Tips for scoring/RPG games?

Hey all. Perhaps this question would be better under general design, but since I intend to make a scoring game with Inform, I figured that I’d ask here.

I’m hoping to apply a scoring system to a realistic fiction type of game where particular social interactions, choices and incorrect moves can detract from a character’s stats and thus determine whether they achieve their goal (kiss a crush, lol) by the end of the game or not. I played Ramses recently and I was super impressed with how it told a realistic fiction with the constraints on the verbs, and I was wondering how I could make something a little similar but use stats as constraints. Sorta like Depression Quest. Kinda. I’m still in the brainstorming stage for this one.

Anyways, any tips you might have for those building scoring systems and RPG stats for the first time… I’d love to hear them!

For Rite of Passage (written in Twine, but the same principles apply), I used a trio of metrics: confidence, friendliness and gullability, against which I tested and which could be increased through success.
I was, of course, also tracking game state by various other means.
This is not to say that those are the only or even the best traits you can score, but I think that less is more with these kind of stats.

Well, scoring is just a specific type of feedback, right? I always think of it as the game author giving me an out-of-world bit of encouragement. Either letting me know I’m on the right track:-

> take corkscrew
You take the rusty corkscrew.
(Your score has just gone up by one point.)

Now if I reach my inventory limit I’m not going to idly chuck the corkscrew away, for instance. I’m also going to be looking out for ways to use said corkscrew, not only on bottles of wine, but perhaps nudged into thinking again about that old door with a keyhole “almost big enough to stick your finger in.”

Or awarding the point(s) is doing the equivalent of saying “Hey! You got the Crystal Phial intact out of the Hall of Hammers! Have a cigar, buddy!” Meaning I’ve completed that part and should now move on.

The trouble with stats based games is that if the stats are exposed (e.g. in the status line) then, even if there’s no randomization, the instant the player sees them go down it’s read as a penalty; she hits UNDO and tries again. So the player’s actions end up being tramelled down a narrow path.

On the other hand, if the stats are concealed from the player, then he may end up with no idea why the ending plays out the way it does, and consequently not be able to find the other ending(s).

So perhaps you could reveal the score as part of the ending? Something like -

Chris twirls the glass thoughtfully, watching the gin as it swirls against the lip.

“Darling, It’s been fun and all, but I don’t think you’re cut out for a life of crime.”

*** Your offer has been declined. ***

Karma

Told Amy her dress did make her look fat … +5
Rescued the cat from the toolshed … +1
Misled Lady Castlereigh … -2
Didn’t speak to the press … 0
Grassed on Henry … -3
Stole 6 items … +12

Achieving the rank of Amateur.


So the player is not only given the rationale for that particular ending, but has a rough idea of what to try or avoid on a subsequent playthrough. It would mean that you’d really only track the outcome of various scenes rather than fine grained actions like choosing a sharp retort over a diplomatic one, or eating with the wrong fork. But perhaps that would be fairer anyway?

Just my 2c.

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The usual structure with stat-based games is that you get significant choices which are always tradeoffs. You can improve your relationship with character A or character B, but not both. You can raise your wealth at the cost of some social status, or vice versa.

You also need to signal that every choice will lead to some kind of story outcome. It doesn’t work if some choices lead to “Your strength was too low, the dragon killed you.”

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You’ve probably seen these, but Choice of Games has a bunch of good, short design articles on their blog, mostly from 2010-2011. Aimed at their house style, which isn’t your typical RPG but definitely adjacent. I particularly like 7 Rules for Designing Great Stats.

And of course Emily Short talks about this stuff quite a bit, e.g. Set, check, or gate? A problem in personality stats. She also has some good stuff about using variables for the increments (things like small_change, large_change) and the thresholds (extremely_low, low, neutral, high, extremely_high) so you can easily adjust them, but I can’t remember off the top of my head where that is. Carolyn VanEseltine talks about it in conjunction with ChoiceScript’s auto-testing tools, linked from Emily’s post above.

Depending on the length of your game (and perhaps your willingness to engage in a bit of math) you may want to use something other than a simple number to represent your stats. Jon Ingold’s 2015 GDC talk Adventures in Text talks about how, in a long game with simple numeric stats, it may be a lot of work to ensure that you’re giving the player a balanced opportunity to reach both extremes. I suspect this really doesn’t matter, but I’m a math geek so I find it interesting. :wink:

  • Choice of Games often uses “Fairmath”, a 100-point scale which pushes the player toward neutral (50) by weighting those choices more heavily, so you have to really work at it to become extreme.
  • Inkle likes to use double-number stats. So you might have a bumbling/competent stat where one number counts the number of times you were bumbling and the other counts the number of times you were competent, and then the game checks what fraction of the time you were bumbling. This one makes it easier to change at the beginning of the game, and harder to change later on. Also it allows a player to be determinedly neutral.
  • Chris Crawford likes what he calls “bounded numbers”, where you have a single signed number that can get as big as you want, but it is curved down into the range from -1 to 1 for checks. This allows players to have a hardened opinion at either end of the scale, but remaining neutral is always a balancing act.
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