Casper: Oh my, this is a bit strange. Our very first debate since Stian left (was kicked out) to form Corrupt Save File. It’s been a while, old friend. Do you still have what it takes to debate me?
Today I wanted to talk about achievements. Trophies. Gamerpoints. Digital bragging rights, essentially. Ever since the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 launched, I have been infatuated with the idea of hunting down achievements and completing games. It’s taken a bit of a downturn since I migrated to mostly PC gaming and the Switch, but I still like to indulge in a little achievement hunt when I come upon a PC game I take a real liking to.
But I have caught word that Stian is not too fond of these. Perhaps he’s still salty that his Castlevania game bugged out and didn’t give him the achievement he wanted.
Stian: My dear friend, you need me for a debate, otherwise you are just monologuing. Jokes aside, I am happy to continue this with you! I suppose I should start off by stating that I do not hate achievements in general. My bigger problem is that I do not fully understand them. Highlighting memorable events like “Jumping from the highest altitude” in Fable 2 or “I meant to do that” when you spin into a TNT crate in the Crash Bandicoot Trilogy, I am all for as they are fun recognition of unique events that are not necessarily implemented within the game.
However, there are just as many that don’t do anything to make the experience exciting. Getting an achievement for killing 5000 enemies in a hack and slash or for beating a game, feels underwhelming and honestly poor. Shouldn’t beating the game itself be a form of achievement alone? I especially hate those that are for you doing something to progress to the ending, like starting up a save-file. These kinds of achievements aren’t uncommon from what I can tell, and it makes me question why they were even implemented.
I am definitely salty due to Castlevania Collection achievements bugging out on me, as I played through and beat every game with every possible character, but did not get the achievement for beating them. Yet I have for each individually. However, they too are just simple achievements on “beat this game” so hadn’t it been for me being a fan to the point of having Dracula’s famous quote inked on me, I probably would never have cared to play through Castlevania The Adventure for the 7th time.
One game that made me care for achievements was Rise of the Argonauts as anything you did to earn one, you could devote to one of your gods as XP in order to gain new powers. Couldn’t others do more to effect or highlight the in-game events similarly?
Casper: I do actually believe it’s worth handing out achievements for beating a full game, but you sketch a worst case scenario where a lazy company just puts in achievements for beating each level until you hit the end. If just playing the game normally awards you the full cabinet of trophies, that is either laziness on the side of the developer or just means the game was ill-suited to an achievement system in general.
I feel achievements can be used to chronicle one’s journey through a game. How fun is it to get that achievement for beating Dark Souls II and looking back through your trophy list and seeing the date/time when you got this little gem:
Even acknowledging players who rack up a lot of kills is a nice reward for those who stuck around to keep playing. We are in an industry where more games are coming out than any sane man can keep track of. Finishing a game, not to mention exploring post-game content and replaying it a few times, that’s not something to take for granted anymore.
I also feel you’re underselling the potential for achievements to heighten player engagement. You mention one for jumping from the highest point of the map, but barring a modern Ubisoft game, would you have even sought out such a place if you weren’t tempted by an achievement? My love for the bygone days of World of Warcraft runs deep, but I never actually went out of my way to see everything in this world until Blizzard patched in an achievement system and you could get a title, “The Explorer”, for having mapped out every zone in the game. I had been hopping around Azeroth for years at that point and was shocked with how much of it I had never seen before.
Stian: I am happy to hear that it can be considered lazy by someone who is very into achievements, though this is something I believe is a common practice. Just about any game I have played with achievements, have something like this. Except those for the earlier titles on the 360, but they could be insane to the point of feeling like a sick joke.
I would argue that games were harder to beat before and now it is more about time-consuming, but I can’t deny that you are correct here. Because of the growing indie-crowd especially, there are plenty of games to sink your teeth into, to the point where I feel bad for not keeping track of hidden gems or those who have clear passion behind the finished project. However, shouldn’t it be then more ideal for the game itself to give the player an enjoyable ride and not just a reason for getting visual bragging-rights for spending time with it?
As for your other question: OF COURSE! Who would not love to see the vast scenery from a tall construction? Just the idea of getting so high up, should be a thrilling experience in itself, right? If a game can’t make it interesting unless you are getting basically a golden star, I blame the game itself for not making it interesting. However, I do like the idea of using achievements as memories. I did notice when my PS4 took pictures of some of my trophies, it was like looking back at a photo-album I actually cared for. This is where I’d argue that achievements should enhance the experience, not be a substitute for it.
Casper: Perhaps you would have climbed a tower for the vista, perhaps you would have finished the game and all its side-quests, but I have seen a lot of cases where games pushed it even further. I have hundreds of hours in each individual Paradox strategy game, yet found new reasons to play all of them even more after discovering the wealth of achievements contained within. They challenged me to gameplay interactions I never thought possible, it made me play as countries I never otherwise picked and provided me a loooooooooong list of goals to work towards in games that otherwise feel like make-your-own-fun sandboxes.
Of course, being a good game is still more important than having achievements. In fact, now that achievements are so widespread, just having them is no longer much of a selling point in and of itself. Players can pick the games they like and choose to hunt achievements in them if they so desire.
It’s easy to be cynical and look at the bad apples. One of the first games I completed all the achievements for was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which just has the story milestones and its various main quests to contend with. However, even that might push a player to seek out a faction they otherwise ignored or roll a new character that would better fit in the Thieves Guild and re-experience a game they would otherwise move on from. Many games do better than this, but even those who put in this marginal effort are still more durable than a game without achievements.
Stian: Those are nice ideas for altering ways to play a game, similar to say finishing the original Zelda without getting the sword. Again, this is where I don’t mind achievements as they can enhance an experience. However, to say that they automatically make a game more durable, I strongly disagree. Games related to online achievements that perhaps no longer has an active server, can be damaging for many to return. Honestly, this makes games like Vampire Rain even worse than what they already are.
It is also disheartening with games like EDF 2025 where half of the achievements revolve around days of grinding, making them tedious busy-work. This is where I would argue that achievements can be like a used bandaid on a gaping wound: it does not really help the agony I went through.
I won’t be too cynical though, as this is neither the norm or uncommon. While I do still believe that achievements are used for “boasting” about your “skills”, that is more relegated to the results of these accomplishments. You do not get anything really by doing them, unless the game actually has something ready. This is where I would argue that an achievement is worth your time, if they don’t break the experience. I guess you could say that the journey should be worth it, as the result can be a simple “you did it” message.
Casper: EDF is a good example of abject laziness in designing achievements, but I don’t quite recognize the issue with online dependency and I am not familiar with your Vampire Rain example. Truth be told, online achievements are always a risk, but the same goes for online games in general. Once companies cease to care, the game is dead whether it has achievements or not.
There is also no written rule that achievements should just be empty rewards. I used to hunt achievements in Halo 3 to get an exclusive armor set, weapons in Team Fortress 2 used to be bound to achievements before loot boxes took hold, World of Warcraft gave you all kinds of nifty surprises. Incidentally, back in the old days when such things were special rewards and secrets, I wouldn’t have cared much. Our achievement systems form an additional layer that unites accomplishments across countless games and lets you boast about the stupid outfits you unlocked or the special run you completed without having to get someone to come over and fire up new game+ to show them.
The fact that we’re seeing less fun costumes, less overpowered weapons, and less bonus stuff in general is to blame on shifting priorities on the side of developers and publishers. I was fine with getting achievements to unlock new weapons in Team Fortress 2. I didn’t ask to have my Steam inventory flooded with 20 pages of lootboxes.
Stian: Does it work if there are servers made by outside sources? I would point at the Quake titles for strong online-capabilities, but that is probably a whole other story that I am honestly not too familiar with. To be honest, I can definitely see the issue here. While I do not mind lootboxes as long as this is advertised within a game’s design (UNLIKE Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled), this is all relegated to general luck, how much money you got to burn, hours of grinding, or all three combined.
Luckily, it seems to get shun on more and more if a game has it, as there are no skills involved to get one. While it still will be here, it is a more impressive feat to see people working towards a clear goal. So in this regard, I can see achievements being a nice reminder of actively doing something interesting in order to achieve something. Be it playing a game with limitations, or exploring odd secrets. I still do believe the game itself should be able to elaborate and hint you on these ideas, but maybe this is a nice stepping-stone that will be a reminder of those who truly ventured beyond just starting up a game.
Besides, there is a mute-button for the pling. So I could always ignore the achievements and play the game just because it is fun.
Casper: If I am to admit one thing, it would be that achievement systems are not always easy to ignore. An opt-in feature would be ideal, as is the case with Paradox games where you only get achievements when playing in the Ironman mode that disables save-scumming. Somebody can put in thousands of hours and never see that seductive alert that they unlocked an achievement.
Because, if you get one of them, a type of people will want all of them. I have certainly found myself frustrated with games where a final achievement was unavailable, be it because the game bugged out, an online mode was now deserted, or it was just too hard or tedious. I once vowed that I would get platinum on every game I bought for the PS3, which is fortunately a mindset I quickly abandoned. Others may not be able to do so.
Still, I wouldn’t want to rob such die-hards of their well-deserved reward at the end. Gaming is already amazing, but how cool is it to check the achievements you got on a favorite game of yours and seeing just how few people managed the same?