# To score or not to score

How do modern games keep track of progress? I read that numerical scores are old fashioned. But surely the player needs some mechanism to track progress or is the whole idea out of fashion as well?

May I present two sample cases of wip for which I am considering this topic:

Case 1 is a game with a clear predetermined number of objectives, or at least the player can ask the game about their progress: in this case, a list of objectives completed / in progress / not yet started. I feel this is more natural than assigning a certain number of points to each objective and tallying it as a single number. It also allows for additional (bonus / secret) objectives which may only be listed if encountered.

Case 2 is a game where the player has to collect a number of valuables, the number of which is unknown to the player (say, a tax collector sent to collect as much due tax as they can by finding valuable items in the home of a tax evader.) Now I could just track a list of items found, or possibly some âsell valueâ which is like a numerical score. Then the question may be: Do we want the player to know the limit they can reach, I.e. the maximum score? I can imagine if someone collects \$9999 out of \$10000 (say), they might reason ok enough of thisâŚ or try to find the item representing that âlast lousy dollarâ.

Feedback is very much appreciated!

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Well, i add score because it helps people to judge how theyâre doing and how far through the game they are. Also people like it.

Regarding a fixed number of objectives. I had this, and wound up with a grand total score of 7. This isnât very satisfying, so i went round adding a point every time the player achieved something. The result was a lot better.

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This is the case for my current game.

Iâm wondering if itâs worth tracking player progress numerically, but not calling it âscoreâ or âpointsâ, and just say something like âyou have collected 5 of the 10 componentsâ.

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Trouble in Sector 471 just has a count of required and optional objectives. I thought that worked well.

``````Cycles elapsed: 171
Bugs remaining: 11

You have obtained general sector access and a grabber upgrade.

Available bot functions: COM, ZAP, ROX, and PIK.
``````

For Case 2, I think Iâd like to be told what the limit is after I finish the game? For complex optimization games like Sugarlawn and maybe Captain Verdeterreâs Plunder, even the author doesnât know what the possible limit is. But those seem like a special case.

And maybe some people wouldnât want to know. What about an in-game hint or after-the-game-ends command like AMUSING so people could decide if they wanted to see it or not?

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I was thinking of making a Magnus Chase inspired game (soâŚ for those who donât know, based on a book series) where you get hidden points for doing actions as depicted in the books. Basically, it goes by the following:
If you do all the stuff: 200
If you do all the extra stuff but donât capture Loki: 175
If you donât do the extra stuff but capture Loki: 185
If you donât do the extra stuff and donât stop Loki: 150

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Feedback: I like score. Some games may have tone reasons for eschewing it, but I donât see any reason why it should be generally deprecated. Iâve tested several games in the last two months and I miss it when I get no score blurb for solving the next stepâŚ

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Score is useful to clue the player in that a specific action was meaningful. If you pick up the coconut husk and your score goes up 1, itâs a fair guess it isnât a red herring.

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A score is a scalar value. A scalar value can represent progress in one dimension, but only progress in one direction. That is, it works if your game is, more or less, the process of getting from point A to point B: telling the player they have x of y points is just telling them that theyâve finished about ((x/y) * 100) percent of the game. With some handwave-y stuff here because scoring isnât perfectly homogenous through the entire game.

If your game isnât structurally a line, then a (single) score probably doesnât make sense. If instead of going from point A to point B, the player could go from point A to any of points B through G, then either each of the possible paths has to be an isomorphism of the others (each path is âworthâ the same number of âpointsâ) or the system lacks sufficient expressiveness.

You can generally fudge this so it kinda works out. Like in games with a âgoodâ path and an âevilâ path the player might always encounter a little old lady trying to cross the street, and you get âgoodâ points for helping her cross the road and âevilâ points for kicking mud in her face but still get the same number of âcompletionâ points in either case. This frequently feels unsatisfying because different responses to the same situation donât always feel morally equipollentâthat is, the âgoodâ and âbadâ options donât necessarily feel like they sum up to zero because the options feel opposite but not equal (doing the bad thing feels more âevilâ than the nice thing feels âgoodâ, or vice versa). And it doesnât work out if the game actually branches instead of relying on âpseudo-choicesâ like this example.

You can also track scores and score-like things without an explicit upper/lower bound. In a lot of RPGs, for example, you tend to have a lot of instrumentation around levelling and so progress is very richly parameterizedâŚbut you might not have an upper bound on the level or your stats (or have an upper bound thatâs so high that the majority of players will never interact with it). That kind of thing can be useful if you want to do the Skinner Box thing and keep pinging the player with feedback/rewards to encourage them to keep doing/not doing something.

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If the game has a single, clearly-defined objective (escape from prison, rescue the princess, steal the painting, assasinate the evil tyrant), then no scoring is necessary.

If the game has a clearly-defined number of tasks (essentially sub-goals), then scoring is beneficial as an indication of progress. This is your âcase 1â.

If the game is a treasure hunt with a clearly-defined number of treasures, then scoring is once again beneficial as an indication of progress.

If the game is a treasure hunt with an unknown number of treasures, then scoring is beneficial but awkward. How do you indicate progress without revealing the goal or maximum score? This is your âcase 2â.

In all cases, scoring can be implemented in a variety of ways, but thatâs not the original question. Ultimately, I think itâs up to the author. Do what you feel is best for the game.

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I know âit dependsâ or âitâs situationalâ isnât a satisfying answer, but thatâs how I view things.

When I started According to Cain, I thought about making it like Case 2 as a way for the player to have a feeling for their progress. As I developed the game, I slowly shifted to something like Case 1, where the player has a `MEMORIES` command which tells them everything theyâve learned so far (and offers clues about their total progress).

Iâd say Case 2 is better for games focused on collecting stuff, achieving goals, or making progress through a series of gated locations to a final winning place. Case 1 is better for story-like games where learning information and gathering details is the objective.

I donât know that they do. Some games are simply meant to be played from beginning to one or more endings, with no metric in-between to gauge progress. That could be a Case 3.

I wouldnât say that, but I do think modern players are flexible about scoring. (Maybe Iâm wrong? Some of the other replies would seem to indicate otherwise.)

Iâll say this: How and if your game tracks the score is a statement about what you think the gameâs âabout.â Thatâs why I think itâs worthwhile for any author to seriously consider how their game keeps and presents a score.

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I was of course an early proponent of turning scoring off entirely, with the line âThatâs not how life works.â If your goal is to immerse the player in a naturalistic situation, then it breaks character to say what actions have advanced the story. The protagonist wouldnât know that until they see the consequences! And maybe not then!

But different stories work differently, of course.

Iâd say that giving score information in an out-of-character way (something the protagonist would have no way to know) is out of fashion, and has been since the 90s.

Now, on the other side, itâs pretty common to give the player a rough idea of how much of the story theyâve played. This can be as simple as saying âYour goal is to find the Twenty Treasures of Zork.â Or recall Jigsaw, where the player quickly discovers that theyâre filling in a jigsaw puzzle with 16 spaces. Or if the game map is a well-delimited space, the player will have a notion how many corners are still unexplored.

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You may want to consider achievements or listing endings, if that kind of thing is applicable to your game. Achievements or named/enumerated endings let players track what they got but also tease the remaining content, and are a pretty common pattern nowadays.

If you feel like youâd want somebody to experience the story first, you might consider having a immersion-breaking numerical score but only presenting it at the end of the game.

As everybody else said, though, it really depends on the what youâre going for! Without further details itâs hard to tell.

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Please donât do this. I can think of only three examples of this just off hand and theyâre all games by @dee_cooke. (Sorry, Dee.)

In all three games, there is no indication that the game includes scoring, no SCORE command, no score in the status bar and no indication that you have scored (or lost) points when the score changes during the game. The only way that you know there is any scoring at all is when the game ends and youâre given a score. Youâre then left wondering why you didnât get a full score and how the hell the score was allocated. As I write solutions for CASA, Iâve been left tearing my hair out trying to work out the logic (if any) behind the scoring. I have only been able to work it out by talking directly with the author. That should never be necessary.

Deeâs scoring has a tendency to allocate points for doing some of the most obscure things you can think of and also for deducting points. Itâs a bit like multiple 'last lousy pointâs and being punished for trying things that didnât work. This is counter to the principle that you should only earn points for things that lead to the ultimate solution.

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I had a habit in older unfinished projects of rewarding the player exclusively for finding secrets. I think I see why this might have completely thrown off a lot of players, had I finished those projects, lol.

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Right. Score as a number that vaguely tells you how much youâve done and what more you can accomplish is motivating. It doesnât just have to be a number though. It can be achievements or journal entries that narrate whatâs going on based on set variables. It can be character stats.

It really does motivate some players to know the story is acknowledging the specific things they are deciding, or just creating a happy bell sound when they stuff another treasure in the closet.

This worked well in RSPM - at the game over screen, I had several ending sections that just listed letters: ABCDEF but they only lit up and told you what the ending was if you got it, basically to show there were other outcomes. The screen also noted the âbestâ ending would simultaneously be accomplishing C-D-E all together.

Authors can put score and story status on a page or in a menu the player doesnât even have to look at if they donât want to. I usually prefer stumbling through a narrative instinctually as a story, but then at some point I am like "Okay, show me what my health is, and am I even influencing this NPC positively by sharing all my pretzels with them or what?

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The reward is inherent in the action of goodness. Pretzel-sharing should make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, regardless of the NPCs allergies or choking hazards.

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Yeah, but I want to know if the game is acknowledging warm and fuzzy by me doing it, or should I save all my pretzels as projectiles for when the geese attack.

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In the visual novel space, common ways of doing scoring in the modern era (for those novels where scoring makes sense - many donât show progress and rely on length statements/time estimates in their promotional materials) include:

1. Percentages. Quite easy to convert from points if doing so by meaningful action. The more common way is to do it based on the amount of game seen (which simply means itâs a % of screens or scenes), but both are acceptable and âmeaningful actionâ is the most sensible of percentage-based approaches for an objective-based game. This is good in situations where experiencing as much of the game as possible/exploring different ways of doing things is the most important thing to the author, or where the game is strictly linear. Occasionally this percentage can be broken up into âchaptersâ (i.e. âyou have read 57% of this chapterâ), if something plot-relevant or a big setpiece puzzle provides a convenient break in proceedings.

2. Routes completed, generally [number done]/[total possible]. This can be converted to âobjectivesâ or âendingsâ without risking confusion (e.g. âYou have completed 5/28 objectivesâ). May also be separated into âcompulsoryâ and âoptionalâ, or âgood endingsâ, âneutral endingsâ and âbad endingsâ, depending on exact details of the game design. Achievements are in this category, especially if paired to systems like Steam or GOG.com (which generally require enumerating how many exist, even if what they are is often hidden until achieved).

3. Less common than the other two, but I think more appropriate for your Case 2: a set of performance tiers. This is usually visible on demand for at least part of the game nowadays, not just at checkpoints. Unless youâre deliberately trying to evoke retro feelings, avoid letter-based grades for those tiers, but instead use descriptors specific to your gameâs protagonist (say, job titles ranging from âApprenticeâ and âGoferâ to âRenowned Collectorâ and âChief Revenue Gathererâ) for each category. You might even have a separate title of âMost Diligent Earnerâ or âMoney Hooverâ for that last lousy dollar, depending on how you feel about completionist approaches in the context of your game. It is good to make the last several intended tiers obviously positive accomplishments, so that a non-completionist can also feel satisfied with their game. You can, of course, assign these titles to ranges of valuable count or resale value, as you choose.

4. Even less common and perhaps less applicable: modular endings. Different short segments of ending can be mixed-and-matched according to particular event flags. You may not have to reveal the number of possible ending segments, though some authors do, in which case you have an alternate scoring system. Itâs particularly helpful if you want several different definitions of success in a game. Iâm hoping to do this with Budacanta but have not yet worked out the specifics (including whether Iâm going to use the scoring element of modular endings). Note that all the ones Iâve seen that do this have the modular ending âscoreâ visible on demand, and all have a representation of each ending already achieved alongside that âscoreâ.

A few visual novels also have âcorrect choice indicatorsâ for areas where thereâs really only one correct answer, that can combine with a score to help keep players on track. This is a new take on the old idea of the âdingâ of finally figuring out that rock-hard adventure puzzle.

Definitely adapt what you are doing to the game, unless you are deliberately going for a retro feel (in which case the more traditional the expression of score, the better).

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[Digs through his overflowing bin of stalled WIPs, unfinished drafts, and various other ill-conceived odds and ends, the whole mess actively spilling over onto the floor, before he resurfaces in triumph, ratty scrawl-covered paper plate in hand.]

I had a gimmicky notion regarding the score counter awhile back that I was unsure how best to implement, so it languished with its brethren in my chest of half-baked notions. Score counting simply doesnât come up often, so nowâs probably the best time to share it. I share in the hopes that it might be of value to @Lancelot or another reader, or it at least inspires tangential thinking.

Notion; 50% Baked:

Anyway, the basic game follows a typical fetch-quest/puzzler. To aid you, thereâs an in-game enchanted score counter given to you by the wizened mage entrusting you with this quest. It keeps pace with the score in the status-line of the game. You can ask a line of questions about the score-counter, like what is it tracking, how does it know, etc, but answers boil down to âitâs powerful magicâ and âdonât mess with it, boy.â The counter is a small brass contraption that fits comfortably in your hand. A small glass window reveals a rolling dial currently set to 0. Every time the player does something score worthy, the character hears a faint click emanate from their pocket. If examined, the score counter will have advanced.

You can finish the game normally at this point, but the endings are a mixed bag at best. There are some happenings early in the game that initially appear unrelated and un-important that set off a chain of events that cause some unfortunate calamity that can only be partially remediated once itâs in full swing. However, if the player decides to replay or undo their game to try to take preemptive actions to avoid this fate, the protagonist/parser will refuse because the action is patently silly and they donât know what a returning player would.

Partway through the game the protagonist takes a tumble, and the glass plate of the score counter cracks but seems otherwise fine. This is a hint to smash open the glass of the score counter. There are other hints sprinkled in the game as well. As said before, the player can ignore these hints and finish the game with a suboptimal ending. Alternatively, if the player smashes the glass, they can reach in and manually roll the dial forward and backward, much like manual odometers on older automobiles. If they do this, the protagonist is instantly transported to various progression points in the story, with their location and inventory, as well as the overall world-state and NPC-memory adjusted to match. The in-game protagonist experiences this as an instant teleportation, but retains their memories the same way the real-world player does. This is similar to the actual player character being aware of traveling through save states.

This now allows the player to advance back earlier in the story and to try to take action to avoid the calamity. The difference being that this time the protagonist/parser obliges, because they too remember why this seemingly unimportant detail has so much impact. Once this action is taken, the score-counter crumbles into a pile of cogs, gears, springs, and brass fittings, and the score counter in the out-of-game status line changes to ??/??.

I hadnât developed the idea from this point, but I liked the idea of an adventure character gaining some self-awareness and breaking out of their traditionally limited POV.

Like I said, hope that idea helps someone creatively.

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I really like the way Dee Cooke has implemented the idea of an achievement system in some of their adventures. It worked as a great way of highlighting that there are different outcomes, different solutions, and hidden secrets. Very useful if you want to encourage players to replay the game.

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