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High Score!

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The thrill of getting a high score is unmatched.  Whether it is besting your friend in a dorm room showdown or being the best in the world, well all like to gain the title champion.  But does adding scores to games actually make them more fun?

Like with every design decision, I think there are pros and cons to adding a scoring system to a game based on how it is implemented.  So I wanted to dive in and see where games do fantastic with scoring and some where they fall a little short.  All of the things I discuss may or may not have been in games you have played and these are just my thoughts on how I think they should be implemented.  I am going to start with some observations I have had with a scores.

The Observations

I was in a game design class in high school, and while it wasn’t terribly technical or challenging we would have competitions to make the best game.  Sometimes we would have to work by ourselves or with a small group (no more than 3 people).  We would build our game, present it, and have a day of play testing everyone’s game before we would vote.  Now why am I telling you this?  Well for two reasons.  The first is that this particular group of classmates was brutal and would try and tear your game apart in anyway they could.  The second is that I somehow managed to make it in the top 3 every time.

One thing that I would always get positive comments on was how I did my scoring system within the game.  I would also observe my classmates playing my game, and they were all trying to beat each other for the high score.  As I was playing through the others games I started to take note of how they did their scoring and how it was tied into the game.  As expected almost everyone used the scoring just as a means to have a leader board and a mark to beat against your friends.  Okay, well there was no difference between how they did it and how I did it.  As I kept playing look for why, I felt really stupid when I noticed one trend of mine that was completely different than anyone else.  I think I didn’t notice it immediately because all the other games were doing the same thing.  They all had low point values.

So what?  Its all relative to the game right?  That is what I thought too, but I think the fact that the numbers you got in my game were staggering compared to others helped push me over the edge in the “fun factor”.  To give an example of the difference in scores the other students high scores would be around 2,000 or so.  Mine would usually end up around 22,000,000.  I don’t know about you, but I am more satisfied with a score of 22,000,000 than 2,000.  But that might just be me.

So what I took from this is if you have a scoring system that helps rank the skill of players against, bigger might just be better.

The Good

I think there are actually many ways games have done good scoring systems.  Like I mentioned before with the bigger might be better, I think this is what Geometry Wars, and especially Geometry Wars 2 did.  They took fun game play and coupled it with extreme scores to keep people coming back to beat their friends.

Another game that comes to mind is Halo 3.  Some people may have never played with the scoring system, and it is for that reason that I think it is good.  It was an optional feature.  Okay, maybe not so optional if you are addicted to getting achievements like I am.  You were able to turn on the meta scoring before a level and rack up points with kills, head shots, vehicle kills and more.  What was really fun was to turn on this feature when you were playing with friends.  Whether it was someone sitting on the couch next to you or a friend over Xbox Live it was fun to see who could get the most points and would result is a lot of kill steals.

This aided in making playing through Halo 3’s campaign multiple times refreshing.  I can usually only play a campaign twice.  Once on normal for the story and once on the hardest mode for the achievement.  I know that I played through Halo 3 at least half a dozen times.  Any game that can use scoring to bring players back to beat their friend or to keep the game play fresh will have a successful title (assuming it is playable in other aspects.  I don’t mean you can make Scoretron 2000 and have a hit.)

The Bad

In modern games we want players to keep wanting to come back for more and to appeal to as many play styles as possible.  Therefore we don’t want to make a game painfully difficult to complete for everyone.  I have seen or heard of others trying to tie the score to game progression.  In other words, if a user did not get to a certain score in the level, they would have to replay that level until they can obtain the minimum score.  That sounds brutal and would turn most gamers I know away from the game with no intention of returning.  Luckily this doesn’t happen to often, but it is a recipe for disaster if you ask me.

Another aspect of scoring that is bad is noticeable if you log into any Call of Duty and check the online leader boards.  Of course I am talking about leader board glitches.  This completely ruins any leader board credibility and just looks bad.  I know there is a handful of gamers that strive for that top slot, but when they are beat out by someone who has an hour game time it is sad.  I think that if a game has a leader board the company should be careful to purge it of glitches, or find a way to track different stats.

Conclusion

Of course these are just my experiences and observations.  I would love to hear from others what their experience with scoring systems have been.  Also mention any games you think got it right or were completely off.  I haven’t been able to play a PS3 so I might be missing a gem in there somewhere.  Thanks for reading!