"Use no scoring" as the default?

I also like to know how far along I am through a game, but I think “use no scoring” makes sense as a default, because as the original poster said, if the author is using scoring, they’re already mucking around with the score.

I don’t tend to trust other people’s evaluations of how long a game is. How big is a medium-sized game? I give up. How many hours did it take me to play Worlds Apart? No idea. But it would have been nice to be told something like “This is Chapter 2 of 4” or “The story ends at dawn, and it’s 9PM right now,” or “You’ve achieved 3 of the 8 goals you need to reach,” or ANYTHING. I’m all for letting the author define progress, but I hope that most authors will put some thought into it.

Well, I disagree here somewhat. A game doesn’t have to be linear to have measurable progress; if you have to solve eight puzzles to finish, but can solve them in any order, you can still have a progress meter. The question of side this-and-that is more interesting; should we just not fill the meter while you’re on an optional sidequest? Should a new meter sprout up for the sidequest? Should there be an array of meters that demonstrate your progress toward all the goals you might have? That might be inordinately spoily.

And I’m saying “progress meter” here, because I think that’s what you (Paul) really want; a passive indication of how far through you are, that you can glance up and check at any time. That’s closer to what traditional media provide – they don’t suddenly pop up and say “We have just completed a major plot point!” – Well, books have chapters and parts, but IF can do that too, and anyway the chapters and parts don’t tell you how much you’ve got left. The telltale compression of the pages does that, and that’s more like a progress meter.

One of the problems with the default scoring system is that it serves two masters – do you have 75% of the points because there’s still 25% of the game left to play, or because 24% of the points were tied up in optional achievements and sidequests? The player doesn’t know. The progress bar would hopefully be unambiguous here.

Hi, Cave Story!

In a lot of flash games, your way of measuring progress is by the level select screen, which has the same problem. Really, does any other kind of game use a numerical score as a measure of completion anymore? I get the impression that AAA games signal completion by giving you achievements, though that has the “sidequests and challenges” problem I complained about before. Or just by letting you see how you’re progressing through the plot.

This, very much. And that’s pretty much how theatrical releases of movies do it – the running time is in promotional materials and whatever, and probably can be figured out from the showtimes, but it’s not actually in the movie. Of course time management with movies is much simpler, because you know exactly how long it’s going to take. (But that also means that there’s no need to monitor your progress while the movie is going on.)

Yeah, this is my main point. If you’re going to implement scoring, you’re going to implement scoring, and putting one more line at the beginning of the code isn’t a great burden. As it is, having scoring on by default is basically just another trap for the newbie programmer. (I mean, I guess it can serve the player the way brown M&Ms do – if the programmer has forgotten to turn off scoring, there’s likely to be other problems – but feh.)

I guess there is another trap here, in that if scoring is off you can still program in changes to the score, they just won’t have any visible effect. Which would be annoying if you forgot to write “Use scoring.” But I think that should probably give a compile-time error anyway.

As Zarf said in the uservoice forums, it’d be nice to have scoring as an extension. Then people could write progress-bar extensions, or maybe act-and-scene management extensions, or just drop in Traditional Scoring by Graham Nelson. Or roll a system that’s specific to the game. Paul makes a good point about measuring progress, but I think we ought to be thinking about more ways to do it.

I like books that have a Table of Contents at the beginning.

I understand your position, although I don’t share it. However, it’s not a reason for the current scoring default. As others have posted, there is no problem for authors who pay attention to the problem: they will either turn off scoring or implement a meaningful progress display. But for authors who don’t pay attention to the problem, the current default is both ugly and useless. Changing the default to be absent would be less ugly and no less useless.

(I don’t like motivating the author to put in effort by providing an ugly default. It doesn’t always work, and then that makes the author look bad rather than merely careless. It would be like making the default player description “FILL IN DESCRIPTION HERE” – plausible, but not the road that I7 generally takes.)

I’d like to think of not having a progress meter as a distinct advantage. In a book, you’re always partly spoiled: the murderer cannot be the guy who is apprehended on page 130, because you still have 124 pages to go; the protagonist doesn’t die in the car crash, because you’re only halfway through the book (and you have seen his name come up in the rest when you were thumbing through it, trying to find the page you stopped reading last night.) Interactive fiction doesn’t have this problem. It is opaque. You never know what to expect. That is good. It is one of the strengths of the medium.

I don’t buy the time management argument. If you are enjoying the game, play on. If you are not, don’t. If you think you might be missing out on something good that is still to come, check the game’s score on the IFDB. And if you want to know whether it can be completed in one evening, or takes three months – well, that shouldn’t be too hard to point out in the documentation.

Additionally, as has been pointed out, score is an incredibly bad progress meter. There is zero guarantee that the player will accumulate score at a constant rate, and zero guarantee that you will finish the game with a full score.

And finally, there are many other and more elegant ways for a game to communicate how much of it you have seen. A numerical score will be the right solution for only a small number of games.

On a practical note, I’m looking at the way score is implemented currently. [rant]Allow me to pause for a moment to rant about the state of documentation. In what part of Writing with Inform will I learn the name of the variable that represents the total score? Hmm…

I look in Chapter 2 - The Source Text because it’s the first meaty chapter - don’t see any useful subheadings.

I look in Chapter 8 - Change, because the score is something that changes - looks like a dead end.

I do a search for “score” in the search bar. It looks like there IS something in Chapter 2 - but alas, it just tells me about “use no scoring.” Hmm, if that were the default, it wouldn’t even need to be in Chapter 2. But it’s just an example of a use option, so it’s not what we’re expected to be looking for here anyway.

Next hit comes up in Chapter 4 - Kinds, under Values that vary. Sounds promising. Nope, sorry, it’s an example of a new variable called “the target score.” This text search thing isn’t turning out to be very useful.

Skimming around, I see in Chapter 8, the score is mentioned under “Now…” Lets see… no that was more irrelevant examples.

Well, I think increasing the score is done using a phrase. Let’s see if I can find something listing phrases in I7. Chapter 11 is all about phrases. Conditions and questions maybe? Well, it happens to mention the score, but it’s just another example.

I’m running out of ideas. Maybe I need to search for “increase the score”… Well, 8.12 does tell me how to do that, but still nothing about the total score.

At this point I give up and decide that the source of the Standard Rules is a better form of documentation than the manual. Here we go…

Hmm… searches for “obituary” and “final score” don’t turn up anything useful. Requesting the score? Handled in I6. Finally I think of “the score.” Now we get a list of variables. Here we go! The maximum score, that’s it!

Out of curiosity, let’s search for “maximum score” in the documentation. Awarding Points is section 9.2 in the chapter on “Time.” Well, I guess since we’re talking about progress, running time, and playing time, that kind of makes sense, but it’s a stretch if you ask me.

Okay, now I can get to the point.[/rant] Why not behave as though there is no score if the maximum score is zero? A use option could override that, but in almost all cases with or without scoring, the author wouldn’t have to think about it at all. This might have to be done at runtime in case the maximum score is added up when play begins, but that doesn’t sound too expensive.

Yeah, I just suggested that at Uservoice. Inform could just assume the game uses no scoring if the author hasn’t provided a “The maximum score is X” instruction.

For some quirky reason, I had no problem finding this with “scoring” – there aren’t many relevant hits. Of course I was looking for the use option. Anyway, I agree that the chapter on Time is a really weird place to put this.

They’re called bytes, Laroquod.

They seem like they’d be more at home next to randomness and other numerical stuff.

Censoring the line when max score is zero seems a nice compromise. Isn’t max score a compile-time constant, or did they change that?

They changed it. Maximum score is just another global variable now.

I never thought of it that way. Let’s just say that if they added that feature to a book, I definitely wouldn’t be in favour of it, either. It’s not variable length that I have a problem with, particularly. It’s simply having no idea whatsoever how long of my time the author expects for this story to take and how far through that range am I at this moment? If my character dies or somehow manages to get to an early ending, fine I’m not going to quibble about the accuracy of the progress bar when its been signalled to me that it’s not an optimal ending. Nor if I am seeming to spend forever stuck with no idea how to advance. I don’t expect perfect information; it’s just hard for me to see zero attempt to inform as to progress as a feature rather than a bug.

Cripes… the documentation, the website, this is getting very complicated, just to find out something very simple. I already know how I feel about the game, by this stage. I just want to know, how much more of it is there from where I’m at. The game knows how much of its text has been printed. IFDB isn’t going to tell me that, anyway. The game is in a unique position to give me the information I need.

Saying the score doesn’t have to be a number does not really argue for having no score. I agree that it doesn’t have to be a number – but it probably should be a number by default and the maximum score by default instead of zero should probably be 10 or 100, and people should just be expected to advance the progress the way they are just expected to code room and directions. In fact, if I had my druthers, far from turning the score into an extension, I’d make advancing the score to 100/100 or setting it negative (for sub-optimal endings) the only way to end the story finally.

You’ve also, like others, argued that the score can never be precise. These are statements I can agree with but the relevancy of which seems questionable, such as…

This is all true, but as an author I will always have some idea of how far a player is through my interaction plan based on the code that has run. It’s a rough idea, sure, and it depends on whether they got stuck at certain points or looped around, yes, I admit these things readily. But as the author I am still going to have a pretty good idea of how much of my plan for a playthrough they have achieved. That’s the information that I am after as a player. But when I get stuck for quite a while as a player, I am aware that any estimate of the length of a game (like ‘two hours for a comp game’ – ha!) are no longer going to be accurate. Players are smart that way. But I also know the designer has some personal idea of how far I am through his or her plan at the stage that I’m at, and I just want that information, and don’t see why it should be expected to be withheld by default. On the contrary, the game developer should be expected to provide that information by default.

I would not say that this is what I really want. But it does fulfill the requirements of notifying me about the progress, although perhaps with unnecessary ubiquity. The time when I am most in need of knowing how far I made it through the story is when I have arrived at a premature ending, so that is the time to definitely give me the score. (As in many things, the wisdom of the old ways reveals itself.) For the progress to be notified as acquired is also nice because it reduces my guesswork, and educates me more specifically on what the game designer considers to be advancement. For the progress bar to be always on screen might be a little oppressive and unnecessary, though it would depend on the implementation.

Well that’s all I wanted was to expand the bounds of the discussion a little. It’s disconcerting to me when what seems the obvious best practice is oddly unaccounted for, or just considered legacy or something, particularly when I don’t see a good reason for rejecting that legacy.

…how do the bytes solve the issue of notifying progress, am I missing the point, or are you? 87

You nicely anticipated what would have been my first objection in your second paragraph. I’ll just reiterate my preferred scenario (not that I seriously expect it to be adopted), which is for maximising the progress to be the only way to end the story finally. Voila – you will quickly find no more ugly default messages preserved in final games. XD


I say we should get rid of all references to scoring in the standard rules and repackage them as a built - in extension. Those authors wishing to use traditional scoring would be able to do so easily and would have the added advantage of having all scoring - related documentation in one place – allowing for more intuitive customization.

I’ve seen a bunch of questions here and on raif in the vein of “How do I change where / when / how scoring is reported or calculated?” This is partly because the score is reported in four different ways and places, and governed by rules seemingly scattered at random: the status line (by changing the “right hand status line” variable or by changing the “constructing the status line” activity), at the end of a turn when the score has changed (the “notify score changes rule” in the “turn sequence rulebook”), when a player requests the score using the “score” command (the “announce the score rule” in the “carry out requesting the score rulebook”), and when the game ends (the “print final score rule” in the “printing the player’s obituary” activity).

Paul, while I agree that having some sort of progress metric is desirable, I’m not sure that “the game developer should be expected to provide that information by default.” Even if that were true, however, the built - in method does not do this; it merely fills in a bunch of zeros and default text which the author has to figure out how to navigate.

“Severedhand” makes a good point in this thread about additive vs. subtractive programming. Unlike some other IF languages – such as Tads3 – the standard rules (or library) of Inform are intentionally bare - bones. For example, they make no assumptions about bulk or weight, but two extensions for that are available. Although I realize that scoring is part of the text adventure legacy, I think authors would be better served if the current implementation were moved to an extension.

I like that!

I just went over to the uservoice thread for this and can see that Zarf had already made this suggestion.

I agree – it would be easy to write a meter for Photopia, but how would one write a progress meter for Aisle (“You have scored 1 point out of a possible 1, in 1 turn!”), or Galatea? Additionally, despite rigorous beta-testing, it can be very difficult to foresee which parts of a game are going to take a given player particularly long, and, it’s still not going to help that player gauge the amount of time a game will take to play if they’re told that some particular puzzle, which took them days to agonize over, was only 1% of the “play experience,” when they had breezed by 50% with no trouble. If anything, it’s misleading.

I agree. Having just finished Infinite Jest, [very mild spoiler for IJ], I was somewhat delighted that the thick wad of end notes had totally foiled my ability to guess at where the plot was going, since I had sort of subconsciously assumed I had another fifty pages to go. I’ve often thought that, if I were an Actual Writer, it would be interesting to put out a novel[la] with a “short story” at the end that had all the same character names, but no other relation to the main story, just to prevent that sort of metagaming.

Well, it would be relatively simple to have an external file keeping track of endings you’ve gotten and ones you haven’t, and give the player a metric. (“You’ve found 18 of 126 possible endings!”)

I wouldn’t want a numeric percentage, but I do want a sense of the story taking shape. I often find that there’s minimal pacing, minimal elements to signal plot shape, and minimal indication of progress, which is very unmooring. Which might be okay if it was deliberate, but I think often if due to poor storytelling. The score seems like a helpful half-way metric (and perhaps more than that for games that are extra-gamey), but I hope authors do consider how the story might progress, and how players might make an educated guess as to where they are. Filling up a map, maybe, or filling in a journal, or even just traditional plot structures, might help a great deal.

Dragon Age II has characters remark to each other “It feels like something is ending.” which is the most ridiculous thing ever, but at least the point is made.

Keep in mind, though, that not everyone reads to discover the story. Especially in more character driven plots, I like knowing the ending so I can concentrate on the immediate text. I think it’s one of those brain setting things, like whether you like/tolerate/despise spoilers. Spoilers have never mattered to me, because that’s not what it’s about for me.

Hm, it’s interesting that you say that, because I think I fall into that category myself. My taste in movies certainly tends that way, since I tend to either like things in which “not a whole lot happens” (pretty much any charming “indie” movie out there, most recently for me Cold Weather), or in which there’s complexity such that there’s no way an offhand remark could “spoil” it (Primer, Exit Through the Gift Shop), or in which the narrative style is the whole point (things by Jeunet or Gilliam, Big Fish, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bronson).

I think that’s why I like the anti-spoiler trick, since it is mostly a joke on anyone who takes the plot too seriously (applicable to my comment on Infinite Jest as well – I was amusing myself by reading negative reviews of it on amazon, and the people who hated it sort of uniformly disliked its meandering/plotlessness). So I think we might be in agreement about not caring about the ending in and of itself, but I don’t mind not knowing when it’s going to happen or whether it is going to matter, whereas you don’t mind just getting it out of the way early. It’s probable that I also just have more spare time than Laroquod, and can afford to squander more of it on the unknown.

You know, that said, I do actively enjoy it when I’ve heard in advance, “This movie/book/whatever doesn’t really go anywhere,” and it makes me more likely to watch/read/play it. So maybe I’m just as eager to find out the “ending” in advance as you are.

But that makes completionism the goal, something authors may not want to encourage.