Achievement Unlocked: Who Needs Gameplay?

Play the game here.

Achievement Unlocked has a simple goal for the player: collect all of the achievements as quickly as possible. Some are simple, such as “Stay alive for 30 seconds” or “Die 50 times”. Some are tricky, like “Paint every block” and “Turn the elephant orange”. And then there are the ridiculous, such as “Load the game” and “Play the first level”. A large portion of the achievements fall under this last group. For example, in the time it has taken me to write this much, I have left the game running idle. I have not moved the elephant at all. I currently have 24% of the achievements. Looking through the comments of the game, you can unlock about 50% without pressing the left arrow key.

And 11% in 2.43 seconds

Most of the challenge in the game stems from trying to figure out what all of the achievements are. There’s a list on the right side of the screen with all of the achievement names. However, as you scroll through them all (which also nets an achievement), most of the names are cryptic. For example, What does “Triple Play Pit” need me to do? Or “Stalagmite”? Or “Meaning of Life”? (That one is actually a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but if you haven’t heard of it before, you’ll be completely stumped). Luckily, there’s a link to a walkthrough in the game, in case you get stumped. Once you unlock all of the achievements, you have won the game. Your prize? An achievement!

I wasn't joking

But what’s the point of the game? Why make a game about collecting achievements? What this game is demonstrating is that many games today are trying to substitute achievements for actual gameplay. What I mean by this is that some games today are trying to replace fun with achievements. If you finished a game that was mediocre and had no achievements, there would be no real urge to keep playing. Now throw in an achievement for “Completing the game twice”. More players are going to play the game again solely for this one achievement. Achievement Unlocked satirizes this concept; who needs gameplay when you have achievements? Imagine an actual game with the same level design as this and the whole goal of the level is to get to the upper left corner. That level wouldn’t take very long. By throwing achievements into specific levels, games encourage the player to spend a longer time on this level, extending playtime. Now, achievements by themselves don’t do much. If the only incentive is to just collect achievements, not many players are going to spend extra time collecting them. However, if players are encouraged to collect them, such as through points, players will inevitably play the game longer. They will want to have more points than their friends, and collecting achievements themselves become a sort of game.

I wondered how long it would take for me to get this one

The automatic achievements found in Achievement Unlocked also demonstrate a trend today. In the rush for games to have a minimum number of achievements (like 360 games require), sometimes, the achievements seem forced and are pretty much given to the player automatically. For example, in Assassin’s Creed 2, the player will get an achievement for being born in the game. The player gets this achievement for, essentially, watching the intro. Another example would be in Atelier Totori. Within the first FIVE dialogue boxes in the whole game, the player receives an achievement. (I’m not joking. Hit ‘X’ a couple of times, receive trophy)

Achievement Unlocked satirizes both of these trends in modern achievements. What it also does is inform players that playing a game for the sake of achievements is pointless, because, overall, achievements mean nothing. All they can really do is show other people what challenges you have or have not done in a game. By putting points or a value of sorts onto each achievement, some players are encouraged to play games with easy achievements. This game encourages players not to do that. People shouldn’t play a game based solely on the achievements; they should play a game because it is fun. Interestingly enough, this game does a good job at attracting its intended audience. How does it do it? By offering an achievement for finishing, thus, attracting people who only want to play games for achievements. Clever.

  1. Achievement systems in games are nothing new. Games like Banjo-Kazooie and Rayman kept quantitative records of collectibles or accomplishments within the game. Even players of the first Super Mario Bros. could give their highest level reached as an achievement. This trend of playing games for achievements you’re talking about began when Microsoft decided to quantify the achievements themselves in a unified structure they called Gamerscore. Each accomplishment deemed worthy enough of an achievement badge is given a numerical value, so you can compare your gamerscore with others. Their better idea was to unify all games, and add up every game’s score. This added the motivator of increasing your overall gamerscore. It’s perceived as the great high score of all, your worth as a gamer. However, this system was totally corrupted by achievements like the birth achievement in AC2. The “challenges” described by those achievements aren’t brag-worthy, giving gamerscore a distinct artificiality. I too miss the days when achievements were more abstract, and couldn’t be assigned a specific value like 5G.

  2. “Triple Play Pit” is actually a cross-promotion with Real Records and Nintendo and for the 2013 title Super Mash Bros baseball. If you’re playing the infield as Pit and perform an unassisted triple play without using your wings, Kongregate unlocks a free download to the song “Mystery Achievement” by The Pretenders on ITunes.
    I don’t see much wrong with adding achievements to games [to a point – the game you mentioned does a great job of satirizing excess]. Some people actually consider it fun to collect them. I certainly do, just as long as they’re not a mask for, as you put it, mediocre gameplay. No matter how enthralling the concept an achievement is, if the game sucks I’m not going to play it anyway. However, if the game is fun enough, an added wrinkle of interest doesn’t seem a problem to me.
    I like the idea that it can be another method of competition. I’m not good at first person shooters (or any other game that isn’t Mario Kart 64), but in Left 4 Dead 2, I was able to at least accomplish something by killing a witch a certain way. There was no way I was going to get more kills than my friends, but I was able to get that achievement before them. A consolation prize is still a prize.
    I also like how achievements can add a sort of side quest to a game. Some of them can draw an interest to something fun that really could not be exercised in the game proper. There’s no way to incorporate honking clown noses into surviving a zombie outbreak, but it’s kind of fun. There might as well be an achivement for it.
    I find it hard to agree that there should be a set reason or reasons for why people should play games. Maybe achievements can be a cheap addition, but if people want to do them then that should be just fine as well.

  3. prutting834 said:

    As an Xbox 360 player, I really enjoyed playing this game and can relate to everything the original poster has said. One thing Microsoft does that I totally disagree with is they require all of their full games to have 1000 gamerscore worth of achievements, and all of their arcade games to have 200 gamerscore. Because the game designers can’t set a total themselves, they are forced to come up with enough achievements to satisfy Microsoft’s requirements. If Microsoft would allow the game designers to control achievements and gamerscore on their own, we would have less “automatic” achievements and more that are actually worthwhile. Microsoft definitely needs to give more freedom in regards to achievements.

    However, there is a positive to having so many achievements in a game. Nowadays, the achievements often tie in to the main story’s progression and also incorporate side missions. From my personal experience, this motivates me to do side quests that I would not normally do. In addition, the bulk of achievements also makes me want to keep progressing through the story, in order to reach the next achievement.

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