Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Two-Thousand Eights!

That's a lot of eights. Anyhoo, January is another hiatus for ol' Draco. Taking the month off for many reasons, actually.

In my free time this month, I'll be playing Xbox 360 games more than I have been lately. I'm a bit of an achievement junkie. Much like gaining a level in FFXI, I like adding to the numbers, essentially. For anyone who isn't familiar with Achievements, it's a new concept to gaming in general. I've heard people say they love it and some say it's stupid.

Each game has its own goals and missions and so forth, but now the Xbox 360 tracks specific scores per game, and assigns your Gamertag (read: sign-in name) a Gamerscore (a number totaling your accomplishments). If you're connected to Xbox Live (an online service run by Microsoft to connect gamers to each other), other gamers can see not only which games you've played, but how much progress you've made in those games. Each retail game can reach 1000 AP, while Xbox Live Arcade downloaded games (smaller games in general) cap at 200 each. Some games are entirely single-player, while others have achievements based on multi-player.

To me, this can be cool and lame at the same time. For the less-imaginative developers, this can amount to an achievement list being mostly tasks like "Complete Level 1" and so forth. This is all well and good, but if a game is easy to finish, you can get a large numerical score for a mere few hours of just plowing through a game. Then you come to a game that is more difficult or time-consuming with a similar achievement structure, and it won't yield nearly the same points-for-time ratio. Not a glaring flaw, but noticeable.

There are games with very easy tasks that take little effort and yet give more points per task, most notably the sports games. Getting 20 rebounds (which is easy) in a basketball game might unlock a bunch of points, and you could get full points from a sports game in a short evening if you tried. Then there are games like RPGs that take quite a bit of time to do more complicated tasks for less points per task.

Then we come to the really well-done and well thought-out achievements. One of my favorite lists is that for Dead Rising. The game is a free-for-all romp around a gigantic mall, wherein you fight thousands of zombies and uncover the truth behind why said undead creeps are around at all. This game is quite non-linear, thus you can do whatever you please almost any time you please. There are few rules as to how to get through the game. The achievements are terrific in that they all equal the same number of points per task, each vary in difficulty & time, and they are a mix of game completion tasks and unique ideas that have nothing to do with the main game.

For instance, there are achievements for completing the game and solving the case, defeating enemy characters, and escorting survivors out of danger. These types of goals are achieved through normal playing. Then we come to more unique ideas, such as killing specific numbers of zombies, catching air on a motorcycle, trying on clothes in the mall, and the list goes on. There are 50 different achievements and each are worth 20AP. Casual players who pick up the game and go through it in a rental will maybe get 100 or so, while those who explore and want more points can (and must) devote a lot more time to the game.

I like this because now that games retail upward of $60, a developer can considerably increase the replay value of their creation by being clever. Some games of course have excess difficulty or time to them, such as games that require numerous complete play-throughs from beginning to end (usually in the form of "Beat the game on Normal, Hard, Very Hard, Extremely Hard" and so on). If they're not adding something new or different to each play-through other than being tougher, it's little incentive to keep going.

In recent weeks, I've finished Tomb Raider: Legend and Tenchu Z to max AP. I've gone back and played more of my older games, with about 2200 AP gain in the last couple months. No, the score itself means nothing, and it's no better than a person in FFXI who boasts multiple 75-jobs. Yes, there is some effort and skill and persistence required, but having a lot of levels or a high Gamerscore also means you've played a lot of games. That's nice and all, but at the end of the day (and later, your life) it doesn't make any difference to anyone.

Still, I've had fun watching the little "Achievement Unlocked" bubbles pop up during my games, and it has definitely increased my motivation to try out different things, both new games and new approaches to those games. I hope developers continue to be creative in all ways, and this certainly doesn't hurt if you ask me.

I need to finish up my last goal on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which is beating the secret quest. The Darkness and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion also await this month. Should be fun.