Welcome to the revival of CHUD.com’s video game presence, Master
Control Program
. Since it’s an exciting [and expensive] time to be a video
game aficionado, what better time to bring back the column that almost was, a
look at all things console and handheld? That is what they call in the business
a rhetorical question.

Today’s Roundtable: To Achieve or Not To Achieve…


(Xbox Live ‘Creature Corner’, Wii Number ‘3609 2823 5748 1076’)

My name is Alex, and I’m an achievement junkie.

finally broke down and got an Xbox 360 and a whole slew of games a few weeks
ago, re-joining Xbox Live and finding out that I was pretty much right about online. But now, 3,000+ achievement
points later, I consider myself hooked. For anyone who doesn’t know about the
360’s achievement system, it goes something like this. Every game contains 1000
points (200 for the downloadable Marketplace games) that you can earn for doing
things above and beyond in the game. They range from as easy as beating a level
in a game to the ridiculous, like the 10,000 kills achievement for Gears of
War. If you have that one I have a message for you. The sun is wondering how
you’re doing, wonders if you’ll stop by sometime.

unique gamerscore is updated with your points, and you can see how far someone
is in a game or how good they are just by clicking a button.

insanely addicting. I know some people who pick up games for no reason than to
get more points, which is going a little overboard, but it really is a
satisfying thing to just completely master a game and have everyone know about
it. I started out trying to grab 1,500 points because Microsoft has a rewards
system in place right now that nets you a free copy of Contra (bonus!) but I
don’t see myself stopping the future. I need that fix.

PS3 is rumored to have a similar system in the works but has nothing solid
announced, and while I thought the Wii would be doing something interesting
with those little bulletins you get after getting medals in Wii Sports, that’s
all that it’s done. I can’t help but wonder if this is a misstep for the other
systems, as achievements do a couple of things really, really well.

off, the obsessive types will pick up any damn game just to get more points
(hell, it explains why the Burger King games sold so well) which means that
third party companies will be happy, because they won’t be ignored like if they
were on a Nintendo system. (“Waddaya mean Mario’s not in it?”) It’d also be a
much easier decision for buyers when a multiplatform game comes out- why beat
something on the PS3 when you can do it on the 360 and have all your friends
know about it.

guys feel the same love I do?


(XBOX Live "Medium Dave"; Wii Friend "7547 7303 2381
1883"): Hi, my name is Brian
Condry, I don’t give a fuck about achievements.

I didn’t play enough games in the arcade back in the day and enter my name as
"ASS" (snicker) on the high scores, but I just don’t get this whole
achievement e-wang. I mean, they’re cool
and I don’t think they ruin the game at all, but I don’t really care. I’ve read from some people who just can’t
play older games on other systems now, "because I don’t get achievements
and I wonder what the point is," and I think that is complete bullshit. A game shouldn’t have to hand out imaginary
points to make one feel superior to one’s peers to be fun.

get me wrong; I like to see that achievement button pop up at the bottom of the
screen and I like to find out what I did to deserve it. But except for Oblivion, I have never
actively pursued achievements. I just
don’t feel the burning desire to make my gamerscore bigger. I guess it’s like those people who play games
on the hardest level of difficulty with some weird "handicap", like
only white mages in Final Fantasy 1 or no sword in Zelda, just to say they did
it. Good for them. Way to challenge yourself. I’m gonna go have fun over here, away
from your craziness.

if I got Microsoft marketplace points for my gamerscore, I would be all over
that shit…

boards ‘Egg’) (XBOX Live ‘Barnaby Fist’): I’m a casual fan. I’ll go after them
if they sound interesting or fun. At their best, achievements identify goals
outside of the game’s normal parameters that are fun to pursue (climb the
tallest building, crush the most cars, kill seventeen criminals with a can of
peaches). At their most pointless, they “reward” you for doing something during
the normal course of the game. Madden NFL 06 actually assigned an
achievement to simply opening the history book. And at their worst, they’re
something to shackle the OCD players to their 360’s until they perform an
unremarkable task with inhuman efficiency. Completing Smash TV without a
continue? Impressive and sad.

while I don’t feel obligated to score even one point, I like having the system
in place. Every now and then it compels me to try something I might not have
otherwise done. The whole bragging rights side of it I’ll just never


(XBOX Live: ‘Jlcquest’) My completionism, while crippling for a 28 year old
with a wife and a mortgage payment, was actually much worse growing up. But I
wasn’t obsessed with points or a high score. Even at the height of my obsessive
video game behavior, I couldn’t care less about how many points I scored in a
game. For me the point wasn’t getting the warp whistle to get points (or wait
that was just for the movie), it was knowing I could get to World 5. I couldn’t
stop playing until I unlocked every secret, explored every nook and cranny,
completed 100% of a game, but really didn’t care about how I did it.

that’s only me, there are tons of people who obsess over their Achievement
Points. And great for them. Its just not for me. Point are meaningless numbers.
Unless I get some reward, who gives a shit how many hits I have in a row?

gamers like me to get involved, there has to be some benefit other than “my
video game cock is bigger than yours.” Signs of that are emerging with Contra,
but if there was more, perhaps reducing the cost of XBLA items in exchange for
Achievement Points or some other material benefit, I’m just not biting.

Boards "Jacob Singer", Xbox Live! "Jacob Singer 45)

pretty much squarely in Kurt Miller’s camp here. While I find the achievement
system an interesting addition, I seldom go out of my way to earn them, unless
they seem fun and not too time-consuming or overly difficult. I agree that
there should be some real-world reward associated with the system, even if it’s
just giving away some of the older Live Arcade games for high achievement
scores. The only other thing I ever get from it is when I occasionally check
out my Gamer Card online and notice that I left off at level 3 of some game and
might want to go back and get into it again.

Live: "ArbuckleIan") The whole issue of rewards seems to be a big
thing. For some people, the points are enough of a reward in themselves, but
like most everyone else here, I don’t possess the drive to add these particular
arbitrary numbers to an arbitrary score. Actually, I guess it’s more of the
"meta-score" that I don’t feel drawn to, as I’m still a
top-score-whore within the ranking systems of individual games I own.

go a step further, though, and stand across the line from Alex: I actively
dislike the Achievements system, as it is currently implemented. As unobtrusive
as the little notification and sound may be, they’re still an intrusion into
the gamespace. (Am I an idiot? Can this be disabled?) I hate being reminded that I’m playing
a game within an artificial structure. I’m delusional like that.

thing is, I like the idea of achievement points in theory. I used to play a ton
of games on a local BBS back in the early 90s, on which our various scores from
games like Land of Devastation and Trade Wars 2002
were aggregated and compared. You could check a BBS-wide ladder and see who was
the best player on the board. This fostered a sense of community through
competition. It worked for precisely as long as the competition remained
friendly. Then some fuckers started causing drama, and the whole board was shut
down. That’s beside the point; what I mean to say is that Achievement points
appeal to me as a community touchstone, but not at all as an individual gewgaw.


: Well, I can see the system being intrusive in a game. That’s a legitimate
gripe… the more story-based games don’t need a little chime sound and pop-op
messing up the flow.

still don’t put much stock in how many points a person has, but trying to get
1000 for each game will from now on be a goal I’ll always make an attempt at.
Like Jon I’m anal about always trying to get 100% in a game, and I guess
Achievements just made it better (worse?) for me. Now most every game’s got
secrets and things to strive for. It’s really shot replayability through the
roof. Would I have tried to track down every dead stinking pigeon in Condemned
if I didn’t get something for it? Probably not.

thing I’m not so sold on is how the achievements have changed how people play
the game. Playing people online in Prey (a damn great game, even if the
multiplayer’s pretty glitchy) made me notice that no one there seemed to have
played online for too long, and that most of them were just fucking around,
trying to get achievements. It’s irritating when people do things like start
rounds with short times so they can get finish them quickly for an achievement.
Doesn’t anyone like to just have fun anymore?

Like Ian said, the ladders are what I like.
I don’t have the obsessive need to be on top or hell, anywhere, but I
like to see where I stand against my friends, and against the Live playing
public. I may or may not get a little
wood every time I look at my Guitar Hero 2 scores on Live. I always knew I wasn’t the best, but
goddamit! I’m far from the worst. It
also makes me glad I have friends on Live who aren’t as good as me. Warm fuzzys all around.

you’re right (except about Prey).
Watching people destroy the "fun" of a game just for an
imaginary score (well, I say imaginary.
It only exists in the ether, really) is kinda disheartening. Which is my biggest complaint against the
achievements. I can understand setting a
goal to get all thousand points in a game and trying after it; it adds
replay. No worries. But hearing people bitch and moan about not
being able to get all the achievements in GRAW because you had to, at one
point, be the best in the world. And
people hated that. With the heat
of a thousand suns. And that’s just
taking the fun out the game. When you
can’t fully enjoy it, unless you’re getting all the goddamn Achievement Points,
you’re a douche. Was that a little mean?

Yes Brian, its mean, but valid. There is that section of gamers who are
obsessed with the Achievement Points to unhealthy degree. These are the people
who are posting videos of their efforts on YouTube or chasing after the “Super
Mario Bros. in under 5 minutes” record (or whatever that time limit is).

Ian makes a point I hadn’t thought of, the meta-game that the Achievement
System creates. Instead of saving the planet or winning Wimbledon, now you have
these “false” goals installed that could be jarring from the immersion the game
creates. But honestly, that’s really not enough for me to denounce the system.

should be, however, some retooling in terms of online play. If someone wants to
sit in his basement offline and get 20,000 kills in Gears of War,
more power to him, but to fuck up someone’s experience because he wants to
raise his Gamerscore, that person should get the Asshole Achievement.


I suspect that maybe we’re the wrong age group for these achievements as well.
Granted, I’ve been a cranky old man since I was 19, but these days I’m just
happy to be able to make the little man on the screen go (and to do so without
crapping myself). Maybe the version of me that used to be able to whip through
those insane 16-bit shooters or actually finish King’s Quest III would
have more use for these merit badges. That version of me deserves a wedgie, by
the way. But what I’m saying is that being lord and master over a video game is
something that just doesn’t appeal to someone who’s trying to figure out a way
to retire before they’re 115 years old. As such, milking the achievements
system is best suited to the folks whose biggest responsibility is eating their
veggies. For someone who’s just looking for a little entertainment, the
occasional gold star and hug for murdering 150 people in thirty seconds still
feels good even if a little pointless.

again, I have to agree with Kurt. As an "older" gamer (shut up!),
there are a lot of things in modern games that I find I just don’t have the
time (or skills, sadly) to complete. I’m happy just to get from point A to
point B without embarrasing myself too much or filling up my Depends. If I
happen to unlock some Achievements during my normal gameplay, well great (and
yes Ian, you CAN turn off all in-game notifications). But there’s no way
in hell I’m gonna suffer through hours of multiplayer with surly teenagers to
get some silly Achievement. I’m bad enough at my favorite hobby as it is, I
don’t need to look at a list of greyed-out icons proving conclusively that I
suck at Gears of War

sorry that we have abandoned you, Alex. It’s as if your drew your sword and
charged into the Achievement fray while we all stood around kicking at the dust
and remarking that we don’t need to slay the enemy in order to feel we had
accomplished something in our time on this planet.

I’ve got another positive comment for the whole Achievements system. (Think of
me as a half-hearted cheerleader, only my skirt is knee-length. And I’m wearing
bloomers.) The name for the system was carefully chosen to refer to something a
bit more concrete than just "points;" recognizable goals that you can
pursue and attain. Though I’m not compelled by any reward system to reach these
goals, they are by nature a bit less arbitrary than I have implied and stated
outright. It’s cool, as Alex mentioned, that these Achievements increase the
replay value of the games by offering alternative win conditions. Instead of
reaching the end of the game, the gamer can potentially get a similar satisfaction
from, say, getting that fucking Dragonache to grow up.

leads me into something else: why have the Achievements tied directly to your
progress in the game, as in Oblivion? As you progress through faction
quests, you unlock Achievements, but it’s kind of redundant since you already
have gotten the satisfaction of completing the quest. I think the Achievement
system could be tweaked even further by creative developers to improve replay
value by setting goals that aren’t pre-scripted by progression through the main

Alex: Ian, you’re
completely right about how achievements shouldn’t be tied into the standard
story. I know a lot of people who have gripes with games like King Kong because
you get all of the points by simply beating the game. Then again, others like
it cause it’s an easy 1000 points…

another game of Prey from my last response (Brian, me and you are going
to have words about Prey. I love that game. Even if the multiplayer’s
broken) I ran into even more achievement junkies, who were upset with me
because I wouldn’t let them win so they could get their 10 point achievement.
One guy flat out told me that he absolutely hated the game, and was just
playing it to get the points. It’s beyond strange.

can understand how you old bastards don’t have the time and patience (and
skills, heh) to play a game to completion- I hardly have it myself- but it’s
actually an interesting topic. There’s an article in the recent issue of EGM
where they predict that games will get shorter in the future- that 8 to 12
hours is the perfect length to get in and get out of a game.

not sure if I buy that. It’s satisfying to get a lot of time in a game- and
that’s really why I’m digging this system so much. (and wish it were
implemented in my Wii… *ahem*) In a time when it’s so easy to finish a game and
set it aside for the next one, it’s nice to have a reason to go back to it and
fiddle around some more.

it on, sir.

like the idea of not tying most of the AP to normal progression. I think some should, but like say at the end
of each Guild quest line at Oblivion.
“Here you go. You spent 7 hours
fucking around, doing this quest line.
50 Penis Lengthener Points.” And
then the rest for crazy shit, like Crackdown does. Jump off this building. Smash these many people with cars. THAT is what’s entertaining about the
achievement system. Weird, random shit
you would have never done or even thought of, now you have an incentive.

to segue briefly into Alex’s last couple of paragraphs, 8 to 12 is perfect,
depending on what type of game it is and whether there is replayability and not
just Achievement whoring. If GTA IV
(or VI, if it’s the future we’re talking about) were only 12 hours long,
I’d be pissed. But if say, Halo 4
single player is that long, sure. You
get your shoot on, then head to multiplayer.
But anyway, that’s a discussion for another time. I will admit, Alex, I actually feel good now
when I reach an ending to a game and set it aside, if only because I have so
many piled in my Pile o’ Shame that need playing. I will defeat you, Psychonauts. I will.

games may be shorter in the future, studies have also shown that humans will
continue to grow in average height. Will tall people want short games?


Robert has unlocked an Achievement!

think I’m in the same audience segment as Brian, in that I, too, like closing
the case on a game, hearing those last, final clicks, and setting it aside. I
think that’s mostly due to the volume of games released, and the number of them
that I want to play, and my near-Catholic level of guilt at beginning a new
game before completing at least one of the others I’m actively engaged in.
Using Achievements to lengthen the appeal to game may be the perfect way to
bridge between the two groups of audiences, allowing cool people like Alex to
get what they feel is the most out of their purchase, while at the same time
allowing serial purchasers such as myself the opportunity to feel as though
they have accomplished something.