Saturday, July 12

I completed Insanity difficulty in Mass Effect and all I got was this stupid gamer pic.

Double post today because I missed yesterday's due to stuff.

Achievements in games can be a good thing. I don't want them to interrupt my play, but they can offer new information about the game, and reward the player for playing.

Ironically, perhaps, the games in the new generation that represent my pick for best implementation of achievements are on the PS3. This doesn't mean the Xbox 360 games don't have well implemented achievements, it's just that I haven't had the joy of finding such a game.

I'll cite three examples of games where the rewards systems are well implemented.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

The first doesn't have an achievement system at all. Not based on gamer points, skill points, medals or anything like that. Instead MGS4 rewards you with descriptors of your game play. It also gives you access to new gear, from new camouflage, to infinite ammo, invisibility and the like. This kind of system was popularised more than a decade ago, and is typically represented in the form of 'cheats'. I dislike the cheats implementation in preference for options that can be turned on and off that are hidden, or unavailable until certain conditions are met (such as completing the game).

RnC and Uncharted take a more Xbox like approach with skill points and medals respectively. However, unlike the arbitrary acquisition of points that typically characterise the Xbox methodology, these games offer genuine, tangible rewards for your efforts. Artwork for the game, skins for the avatar that the character plays, way to change the game board (LOVED the flip the universe option in Uncharted). Some of these rewards are gimmicks, sure. I suspect that those rewards I found to be gimmicky, would be cool features for you, and vice versa.

Games where achievements were implemented in an okay way. That is, they offered actual tangible rewards that went beyond arbitrary scores, but these rewards were half-arsed.

Mass Effect
Conan
The Bourne Conspiracy

Mass Effect is the game that inspired the title. Rewards for completing certain elements of the game are basically 'cheats' for the most part, with the occasional extraneous reward such as a gamer pic (very lame gamer pics). They aren't bad rewards, they're just uninspired. Rather like the Mako.

Conan and The Bourne Conspiracy are what I've seen called 'B grade' games. They have the potential for cult status but critical flaws hold them back from being mainstream successes. Conan's rewards come in two forms, artwork for the game that is too easily won, and too little, (particularly considering how well Nihilistic captured the visual vibe of the novels) and 'cheats' that are earned through play. The Bourne Conspiracy has the collectible treasure approach in the form of passports. There are also 'achievements' for it, but they're connection to the rewards is not clear. The payoff is artwork, music, and being able to replay boss battles.

Poorly implemented achievements include the following games;

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Lost Odyssey
Bioshock
Lair
Eternal Sonata
Enchanted Arms

All of these games offer a score that is awarded for completion of certain in game activities. Nothing else. Most of the activities rewarded are activities that you would do regardless. Lair, at least, has a graded award system with feedback on how to improve it. Lost Odyssey and Bioshock go to some effort to vary the rewards offered from plot based ONLY rewards. That is, at least they give awards for activities that are not purely driven by the plot. The activities are fairly typical of play though, so there's no opportunity to engage with the game in new and interesting ways offered by the game designer. Eternal Sonata and Enchanted Arms offer achievements based purely on game completion, the most boring and unnecessary of implementations. After all, if the game is good enough, I will be completing it regardless.

I started this post by saying "Achievements…can be a good thing", but in truth I actually refer to rewards and feedback. Hints to new ways to play the game, and unlockables that modify the game experience are the 'good thing'. Numeric values released for no more than just playing through the game feel cheap and uninspired.

Are gamer scores enough, or do you want more too?

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