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Achievements and Completionism

One of my favorite parts of newer games is the idea of achievements. They add a ton of replay value and encourage players to try out ways of playing a game that they might not have before. They can even sometimes teach players how to play the game in ways that a tutorial wouldn’t cover. People react to them differently. Some pay them no heed while other people are determined to get every last one of them. Those people have come to be known as completionists.

I fall somewhere in the spectrum, more towards the completionist side. However, I almost never get all of the achievements for any given game, that’s just too much time. So how to decide which “cheevos” to go for and which ones to leave behind? The formula for my level of completionism on a game is a combination of three things – how fun the achievement sounds, how well I can manage my progress, and the amount of confidence I have in my skills at that game. Let’s break it down.

Achievement Unlocked: Sweet Dreams.

Fun Achievements

I’ve seen a lot of achievements that don’t have much creativity behind them. Maybe you’ll have to shoot 100 enemies with each type of weapon, or hit 100 monsters with each type of magic. These aren’t particularly hard achievements, but they’re also not a whole lot of fun.

One of the most fun games I’ve played for hunting achievements is Brutal Legend. I spent quite a lot of time cruising around the world in my Metal-Mobile after the main storyline had ended because the achievements were so creative. When I saw that one of them was to jump a mastodon-esque monster in the car, I was totally on board. Achievements based on simple statistics or numbers usually aren’t so great. Use some imagination!

I suppose a potential downside to this would be achievements so original that it’s hard to figure out how to even get them. There was one in Bioshock: Infinite that said “kill 5 enemies while you are drunk.” I had like 4 gin and tonics and I still couldn’t get it to pop…

Achievement Unlocked: Piss off PETA.

Managing Achievements

This typically applies to more large-scale achievements. Many games have optional collectibles you can search for as you explore the world and this usually makes for some of the more challenging achievements. More often than not, I find these achievements not worth the effort. Why? It’s too hard to keep track of your progress. This is an issue older than achievements, as a matter of fact. Remember the blue coins in Super Mario Sunshine? There was NO way to keep track of how many you had gotten in a particular level and that made getting them all feel nearly impossible.

Initially, the Assassin’s Creed games had a similar issue with this stuff. These are sandbox games, often with several huge environments, so exploring is a major part of the experience. Naturally, collectibles are involved – some not too difficult, others very difficult. Whether it’s flags, feathers or “animus fragments,” there’s usually an achievement for finding at least a hundred tiny little objects in random spots all over the place. In the earlier games, there was no reason to even attempt this. They would only show up on the map when you were right near them and so you would just have to prowl around and hope one randomly popped up. No thanks.

Then something big changed with Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. While exploring any particular location, you now had the option of pulling up a list that showed how many collectibles were in each area. The map also had everything marked from the get go. Those may sound like minor cosmetic changes but they made a huge difference. By breaking things down into manageable chunks, it suddenly seemed feasible to collect all this crap! Black Flag was the first AC game where I actually collected everything. If you don’t make the players feel a big undertaking can be tracked conveniently, only the most driven completionists will go for an achievement like this.

Achievement Unlocked: Need New Carpet!

Confidence-Driven Achievements

When it comes to video game skill, I consider myself pretty average. Except for Rock Band. Since the first game, my instrument has been the microphone but I never expected to get to the level of skill I reached. Recently, in anticipation of the new RB game this year, I dusted off Rock Band 3 and sang a few songs. Despite being out of practice for a couple of years, after one song I got a message saying that I was now ranked #1 on the leaderboards for that song. I am really good at Rock Band.

I bring this up because when it comes to the achievements in those games, I have enough confidence to take on just about anything. One of the most infamous achievements ever is one from Rock Band 2 called “Bladder of Steel.” It required players to go through The Endless Setlist, an 8 hour marathon of music, without failing out or even pausing. The game had to be running the entire time. So one day when I had a lot of time to myself, I went for it. I spent a whole day stealing quick drinks of water bottles when the next song was loading or running to the bathroom during a long guitar solo (a benefit of using the mic is that you often have little breaks) and I got that achievement. It was madness. But I knew I could do it, so I wanted to.

Achievements are a great part of modern gaming, but like any other part of making a game, they need to be handled with care to be effective. To summarize:

  • Make your achievements fun.
  • With bigger ones, make sure progress can be easily tracked.
  • Reward the most dedicated players.

What are your favorite achievements? What’s the toughest one you’ve ever done? Let us know!

Achievement Unlocked: Finished Article.

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