Sunday Thoughts: 14/06/09

Chasing Trophies

Back when I first got my hands on a shiny new Xbox 360, the ubiquitous chirp of the Achievement Unlocked notification was a welcome surprise.  People had told me about these new so-called Achievements and the associated Gamerscore, but I was still too wrapped up in my PS2 and Dreamcast to notice; once I’d seen Fight Night Round 3 running on the big white box I had to have one, though, and I distinctly remember my first achievement which was on the original Condemned.  One down, and I was hooked.

When the PS3 launched I traded in my 360 (to be accurate, by then it was my third due to hardware problems) so I could afford the new PlayStation on day one and didn’t miss not having a Microsoft console until Gears of War 2 surfaced: I was more than happy with the PS3 and it’s gaming output, but I was missing some kind of token reward for my gaming efforts.  Thankfully, Sony had the Trophy system in the pipeline and when it was finally time to roll out Firmware 2.40 I was hooked again.  After that first ‘ping’ of the Trophy Unlock noise was in my blood we set up the Trophy page on the site, and apart from the home page it’s still the 2nd most visited page on TSA.

Since then, despite being only an average gamer, I’ve always kept one eye on the Trophy list as new games surface.  Despite Sony moving to a secure server for their Trophy database, the Trophy details of some games still manage to leak out early (and usually resemble the equivalent Achievements anyway) and although I’m never going to go as far as to play through dross like Hannah Montana or Terminator to bag some silverware, I have started using the lists as a way to get more out of the games I do enjoy playing.

Take, for example, GTi Club+, recently brought back into the daylight via Chris’ 7th Challenge TSA post yesterday.  I’d previously assumed I was done with the game: I hadn’t played it for ages and would only really ever concentrate on the Easy track as that was the one I remember from the arcades, but after a few laps trying to set a decent record I glanced over the Trophy list and found there was a couple I hadn’t manage to get the first time around, and then spent another 15 minutes getting another bronze and a silver.

Why?  I have no idea.  The Trophy cabinet in Home isn’t ready yet (if indeed it ever will be) and I don’t currently use Home enough to warrant the investment in displaying my gaming prowess even it is was.  I also think the current method of comparing Trophies on the XMB is far too slow. As my TSA signature (on the forums) will attest, I’m (I think) either a level 6 or 7 which means I tend to collect all the bronze Trophies during a review run-through of a game and then don’t go back once the review is live on the site.  This, naturally, means I’m missing out on a huge amount of silvers and golds, and I have precisely zero platinums.

I’m not terrible at FPS, I can hold a good racing line and I’m a dab hand at the odd platformer, but the path of least resistance for my incremental climb up the Trophy food chain appears to be firmly fixed on nibbling at bronzes.  This probably won’t change, I don’t have either the time or the willpower to be great at any game in particular so I can kiss goodbye to ever bagging a platinum.  Gold’s tend to be awarded for completing a game on hard: again, not going to happen until I’m forced to try the game on it’s trickiest setting for review purposes.

What I am keen on though, is developers using Trophies (and of course, Achievements) to suggest alternative play-styles for gamers, or help them get more of a game.  A recent run through of Ghostbusters The Video Game for the site was sidetracked by some nicely positioned Trophies meant to make you stop and think once per level – they weren’t cryptic enough to need a guide but their implementation was clever, and again back to GTi Club: this morning I stopped, put the car into reverse and backed up over the line.  Why?  Because you get a silver Trophy for doing so.

What I don’t like is the way some publishers entice you to buy downloadable content for their game with Trophies.  Although my card got bounced this morning when I tried to buy Big Surf Island I was intending to, but I’m kinda glad I didn’t because a cursory glance down the Trophy list for Burnout Paradise revealed that the game had blocks of the damned things for each DLC Criterion has put out this year, and they all seemed rather banal and easy to obtain.  Buy the pack, get the Trophies – doesn’t seem in the spirit of things.

But that’s not the point.  Now that Sony have enforced Trophy support on all games going forward, even if you don’t have prior knowledge of the unlock criteria for each reward, you do still have some kind of sense as to when that Trophy pop-up will appear: at the end of a level, after finding the first thing of a hundred, after beating the top lap time, and when it doesn’t (which is obviously the case on other consoles) it all seems a little empty.  Trophies, then, have changed the way we play games, and most of us would argue it’s for the good.