Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Trouble With Trophies and Achievements

When the Xbox 360 debuted, it introduced a novel concept to gaming - system-wide points for achieving certain in-game goals. Now, Sony would implement a similar system along the long in the form of trophies, which I actually prefer. Instead of some arbitrary point amount, you have gold, silver, bronze, and platinum trophies. These made seeing which feats in a given game are the most difficult by what color trophy is assigned to it. Generally, challenging goals are tied to gold trophies, trophies that take a little work and a little less time are tied to silver, and small goals are tied to bronze. With the platinum trophy, it is very simple to see what retail games on your friends' trophy lists were completed 100%. A loud, proud, and elegant platinum trophy icon is right there.

Are trophies/achievements (still) important to you?
Now, trophies and achievements are wonderful things because they enable players to delve deeper into games they might just shelve as soon as they see the ending or just grow tired of the game. At first I was addicted to collecting these achievements to boost my Gamerscore and show to my friends that I dominated a game. I let my Xbox 360 stay on overnight to complete one of the more dedicated and time-consuming achievements in Dead Rising in order to get the full 1000 Gamerscore (now knowing about the RRoD, that wasn't that smart in retrospect). But then I started to realize that I was not having as much fun. Why was I bending myself over backwards just to complete some arduous tasks that weren't enjoyable to do just to get some worthless point number?

So now I simply play through the games that I like, and if I really admire the game I am playing, I will go for the trophies (my 360 died on me, so goodbye to achievements) that seem reasonable.
For instance, I will happily try to get all the trophies in Ratchet & Clank, but will avoid trying to get 100% in Final Fantasy XIII.

But that's not the inherent problem with trophies and achievements that I have. No, I am of the Nintendo/Sega era. I grew up on the NES, SNES, Genesis, and consoles on, and I have a fond memory of doing in-game tasks and being rewarded for them with in-game unlockables. Back in the day (that's what the kids still say, right?), when someone beat a game on the hardest difficulty, they earned a cool unlockable. For instance, I remember beating Viewtiful Joe on the Nintendo GameCube on Ultra V-Rated mode (the most challenging of difficulties, not to brag) and unlocking Captain Blue as a playable character. That was on top of unlocking two other characters through easier modes. Nowadays it seems that all one would get for doing such a task is a meaningless trophy or achievement for all their hard work.

Viewtiful Joe had old-school sensibilities right
down to how the game awarded unlockables.
Going back to Dead Rising, that game did achievements right. Not only did you unlock Gamerscore points for doing specific tasks, but you were also awarded with in-game stuff like new weapons and costumes. If you wanted the most spectacularly overpowered weapon in the game, the Real Mega Buster (of Mega Man fame), you had to defeat 53,594 zombies in one run through the story. Why can't more games bestow the player with cool rewards in addition to points and trophies? I realize that some Xbox 360 games give out avatar pieces for some achievements, but I am meaning more in-game things and not system-related.

Looking good, Frank!
There were rumors that Nintendo would implement their own type of achievements into their upcoming Wii U system. That would have been just fine, but even then I would have hoped that developers would have still pushed for unlockable content.

Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of Kirby, Super Smash Bros., and the mind behind Kid Icarus: Uprising, does it right. His games have a checklist or prize wall that contains a smorgasbord of different challenges to do. Each time a challenge is completed, the box that the challenge sits in gets checked off and a reward is handed out. The neighboring boxes then reveal what the player has to do to satisfy the conditions of those challenges. This is how it has worked for Sakurai’s past games like Kirby Air Ride (GCN), Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii), and Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS). From trophies to new battle arenas, to new songs, to other rewards, there is no shortage of things to unlock.

The checklist feature of Kirby Air Ride.
These are the types of games where the rewards aren’t just points or virtual accolades. No, they’re things a player can use within the game to not only achieve goals but get something useful and fun out of it. That’s the type of era I was raised in, and I look with great nostalgia back at it (while looking like an old fogey). I hope some developers keep the old school mindset of unlockables as the short syllabic jingle that popped up when I got an achievement on my 360 just isn’t enough anymore.

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What about you, dear SPC reader? Do you still go after achievements and trophies and find the task enjoyable? Do you try to get 100% of the achievements in every game you play? Let the community know your thoughts on achievements and trophies in the comments section below.

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