196: Building a Better Achievement

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Building a Better Achievement

It's easy to tell when the achievements were simply the last item on the developer's checklist before the game shipped. But when they receive a bit of extra attention and a little creativity, achievements can greatly enhance your experience with a game. Anthony Burch examines how different developers have approached achievements, with varying degrees of success.

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I hate collecting achievements too.

Also, supplement.

I am in no way a completionist. In fact once I've done the main part I will rarely return, and never for an achievement.
But yeah tehy need to get creative. My favourite is in The Darkness. it is called Romantic and only get syou 10 points but is grea. You get to sit down with your girl if you wish and watch tv for a while. Now at anypoint you can get up, walk out, and blow people away. But if you stay there long enough for her to fall asleep on your lap...

Adds nothing to the core of the game but really pushed the relatuonship to the forefront of m mind, which is what I think a great achievement is all about.

Hear hear! I love a good achievement, but difficult and tedious ones - those along the lines of "(verb) all the (noun)s" - are usually just irritating. I don't want to know that I've squished 310 of 333 grubs in Half-Life 2 Episode 2! I'm torn between naturally wanting the achievement and not wanting to painstakingly search through a whole long section of the game with a fine-tooth comb to get it. The payoff is not worth the effort, but knowing that the reward exists is hard to ignore. It's like an itch that takes two hours of tedious work and constant reference to an online game guide to scratch.

On the other hand, achievements that encourage you to do something fun or rewarding can really enhance a game. Some of Crackdown's achievements encouraged you to experiment with the sandbox in ways you might not have thought of, like "Make your way to the top of the Agency Tower", "Use explosives to keep a car up in the air for seven seconds" and "Shoot and kill 5 gang members in a single jump (while airborne)." Because so much of the fun of that game lay in the comic-book physics, it was great to have these little suggestions of fun things to try.

For these forums, I think of "Getting your comment published in next week's Escapist" as my own private achievement! :D

I still say that the best Achievement I've encountered yet is Crackdown's "Base Jumper". There's no practical reason to climb the Agency Tower to its peak, and it's not simple to do (and frankly impossible if you haven't levelled Agility up all the way) and can be rather time-consuming... but getting there, and then jumping off into the bay, was the most fun single "quest" I did in the game. And I'd never have thought to try it if it didn't have an Achievement attached to it.

I'd love to see more Achievments like that in games.

-- Steve

A game's guality is really dependent on the quality of its achievements.

The Game with the most boring achievements was Oblivion for the 360. You just have to complete the main quest and some guild quests. bethesda did a much better job with Fallout 3.

One of the best achievements ev0r is the "wax on" achievement in Geometry Wars 2.
"Wax off" wasn't that good, because it was just a harder (much harder, still trying it :D) version of wax on. Stackable achievements are really pointless. Why do I need a "win 5 races achievement" if i have to do it anyway in order to do the "win 15 races" Achievement?

It's sad, that achievements are cut from the PC versions of many games. I was a PC fanboy for many years, but i recently got a 360 because some games are just better on the 360 with LIVE and achievements. For example, i bought Race Driver:GRID again for the 360 because the 360 version has a really grat achievement mix tat requires the player to do things he wouldn't do normally (e.g. "do a 360 turn with your car and still win the race"). I think i played the 360 version more than the PC version. Even if the gfx etc. are slightly worse.
Some, atmosphereic story games (like Mirror's Edge or Dead Space)don't really need achievements, but I can't imagine playing Resident Evil 5 without achievements and it would be best for capcom not to remove them for the PC version for no reason. Without achievements i would have played through the game once in co-op on medium difficulty, and now, We completed it on Veteran, then we made another run to collect everything, then we got "S"-ratings for all the levels and we're still not through yet, because we have to play it a 4th time on the highest difficulty setting (pro mode) in order to unlock all achievements. RE5 also has some funny achievements for here and there like killing an enemy with a rotten egg. Really love achievements!

What I don't like are cheap pseudo-achievements that cannot be seen by the riends online. Why should I make medal XY in game YZ if nobody will see and appreciate it? for example, the PC port of Assault heroes still has some sort of achievements but they're pointless, because nobody will see them except the ppl who did them.

yes, bragging is just the point of achievements.

By the way, there's something much worse than bad achievements: bugged achievements and achievements that don't work anymore. For example, as far a sI know, there are some LIVE games with multiplayer achievements that cannot be obtained anymore because of server changes or shutdowns.

I also hated it to play through half Gears of War on Insane difficulty three times, because everytime the game froze and deleted my savegames so that i had to start again.
The last time i tried it, a friend has hosted the game whose savegame didn't get deleted and I was able to play through the final two chapters on Insane. It's just bad that I still don't have the achievements for playing the Whole game on Insane because the game doesn't know that I played the other three chapters before.

so please, developers, If you aren't sure if everybody is able to unlock the achievements and cannot ensure a unbugged game where it is possible to actually finish the game, just don't add achievements that require the players to do the impossible. hard achievements are ok, but no impossible ones.

Achievements also shouldn't be inflated. A mid-quality XBLA game doesn't need achievements that require the player to play the same mode for 200 hours. They should fit the game and all the achievements should be finished just when the game gets boring. Not when the main storyline or whatever is completed but when the player has seen everything in the game. It's pointless to ask the player to do things over and over again the same way.

The need to play Resident Evil 5 at least four times is ok, because you'll always get new weapons, constumes and upgrades.

company of heroes had a great way to measure achievements, or in their case, badges. every mission had a badge, and the badge complimented the current mission. for example, you had to defend a hill for 30 minutes, but you were rewarded a badge if you killed 250 enemy units while doing so. this was tricky considering certain enemy squads retreated never to be seen again once they lost a certain number of guys from their squad. it forced you to be more agressive rather than just bunkering into the hill.

achievements should be challenging, logical, and special. getting an achievement for simply playing the game as intended, like with your cod2 training example, isn't an achievement at all. it's a celebration of the norm. why be exalted for doing the bare minimum of what you have to do to make the game progress?

team fortress 2 gets A+ in the achievement department too. never is there ever a situation that you absolutely have to set 5 people on fire in 30 seconds. but if you try your hardest, and actually do, you get a recognition. that makes sense. kick some ass and get a pat on the back. i'd rather have that then, "fire your gun at the general direction of the enemy" achievement. congrats! you're been praised for doing absolutely nothing special.

Receiving achievements are addictive. But some of them are riduculous, and agree it is just as rewarding receiving an acheivement for completing a level as it is to find 1239283348 stars at 4 different map locations within 17 minutes. Its the little bloopy noise that does it for me.

"Costume Party elegantly encourages you to do something unique with the game's mechanics while letting you feel like you did it of your own volition."

No... no it doesn't. Not at all. It's one of my biggest complaints with achievements. If me and a bunch of friends are playing Dead Rising, and one of us gets the wacky idea of putting masks on zombies, then we all get a good laugh and the person who thought to do it feels clever. However, doing it just to get the achievement ends up feeling more like a chore, no matter how little work is involved.

I'm sorry, but I couldn't disagree more with the OP. I think he's fixed on a certain type of achievement that appeals only to him, but I believe there are several different types of achievements that appeal to different people for different reasons. Let me start by explaining what I think makes an achievement, then compare it what the OP has put forward.

By definition, an achievement is when you accomplish something through superior ability, special effort, or great courage. Going about your daily routine, following the well-established path, isn't noteworthy enough to be considered an achievement. Likewise, a video game achievement needs to be something special. For example, finishing the first level isn't much of an achievement -- if it really required superior ability, courage, or effort, then the game would be far too difficult for the average person to play. However, you can always challenge yourself. Maybe you finish the first level in only 30 seconds, or without killing anything. These feats require superior ability or special effort and are perfect for recognizing as achievements.

According to this definition, there is even room for achievements that fall outside of normal gameplay. Exploring every area or uncovering a hidden item fall under "special effort" -- they don't necessarily require superior ability, but they certainly require an effort above and beyond the main objective of the game.

Having established what it means to be an achievement, let's consider why somebody would want an achievement. I see three different reasons for acquiring accomplishments: personal collection, challenge, and social stature. Some people like to collect anything: postage stamps, bottle caps, even vanity pets in video games. These people will get something just for the sake of having it, and achievements are no exception. They will complete every achievement, no matter how time-consuming or difficult, just to have them all.

Other people are looking for a challenge. Any kid who grew up with a Nintendo can finish Super Mario Brothers, but can you do it without taking any warp pipes? Can you finish it in less than 10 minutes? Adding additional challenges can make a game new again and significantly increase the useful life of a game. While some people will just make up their own challenges, creating achievements around these challenges not only establishes the challenge for the player, it also sets up a reward for completion of the challenge.

Finally, there is social stature. There can be a lot of satisfaction to being the best at something, but one of the greatest benefits is the social recognition that comes from being known as the best. Achievements, especially in multiplayer environments, make it possible to show off your superiority and give you noteriety. In massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, you may be one of a thousand people, completely unknown within the game world. But be the first to complete a painstakingly difficult achievement, and the world will know who you are and what you are capable of. This sort of social posturing happens naturally when playing with a group of people in the real world, but it's difficult to translate that into something visible in the gaming world. Through achievements, you can have those moments to show your superiority and you even get a token to remind people just how good you are.

Overall, achievements can be seen as a game within the game. Just like a good game, they require a difficult-but-attainable challenge and a reward for completing the challenge. Simple indications of your progress through the game aren't really interesting, because they are celebrating something that you already expect to be able to do. Showing it off to your friends isn't any better, because it's nothing surprising -- your friends have completed level 1 too. If an achievement is the most rewarding thing the game can give you as a result of progressing normally through the game, then the game isn't rewarding you properly. Achievements are a supplement to the challenges of the game; they aren't the game itself.

Actually, I take back what I said -- achievements can be the game itself, but then they aren't special for being achievements. A common definition of a game (according to Raph Koster's "A Theory of Fun") includes a series of challenges and rewards for completing those challenges. The rewards are the same: the personal satisfaction of completing a challenge, the social posturing involved in mastering something or defeating an opponent, and other such rewards. In this respect, an achievement is no different than a new level or another quest -- it's a unit of challenge with a goal and reward.

Perhaps the biggest difference between achievements and other game challenges are that achievements include a permanent record of your success. Complete a level in a video game and you've just completed the level -- there's no public, permanent record of that fact. But an achievement, badge, trophy, rank, or other token is a way of communicating your successes with others. In the real world, this record is often created outside of the game: people there at the time remembering it, the media recording and publishing it, medals and trophies for the players to take home. In the game world, it's harder to give those social rewards, because there may not be anybody there to see it happen. Instead, the game gives you a token that you can use later to garner those same social rewards. It's a game mechanic for codifying something that usually happens outside of the game.

I can't believe noone's mentioned this game yet.

Achievements make you feel better about doing the stupidest things.
The only near-impossible one I slaved for hours on was the "Zombie Genocider" achievement in Dead Rising.
This entails killing 53,594 zombies in one play mode.
As you can tell from this awesome achievement, I enjoy killing zombies to a near-addict level.

I like the 'Find all the X' achievements. More to the point, if I find all the tokens in Resident Evil 5, I want to be able to gloat about it.
I love the achievements that encourage you do new, strange or imaginative things. But there is room for all types, and I like to show off the things I have achieved.

I hate that games are not considered 'complete' now, unless you have all 1000 gamer points. It shouldn't be easy, or even possible, to get them all.
To the contrary, achievements should commemorate an achievement. Beating a level, mastering a skill and, yes, finding all the mystical blobs hidden in the levels.

The one point I concede is in regards to 'gamer point allocation'. I'd remove gamer points all together if I could. Well, I can't - but I'm sick of the super hard achievements holding all the point value. If you have unlocked 80% of the achievements and only 40% of the points, something is wrong.

As long as the achievement is fun that's what is important. "collect all of X" achievements are only fun in a game where exploration is an independently fun and rewarding thing to do. There is no way anybody can think that exploring all the nooks and crannies in a balls out action game like gears of war or resistance 2 improves that experience. it destroys the fast pace of the experience. it makes the game less fun. the only reason you would do it is for the achievement.

The best achievements are the ones that award you for being good at the game, or merely beating the game. I also like the ones that reward you doing challenging things that you wouldn't do otherwise but are still fun like beating a boss with only a pistol.

Grinding achievements piss me off too, but only if the grind is excessive; well beyond how much you'd play the game if you didn't want the achievement. 100,000 kills in gear of war 2!

Has anybody got the achievement for completing FEAR while firing less than 500 bullets?

I don't think the sheerly difficult ones are necessarily bad, at least the ones that require skill at the game rather than mindless token collecting. I am much more proud of my Mile High Club achievement then the Gears of War achievement that requires you collect the cog tags, if I had actually bothered to do it.

Most of the time I don't care about achievements, but I think FIFA 2009 has a great achievement system.

You get points for playing the game well.

You get rewarded for heading the ball in from a cross, or scoring from a bicycle kick.

These made me explore the game and controls a bit more, and try something new in the game beyond the necessary skills required.

Well, Oblivion though boring does well having logical achievements and is a good example of a game that doesnt require you to do extra crazy things and just goes with teh story flow without just giving them to you. You still have to advance the story all of which are optional save escaping the sewers. Dead Rising exceeded in creative achievements with varying difficulty though the 7 Day survivor still remains as a hard one (but I DID get it)
The achievements though I despise are ones requiring you not to be good or do something odd but to be BETTER than everyone else. GRAW had these, and Chromehounds had these too. (The Gold Medals)
I do appreciate achievements though that are clever. Soul Calibur 4 has an achievement for watching the opening video and might I add most people do NOT have it. I always watch the openeing (often before even pressing start) video atleats the first time I play, and got it and though "That was dumb" until I saw as I said, most do not have it.

I think different kinds of games lend themselves to different kinds of achievements. In a linear shooter, for instance, there are only so many mechanics to work with, so I don't see a problem with having the majority of achievements reward the player for just playing through the game. That's not to say there isn't any room for creativity with achievements, just that in games like that there are only so many things the player can do outside of what the developer has already scripted. Open-world games with numerous gameplay mechanics are far more easy to assemble an interesting list of achievements for. For instance, in Oblivion, every single achievement was for playing the parts of the game that the player would play regardless of an achievement system, which was a complete waste. Compare that to Fable II's achievements, which encouraged the player to explore the many mechanics that were unnecessary to finish the main quest.

All that said, I think there needs to be a balance in achievements. The achievements should be proportional to how much a player enjoys the game. Getting all 1000 points should be reserved for those who are willing to put a lot of time into a single game; the people who are willing to kill 53,594 zombies in Dead Rising because they really freaking like to kill zombies in Dead Rising. That said, it should be possible for a more-casual player of a particular game to get the majority of the achievements just by playing through the regular course of the game, and only spending a bit of time exploring other aspects of the game apart from the main story element.

Now I've given my two cents, I'll just say that it was a good article and that the achievements that encourage the player to try to do things that they wouldn't normally attempt are certainly the achievements that most interest me and make me more willing to play a game.

I'm a fan of most kinds of achievements.

- The ones that are awarded simply for completing levels/the game are nice in that it's good for comparison on how far someone's played through a game. I see a ton of people on Halo 3 online who don't even have the first mission complete achievement in the campaign.

- The ones for collecting are moderately irritating when it's just some arbitrary... thing. It's much better when it's something you'd want anyways: see for example the Tonic Collector in Bioshock: it's for getting all the tonics in the game, which is something I would have wanted. A reward for completeness. The only reason to add arbitrary bits is to reward for exploration.

- The ridiculous hard achievements are a good way for telling who's the pro gamer, and who's the new guy. I've never seen anyone with "War is Heck" from Endwar, but if I do see anyone with it, like hell I am fighting them.

The only kind of achievement I don't like is the ones for being at some place in the world leaderboard. I think GRAW has one of these for being #1... it sucks because it's virtually impossible to have. Somewhere out there, there is a mouthbreathing ball of cheeto crumbs who will never let you have it.

They really need to stop with the "collect all the..." achievements, they're boring and often very time consuming. It's worst when developers just put collectibles in the game for the sake of it. At least in Gears of War 2 the collectibles actually give you some back story.

I should also mention multiplayer achievements. There are some good ones that reward you for fun things that are relatively easy to do. Then there are some that give you impossible tasks that you could only do with immense luck or by simply cheating. Halo 3 has good examples of both of those.

I really like the achievements that I got on accident. Like the saving private ryan achievement in COD WAW it was funny and I was trying to save him from the burning guy anyway. If there could be more like that I'd be happy. Oh and I second Hamster at Dawn's opinions.

I never minded much about achievements. I like that they exist, but I won't do anything annoying for them unless it's something annoying that I really like doing. And I agree that there shouldn't be achievements for just progressing through the game, only for maybe finishing it or getting the "good" ending of a level. If they do, at least they should have interesting names - even though Call of Duty 4 had an achievement just for completing a level and for doing that above a difficulty level, at least they had interesting name, and I liked how the achievement for just completing the level had the playful punny tone of most achievements and the ones for completing it at a harder difficulty sound serious and foreboding. Much better than, say, Mirror's Edge "Chapter X Completion Thingy" achievements, which really fail at making me think I've achieved something.

Also, why so many punny names? I found it interesting how both The Orange Box and GTAIV had an achievement called "Under the Radar", one involving flying under things but no radars, and other involving radars but nothing about being under them.

Strange that no one mentioned Mass Effect, in which unlocking achievements actually has in-game effects (i.e., killing, um, a gazillion dudes with your shotgun for the Shotgun Mastery achievement allows you to start new characters with the Shotgun ability, etc.). It's something that could work well for some games (or, maybe not).

mym1nd:
My favourite is in The Darkness. it is called Romantic and only get syou 10 points but is grea. You get to sit down with your girl if you wish and watch tv for a while. Now at anypoint you can get up, walk out, and blow people away. But if you stay there long enough for her to fall asleep on your lap...

I remember that in GameFAQs a guy actually did that for two hours, until the movie they were watching (To Kill a Mockingbird) ended, thinking that there was an achievement for that. I'm not sure there shouldn't be one.

Clemenstation, thanks for the article link. Some interesting ideas and even counterpoints in that article.

But here's the thing about achievements; I don't give a fuck about them. They're nice to get, but I usually don't know that I'm getting them or how TO get them, so to actually accomplish them I need the internet (for the most part).

However, that's not my real complaint about achievements/trophies/whatever. My complaint is that if I get them, NOTHING HAPPENS.

If I get 3000 points on XBL, I'd like them to translate to something else. Let me buy a neat background, or interesting artwork, or even DLC. It doesn't have to be super awesome stuff, but having points doesn't mean jack unless I can use those points for something.

That said; when I can find certain challenges (the Akimbo Assassin from L4D comes to mind), those appeal to me so I give them a shot. I can still enjoy the game if I don't make it, but if I can then that's a bonus for me.

If an achievement teaches you about a feature in the game on your path to unlocking it, I would consider that a good achievement, myself. And if it isn't overly difficult.

Mr. Burch, in all fairness I think this article is a bit dated. Most of the games you mentioned (i.e- Assassin's Creed, Gears of War, Two Worlds, etc) came from a period in time when achievements weren't taken into consideration by game developers. More and more, the importance of achievements is being realized. A good game becomes even better when it has good achievements (like, my personal favorite, for example, The Orange Box's achievements.)

I do agree with what you said about surprising achievements being better, but as long as gamefaqs.com exists, the chances of an achievement surprising you are slim. Personally, I feel that achievements should FORCE gamers into getting the most out of the game. Take GTA IV's achievements for example; while they do force you to go around the city killing hundreds of fucking pigeons, one can't argue that they didn't get the most out of the game because of it.

In other words, if you want that 1000 achievement points, the game should make you earn it!

PS- I'm a big fan of Hey Ashley, keep up the good work you guys.

My favorite was in The Orange Box where you play through the 'Ravenholm' level in Half Life 2 with just a gravity gun. Challenging, and it almost added another level to the game because it was so original and I never would have done it unless there was an achievement.

I'll just repeat what I posted in the Gamasutra article:

"I dunno, I like and dislike achievements as a player. I think they are a step in the right direction, but most definately aren't there yet. Yes, they pat you on the back for doing something "special", but other than that, they do nothing to really enhance your gaming experience.

I agree with oscar, I would like it more if they were tied to the game a little better. Jeff mentioned the grenade example in Uncharted. Well what if obtaining that achievement unlocked a more powerful grenade for use in the game? You've already achieved something difficult...reward the player for it. Achieved a headshot trophy? Narrow the target spot to make it easier for future use. You successfully collected 40 heads to earn the head-hunter trophy which are rare drops? Increase the drop rate then. Simply making them badges really does nothing, especially if those trophies are difficult to come by.

I also dislike the online achievements, although for a different reason. Forcing a player to play the game how you want to just to earn trophies is very silly, and it simply leads to people trying to break the system. Look at LittleBigPlanet and the trophy levels designed to net you 7 or so online trophies all at once. When achievements become more a chore and less like fun, well, that's where they break down.

Let a person play the game how they want. Let them unlock all trophies from single player or multi-player, and that way people can gain everything they want to out of the game and not feel "forced" to play in a way they dislike to "complete" the game. I think that's the main trick."

What the one poster above said, giving us a reason for the achievements/trophies would do wonders. How about allowing a number of redeemable DLC points? Or use in Playstation Home for gaining new items? Anything along those lines would make them infinitely more useful and the feel of reward would be far more tangible.

Hopefully some of the posters here have played Free Radical's excellent Time Splitters series, which pioneered achievements well before Microsoft. Aside from the single player, there were numerous challenge missions, I think maybe as many as a hundred, that usually only required a few minutes to beat although you could earn bronze, silver, gold or platinum (platinum representing mastery of the challenge).

The challenges had a line or two of text that explained the goal, but this text in fact fleshed out an entire amusing meta-fiction about the single-player game. The challenges themselves often focused on a particular game mode or facet of gameplay.

This result was two-fold. The player unlocked new game modes, character models, and maps (the game modes were fastest to unlock, but it was actually very difficult to unlock all the character models and one multiplayer level). Secondly, by examing the games details, the player learned how best to build his own maps around game modes and gameplay (since Time Splitters games have map makers). The challenge missions were fun and really required some time to get gold or platinum scores.

My point is that Time Splitters games approach to achievements is to make them integral to the game. Time Splitters without achievements wouldn't be the same game. I think it's hard to say other games would be worse without their achievements.

best way to improve them..... get rid of them. no one cares!

Has any one played the game achievement unlocked?
Its a flash game were you play as an elephant that collects Achievements.
This article reminded me of it.

I make my own achievements. That way I can piss around as much as I want and still feel like I'm accomplishing something.

I liked the article a lot, and there's 2 other examples of good achievements/bad achievements I'd like to point out.

Good achievements: Left 4 Dead. Most can be easily attained by regular gameplay (that is, the 4 player mode or Versus) and only a few require special action (like Akimbo Assassin). Some are quite challenging (like the no friendly fire one) but it just makes them that much better to show off.

Bad achievements: Team Fortress 2. The achievements in TF2 may, at the end of a long road, have some rewards but most of the irritating and oddly specific activities you have to do to earn them don't happen very often, which means resorting to farming achievements on a server for that or focusing on a few at a time. I particularly didn't like the Scout's and Pyro's achievements because some were just ludicrous.

My personal favorite achievement game is Call of Duty 4, where you had at least half of the points unlocked by the time you finished your first runthrough. Most of the remaining points could be acquired by doing a few simple tasks, like killing 3 enemies with the knife in a row.

However, there was also the fiendishly hard veteran mode to get through. Veteran mode, despite all of the blood, sweat, and tears (oh so many tears) that went into beating it, also offered the greatest sense of satisfaction I personally have ever experienced in a game when you heard that little "bleep-bloop" at the end of a level. And, yes, there were collectible laptops to get. But at least they offered something tangible other than the achievement, ie, unlockable cheats. The achievements in COD4 were the perfect mix of simple, difficult, and everything in between.

I think modern achiements are quite good in general. There SHOULD be very very difficult ones also. But I agree that the achiements are most fun when they inspire doing something a bit differently but still in a way that they could be done atleast during a couple try. Achievents need to be there for the plain gameplay but the harder or hardest one should not be removed. There are always hardcore achievers.

But the game cannot be held together with only achiements ;)
Flash Game: Achievement Unlocked

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