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I'd like to know the strengths and weaknesses of different progression methods through a game (or a part of a game), where they're suited best, and where they should never appear. I have several subsystems a player can progress through in a project I'm working on and I'd like to be able to work out if any of them would benefit from tallying xp. [Not sure why this is on hold, I'm asking about the concrete merits of things not simply asking everyone for their favourite??]

At the moment the player's character becomes more powerful by equipping better and better gear as they progress through randgen levels however they like, but are given clear indication that going in a particular direction will increase difficulty and the quality of items. I'm not sure in what circumstances I would add in xp for fighting monsters, or which I'd have the monsters drop good gear, or parts to make good gear out of. On top of that I have a magic system and a crafting system that I'm considering progressing though with xp but I wouldn't want to implement it if the side effects don't suit the rest of the game.

As far as I know games usually progress in the following ways, often in combination:

  • Level by Level: Like in old school Mario, you go through a sequence of levels which become more difficult and require you to master the basic techniques of game play.
  • Power by Power: You gain new abilities which makes it possible to access more and more difficult content. Metroid comes to mind for this.
  • Xp Growth: Your stats increase every level so you can fight the harder mobs in further content. You may or may not be able to choose where your stats go.
  • Xp Talent Tree: You get points to put into learning new skills, often from increasingly better pools of skills.
  • Item by Item: Equipment determines what content can be accessed next, either because the item unlocks something (including methods of transportation), or it increases player abilities such that they can survive certain areas. The distinct thing about items is that they can be removed from a player at pretty much any time. A grappling hook that can't be removed is a Power, not an Item.
  • Quest by Quest: Like Level by Level, only what triggers the newer content isn't getting to the end of a stage, it's the completing the requirements of a quest (explicitly stated or not). Zelda would be an example of a game that does both LbyL and QbyQ. Each dungeon is a level and between levels you have to do a bunch of little quests to unlock the next level.
  • Score: You just rack up points like in pinball, it doesn't really have an effect on the game.

If you have a clear idea of the underlying purpose of these or others, I'd like to hear it! At the moment I only know that these systems exist, but only vaguely what they're for.

As an aside, I'm also interested in your thoughts on how to display progression to a player. When is it best to give them numbers, if ever? Are visual/demonstrable displays preferred for certain things? What is the function of doing it one way or another?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You'll find that gamedev.SE tends to close many game design questions as "opinion based". They/it tend to want hard questions with answers that are fairly straightforward (read: without requiring a nuanced analysis of lesser known game design principles). I would probably try answer this question if it were open, but since it's not, I'll tell you the answer lies largely with the barriers for player progression created by the form of character progression. \$\endgroup\$ – Attackfarm May 16 '15 at 4:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also: gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/57553/… (A question that was, hilariously, closed as "not constructive") \$\endgroup\$ – Attackfarm May 16 '15 at 4:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ For your "When to give players numbers?" question: gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/56390/… \$\endgroup\$ – Attackfarm May 16 '15 at 5:05