For some reason my girlfriend got Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts for PS2 (yeah, it’s still alive) and we thought we could give it a shot this weekend. I guess I should avoid games about killing the wild life, but I’ve already tried Deer Hunter to praise the national industry and found quite amusing this kind of stalk and hunt gameplay. So there I was hunting lions at the Tanzania’s savanna, got my first prey in target and with a shot I have my first kill, with that I am presented with some information, among them: “Trophy value: 104”. YAY 104! Wait, what does that means? If the game instead presented “Trophy value: Square root of Pi” it would have meant the same for me. In a game where the main objective is to hunt the bigger trophies in a way that makes them the most valuable (keeping the carcass integrity, for instance) is 104 good or bad? Did I just killed a big and healthy lion or old skinny one? What’s a good and what’s a bad score for hunting an animal?
It may be a detail, but there’s a important lesson here: If you’re going to have a rating system in your design, let your player know in advance what a good a rate is. It’s very disappointing to get to end of level and read “You scored 104…OUT OF 10000”. Game designers don’t use a standardized rating system so the payer should know how the rating system works, at least it’s length. It’s like if I said that this blog is worth a pineapple in my fruit-based rating system for blogs.
Some games attempt for a solution using an alphabet based rating system, “Well I got a C, let me try again so I can have an A” you might say, so you keep playing the game until you discover there is a S rating that’s, contrary to what you know about the alphabet, better than A! Why? Does S means Super? So if there’s a S that’s better than A, is there another rating better than S? Then you find that’s the answer is…yes, there’s a X rating! – I’m looking at you, Sonic Riders! Even a good surprise for me, The Red Star, does that. I’m not against an arbitrary rating system, but please, let your player know what’s the system’s maximums and minimums, or does uncover the length of the rating system makes part of the gameplay?
Furthermore, if you’re going to rate your player for any given activity, let the player know why he’s getting that grade. It’s quite common to rate the player after completing a level, but seldom it’s explained what parameters are taken in account for this. In Mario Kart Wii you get a grade at the end of the championship (4 races), but even if you win every race you don’t get the highest grade, it still puzzles me what Mario Kart takes into account for this, if just the lap times or the interaction with the other racers. If I knew what it takes to improve my grade I would be more motivated to play the championship once again.
It’s true that one of the advantages of videogames over boardgames is that not all mechanisms are evident for the players, and the subjectivity of some of those features may be part of the design, but what I’m trying to say here is that the rates and scores must MEAN SOMETHING for the players efforts and the player may want to know if he’s far or near from a game’s top score (if there’s one), it will often engage him more in the experience if he can also evaluate his performance, therefore feel more at home in the system you designed! If you played California Games at Sega’s 16bit console you know how well can a grade be presented.