reigns. I could have jumped in right away, but I’m sure now that I would have made far too many mistakes and am glad that I took my time getting prepared for the task. I knew that I could make the reviews more complete and appeal to a larger audience if I expanded to include all classic 8 bit systems of the day (at least, those in the US). I wanted to become more intimate with the libraries of all the 8 bit systems, and since I did not begin retro-collecting until 1995 or 96, I had a lot of catching up to do. At that time, I was also helping Tom Zjaba with his Arcade Conversions list (see below) and if nothing else, my findings would be used for more than one cause. I didn’t realize how much work would be involved but it was a work of love that grew and grew. I planned to review titles that were both popular, had many faces and I actually had them all, or most of them. Not having all the games I needed made things difficult, but also narrowed the choices of what to review each month. Despite my large and still growing collection, many popular titles were skipped because I was missing 1 version. Initially, I went ahead and reviewed relatively popular titles, as long as I had all of them, without regard for possible the TI-99 and/or Apple II versions. I didn’t think that I’d ever start finding anything, but productivity and edutainment carts for the TI and it was futile to worry about the Apple II unless I received a huge infusion of games, especially since I had none, and no AP2 H/W either. Once I actually acquired those systems & some games, I quickly researched their games and then constrained my monthly choices even further – now I could not exclude these systems either. All versions or nothing. My earliest articles leave much to be desired, and my ignorance was shining brightly with plenty of mistakes then. Fortunately, a few of my mistakes lead to reader feedback and offers of assistance which I gladly took advantage of, ultimately leading to a much better product.

Classic Arcade Conversions
Tom got me started with his terrific Arcade Conversions list at:

I was able to help Tom beef up his list, and ask if it was OK to take his list one step further. This lead to . . .

2000 Video Games
The research was now three-fold. 1) Arcade Conversions for Tom, 2) 2000 VG - all carts and arcade versions on all classic home systems, and 3) The Many Faces of articles. The data was shared by each of the three projects, so this really inspired me to dig in deep. I finally reached over 2000 games and published those results back in late 2000. I have since forgotten the current tally, but you can see the 2000 VG list and more about it at:

This list became a compilation of every game ever made for (mostly US) home systems on cart or as an official re-release of an arcade game. Tom warned me, or wished me luck in not getting divorced in the process of tabulating every cart out there. Fortunately, I had a very understanding wife. While I've not maintained this list much recently, it still may be the only one like it out there – of course, besides Tom’s Arcade Conversions list, which started it all.

In Search of the Many Faces
Besides learning which officially released versions existed, I had to make some reasonable plan for how to acquire more games. I only needed to have them on my machine to play, such as on a multi-cart, a Cuttle cart, or via floppy disk etc. I decided early on that I did not want to use emulation for my reviews, rather, only the real McCoy in the actual controls or keyboard. This lead to even more games being skipped over, but there were still plenty of faces out there. I am glad that I passed on emulators, as it makes me feel better about the quality of my reviews.

Repeat Faces
After several requests, I went back to revisit several titles that Tom Zjaba or Doug Saxon had done earlier. By including all home versions I made several readers much happier about this project. Yes, I still owe those TI-99 fans a review at the now silver medal winning Q*bert. I did not have the game back then, but I do now and its scores merit it a Silver Medal. There are still about 7 such AP2 ports, and a couple C64 games that I now have and hope to review some day. These versions show up as holes in my data collected – and this encourages me to fill them in.

20th Anniversaries
Too bad I didn’t think of this sooner. By focusing on titles that were 20 years old (from their initial release), it made it easier to select my monthly reviews & limit my searches on ebay as well :-) This process quickly got enhanced by adding reader feedback. RT and RGVC readers were more than happy to pick their favorite games by year and knew that their vote counted for something as well. This change did push back many big name / popular titles on my planning list, but not too far. 2004, (20th anniv of 1984) will be the final year, as most 1985 titles escape the bounds of the joystick era (Fred Wagaman term). In 2004 & 2005, there’ll be a few 25th anniversary reviews (1980 titles) plus the remaining big named titles until we reach issue #100. Some will be incomplete, but that is OK. If you look at my spreadsheet you can see my complete (but never final) plan. I plan to review 12+ of the many, 15 versions of "Frogger" for the Retrogaming Times milestone 100th issue.

Statistics & Scores
With so many scores, now 40+ titles & 240 versions, the data is very meaningful and carries some momentum. Past data is used to keep the scores of my current reviews in line. I compare the scores by system, game and category to make sure that the results are more consistent. Should I score that as a 6, 7 or an 8? If over time I’m off by 1 point, its close enough, but 2 points would be bad. So, I look at the data and decide if the current scores are too high/low or the older scores are too high/low and make a change. I also only want the very best to earn a 10. Controls scores are a little different. We expect, and know that the programmers try to perfect their code to maximize the control, but the same cannot be said about graphics and sound. They have to meet a deadline and the game must be playable (controllable). Make sure to look at the composite scores of each game (as a set of all versions) and all games for a given system. At a glance you can tell how good the various systems perform when compared to each other. Actually, what we see is limited by how much programming effort or skill went into the game’s code, the play testing, and improvements. Some games were not finished/released or were rushed to meet a deadline, and thus are a shadow of what they could have been.

Commercial Interruption
We interrupt this long article to thank one of our sponsors, the Classic VG Commercials in the Retrogaming Times by Adam King. Adam and I have been able to make a few issues work together with our review of the same titles. Many games have come and gone and we've missed our chance to combine efforts, but there are still a few more that we'll try to simulcast - so stay tuned.

I am partial to playing the systems that I grew up with, namely the 2600 & C64. But I think that I’ve done a decent job of keeping my scores unbiased. I’ve challenged my own scores and sometimes it may be possible that I’ve been too hard on the Commodore 64. I’ve received the most reader feedback on the Intellivision. Most agreeing those Controls scores should be poor, but others hoping that I’d given the INTY better scores. I probably score the Intellivision controls a little higher than I would personally score them. I figure that if I really, really used them more I’d be upping those scores anyhow. As mentioned above, I have gone back and changed some scores. Over time, I’ve found inconsistencies, and after the review, went back and changed about 80 scores. Most have been changed for all versions of a specific title – all scores were +! Or -1 for the Addictiveness, Sound or Gameplay. Others were specific to one system, such as the Inty Controls where I may have been too critical at the time of the review. There’s also the Inty pause feature (my ignorance) that I had to go back and add 1 point several places. Overall, more scores went up, but they should all be pretty consistent. Feel free to specifically ask or challenge me, why did game X on system Y score a 6, but another game on another system scored a 7. I may very well go back and change it. Also note that the medal count is based upon the revised scores.

How Many, "Faces" are there?
Unfortunately, we know that all good things must end, and at some point the Retrogaming Times will be no more. There are still plenty of games out there, possibly as many as 150 more with 3 or more official versions. At my present pace, we will get at most 35 more in by RT issue #100, at which point I am likely to be burned out and only do then when I can. Regardless of how things go, I plan to keep reviewing these and saving the results online. Until there are no more faces remaining, I hope to keep this project active. On my spreadsheet there is also a column that says how many titles are left for that system – I think I calculated this based upon RT issue #100. This is a rough count, but gives us an idea of how evenly the games are getting selected. The 7800 has done really well, but is also a system that may have best been placed in the next era of game (ie NES and the joypad era). The CV scores pretty well with a large number of versions, and also fewer duds than the C64 and Atari. The C64 and Atari 8 bit have the largest libraries, and among the best scores. That should be a good clue to tell you what systems are best to play games on. They are both plentiful and score well most of the time. This is also a good indicator that I made the right decision to include the home computer systems in the Many Faces of project. Hopefully the larger number of faces and systems has brought in more readers and critics alike. Those who only like the platforms or cart versions can still use my sheet and pull off data to compare just those head to head as well.

Bit Age Faces
Yes, at some point, I eagerly began researching for the next era of games, the bit age. Trying to get them into my collection, and hoping to do similar reviews in Tomorrow's Heroes Bit Age Times newsletter. But I never had enough time to get very far, nor did I have the experience playing these games as much. The data was a little harder to acquire online, at least at the time, and so maybe in 20 years, or after I exhaust the Many Faces of the joystick era, I will begin this task. Better to do one job well, than two jobs poorly.

Many Thanks
There are many players & collectors and/or their sites that I owe credit for my research and help in making this a great project to be leading. I’ll not try to list them all, but hope that you’ll understand that I may have forgotten you, but yours efforts have been appreciated. First of all, I need to thank my very understanding wife, Kathy, who was, is, and ever shall be upset with me for all that I now have collected, and reminds me over and over that we should move into a bigger home to showcase my collection. I don't know if she will ever forgive me, or Tom for helping me to get going on my collecting sprees. I’m sure that I would have ended up a big time collector anyhow, but Tom deserves credit for assisting me, but also warning me not to get burned out either. Of course were it not for Tom’s site and his Retrogaming Times then none of this would have been possible. Thanks again for Doug Saxon allowing me to take over the reigns, and for trading to me the Odyssey 2 version of Q*bert which launched my era in taking the lead in this project. Many thanks to Twin Galaxies referees Robert Mruczek, Ron Corcoran, and most of all Stepen Knox who have helped significantly in my reviews when I was in a bind. A huge asset has been Matt Allen who knows the C64 games better than almost anyone. Special thanks to Jim Krych and the Greater Cleveland area TI Chips club for helping me to learn about the TI-99 so quickly. Likewise another local guy, Tom McLaren who assisted me with his favorite classic system, the Apple II. Without his efforts in hardware, and software, there would be no reviews on this great classic system. There are several online sources that have helped, but no one resource has helped me more than Digital Press Guide and their gang of experts. Joe Santulli has also helped me directly. Without their collector’s guide, I may never have gone down this path at all. Some of the best locations are Gamebase64, Blue Sky Rangers, planetsinclair and the Giant list of Classic list of Programmers.

James Hague maintains this Giant list and while I check it almost every month, I’ve thanked him and have hopefully since repaid my debt by contributing to that list as well. I’ve shared my research into specific systems, then compile it for him to add to his list

Many Faces Site Upgrades
As I’ve mentioned before, I plan to keep working this project and revising things online. But I’m not much of a web editor, so nothing will look nice, nor will things be revised too often. I feel a certain obligation that if I stop writing these reviews for the RT, then it will be my fault if the magazine ceases to continue. I also feel that it is a great way to provide something back to the VG community, possibly a historical archive – in some respects. Per the request of several readers, I’ll try to compile unique screen shots of each version as well as my photo collages and post these online. This will take some time but I should at least be able to post the ones that I still have stored electronically. I can only put a few pictures in each issue of the RT, but can put lots more on my own web site. Thanks again for your interest and support.

Alan Hewston can be reached at hewston95<NOSPAM>