I’ve written numerous times about why many people tend to not care too much about scores in videogames. In these writings, I explained that the reason for this is that videogames score systems suck. While this is completely true, I didn’t realize that in videogames, even the way we use scores is flawed.
If you haven’t read those articles, let me sum up the basics so that you’ll be able to understand where I’m going with this article:
- A game needs a single, clear goal that is achievable. So, the goal in Tetris can not be “survival”, because at what point have you survived? The answer is never – no game end would result in survival, so it’s unachievable.
- In an evergreen skill-based “single-player” game, score is a good way to measure performance, because it can rise perpetually (effectively perpetually, not literally) with the skill of the player
- Scores should be small, preferably under 100, because we need to feel like we own our scores, and human beings are really bad at comprehending numbers well above 100.
- For the same reason as above, the way points are dealt out should be extremely simple and not involve weird behind the scenes math or hidden information. A good model for score is sports, or European designer boardgames, both of which keep their scores under 100 (often under 10!)
I’m sure some people would like to fight me on some or all of those points, but for now you’ll need to take them for granted to understand the next thing I’m about to explain about scoring in AURO.
The “High Score”
Imagine if you decide to play a game of golf with some friends. You all go out and play a full course. Then you tally up the results, and hey, it looks like you had the best score of everyone who was playing! Great! Except, wait – the goal was to beat Uncle Ricky’s score from 2007, when he played that one amazing game. So, since you didn’t do that, actually, you lost.
In sports, we have “the score of the current match”, and we have “the world record”. The former is what is actually used to determine winners in a game right now. The latter is, essentially, trivia. Yet in videogames, this is how we tend to operate. Some guy hits some amazing score, and it goes up on the scoreboard and stays there, and in order to “win” you have to beat that score, which for many players is nearly as impossible as the logically impossible “survival” goal.
Sure, some more modern score based games will wipe their score board from time to time, or have a “best scores of this week” section, etc, but none of these solve the problem.
The problem is that we’re confusing “world record” and “score of the current game”.
I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as a single-player game. When I say this, I of course am referring to game as in my definition – a contest of decision-making – also known as a “Strategy game” or “competitive game”. What we need to be doing in score based games is creating “matches”, exactly the same way that Golf is played. What this means is in a system where the objective is beating a specific target score, it’s inherently competitive. So this is what we’re doing in AURO.
When you start the game, you’re given three gameplay options:
- STORY BOOK – This is the game’s STORY MODE. It starts off with a tutorial (skippable), has cutscenes (skippable), and an easier version of the main game, capped off with a final boss fight and more skippable cutscenes. This will be primarily for introducing players to both the lore and mechanisms of the game.
- QUICK MATCH – This is one of two main ways to play the game, and technically probably the most “legitimate” in that it is the most evergreen. In this mode, you are auto-matched with another player. You and he both play a single game of AURO. In these two games that are played, both players get the same random level generation – same monsters, same scrolls, etc. After both players have played, their scores are compared and a winner is pronounced. Possibly this mode might have more wild, somewhat unfair swings in terms of what can possibly appear than other modes, since both players have to deal with it equally. So maybe on one level, the map is just surrounded by squids. One level, tons of Brutes all the sudden. How do you and the other player deal with this? We’re trying to test a very wide range of skill in this mode.
When you win in Quick Match mode, you get a WIN, when you lose, you’ll get a LOSS. Simple as that! We’ll have leagues and matchmaking and all of the stuff that you expect in a competitive online game.
- TRIALS – This is what most people expect in a “single player” score based game. In this mode, you try to beat your own high score. We’ll have numerous “Classes” that you can unlock (ranks, sort of, like Journeyman and Apprentice, but with maybe better names than that) by reaching certain score thresholds. So if you beat your high score, you pass. If you don’t beat your high score, you fail. Sometimes when you pass, you get a PROMOTION!
Now, we’ll still have “world records” so that players can see who has achieved the highest score ever, but this is no longer the primary source of competition. It’s more like some Baseball stat for some guy that pitched a perfect game – it’s neat and cool to know, but it is not really what baseball is about.
The Major Takeaway
And that’s really the major point that I realized. Getting some freak astronomically high score once isn’t what AURO is really all about. What we really should care about is “how good is this player at this system in a broad, holistic way”, as measured over many games with many different circumstances that come up. So, our Quick Match system does that.
I’m really happy that we’ve figured this out before it was too late to implement, because as I’ve said all along, it’s not good enough to do a good score system. We have to fundamentally change the way people even think about score in videogames. This shouldn’t be too hard, since people already think the way we’re asking them to think with regards to sports.
Of course, we’ll have other modes in the future, and I really welcome your feedback in terms of what I’ve written above.