One of the most misunderstood design choices I made as a designer was with the reward system. The audience and I misunderstood its use and implementation, as I used a 3-star reward system without really thinking about how and why it works in other games. This update replaces the reward system with a 2-medal performance rating system that makes a lot more sense.
Before: 3-Star Reward System
In the above picture, the game rewarded you a star for completing the level, a star for not using a missile and a star for beating the target time. The problem here is that the 3-star reward system is based on 3 different aspects of performance, and that the system is completely binary, meaning that if you don’t reach the target times or missiles, you are not rewarded at all.
This issue is amplified even more when rated on your performance on time. Here, beating the time would be the equivalent of earning a Gold medal in the new reward system. However, without a tiered rating system, most people, on their first try, will see their time in comparison to the ‘Gold’ time and deem it impossible to achieve.
Most successful implementations of 3-star reward systems can actually be replaced with a single bronze, silver, and gold medal system (1-star, 2-star, 3-star). It’s not binary, and earning stars is based on tiered performance, meaning that the better you do, the more stars you get. In those cases, one aspect of performance is rated. An obvious example that comes to mind is that of Angry Birds. You get more stars based on your total score. It could also be replaced with a single medal, but that’s probably a little less interesting to the player.
After: 2-Medal Reward System
One of the reasons why the ‘Times’ seemed impossible to many players was that there was no in-game tool for determining what the most optimal solutions were. With the removal of missiles, I decided to add in a “Moves” counter, and reward medals based on the least number of moves used and the fastest time completed.
Adding in the medal for performance based on number moves helps the player understand if they have an optimal solution. With a tiered reward system, they can see where their solution ranks in terms of bronze, silver and gold. This helps players achieve the best time, as they now have a target time to work harder for. It no longer seems impossible, and the game also teases you by telling you how much more effort you need to put in to get to that next medal. The above picture tells the player that the puzzle can be solved in 16 moves, which will help shave off those valuable seconds when trying to get Gold time.
This 2-medal reward system works better in Pixel Blocked!, because it gives players a better understanding of their performance and increases replay value without the frustration of the previous 3-star reward system.