…there are always different measures of success. It’s important to understand what kind of experience we are looking for, what elements of that experience we value most and what elements we are willing to sacrifice.
Sadly, this title does not relate to my propensity to go a little crazy on the dance floor. Instead it harkens to my recent experience with a runner game called Bit Trip Presents: Runner 2 Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (what a mouthful!).
There were many elements in this game that beckoned for lesson extrapolation, so the game may be a recurring piece in the next couple of articles. But for this article, let’s figure out just how much we should be dancing.
The Scoring System
Let me first touch on the mechanics of Bit Trip Presents: etc. Like most runners, the character automatically moves forward and the player is given basic commands like jump and slide in order to dodge obstacles and grab treasures. There are enemies to avoid, obstacles to bat away, and two different kinds of items to collect. If you are hit by an enemy, you get sent back to the beginning of the level (or the checkpoint if you made it there).
You score points by: dodging enemies, collecting the items, choosing to dodge the checkpoint, hitting a target in a test of timing at the end of the level, and last but not least, DANCING! That’s right, the more you dance the more you score (I think I would be great at highscoring clubs if this was how life worked).
Dancing is activated by clicking a button and has about a 1 second animation. Understanding the spacing for this dancing is key for slipping in a lot of dances without dying. Especially on hard difficulty, enemies are spaced such that dancing is often possible but requires very good timing.
Understanding How I Wanted to Enjoy the Game
There are a lot of ways to feel a sense of achievement out of most games, and this was no different. There are three different difficulties and achievements related to magnitude of completion of the levels. I could try beating all the levels, or perhaps unlocking all the extras, maybe getting a “perfect” (which relates to getting all of the collectables and hitting the bull’s eye at the end) on every level, or pursuing high scores.
I knew I wanted to at least perfect every level on every difficulty (there’s the completionist in me), but I wasn’t sure where I stood on attacking the leader-boards. I started off on normal difficulty going for perfects and in limbo about my feelings towards high scores. On one hand I wanted to get high scores but on the other I quite enjoyed the idea of progressing through the levels at a hastened pace without having to worry about perfectly timed dance maneuvers.
However, being the front loader of difficulty that I am, I started off rigorously trying to dance every moment I possibly could. This ultimately led to a frustrating experience where I was dying a lot and it just wasn’t that enjoyable.
I stepped back, reevaluated my strategy and put the high scores on the backburner, which lead to a much more enjoyable experience. I was zooming through the game, enjoying the atmospheres and different elements of wonderful polish that the game has to offer. I would dance here and there for flare without putting myself in much risk and with little eye towards the rewards. It also helped me practice getting a bull’s eye on the target… it was quite a buzz kill to do well on a level and miss that last shot.
I used my first playthough as a prepping of sorts. It helped me take in the beauties of the game while also giving me a heads up on the landscapes for when I would later try for high scores. I still wanted to play through on easy and hard for the achievement side of things, so I had to decide how I wanted to combat these other difficulties.
I used my first playthough as a prepping of sorts. It helped me take in the beauties of the game while also giving me a heads up on the landscapes for when I would later try for high scores.
Usually, an “easy” difficulty is the most boring for me and in most games I won’t even bother with it, but here I saw a neat opportunity. The fewer enemies were basically an open dance floor (try finding that in NYC). I was able to make the experience more challenging by cramming in dances anywhere and everywhere.
In an interesting design choice, there was no real benefit for scoring to playing on higher difficulties. Some levels slews of enemies racked up the points on hard, others an open dance floor was the way to the top. I think there is a lesson here too, but that will be for another time.
In an interesting design choice, there was no real benefit for scoring to playing on higher difficulties. Some levels slews of enemies racked up the points on hard, others an open dance floor was the way to the top.
I played through the game methodically on easy caring about high scores. Even on easy this takes a lot of trial and error as forcing dances where they don’t necessarily belong led to a lot of deaths. I was much more mentally prepared for this trial and error though. I had readied myself well for it and I was loving attacking it with a rigorous eye towards understanding the data systems involved.
I had readied myself well for it and I was loving attacking it with a rigorous eye towards understanding the data systems involved.
I considered how many dances I should be able to fit in different intervals and what were the best routes for point maximization. I also kept a mental tab of when I had missed dances so I knew how far I was off from my approximate best score. In this mindset I could get pleasantly lost in the trial and error.
Finally, I got around to hard mode where I found a middle ground. On the levels where my current score put a dent in the leaderboards I just went for the “perfect” (I think perfect is a funny word, but again that’s for another time). On other levels where my score left me in the dust I went balls to the wall and tried to rack up what I could on hard mode.
Framing Experiences and Doing What Feels Right
Where can we translate this to life? The thing that is popping out to me is that there are always different measures of success. It’s important to understand what kind of experience we are looking for, what elements of that experience we value most and what elements we are willing to sacrifice. In addition to this understanding, it’s key to frame your tasks in a way that highlights the right components and deemphasizes the less value-added elements.
…it’s key to frame your tasks in a way that highlights the right components and deemphasizes the less value-added elements.
This can apply to many aspects of life. From a very high level view, I think it is a simple reminder that everyone is different and has built their own unique skill sets. In today’s world there is so much we can do with our time. Access to knowledge is becoming less and less of an issue with mass internet sources like Wikipedia and some of the major universities even offering free online courses. There is more of an opportunity cost to the average person’s time.
I could play a game, read the news, take an online course, play a sport, or just do nothing. So when I choose to play Bit Trip, I am choosing that over a wealth of possibilities. The academic in me might yell at me to consider those opportunity costs. That I should be learning every moment of the day I have free and I know there is someone out there that is doing just that.
I know I’m not in the right frame of mind to do that. I just got out of an academic setting and I have more to learn from the world right now than from books or online courses. Everything we do molds who we are, and in a way we are honing various skill sets in our own way.
I remember my friend telling me that in an investment banking interview, the interviewee suggested that he should be trying to do a couple DCFs a day whenever he had spare time. Perhaps that route is for someone and that strategy may go far for them, but that’s just not for my friend. He spent more time honing other skills that could give him unique value in a team.
Another personal experience is with projecteuler.net. The site has math problems that are intended to be solved with programming. Doing a lot of these problems efficiently with the right languages, they should be able to be solved very quickly with little moderate processing power. But I was enjoying doing the problems I could with my hack job Excel VBA coding. It was in no way the most efficient way, but was enjoyable for me and helped me hone a specific set of skills.
Dance Right Into a Conclusion
I love playing games and growing from them. That may not be a skill I can sell on a resume, but it makes me a better person. So what if that doesn’t necessarily put me at the top of the leaderboard the way focused dedication to a marketable skill might. It is me finding self improvement in a way that I can handle and enjoy. It is me finding out when and where to dance.
I love playing games and growing from them. That may not be a skill I can sell on a resume, but it makes me a better person.
Well, that about wraps it up. Have you ever gotten frustrated by something that you were then able to reframe in a way to find more enjoyment out of it than in the first pass? And how do you measure your success? Do you envy the skills or relationships of those around you that you think have chosen their time wisely and use that as a drive for self improvement? Or perhaps do you find solace in finding value in the unique set of activities that you take part in? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to game on and learn on!