Ever since I played Freespace I got hooked on what's now broadly known as "achievements". In Freespace these rewards came in the form of medals, awarded after each mission. The system was intelligently based on your in-game performance. Even though they were nothing more than static images accompanied by some pretentious labels, they made me wanna play more and harder. I know this is going to sound crazy, but I almost played exclusively for the medal screen. The rewards seemed so real and vital that the game itself diminished in importance. It's weird, because the fun part of the game should have been the one in which I piloted a spaceship and shot lasers.
Medals and achievements are not exactly the same thing, but they work in similar ways. I'm not even sure when the first achievements came into existence. Maybe it's not that important. I guess XBOX 360 introduced them with their games in 2006, according to this Giant Bomb article. Valve started using them in 2007 with the release of the Orange Box and that's when achievements became really popular. Weirdly enough, many of Valve's games achievements are crap. They don't stimulate the player in any way, they're just there as if merely for showcasing purposes. I've seen other games failing pretty badly at this. Getting an achievement for doing the most basic of tasks (say for firing a gun for the first time - in a FPS game no less) not only strips away the value of that achievement, but it's annoying as hell too. That's like the devs' way of telling you you're the most incapable player ever. Last night I saw this cheesy movie everyone else loved... damn, I can't remember the name... oh, wait, I got it: Whiplash. The only part I liked about it is when some guy says that "there are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job". Damn right! Cheap achievements are saying "good job" when, in fact, the job is so trivial it wouldn't even be considered a job. I hate getting criticism, but I hate getting praise even more. I never trust anyone who tells me what a great job I did, unless they back that up with stats and graphs.
Here are some examples of what I consider good and bad achievements in Half-Life 2. Except my comments, all images, titles and descriptions from this section are the property of their respective owners.
Bad Half-Life 2 achievements:
For those of you who didn't play HL2, you can get all these achievements by simply moving forward through the game. You don't need to have any special skills or bouts of luck to get any of these. [minor spoilers ahead] You're going to escape the apartment block anyway (Malcontent). You're gonna get the crowbar whether you want it or not (Trusty Hardware)! All the stuff in these achievements is forced on you. So how can they be achievements? Do I need a pat on the back for simply playing the damn game?[/minor spoilers are over] These rewards are useless and it's not how achievements work, in my opinion.
Good Half-Life 2 achievements:
In order to get any of these you must actually do something out of the ordinary.
So, what I was trying to establish is that achievements can be good when done right and pretty bad when done wrong. If that would be all, it would be swell, but that's not all. Achievements can be bad even when done right. This happens when you keep playing solely for getting those rewards, while the game itself turns to an annoying routine. You can argue that players become achievement whores on their own accord, and not because of the developers'. Yeah, okay. That's a bit like saying that the heroine producers are model citizens, while the users are the real issue. Did I just compare high risk drugs to videogame achievements? That's my cue. In a minute.
What about Backfire? Will it feature any achievements? Hopefully, yes. I really want that, and not because of that marketing bullshit either! I firmly believe that achievements can make things more fun - if done right, of course. Moreover, I think that Backfire is the right type of game in which achievements can work beautifully. We explored this feature a bit and implementing it seems doable. It remains to be seen what kind of achievements we'll want to have in Backfire. Once we know that, we'll be able to collect specific data from the game instance and feed it back into the scoring system.
I'll conclude by giving you some examples of Backfire achievements. These are only half baked ideas, so they may be changed or not make it into the final game at all.