Posts by Tag / TOPIC: Achievements (8)

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Achievement Guides Highlight Flaws

Sometimes you can learn more about a game’s flaws from an achievement guide than its reviews.

This makes sense, since learning how to get all of a game’s achievements requires engaging much more closely with its mechanics and systems. (It’s the same reason Joseph Anderson plays games on the hardest available difficulty before reviewing them, to expose the flaws of their combat systems and such - he mentioned this in his God of War video though that is currently unavailable due to a presumably-bullshit copyright claim.)

Since Horizon Chase Turbo recently went free on PlayStation Plus and reviews are generally positive, I tried it out and it made a good first impression. I then checked the trophy guide and found an explanation of why only two of the five stats on each car actually matter, an exploit for getting around difficulty spikes in collecting “race coins”, and tips for dealing with the game’s aggressive rubber-banding and cheating AI. Very revealing.

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Structure vs Texture

Broadly, the content and mechanics in a game can be divided into those that provide structure and those that provide texture.

This is an idea I want to refine further (and the names may well change along the way) but I think it’s a useful distinction already. And there are some important implications for balancing them properly.

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Achievements and Insecure Design

Achievements do a lot of things, but one of them is to direct player attention. This can be a safety net - say you’re making a game that includes fishing as an important source of food and materials and you’re worried the player might not realize it’s an option and thus have a harder time than intended. In addition to putting in signposts pointing to the fishing hole and having friendly NPCs talk about how great fishing is and such, you could add in an achievement for catching a fish. Like with the signs and NPCs, it won’t solve the issue for every possible player, but it will for some and won’t really affect anyone else. It’s basically just an additional guard rail.

Suppose you instead set the achievement to require catching ten fish. There are a lot of reasons you might do this - maybe catching one fish feels insultingly trivial to reward. But once the player has caught a fish, they definitely know that fishing is an option. They should be able to decide whether it’s something they want to invest time in - maybe they enjoy the minigame enough that they’d fish for fun, or maybe they dislike it enough that they’d rather avoid it in favor of other sources of food and materials, or maybe they’re somewhere in between and will do it when it’s an efficient way to meet a particular goal.

For players who care about achievements, some of them would have gotten ten fish anyway and the ones who wouldn’t now have to either forgo an achievement or spend time on an activity they dislike, making the game worse for them. All because the game wasn’t content to let the player try it once and then decide for themselves.

I’m sure there’s a better name for this, but I call it “insecure design” - game mechanics that use extrinsic rewards to encourage the player to spend a lot of time with certain game modes or content as though the designer is worried that content isn’t enjoyable enough on its own for players to want to bother with it. And much like using engagement rewards, I think it almost always backfires.

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A perfect coincidence

The fastest platinum trophy I’ve earned was for Tearaway on Vita which took me a single day. The slowest was for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning on PS3 which took me six years to the day.

Coincidentally, both trophies are named “Perfectionist.”

This doesn’t matter, but I find it amusing.

(Screenshots from https://psnprofiles.com which gives way better trophy collection data than PlayStation’s official site.)

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Achievements are Broken; Here's How to Fix Them

Fundamentally, an achievement is just a publicly-viewable checkmark indicating the completion of a particular action. The Xbox 360 added points gained from each achievement that accumulate into a total across all games. The PlayStation 3 followed suit, as did Apple’s GameCenter. (Notably, Steam did not. Steam achievements have no point value and do not add to a cumulative total.)

In order for these points to be meaningful, there has to be some kind of equality across games. The 360 mandates that each full retail game must provide exactly 1000 points worth of achievements (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but for our purposes let’s keep it simple). The PS3 has a similar rule, though its numbers are obfuscated (for convenience here, I shall refer to their point value as also 1000). This prevents oneupmanship between game developers, who might otherwise put out games with ever-increasing amounts of achievement points available, which would quickly render the running total meaningless and destroy much of the marketing value of achievements.

So what happens when a game launches with bad achievements? It’s become standard for games to be patched, but it’s unusual for achievements to be patched, and even then it’s generally just to avert controversy via a cosmetic change. Because of the need to keep a consistent point total, you can’t add new achievements without removing old ones - and removing or replacing an achievement is almost certain to upset people. No matter how ludicrous the achievement, somebody out there has it - and they don’t want the proof of their hard work stricken from the record. If you leave it up on their profile but make it no longer available for new players to get, then the new players may feel slighted that the opportunity to earn it has been taken away from them.

But the inability to add new achievements is severely limiting. It means you can’t fix problem achievements (of which there are plenty). It also leaves out a powerful way to grow a game - just look at how Valve has kept Team Fortress 2 fresh by adding, among other things, batches of new Steam achievements. (Steam achievements don’t have points, so they can freely be added without running afoul of point imbalance.)

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Too often lately: Beat awesome game. Feel good about game. Play more. Give up in disgust on poorly-designed trophies. Feel bad about game.