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YOU CLICKED A LINK! HAVE A TROPHY!

  Trophies and achievements in gaming are a fairly big phenomenon now. For those of you who aren’t cool enough to twiddle the thumb-sticks (a stupendous euphemism for playing video games which no one, nowhere, has ever used), trophies are doofy little acknowledgments, usually linked with an online community, that you have done something in the game. They have become so ubiquitous that, on the rare occasion I have time and money to indulge in the medium, I usually end up checking to see if I’ll be looking forward to the pleasant ‘ding’ of doing something neat and getting acknowledged for it. If the game is missing achievements, it’s hardly anything to really get upset about - I’ll probably just shrug and buy the game anyway. Really Big Sky and Lone Survivor are both amazing games without Steam achievements (even if RBS cheats and has in-game ones).

  I’m not quite sure where this whole thing started or where it stems from and I’m waaaay to lazy to go and check. But I’m guessing it goes back to the early ages of gaming, when most of us were making up bullshit on playgrounds about how you can totally play as M. Bison in Street Fighter II if you enter in a super complex code. Further, I guess it’s also an extension of tracking wins-losses. Collected 150,000 herbs in Narnia? Then by god, you must have proof!

  However this thing got rolling, I’ve pretty much been able to break down these awards into three categories, which I’m sure you’ll be absolutely thrilled to read about:

THE “YOU HAVE WAY TOO MUCH TIME ON YOUR HANDS” AWARD

  Trophies like this exist only to have you grind for useless trinkets or, in especially vicious dick-moves, extremely rare items. Why, you may ask? Well, probably to extend gameplay, if my utter lack of faith in humanity has anything to say about it. Although I have no proof, I’d wager that these are especially prominent in Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (the bold was originally a mistake, but now I think it’s funny) considering they already have gameplay mechanics focused on grinding for components to begin with.

  However, single-player games also have these atrocious time-wasters. As much as I love Torchlight, a relatively unnecessary feature in the game is ‘fishing.’ You get an achievement for fifty, one hundred, and then a damned-thousand fish caught. Coupled with some other activities which necessitate the bare minimum of player input (drink five thousand potions? Wh... why would you have that?), and you no longer have achievements which are based on the concept of fun, but on how much you clearly hate people with obsessive compulsive disorder. I’ve heard that World of Warcraft is multiplayer and has the same types of accolades, so I suppose the benefit there is that you can suffer in the company of others.

THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT THAT YOU AREN’T COMPLETELY STUPID

  This category is probably the most insulting, but not enough to make the player actively hate the developer. How this entry comes across is a blatant attempt to bulk up the game description on the back of the box. Oh, you have trophies, do you? Ten of them, ranging from “Complete the Tutorial” to “Kill an Enemy” to “Finish the Game”? Oh, excellent. Thanks for that little chunk of gaming goodness. It added so much to my experience. To put this another way, this is like giving an award for someone having life saving surgery - it’s all well and good, I suppose, but if the choice is between the cold abyss or getting to continue living, the reward is not dying; having the doctor give them a little ribbon with some fanfare announcing “DIDN’T DIE” is not only redundant, but also kind of what’s expected.

  Sorry, getting a bit off topic.

  This type of achievement is entirely pointless, and appears to only really be added to the game because one couldn’t be knackered to put in any other additional content. What I’m basically saying is that if your little pop up is just a reminder that we didn’t cork it beating the tutorial level, you should probably skip it. It doesn’t add anything to the experience, so why bother adding the code to do it? Well, probably because people complain ceaselessly about it if it’s missing, but good gravy I hope that isn’t the case.

  The previous entry also kind of bleeds into this one a little bit. Games like the music-based shooter Beat Hazard, which have a relatively small pool of special attacks and such, offer the occasional trophy for smiting x-enemies with y-explodey thing. While this is a slightly more engaging use of accolades than just completing story missions, it’s still something which will probably happen naturally, especially when the game is built upon multiple plays with no narrative holding it together - so again, I ask, what is the point? Using a weapon or beating a level is all a part of what makes the ‘standard’ game ‘standard.’

  Unless of course, beating a level is something to brag about. Which brings us to the rarest and most rewarding trophy.

THE “YOU HAVE UNLOCKED SOMETHING UNIQUE/DIFFICULT”

  This is the only achievement that has any merit, in my (correct) opinion. These can range from the obtuse to the soul-searingly difficult, but the point is that the developer showed some manner of interest in creating these challenges. Getting high scores kind of falls into this category, but in my more hateful moments I gleefully pop them under the first heading. Most of these are tied to things like Super Meat Boy’s secret levels and characters. Further, something like SMB, where the entire point is to provide an ultra-difficult challenge, an achievement in passing (certain) levels actually means something. There’s no pop up for the tutorial stages, because that’s what they are: tutorials. They’re designed for everyone to break over their knee. Other examples of this award can also be just plain-old weird extras, like the achievement in Beat Hazard where you play for twenty minutes while listening to a Christmas station.

  In any case, they show that the developer a) has a sense of humor and/or b) that they care about content. If they spend a lot of time crafting achievements into something unique and rewarding, then players like me will want to spend time getting them. Or giving up and realizing they’re terrible at the game, like me. It also gives us something to shoot for, like The Binding of Isaac’s constant rewards for continued play in the form of new and improved power-ups. You can see that they have yet to be unlocked, and sometimes the method to do so is tantalizingly vague. It’s a great system which, sadly, is underutilized.

  The whole point of this little rambling was not necessarily to whine about the plethora of the first two categories and bemoan the woeful dearth of the last, but to bring up what I (once more, correctly) think would be a neat advancement in books. Practical, hardly, but neat nonetheless.

  I’m sure many people had a knee-jerk hate reaction when encountering e-readers for the first time, but hear me out. What if you could somehow integrate new books you purchased with achievements? Like let’s say you’re reading and the characters say something which sounds a little like a reference to something like Twin Peaks or an awesome book about super heroes punching each other. You could highlight the phrase, do a Google search with “Twin Peaks” at the end and - ta dah! - you unlocked an achievement for getting an oblique reference! As an added bonus, have a short piece of commentary where the author describes how she saw that show for the first time when she was six and proceeded to have nightmares for the rest of her life.

  What’s stopping people from just looking at the code and ripping the information out of it? Not a whole lot, really. But it’s not like it would be intrusive enough to make people scour pages looking for it. Just a little treat for a book someone loves enough to keep coming back to. Of course, I’m sure I’m weird for wanting such extras. After all, I’d happily dole out extra money for ‘special editions’ of books with annotations discussing the trials and tribulations of the author’s journey. So, clearly, there is at least a tiny market for this kind of things.

  Oh, man, Harry Potter would be extra awesome.

  ...

  Oh, who am I kidding? Most publishers would probably just make “YOU READ CHAPTER ONE!” and “UNDERLINE 1,000 WORDS!” achievements and call it a day.

UPDATE 6/7/12: In the June 5th edition of Extra Punctuation,Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw mentions a similar goofy gimmick for e-readers (although his idea is much better presented), so kindly don't e-mail me with that information. Great minds and all, amiright?

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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