For those of you who recognize the quote in the title, I’ll have to disappoint you that although there will be aviation references in this post, the focus here is, you guessed it, score keeping and perhaps more importantly, lack thereof.
You may not agree with me, but I believe there are basically two main genres of games with regard to rewarding the player in single player mode.
- The story based rewarding
- The high-score based rewarding
Competitive multiplayer is of course a completely different story, where you need to quantify somehow in order to determine a winner. I’ll focus only on single player here though.
Story based rewarding
In story based games, the player is driven by the desire to discover more and let the story progress. I use the word story rather loosely, to not only mean a written story line, but also character development, like finally getting your hands on that cool piece of armor or pumping your stats to take on more heavy opposition. This in itself is rewarding, and there’s no need to keep a running score.
High-score based rewarding
In score based games, the player is rewarded with points for completing tasks. The most fundamental example I can come up with is a pinball machine. It’s not completely clear-cut score based, as you might be playing to try out all those cool multi-ball game modes or something, which is leaning towards the story based rewarding, however the game never ends unless you lose and the ultimate goal is usually to score as much points as possible.
More often than not though, keeping high-score tables usually boils down to multiplayer, either in-game, networked, or just plain hot-seat beat-your-friends-score kind of multiplayer. Unless you’re the only person on the high-score table (which might still be multiplayer, if you’re trying to keep your friends from entering at all).
Sometimes you may spend your score points (or money, or whatever) in order to acquire an advantage in the game. This is not what I consider score based rewarding, unless the target is still to increase that amount indefinitely, in which case you’re probably playing Capitalism (which incidentally is a great game).
Mix and match
There are games which do not stick to one of these, and one prominent example of mixing these two is the old Nintendo classic Super Mario Bros. Here you have a story line (a very linear our-princess-is-in-another-castle story line, but still), but you also keep score. I don’t think anyone ever really cared about that score, and I think some people never really noticed that there is one at all. Yes, you collect coins which will ultimately buy you an extra life, but I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about the number under the ‘Mario’ name in the top left label.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, don’t do that. I don’t think it serves a real purpose, and your players are bound to ignore one or the other at any given play through, might as well split them up as different game modes. For example, you could have a story mode, and by playing through that you unlock levels to play in an arcade mode (be it high-score, speed-run, or similar).
This is where it gets interesting. Games which neither have an intention of actually keeping track of how you’re doing, nor reward you when you’re doing well.
I currently write games for fun, and without the financial pressure of actually being able to sell it. As fate would have it, I’ve also discovered a slight affection for air traffic control (if you’re interested, listening live audio streams on liveatc.net is an excellent source), and so I find myself designing an ATC game.
I did a little research, looking at other ATC-like games. Most where simply counting aircrafts which had successfully landed, a few where increasing your salary when they were established on the localiser and handed off to the tower and decreased it if you lost separation or vectored the aircraft at a too sharp an angle to the localiser.
But all this felt awkward, I wasn’t interested in keeping score at all, I was more interested in just learning how to do the job, and do it well. Which got me thinking: Is it possible to create a game which is rewarding in itself, simply by the desire to be better (in a non-quantifiable way) at playing it? I think it is, like a Flight simulator, or ATC simulator, or Train simulator… Do you see a pattern?
Have you ever played a game which didn’t have any kind of rewarding, or where you didn’t care about it, and just played it because it was fun? Perhaps honing your skills in some way, like sequencing aircraft more effectively? It’s an interesting concept, and I think it is very difficult (or impossible?) to achieve outside of reality/simulation games. If you know any, I would love to hear examples.