Carrot on a Stick

Carrot on a Stick
Building a Better Achievement

Anthony Burch | 7 Apr 2009 12:24
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As anyone who has ever tried to get all the achievement points in an Xbox 360 game can attest to, there will always be those two or three achievements that seem to take up the most time for the worst reasons. Collect a third of the COG tag in Gears of War, and you earn the "Time to Remember" achievement. Find every single flag in Assassin's Creed, and you earn the "Keeper of the Lions Passant" achievement. Visit all the graveyards in Two Worlds, and you earn the - wait for it - "Visited All Graveyards" achievement. An unfortunate majority of 360 games have at least a few of these lazy, needlessly completionist goals that require far more effort than their relatively small rewards warrant. They're the kind of goals that anti-achievement crusaders whine about and achievement apologists grit their teeth and tolerate against their better judgment. So how could developers improve them?

For me, the best Achievements - or at least, the least irritating ones - fall into two distinct categories: those that require essentially nothing more from you than making your way through the game, and those that ask you to engage in an interesting or unusual activity that has no effect on your progression. Problems only arise when achievements both stymie your advancement through a game and require unimaginative, typically repetitive actions.

Most games award achievements for simply advancing the story. You might scoff at getting an achievement for completing basic training in Call of Duty 2 - after all, you have to finish the training just to move on to the next level. But really, is that such a bad thing? Awarding achievements for completing these humdrum tasks may seem like pandering, but they're actually some of the most logical and seamless achievements currently in use.

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For better or worse, it's inherently rewarding to get an achievement. Though I'm loathe to admit it, I always feel a bit of excitement when I hear that little "bloop" as the window pops up, telling me how much my Gamerscore has increased - even if it was only for making it to the second chapter. You could easily accuse such achievements of being unimaginative, but they ask so little of the player that it's hard to feel too put off by them. Sure, COD2's "Completed Training" achievement and those like it are forgotten almost immediately after the pop-up fades from the screen, but they serve a clear and simple purpose: to increase your enjoyment of otherwise unexceptional activities.

Even better, achievements can take advantage of your potentially negative reaction ("I got an Achievement just for that?") and turn it into something interesting. Guitar Hero III's "Blowin' It" achievement gives the player five points for failing a single song 10 times, turning what would have been a disheartening experience into something ironic, funny and oddly consoling. "Blowin' It" does not reward spectacular play, dedication or skill, but pleasantly surprises the player in a way that only an achievement could. You kind of suck, the game says, but here's an achievement for sucking so bad - it happens to the best of us.

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