Xbox 360: When Achievements Ruin the Game

May 13, 2008

I am a self professed achievement junky on Xbox. They are gamer-crack. Not only are addictive, but I find that well designed ones end up making you enjoy the game more because they encourage you to explore areas of the game that you may not have otherwise, or to play the game again to pick up some things that you missed, etc.

However, with this power comes a drawback. I’ve run into a number of games where the achievements actually harm the enjoyment of the game. Designers should be aware that many people are going to look at the achievement list before they start playing, and use it to guide their gaming. Therefore achievements should not be designed that actually harm the gameplay, or frustrate. A few games come to mind.

The most recent was Mass Effect, which while a great game, had a few aspects to the achievements that hurt it. First of all in order to get all the points you need to pick 2 (of the six) companions and use them all through the game, even though the structure of the game is designed around the ability to change your companions on a regular basis based upon the mission. Also, to get ALL the points you would end up needing to play the game at least 4 full times through, using varying character classes, etc. It becomes painful instead of fun. So I actually had to ignore one of the more interesting aspects of the game (companion switching) in order to get achievements.

Assassin’s Creed is another example. In the end of playing it, I had gotten so frustrated at the constantly repetitive missions that I had to do. Save the citizen, climb the points, run around collecting, backstab someone, etc. Of course, while doing this, I realized that I only HAD to do 3 missions per citysection, and then I could have gone on. Had I done that I would have enjoyed the gameplay much more as it would not have felt nearly as repetitive. However, I wanted those gamer points, and I didn’t want to have to play through the game again, so I was doing every repetitive mission.

Call of Duty 2 was a great example of achievements that frustrate. You got 50 points almost immediately for completing the training. Then you had to beat the entire game before you got any more points! Even then, you only had 200/1000, to get any more, you had to beat missions on the hardest difficulty possible. The equivalent of ‘ridiculous’ level.

I could go on, so I will. How about Guitar Hero III and the “Play the game using the gamepad instead of the Guitar” achievements? Or Project Gotham Racing 3 where it appears you need a few million hours of gameplay to earn a decent number of achievements.

So what is my point? My point is that my enjoyment of many games has been lessened by the existence of ‘bad achievements’. And some new games (Mass Effect) don’t seem to be learning the lessons from older ones.

So to any Xbox game designers out there. When you come up with your Achievements, please consider a few things:

  • That people WILL do specific actions and play in certain ways in order to get those achievements.
  • In my opinion, at least half the points should be obtainable via normal playing through of the game.
  • It’s fine to add in some very time consuming or really difficult achievements, but don’t make them worth so many points that people feel the need to achieve them.

Ok, this blog post is officially too long. Sorry, but I got ranting, and wrote this over the course of weeks.

Game Review: Metroid Prime 3 – Corruption

February 1, 2008

It’s been a while since I did a game review, and I have a few thoughts I want to share on the game that I am currently playing, Metroid Prime 3 – Corruption on the Wii.

Personally, I am enjoying playing the game, because I am invested in the Metroid Prime storyline. I played the first two versions of this game on the GameCube. So I’m really enjoying getting another chapter of the storyline be fed to me and learning more of this universe.

However, had I not played the original two, had I not been hooked already … I think the game would be driving me nuts. In general, I think the problems fold down into two main issues:

  1. It’s the exact same game engine

    Here we are, 5 years later since the original Metroid Prime. I know that the Wii at it’s heart is actually not much different than a GameCube. Fine. But come on, they are using the EXACT same game engine with the same bugs. Most annoying are the broken doors. 80% of the time when you shoot a door to open it, it doesn’t actually open, leaving you moving forward and back trying to find the magic distance that causes it to open. It was annoying in the first game, it sucked in Echos … but why does this bug still exist 5 years later on another system?

  2. The interface, with the Wiimote, is broken

    I’m sorry, but the Wiimote was not designed to be used like this. You don’t just aim by using the Wiimote, but you turn left and right using it as well. You might think this works. But it’s broken. The biggest problem is that to turn, instead of aim, you have to aim the Wiimote near the ‘edge’ of the screen. That would work well; except, if you aim too far, you leave the sensor bar and the game doesn’t know what to do. This is a major issue in large battles when you are panicking and moving around quickly.

    It seems that the coders realized that this method was going to be jumpy and wild to control, so they slowed down the response of the Wiimote, making it ‘trail behind’ your actual movements, so that small movements don’t make you jump around. It was a good compromise, but it leaves the controls very sluggish. You end up being much less maneuverable than you would with a normal controller. It then seems that the coders realized this … so what did they do? They made you a tank. It seems like you can take TONS of damage compared to previous games, because they realize you aren’t going to be able to dodge effectively, and that you will be standing there taking tons of damage while shooting back.

So in summation? It’s a good game, but the controls just do not work. This ‘aim to turn’ concept just seems broken, at least in this incarnation. If you loved the previous Metroid Prime games, go get it, the storyline is wonderful. But if you haven’t played them … you are better off with something else.

Review: “Condemned: Criminal Origins” – Xbox 360

June 1, 2007

Ok, so branching into video game reviews is a new thing for my blog, and I’m unsure how much of it I will do. But I couldn’t sit quiet about this one.

For those that know me, I’m what I like to call a ‘cheap gamer’. That is to say, I rarely buy video game systems when they first come out, waiting a year or two so that they, and their games, drop in price. I also rarely buy brand new games when they first come out for the same reason … I usually spend $20 or less on a game.

I figure that way, I can definately enjoy it and get my $20 out of it easily. Especially since I have so many other things stealing my time, and therefore I don’t have THAT much time for gaming.

So, recently, I went and bought “Condemned: Criminal Origins” for my Xbox 360. The reason for the choice? It was on a sale rack for $15 at a local store, new.

It looked interesting, because it was kind of a cross between a CSI, a zombie game, and a physcological horror. What could go wrong eh?

Well, in all honesty, I did enjoy playing it, although, it was a rather short game to play through, and that’s coming from me. It was fun, it was neat having the crime scene investigation angle going on (more later). I also enjoyed the ‘grab anything’ combat system, that had you ripping pipes off the walls, 2×4’s from pallets, and so on, in order to protect yourself.

However, through the whole game, I constantly had to battle against bad video game storyline management and cliches.

Now, I understand when to help a storyline along, a game designer needs to place the random barrier, or restrict the actions of your character … but it got REALLY out of hand in this game, to the point that I kept sighing throughout. Here are just a handful of the issues:

  • When you find a gun, it only has the ammo that’s in it. Even though the bad guys reload, you can’t search their bodies for extra ammo. And even though you can pull the clips out to check the remaining ammo, you can’t just KEEP the ammo on you to later refill a gun.
  • You are strong enough to rip pipes and conduit off of walls; however, can’t push a couple bags of trash, or a desk aside that is blocking your way. Nor can you duck down and crawl through passageways that you just saw someone else go through.
  • In certain places you need to break into secured keypad areas. You do this via cutting the conduit with a shovel. I’m sure that a secure pad isn’t that easy to bypass.
  • Worse, ummm, why a shovel? Shouldn’t the axe be able to do that as well? Heck, given you can rip conduit off of walls, can’t you just use your hands?
  • Similarly, you need to break padlocks off of doors, and only a sledgehammer works. What about the fire axe, a crowbar, rebar with a chunk of cement on it, etc? Also there are doors to break down, that only the axe works for. But I bet the sledgehammer would do nicely in real life.
  • A ‘game mechanic’ causes you to have to pick and choose what ONE weapon or tool you want to carry at any time. Only one. Pick up a new one and you drop the other ones. I understand some level of this, to keep you from running around with an insane number of tools on you. But why can’t I put that pistol in my pocket when I pick up the crowbar? Or carry a piece of rebar in one hand, and a shovel in the other?
  • Some enemies use two weapons at once (such as two sticks), yet your character refuses to ever carry anything in his left hand. Which, could, oh, be used for blocking perhaps?
  • When using guns as melee weapons, you always turn them around and use the stock, instead of the nice solid barrel. Later causing them to therefore break.

There were also a number of other issues I had with the game, such as having one of the achivement earning systems be really unrelated to the storyline, nor just one-offs. That being collecting these metal plates you find around. Nothing in the game mentions the plates, why you are collecting them, etc. But you do, and you get achivements for it.

Also, the CSI element of the storyline, which is what I was most looking forward to, ended up being VERY downplayed. You are prompted when you near evidence, you magically select the right tool, it points you in the right direction, etc. Also, all evidence is sent back to a lab via a cell phone and anayled instantly. This ranges from the stupid, such as taking a picture of a stack of papers, for the lab assistant to then explain to you what all the papers say (Ummm, can’t you read yourself? And how did she see the ones on the bottom?). To the ridiculous, such as pictures of fingerprints under laser light being able to be scanned and matched, DNA sampled and analyzed immediately, and bloody footprint pictures being turned into 3D models of a boot.

The fact that you were so ‘lead’ in almost all places, really ruined this aspect of the game. It would have been much more interesting had you been able, and encouraged, to use your tools whenever you wanted, and to potentially find all SORTS of evidence, anywhere, that would have all led to more and more pieces of the puzzle. Knowing me, I would have really gotten into that, and been scanning, taking pictures, etc everywhere, and driving my lab assistant mad 😉 … But even worse was that OBVIOUS pieces of evidence were ignored. A cigarette butt dropped by the killer? No, let’s not check it for fingerprints nor DNA. Photographs, let’s look at them, but not check for fingerprints, etc.

To the game designers credit, it appears that they had originally designed the game to have more of this, from watching some of the unlockable ‘prototype’ movies. Where they show the character just pulling up any tool, at any time, and scanning all sorts of different things (including that cigarette). I wonder why that changed during production? Of course, the game appears to have taken a very different turn from watching those prototypes as well, since in one of them, it shows you using some form of magic to attack enemys, steal their weapons, and heal yourself. So, ummm, interesting.

I also wanted to talk a little more about the ‘weapons anywhere’ system. I did enjoy this, and I think it was a great aspect to the game, but they really didn’t go far enough with it. I was constantly frustrated by how much I could NOT pick up. Look, a board leaning against the wall. Nope. Look, a chair, Nope. Look, a closetrod, Nope. Instead it had you picking up only the same couple dozen items. And they always looked the same (a 2×4 with nails picked up anywhere, looked the same). It again was keeping me from suspending belief when I had to keep cursing because of all the great weapons I saw laying around, that I couldn’t pick up. While walking around with my piece of conduit.

Finally, the game keeps building you up, learning that there is something ‘special’ about you, but in the end it never really spills the beans, and EXPLAINS in detail what is going on. Leaving almost a cliffhanger without you really knowing the details about yourself.

Anyway, was it worth $15 of enjoyment, yes, it was. But I’m still really dissapointed that in the current day and age of video game development, that designers (especially Sega) are relying on so many cruches. Especially after playing a game like Oblivion that is just amazing in it’s ‘openness’ and letting you do anything that you want to do.