The Trophies Dilemma + In-Game Rewards

February 14th, 2009

syphon-filter-dark-mirror

As I’ve mentioned a few times since I got back, I got myself a Playstation Network ID and have been putting it to good use. I’m not too fond of online play fullstop and to be honest the Playstation 3 online space seems a little scattered anyways. So instead of owning n00bs online I’ve been savouring the downloadable delights on the Playstation Store which has in turn brought up a new dilemma; Trophies, or rather how to approach them.

Several of the PSN games I bought have trophy support and pretty much anything I’ll continue to buy either online or off will have the feature. It should be known that I am a perfectionist with games. Pretty much most of the games I own I finish to near as 100% completion as possible, playing both normal and hard difficulties respectively. Trophies in this case represent a significant burden to my perfectionist reputation, one that I’m not too sure on how to shoulder.

I tried to ignore the whole idea for a few days but after the idea popped back into my head when reading an article about it over at the You Are Lose! blog, I decided that I needed to figure it out. Korey’s commentaries put everything into much clearer view so I eventually settled on only gunning for trophies that work within my means. That is, fun without sacrificing enjoyment or copious amounts of time.

At the same that all of this was going on I was thinking about the rewards system featured in Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and how I like it so much in contrast to trophies ^_^ . Dark Mirror’s reward system works in a similar way to many in-game reward systems but it’s much more fleshed out.

Hidden Evidence

Within each level several pieces of hidden evidence are tucked away. Finding all of the evidence in a given episode (series of levels) unlocks your typical fare of bonus content accessible from the main menu. On obtaining some pieces of evidence you are rewarded with a brief cut scene that ponders various plot points stringing from the main story. These cut scenes work to reinforce what is happening behind the scenes of the main plot and develop the further you progress in the game. This mechanic does an effective job at re-plugging the narrative back into the core gameplay while at the same time being dynamic and completely optional to the player.

syphon-filter-dark-mirror2

The majority of the evidence is hidden in typical easter egg fashion, but some of the more significant pieces require a little more effort. Key documents are hidden behind doors which require first finding a card key, locker key or other to open. Once you’ve found that key it can be continuously re-used in later levels to access additional weaponary, routes and so forth. Basically your curiosity is rewarded in multiple ways and acts as a positive reinforcer to encourage continual investigation.

Career Rating

To reward actual skill the game has a badge system which draws upon your playing statistics. The more you excel in X field, the more your badge percentage in that field increases. Once you reach 100% you can move onto the next badge rank in that field. Completing each badge unlocks new weaponary which can be used again in the Mission Mode (play individual levels seperately) and multiplayer. Both story mode and mission mode statistics add to the badge’s percentages. Assuming that the average player completes the story mode first, the work they have already done is rewarded with extra weaponary which comes in handy for when they later move onto the mission mode.

There are five fields of badges split into three categories, so it acomodates varying play styles well. Gabe also gives you a speech for each badge you are awarded which is a nice personal touch. Getting the protagonist to complement the player directly is quite an effective way to thank the player for the investment they have put into the game.

Rewards

The rewards themselves are quite generous including additional missions, videos, narrative pieces and weaponary. Unlike some games where some of the best content is locked away form the start, Dark Mirror is quite gracious with how it doses out it’s bounty of extras. The game is already significantly fleshed out, so the rewards feel like actual rewards instead of content constrained from the beginning. The extra missions particularly are quite generous.

In contrast to some trophies (as pointed out in Korey’s article) the requirements are also within reason. As suggested a few times already the rewards plug back into the game’s narrative and gameplay which is a nice touch too.

On editing this I can’t help but point out the lack of analysis (few sentences) between the bulk of feature listing. >_<

  • I had no idea Dark Mirror had a rewards system like that. That’s one of the games I most want for the PSP at this point, and it sounds like a pretty decently implemented system to add some more worthwhile content to the game. And I agree with most of the points you make about trophies/achievements. I like to complete a game as much as possible before setting it aside, but some trophies with ridiculous requirements just aren’t worth the effort.

  • I’m interested in the way achievements and trophies translate to gamer cred in the gaming community. I tend not to be interested in them at all (nothing against them, just not my style), so I’m surprised by how many gamers seem to derive a sense of superiority over those with lower scores online. I’ve run into this on Xbox Live enough times that it’s become rather annoying to me. I guess gamers will always be competitive, and that’s not surprising. But adding this additional layer of one-upsmanship has taken some of the fun out of playing games online, at least for me.

  • @Daniel @ Michael:

    I get attacked enough by Bogost and my fellow researchers that I’ve developed a standard line on why I like achievements:

    1. Some of them, much like Daniel mentions for this game, come along with unlockables that justify going along with the sometimes absurd lengths it takes to achieve them (my favorites for this one are the armor pieces in Halo 3 and the stats bonuses awarded by achievements in Mass Effect).

    2. The other strength is that they increase replay valuable and encourage alternate playings. The best example of this are the 99 achievements for The Orange Box. Most obvious among these is the one that requires you to beat Ravenholdt using only the gravity gun. The designers have littered the stage with sawblades and other sharp objects, and it really is more fun to try to play through just using Valve’s physics toy (there are some parts where the objects on the ground are greatly outnumbered by the faster headcrap zombies).

    Ian claims that this is lazy design – i.e. we’re not giving gamers good enough reason in-game to play a certain way so we’re giving them an artificial incentive to do it. I don’t find this to be true – often it’s a matter of gamers simply min-maxing their experience in order to beat a game using the path of least resistance. This isn’t a design limitation – it doesn’t make sense to require all players of different skill levels to play a game the exact same way (my beliefs here come from a post on GamerHate about the way he designed a level of Warcraft 3 to be playable by all players despite being designed originally as a level requiring perfection in a single winnable strategy).

    3. Gamerscore is a good way to keep tabs on people and what they are playing. So when a professor or blogger writes about a game (this doesn’t work for journalists who get beta builds that might not have cheevos enabled), I always check their Gamerscore to see if they’ve even beaten the game. Sometimes they haven’t (my favorite was a professor who hadn’t beaten even half of Braid before writing about it). Also, if somebody whose ideas you respect have gone out of their way to unlock everything, it usually means you should check out the game right away.

    4. Gamerscore is a good way to build teams for cooperative play online. I don’t have the time schedule to join an online guild that meets regularly to play. So I have to play games like L4D in pickup groups. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to play this game on Expert. In order to beat the scenarios on Expert, everybody needs to be pretty damn good at the game (especially when it comes to saving each other and not shooting each other). So you’ll get into these lobbies and ask “have you ever tried this on Expert?” Somebody will say yes, then you look at their gamer score and see that they haven’t even survived the level on any difficulty before: this is not someone you want on your team unless you really enjoy wasting four hours of your life inevitably shouting at them to stick with you, help you, or stop shooting you.

    5. Finally, whenever I want to write about a game I always talk to a few achievement addicts. They know about every easter egg, every alternate route or play style, every exploit and glitch. It saves a lot of time mining forums for incorrect information.

    As far as the cred goes: it varies depending on who you talk to. Some people, like me, have standards. I don’t play games that I don’t want to just for the achievements (Avatar being the exception to this personal rule). And I don’t boost with people to get online achievements. So my 45k, in my eyes, is more respectable than another 45k littered with children’s games and sports games.

    What I’m getting is that there’s no objective value to them for all people. They’re a tool that can be implemented or ignored when it makes sense to do so. Making fun of them wholesale (with crap Flash games making fun of the most poorly designed achievements) or letting Gamerscore dominate your life don’t make sense.

    I used to play Final Fantasy games on the SNES and find every little secret possible. It was more than satisfying enough to know that I did it, without being able to prove it to others online. It’s just icing on the cake that other people can see the games I’ve gotten 100% on now.

  • Bleh, Ravenholm not Ravenholdt.

  • Thanks everyone or the lovely comments. 🙂

    @Michael I never actually considered the reputation side of trophies and achievements. I guess this is a result of being an out-of-date offline gamer :D. Still, all it really boils down to is how well X player has met X variables. I don’t need a number or list of awards to tell me how good or bad of a player I am.

    Of course, on the flipside there are obvious merits to such systems (as Simon points out), I guess it’s not for all.

    @Simon I agree with you particularly on the way in which achievements allow people to re-evaluate what they are playing. Calling it lazy game design is understandable but a bit of a tall ask as well.

    I feel that for many seasoned players, playing conservatively is a way of life. The games that a lot of us grew up with relied on the player conserving ammunition, currency etc. to make it through. The rules and designs of these games subconciously ingrained a playing habbit which taught us to stay within the box.

    In this sense, to accuse the “achievements to encourage full design exploitation” design of being lazy game design is unfair as the exception works against the habbits/playing style of some players.

  • Like you Daniel, I am a completionist (or as you say, perfectionist) and aim to complete everything I can. I commend you on being able to decide how to approach Trophies and that is where we differ. If a Trophy or Achievement is do-able, then it will be done and I won’t stop at anything less. Even if it’s an Achievement that is going to take months like Seriously… in Gears of War; if it is do-able then I will do it, end of story. There’s a common misconception that anyone with high Gamerscores go after Achievements because of the score – this is mostly true but I am the exception to the rule.

    @Michael – I’ve never thought about my own score or Trophy list and where it fits within everyone else’s, including the reputation you allude to. It has always been a personal goal of mine (to get/finish everything I can) and that is all it will remain to be. However in saying that, I agree absolutely that it can and does ruin online gaming. The amount of matches I have gotten into where people are clearly only after a particular Achievement is astonishing and it definitely ruins it for the rest of us who want to play a proper match. That said, I am partially hypocritical because I have boosted before and will in the future, only in games that have dead online modes though. So for example, I won’t boost in Halo 3 because enough people play that regularly that I can and will be able to legitimately obtain an Achievement eventually. I will boost a game like The Darkness though which has a completely dead community and therefore makes the online related achievements harder to obtain.

    To me, Achievements and Trophies are just a public representation of what I have always done in my games anyway: Complete them to the best of my ability. Due to each game’s list of accomplishments being different though, it makes it harder to approach and decide where to stand. The contradiction I make in this comment alone on boosting is proof of that.

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  • Mister Twister

    A smart system of unlockables given for putting extra effort (and exploration) is miles better than the mandatory trophies of modern games.

    I wish mandatory trophy support goes away forever.