Monday, 29 July 2013

Gripe: Achievements, Trophies and other such "carrots" of gaming.

In an age of gaming where the current generation consoles are lining up to be online, where games are expected to have some form of online mode (or a good excuse why not, in some cases it doesn’t NEED the online mode but many of the whining public won’t accept that) It has become a standard to have a means of saying “Hey look, I managed to do this in a game, am I not awesome?” 

No, no you’re not.  But more about that later.

Unless corrected, this all began back in 2005 with Microsoft and its Gamerscore implementation. But over the years it has seeped into Windows games, Playstation with its Trophies, Flash games with their own achievements (satirised fantastically by the flash game Achievement Unlocked), to various mediums in the digital age including smart phones and apps.  A lot of these achievements are utterly pointless or diverge from the key focus of a person playing a game.

Some may argue, some may disagree, to state that Achievements and such Tasks are a good way of increasing a games’ longevity and reward the players with recognition for their skill and ability in the game. For some achievements I can agree with that, such as for perhaps “Beating the game” and awarding the player a suitable moniker for such. However when it comes to “Beating the game” then “Beating the game on Hard” and “Beating the game on Hard while using one hand and punching yourself in the face repeatedly” we’ve struck upon an issue of mindless repetition just to get players to keep playing.

The premise is a good one, get people to play the game, reward them with a big fat ego boost for playing it in specific ways, once they’re keen to boost that score and their ego, the games can put in whatever ill-conceived achievements they want to keep poor saps going and claim to make their game last longer. No, it doesn’t last longer, it becomes a painful chore after a while and once the player has gotten all they can or even all the achievements, they will never touch the game again. Good achievements can boost a game, bad achievements will bury it in a bargain bucket.

But it’s all very well me just stating that, but let’s take a look at such aspects.

“Find all the collectables”

In some games you’ll be rewarded for finding and collecting all of a set number of items. Again, this can be positive and negative for a game. If the number of an item to collect is small, it should be something that might take a few “secret routes” or a few paths off the main track to find them, but not something that requires the player to be awake at 3am, their character to be dressed in a macaroni outfit while the feet and toes are indirectly dyed a rainbow spectrum helix that crosses over with their gloves and fingers, just to find a single item. Ideally the items to find should be part of side-quests or provide the player with a means of starting on a trail to locate them.

Alternatively, if the number of an item is huge, then there should be a map available IN GAME for the player to locate all the items, or a scanner, or search function of some sort. Hiding them away in something like a sandbox game, with no means to locate them or even to track how many they have, is a cheap and poor way of getting the player to cover every square inch of what the map-designers have made, this will usually be the last achievement gained from the player before the game is buried IF they bother to go that far.

“Fake longevity”

Games with an achievement for beating those games are perfectly fine (assuming you have a game that allows for that). An achievement that recognises a person has played the game, played it enough to warrant seeing the final boss, beating the last team to win the championship, figured out the last puzzle, are a positive side of achievements and EVERY GAME should have an achievement for beating it.

Where this has gone horribly wrong, is when achievements are provided for beating the game under specific conditions... Easy mode, Normal mode, Hard mode, Impossible mode, Even the Programmers Can’t Beat This mode... the list can go on forever (Playing badminton on the moon while engaging in a 72way porn film mode... actually I want to see that). It’s a fake longevity as you’re forcing the player to play through the game in a way they’re less likely to enjoy. Some games allow for beating the hardest mode to unlock all the easier achievements as well, but not everyone is going to be able to beat the hardest mode or have the time and patience for it. Have the game with Easy, Medium, Hard etc, but regardless of the difficulty the achievement should just remain for beating the game.

“Online achievements”

This is a trickier one to tackle. If a game has an offline and online mode, then any achievement that can be gained online, MUST be able to be gained offline as well. Achievements ruin a game when it’s demanded that not only must a player be able to meet the criteria but OTHER PEOPLE AS WELL must also meet the criteria, then you’re not awarding an achievement for playing but being in the right place at the right time.

If a game is fully online ONLY, then have online achievements that reflect the players own abilities (And not bullshit like become #1 in the world, or #1 rank in a game) but if it’s based on experience points gained, such achievements will be attained eventually by everyone, the better players getting them sooner rather than later. Games that have achievements for doing something once or a hundred times, as these are things a lot of people can still achieve (and NOT coming first a hundred times... dick move...), should be commended for encouraging people to play for the sake of playing and enjoyment, not overly brash and forced competitiveness. (It might also get some of those screaming kids off the mic)

“Lost Achievements”

Another tough one, this refers to any achievement that cannot be achieved for whatever reason. In some cases it could be because a player died during their game (not so bad on a short game but with some games lasting 25hours+ that’s a real headache to have play it ALL again just to get that achievement), not picking up an item right at the start of a game that was behind where you began, having to make a choice that takes the game in two different direction and each direction is laden with its own achievements (this can be done well if the diversity is LARGE, with many achievements on each respective path, but forcing players to play a game twice just to say either “yes” or “no” at one key point is another example of fake longevity).

Granted however, that players usually do not see everything on their first play through unless the game is VERY linear and forces them to do absolutely everything they must do, achievements can and will be missed by players not taking the correct route or such. This is easily rectified if the player has an option (usually at the end of the game) to go back and play key parts again, or pick specific puzzles, or some function of a game that permits them to return to an earlier point to try something again or try something new they didn’t or couldn’t try at the time.  It should be noted that such achievements should not require the player to have to play through 3-5 hours of a game just to get that alternative route/choice etc, because once again that’s the fake longevity. 

All in all, achievements can really add to a game and make it more fun if they’re thought out carefully and implemented with the right level of care and attention to the focus of making the game fun and enjoyable. Otherwise they could all just be removed. 

I still go back and play older console/computer games and they didn’t have achievements in them because, guess what, they’re still fun to play!