It was recently revealed that Sony would be allowing a bit of a different approach to trophies for Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain. Rather than bestowing trophies upon the player as he performs certain actions or passes certain milestones, they would instead be withheld until the end of each chapter, so as not to interrupt the gameplay.
Sounds like a pretty simple, inconsequential idea, right? The repercussions of this sort of approach might be even greater than you think, potentially going as far as fixing what many dislike about achievements/trophies altogether – if other studios get on-board. Read on to see how the world of gamerscores and trophy collections could soon be turned on its head.
I’m a person who has never had a huge problem with achievements (I’m going to use “achievements” from here on, because the gaming world still lacks an all-encompassing term). Sure, there are plenty of people out there who are way too concerned with getting every little achievement and proudly displaying their collections, and certain achievements can be just ridiculous (any given JRPG, I’m looking at you). But on the whole, they add to games rather than detracting from them.
There are some notable exceptions to this, however. Firstly, if you’re a person who believes highly in immersion, then you’ll recognize the power of achievement notifications to very quickly take you out of the game’s experience. Nothing’s worse than reveling in your triumph over an especially difficult boss only to have a little window pop up over the ensuing cutscene. “Oh really, game? I just beat the boss? I had no idea!”
There’s also the problem of screwing with natural story progression. I’m guilty of peeking at a game’s achievements before or while I play, hoping to get as much out of the experience as I can. “Is there some optional side quest that I should be aware of?” “Should I make choice A or choice B?” “Should I shoot potted plants for no apparent reason?” But worst of all, I’ve sometimes asked myself, “Should I alter the way that I play through the story in order to get certain achievements?”
If implemented properly, Quantic Dream’s idea could go a long way toward solving both of these problems. The development team specifically mentioned the desire to avoid breaking tension in an effort to preserve the player’s mood throughout a sequence. While immersion isn’t mentioned by name here, that seems to be the idea. If you want to keep the player in the moment, don’t throw a chime and a pop-up into a pivotal scene.
But what isn’t mentioned by Quantic Dream is how this might significantly change the experience for players, not only in what they see but in how they play. The mere presence of achievement notifications in a game is something that often becomes hard to resist: like Pringles, once you pop, you just can’t stop. You gain an achievement for befriending one character and suddenly you want to become best buddies with everyone in the game. Before you know it, you’re focused more on raising affection levels than actually playing through the plot.
Even worse is when you have a story with branching paths, as each path has a specific set of achievements associated with it that can only be earned by taking specific actions. Here, you might get to a certain point in the game, realize that you’ve gotten yourself on a path that will make you miss some major achievements, and start over. This can’t be what any development team intends.
By keeping the achievements out of the actual game experience, a lot of this could be avoided. If you’re not shown a bunch of achievements right from the start, then you won’t be tempted by those shiny trophies and that all-too-soothing sound.
Hell, if you ask me, trophies should be withheld from certain games until the credits roll. Then, it’s all about doing what you think you should do during the actual experience, and seeing your results afterward without being influenced by what you think the game wants you to do. This is how we played games for years upon years.
Sure, people are still going to look online at achievement lists, and despite the fact that many developers now make their story-related achievements “hidden,” they can easily be found in a quick Google search. And, honestly, I’m sure that I’ll still approach games, to some extent, with the intention of experiencing all of the content that I can, and if this means making a shot at all of the achievements, then so be it.
But I’ll definitely complete a first run of Heavy Rain without so much as a glimpse at the trophies, and I think the idea of keeping achievements out of your actual playtime is a wonderful idea for truly story-driven games. While it may not make everyone love achievements and trophies overnight, it will go a long way toward making them a less obtrusive part of an immersive experience.
So, is Quantic Dream’s approach to trophies something that more games should follow, or will you be jonesing for the ding sound?