Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Achievement Hazard

Achievements can be an interesting means to encourage player dedication, albeit at the severe risk of alienating and annoying your player.  They inspire the desire to "achieve" by earning that digital stamp that indicates you've managed to meet certain requirements, but occasionally all they do is infuriate.  Just tonight I've fallen prey to that exact failing of achievements.

The Great Steam Treasure Hunt is an ingenious marketing invention to encourage people to buy games on Steam and general encourage players to sample, buy and persevere with games.  However, my current ire lies with an achievement called "Beat it", which is earned from playing the game Beat Hazard. I'll happily admit that this post flies fresh from the anger of playing the game, but given that it's inspired such an emotional and annoyed response from me, it's definitely done something wrong.

Beat Hazard is what you'd get if you crossed a psychedelic asteroids (say Geometry wars on acid) with Guitar Hero. Enemies, weaponry and even bosses are all generated based on the music that is playing - be it the included music, or that which you have on your hard drive. On the surface, it does appear to be a fun, albeit challenging game, and I might tentatively recommend it as a cheap buy for someone looking for a game in that vein. However, the game's steam achievements, the treasure hunt and a few design aspects have inspired a severe dislike of the game for me this evening.

Yes, it really is that gaudy

The steam achievement for the competition requires that you score 3,770,488 or more in a single "survival" game, where tracks continue to play indefinitely until you eventually run out of lives. You've got three lives in which to achieve this score. I expected this to be a bit of a challenge, but surely nothing that I couldn't manage. Most of the other achievements have not been overwhelmingly difficult, and I couldn't see this being any different. Having a look at the game's steam achievements, you have ones for scoring 1,5 and 10 million, and surviving 5,10,15 and 20 minutes in survival mode.

Unfortunately, there were three problems that I encountered:
  1. The game itself is not entirely stable. There appears to be a known issue with the ATI48xx family of cards in which the game will crash to a black screen, and require a reboot in order to recover. Not exactly ideal in the middle of a lengthy survival game.
  2. The game has a "level" system, where the player has a rank based on a cumulative score that unlocks rewards to add extra multipliers, bonuses and lives.
  3. The score 3.7 million appears quite challenging to achieve - I managed an 8 minute game that netted me a score of 1.5 million.

Now, I don't expect every achievement to be easy to obtain, but the combination of factors involved here have caused me to get very annoyed at the game. Stability issues requiring a hard reset in order to fix are pretty much unacceptable, even from an indie game.

So I could kill this... then crash a minute later

But I'd argue that the "rank" system is the worst design flaw involved. When each game is most definitively stand-alone, having an on-going tally that rewards you simply for perseverance is not good game design. This is grinding at its worst. It's grinding to gain "bonuses" that realistically would be required to achieve some of the more demanding steam achievements with the game - and most likely the achievement for Steam's competition itself.

Grinding points simply for the sake of being able to grind more points is the completely wrong way to go about achievements. Achievements are supposed to be fun, and you shouldn't ever feel like you must play a game in order to be able to play it properly. Bonuses should be unlocked for doing something special, not simply for playing the game for long enough. Moreover, and bonuses provided by achievements should be definite bonuses, not merely something in order to make the achievements that are posed with the game attainable. Rewarding skilled players is very different from punishing new players; it gives a sense that you're making progress because of your skill. Beat Hazard unfortunately does the opposite, making you feel somewhat ostracized for not having played it enough. 

However, the absolute worst choice that was made that exemplifies how achievements should not be created are the utterly terrible achievements that are granted for playing the game for 1, 5 and 10 hours. These should never be achievements because a player should never ever be made to feel that playing a game for a set period of time is an achievement. If you're having to encourage a player to persevere with your game by adding such time-based achievements, then you absolutely need to reconsider the design of your game.

1 comment:

  1. For achievements to work they should be awarded for ... well achieving things. Achievements should encourage players to develop skills and try new strategies that are required above and beyond normal gameplay.

    I have to agree with you, actions such as opening the game the first time or playing for 5 minutes do not entice players (well me anyway) to continue playing the game.