Why Trophies Are Terrible

Why Trophies are Terrible
Confessions of a Trophy Whore

The other day I was sitting in my hotel room, trying to decide what to play next on my Vita to keep myself occupied while work had me in the middle of nowhere.  I could play any of the 6 or so Vita games I hadn’t beaten yet, or start in on the new Metal Gear Solid HD Collection I just bought.  In days past the first thing I’d look for is the online reviews to see which one I’d enjoy more.  So where did I turn to make my decision? Not to a review site, I went straight to ps3trophies.org to check out the trophies. After choosing NOT to play the brand new game I had bought because of the time it would take to get the trophies, I started thinking how trophies affect the experience of this generation’s games.

Trophies were no longer an afterthought, and I’d compulsively check the trophy lists before I even booted the game up…

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a bit on the ridiculous side of gaming. By that I mean I have all of the current-gen consoles (in addition to an odd N64 or Dreamcast here and there) and impulse-buy video games the way normal people buy gum.  At the start of this generation I played more on Xbox, and Achievements were only a way of telling me that I had reached some kind of milestone or maybe discovered a secret in the game I was playing.  It was a happy and carefree time then, and the games that I had high Gamerscores on were the games I had enjoyed playing the most.  [cue gravelly Behind the Music announcer voice]  Then my old college roommate and hetero-gaming-soulmate bought a PS3, and gaming as I knew it was about to change.

Julian and I “competed” for trophies at first, meaning that every once in a while we’d check each other’s score and whoever was in the lead would razz the other a bit.  At some point (probably due in large part to the Trophy Whore War at IGN) the air-quotes dropped off and we graduated to a full-on trophy war. Trophies were no longer an afterthought, and I’d check the trophy lists before I played to make sure I didn’t miss out on a possible advantage over my  gaming nemesis.  We’d say to each other “Nah man, I don’t have time to game” while secretly gaming until dawn.  Weeks would go by without syncing our trophy counts so we could launch a sneak attack before the other knew how much we had played.  My Xbox and Wii sat untouched, the Xbox because Achievements didn’t matter anymore and the Wii because it’s awful.  Games used to be my way of relieving stress after crazy work weeks.  Now they were causing me more stress because I couldn’t game enough to retake the lead after crazy work weeks.

So why am I writing this article now?  Is it because I had a revelation that Trophies are a meaningless collection of 1s and 0s and I’m returning to my gaming roots and only playing what I want?  Heck no, and in fact while writing that last paragraph I placed an order for NCIS. (I’ve already “earned” a platinum on Hannah Montana.)  But I have devoted some time to thinking about the games that I ENJOYED getting trophies on, and which were simply chores that I felt obligated to complete.

What makes a good Trophy/Achievement Implementation

Before I go further I should note that Hannah Montana is not indicative of the usual games I’m playing.  I’ve also earned platinums on games like Mass Effect 2 (soon to be 3 as well), Uncharted 2, God of War 3, and Fallout: New Vegas.  Why did I platinum these games, and not Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed 2 or Dead Rising 2?  Read on to find out what differentiates a good from a terrible trophy hunting experience.

The Grind

“Collect 300 of 300 wizzle wozzles.”   No.  Stop it.  Finding all of the feathers/orbs/trucker hats in a game is not fun.  It doesn’t mean you were better at the game, you saw more of the game, or really did anything deserving of a trophy.  Most likely you just found a collectible guide online and ran through with that in front of you.

Now I know the Uncharted series is also guilty of this to some degree, but for some reason I can forgive Naughty Dog simply because I loved running around in Drake’s world looking for these trophies, and each one was unique.  In most cases I don’t even want collectibles in a game unless they’re all useful.  The Lego series of games actually does a good job of this.  For example, in Lego Harry Potter years 5-7 almost every collectible gives you something – whether it’s health regeneration or new characters, they all ADD to the game.  It’s not simply collecting for the sake of collecting.

Online Trophies

There are very few games where I think “Okay, it makes sense to have that online trophy.”  One example would be Uncharted, which simply asks that you try each of the online modes.  I love that.  I’m sure many people wouldn’t touch the online mode at all if not for trophies, and some of them might find a new love if they just give things a chance.  Another smart implementation of online trophies is Mass Effect 3 – many of those trophies have dual-unlock methods, giving you the choice to unlock them through online or offline play.

Then there are games like Resistance 2, which requires you to get 10,000 kills in online competitive multiplayer.  No sir, I don’t like it.  To me that’s not “Hey, you’re good at videogames, here’s a trophy!”  it’s “Hey, you spent a ton of time listening to 12 year olds yell expletives at you, here’s a trophy!”  And now that the game is no longer shiny and new, there will be fewer people online making it even harder to get. Splendid.

And don’t forget Red Dead Redemption, the game that broke my heart.  I absolutely loved this game and this is something I’d normally spend the time to platinum.  However there are 3 multiplayer trophies that stopped my platinum hunt before it even began – reach the highest level in multiplayer, win 3 matches in a row, and win 4 team based matches in a row.  Now winning 3 matches in a row is one thing, which at least only requires you yourself to be good.  But a group trophy, unless you have a pre-formed group who can work together, is just plain mean.  The widely accepted statistic is that 87% of gamers online are just awful, so good luck finding 3 other good ones in that pile.  Or maybe I just made that statistic up, but still, online gamers are not awesome.

Keeping It Fresh

To me this is absolutely the most important criteria in what makes for good trophies.  Developers spend a LOT of time on creating each and every area and experience in their game, and why not reward their audience for going through it all?  This is one reason why Fallout: New Vegas is still my most satisfying platinum.  Yes, it took a while to do, and it wasn’t easy, but it made sure that I saw each storyline and all of the incredible side quests.  Skyrim is the same way for me, and although I know it’s going to take me forever to actually platinum, I know I’m going to do it eventually.

The opposite of this, and precisely the reason I didn’t start playing Metal Gear Solid 2, is when your forced to play the same content over and over.  MGS2 makes you play through the game on every single difficulty.  C’mon now.  I don’t have enough time to play all the games I own ONCE, and you expect me to play through your game FIVE times?  Developers need to be aware their audiences are inundated with games these days, and expecting them to devote so much time playing old content is a bit absurd.

In Closing

A study a few years back by EEDAR (Electronic Entertainment Design and Research) found that games with more than 30 achievements sold three times as many copies as those games with fewer than 30 achievements. That was back when not every game had trophies and achievements, and today it’s a given that every game will have some form of achievements integrated.  No longer is it simply enough to have trophies and achievements, developers need to put as much thought into them as they do to the storyline, artwork and characters.  They’re a bit like the icing on the cake, where you could either have a delicious cake with some chocolate frosting, or a delicious case smeared with asparagus paste.  Yeah the cake itself is still delicious, but that taint of asparagus can’t be ignored.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go dust this soda can for prints.

Client App Finished

We just sent off the final version of our first client app!  Once it’s officially up in the iTunes store – we’ll share all the deets.  But we’re pretty proud of it – it’s a sleek, customized, universal app that’ll be coming your way soon.

Now we’ll finally get our noses back to the grindstone on these games we’ve been working on for forever…

Grey Duck’s Guide to Being a Videogame Villain

     As I’m sure you’re well aware, Ross and I are incredibly popular on the interwebs and we get a lot of requests for advice.  Most of the time it’s “How do I know when a girl likes me?”, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?”, and “How do I solve this jobs crisis so I can spend more time with Michelle?”  Since we can’t answer all of these personally, we’re going to choose some of the best questions and answer them on our site.  Here’s the first letter we’re answering:Dear The Duck,

Hi my name is Tommy and I really want to be a videogame bad guy.  But the bad guys in games are always getting beat up by lame guys.  How do I win at being a videogame bad guy?

PS I drew a picture of me as a bad guy

 

 

Well Timmy, you bring up a great point.  We see time and time again a nearly invincible villain brought down by an unlikely hero, and we’ve seen a few things in common between all of these takedowns.  So without further ado, we bring you Grey Duck’s Guide to Being a Videogame Villain.

1.  Fire your Choreographer

I don’t mean this literally, because if you have a choreographer you probably have more issues as a villain than we can solve in this short segment.  What I mean to say is – break out of your pattern.  When Megaman was first starting out, sure, he was kind of clueless – so repeating the same jumping and shooting moves over and over might have worked (I’m looking at you, Cut Man).  But guess what!  Megaman has now starred in 37 games, and HE EFFING GETS IT!  If you keep doing the same pansy routine again and again, he’s going to blast you to the big 8-bit console in the sky.  Leave the routines for Dominique Dawes (yeah, look her up, she was legit) and try for a little spontaneity.

2.  Be Careful with Heights

Yeah, it might be a really impressive setting to fight on the side of a mountain during a lightning storm, but you’re just asking for trouble.  You’re just as likely to be tossed off a little platform into lava as the other guy, especially if you have an easily-gripped tail (i.e. Bowser).  Why not just hang out in the middle of a big field, with no powerups or health packs, and just smack the hell out of the hero when he gets close?  Nobody will care how scary or epic the fight was if you’re dead.  Besides, after you kill the hero you can just tell everyone that you fought on the back of a phoenix flying through a hurricane over an erupting volcano wearing just a loincloth.  (You’re wearing the loincloth, not the volcano).  Who’d be alive to argue with you?

3.  Use Concealer on those Blemishes

If you’re an invincible superpower, who happens to have only one weakness, which also happens to be glowing at all times, for Pete’s sake cover it up!!! (Btw, who is this Pete that everyone is always so concerned about?)  Grab some armor plating, spraypaint, or a thick turtleneck and hide that shit, immediately.  If going the turtleneck route, be sure it’s torn and/or bloodstained.  We don’t want people thinking you’ve gone soft.

4.  Stay Away from Temptation

This would be the “Don’t eat chocolate cake, fatty” chapter in a diet book.  And the title doesn’t really work in this situation, but if you couldn’t tell from the other ones I’m actually stealing these titles from a cheerleader handbook.  Cheerleading seems to be surprisingly similar to villainy.  Anyway, in this case we’re talking about the tendency for bosses to hang out right by things that are extremely harmful to them.  You’re a powerful demi-god made of fire?  Stay away from that damn waterfall.  You hate light and thrive in darkness?  Probably shouldn’t keep all of those torches in your lair.  Use a little common sense in this situation.  The bad dudes of Hyrule are probably the worst at this.  Let’s say the only way Link is every going to beat you is if he gets the hook shot.  Here is what NOT to do:

  1. Aquire a hookshot (ok, sure, trying to buy up the market, I get it)
  2. Hide it in your dungeon where you live (wait, WHAT?!)
  3. Draw a map of your dungeon and hide it somewhere right by the entrance to your lair (Is this a joke?)
  4. Invent and construct a compass that only works in your keep and that dings whenever Link is about to find the hookshot (first off, whose side are you on? And second, how would you even build that?)

Take a note from the Hollywood movies – the villain has a secret lair constructed, and then kills everyone who constructed it so only the villain knows the secrets.  You don’t see the villain then draw up blueprints, put a tracking device on a cache of weapons, and leave both of these by the entrance to his hideout.  I mean, come on.

4.5 Hire a Gardener

You know that floor of your castle that you removed the staircase from so there’d be no way for the hero to move on to the next level?  Well, if you have vines growing up to the next goddamn window, kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it?  Plus, have a little self respect.  Castles cost like a billion dollars and vines and ivy can cause structural damage to bricks.  This is well documented, even in reality.

5.  Don’t Say Mean Things

This one’s easy – shut your mouth and kill the hero.  Don’t explain your master plan, have a dialogue with the hero, explain how you’re actually saving the world, why you’re so awesome, or try to get that recipe for chocolate muffins that the hero is known for.  Just kill him.  Also – don’t stand there and taunt the hero, especially if for some inexplicable reason you can’t move until you finish the taunt.  You can taunt your opponent as much as you want after he’s dead, or if you’re an 8 year old playing Halo you can tea-bag his dead body repeatedly to celebrate your victory.*

6.  Don’t Forget (to kill) the Little People

If there’s ever a time where you come up against an angry village, tribe, troupe, or teddy bears living in tree houses – don’t ignore them.  And definitely don’t laugh and say “OH THOSE PUNY WEAKLINGS WILL NEVER DEFEAT ME!”  They will defeat you.  Kill them when they haven’t had a chance to band together and overwhelm you.  The less help the hero has, the better.  This also applies to the hero too – if there’s some kid who swears revenge on you, kill him.  Otherwise he’s going to traipse across the land, completing quests and getting experience until he’s gone from plucky, weak teen to badass, well-armed teen.

7.  Fight Your Own Battles

If your henchmen drop powerups, like health or ammo, tell them to stay the hell out of your fight.  I mean, that’s just asking for trouble.  Actually, strike that.  Bring all your henchmen to the fight, but give them poison and sabotaged explosives disguised as health and ammo.  The unsuspecting hero will run to heal up and boom!  Dead hero.

Well, there you have it, Tammy.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it should give you a leg-up on the competition at least.  Although even if you don’t follow any of this advice, there’s still one thing that could assure your victory.  The element of surprise.  If you have plans to rule the world, why not keep them a secret?  Why not be super nice to everyone so they’re not on a revenge quest in the first place.  Then, when your plans are in place and not a moment sooner, you reveal to everyone “Hey!  I’m actually kind of a dick!  But luckily I didn’t tip you off ahead of time and I’ve already taken over the world.”

Good luck, you villains.  We’ll see you next time with our advice column, “Know which castle your princess is in before storming in and killing everyone.”

-The Duck

*Dear 8 Year Old Halo Player who killed me and then tea-bagged me, Your days are numbered.

The 5 Best Zelda Games

The Best of Zelda

 

To kick off The Great Video Game Lists series we’re going to be writing over the next few months, we thought we’d start with the legendary games surrounding (for the most part) the land of Hyrule and a small boy, dressed in green, who never says anything.  That’s right, The Legend of Zelda.  Of course we realize that if you ask 5 different Zelda fans for their list of the top five games in the series – you’ll get five totally different answers.  Except “Twilight Princess.”  Twilight Princess will not show up in any reputable best-of list.  And since the series has been constantly growing since the early days of the NES – there’s quite a library of games to choose from.  So let is be stated for the record that while what follows are what we believe to be the top five Zelda games in order – we’ve played them all and we could have made a case for any of them to have made this top tier (except for Twilight Princess).  And so, without further ado…

 

 The Wind Waker

In our opinion, the Windwaker is one of the more under appreciated Zelda games out there – mainly because it came out on the GameCube which no one owned (ZING).  However, those who played it got to enjoy not only cell-shaded, more cartoon oriented graphics (which we think fits the series better), but also and perhaps more importantly – a break from the ‘Zelda Formula’ that takes over too many of the recent titles.  New characters, modes of transportations, weapons, items – a new land, a new-ish story.  It had all the game mechanics and story elements fans love in the games, but it presented them in a new and original way.  Plus, it was huge, with side quests and mini games to master for the completionists and an entire world to sail around and explore.  It could easily rank higher, but coming in at our number five, the Windwaker deserves a spot among the best of the best.

 

The Legend of Zelda

The original not only deserves a spot on any Best of Zelda list, but also on any Best of the NES list, and probably on most Best Games of All Time lists.  On a system that was producing games like Balloon Fight, the Legend of Zelda was enormous, impossibly difficult, and addicting.  Plus, in the days before people could simply look online to figure out what to do next – back in the 1980s you had to sit together with your nerdy friends at lunch to swap tips and theories about what in the world you needed to do next in the game.  Burning bushes, bombing walls, walking through mountains, solving mazes – it was/is one of the hardest games to muddle your way through.  Plus, once you managed to get through the game – you could go back again and play a second, harder quest the started you off just as clueless as to where to go next as the main quest.  The game is amazing.  You should probably go play it (again) right now.  We dare you young’ns to beat it without consulting a walkthrough.

 

Ocarina of Time

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  We know.  This game is SUPPOSED to be number 1.  Everyone who knows anything ranks it as the best Zelda game, and maybe the best game of all time.  Well, too bad.  We know it’s awesome.  We played it for 24 hours straight on the day it came out, trying to be the first of our friends to beat it.  We realize it showcased Zelda on a level that had never been approached before it.  But here’s a little secret not too many people know… it’s only the 3rd best in the series.  So rather than praise it’s fantastic-ness like everyone else, here are some reasons why it didn’t earn a higher spot in our list.  A tad repetitive.  Easy bosses.  Can’t claim to even be the best Zelda game on its system (like everything else on our list can!).  So there.  However, if somehow you managed to never play the game – you are doing yourself a disservice.  It’s unbelievably good.

 

A Link to the Past

This was in the number 1 spot on our list for quite awhile, but in the end, the SNES installment in the Zelda series will have to settle for the silver.  Like Wind Waker, the look of this game really matches with how we think the series is best presented.  It also invented the idea of a dark world (which is still being used today by the series today in games like Twilight Princess).  It returned the series to form after a bizarre follow up to the original, and then modified and improved upon what had worked in the original game.  Difficult?  Check.  Huge?  Check.  Innovation?  Check.  Secrets for gamers to find?  Check.  A Link to the Past stands the test of time well – it’s as fun and challenging to play today as it was one it came out.

 

Majora’s Mask

Majora’s Mask is, we think, the only truly original and innovative Zelda game since the original title was released in 1986.  While the other games in the series have been great – they’ve all mostly followed in some way a sort of ‘Zelda Formula.’  You know what’s gonna happen and what you’ll have to do next.  Not so in Majoras Mask.  The second Zelda game on the N64 gave us a new world, a new quest, a new (and awesome) mask system, and a totally new time based game mechanism that makes an already tough game incredibly challenging.  It’s also really dark – which is unusual for a Zelda game.  Stuff is going very wrong in the world or Termina – but since you only have 3 days (which you play through again and again) – you can’t help everyone!  Bad things will happen to good people.  You may fix them once in order to further your quest, but the next time you reset that clock, you’ll have to leave them broken.  It’s a coming of age story for Link.  He’s in the quest for himself, no one else.  It took all the great graphics, music, and gameplay from Ocarina of Time – and wrapped it up in an adventure that was truly groundbreaking.  Not a lot of people played it – which is why Ocarina of Time gets all the praise.  But, for those in the know (like us) – Majora’s Mask has earned the title of The Best Zelda Game Ever Made!

 

So that wraps up the first installment of our “Great Video Game Lists” series.  We’re huge video game nerds so this will most likely be followed with many, many more entries.  Disagree with our opinion?  Feel free to let us know what your top 5 list would be in the comments.

 

 

Puzzle Agent iPhone Game Review

Buy it from the iTunes Store here

Puzzle Agent is, as you should be able to guess, a puzzle game from the iPhone and various other platforms.  It was created by Graham Annable for Telltale Games as one of their pilot games to test out possible new franchises.  Due to the reception and support, a sequel is now under development.

In Puzzle Agent you play Agent Nelson Tethers, the sole member of the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division.  You’re called to investigate the shortage of erasers in the remote Minnesotan town of Scoggins.  You’re immediately faced with puzzles from the start of the game, and you’ll solve a variety of puzzles while simultaneously solving the mystery that you were called to investigate.

One of the things we were most impressed about with Puzzle Agent is the interface.  As huge adventure game fans we’ve had the opportunity to test out several different approaches on the iPhone, and this really seems to be the first one to get it right.  Instead of having any kind of cursor you’re able to tap the screen to send out a little sonar-like ping, which highlights things that you’re able to interact with.  It feels very natural and lets you forget about the controls and focus on the puzzles.

The puzzles themselves are enjoyable in large part due to the huge variety.  You’ll solve riddles, find paths through mazes, re-arrange blocks to form pictures, and lots more.  What’s nice is these aren’t all easy puzzles and offer a challenge to puzzle experts, but those who want a little help can use hints that are collected throughout the game to make things easier.

The art style is very charming, the voice acting is great, and overall the story and puzzles are very enjoyable.  This is a definite buy for any puzzle fan, and helps to ensure that more quality games like this will be released.  Once again Telltale Games has given us an enjoyable way to pass the time.

Monkey Island iPhone Game Review

Buy it in iTunes here.

The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition is finally available on the iPhone.  It’s the same hillarious game that kicked off a still thriving franchise (most recently Tell Tale Games Tales of Monkey Island), but with updated graphics, voice acting and a new interface.

All good things… except for the interface.

There isn’t much to be said that hasn’t appeared in print in the 20 years since The Secret of Monkey Island was first released.  You play as aspiring pirate Guybrush Threepwood and soon get swept up into a tale of kidnapping, pirates, ghost pirates, cannibals and more laughs than SNL has had in the last ten years combined.  It’s incredible.  It’s difficult.  It’s captivating.  The game is… awesome.

But.  Don’t play it on the iPhone.  It’s available now on PCs, Macs, Playstations, XBoxs – basically every system available.  The interface used on the iPhone just doesnt work well.

The circular cursor you move with your finger is slow and hard to meneuver, especially when it gets close to the edge of the screen.  Plus, the game is pretty intricate with lots of objects to find and interact with – so the small screen (even though the graphics looks great) isn’t doing you any favors.

If you’re a fan or you have no other way to play the game – then by all means buy it.   It works fine.  You’ll eventually get ok at handling the clunky interface.  And it is really nice to have the portability.

If you can play it on any other system however, we’d recommend enjoying all the fantastic updates and upgrades to this classic of classics on anything other than the iPhone.  A game this good deserves unhindered gameplay.

Papa Sangre iPhone Game Review

Papa Sangre, from Something Else, is a new and innovative horror game available in the iTunes store.  You may have heard it referred to as, “the video game without video,” because in fact…

There is no video element to the game.

I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll we’ll answer that question first.  No, the game does not suck.  It’s actually pretty fun.  The main gist of it is that you go to another dimension where it’s really dark so you can only navigate based on sound (you need to wear headphones).  The sound in this is great – it’s like 3D, but for your ears.  You spin yourself around to face musical notes while avoiding anything that sounds like it’s out to kill you. Once you’ve got a direction, you alternate pressing the two foot buttons to walk or run.  But be careful about running at anything more than a trot – you apparently control the least coordinated person ever, who will trip at anything above a shuffle.

To be brief, cause no one wants to read a review that’s 3 pages long, the game is hard, freaky and totally immersive.

If you find that your favorite games on your iPhone are Doodle Jump, Angry Birds and Tiny Wings… YOU WILL HATE THIS GAME.

However, even if you’re the kind of person who thinks Papa Sangre sounds interesting, I’d hold off – for now.  At $4.99, it’s a tad overpriced.  While I know app developers should be rewarded for their hard work, and this game truly is innovative – that’s a lot to fork over.  Especially since you can’t know for sure if it’s “your” type of game till you’ve tried it.

The final review:  Don’t Buy.

At least, not until the price drops to $2.99 or below.  Although, if after our Papa Sangre review you still really want to buy it, you can grab it from iTunes at this link: Papa Sangre