To score or not to score

Fallout 2 keeps an interesting list of player stats that might be fun in an IF, as opposed to a simple score. Things like a list of general reputations you’ve garnered (gravedigger, prizefighter, slaver, etc.), what your reputation is among distinct groups and communities (you’re idolized by the town of Klamath, but you’re despised by the residents of Arroyo), different perks and skills you’ve mastered along the way (demolition expert or pickpocket), and a list of various things you’ve smited on your journey (# of bugs or wolves killed, etc.). The last I could see adopted as more of a tongue-in-cheek rapsheet given the casual kleptomania and B&E common in IF. Having an out-of-game dynamic list of accomplishments and reputations that a player could call up at any point might be fun. At the same time, that’s also quite a bit of tracking, so it’d require some work to pull it off.

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well, it’s an interesting debate.

My contribuition is that, albeit I agree with Zarf, the last 10 or so years of console gaming has teached me the value of acheviements/trophies (a thing, one must agree, anticipated in the unusual, for its time, scoring of Zork III…), so a mean of gratyfing the player is a good idea.

Personally, I have this concept of “knowledge/lore as treasure”, and my main implementation is going well, (Beware: WIP spoilers below…):

// starting the implementation of the gradual discovery of his (now her..) 
// new body, life, status &c.
  wonder = 0  // the increasing wonder at the beginning.
  bodykno = 0 // Body knowledge
  perskno = 0 // personal knowledge of herself (elf mage, lesbian, married)
  alfakno = 0 // the gradual recovery of her reading ability
  audax = 0 // the audacity, a ztat about the PC's willingnes to do,
			   // well, intimate discovery...
  infrakno = nil // infravison knowledge, flag (discovered in kitchen)
  sharpkno = nil // sharp vision knowledge, flag (discovered in balcony)
/* TODO:
 * worldkno, knowledge about the isekai world, far in time and space.
 * lactkno, permanent lactation knowledge, flag (discovered with Azuj..)
 * relkno, relationship knowledge, being married to Azuj & Miyai. 
 * luvkno, love knowledge, being in love with Azuj & Miyai
 * one or both of relkno and luvkno led the PC after the arrival of Azuj.
 * intkno, her intimate knowledge of herself. [if I rein this, that is..]
 * magikno, the recovery of her magick (and levitation..)
 * eventually other *knos, forming a sizeable part of the "treasure hunt" of 
 * knowledge and lore.

as one can see, many thing are only planned, but the comprehensive variety of knowledge/lore scoring is painfuly obvious, how to handle is, well, the pre-alpha testing painfully drive in my mind the importance of the ABOUT (the testers failed to discover that the description of PC and items is heavily influenced by the value of those variables… so a provisional ABOUT will be included in the next testing phase) centered about the narration, with rather adaptive prose in nearby every description, but I’m still mulling about if and how give a “measure of progress” whose gives a satisfation for the player (and his/her ego…)

side note on the heavily progress-driven history: astute people will note a var whose don’t follow the *kno naming pattern and has a rather… curious comment alongside; I will discuss it later in a more appropriate place, but is a perhaps too ambitious idea: the narration adapting to the player’s tastes, or, to be more precise, mores: I’m still experimenting with this, but this isn’t the place for this fine point.

Back on the main point, this isn’t a spoiler (hopefully), and show how I actually handle the *kno vars/flags:

// body knowledge:
// 0: just awake, known only being a buxom female
// 1: after looking into mirror, know w/o doubts being Elf.
// 2: after relieving; human and elfin physiology aren't much different..
// 3 and above: TBD 
  desc { 
	{switch (bodykno)
		{case 0: descb0; break;
		 case 1: descb1; break;
		 case 2: descb2; break;
//		 case 3: descb3; break;
		 default: "de Fault"; break;

// wonder knowledge:
// 0: initial state, of utter confusion.
// 1: after looking at mirror. ground floor fully open.
// 2: after relieving, starting to feel "ownership" of the body. 
// 3: after exploring enough of the ground floor; opens the 2nd floor.
// 4 and above: TBD 
	{switch (wonder)
		{case 0: wond0; break;
		 case 1: wond1; break;
		 case 2: wond2; break;
		 default: "de Fault"; break;
	// prov text.
} // desc

of course, the various descbx and wondx texts has their set of adaptive prose…

I guess this is a good implementation of a form of “scoring without SCORE”…

EDIT: i guess that the snippets above shows a… rather high standard of commenting IF code, or isn’t ?

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


This subject interests me because my WIP has an elaborate scoring system that maintains a detailed list of points with descriptions.

What I’ve found–and this could all be down to deficiencies in my own writing–is that most players don’t look at it at all, unless it has an approximately one-to-one relationship with progress down the narrative throughline. In those cases, though, players don’t really need the score. Maybe 25% of players look at it otherwise.

This lines up with an old thread I made about finding hidden content. Most respondents weren’t really interested in finding it, though those who were tended to be really interested.

I think a score should make sense in the world and have some utility. A game that is inspired by classic games should probably have a scoring system of some kind, because that is part of the tradition. If an old-fashioned treasure hunt didn’t have a score, I’d wonder why. I’m not saying that this would be automatically bad, but it would be a question. Score can have “utility” beyond gameplay, of course. It might have some sort of meaning or reveal information about the game. It doesn’t just have to measure progress. For that reason, I’d never say newer games shouldn’t have a scoring mechanicsm.

Vague answer: just be intentional about things and implement features that make sense in your world/story.


A score basically tells me how I’m doing. An increase means I’m going the right way. A decrease means I’m going the wrong way.

If ever the score decreased, I’d treat that as Zombified game, and start over. If the game increase the score while being dead end, I’d probably will never touch the game by that author ever again.

Having no score just means I’m having more difficulty gauging my progress, and probably not going to have as much fun.

The difference is in the emphasis. Those who emphasize interactive want the score. Those who emphasize fiction want no score.

I don’t want scoring on Choice, but I certainly want score on Parser.


I like an approach that is comparable to the coins in Super Mario games. They are very simple, but have at least three or four functions:

  • They increase the score and thus players can compare themselves with each other, or try to beat their own score.
  • They appeal to the collecting instinct in us. Do I already have all of them? Where could something else be hidden?
  • They show us where to go next in the level. Coins in inaccessible places challenge us to figure out how to get there. Of course, this is not readily achievable in IF, but by rewarding certain actions early in the game, it is very easy to make it clear to the player in which direction it is worth going/playing.
  • Weighting feedback by number of coins / points.

That I like the approach doesn’t mean I would always want to use that though - it has to fit the tone and genre of the game. I like the versatile effect while keeping it simple, but there are good reasons why this is not used in Zelda.


A straightforward score displayed as a fraction of the total where you get exactly one point for each correctly typed command gives the player a good indication of how much more they have to endure but that’s about it. Much more interesting would be to:

  1. Give a point for obvious solutions. Give 100 points for creative thinking.
  2. Take a point away for trying to use the HINT or HELP commands. 10 if they try it again.
  3. Take 100 points away for typing anything that’s in the walkthrough.
  4. Hand out positive points for moral actions and negative ones for immoral actions. Make the game unwinnable except through a series of immoral actions.
  5. Display the points as a fraction of the total but change the denominator at appropriate times for dramatic effect.
  6. When the player is trying to guess the combination to the padlock, subtly change the score counter to display the correct combination (not on the first try, of course; ket them try the number written on the back of the painting and the one from the piece of paper under the carpet first)
  7. Have NPCs refuse to talk to the player until he is at least equal to their own score. Start the player in the negative.
  8. Have a referee voice who doesn’t ever give any points to the player because he’s not on the home team.
  9. Hand out points easily for the most trivial things. Reward players for finishing the game with 0 points.


8 especially got me laughing.


Some general thoughts on scores. I have to admit, I can’t say if I’m in favor or against, but the more I write, the more I turn away from the H2G2-style flat score.

I always liked scores as a kid because it gave me something to shoot for. Video games would print your score as “001030” and I rarely broke into the 10000’s, so getting 100 out of 100 in a game felt great. Plus if the score was 100 it felt like an actual fun quiz I could ace. It still does. But I’m not a kid any more, and I like to see scores used creatively! Certainly Mike Spivey used this to good effect in A Beauty Cold and Austere and Junior Arithmancer when you actually were taking a quiz, but it wasn’t a boring stuffy one.

So what else can we do/what have I tried? First, score notification can be turned on and off. That doesn’t answer the main question, and you may already know that, but just in case, it’s nice to know you can give the player some control over what they see. (Standard report switching score notification on rule/standard report switching score notification off rule).

I particularly enjoy games that can track achievements, especially across plays. Garry mentioned Dee Cooke’s games, and Day of the Sleigh has a neat case where two mutually exclusive accomplishments force you to replay to see everything, which is neat and is something scores can’t and shouldn’t cover. Whether the number of achievements is revealed in-game or after should be up to the designer, but I like having it, as a checklist for a player who might want to see everything.

I’ve had sub-scores that were outside the scope of the SCORE command. For instance, the number of “good guesses” in Very Vile Fairy File or its sequels. These feel pedestrian and nowhere near as fun as AvB’s suggestions, and I think to a certain extent, a THINK command is much more practical, especially one that flags “hey, here’s something where you were on the right track and will want to get back to later!”

I generally like SCORE because it’s, well, the worst form of progress notification except the others that’ve been tried. I think some “are we there yet” gauge verb is good, even if it isn’t score, because there’s that time when we get anxious or just want to see if we’ve made progress since the last time we typed SCORE or whatever. Certainly if I am reading a long book, just being able to look at the page number helps me push through. And I want to give the player that option.

However there is a problem if the player is locked out of a maximum score! Seeing your score is 50 of 80 and not knowing the maximum for this game is 60 is misleading, so if there are alternate points, I think it’s a very good idea to have the option to let the player see this. (This also brings up a problem I see in some games where points are piled on at the end. So often I would put a game on the back shelf when I’d been getting 5 points per action but the last few got you 30.)

My favorite quasi-score I saw recently was in Cana According to Micah where the “score” was actually a Bible verse, and the chapter indicated how far along you were. I encourage this sort of creative thinking/presentation!


I never look at a numerical score. I just don’t care about it. It isn’t offensive or mimesis-breaking for me-- I just don’t care. I’ll never type SCORE in a game. It won’t bother me if I don’t go back and get the last 2 points.

But I did care about how many bugs I had left in Trouble in Sector 471.

I prefer something to happen instead of points. Like, go ahead and keep score of how many times I did X or Y, but don’t tell me a number. Give me something like an ending that acknowledges that, eg “You licked so many inappropriate things that you got a terrible disease and died.”


Sounds familiar…


Andrew’s memory about video game scoring made me recall a phenomenon called pinball score inflation. The original “Space Invaders” machine awarded only 990 points for clearing an entire screen. Beginning players might never break a thousand. This was equivalent to the score economy of early pinball machines which awarded 5 or 10 points per target.

In contrast, the pinball game “attack from mars” (1995) awards 50 to 100 million for regular targets or as much as 2.5 billion for a single target under the right set of conditions.




. . . . . . . . . . . . . screen flashes----status bar fills up with zeroes. . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Yeah I remember all about score inflation… At some point they must have started increasing the number of ‘significant zeroes’ at the right hand side of all score totals, because an increasing number of those zeroes always stayed on zero. It might have been cheaper to just replace that with a permanent ‘imagine X zeroes here’ label.