Achievements and trophies, the way they're known today, came into popularity with its introduction with the Xbox 360's Gamerscore system. You are rewarded an achievement with a corresponding Gamerscore or a trophy for performing certain in-game activities. It can be something as simple as completing a certain level, reaching a certain part of the story, or performing tasks necessary to advance the plot. But it can get as complicated as tackling certain parts of games a certain way or not using certain gameplay options. Some of them involve crazy levels of grinding, and some of them are so hard, they turn otherwise normal, balanced people into raving murderous hardcore monkeys. In essence, achievements and trophies are little rewards game developers give you for playing their game in specific ways.
The opinion regarding the necessity or even the appeal of these trophy systems divides the gaming community. I've spoken with people who absolutely abhor it and think of trophy junkies/ achievement hunters as the bane of modern gaming culture. And there are people like me, who don't feel like they've accomplished enough in a game if they haven't gotten every single trophy or achievement available.
I love them because they give me a goal to strive for - I like that kind of direction. Finishing the game and enjoying the journey are, yes, rewards unto themselves. However, having other milestones to reach gives me a sense of purpose, which fuels my gaming drive. Getting that platinum trophy gives me a sense of fulfillment, like I've enjoyed most of what the game has to offer - or at least, what the developers think I should see and do. However, every now and again, in my quest for the ever-elusive plat, I come across trophies I hate with a burning kind of hate.
My trophy record is actually pretty bad, because as much as I try to get them all, there are just some games whose trophies are way too difficult to get or are just not worth the time an effort. I'm talking about online trophies.
Now, I understand that trophies and achievements should be designed to be difficult to obtain. That's what makes them so desirable. But if the difficulty is dictated by and highly dependent on other people, it becomes a totally different story. Unless the trophy requirement is to lose horribly, then you'll have a bad time. You will be faced with people whose main goal is to prevent you from achieving anything. Because you winning means them losing.
So what do people do? They resort to boosting. And I am going to be the first to admit that it is the best way, if not the only way, to get these trophies. Getting them organically just doesn't happen even if there's a healthy online community. How much worse is it going to get if no one can get a decent game with enough people? I'm looking right at you, Batman: Arkham Origins. Yesterday, I was in a lobby for 45 goddamn minutes.
If an achievement reads "Earn prestige," that normally means "grind your ass off until you reach the highest level, then voluntarily reset your level back to 1." This is doable with enjoyable games. I did it for Tomb Raider and for a number of other games. For games whose online is barely workable, then it becomes a bit of a hassle. The online on Transformers: War for Cybertron is dead, and the decline seems to have come from the time they went on a double XP weekend. Everyone got their trophies and moved on. If you buy that game today, you have zero chance to get the platinum. This just drains the fun out of maxing out your character.
As fun as it is to get 15 straight headshots, or maxing out your combo multiplier, or collecting 126 treasures, too many of them can get mind-numbing. I like achievements that make me feel like I achieved something, not make me feel like I just spent a day at work.
In Metal Gear Solid 2 HD, there's a trophy called Virtually Impossible, which requires you to complete 500 challenges. 500! In Mortal Kombat, you're required to use every character for 24 hours. You'd need a total of 672 hours for just one trophy. This can fall under the "grinding" category, but this is way worse than just grinding. This is masochism. It isn't fun anymore.
But now the dawn of the new current-gen consoles is upon us. Hear me, game developers! We have a chance to change the face of achievements and trophies! And together, we can make gaming great again!
Make Sure They're Possible To Do
Like the case of Batman: Arkham Origins, the main thing keeping me from the platinum is the fact that no one plays online. How can I get the platinum trophy when there aren't enough people for me to play with? I can't even find boosting partners!
Maybe Two Platinums?
Here's an idea - maybe you can separate the online trophies from the campaign trophies? Howssat?
Make Trophies Meaningful...
...but not too much. Even though Microsoft gave the guy with the highest Gamerscore a free Xbox One, trophies are nothing more than a sound, a little 2D image on your XMB, and a means to level up. While the reward is in getting them, it would be nice to be rewarded for them in a more meaningful way. Nothing big, of course - nothing like an extra skill, or an additional perk slot, or a new weapon, or even a character skin. I would hate to have to get all the trophies to a game just to be able to use a costume I like. Any small thing of imagined value would be appreciated, and might even help out with your marketing.
Maybe once I get all achievements and trophies, I'm rewarded with a PSN avatar or shirt for your Xbox avatar. It can be completely branded. It could be something as simple as a Twitter userpic, cover image, or background, or even a Facebook cover photo. I would love to have gotten a Mass Effect 3 Facebook cover photo with my PSN ID and some stats. Or you could go a little crazy and give platinum trophy holders a dynamic PS3 theme or special background? Or push the envelope and give them a code, which they can use to download your game's main theme song as an MP3.
Fun is the Key
I dream of the day when trophies and achievements no longer require grinding and long hours, but instead require the player to do fun things. One of my most favorite trophies ever was Brutal Legend's The Coolest Thing Ever, which required the player to jump over the game's equivalent of a mastodon. It was innovative, it was fun, and it wasn't the easiest thing to do. I want more trophies like that. I want more imaginative, creative trophies. Sure, I'll do the occasional grind. Sure, I'll do the collection trophy. But give me fun achievements.
So, there you have it. I love achievements, but I hate doing them. Listen up, Sony, Microsoft and every developer in the world - give us funner achievements and we'll love you for them!