We take a look at achievements in gaming, what they mean, and how they could be improved
Way back in 2005, Microsoft coined the idea of achievements and Gamerscore. Every title on the Xbox 360 would have a mandatory minimum of five achievements within the game, which could be unlocked and implemented whichever way the developer would see fit. Unlocking these achievements would reward the player with Gamerscore, a points value which counts for, well, nothing.
Unless you’re a die-hard retro gamer, the chances are you’re familiar with achievements, trophies, or whatever else you want to call them. You’ve probably unlocked hundreds of them yourself. You see, Microsoft’s achievement system has been so popular that it’s been imitated by most of its major competitors.
Awarding players for playing a game a certain way, what a revolutionary idea! Actually, it’s not. If you look back at the history of games, you’ll realise that developers have been doing this for the past twenty years, and their rewards have been a hell of a lot more appealing than a virtual score that merely acts as bragging rights. The large majority of achievements serve no real purpose to the player, offering no additional gameplay features or any form of direct benefit. In the rare cases that you are rewarded for your hard work, expect some new shit clothing for your avatar. Over the years, there seems to have been a decline of unlockable in-game content as a result of your hard work, the replacement being achievements.
Earlier Resident Evil titles rewarded unlockable weapons and costumes based on how quickly you beat the game and how many times you saved your progress. The majority of Resident Evil titles also contain additional single player modes that are unlocked after finishing the game. Completing specific levels of Goldeneye under a certain time would unlock cheats. The Super Smash Brothers titles and many other fighters from the same period had a much more extensive unlockable list of stages, characters and playmodes in comparison to their counterparts of this generation. It’s a psychological fact that we’re stimulated by a sense of achievement. Unlocking new features certainly feels better than earning a virtual trophy.
Let’s travel back to 1990 and look at Super Mario World. Certain levels had hidden exits. Finding these hidden exits would lead you to certain colour switches. Hitting these hidden switches would reveal hidden blocks within levels that would then grant access to other hidden exits. Eventually, these hidden exits lead to a hidden world called Star Zone. Completing the difficult Star Zone would lead to the near-impossible Special Zone. As you run across the side of the screen at the end of the final level, the coin formation above you forms the sentence “You are a super player!!” The game literally tells you how fucking awesome you are. Now that’s a well-deserved sense of achievement.
Let’s be honest, who’s really played King Kong and enjoyed it?
As you’re reading this, think back to the games you’ve been playing recently. Do you feel like certain achievements you’ve unlocked could have instead seen you rewarded with unlockable game content for your efforts? Or perhaps in today’s generation of gaming, you’re just paying for it instead. Do you feel cheated? It makes you wonder why some people would go out of their way to obsessively collect Gamerscore. Yes, people do it. And yes, apparently developers are starting to cotton on to it. Everyone has an obsessive trait, some far worse than others. The addictiveness of obtaining these achievements has led to some people doing terrible things in order to boost their Gamerscore. People will scour and purchase games solely for the sake of obtaining Gamerscore from them, with little concern about the quality of the game itself. As long as they’re earning Gamerscore, and fast, they’re not bothered. Because let’s be honest, who’s really played King Kong and enjoyed it?
The internet is full of forum threads revealing which games are easier to max out for Gamerscore, and I’ve been asked several times for pointers on cheap games that are good for boosting Gamerscore. King Kong is a prime example of a cheap game that compulsive Gamerscore addicts will seek out, despite negative reviews. It offers 1000 GS (the maximum amount obtainable in a game without downloadable content) for simply completing the game. An early release in the Xbox 360 cycle, its developers probably didn’t realise that they could utilise the concept of Gamerscore to encourage people to seek out different ways to play the game. Having said that, how many different ways are there to play King Kong? Unless you count snapping it and burning the pieces a viable method of alternative play, not that many.
Avatar: The Legend of Aang boasts a whopping five achievements which can be unlocked by relentlessly smashing the B button. This can literally be done in two minutes. Snapping the disk in half and putting it to your own throat can be done a lot quicker. The guy in charge of coming up with these achievements is either incapable of giving a fuck or a monetary genius. Avatar: The Legend of Aang is a fine example of a game that takes the definition of the word ‘Achievement’ and pisses all over it.
Seriously 3.0 requires you to play 18,000 matches in Gears of War 3 and get over 70,000 kills
There are easy achievements and there are hard achievements. Some are so hard to obtain that it’s worth asking yourself if it’s even worth it. Gears of War 3: Seriously 3.0. This achievement requires you to reach level 100 and unlock every onyx medal in the game. For those unfamiliar with how the game works, this equates to playing at least 18,000 matches, getting over 70,000 kills and putting in hundreds and hundreds of hours over various other game modes to come close. Whilst this may be an eventually reachable task for a die-hard Gears of War player, who else has the time or desire to reach this goal?
Well, you can try. If you think of the thought process behind implementing achievements, it’s an incredibly complex one. Developers want players to get the most out of their titles, and while some may offer achievements as a fun way to experience gameplay methods that you wouldn’t actively seek out otherwise, others can be a gruelling process. Offer a near impossible challenge to a perfectionist, and despite their lack of admiration for the game, they might stick with it and plug a hundred more hours into it. The human mind is a wonderful thing when you know how it ticks.
There are games that make good use of achievements. As I said previously, some developers set achievements that allow players to seek out new and alternative gaming styles they wouldn’t normally pursue, and while sometimes frustrating, they’re usually very fun. Games such as Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid offer achievements for playing the game without killing a single character, giving a whole new element to the stealth approach involved in the gameplay. As for the lack of bonus content, it can be argued that achievements aren’t solely to blame for this: they’ve just managed to be suitable replacements in a period of gaming that is currently dominated by the desire to expand profit through the release of downloadable content instead of including it as unlockable content. The gaming industry is a business after all, and if the option to make money through DLC is there then why would any company turn that opportunity down?
Like anything done excessively, achievement hunting can become addictive. Never be fooled into thinking you haven’t got the most out of a game because you haven’t managed to find every little collectable that lies within it. While for some, there may be a justifiable sense of reward for grabbing all the achievements that a game has to offer, it seems that many of them are placed tactically by developers to make sure you’re not putting their titles down any time soon.
Featured image: Sony. Inset images: Microsoft, Nintendo, Ubisoft, Epic Games.