Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Video Game High Score Systems

So after a short break, I'm back to hit you all with a new article. This time I want to discuss video game high score systems.  These have been around for quite awhile, so there has been plenty of experimentation with the concept, leaving us with a wealth of knowledge we can use to analyze it.

So what does a scoring system add to a game in the first place? Originally, games like pong introduced scoring systems to have an end or final goal for the player in a game that could otherwise have gone on forever. But it gets a wee bit more complicated than that.

How about games like Galaga and PacMan? (My, this post is turning into a nostalgia trip) In these games, and even some games that employ scoring systems today, an interesting risk vs reward system was brought to the table. An experienced player could confidently take on a swarm of space bugs together in order to get the extra points provided by hitting a mother ship that attacks in formation with other ships. Or maybe a more out-going risk taker could make a run for the floating fruit in PacMan, even though it might put them in a less ideal position. The point is that both of these games encouraged you to have fun and take risks, rather than just playing it safe. It also gave you a reason to play again and again, as you would build up skill and be able to get higher and higher scores. And that leads us into the next element scoring system brought to the table.

Not just scoring systems, but high scores introduced another level of competition. You were no longer just competing against the machine, you were also competing against Joe who beat your score last week. And when you made it to the top of the score table, your name would be displayed on the arcade machine for all to see. Everyone would know about your "l33t skillz." Nowadays we have online leader boards in many arcade style games, and every online FPS player has stats about how many frags they've racked up, and many of them won't hesitate to brag about them. This brought competition back to the people, and encouraged players to keep coming back and getting better at the game.

High scores aren't always the right tool for the job however. In many games, having the longest survival time would have been just as good. There are actually some games like this, like Torus Trooper. Sometimes no scoring system is needed at all, especially in more story focused games like Mass Effect. You'l notice that a lot of these games do have XP, charcter levels, and achievements, which provide many of the same advantages of a scoring system.

This turned out to be something short, and more informative rather than explorative, but I don't think that's a problem. I think there are a lot of games that could have been better if the designer(s) had considered if and or how they should use scoring systems. Let that be a lesson to you.


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