Cacodemon’s Score Mechanisms

There are few things I never seem to get over with. One of them is the Cacodemon’s score mechanism (previous post on the subject) and the other one is Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I started rewatching the season one again).

Actually this is more of a very dry game design theory post about how different score mechanisms affect games. Cacodemon just happens to be the practical example. So if you haven’t downloaded the game already, you can download it from here. And click here to download the examples for this post (a zip file that includes three test exes). Download them now, I’ll wait. While your downloading you can study the highly scientific chart of how the different game modes have different skill vs score rates.

A highly scientific chart

Now we can begin the boring theory part of this post. We’ll begin by examining how the score mechanisms affect the game in general. I agree with Danc of Lost Garden that score mechanism are a meta game mechanics that’s layered on top of the core game mechanism. The core game mechanism stays unaltered but a scoring mechanism can adjust the balance of the game and enhance both the fun and intensity of the core mechanism. A score mechanism can also punish players when they play poorly, but punishing players can easily make the game too difficult and frustrating for the players.

In Cacodemon terms this means that what ever the scoring mechanism is, the player still can spin and bounce the kitties (the core mechanism). Even if there wouldn’t be any kind of scoring, you could still punish the kittens from the bottom of your heart. You just wouldn’t get any kind of score from it, but you could still do it.

The Original Simple-o-Scoring System
In the original release of Cacodemon (the cacodemon.exe) there is the simplest reward mechanism possible. You score by throwing the kitties to the wall or by spinning them. You also get some points if you throw the kitten into the oven. There is no punishment if you happen to drop a kitty. You have ten cute kittens to go and the game ends when you run out of kittens. The kitten count is reduced if you drop a kitten into the pit bellow but also if you throw them into the oven. Only difference is that you get some points if you throw the kitten into the oven.

Because both the oven and the pit reduce your kittens the optimal way to play the game is to just bounce and spin the kitten for maximal points avoiding both the oven and the pit.

The funniest thing to do in the game is to whack the heck out of the small cats and this scoring mechanism encourages player to do that. But the game lacks suspense, because the scoring mechanism doesn’t really punish the player for failing. You don’t get that “Damn, I almost had it” -feeling, that you get from a more intensive gaming experience. And I feel that that’s the biggest short coming of this otherwise good and beginner friendly version of the game.

The Punisher System
During the development of the game I already tested this scoring mechanism and decided to go with the player friendlier system. In this game mode (cacodemon_test1.exe) you also get points for plucking and banging of the kitties, but you can only cash in those points by throwing the kitten into the oven. If you fail to do that (the kitten slips and plummets into the pit), you get a zero score for that kitten.

This scoring mechanism is surely going to bring some intensity into the game. The game gives the player the change to risk it all for a greater score. Keep on bouncing the kitten and it’s possible that you don’t get any kind of score or play it safe and throw the kitten into the oven the first change you get. I think it’s a nice risk to give to the player, because in the end they can only blame their own greed for their failure.

The problem with this scoring mechanism is that in practice it’s frustrating at least for the new players. A series of games with a zero score is surely going to depress even the most enthusiastic player. Even for the player who has been playing it for a while, the game can be a bit too difficult. Especially if they don’t take the risk consciously.

The Score Multiplier System
So if my original version was newbie friendly and the second one was for the hardcore players, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way of combining the best of both systems. I think I came up with one and I also realized that I wasn’t the only one to use this system.

In this mode (cacodemon_test3.exe) there is a score multiplier that increases every time you throw a kitten into the oven. And it resets back to one when you let a kitten slip to the pit.

This way there is also the risk from the second system, but the punishment isn’t so cruel. Usually the new players don’t even bother with the score multipliers. But for the more experienced player the multiplier system gives a nice boost of replayability. And it also makes the make more intensive to play.

At least I hope it makes the game a bit more intensive without making it too difficult for the new players. I thought of adding this mechanism to the next version of Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party in Hell. So let me know what you think of it.

86 Responses to “Cacodemon’s Score Mechanisms”

  1. Decipher Says:

    In my opinion, I, myself, would also have gone with the < Multiplier System > But interestingly, the most annoying part of the game is probably the multiple-kittens-at-a-time part. Well it’s annoying enough to mess with one kitten on which a circular physics-model applied, with un-circular sprites and two of them make me press that nice smooth and wacky < Esc > key. Honsetly, multiple-kittens-at-a-time is a bad bad bad idea :P ! Whatever, in < Test 3 > build scoring rulez :) !

  2. petri.purho Says:

    Thanks for the feedback.

    I agree with you that the multiple kitten thing (in test2) doesn’t work at all. It sounded good on paper, but in practice it was more confusing and irritating than challenging. I dropped that feature so you don’t really have to worry about it. At this moment the new version is going to feature the gameplay mechanism of the test3.

  3. Exilberliner Says:

    Great chart!
    I even like your graphics when they’re not intended to look good.

  4. Roman Budzowski Says:

    I do love that chart too :D That’s the first thing you notice and that’s the thing that lasts in your mind.

  5. petri.purho Says:

    Hahhah. I just put that chart up there, because the post had a lot of text and I thought that it needed a little color. Apparently I did a pretty good job with it since I already got two comments about it :) Thanks.

  6. -B- Says:

    Totally agree with multiple kittens system - it sounded good (I was one who requested it :)) on paper, but it was annoying in gameplaywise…

    Score multiplier would be great. But not a real multiplier (2x times points, 3x points) but some smaller levels.

    I think i had the killer idea! After all it is oven where you want to put kittens… why? To make your oven HOT! And the more you throw kittens the more hotter it is. And more hotter your oven is, the more you score from spinning the kittens.

    And all the time oven temperature goes down little by little. It would be more interesting to see temperature meter than just 2Xmultiplier icon on the side of the screen.

    Also makes player think more while playing. You may have good drive with spinning, but at the some point it will be wiser to throw your kitten to oven and take next kitten to play with.

    And an extreme idea… if your oven gets to zero degrees… you lose. Maybe, don’t know about that :)

  7. petri.purho Says:

    @-B-: Thanks again for the feedback.

    The multiple kitten thing had to be tested to figure out that it didn’t work. So I consider it a successful test in that manner, that I (and possibly other readers of this blog) learned something about game development. And it also confirmed the one of rules about game design: You cannot design fun on paper.

    The heating oven thing is a good idea, but it doesn’t really “punish” the players for dropping kittens into to the pit bellow. I guess the oven could cool of if you fumbled a kitten spin, but feels like a bit-o-cheating.

    But I really like the meter idea, I think it would work better than the plain multiplier texts. I don’t know if I’ll hack it to Cacodemon, but I’ll definitely put it behind my ear and possible use it in some future project.

  8. -B- Says:

    Well. it is punishment because you lose a kitten. After all you have only ten kittens and if you wanna score big, then you want to put all your kittens to the oven.

  9. Petri Purho Says:

    Well thats true, I didn’t think of it that way. I should test it, because I can’t really say anything for sure without testing the idea. Maybe if I’ll have enough time next week I’ll try to hack it together.

  10. -B- Says:

    It might work or maybe not. You never know :)
    Bigger bonus levels and bigger punishment can easily be more fun. In oven-heat-mode there should be easily seen increasement with every kitten.

  11. petri.purho Says:

    Yeap thats true: It might work or might not, only testing will tell :)

  12. weasel Says:

    The only real reason people play for points is bragging rights. Bragging rights to your friends, your own personal glory, or what have you.. hence the demand for high score tables in most games.

    Knowing this, you want it to be easy to get points - but difficult to get LOTS of points. Note I said “difficult” to get lots of points… Not time consuming. If you play very slowly and just bat one cat gently against the wall for 20 minutes you’d score better than some “1337″ players.

    I’d write down a list of what should score the most:

    1- Batting a cat around and dropping the rest
    2- Batting many cats around should score more
    3- Batting many cats around for a long time should score more than that
    4- Batting said cats into the oven should score the most points

    The core gameplay solves the relationship between 1 and 2. Skilled players will advance from 2 to 3, but the big disconnect of your game is between 3 and 4. No matter how hard it may be to land a cat in the oven, you can still get more points by just kitting the cats against the walls for a bit longer than normal.

    A good mechanic to solve this issue is to not only oven-multiply as in your last build, but also points-divide for every hit you make. This would work great because it encourages people to bash the cat REAL HARD but it also makes it a risk to delay the inevitable.

    It also punishes the careful player that slowly balances the cat and gently places it in the oven. :)

  13. petri.purho Says:

    @weasel: Thanks for the complete gaming analysis :)
    I agree with you, that the game requires a high score table. And it’s coming soon, but right now I’m developing the new game that I’ll be released in few days :) After I got that done I’ll try to crack out the new version of Cacodemon.

    That’s an interesting point that you brought up. I actually don’t know how to fix it. The divide points by the hits made, could work, but the problem is that you really don’t know how many times the player has hit a wall until the kitten is killed. And to reduce or divide the points the player has made at that point is a bit anti climatic.

    But then again I think that a careful player might be allowed to have his points if he has the patience to work that long hours.

  14. Jason Kruta Says:

    The best way to encourage putting kitties in the oven is this:

    You only lose kittens if you drop them. If you put one in the oven, the amount of kitties left stays the same.

    I’d enjoy this because it would extend the potential length of a game ^^

  15. petri.purho Says:

    @Jason: That was my original plan for the kitten count, but I felt that it makes the player play the game too carefully. Just a quick spin and then into the oven.

    On the other hand I should really test it with an exponential per kitten scoring system. That could work because it would add a nice risk to the game. To get a good score you’d have to risk it all and spin and bang the kittens around.

    The score mechanisms of cacodemon have really turned into an obsession for me. Thanks for feeding my obsession with new ideas :)

  16. Aubrey Says:

    “I agree with Danc of Lost Garden that score mechanism are a meta game mechanics that’s layered on top of the core game mechanism”

    Well, some score systems are abstracted (like Tony Hawks) and others are closer to natural instantiations (number of pikmins in your pikmin army). It seems to me that scores are linked to core gameplay with different “tightness”. So, some games naturally express what’s “good” better than others, which have more of an “umpire” sitting back, interpreting the skill of natural play in a deterministic way. Yeah. I don’t disagree, but I think it’s a little less sharply cut than that.

    But scoring systems, I love. I love chains and multipliers and rewarding people based on the skill demonstrated in an indiscrete action (like, rewarding a sniper shot based on range, relative velocity, aim’s rotational velocity [for snap shots] etc, rather than just a fixed point value). Love ‘em. I think I love them because when they’re done well, they really recognize a player’s ability, and encourage them to plunge into the depths of the possibilities. It makes a player feel like their expression is being noticed - it’s a kind of narcissism.

    Crap, I really have to do a FPS mod one of these days, which has a tony hawks style appraisal of combat skills.

  17. petri.purho Says:

    @Aubrey: I agree with you that there are differences in how closely scoring systems are linked to the core gameplay mechanism. Some score systems are just slapped on top of the game (Gabriel Knight - Sins of Our Fathers for example has a score) and others (like Carmageddon) really require the scoring mechanisms to be enjoyable games. But still I feel that the scoring system is always there to flesh out the core gameplay. It never exists as the sole purpouse of the game.

    Never the less, scoring system has very huge effect on how fun the game is. Or at least it has a huge effect, if you compare it to how little a crappy non existing story affects on how fun the game is.

    I really liked your FPS mod. I think could work pretty well.

  18. Wunderbear Says:

    Hi there! I like this game (and Pluto Strikes back) very much, they’re very nifty!

    However, I do think that the scoring system could be rejigged. Reading Jason’s post, about the not losing kitties if you put them in the oven, gave me an idea for a better scoring system. What about:

    If you manage to spin the kitty and then put it in the oven, you get all the points, but dropping it means you don’t get any points from the spinning. So the Punisher scoring system. BUT:
    If you do drop a kitty into the fires of hell and not the oven, you don’t get the points BUT you also don’t lose that kitty. So you decrease the number of kitties by putting them in the oven.

    Would that work?

  19. petri.purho Says:

    @Wunderbear: That’s not a bad idea, that could work. Damn. Too many new scoring mechanism ideas. I really can’t ever get over the cacodemons scoring mechanism.

    Only problem I see (this is pure speculation) is that there is no real punishment for dropping a kitten. So what you’d do is spin a kitten until your happy with the score and then throw it into the oven. If you fucked up, then you just start again. But this is pure theory talk. I should try it out and see how it works.

  20. Chris Moore Says:

    I’m not sure about the multiplier system (test3). Withholding points until I put the kitten into the oven may seem harsh, but it only punishes me by taking away the points I would have made on that one kitten. The multiplier system, on the other hand, takes away the whole multiplier. So when I’m on the 7th kitten, with a multiplier of 7, I’m not going to be taking any risks. I’m going to stick that kitten in the oven as soon as I can, rather than enjoying taking him for a spin first, because otherwise I lose my multiplier!

    Interestingly, while I was struggling to reach 100k in test1, my first play of test3 I scored 1.9 million. I think this was a result of the punishment being so much stronger in test3 - strong enough that I didn’t want to incur it, and so minimised my spinning, whereas in test1 I generally kept spinning until I lost the kitten (scoring 0 on most kittens).

  21. Chris Moore Says:

    Playing test3 (with the multiplier) I’ve found it quite fun to try to minimise my score, while still cooking all 10 kittens. It makes for a different style of play entirely, trying not to damage the delicate kitten meat by spinning it too fast, or hitting it against the walls too hard. I guess the lowest possible score is slightly over (1 + 2 + … + 10) * 500 = 55*500 = 27,500, but the lowest I’ve managed so far is 107,450 due to some huge bonus on cooking the last kitten.

  22. Chris Moore Says:

    By the way - wouldn’t it make more sense to have 9 lives? That’s what cats are said to have.