Monday, July 21, 2008

Re: "Achievements"

Whoever cooked up the idea behind achievements and the Xbox Live “Gamerscore” system over at Xbox HQ needs a plaque and a raise. He single-handedly created a System of Stupid that consoles will undoubtedly replicate over and over from now until the end of time. Grats on lowering the bar, and stepping backward in time for the good of gamers. While I’m sure there are people in the world who are upset that they don’t get to enter their initials on the HI SCORE chart at the end of every gaming session, I was kinda glad when games moved away from “keeping score”, and moved towards something more intangible.

I remember specifically thinking how silly it was at the end of each level in the original Wolfenstein 3d when it would tally your total points and time taken. Already, at that point in my young life, I was thinking that the gameplay element itself was more about making it to the end of level alive rather than how many points I got. It felt trite to tack on something like a numerical value to busting out of a prison and shooting my way to freedom.

Even with the old school shoot-em-ups like 1942 or newer iterations like Ikaruga or Radiant Silvergun, I always felt that making it out of the level alive was the big point. Extra lives are awarded based on score achieved, so at least there’s a point to it all (see wat I did ther?), but aside from that, it’s just a number in the upper corner of the screen. Certain games intrinsically lend themselves to keeping score… baseball, dominoes, Yahtzee, Wheel of Fortune. Without a point total attached to these games, there’s no way to know who’s winning. Tacking a points system onto something like chess or sudoku seems ridiculous, though, and yet here comes Microsoft trying to suggest that everything from UNO to Halo should count towards your one universal HI SCORE.

The part I find saddening is that people actually buy into this crap. They want so bad to inflate this arbitrary number that they’ll rent horrible games to suffer through them for achievements. Forcing yourself through a shitty game? Isn’t that what they pay the guys at Gamespot for? They have to do it, it’s their JOB. There’s a book you can buy that is a guide for how to unlock the achievements in 20 of the most popular titles. There are a slew of websites out there that list all the new discovered achievements, and how to unlock them as fast as possible. Apparently there is a user, StripClubdj, that had the highest score in the world, but many are convinced that he “hacked” the system to reach the top. He says …I started buying everything Xbox made ... I own every 360 title made from every country. I own 4 Xboxes: 2 American, 1 Japanese and 1 PAL, so as you can see, I sunk a lot of money into an addictive hobby.

Way to go, champ.

Meanwhile, the rest of the gaming industry is scrambling to implement the same idea in all of the platforms. The Playstation 3 is doing some hastily slopped together ‘trophy’ system, and now even WoW will be implementing achievements come Wrath of the Lich King. These range from revealing the whole world map, to winning ten arena matches in a row, to “…getting a haircut or defeating a member of each race in your opposing faction in PvP. Others involve a progress bar and require you to do something several times -- such as give out 10 hugs.

There’s one in particular I have my eye on, the one where you get 50 points for making it to level 15 without dying once:

Can you say “Grab a 70 rogue, train 20 mobs onto noobs and /vanish?”

Hmmmm... maybe these achievements can be fun, after all.

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