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"Scoring is quite unique in pinball; the game is notorious for being generous with "points," a unit of measurement analogous to the haypenny, the microsecond, and the nanometer — they are all units of measurement that are too utterly small to be of any use whatsoever."
More Zeroes, More Fun!
In most sports and a number of video games, Scoring Points is the best way to keep track of your success. But when you think about it, what is a point? Can you quantify its value? Is a point in one game necessarily as valuable as a point in another game? Think about such things long enough, and you may come to the conclusion that a point is really nothing more than a bizarre variation of currency, easily redeemed for fame and glory.
And like currency, it can be subject to Ridiculous Future Inflation.
Some games are simply more generous with their scoring systems than others. Some games will give you 10 points for an action that would earn you 100 points in another. Zeros are particularly easy to append to scores. Yet in the end, the extra powers of 10 are meaningless and serve only to make one's performance look that much more impressive.
If the game is in Japanese or Chinese, scores will sometimes have digit separator kanji to keep scores readable. 万 (man) is ten thousand, 億 (oku) is one hundred million, and, if you're lucky, you may see 兆 (chou), or one trillion.^{note }(Unlike in the West, East Asian languages subdivide numbers four digits at a time, rather than three.)
There is a practical variant of this technique, in which the smaller, meaningless digits are used for a purpose separate from scoring as many points as possible. When used this way, the score is really more like two scores placed end to end.
One reason these inflated point counts happen is due to a handful of natural human biases. We like big numbers yet are also somewhat bad at them especially in comparison on the fly. 10 is more than 1. 10,000 is basically the same as 1,000 (as far as a ratio goes), but it seems like a lot more at first glance. Even when we start to break it down, we can trigger various human faults over how much we're getting and how much there is actually. It's very likely that early pinball designers inflated scores purely for the ability to state that you can earn more points than a competitors and thus players of said machine were better despite, as this trope points out, it being an arbitrary distinction. Of course, once we start doing this sort of inflation, we also tend to move our internal definition of 'average'; a pinball machine that gave you scores in the 10s would, at first glance, look and feel much less impressive without some sort of context to justify it.
The point-value equivalent of Rank Inflation. Compare Money for Nothing, where this applies to currency instead of points. The same reason apply though; we feel special and powerful if we can casually buy something that costs 1500 (whatevers)... even if the relative value would make it equivalent to a 15 point item using a reduced currency count. See also Trope 2000, another area in which extra 0s are added for the Rule of Cool.
Examples:
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Pinball
The most visible use of this trope lies in the Pinball medium, hence it being the Trope Namer. Machines routinely display scores in the millions, and often even greater, depending on the machine. In Spanish-speaking countries, pinball machines have obtained the nickname "máquinas de millones".
Attack from Mars is particularly noteworthy. The skill shot at the beginning of the game is worth 10 million points (and increases 10 million each subsequent time). Hitting the saucer in the middle scores 50 million or more a hit (and if you aim the ball right, you can score up to three hits in one shot). In the Wizard Mode, your goal is to earn 5 billion points, at which time you are awarded 5 billion more.
Johnny Mnemonic has scores of roughly the same magnitude as AFM. One of the keys to scoring is Spinner Millions, which will give you 10 million points in bonus for each spin of the spinner (For about 150-200 million each trip through it). On a good ball this can amount to billions of points. The bonus multiplier applies to this, so you can multiply your Spinner Millions total up to 4x. And by getting Hold Bonus, you are awarded your bonus from the previous ball not just once, but twice due to a good bad bug. There is also the Power Down Wizard Mode which typically awards several billion points.
WHO dunnit is another good example, as even a billion points is not good enough for a Replay. Solving a case and catching the criminal starts a four-ball multiball where pretty much any shot scores up to 100,000,000 points. The Roulette Betting Mini-Game can be worth up to 2,500,000,000 points. It's not hard at all to get a score in the billions.
In The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot locking both balls in multiball mode spins a roulette wheel which may give the player a few seconds to make a ramp shot for a billion points, in a game where a good round might otherwise land you a few tens of millions of points. The game keeps two separate high score tables, one for players who did not make any billion point shots, and a "Billionaire's Club" table for those who did, because the billion point shot can be turned off by the operator.
One exception is NBA Fastbreak, which has a scoring system surprisingly closer to real-life basketball. High scores are typically in the hundreds.
In the semi-sequel NBA by Stern Pinball, points are once again in the millions so that you can get millions of points from a 3-point goal.
Newer NBA Fastbreak ROMs have a more standard pinball score in addition to the NBA-style scoring.
On the backglass of one classic machine, the artwork places an infinite stream of zeros after your score, stretching into the distance.
Sometimes a limited number of zeros are placed in the artwork, so while technically the score reads, say: 10 000, the counter built in only needs to count up from one, assuming each point increment is 1 000.
One rather amazing aversion, based in the Super Mario fandom, actually had single-digit bonuses for most things, and very few large point caches. It wasn't very popular.
This trope has been zig-zagged through pinball's history. In '30s and '40s, scores were displayed with lights on the backglass and an arbitrary number of zeroes would usually be appended to each "unit" of scoring. When rolling counters were introduced sometime in the '50s, this trope was averted completely, with actions starting to score single points and score counters maxing out at 3-4 digits. Scores did begin to steadily increase again though, back to six digits by the time electronic score counters were introduced in The Seventies, which only accelerated the presence of this trope, which reached its peak in The Nineties with it being possible to score in the billions on most pins. It arguably reversed in 1996 with Tales of the Arabian Nights; most pins since then usually have scores in the millions or tens of millions.
Many pinball machines will still give tens of points for some actions, though this is less for scoring purposes and more for the Match Sequence that gives the player a chance of a free game.
Even this is an illusion - operator menus for many pinball games have settings for how often to give free games for score matches. These can be set by individual percentages. Some pinball games appear to give you multiple numbers to match - Joker's Wild!, for example, appears to give you five different numbers to match, giving the appearance of a 50 percent chance of getting a free game. Funny how players still don't seem to get them every other time...
Many pinball games from Spain manufacturer Sonic have 100 as the minimum possible scoring unit, instead of 10 like most other pins from The Seventies and onward. The matches on them are also three digits (000 to 900).
Somebody coded Psycho Pinball wrong; no good pinball game should have a Score Cap. The score loops back to zero after 999,999,990 - you can count the billions in your head, but it's not the same. (Looping the jackpots on the Trick Or Treat table is the easiest way to get there.)
Metroid Prime Pinball caps at 199,999,990. Hackers discovered this quickly; legitimate players followed.
Even the classic Pinball Fantasies caps out - at a trillion minus ten. The record stands at some 44 trillion.
The "Space Cadet" table of Full Tilt! Pinball was also capped - at 999,999,950. You can never score in increments of less than 50.
Playing Gottlieb Pinball Classics (a simulation of classic tables from the Gottleib Pinball company) is an education in how many zeroes pinball tables have gained over the decades, from 1 point per bumper bounce and a three-digit score counter to 10,000 points per bounce and a digit counter stretching off towards a billion.
Epic Pinball has a number of scoring systems depending on which table you play (points can be awarded in sizes ranging from 1 to 5 digits for just low-valued events, depending on the table). On the Super Android table (which starts at 10,000 points for the pop bumpers — whose value increases by 30,000 by hitting a particular sequence of targets, without limit), you can score over 3 billion points.
Pokémon Pinball. Scoring in the main game is already pretty ridiculous, but the Game Breaker Mewtwo bonus stage will give you 50 million points every time you hit him, adding up to around a billion points each time you play it. With a little bit of skill and a lot of patience, scores in the tens of billions or more are possible.
Kirby's Pinball Land is somewhat of an aversion of this trope as most ways to score points are 'only' in hundred or thousand increments. The highest individual payoffs are 50,000 from defeating a boss, 77,700 from a top level jackpot, or the maximum of 99,990 in a bonus stage. The score loops back to zero after exceeding 99,999,990 points, which was probably just left in the game as it usually takes several days of play to reach it.
Double Subverted in Capcom's Breakshot. The dot matrix displays shows a 7-digit electro-mechanical-style scoring reel, thus making the rollover score a comparatively modest 10 million, but a decent Cutthroat Countdown can do this easily and the multiball Score Multiplier can also make 10 million an easy goal to achieve. Mixing the two can possibly score over 100 million, and rotation Cutthroat Countdown with three balls could theoretically be worth up to 225 million.
Played with in Jersey Jack Pinball's The Wizard of Oz. The standard scoring levels are noticably lower than in most other modern-day pinball games, but an operator configuration option allows adding more zeroes to the score to invoke this trope.
The Lord of the Rings has a record potential multiplier - it's possible to get an 84x Jackpot. Activate the "2x Score" Gift from the Elves (2x), activate Gollum Multiball (flips between 1/2x and 2x, for 4x potentially), activate Two Towers Multiball (1x, 2x, or 3x jackpots, depending on how many balls are on the table, for 12x potentially), and combo seven Jackpots (comboing a Jackpot increases its multiplier up to 7x, giving a potential 84x Jackpot.) However, since Gollum Multiball flips between 1/2x and 2x, and the "2x Score" gift lasts for 60 seconds - it's not exactly simple to get...
Averted in many of the games from Italian pinball Zaccaria, which typically use more modest scores than those of other games. Time Machine and Farfalla are two examples, where a good game will have a score of several hundred thousand points.
Anime and Manga
In Dragon Ball Z, power levels become more and more like this as the series continues, until the concept is more or less abandoned after the Freeza arc.
Board Games
In standard Japanese Mahjong, all hand values are rounded up to the nearest 100 at the end of calculations. As a result, some competitions and games will show scores in thousands, e.g. 7.7 (thousand) instead of 7,700.
The Aotenjou ("Skyrocketing") House Rule is this trope applied full force. Normally, hands with 4 or fewer han are scored using an exponential formula with a soft Cap of 8,000 points. Aotenjou uses this formula for everything and removes the usual caps, so a 13-han hand (which would normally hit the hard cap of 32,000 points) is worth over 2 million points.
Depending on the variation of these rules, yakuman hands are either treated as a flat 10 million (child) or 15 million (dealer) or add 13 han. With the former, more restrictive variation, hands with more than 13 han very quickly make a yakuman look cheap. With the latter variation giving the ability to stack yakuman hands, it is possible to get hands over 100 han and with scores well over a nonillion (10^{30}) points.^{Example scenario }East Round 1, 7 honba. The dealer going for an 8th consecutive dealer win has closed kan of East, West, Haku, and Hatsu, and his last tile is a Chun. He declares Riichi with 4 tiles left in the wall. On his next turn, he draws the final tile and pairs up the Chun for the win. Dora and Ura-Dora indicators are 4x South, 4x North, and the other 2 Chun tiles. This would be worth 160 fu and Riichi (1) + Ippatsu (1) + Menzen Tsumo (1) + Yakuhai x 4 (1 x 4) + Haitei (1) + Toitoihou (2) + Shousangen (2) + Suukantsu (13) + Tsuuiisou (13) + Suuankou Tanki-Machi (13 x 2) + Paarenchan (13) + Dora x 40 (1 x 40) = 117 han for a total of 160 x 4 x 6 x 2^117 = 638 undecillion (10^36) points. Incredibly improbable unless you cheat or use an Infinite Improbability Drive, but theoretically possible].
The fu value used in the basic scoring formula itself is rounded up to the nearest 10 (except chitoitsu which is a flat 25).
The exponential part of the formula itself has two added to the han value of the hand, effectively multiplying any winning hand's score by 4 by default. This is called bazoro. Some point tables will even start at 3 han to show these two free han. This apparently was created just because people had originally thought that hands were worth not enough points. One wonders why they did not just scale back the starting points to 1/4 of what they are now.
The Here and Now versions of Monopoly multiply all the amounts of money from the original game by 10,000, and hence 10,000 is the smallest unit of money. This means that passing Go is worth 2 million dollars (U.S. Edition) or Monos (The World Edition).
Back before the Euro, the French version used a hundred francs for one dollar: passing Go awarded 20,000F. Talk about an exchange rate!
In the current incarnation of the Milton Bradley Game of Life, all transactions occur in multiples of $5,000.
Transactions in the board game Acquire are all in multiples of $100.
Blood Bowl costs and rewards are all in multiples of 10,000 gold.
Card Games
A simple comparison for collectible card game fans: In Magic: The Gathering, creatures' powers and toughnesses are generally in the single digits; a 10/10 creature is a big deal. A Pokémon with 10 HP, on the other hand, is a One-Hit-Point Wonder; the highest HP featured on any legal card is 230, and the biggest attack deals 300 damage. Digimon creatures have stats in hundreds, and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards have stats on the order of 2000, with some exceptions. Duel Masters creatures are in the thousands, with 1000 belonging to the weakest creatures and 39000 to the strongest (to-date).
In Quest made an April Fools' Day joke about a new anime version of Magic, which multiplied every creature's power and toughness by 1,000.
Yu-Gi-Oh!sort of built up to this. While the lowest ATK any monster in the game that has an ATK at all is 100, there are still times where the other digits are used (like an 850 ATK monster gets its strength cut in half to 425). Now, it's uncommon to see any low-level monster (4 or lower) with an ATK of less than 1500 in most player's decks, and a deck with only "vanilla" (no effect monsters) will have them all around 1900. Old, weak cards are mainly used for special strategies or, more commonly, packing material.
When a classic gambling game such as poker is played for 'fun' (when the winner gets little more than bragging rights over his buddies), it's routine for players to agree that the lowest-valued poker chip is worth $1,000, or $1 million, with higher-valued chips being multiples of that base. Everyone wants to feel like James Bond.
The same thing happens even when playing for money, in an elimination tournament. A casino tournament with a $15 buyin will rarely give the player $15 in tournament chips; $1500 is a far more likely starting amount. The chips are useless outside of the tournament, and a player's winnings are determined only by how long they last, so there isn't a need for a "tournament dollar" to correspond to real money in any way as long as all players start with the same amount.
In Bridge, the lowest possible additive to your score is 20 (for each trick bid and made/overtrick made in a clubs or diamonds contract), with 30, 40, and 50 being the other less-than-100 additives.
That's in the most commonly played (pretty well universally played, actually) scoring system; older scoring systems involved game at thirty points, with contracts scoring six, seven, eight, nine or ten per odd trick. (if that doesn't make much sense to you, don't worry, it just means that you don't play)
Points in Canasta are all in multiples of 5. You (or your team) need 5000 points to win, which is pretty inflated for a card game.
In pinochle, the scoring is often prone to this. Some versions give 10 points for Aces around, while some versions it is worth 100 points. All other values work the same. In a game with 10 for Aces, game is usually played to 500, but in the other version game would be 5000.
Live Action TV
Frequently used on Game Shows, particularly those which don't convert contestants' scores to cash winnings. Catch 21 scores everything in 100-point increments, making the last two digits pointless.
Go has scores in multiples of 250. The winning team receives $1 a point.
Taken Up to Eleven in a kids' Bible game show titled "Kids on the Move." The first round was a variation of Hit Man (here's a short film, now answer some questions based on the film's dialogue) with questions worth 35,000 points each. The next round was a stunt round played by a different team outside the studio) which offered 250,000 points, and the final round (unscramble this Bible verse within 60 seconds) had a total of 500,000 points on the line. (If memory serves, it was something like 250,000 for solving the verse, 100,000 for identifying the book, chapter, and verse number, and 150,000 for solving the verse in a faster time.)
And then there was "National Lampoon's Funny Money," which expressed the scores in billions of "Funny Money dollars." Somewhat downplayed, because the number of billions was big, then the word "billion" underneath, in smaller letters.
Inverted by $ale of the Century, where contestants were actually paid their scores in dollars... and each question was worth a measly $5. Of course, the point was to accumulate enough score money to buy the prizes at ridiculously low prices.
In an episode of Boy Meets World, when the High School Quiz Show dumbs itself down to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator, among the changes include all point values being multiplied by 1 million.
Schlag den Raab has an interesting form of this, 15 games each game worth one point more than the previous game after Spiel 1.
In one of the Children in Need episodes of QI, Stephen gave the final scores in millions to fit in with the charity theme. Somehow Alan losing with -29,000,000 is much funnier than with -29.
Sports
Baseball almost completely averts pinball scoring, since each player who bats resembles only one run. The number of runs that can score on any one play is equal to the number of runners on base plus the batter. (The grand slam, baseball's highest scoring play, is worth exactly four runs.)
Hockey and soccer/football avert this trope completely in terms of actual game score. One goal equals one point for the team.
American football:
Although there is a play that awards a team one point, it is only available after that team gets a touchdown, which is worth six points.
The lowest standalone scoring play is the safety (where the ball handler is taken down in his team's own end zone), which is worth two points.
Tennis has a bizarre 15-30-40-game point system. Forty used to be 45, but was too hard to say quickly. The points corresponded to degrees on a circle—thus, if you won 4 units of 15 degrees 6 times (enough to win a set), you made it around the circle. This weird symbolism exists because Europeans in the 17th century were obsessed with geometry.
Or because a clock was used for scoring, the hands being moved manually. Or because of an older game where winning a point let you move forward, first to 15 feet then 30 and finally 40.
Although it has to be said, in a game in which you have a game score, a set score, and a match score to keep track of, it's actually a good idea to count at least one of them different from the two others, to easier keep track. Not sure if this was intentional, or just a happy side effect.
In Quidditch, the Fictional Sport from Harry Potter, scoring a goal is worth 10 points, and catching the Golden Snitch is worth 150 points. There doesn't seem to be a reason for them to not be worth one and 15, respectively.
The 150 points from the snitch are explained in Quidditch Through the Ages, where it all started when a Golden Snidget (a bird) was released during a match with 150 galleons (which at the time was a huge sum, worth over a million galleons in modern terms) promised as a reward to the one who could catch it. The number was then kept when the Snidget catching was actually incorporated into the game.
In non-universe terms, the point values were probably inflated so that the game would seem rather more fast-paced and interesting than it transpired to be, making it seem even beyond basketball in terms of 'action'. When someone says they won by a hundred points, that sounds like there's a lot going on, while in reality they were probably 5 goals down and then lucked out on the snitch.
In fact, the existence of the snitch at all is probably evidence of this trope. It makes NO sense in terms of making a sport that people would actually play, but it gives Harry a way to be awesome and important in the game without actually needing training or having ever seen the game played.
In a roller derby jam, 5 points are awarded for each completed scoring pass through the pack. However, each opposing player passed is worth only 1 point, making this an aversion if the lead jammer calls off the jam while the opposing jammer is still halfway through the pack.
In Rugby Union and Rugby League, a ridiculously large number of points in a match is often referred to as a "cricket score", a reference to the large number of runs usually scored by both sides in a game of cricket. This big a number of points isn't usually a good thing, as if achieved by only one team it means that the match was severely (often dangerously) one-sided, and if both teams get a very high score it means neither of them could defend.
More specifically, in cricket the score for a single team comprises two numbers: how many runs scored, usually in the hundreds, and how many batsmen were put out, which can be between zero and ten. So a score like 243-6, read as two hundred and forty three for six, is reasonable for one team in cricket. 243-6 in rugby, being the scores of both teams, would be an absolute walkover.
The NASCAR-like ARCA series awards at least 230 points to the winner, 220 to the second-place finisher and 215 to the third-place finisher. All points for all drivers are divisible by 5.
Video Games
The Katamari-cloneThe Wonderful End of the World parodies this by giving your score as a very literal count of how many items you've assimilated, with, written after it in brackets, '(billion)'.
Guitar Freaks and Drum Mania played this trope straight up until V6; the value of each note is multiplied by your current combo, leading to mostly 8 or 9 digit scores for decently-skilled players. Averted as of the releases of V7 and XG, where the maximum score on any song is around 1,000,000.
Technically, the lowest score you could earn for doing something in Super Mario Bros. was 50, for breaking a normal brick as Super Mario (or for each tick of time you have left at the end of a stage). Still, why stomping a Goomba was worth 100 points, rather than 2, is a mystery for the ages.
Giga Wing (pictured) has this because of how the game's score multiplying system works. A good player can easily get a score multiplier in the millions (meaning that the point value of every destroyed mook is multiplied by a million), and decent final scores start in the trillions. In fact, this aspect of the scoring system is touted in the Attract Mode.
Giga Wing 2 and Giga Wing Generations push the envelope, with the latter allowing you to have upwards of twenty digits.
Spiritual SuccessorMars Matrix doesn't have scores quite as absurd as Giga Wing, but features the same score multiplier mechanic. Very skilled players can get 999,999,999,990 points.
In the Neopets flash sidegame The Return of the Return of Dr. Sloth, high scores rise exponentially with play skill, though it is one of the lower scoring of games with this distinction. The current high score board has only one entry in the hundred billions.
This game has not only a score multiplier, but a score multiplier multiplier!
Played to an extreme in Morph, an online flash game where you dodge objects, which give you one point when they cross the screen, and get items that make the game harder to play for a little while, but double your score. They do not give you a x2 multiplier. They double your score. After enough points, the game goes into scientific notation.
The original Newgrounds version was updated shortly after release; one of the changes was a more standard scoring system (items give you 1000 points instead of doubling the score).
The NES version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game is an odd example: the Japanese version of the game uses Pinball Scoring, while the American version uses the same "one point per enemy" scheme as the arcade version. The points scheme is different in other ways, too: in the Japanese version, some enemies give more than 100 points, and you get extra lives at different point values. Funnily enough, TMNT 3 used Pinball Scoring in both regions, and TMNT4 used it in neither (nor did the arcade game it was based on, although Ubisoft's Re-Shelledremake does this in a limited capacity, with about 10-50 points for each enemy defeated).
The "one point per KO" rule only applies to the North American release of The Simpsons arcade game. The Japanese version actually assigns point values (divisible by 100) for individual types of enemies.
Total Overdose is notable for an FPS, having a point system that simply represents points scored and aren't a form of currency. Initially exploration is rewarded with these, unlocking upgrades at arbitrary increments. Later these global points become irrelevant, but mission totals remain important for scoring performance and unlocking additional upgrades.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom measure damages in this manner. If you've been playing or watching the Japanese version, and have some knowledge of kanji, you'll notice that damages start in the ten thousands and can rise to the billions. The English translation for non-Japanese regions revealed it in all its glory - a magazine screenshot shows Ryu landing a Hadoken for 19 hits and 8.655 billion damage. Yeah.
Both it and Marvel Vs Capcom 2 measure scores in the same overinflated manner.
In Street Fighter games you often earn anywhere from 100 to 1000 points for each hit landed on the opponent. Time and energy remaining bonuses numbered in the thousands. Later games actually exploited the powers of ten scoring scheme to sneak some information in your score: in Alpha 3 at least the game would give the player 1 single point for each continue spent on the current session, meaning that one could see how many times someone on the leaderboard had continued. Assuming they did not continue 100 times or more.
TI-89 calculator game "Drifter" had a problem with this. It was essentially a game of moving the player object left and right to avoid the ever-shrinking walls of a tunnel. The problem came in with the scoring system for the Classic mode. "Drifting," or not hitting the left or right keys to change your horizontal velocity, would give your entire score multiplers. Drifting one screen would add 25% of your current score to itself, two 50% (of the NEW score after the first screen), and each screen drifted 3 and after (consecutively) would double your score. You can already see where this is going if you drift for ten screens straight or so, but add to that the fact that each "level," for which the tunnel shrinks one pixel or so every 5-15 screens, increases the amount of points added for each tick. Stage 1 gives you one point for each tick, stage 2 gives you two, etc. On a particularly good run, you can get up to stage 15-20. One level is about 100-200 ticks by the way, considering that the first level gives you about that many points if you do very little drifting. tl;dr, the game can crash your calculator due to some massive memory overflow. Certainly nowhere near Giga Wing's and Mv C 2's scores, but it probably could get that ridiculous with absolutely no inflation if the calculators were actually Windows XP computers. Fortunately, the mode that scored by only drifts, given arbitrary numbers of points instead of multipliers, did not have this problem. There were multipliers in the form of chaining multiple drifts together, but they only affected the points being earned, not total score, and chaining drifts is near-impossible in higher levels.
BlazBlue has a scoring algorithm that can lead to scores ranging in the trillions. It's very easy to score a billion points before the end of the first round of your first battle.
Every Extend Extra Extreme has 20 digit scores. Even the official leaderboards are called the "All-Time Trillionares' Club"
DJMAX Portable from the second installment onwards does this with combos, thanks to the Fever system (which multiplies how much your combo goes up when you hit a note) and the way hold notes are handled in combos. You can easily get 5,000 combo in a single song, even if the song only has 700 actual notes.
Inverted with Beatmania IIDX's "Expert" scoring system; getting a Just Great yields 2 points, a Great yields 1 point, and every note judgement below is worth 0.
Even the normal scoring doesn't go that high. You can only gain a maximum of 200,000 points.
Final Fantasy games normally permit you to hit for up to 9,999 damage. However, Final Fantasy X allows you to apply the "Break Damage Limit" attribute to a weapon, which lets you hit for up to 99,999. For conventional players, this attribute is necessary for Bonus Bosses, which can have many times the HP of the penultimate boss (120,000 HP); the last boss in the Monster Arena has 10,000,000 HP!
In Final Fantasy XIII, random encounters frequently have HP scores in the hundreds of thousands.
Final Fantasy XII has a Bonus Boss with an initial HP total over 50,000,000! The damage cap is still at 9999, and only Quickenings and some Espers can break it, making the battle mostly a matter of endurance and trying to use fast but weak attacks that are less penalized by the cap. It gets even worse when the boss's HP falls below 50% and it activates a passive ability that reduces all incoming damage by 30% after the cap is applied, effectively lowering that cap to 6999.
Averted in the Paper Mario series. Every single point of attack and defense you can eke out are big deals, and the final boss has 99 HP in the first game and 200 HP in the second. This even applies to experience points, as it always takes 100 points to get to a new level. (Weaker enemies drop fewer experience points, then eventually none.)
Super Paper Mario, which is more like a platformer with RPG Elements (rather than the other way around in the first two games), has scoring more in line with traditional Mario platformers. The score functions as Experience Points, with most enemies having values in the hundreds of points. It takes 10,000 points to reach level 2.
Peggle developers Popcap Games noted that playtesters were strangely dissatisfied with their performance in the game. Popcap found that when some zeros were added to the scoring system, the game was much more satisfying.
The smallest value of points you can score in Geometry Wars is 5 points, before multipliers.
In Geometry Wars: Galaxies, all scoring is done in multiples of 25.
In Galaxies and Retro Evolved 2, every enemy drops "geoms" when killed, which increase your score multiplier by one, which does not reset if you die. After collecting them (and it's hard to not collect them after a while) your score will start to increase geometrically. This is especially apparent in Retro Evolved 2, where extra lives are no longer given after a fixed amount of points, but after every power of ten.
In the Orisinal game Winterbells, your score doubles every time you hit a bird. This can lead to scores in the quadrillions without much difficulty.
Each time you hit a bell, you get the amount of points you got for the last bell plus 10. So when you hit the first bell, you get 10 points, and when you hit a second bell, you get 20 more points, for a total of 30. This can result in incredibly high scores further in the game when you're getting over 1000 points per bell. This trope also appears in other Orisinal games.
A very obscure, and now defunct, rock-climbing flash game called Peg Climber played much like Winterbells. As you climbed, your score counter would count up the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. One peg was 1 point, six pegs was 8 points, 44 pegs was 701,408,733 points...
Some variants of Skee Ball like to skew the scoring scale. Most standard versions yield 10 points for the lowest-scoring target. And then there are newer versions where the lowest non-zero possible score on a single ball is 10,000 points.
In the freeware game Icy Tower, the points awarded for a combo scale quadratically with its length. Unsurprisingly, the high score list is really just a "longest combo" list, since it is very possible for a good player to get three digit combos and it is much more difficult to start a combo anywhere except the beginning of the game.
In DDR 3rd Mix, endless mode have exponential scoring, with an maximum of 10^72-1. This is 72 little nines spanning the entire width of the screen ! You need about a full day of continuous play to get there but it has been done.
4th mix's endless mode has "only" 32 digits, but it takes even longer to counter-stop than 3rd mix. See this video. By comparison, 3rd mix's Endless mode takes around 250-300 stages of straight Perfects.
Hell, in any of the DDR games before Super Nova, you have this trope. A 10-foot song garnered a maximum of 100,000,000 points.
Between Modern Warfare 1 and 2, every XP event you get has a zero added onto its original value (TDM kills are worth 100 instead of 10, etc.).
The HP and damage of the first Valkyrie Profile can get into this range. Damage easily gets into the high tens of thousands (and hundreds of thousands if properly done), with many millions of HP for high-end bosses, for no apparent reason other than dramatic effect.
Almost all Super Robot Wars games use this too. Even at the beginnings of them, your units will have 4-digit to low 5-digit max HP and be dealing 4-digit damage.
The money credits in the Japanese version of Gran Turismo has two more digits. Example: 10,000 American Cr = 1,000,000 Japanese Cr. This is, however, to make the in-game prices more familiar to local audiences, since this allows for an exchange rate of roughly 1 Japanese credit = 1 ¥ and 1 American credit = $1 USD.
One amusing bug in the American version of Gran Turismo 2 is that not all the displays were changed - so a simple car wash supposedly costs 5,000Cr.
Touhou has a different scoring system for every individual game. In the first six games, potential scores inflated over time, from 10-20 million in Story of Eastern Wonderland to over 100 million in Lotus Land Story and Mystic Square, to over 600 million in Embodiment of Scarlet Devil. From the seventh game, Perfect Cherry Blossom, all subsequent main games (except the ninth) placed the focus of scoring to raising the value of Point Items, rather than just collecting them; potential scores are in the billions, depending on the game (Imperishable Night is the highest with a record of over 6.3 billion; Mountain of Faith is only 2.2 billion).
The spinoff games, Shoot the Bullet and Double Spoiler, have the player take pictures of patterns. Base scores depend on the position of the boss and the number of bullets, but then bonus multipliers are added, ranging from how centered the boss is in the photograph, to having a large amount of bullets all be the same color, to having one of the bosses in her cat form at the time, to taking the picture exactly when you hear the boss going "clak!".
The fangame Phantasmagoria Trues uses a scoring system that, courtesy of multipliers, one of which is squared before being applied, and various bonus values, offers up to 19-digit scores.
Stage completion bonuses increase exponentially, to the point where it's possible to score more points in the final stage than the entire game up until that point combined.
Super Mario RPG's "Beetle Mania" Mini-Game. Shooting a shell causes it to explode into stars. If a star hits another shell, that shell explodes too, for 2^n points, where n is how many shells down the chain started by the shell you shot the shell is. So you think you've accomplished something by exceeding the default high score of 5,000 points...and then you fire one shot at a huge cluster of shells and your score jumps up by 200,000 points or more.
In the original OutRun, you get up to tens of thousands of points per second just for driving, and if you finish, 1,000,000 points for every second you have left on the clock at the end.
Pretty much every Sega racing game that had points was like this. Lots of others, too (Space Harrier, After Burner, Wrestle War, etc.)
Sonic Colors is like this in the Wii version. The DS version goes by most previous Sonic games with ranks, going into the tens of thousands for points in levels. Sonic Colors Wii goes well into the millions.
Having said that, though, mundane activities such as going through scenery or killing enemies brings reasonable amounts. What gets the score way up are the end of act bonuses and the wisps. (For instance, Sweet Mountain Act 3 can get you upwards of 600,000 points from Wisps alone.)
In fact, Sonic Colors Wii is unique among Sonic games in that the point bonuses received from finishing a stage quickly are relatively tiny (in most stages, at least). If you intend to play for score, you must look for whatever can get you large amounts of points and often just leave Sonic in one small area to milk all the points you can get from there, or going far, far out of your way to nab Red Rings, which score big. This is also the only Sonic game where defeating enemies gives you points starting at 1,000 instead of the normal 100.
Averted in the Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors mini-game "Desert Bus". Driving the full eight hours from Tucson to Las Vegas or vice versa grants you exactly ONE point. Still, the game shows the score with eight placeholders, so your one point looks like "00000001".
Crimzon Clover has scores that can go as high as 12 digits long. However, the main highlight of the scoring system is the buttloads of multipliers you get—your Break Rate (which increases as you kill enemies), the lock-on multiplier (shown in green), the Break Rate doubling and quadrupling when you Break and Double Break respectively, and the showers of stars you get. Each and every multiplier you get is shown when you kill enemies, and often you'll have moments where you cancel a screenful of bullets into a screenful of numbers.
This is in fact one reason why online scores are often posted using Japanese digit grouping (by powers of 10,000). (The other reason is because the first version only supported Japanese grouping, though a later patch added Western digit grouping by powers of 1000).
In Sonic The Hedgehog 3, one could get this via a Good Bad Bug—after you destroy 12 robots, the 13th and every one after that was worth 10,000 points. In the final level, you could sit in an alarm that summons robots, do a stationary spin dash, and destroy every robot that was summoned for a full 10 minutes—the vast majority of which were worth 10,000 points. Oh, and considering you got a life every 50,000 points...
Doujin shooter Altenative Sphere is ridiculous in this respect. A normal playthrough of the lowest difficulty level will get you a twenty-digit score.
When Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? really took off in Germany, suddenly all kinds of video games around this quiz appeared. Some actually used as advertising that you not only could earn DM 1,000,000 but ten or thousand times as much. Virtual money in the same game setting. Great selling point guys.
Your score in Super Crossfire basically has an extra two zeroes at the end of it.
Freeware game Distorted Travesty gives Awesome points for... well... just about everything, so you're going to end up with a lot of 'em. They actually do something too: the more you have, the more XP enemies give out.
In DoDonPachi Daifukkatsu, a moderately good player can easily get a score in the billions, a skilled player can get a score in the tens of billions, while the world record is over a trillion. This is mainly due to the way the chaining system works - your score is roughly proportional to the sums of the squares of your individual chains, and getting hit or using a bomb immediately breaks your chain. As a result, maintaining one big chain for the entire duration of stage 5 can net you well over 100 billion points for the stage, while if you break your chain intermittently, you'll earn something closer to 1 billion points.
All stats in World of Warcraft over the course of its history have increased exponentially from each expansion to the next. In Vanilla, having 3000 HP was a big deal, currently it is normal for a Tank to have 5~600k HP, and spells that strike for 1 million damage are starting to become common. There is a discussion between the developers and players where to artifically deflate all statistics in the game just to bring the numbers back down to psychologically comprehensive levels.
By the fourth expansion it has become common for tanks to have over a million HP, with AOE attacks on large packs of enemies sometimes doing over a million damage per second. In the fifth expansion however it has been confirmed that 'item squish' will be introduced to drastically reduce the bonus stats given by all current equipment.
In Glider PRO, it is impossible for the score not to be some multiple of 100. This was not the case in Glider 4.0, thanks to time bonuses and arbitrary rather than fixed point values for prizes.
Hellsinker appears to be an aversion at first; a casual player can score maybe 1,000-2,000 Spirits, while competent players can achieve quintiple-digit scores and world-class players can get a little over 130,000. Even most early 80s Shoot Em Ups don't have world records that low. However, on post-stage Score Screens and on the replay screen, scores have four more darkened digits to the right, so either the Spirits counters on the HUD and ranking tables divide scores by 10,000 or those darkened digits are decimal places, making this one of the few true inversions of the trope in existence.
Cookie Clicker is a subversion; while the number of cookies baked can get into the quadrillions or more by the end of the game, the game starts out with the player simply getting one cookie every time they click the Big Cookie.
In the free Shoot 'em UpIllusion Super Dimension, after the score reaches over 18 digits the game will write the extra digits in purple underneath. Observe that one of the screenshots on the game's page has 54402689 written in purple. That's a 26-digit score, 54.4 septillion points. The next closest STG, Alternative Sphere, only reaches 21.
Air Zonk in the original Japanese version has indicators for 兆 (1 trillion) and 億 (100 million) in the score after the fourth and eighth digits. The score is displayed as 0000兆0000億てん. In the American version there are not these indicators, so the scores are effectively lowered by a factor of 100 million.
The run-and-gun Shock Troopers has scores only in multiples of 500. The sequel has much more fine-grain scores, utilizing digits down to the tens place. Both games use the ones digit to keep track of the number of continues.
The Disgaea series does this for both damage and character stats. The damage can go into the octillions range with the right setup, and stats other then HP (Which has no known limit) cap at 99,999,999 million, at least until DisgaeaD2, where the developers decided it wasn't good enough and let them go into the hundreds of millions range.
Downplayed in Jardinains!, where all possible scores are multiples of five.
Some Cinema Sins homages on YouTube will double their score every time they see something particularly annoying, going from a score of, say, thirty and ending up with several hundred.
Real Life
The SAT is scored in multiples of 10 on a scale from 200 to 800 for each section, for a total score range from 600 to 2400 (400 to 1600 before the addition of the writing section). This means that even if you get every single question wrong and submit a bunch of drawings of boobs as your essay, you'll still get a 660.
The various customer loyalty programs that uses a redeemable point system. Usually, 1000 points is equivalent to 1 dollar.
Points, the digital currency of DeviantArt, are each worth slightly more than a US penny, so a large number of points may be near worthless in reality. For instance, 1,000 points is equal to 12.5 USD. Although, in some regions of the site, points are viewed as just as or more valuable than tangible currency, and 20 points (25 cents) is considered a lot.
Microsoft's Xbox LIVE currency, "MS Points", have an odd breakdown (80 points is a dollar) but the ones column never changes from a zero regardless of what you're buying. "GamerScore" (earned from getting Achievements) is an aversion (there are Achievements with values that aren't exact 10s and ones that aren't multiples of 5 are bound to drive players crazy with uneven numbers).
Games which use the low digits for a second purpose
Arguably, the most well-known example of this case is the Match Sequence from Pinball — at the end of a game, the last two digits of each player's score is compared with a randomly-generated pair, with a free game ("Special") awarded to everyone who gets a match. See the Match Sequence page for more details.
Spades: Making a bid earns your team points in quantities of 10 per trick, while the ones digit of your score is reserved for counting overtricks. Once you reach 10 overtricks, your score is penalized accordingly and the ones digit wraps around.
The ones digit of your score will make a difference if you end the game tied otherwise.
Many video games with a continue feature increment your score by one point whenever you continue. Thus, high scores that end in low numbers show more efficient gameplay than those that do not.
Depending on the scoring system. Some games cap the number at 9 continues. Others cap at 99 continues. Some even cap at 999 continues. The game might also reset your score when you continue and then add the number of continues to your score.
During single-player games in the Super Smash Bros. series, your score is deducted 99 points for using what the game deems "stale moves" Assuming that no other units digit bonuses exist (and at least one game has such a bonus), the ones digit serves as a count of how many times you have done this.
As of Brawl, bonuses have been removed entirely, to the sadness of many. Now the ones digit represents the number of continues used.
When playing games at Pogo, to ratio of games points of token value (for your cumulative token amount) varies from game to game. In some cases, the game score might even be only marginally related to token value.
A code in Space Megaforce turns the ones digit of your score into an indicator of the game's current difficulty.
The Gummi Ship mode in Kingdom Hearts has large scoring. Rank S+9 can require 4,000,000 or more points. Taking enemy fire increases your score, by one. A nice touch is that instead of glowing white when the score goes up the ones digit glows red instead.
In Gish, if your score ends with "1", you've gotten a good ending since you'll get a good ending bonus of 1 point.
The Puzzle Bobble clone Puzzle de Pon fits into this trope many ways. Matching bubbles gives you some multiple of 1,000 points depending on how many are in the group (with no points for dropped bubbles), and time bonuses are given out in multiples of 5,000 (for the most part). There are secret spots in some levels that give out an instant 1,000,000 points (given that this is worth about as much as 10 stages played normally, this is nothing short of a Golden Snitch). The bottom three digits are basically the sum of continues, arrow power-ups used, and wasted star bubbles (each adding 1 point). Curiously enough though, the maximum time bonus is 99,999 points, effectively adding 100,000 points and cancelling out one increment of the lower digits...
In Mii Force/StreetPass Squad, scores are done in multiples of 10. You then get 1 point for each squad member you bring to the end of the stage. The game keeps an individual score for each stage (or, in Arcade Mode, where you play through them all in order, these points are not given until you clear the final stage), you're required to carry at least 1 squad member to the end since they supply your firepower, and being a StreetPass game, you have a maximum of 10 squad members. Thus, the ones digit in your scores, or anyone else's, indicates how many people they held onto by the end of the stage, with a 0 indicating having picked up a full house and not losing anyone. For a schmup though, scores are pretty low, never exceeding six digits per stage.