We all know the value of highscore systems and the competitiveness and longevity they provide to a game and its community. In fact, most atari 2600 games are all about high-scores - but there is a problem. Sometimes with hundreds of game modes and various different A/B settings, it is quite daunting to even know where to start. It's even more difficult to figure out how you compare with other players out there. Because of this, I never had much interest in chasing global highscores, but a recent development in the 2600 scene sparked my interest: the PlusCart. This WiFi cartridge has the amazing ability to send your highscores to a server to compare your performance to other players. As mindblowing as this is, the PlusCart's highscore tables are - as expected - lackluster. The cart is not yet released and has a small playerbase, with only 14 games having the online highscore functionality and the tables are already a meaningless mess. This will only get worse as more people adopt the cart and more games are added.
This is a suggestion directed at the developer of the PlusCart or anyone else that is able to provide online scores for the Atari 2600.
Recent innovations in game design led to Histogram scores (great examples can be found in Infinyfactory, Opus Magnum etc.). The idea is quite simple; consolidate the scores and display them visually in the form of a graph. But the ramifications this has are quite astounding - no matter how well or badly you perform at the game, you can now compare your score to the rest of the players in a non-trivial manner and it pushes you to be better by reaching at least the top of the bell curve.
More importantly for our purpose, you are able to display several histograms on one page (for different game variations, difficulties an so on) without compromising the readability of these scores, making it in my opinion the perfect way to display Atari scores.
Here is a concrete example I made for Asteroids. Instead of dozens (or hundreds) of pages of this:
You would have only one page like this:
(Numbers on the Y axis show the number of players, X axis shows scores, the orange line is your placement on the highscore histogram. In practice, it would be possible to display the graphs much smaller with less information, while still maintaining its practicality. The regular highscore tables would still be accessible via the "Leaderboard" link, in case the player wishes to see details.)
Here is a rough overview of how these histograms would in theory work.
Step 1: in case a user doesn't have a score, assign a zero score to them. This will help us determine rankings later
Step 2: take only the highest score of each user, since you don't want a single player to be able to completely skew the graph. Also disregard any 2-player modes (make those into a completely separate category)
Step 3: assign user rankings according to scores. The player with the highest score receives rank 1. Player in second place receives rank 2 and so on. If multiple players have the same score, they will also have the same rank
Step 4: split the scores between 0 and the highest score into brackets; the exact number of brackets doesn't matter.
Step 5: map the brackets onto the graph. Each bracket is a column. The Y axis shows the amount of players (disregard number of players who reached a score of zero for this step)
Step 6: display the user's score on the histogram with a vertical line
The advantages this system offers should be clear; I can see at a glance in which game modes I can still perform better and my placement on the curve naturally pushes me to try and achieve a better score.
Going a step further
Now that the scores and rankings are clear to see and easy to understand, we can push the concept a step further - with Game-wide and Global Rankings.
Game-wide rankings: this takes all of the user's rankings from a single game across different game modes and difficulty settings and simply adds them up. The lower the sum of a user's rankings, the higher their game-wide rank is.
Global rankings: sum of a user's game-wide rankings. The lower the sum, the higher the global rank
This function would add a much needed overview to Atari scores and encourage competition across all games and game modes. I believe the goal of the PlusCart is to also eventually allow developers to sell ROMs via the PlusStore, so proper leaderboards would be a fantastic feature to have and give the platform a unique selling point (both for users and developers), since anyone interested in pursuing Global Rankings would want to get the game.
If anything I wrote is unclear, please ask and I'll be happy to elaborate on the idea.