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Bob Muir avatar 5:46 PM on 02.03.2008  (server time)
Rantoid: Are achievements beneficial?

Necros Says: We just had a bunch of terrible weather in Syracuse, which isn't surprising, considering how much living here sucks, but this was particularly bad. We had freezing rain. What this means is that, as you trek through mounds of slushy snow, you see what looks like an icy section of pavement. This is a trick crafted by a cruel God. The moment you step on this "solid" pavement, your foot quickly sinks half a foot in, giving you that wonderful feeling of dipping your foot in ice water. Of course, since you soaked your shoe and sock, you get to experience that wonderful feeling continuously, burning your skin as you limp into the closest building to wring out your sock. After a while, you just resign yourself to having cold feet the entire day. This has nothing to do with the Rantoid you're about to read, but I just had to vent.

As I was updating Dtoid's completed games list for January, I found it really interesting to note what different people view as "completing" a game. If you're unfamiliar with the list, the definition of "completion" is left up to the gamer, since we all have different standards. Some are content to beat a game and watch an ending, not even necessarily the best ending the game could have. On the other extreme are the gamers who strive to find every easter egg, unlock everything, get 100% rankings, and beat it multiple times with each character. With the exception of my darling Castlevania (of which I infamously farmed 9 of every soul and item in Dawn of Sorrow), I usually fall into the former camp, simply because my busy schedule and massive gaming stack won't allow for playing a game to death. In fact, it's - sadly - rare for me to play a game a second time unless it's a very old game.

I can remember a time when this wasn't the case, during my early gaming days. Back when I had finally gotten systems of my own (N64 and GBC), I was too young to afford many of my own games, and my parents certainly weren't eager to buy many games for me outside of my birthday and Christmas. Therefore, I played my copy of Pokemon: Blue Edition to death; I got every single collectible in Banjo-Tooie; I completely mastered Puzzle League. Of course, as I grew up and became more busy, my gaming time decreased. In addition, once I started buying more games, the time I spent on each one slowly decreased, bringing me to where I am today.

However, I think that my playing style is finally starting to change, against my will, thanks to my Xbox 360. When I bought it last fall, I was momentarily dismayed by my astounding gamerscore of zero, before shrugging it off as something those crazy OCD competitors worried about so they could brag about their e-penis. I was going to play a game to enjoy it, not so I could win in some unnecessary ranking. I attempted to get some achievements in Bomberman Live, and when I had to resort to organizing games with some fellow Dtoiders to get them, I found myself bored with what was supposed to be one of the best multiplayer games made. I didn't play games to get this bitter taste in my mouth.

And yet, when I saw dvddesign post at the start of January about his achievement scavenger hunt, I found myself interested. Maybe it was the lure of $50, but when I saw the two games listed, I thought to myself, I was planning on buying these eventually, why not buy them now and give this contest a shot? Needless to say, the achievements in King Kong were barely there, so I didn't come to any great revelations there. Then I started on Dead Rising. I had already planned out how to play the game. I would go for the best ending, then pick up the achievements I needed to grab for the contest. Then, something started happening.

As a side effect of my skittish running and indecision in games, I unlocked the "Marathon Runner" achievement for running a long distance. Similarly, my oft-used tactic of walking on top of zombie hordes whenever possible to avoid damage netted me the "Zombie Road" achievement. I glanced at some of the other achievements and realized that I was skipping much of the game's content. For instance: it was possible to make the motorcycle jump at least 33 feet in the air (the "Stunt Rider" achievement). I could keep using weapons to fight zombies, or I could freshen things up and fight them barehanded with numerous unlocked skills (the "Karate Champ" achievement). I decided to see how many of these I could get, since it was quite outside of my box.

I finally dawned on me what the achievement system actually was. Most assume it's just a bunch of bragging rights, to show how hardcore of a gamer you are, and while it works on that level, that's not where the heart of the achievement system lies. The best part of the achievement system is finding new ways to play the game. Now, many gamers are used to this phenomenon already. You don't just play the game through, you experience every niche and corner, every hidden joke, every easter egg the developers put into the game. The achievement system is basically a guide; it says, "Well, I see you were able to complete this section of the game, but did you know you can take out the helicopter overhead? What, you ran past it? That's a really challenging battle, go back and you'll thank me later!" At face value, I had to pass on playing Super Mario Galaxy through a second time with Luigi, just because of so many unplayed games. And yet, I wonder, if there had been an achievement for playing it through with Luigi, if I would have taken the time to examine the game closer and appreciate it on another level.

And once you've done every regular thing a game offers, you start making your own games. One of my favorite examples is the Hyrule Temple stage in Super Smash Bros. Melee. With such a large level, there are so many games you can come up with independent of the regular ruleset. Some of my favorite variants are three characters on handicap 1 vs. one character on handicap 9, or having races around the level as we attack each other and try to knock each other behind. Similarly, achievements like those in Dead Rising reward you for bowling a perfect 10 zombies, something I would have never thought to try without the achievement's suggestion. The system helped me get more out of the game than I would have came up with on my own.

I know that for every game that takes the time to provide some meaningful achievements that actually bring out the game's strong points, there is another game that just slaps some in because Microsoft wouldn't let the publisher release the without achievements. But still, when it's done right, achievements can be a great way to get more out of your game before you finally get tired of it and move onto something else. And if you're on a tight budget, remember to keep that in mind.

Necros is actually Syracuse University's newest caped crusader, attending classes by day and playing video games in a tight-fitting costume by night. When people can talk sense into him, he appears as a regular on Failcast.

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