High Scores And Egos: There's Always A Bigger Doodle

'Bloop bloop bloop'.

'GRUMBLEGRUMBLEGRUMBLE'

'PEW-PEW-PEW'

BOOM.

'Bloop bloop bloop'

'POOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo'

———

My wife is a psychologist. One day she made me take a personality test and the results surprised her. She thought she had me pegged — but she was wrong.

"Why do you have to be so competitive," she always says — or screams — usually after I've launched Settlers of Catan on its arse because someone refused to trade wheat for wood. Apparently when I was younger everyone had to pretend to let me win at Monopoly or I would literally start shoving monopoly dollars down my throat in protest.

But I'm not competitive. That's where my significant other is completely wrong. And that's why the test I took surprised her.

Apparently I have absolutely no competitive urges. None-whatsoever. The only reason I care whether I win or lose, and the only reason I flip tables in protest is ego. Fragile, precious little ego. I have to win at all costs, because if I don't... well, that is completely at odds with my own silly idea of myself being the absolute best at whatever I turn my hand to. Because if I'm not the best, what does that say about me?

It's completely pathetic, but I just can't help it. I'm a self-worther. It's the worst.

———

'Bloop bloop bloop'

'GRUMBLEGRUMBLEGRUMBLE'

It feels as though the 'high-score' is back. I suppose it never really went away, but now it's really back. High scores on Xbox LIVE, high scores on Game Center, high scores on bloody Edmus. This means I can enjoy video games on a level I haven't since high scores sort of went away — but it also means that I can hate them, and that — once again — video games have the strange capacity to make me feel a bit sad.

Nowadays because I am a human adult, I've learned to suppress my 'competitive' urges, but they hang just beneath the surface. It can be seen in the all-too affable way I admit defeat. The robotic manner in which I shake hands after a contest. The smile that reads as a grimace. Tantrums have been replaced with a solemn determination. I have to win. I must do everything in my power to win. When I lose I just clench my stomach and swallow it down. Then agonise over it later.

Doodle Jump. It goes...

'Bloop bloop bloop'.

'GRUMBLEGRUMBLEGRUMBLE'

'PEW-PEW-PEW'

BOOM.

'Bloop bloop bloop'

I know this because I quickly realised that to succeed at Doodle Jump, I would need to wear ear phones, and I would have to be aware of the audio cues in order to anticipate my actions. When I jump I go 'bloop bloop bloop'. When I hear the 'GRUMBLEGRUMBLEGRUMBLE' there is a bad guy and I must immediately 'PEW-PEW-PEW' so I can hear the BOOM. Only then can I continue about my normal, everyday 'Bloop bloop bloop' business.

———

Doodle Jump was a game that taught me a harsh, harsh lesson. It taught me that no matter how good you think you are at something, there is most likely someone out there who is better than you at that thing.

I had heard this lesson before and scoffed at it. In high school my teacher said, "no matter how good you think you are at writing, there will always be someone better than you". I said that sounded like loser talk.

"Someone has to be the best at a thing, why can't that person be me?"

That was what I said to myself when my brother in-law first handed me his iPhone with Doodle Jump installed on it. I quickly 'Bloop bloop blooped' my way to 30,000, that was enough to beat my brother in-law's best score. A month later I bit the bullet and picked up my own iPhone. Mainly so I could play Doodle Jump all the time.

All of my friends had Doodle Jump and we all played. My skills evolved quickly. I learned techniques and internalised them. Tilt as little as possible, pre-shoot and pre-shoot fast. Doodle Jump had patterns — they became increasingly difficult the higher I went, but ultimately it was a cycle I could memorise and perfect.

Friends got left by the wayside. My closest competitor had a score of 70,000, my scores were now exceeding 120,000. There was nothing I couldn't anticipate, nothing I couldn't manage. Soon Doodle Jump became a kind of Zen meditation, a way for me to focus my own steely resolve. If I fell, if I died, it was simply because I wasn't focused enough. Doodle Jump became a pure exercise in core mental strength.

———

Incredibly, as I played, I could feel my brain finding reasons to fail.

'There's a bit of glare on the iPhone screen Mark... why don't you look at that —

'POOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo'. That's the noise Doodle Jump makes when you fall to your... DEATH.

"You can feel your wrist start to ache, can't you Mark..."

'POOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo'. DEATH.

I would go into solitude. I'd close my bedroom door, turn off all the lights.

'Bloop bloop bloop'

'GRUMBLEGRUMBLEGRUMBLE'

'PEW-PEW-PEW'

BOOM.

'Bloop bloop bloop'

Then one day I beat my highest score. I'll never forget it.

'Bloop bloop bloop'

30,000. Feeling comfortable.

'GRUMBLEGRUMBLEGRUMBLE'

'PEW-PEW-PEW'

BOOM.

And then...

'Bloop bloop bloop'

100,000 and I am zen. I've been here before. I simply try to breathe and empty my mind. The minute you become conscious of your movements at this level, you will fall. You just have to trust in your muscle memory. And move as little as possible.

150,000 and I am no longer in control of myself. My heart beat is racing like PEW-PEW-PEW and there is an intense pressure in my chest. My stomach is rotating like GRUMBLEGRUMBLEGRUMBLE and all the while I'm bloop bloop blooping as the numbers continue to rise.

My hand is shaking uncontrollably. How much longer can I last? Is that a bit of glare on my iPhone screen?

'POOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo'

——-

182,000. I feel like a Golden God. I have surpassed my own limits. I have completely obliterated every score my friends have posted, and I've beaten my own previous record of 147,000. By miles.

It was at this point I decided to hop onto the global leaderboards, just to see how I stacked up against the rest of the world. 182,000. It didn't even come close.

I can't remember what the Doodle Jump world record was at the time, but it was in the millions. MILLIONS. At this precise moment the Doodle Jump world record is 16,128,481. The best score recorded this week sits at around 2.3 million. Today someone managed to score 824,347.

That day, my gargantuan effort — the score I'd spent weeks building towards didn't even crack the top 100 high scores for that day. If I practiced all day long, dedicated every single waking hour of my time to Doodle Jump, I most likely would never be able to take any kind of record in the global Doodle Jump pantheon.

No matter how good I thought I was at Doodle Jump, there were thousands of people who were much, much better than I could ever be. Ever.

'POOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo'

———

It's a harsh lesson to learn. When I was 15 years old I truly believed I was the greatest Goldeneye player in the world and I could not be beaten. I simply had no perspective. When Halo 2 was released in 2004, I hopped on LIVE and truly believed that I would completely dominate everyone online.

'PEW-PEW-PEW'

BOOM.

I got headshotted so badly and so frequently, that I seriously considered shoving my Xbox S controller down my gob, but I didn't expect anyone would care enough to let me win.

High scores are back, but they're different. They almost lack that perspective. Online high scores seem so unrealistically elusive that we can only hope to sort of beat some of our friends times and perhaps boast on twitter. That's about as good as it gets.

I guess someone has to be the best in the world at Doodle Jump, but I don't think that person could ever be me.


Comments

    This is why I hate global leaderboards. If they're not hacked, the scores are still unachievable for mere mortals like me. But I love competing with friends. Leaderboards are so much more meaningful when you know the people on them, just like a multiplayer game is so much more meaningful if you at least know the people on your own team. In many ways I wish Xbox Live hadn't come about. We used to have such fun Halo LAN parties. We never do it now.

      I didn't mean to sound so negative.

      Edit: How much fun is gaming with friends? :D

      They are actually achievable. You have to pee rinto the veneer of obscure dimensions while pondering about the fullness of stomach fluids. Once that is the case you will start to feel a rubbery flipper growing out of your groin.

    Great post Mark. I was thinking about this kind of thing when I was watching an old Dark Souls speedrun from the Kotaku archives, and thinking "I'm gonna struggle just to beat this game once."

    Trying not to let that kind of thing diminish the achievement of completion, though... trying and failing! :P

    Global high score lists are an interesting development. The high score is, as you say, pretty old, but it was always community-based. It was local to the physical arcade machine, or to the one schoolyard, or the local LAN-party hub. Now, those communities are being amalgamated into one giant, global community, where the unusual and hyper-competitive who are ALSO very skilled, are part of everyone's "local/virtual" community.

    It's one of the Effects of the Internet: pick a hobby, any hobby, and search for it on the internet. You don't find the people who do it casually, you find the people who run websites dedicated to their passion, people who form forum communities that span the globe because they are so dedicated. So while you might just want to know about a good combination of fish in your little tank at home, what you find are people who build their own tanks, breed fish, and have entire rooms purpose-built to accommodate thousands of litres of aquaria.

    I honestly don't think its a very good/healthy thing either. I don't really think my enjoyment of StarCraft has improved based on the fact that I am now part of the global competitive SC2 community--when I remember the fun my few SC1 playing friends had in long, overly dramatic and silly battles against AI. But because of the way SC2 is built, I am part of that community, ranked alongside everyone else who plays, everywhere in the world. It can't help but influence the way I think of the game, and so the way I play it, especially since the same thing has happened to all the people who would have otherwise been part of my local community that I might have just played silly games with. No, they too are learning the "strategies" and build orders and talk about actions-per-minute or whatever. Not what I miss from SC1/Brood Wars at all.

    Great article and similar to how my experience went. When I finally broke the 100,000, it was a great feeling. Then the next time I played I got to 250,000. Paled my last game into insignificance but, as much as I tried to tell people about my important achievement, no one really seemed to care. Except me.

    I take solace in the fact I can beat people I know, Trials Evolution notwithstanding. Global leader boards are an exercise in depressing humility.

    You know this is close to my heart with Trials. I'd like to think that im awesome at Trials but the truth of the matter is that even though i have made it to about top 100 globally in Trials HD and Evolution, the guys ahead of me are literally seconds faster than me on every track. Like on the easy tracks 2-4 seconds and on the harder tracks its much larger.

    So hard to practice so damn hard and realise that you are only good enough. My best ever effort was getting 9th place on a track. This would not even get me into the Olympic finals...

    yeah, i'd much prefer competing with only people i knew so the chances of standing out are increased. This is exactly why i started my own Trials Evo comp so that you are not overwhelmed by the overall numbers and it makes the competition a bit more grounded in reality.

    But good article Marky!!! Now get onto this weeks track!

      I'll get on it once I finish Inferno III on Gold. I'm so close. Golded Dark City Run last night, and almost Golded Inferno III on my second run.

      Seems pretty easy to Gold actually -- 40 faults allowed.

        Yep the gold times are really like silver from the last game, or perhaps in between but certainly easier than the last game I feel.. but its hard to tell now that out skill has changed so much. Im still struggling to get Way of the Ninja platinum.. my last one of the tracks. so close yet so far...

          Gold on Dark City Run was pretty ridiculous. But I figured an easier way to deal with the billboard section.

            I just platinumed Way of the Ninja, giving me platinums on all the extreme tracks bar Inferno III.

            Here's a few tips for you.

            1. Mute the music, you'll notice an improvement immediately.
            2. Watch leaderboard replays and learn their tricks.
            3. Keep playing.

            That's it. Repetitive playing is the key because you're unaware of how much you're learning on a subconscious level. Every time you crash your bike, every time you hit a ramp of land a jump you're learning about how the bike behaves. It's like punching millions of tiny bits of data into your brain. Just keep at it.

            When I first started playing HD I thought I'd be happy just to finish Inferno II, I wasn't aiming for silver or higher. But a year later I had a platinum on every single track bar none. The best way to learn is to play more.

    Mate, when we were 15 you know damn well I was the greatest Goldeneye player in the world!

    I'm jealous of the fact you have a proper Settlers of Catan that has hex ocean tiles. They 'revised' the game a while back and changed that with a terrible framing system where the ports are in fixed locations and you put tokens out to mark which port is which. And the frame sort of clips together like jigsaw to make the whole board into one big hex. But it's fiddly and always bows out and never looks right and I want the old hex seas back :(

      Oh man, I didn't even know about this. My version is the same as yours. Mark's does look better!

      According to this: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13/the-settlers-of-catan

      What we have is the "Mayfair 3rd edition". The Mayfair 4th edition is the same but has proper seaframe pieces. I assume it is a newer version and the one we have was an ill-thought "redesign" that wasn't well received. Guess I need to buy it again. :/

        Woops. I completely read that round the wrong way. Disregard!!!!!!!!!

    Wanting to be the best is a lofty goal.
    To be the best at something you must devote your life to it, it would have to become your singular purpose. You would have to practice constantly and analyse the game to a point where it didn't feel like a game anymore. You would have to let your other skills and passions fall to the wayside so that your entire life revolved around Doodle Jump and the climbing of its leaderboard.

    But you won't do this, and you will not the best a Doodle Jump, because you prefer writing, playing other games, hanging out with friends.

    You prefer living life.

    "There’s Always A Bigger Doodle"

    Don't take this line out of context, don't take this line out of con-DAMMIT

      I think that it means the same thing in context :P

        Do you really think goals are the focus of the great circle of life? Either way I think you're terribly mistaken because Simba watched his father die, but Mufasa was not a lion. He was actually a sheepdog that tried to wear Nala as pants but ended up going to Kmart for some tyres.

    I once, about 8 years ago, unofficially broke the world record for Space Invaders. I was (and still am, kind of) mega proud.
    The very next day, some dude not only officially beat the world record, he doubled it.

    At times like this, try to remember you *are* the best person in the world at something... reading your own handwriting.

    I remember when it first came out and I sat at uni playing all through class. Everyday my friends would come in with a new high score till I reached 142000, was 9th in the world. Then that night my friend got 155000 and was no. 7. Was amazing to actuallu be in that elite society even if it was for 24hrs

    I always wanted to be the best, like no one ever was. To catch Pokemon was my real test. Training them was my cause. But then they added 500 more Pokemon.

    "Apparently when I was younger everyone had to pretend to let me win at Monopoly or I would literally start shoving monopoly dollars down my throat in protest."

    Holy shit, dude. I don't want to ask where you shoved the hotels... ಠ_ಠ

    Great article Mark, it's great insight to how people 'actually' feel about high scores. But yeah, comparing it to friends and family with the occasional twitter bragging rights does make it fun :P

    "She thought she had me /pegged/" - igeddit!

    I totally get this. I think I have a similar need to be better than all my friends at games and stuff, or at least to be up near the top there. I agree on the local-versus-global leaderboard things, there's people out there who are just insane. But I don't really care about being able to beat them (although that would be cool), because I don't know who they are so it doesn't have much bearing on anything.

    Last I looked I had held the Galaga high score at Melbournes Arthouse Hotel for 3 years.
    Mind you, I haven't been there for over 5 years. Probably more like 7 or 8. I couldn't even tell you if the machine's still there. Or the Arthouse for that matter. Oh God, I'm so old!

    Still - *sigh* - good times.

    But yeah, my point I guess, is that these local things (local as in geography/friends/ etc) matter in a way that is much more real than global high scores.

    Having said that, I still try and regain a highscore every time I get an email telling me I was defeated in Audiosurf.
    Yeah, I don't know why either.

    I love world leaderboards. Only thing that pisses me off, is the hacking and the lack of video replays which should come as standard, as in Trials/Evolution and the recently released Alex Kidd & Co. and Monsterworld Collection. Coz sometimes there are ridiculous scores/times for games that either seem impossible, or are impossible - and video gets rid of that feeling of disbelief. One thing Ive noticed on alot of leaderboards, is Gamercards that usually only contain that particular game that they are at the top for, which raises suspicion. Don't get me wrong, getting beaten fair and square, is winning is winning. Ive got alot of respect for fellow gamers and also know/realise there's room to increase skill even more - and vica versa. And with video replays we can also leard tricks of each other, on a global scale. Though its never good to drive yourself mad, into the early hours of he morning, just on one score/time - you can always come back to the game and finally get the 1 spot, even if its years later (which is even more crushing to the ego of the previous top spot holder, tehehehe)

    Great article. This topic spurs alot of interesting ideas, and whatnot, on the philosophy of competition, and how important it is or isn't in the grand scheme of things. One thing I wanna say though, is dont think your any less skilled at a game or arn't as "in" to something just because it seems someone may be better than you. Because the fact is, most hi-scores and timed runs have been repeated, and failed, hundreds of times even before getting that perfect run/score. You als may actually be better in real-time if you had the chance to Vs in the same room without the chance of endless restarting. So that's something to think about. Bye the bye, don't mind my jumbled grammer...

    Isn't the most ironic and irritating thing being when you cannot seem to crack your own Hi-score or Time?!

    Mark - Very interesting to read your article, as I am the current World Record holder for Doodle Jump. I actually have the top 4 scores all-time, including 16.1 Million. Additionally, I have posted 6 out of the current Top 10 all-time scores and I am the only individual to jump over 11 Million (I've done that four times). I really don't consider myself much of a gamer, because most of the games I enjoy circle around Scrabble and Chess. But for whatever reason, I have always been particularly good at games that deal with precise balancing. Doodle Jump certainly challenges you that way.

    What got me started on Doodle Jump was eerily similar to the way you started, as my daughter first brought it to my attention one night when our babysitter let her play it on her iPhone. She thought I would like the game, and she was correct. I thought it was silly, yet fun. The hook was quickly the "All-Time Global Scoreboard", as I couldn't help but instantly think how awesome that portion of the game was by the creator, Lima Sky. I grew up in smaller American towns where we had 4-5 arcade games in a pizza shop, and whenever my brothers and I went there we wanted to put our name on the Top 10. But even if you achieved that, you were only Top 10 in that small town.

    On Doodle Jump, that board represents the world.

    So that appealed to me, and yes, I quickly thought the same thing you did, "why not me?" I certainly wouldn't label it as an obsession; I just felt that I could do it, and anyone that has made it past 80,000 has the ability to set the world record. Heck, anyone that even plays the game has the ability to set the world record. It isn't as if I have the one secretive download that lets me jump in a straight line constantly and puts nothing in my path. I get the same obstacles everyone else gets.

    Doodle Jump consistently challenges all players in timing, footwork and eye-hand coordination. However, it is also repetitive. So when I made it to a million just after Christmas 2010, I knew it was simply a matter of staying consistent for longer than anyone else in the world in order to break the record (it was 7 Million at that time).

    This past October, after playing the game for roughly a year (off an on, as I run two individual businesses, support a small family while also working for another firm in Los Angeles) I made it to the top, breaking my friend Niklas Lohman's record of 10.6 Million. I play very slow, averaging about 30 minutes per day. This past March, I set the current mark of 16,128,481 (a game that lasted over 30 hours). It took me over 45 days to start the game to the point at where I finally died.

    Mark, the bottom line is that you've come further than you think at 180,000. You just have to realize that by perfecting each sequence you can go burn 180,000 in just over 20 minutes, and doing that just 2 more times will put you close to a 1/2 Million. At one point, I could denote how hundreds of thousands of worldwide Doodle Jump players were also better than me. But it is a game that you get better at the more you perfect those sequences. I average about 50 Game Center friend requests per day, and I am often asked, "How do you get such high scores?" My answer is always the same.

    I believe I have died every way possible on Doodle Jump, so I learned how to post better scores by simply screwing up a lot.

    Personally, I see so many people who actually do very minute, yet extremely critical things wrong when they play the game. Those details come down to how you might hold the game, where you need to train your eyes to look and just the simplicity of using your memory.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the article. Feel free to contact me anytime. ~A.W. Prince (AWPrince on Game Center, adubyap on YouTube)

    Just a few follow-up comments for some of the other posters;

    McGamical - I have learned that Global Leaderboards are flawed and often hacked. Lima Sky does an excellent job though of staying on top of that, which is what makes it fun to be on top of Doodle Jump. You can hack, get your name on the board for 1 hour to 3-4 days sometimes, but you will be removed.

    Puppy Licks - I don't believe you have to devote your life to a game, or anything for that matter, to be the best at it. I just play it in my spare time. As I mentioned above, I am dedicated No. 1 to my family. I am really blessed to be with them. Additionally, I have a number of engineering projects I work on, and I am also a writer/web publisher. For every 1/2 hour I have played of Doodle Jump, there's 2 hours that go into an article that I've written and published. I just enjoy the game; its a late-night hobby before bedtime and a way to kill travel time on the airplane.

    MrTaco - I come from a very competitive family, and yes, I like to win. There's no getting around that's how I am wired. As popular an Ap as Doodle Jump is across the world, a number of the top players are current friends of mine via Facebook. In fact, I estimated about 3-4 months ago that over 70% of the Top 100 all-time Global Scoreboard is made up of individuals that I know. There's no question that some of them want to top the record, yet some of them have had the record as well. Competition is a fun thing if you understand to use it as motivation, not vengeance.

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