Achievements changed the way many people think about videogames when they released alongside the Xbox 360 and, with the eventual catch-up from Sony in the shape of the PlayStation 3’s Trophies, PlayStation gamers fell under the same spell: competition, bragging rights and the desire to see that lovely little pop-up in the corner of your screen.
Whilst there have been a few attempts to recreate that same appeal on the iPhone and iPod platforms, it’s taken Apple themselves to finally get it right, and in some ways they’ve actually managed to go one step beyond what Microsoft and Sony had come up with, especially with regards to comparing your skills with your friends, which we’ll come to.
Apple’s system is called Game Center, and is automatically added to your home screen when you download iOS4.1, which released yesterday. Once you’ve clicked the icon you’ll be taken through a few setup screens where you can claim your user ID and ensure your details are all correct – it’s typically slick and Apple, and only takes a few minutes.
The screen on the right above is the Game Center home, which shows your ID (in massive letters) and underneath that are little tallies for your Friends, Games and Achievements. The Friend system is really easy to use, you can search for friends based on their ID or their email address, and requests pop-up in real time on the recipient’s phone via the usual push notification window (or within the app if you switch your push notifications off).
Underneath all that is your current profile tag, and then your email address underneath that.
If you click on Friends, you’ll see a list of all your chums and their profile tags, along with what they’ve been playing recently. Clicking on a specific friend will bring up their home screen, with all their similar data, plus a list that both of you have in common. In this instance, Wotta and myself both own Flight Control (and have played it since it was updated last night so that Game Center knows we have it) so let’s click on that.
By doing so, you then come to a screen that allows you to compare Achievements and whereabouts both of you are on the leaderboards. Game Center’s universal leaderboards and Achievements are astonishingly well put together and so easy to use, and allow you to filter by global scores right down to Friend level, so you can always see who’s beating who at a specific game.
The image above right shows what happens when you click on ‘Games’ – you’ll see that I currently own four games that feature Game Center functionality (more are due every day now) and clicking on them immediately brings up a list of Achievements for that particular game. The option to ‘find Game Center games’ takes you straight to the games on the App Store that feature Game Center options, which is a nice touch but will certainly need further categorisation soon.
Achievements work the same way as they do on the Xbox 360 or PS3 – when you fulfill the requirements you get a little pop-up and your score increases within Game Center. An interesting thing with the Games menu is that you can instantly see how many people are playing the game and where you are in the global standings – in the example above over 35,000 gamers have tried Flight Control, presumably since the Game Center update.
I’m impressed – really impressed. For a platform like the iPhone with thousands of games, this is going to be an invaluable way to see what people are playing and finally there’s a way for you and your friends to compete with each other on a level playing field – the leaderboards are diverse enough to be split down into individual levels and maps (like the airports in Flight Control, for example) and update continously.
So, with one fell swoop Apple have shown what’s possible – syncing is automatic, the interface is gorgeous – and if enough developers and publishers pick up and convert their games away from the other formats like OpenFeint and Crystal (Angry Birds is already on its way to Game Center, for example) then the compulsive nature of Trophies and Achievements will once again take hold of gamers. Excellent stuff.
User IDs and email addresses have been blurred out, apart from Wotta who has given permission to use his ID. Images taken directly from the iPhone and scaled in Photoshop.