Achievements as a Design tool
I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with video game achievement systems. The ‘hate’ comes mostly from the fact that I tend to really disagree with how they are used nowadays. I believe achievements can and should be part of a game’s design, but more often than not they’re relegated to just some medals for completing certain parts of the game or pure boring grind. There are also skill-based achievements, like getting a perfect run in Super Meat Boy, – I think those are perfectly valid since, well, you have to actually achieve something. But then there’s achievements that can motivate the player to experiment with the game, try out different things, and it seems to me there’s just too few of that.
In Assassin’s Creed, there was an assassination mission in the harbor of Acre. Using information about guard placements and comfortable routes that I got from investigation missions, I’ve successfully got to my target without getting noticed, assassinated him without being caught in action, and got back to the Assassin bureau without anybody chasing or attacking me. Assassin’s Creed being a game where you choose how to complete things as you please, there are no specific in-game rewards for any styles of play (and there shouldn’t be). Though that means the only thing that I got after that was a feeling of self-satisfaction, which, I must admit, was pretty awesome, but wouldn’t it have been much cooler if there was an achievement for it?
In Left 4 Dead 2 there’s an achievement for going through a whole campaign with a certain garden gnome. That’s a very silly mission that you wouldn’t put into the game like that itself, but as an achievement – it’s a cool goal to put in that requires different tactics, since one player most of the time is going to have the gnome in the hand and therefore unable to battle properly. On a side note, losing that gnome half-way through is heart-wrenching.
Or, let’s say, Deus Ex: Human Revolution has got a pacifist achievement for not killing anybody except the bosses. Admittedly, that’s somewhat of a dominant tactic in the game anyway, since you get more experience points for knocking out people rather than killing them, so… Maybe that doesn’t apply as much to the point I’m trying to make. Although, the game has got a hidden achievement for successfully throwing a basketball into the hoop. I feel that’s a better example.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has got achievements for exploration, helping people (and animals) out in the world (something that the game doesn’t require you to do, by the way)… playing music for an old man… helping a person with suicidal tendencies to cope with his loss… Pretty much all the hidden side-quests that exist in the game. When it comes to achievements implementation, I feel like Brothers is at the top of the list.
Achievements don’t have to be just for completion (although I don’t necessarily mind those types that much), grind (kill X enemies, do this N times, etc… boring) or perfection. These are what I feel are seen in games the most often, but they can be a lot more than that. They can reward different styles of play, exploration, experimentation, side goals, curiosity, and there are a lot more good examples than I’ve listed in the paragraphs above, but not enough for achievements to feel more interesting as a whole.
Too often achievements are close to a last-minute addition, which impacts their quality greatly. We have to look at achievements as another tool in our design box. Something that has to be planned and discussed as the project progresses through the development rather than when it’s time to go gold soon. What do you think about achievements? Do you feel they can be something more, or can’t? Maybe they’re just fine the way they are now?