Saturday, April 26, 2008

Achievement Addiction

As some of my previous posts have indicated, I'm what is known as an "Achievement Whore". I've claimed as such in the past and I won't ever deny it, but being one sees me questioned regularly as to why I take pleasure in obtaining achievements and boosting my Gamerscore. So now I think it's time for an explanation.

First and foremost, I do not go after achievements because of the Gamerscore. An unfortunate misconception that has come with the otherwise very decent addition to gaming is that people only go after the achievements because of the score and unfortunately, in most cases, this is true. One simple browse of a website like will show you many people's Gamertags and a list of games that these people have played purely to boost their score. There is a lot of easy point games out there and these people have purchased or rented them all just to quickly add another thousand points to their score.

Not everyone enjoys obtaining achievements for the score though and I fall under this latter category; I can't speak for anyone else but I personally go after achievements because I am a completionist.

For as long as I have been playing games, I have been trying my utmost hardest to complete each and every game I play to the best of my ability. This is evident through my intentions to return to some older games I have that I am still yet to finish, or haven't played yet for whatever reason.

The same applies to the achievement system for me and is an extension of sorts of what I would already be doing anyway. If the 360 didn't have the achievement system, I would still be trying to finish the games to the best of my ability. Be that through collecting objects (Orbs in Crackdown) or completing a game on various difficulties (Insane in Gears of War, Hard in BioShock) - it's something I would do regardless of whether the achievements were there. Thankfully they are there and it has now added to my gaming as a result.

Achievements have added to the way I play games for a few reasons. It could be that I am returning to a game after finishing it originally because downloadable content has added some more achievements. Or it could be that I'm playing these games differently and doing something I wouldn't otherwise normally do because there's an achievement for doing so, an example being the puzzle achievements in Project Gotham Racing 4 and trying to figure them out. Or it could simply be because of the fact that the achievement system is a public demonstration of the type of gamer that I am and while sure, a Gamerscore that is pushing 30k might suggest that I do it for the score, a simple look through the games I own and have finished would reveal that the reason my score is high is because I have done everything I absolutely can in these games.

It's something I am proud of actually because as I mentioned above, the majority of gamers have obtained high Gamerscores through abusing the easy point games. When I see examples of this and compare them to my own, I can't help but feel proud knowing that I am matching their scores because I took the time and effort to complete and get the most out of my games.

Which brings me to another point, the achievement system and the fact that it is public can certainly bring out a competitive side to gaming as well. That has more to do with obtaining score than it does achievements though and relates back to the days of Tetris and Pac Man in the Arcades where gamers would try and beat their opposition by getting a higher score. This is both a good and bad aspect of the system and the use of it really depends on who you are as a gamer.

Hopefully that explains why I like to obtain achievements. If it doesn't, well just know that Gamerscore is completely irrelevant to me.

Similar Experiences

GTPod is not the only one experiencing what he deemed the Pre-Order Blues at the moment.

As he alluded to, a lot of people are going through it at the moment and yes, I am one of them. I certainly don't get the 'condition' to the extent that others do, but I do get it and my gaming habits change considerably right up until the release of the game in question that I'm anticipating at the time. At the moment it is Grand Theft Auto IV, but in the past it has been big titles like BioShock and smaller titles like Test Drive Unlimited and Shadow of the Colossus.

I can't explain why I, or even we, experience such a thing but it's there and it definitely happens. Naturally it depends on the game in question, a gamer's taste in titles and things like that but on a simple term if you are a gamer than you have probably experienced it at some point.

Personally, my experience of it consists of lack of enjoyment of my other games. I still play them and I still try to make the most out of these games and enjoy them, but my mood while playing is certainly different to what it would normally be. The games I play aren't as compelling as they normally would be, my attention span wanes rather quickly and the only game I can think about is the one that is upcoming. I also seem to have hassles with choosing a game to play and I think that comes from a sense of disinterest; a distaste (if you will) of content from games that I already know about and what to expect while at the same time maintaining a desire to get my hands on and experience the new, not to mention the unexpected.

So why do gamers go through this stage with some games and not others? Is it simply because of the hype surrounding a particular game and the excitement as the release date draws near? Or is it because we as gamers have our preferences and anticipate these particular games because that's what we love and cherish the most? Or is it both?

Perhaps it's none of the above and perhaps it's a different reason altogether. I know it is certainly something I'd like to explore in the future but right now my mind is rather incoherent because it is absolutely flooded with thoughts and excitement about GTA IV. It's only three days away and damn it, I cannot wait to lose myself within the guilty pleasures of Liberty City.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Preorder blues

So GTA fever is gripping the world, people are desperately watching and rewatching the trailers, browsing and rebrowsing the screenshots, even playing and replaying the older games in the series in an attempt to bridge the gap before April 29th. For some, however, it is more difficult than for others; I'm talking about preorder blues.

If you're not familiar with this feeling, let me fill you in. It's almost a chronic gaming disease, onset by the preordering of a game, or ordering of a game with a long delivery time. It causes people to reject their entire games library in an odd desperation for the one title they're so eagerly waiting for, hence ruining any chances of keeping entertained until the promised date. Some people suffer mild variations, whereby they'll suddenly feel less motivated towards particular titles or consoles; others, like myself, get it full blast, where day-to-day often no games are played at all due to a sudden immeasurable lack of aforementioned motivation for any and all games. My personal strain of the disease however often allows me to play other games in the series, and sometimes also casual games. Therefore, my experience of the GTA IV preorder blues hasn't been so bad; so far I've enjoyed several hours of GTA/London/2/3/VC/SA, as well as Wii Sports, PAIN and Ikaruga. Another strain seems to be one of concentrated, rather than lost, dedication; a friend of mine is currently spending all of his gaming time playing Call of Duty 4 and nothing else, having found a sudden increase in endless desire to play online and shoot up the prestige levels in the lost period of time before 29/04.

Lucky for me, I have this place to spend some time on too. Expect a surge in posting after my coursework is done - up until the 29th of course; I'll be taking at least a few days' leave from then...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Achievement Unlocked

For those that know me (and from a glance of my Gamercard), it is no secret that I am what is now known as an Achievement Whore. The reasons I am one will be explained in the near future but for now, I welcome you to a new series of posts I will be doing here on Raptured Reality.

In 'Achievement Unlocked', I will be talking about the various achievements that I may be trying to obtain, have recently obtained or even what I think on a game's particular achievements as a whole. Basically, it will be a progress report discussing what I have achieved and what I want to achieve and so on. Now that I have explained the series, let's get down to business.

Mass Effect has been taking up the majority of my time lately as I have been working towards all of the achievements for the game. I just recently finished my second playthrough of the game where I picked up the following achievements:

- Asari Ally (finish the majority of the game with Liara)
- Turian Ally (finish majority of the game with Garrus)
- Extreme Power Gamer (level 60)
- Sniper Expert (150 Sniper kills)
- Lift Mastery (Use Lift 75 times)
- Renegade
- Long Service Medal (complete the game twice)
- Distinguished Combat Medal (complete the game on Hardcore)
- Colonial Savior (obtained when finished with the DLC)

I'm now about to start my third and final playthrough of the game where I will be playing through the game on Insanity while working towards the Quarian and Krogan Ally achievements, as well as the many tech achievements that I need. Upon finishing this playthrough the game should be completely finished. I'm pushing 100 hours at the end of my second playthrough so it will be interesting to see how long it does end up taking me.

Another game I have been playing is Battlestar Galactica on the Xbox Live Arcade. I have obtained most of the achievements that I want from the game so now I'm only really working on the one you get for beating Scar. The requirement is to beat him without dying on Medium or Hard difficulty and so far, I have been unsuccessful. It is actually quite hard so I'm not actually sure if I will be able to get it or not just yet but that won't stop me from trying. I have also been slowly playing Team Deathmatch games with a friend to work towards the achievement you get for completing 50 Team Deathmatch games so I should have that soon. One achievement I won't be going for is 5000 kills. That's far too much for an Arcade game I think and I don't think I could play the game for 15 hours or more boosting my kills up until it unlocked.

Last but not least, I'm trying to finish Guitar Hero III's career on the Hard difficulty. I'm actually doing it with the controller (damn chords are a pain in the behind with the controller) so I can also pick up the achievement you get for finishing Hard (or Expert) with it, but as soon as that is done I will start practising Hard using the guitar so that I can finish it with that as well and start 5-starring the songs. Once that is done I will also do the same for Guitar Hero II and then it will be onto Expert...

And that's about it for the moment. Grand Theft Auto IV comes out in a couple of weeks so that game will be added to the list very soon. It will be interesting to see what achievements it has and if it's anything like Crackdown (or indeed the previous GTAs), it will be a game I work on until I get every achievement. I'm fully expecting collectibles to be hidden in Liberty City somewhere and no doubt there will be an achievement for finding them all, so that alone will be quite time consuming. I look forward to it.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Tanker Edition

So after delaying it for some time while I dedicated myself to getting other gaming tasks done for various reasons, I have now finally begun my playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and strangely enough, it felt like I was revisiting an old friend.

I have never played the game (only the other two) and yet as soon as Harry Gregson-Williams' score for the game started playing during the opening cutscene (which I might add, was awesome in typical Metal Gear fashion - Snake casually walking along the bridge before breaking into a run only to jump off and land on the Tanker? Epic) it felt extremely familiar. Instantly I felt like I was within the Metal Gear world and that I had never left, which I think says something about the power of Metal Gear Solid as a franchise and furthermore, just how damn immersive it can actually be.

I mean, I hadn't even started playing yet and already I was feeling a varied amount of emotions upon returning to what was familiar and yet completely new and exciting at the same time. It was a weird feeling actually but one that I was only too happy to be a part of and it in turn set the mood for the couple of hours that I spent with the game. I was excited about playing and ready to continue my adventures as the one and only Solid Snake.

So far, these adventures have been pretty awesome. While it did take me a little while to get the hang of the controls again (partly because I'm so used to the 360 controller, partly because of the length of time since I last played a MGS title), it didn't detract from the fun I was having. Granted, a lot of the opening moments of play are like a subtle tutorial, easing the player into the game by not having many enemies to sneak by, kill or tranquilise or even having Otacon point you in the direction of certain things. Even so, once the game got going it again felt like I had never left. The controls became second nature quite quickly and that in turn allowed me to approach the various situations (especially later on into the Tanker level) the way I normally would in a Metal Gear game rather than say, slow and cautiously because I don't want to do something stupid. I didn't panic if I alerted one of the guards and I dealt with any situation that arose without even hesitating about it.

For the third time, it felt like I never left. That, or I was returning to a world I once knew and loved from a wonderful past. It was strange to experience, but I actually think it made the experience all the more enjoyable.

While I'm still yet to grasp the game's main plot (I am still early into the game after all), the little story that I did see instantly reminded me of past Metal Gear events and I had no hassles understanding (for the most part) what was going on in the grand scheme of things. I think this contributed to the whole 'it felt like I never left' thing, but even if it didn't I'm glad I was able to understand the continuation of what can sometimes be a very confusing and dare I say it, convoluted plot.

I just started playing as Raiden so the immediate future is sure going to be interesting, especially given most people's opinions of the character. Even so, I look forward to more time with the game in the very near future.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Why Doesn't It Rain On Me?

Quite the odd topic to talk about but it is one that has been on my mind for a while now, why do most games lack rain or just general weather effects?

Now I can understand that with the older consoles technology might not have allowed for it (or if it did, other game design choices had higher priority) but to me we should be seeing it on the current generation consoles and we're not. Why is that I wonder? Is it because developers can't be bothered adding them in? Is it because with water effects now looking pretty damn realistic, developers aren't adding in rain or snow because they want it to be on the same level of realism as the water is?

I guess the only people who can answer those questions are the developers themselves so rather than question the concept of weather effects in gaming (or lack thereof), let's change course and talk about weather effects and gaming in general.

Most examples of games that I can think of that have rain, wind or weather effects are survival horror games. Games like Resident Evil use weather effects to set the mood of the scene/level of the game. It's used as a technique to create atmosphere which ultimately adds to the immersion the player has and therefore the level of hesitation they might have from what may or may not scare them next in the game. Take Resident Evil Zero as an example and the game's opening moments on the train; it's absolutely pouring down outside and when you combine that with the train that is speeding along the train tracks and of course the zombies that are on the train and it sets the tone for that particular section of the game. It creates the sense of urgency while also giving an eerie feeling to the player as they become more and more anxious to not only find out what's going on but also to get off the train as soon as they can. It's brilliantly done, does exactly as intended to and is a technique that many similar games use to set the tone and mood of their experiences.

Take another genre like racing as another example and the use of weather effects changes again. Depending on the type of racing game, a wet track can completely change how you approach your racing line and/or overall race when compared to a dry track. The tarmac is slipperier, it's easier to go off the track and you as the player have to be a little more cautious with how you drive. One thing I have noticed with racing games though is that it is actually quite rare to see rain, or indeed general weather effects in most racing games that get released. If tracks are going to be wet, it won't be because it is raining. It will be because it has rained, or at least that's what the developers want you to think. It seems somewhat ironic to me actually; I can remember more games from the SNES and N64 era that featured weather effects than I can from the current and previous generation and yet technology is arguably allowing developers to include these effects these days. The only recent game that I can recall that had rain and weather effects (and did it bloody wonderfully I might add) is Project Gotham Racing 4. I was very happy to see rain falling down on the windscreen (literally, thanks to the joys of the in-car view) with wipers moving back and forth as I was trying to avoid puddles on the track and still race fast enough to win the race. It was totally awesome racing around the Nurburgring Nordschleife in the snow for a change, rather than the dry versions of the track from say Gran Turismo 4 or Forza 2. Put simply it was a welcome addition to the game and was one that has made me desire to see it in other games.

Changing genres and examples again, look at open world games like Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. They both feature rainy weather and many other open world games do too. Sure it may not add or hinder the actual gaming experience but to me, it adds to the immersion of the experience (especially if the game is supposed to be based on real life) and the experience can only be better for it. Sure, your average joe won't notice something as trivial as this but after playing games like PGR 4 and the upcoming GTA IV (which has been shown to include weather effects) it would be nice to see more games start to include weather effects and I honestly don't know why the majority of games lack such effects. What can you do, though?

Anger Management

In the past year or so I have slowly but surely begun to realise that I am quite the impatient and angry gamer. I find myself swearing at games more often these days, getting frustrated with things that are completely trivial and losing my patience a lot quicker than I used to. I think I know the reason too...

While I don't mean to shift the blame onto anything (because ultimately, I am in control of my mood/s while playing a game), I honestly believe playing Gears of War for 8 months or so while going for the Seriously... achievement (10,000 kills) changed me as a gamer. I played that game each and every night for about 8 months trying to build up my kills and unfortunately I had to put up with a lot of crap to get there. Whether it was people using glitches so it was harder to kill them, being cocky after killing you (both verbally and visually - as in the 'raping' animation people can do while you're down that is similar to Tea-Bagging in Halo), or people just generally being arseholes, I saw it all and at times it was quite hard to take.

In the first few months it was a different story. The regulars who were also going for the achievement were generally nice people to talk to and play with and the Gears' community was better for it (it helped that it was Aussies too as we had a particular criteria to search for in Ranked matches). Over time however things changed and these people who were once great to play with turned into massive tools who just ruined the experience and made the quest towards the achievement that much harder. At first it was reasonably easy to just take anything they said or did with a grain of salt but it definitely got harder to take as time continued on and they kept it up. Perhaps playing with the same people thanks to that Aussie search criteria that we had was at fault? Maybe if I played with more randoms I would have had a better experience? Or maybe it would have been worse because I may have been playing with Americans, Europeans or whatever and it may have been very laggy? Who knows and who cares really, it's all completely irrelevant since it didn't happen.

Anyway playing with these people and putting up with the glitching, raping and whatever else did eventually see me losing patience with being killed regularly by situations that shouldn't be happening (glitching for example) and it became very easy to say choice words with almost every single death that I had. Not only that but there were a couple of times where I'd punch the pillow, raise my voice and wake up my little sister in the next room or get so angry that I'd turn the console off and stare at my ceiling gritting my teeth trying to keep the anger in. It was actually quite annoying knowing that I was letting myself get angry, letting these people get the better of me by losing my patience with them and so on. I knew I was a generally patient gamer and also a person who rarely loses their temper so whenever I did, I became disappointed and even angry with myself which of course only made things worse.

Back in my childhood and earlier gaming life, I was extremely patient with games even if they had very frustrating moments or I couldn't get past a particular part. I could sit there re-trying the same thing over and over and not be phased one bit. I had the determination to keep at it until I came out on top and I guess I got used to this idea of being patient with things that others would find annoying. Fast forward today and after the whole Gears experience and well, I'm not the gamer I was back in my childhood. Even when I'm not actually angry and I'm quite happy to be playing whatever game it is I am playing, I will come out with a curse word when I will die. I'll say that the situation that has just occurred is rubbish. If it continues to happen, I will lose patience very quickly and start swearing even more at the game and since I still have that determination to come out on top eventually, I sit there getting worse with my choice of words and becoming more frustrated until I actually do beat or achieve whatever it is I am trying to.

Every time I have gotten angry and then settled down again, I question myself. I ask why I get as angry as I do sometimes or why I lose patience so quickly and I honestly can't answer it. Perhaps it is because I've grown up and don't have as much time to do things as I did back in my childhood, or perhaps it's because games are more frustrating than they used to be? Or perhaps it's none of those and I am right in putting it down to playing Gears of War for so long and experiencing what I did?

Whatever it is, I have changed as a gamer and to be frank I don't like it. I would like to go back to the patient gamer I used to be and I would like to stop swearing so much at the most trivial of things that happen in games. So that is exactly what I am going to try to do. I am now going to try to be more patient with my games if they start to annoy me and hopefully I can change myself back to how I was (or at least close to it) by at the very least trying. Naturally, I'll return to this topic on Raptured Reality in the future to see how I am progressing (if at all) and with any luck, it will be a good out come.

November is on the way though and that means Gears of War 2. There's a very good chance that there will be a similar achievement in the upcoming game (perhaps 20k kills?) and if there is, I will be committing myself once again until I obtain the achievement. Another 6-8 months of continuous play and probably with a lot of the same people who I played with in the original... Wonder how my anger management will be like then, eh?