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Achievements have been around in one form or another for years now. I remember back in the days of the original perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64, having to earn the cheats by performing certain tasks. There is no doubt that without these extra incentives, I would have never spent the hundreds of hours I did with Perfect Dark.
These incentives are now forcibly incorporated into every game released on both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 but do these achievements actually hurt certain games? The short answer is, well, yes... and no. If implemented correctly, achievements can breathe extra life into games after completion. Getting those extra '100 head shots' or collecting that 'Intel' can be enough of a reason for many to revisit old games and surely that can't be a bad thing?
One area certain games fall down is when it comes to gaining achievements through online play. Again, if implemented in an innovative way the experience can be very rewarding. Certain games, however -Original Gears of War, I'm looking at you- encouraged anti-team play tactics including only going for certain types of kills, regardless of whether it helped the team and 'glitching'.
Some games, such as Modern Warfare 2 and Gears of War 2, have removed achievements from the competitive multiplayer aspect of the game altogether. They have replaced then with challenges of their own to unlock better guns, equipment and to level up higher. Modern Warfare's take on the issue is to reward players by giving them more, whilst Gears 2 allows for the challenges to be achieved through playing both Single player and Multiplayer, attaining to the same goal with achievements at the end.
Other games, such as NBA 07, (Yes, it's 3 years old now, I know) require 1000 people to be online at the same time. This is one of those achievements that, by now will be pretty much impossible to get. Slightly more recently, Turok for the 360 and PS3 contained a achievement called 'grab bag' which involved killing team mates. This was subsequently patched out of the game after uproar in the community. The fact that the developers thought it was a good idea right up until the game went gold says a lot about how little thought goes into what effect an achievement can have on a games quality.
In the end, when you analyse what an achievement actually is it's pretty simple, bragging rights. They are essential for bringing you back to those old games you would have never touched again.Who really wants to jump through rings to get something with no reward? Achievements, like much of the games industry, have much growing up to do before they are considered to be anything other than a superficial reason to keep people playing. One day there may be a perfect formula as to what good implementation of achievements will be, but until then, we will have to make do with the clichéd 100 head shots, collect so much Intel or the not soclichéd;'punch a horse in the face, killing it'.
Morality in games is such a common gameplay system now that most developers simply use it as an excuse for a 'do or don't' act, often not having any real consequential effects on your character or further gameplay experience. Many of these choices will have impacts on your character specifically, whilst having no emotional impact whatsoever on the player.
One of the reasons I've been thinking about this recently is down to my heavy Mass Effect 2 playing sessions. It felt quite refreshing to make some 'no turning back' decisions, which we now know will probably have quite a heavy effect on Mass Effect 3. These decisions can have a multitude of different size of effects on the overall outcome of the game but it was refreshing to be told that this choice is finite and, within the current game save, cannot be reversed. You could of course just load up a previous game save but in a game like mass effect would be an injustice to the emotional and cinematic draw of the story.
Many Fallout or Oblivion players will probably attest to having multiple game saves to figure out what the best course of actions are to work towards the best item or get a certain quest. I myself have succumbed to this, all to easy option. This often makes the outcome of a moral choice inconsequential, as, if the outcome is not as the player wishes, they can simply re-load a previous save state and carry on. Unlike Mass Effect 2, the act of re-loading old saves doesn't feel as detrimental to the experience in Fallout or Oblivion, however, it does destroy the feeling of your choices having any real weight, thus, destroying the need for a morality system in the first place. It's not that all players revert to old saves, it's just a common trait of certain games.
Grand Theft Auto IV had some simple but effective moral choices. These choices, as with many games released in the last few years had little impact on the world itself but in GTA's case, did have an emotional impact on the player. Being given the choice to kill a character who feels so alive and is begging for mercy can be one of the most grating experiences in gaming and Rockstar managed to capture it so well.
Morality in gaming is something which will continue to thrive as a feature in games for many years to come, it just feels a bit superficial at present. When given the choice to kill or let a character go, the player should really have to think about the decision. These choices should not just affect your immediate character, they should affect the game world and the player emotionally. If developers want to include morality as an element in their games, the impact of the decision being made will have to have far more impact on the player was greater, be this through greater exposition of characters or a cinematic story you actually care about. It will be some time before developers find a way to incorporate a perfectly tuned morality system into a game, but games like Mass Effect 2 and GTA are as good a grounding as any to start.
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