Gaming on a Timer

Time’s A-Wastin’ – Achievements on a tight schedule

I have always been fond of achievements; even back before their actual appearance (be it Gamerscore, Steam Achievements, PSN Trophies etc), I’ve had fun competing with friends for high scores, scouring games for 100% item completion, trying to find easter eggs or secrets – in essence, the exact same things achievements are awarded for nowadays.

It's all about the percentages...
It’s all about the percentages…

Fast-forward to the present, however, and I find that I don’t have the time required to actively hunt achievements any more, at least in most modern games. This, of course, is in part due to tight schedules and the ever-dwindling amount of free time I can spare nowadays, but another, not quite as important (but by far more annoying) reason is the increasing popularity of what I like to call  “filler” or “padding” achievements.

In my mind, the biggest offenders that fall under the “padding” category are ones that require that the player(s):

  1. Play through the exact same content X amount of times to unlock,
  2. Perform a certain in-game action for X amount of time to unlock or
  3. Do in-game actions for a random amount of time, until the achievement randomly unlocks.

The first type is usually prominent in most (if not all) modern games; they usually go a bit like Kill 1000 Enemies or Collect 100,000 Resources – forcing the

player to replay content long after it’s stopped being fun in order to fill a bar with an arbitrary number of kills or items collected and so on.

I don’t mind this type if the game is built around content repetition (i.e. MMOs, competitive online or Diablo clones), because when going into those, I already have the understanding and/or expectation that I’ll be replaying content multiple times (the reason for which this expectation is OK is best left for a future blog post).

Take achievements like Batting 500 in Diablo 3, for example; this requires that the player completes 500 bounties, randomized mini-quests that have a chance of awarding certain, otherwise unavailable pieces of gear. As Diablo 3 is built around repeating the same content constantly, in the hopes of receiving better items to improve your character(s) with, this achievement feels less like an arbitrary inclusion to extend play time and more like a means of acknowledging the player’s efforts.

In sharp contrast, I recently completed the achievement Temper, Temper in Typing of the Dead: Overkill, an on-rails typing/rail-shooter hybrid. In this achievement,  you are asked to kill 30 Rage mutants across all playthroughs, but with your average playthrough only having 8 or so of these enemies, what you are actually asked to do is to replay certain levels multiple times in order to accumulate enough kills. Seeing as there’s little to no reason to replay the game, achievements notwithstanding, this achievement felt a lot like a slog, something that the game’s developers might’ve put in to pad out game time.

A few games do this type better, though. When these achievements happen naturally (i.e. can be completed in a single playthrough i.e. during the regular course of the game), they are just fine in my books – perhaps pointless in a way, but otherwise harmless. Even better? Some games might use this achievement type to encourage players to experience content they wouldn’t have otherwise seen; for example, having an achievement that requires just enough enemies and/or items to be found including the ones hidden in secret or out-of-the-way areas would (hopefully) make the player want to explore the game world, getting more out of the experience without having to replay content they’ve already seen.

The opposite of time-wasting achievements: Speedrunning ones!
The opposite of time-eating achievements: Speedrunning ones!

The second type, however, has little redeeming value – while at first glance the “X amount of time doing Y” achievements might seem to be a subset of the “Kill X” or “Collect Y”, their key difference is that they require specific amounts of time spent rather than certain content (re)played.

One of the most egregious examples of the above achievement kind is One Year in Universe Sandbox, where the game requires that you spend an actual year’s worth of time playing it (for reference, that means an approximate 8,640 hours playing a game which is basically a a set of physics models and interactions between planets).

While I can’t think of any good examples of this type of achievement, the inverse kind is usually fun, if no less frustrating for a casual player: speedrunning achievements that ask the player to complete certain parts (or the entirety) of the game in as little time as possible. At their best, these achievements are doable in less-than-perfect times, as long as some research and critical thinking are applied – see as a great example DLC Quest’s Man That’s Fast! achievement.

The worst kind of achievement for the starved-for-time gamer, however, is the third type; achievements that are in some way or another have criteria affected by randomness. For a great example of this, let’s take a look at Borderlands, specifically the Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution DLC. In this DLC, there is a series of achievements that are solely luck-based – specifically What A Party!The Lubricator and It’s So Realistic!

These achievements require that the player collect a series of nonsensical items with no value, gameplay or otherwise (such hilarious examples as panties or oil cans) until a certain, arbitrary amount is collected. Setting aside the fact that these are not shared between team mates (thus penalizing people that play multiplayer over those playing single player), the main issue is that the rate that these items appear is utterly random, if not downright atrocious; from personal experience (back when I could afford such time-wasters more comfortably), it is quite possible to spend upwards of an hour just to get one out of all the above items, and even then, you’re not guaranteed to get the ones you’re missing instead of duplicates of ones you already have.

But it’s not all doom-n-gloom for the achievement hunter on the clock…

Up next: How developers (sometimes) get achievements right.

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