To score, or not to score?

As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m drifting back into interactive fiction after a hiatus of roughly 15 years.

So I’m wondering if there’s a general 21st century consensus on scoring now. I’ve searched the forum for “score” and “scoring,” and what little I turned up seems to indicate that saying, “Your score has just gone up X points” can sometimes jar the reader out of the narrative flow. However, I think we need to clue the player in somehow that she’s on the right track.

Other people have weighed in saying that as a player they’re not really concerned about having the number of turns or “Moves” displayed on the status line, especially since timed puzzles fell out of favor years ago.

And just from an aesthetic standpoint, I’ve preferred the “Trinity”-style centered status line for years, which only displays the location, forgoing both “Score” and “Moves.” I think the way around not having the score on the status line would be to implement a “SCORE” command at the prompt.

I’m also leaning toward implementing a task list for some of my games, perhaps with an indication of the percentage of tasks the player has completed, which at least gives her an idea of how much she’s accomplished toward the game’s final goals.

So as far as everybody else is concerned, is it just a matter of figuring out which method of player feedback seems to fit best with a given game? Please share your thoughts here.

Thanks and cheers,

I like having a Score in the Status Bar for most games (as with anything else, the needs of the game determine what’s best for the game). It acts as a nice sort of progress thingy. But in terms of actually feeling that I’m progressing, I get that from Seeing Stuff Happened, Stuff I Just Caused, because Yay Stuff.

Dunno about any consensus. I’m sure there is one.

From what I’ve seen, most modern games don’t tend to keep score: scoring is fine but now the consensus seems to be that there has to be a reason to include scoring, rather than taking it as default.

I find nothing particularly jarring about having a score in games that are more consciously gamist, (rather than games that are foremost stories). Players are very good at separating game elements from story elements, and this holds for all kinds of games: no one imagines Sonic is conscious of his score as he fights against Dr Robotnik’s machinations.

I agree with you here. Because when Stuff Doesn’t Happen, (chuckling) well, Boo, because No Stuff. :wink: :smiley:

That confirms my suspicions that scoring was unnecessary in some cases, because the player can see that Something Is Obviously Happening. :smiley:


I agree with Joey and Ghalev here – most games today don’t have a score and don’t need one, because you can usually tell that Stuff Has Happened. (Though Laroquod argues that score is useful in telling you How Much Stuff Is Left To Happen, by comparing it to the max score – this doesn’t always work that way in practice though, if there are optional points and/or the last thing you need to do scores several points at once.)

If you do want a SCORE command at the prompt, you don’t need to implement it yourself in Inform 7; there’s one built in.


(chuckling) That comment would tempt me to implement the Very Last Thing to increase the score by 300 points out of 400 possible points, after doling it out by 10s and 20s. :astonished: :wink: :smiley:

I just checked, and yes, there it is. IIRC, that wasn’t the case with Inform 6, about 10 years ago. :wink:

Pretty much, yeah.

A pretty common train of thought seems to be that more conspicuously game-like elements are more likely to be OK in games with content that’s light-hearted, wacky, game-like or conspicuously non-serious. On the other hand, if you’re making a game with more sombre tone and content, and you throw in things like a score (or achievements, or an AMUSING command at the end, or whatever), that can be a little jarring. If you put points in something realistic, they’re likely to look snarky or satirical: the points in Jim Munroe’s Punk Points are a sort of joke on the adolescent question ‘how will I know when I’m authentic, not just a faker noob?’ Similarly, if you’re writing a heart-breaking memoir about your last days with your dying mother, points are going to look totally out of place. (Not to say it’s impossible to make a game like that but… you should probably have some important Cool Idea about what the points are there to accomplish.)

The presence of a visible score makes signals to the player: ‘this is the kind of game that you will be playing with the goal of getting a good high score, and you should be focusing on stuff that raises your score’. They tend to make the player expect something with more challenging puzzles: there’s not much satisfaction in earning points unless they’re awarded for doing stuff with a certain degree of challenge. With more challenging puzzles, they’ll expect a slower narrative pace.

There are lots of sensible uses for scores, but for my money that’s the big one to keep in mind.

I’ve played games that did that (though I can’t remember which). Works best if the game has already been pretty jokey about its points.

A much firmer modern principle is that dicking the player around purely for the author’s amusement, while awfully tempting, is Not Cool. (If you’re pulling a meta-game joke, make damn sure you’re laughing with the player, not at them.)

Good point. (Actually I was thinking in terms of just a one-off for that particular player.)

That reminds me of what Jim Aikin (?) said about authors who insist on playing the “I’m smarter than you are game” with players (e.g., guess the verb, do random arbitrary action to solve the puzzle), and his response was pretty much identical to yours: “Not Cool.”

My early stuff that I’m porting to Inform 7 was pretty jokey (embarrassingly so 15 years later). OTOH, the piece I started from scratch in late October is still entertaining but has a much more down-to-earth tone, and the idea of scoring for that one seems much more arbitrary. (And out of place.)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


I think you hit it spot on when you wrote that a score counter serves as a way to “clue the player in somehow that she’s on the right track.” If you feel the game you’re writing needs, or at least could benefit from, such a mechanism, by all means include a score. If it doesn’t need it, don’t.

Of course, there are also games that include a score counter for other valid reasons, such as to parody and/or pay homage to classic IF conventions (e.g. Mentula Macanus) or because the score actually serves an in-game function (e.g. Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom, although that really fits both reasons). Or, you know, simply to keep track of the player’s progress, even if the direction of the progress is clear (e.g. Six).

Poking around the forum, I found that discussion on this thread:

But I still agree with our conclusions above. :wink: :smiley:

What about the “badge” type of achievements that are so popular these days - like on stackexchange sites, for example - is anybody using those in IF?

It would be interesting if people start to “gamify” a game…

Edit: I suppose you don’t necessarily understand where this is going. My point was something like this: what if, instead of just a score, there were different achievements you could aspire for, such as

  • Globetrotter: visited every location in the game
  • Academic: read more than 10 notes
  • bloodhound: found all hidden objects

Something like that. If you want to give the player a hint that there are things left to do, maybe this is an option to “12 out of a possible 15 points”.

Andromeda Apocalypse did that. (There are also achievements in Walker and Silhouette, but those are optional things rather than plot points.)

If you want to follow the score-as-completion-meter line of thought, there are really two separate things we’re talking about: ‘how far am I through the story?’ and ‘is there any optional content I haven’t seen?’ If you’re really serious about it, you need to distinguish one from the other, because otherwise the player has no way of telling, on a first playthrough, whether ‘the game is just about to end’ is at 300/500 or 490/500.

Yes. There’s been lots of talk about this. Andromeda Apocalypse has them, for a start. I think, in a normal IF game, they’re not really very different from an AMUSING list, except that you get to see 'em during play (and that ideally they’re persistent across sessions, which I don’t think is possible in a web runner at the moment). They’d work best in something like Kerkerkruip that encourages unusually high levels of replay anyway.

(Unless by ‘badge’ you mean a mechanism for public display, which obviously can’t work unless all IF is hooked up to a spooky centralised panopticon.)

There are, of course, achievements in Kerkerkruip. Some of them are pretty fun and hard to achieve.

One thing I find is that due to the way the score is implemented by default alongside the turn count, it is easy to mistake the turn count for the maximum score. You can then easily end up thinking that the game is being unfair by increasing the “maximum score” every turn.

Maga, Glk data files will work in Quixe :slight_smile:

That is excellent, and I’m very glad to be corrected!

When I was working on A Killer Headache, I felt self-conscious about having a points system at all, and about breaking the fourth wall too much in general. But with hindsight, I think I should have pushed the Meretzky-isms as hard as possible. Progress is just too hard to understand, and this might have actually worked pretty well:

[spoiler]You yank your arm away from the rabid dog, and your hand pops right off as the dog chomps down. You fly backwards land on your ass in the dirt.

Your score has just gone up by 10 points.[/spoiler]

Well, you’ve actually just exemplified a great use of score. Jarring by modern sensibilities, yes, but it tells the player inequivocally that they’re on the right track.

As opposed to, say, typing UNDO and finding a way to avoid that happening.

I think something similar happened in “Afflicted”. A certain scene, not unlike the one you just described, which nevertheless made it clear to the player that it was something that we’d have to go through to proceed.

And then again, you could just mess with the player, by taking points FROM them even though it IS a necessary part of the story. That is also done sometimes.