Monday, July 16, 2012

Episode 41: Score Systems

Welcome to Roguelike Radio episode 41. This week we talk about Score in Roguelikes. Talking this ep are Darren Grey, Keith Burgun and John Harris.

You can download the mp3 of the podcast, play it in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.

Topics discussed in this episode include:
- Keith's articles on score
- Global vs local high scores, and how global can be done right
- The irrelevance of score in most roguelikes
- Score as a challenge / reward for riskier tactics (like multi-lining in Tetris)
- Need for clarity in score mechanics
- Achievements, trophies, conducts, and mutually exclusive score rewards
- Problems with big score values
- Some examples of games with score systems we like - Crazy Taxi, Geometry Wars, board games
- Keith sounding like an electrified cheese grater

Tune in next week for further discussion of procedurally generated, permadeath dungeon crawlers!


  1. I unfortunately haven't won any of the major roguelikes, so I can only say that score seems to work fine in dcss from my perspective. My best game and my highest score are definitely one and the same, but that may not work out for everyone. In terms of runes, I think that's no different than measuring your progress based on dungeon level or character level.

    I think measuring based on rare events or extra things in contrast to kills and depth runs into the problem where by chance you end up getting a big score on the first level and dying, while your deepest character has a low score. I agree though that there should be some wiggle room there, as in epilogue you get bonus points for killing rare/dangerous enemies.

    Anyway, it's nice to see John Harris back on the program :)
    Keep up the good work.

  2. Is there something wrong with the embedded player for anyone else? It seems to work in Firefox but not Chrome or IE9 here.

    1. It works for me in chrome, I know there were some problems reported in the temple thread...

    2. Hasn't worked since the switch over for me. I blame vista. Maybe adobe? I download the show.

  3. Not to be confused with an "electric" or an "electronic" cheese grater. We're talking a straight up, old-fashioned cheese grater that's peacefully resting in the bathtub having a nice soak after a hard day of cheese grating. Just then, a clown busts into the door and knocks a plugged in toaster (which was precariously resting just above the bath) into the water. ZAMMO! Electrifying!

  4. There are huge traditions associated with scores in roguelikes. I think every major one has a high score list with 100 characters, and lists character classes, death causes and locations for them (IVAN even lists special circumstances like "when paralyzed"). This huge tradition means that people (at least devs) like this feature and they do it in more and more roguelikes.

    And you seem to miss the point of this in the most of this episode. Scores have (at least) two uses: compare players (tell who is the better player) and compare characters (estimate the value of a character for the player). These two goals are contradictory.

    Roguelikes focus on comparing characters. Most roguelike players will play the game until they win (or die trying). They want to have a neat list of their past characters, with the most valuable ones at the top. Ones who like the game so much that this is not enough for them, or who want to tell that they are among the best players in the world, will invent their own challenges (when possible). This actually makes more sense. You can reach as deep as possible, or win as quickly as possible, or use as few items as possible. Each of these goals lead to different decisions, and a single score value promotes less variety.

    You mention features which are bad from the point of view of comparing players, but actually they are good for comparing characters. You could give bonus points for finding random artifacts, or for each type of monster killed. This makes no sense for comparing players, but yes, a character which has found a cool artifact is more memorable, even if they died shortly afterwards. An obscure formula is bad for comparing players, but if it does its job very well (my favorite characters are on the top) then I don't care.

    I think that score makes sense in a savescum game (even a player-comparing sense) if it is deterministic.

    One tangentially related thing... experience systems. In most games, experience points seem to be included in the score. If you get a fixed number of points for each creature, then this usually leads to an exponential growth of the number of XP for each level. I think it is better to make a system where you need the same number of XP for each level, but the XP award depends on the relative power (my Vapors of Insanity use a system based on the Elo chess ranking system, where the difference between rankings of two players models their probabilities of winning when playing against each other). Then you no longer have to give points for killing lots of weak monsters, which also leads to nicer score systems.

  5. Having a list of memorable characters is my primary use of the score system in most games.

    Perhaps in roguelikes there should be a list of rarest deaths, or a score bonus for such deaths to bubble them up.

    Example: getting killed by the exploding frog in ADOM because you're blind should be right up there, no matter what level you were when it happened.