The GRID 2 Trophy Diaries: The 20 Dos and Don’ts of Creating a Trophy List
Written Friday, December 14, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Rather than just jump into what kind of list we want to create for GRID 2's achievements and trophies, we stripped everything back and asked ourselves this, “When creating a trophy list, what should we do and what shouldn’t we do?” We broke it down into 20 key “Dos” and “Don’ts” that we’ll be looking to stand by throughout the development process, and any potential developers out there, heed our warnings.
Without further ado, here's our tenets to live by when creating an achievement/trophy list:
1. Do encourage gamers to try all portions of your game – Achievements and trophies can be great incentives for gamers to wander off the beaten path, if only for a short time. Whether you have a great co-op mode like Portal 2, a superb map editor like Far Cry 3 or a hugely in-depth livery creation kit like in Forza, it’s a wise idea to encourage gamers to try it out. After all, if you can just hook one out of ten gamers and make them a huge fan of that mode, you could have a fan for life.
2. Do get the balance right – Balance is a huge factor in creating a great trophy list. If you’re a single-player game, then lean more towards the single-player in the trophies. If you spread those trophies across the single-player, then balance those rewards across said mode. It’s all well and good giving players a gold trophy for putting in the extra effort to do something majestic, but when you give them a bronze trophy for collecting a ridiculous amount of diamonds, then you’re doing it wrong. Far Cry 2, we’re looking at you, obviously.
3. Do get gamers to try something they might not usually attempt – We’re not talking trying out different portions of the game here, we’ve covered that. We’re talking something potentially wacky. Why not reward players for something they might not usually try, whether that’s completing Mirror’s Edge without firing a gun or taking a gnome from the start of Half Life Episode 2 and sticking it in a rocket that’s space-bound at the end of the chapter. It’s about rewarding someone for an experience they’ll never forget. If you’ve ever tried to get Gnome Chompski on the chopper in the Dark Carnival stage of Left 4 Dead 2, you’ll know what I mean. It's something a bit inventive.
4. Don’t waste trophies – Developers have 50 achievements and trophies (if they’re balancing the list across platforms), so for the love of all things holy, don’t waste achievements and trophies on doing completely dumb stuff. Make them count. Press start, get a trophy. It might be funny, for about a second, but when you think about it, it’s just a waste of a trophy. They’re called achievements and trophies for a reason, because you actually deserve and earn them.
5. Do use multiplayer trophies at your peril – Multiplayer trophies are generally considered the devil’s spawn when it comes to online gameplay, but the truth is, they’re almost a necessary evil. Developers will spend months developing these modes so it’s pretty stupid if they’re not going to put them in there. That said, recognise what your game is about and reward players accordingly. If you’re a single-player game, don’t kid yourself, focus your efforts there. Don’t throw trophies at tacked-on multiplayer modes thinking that you’ll persuade people to fall in love with that aspect. Chances are that’ll never happen and you’ll only annoy the players who love the single-player in the long-term. Don’t ruin your online mode either, by forcing players to play a certain way. You’ll just be spoiling it for the ones that actually enjoy it. In other words, be clever with their use and think about them. More so than the single-player ones.
6. Do be creative – Achievements and trophies are another outlet for creativity and can entertain the folks who play your game and enhance their experience further. If you’re going to treat them like a mathematical formula, then that’ll come across in your list. Be creative where possible and use them as another outlet to show your passion for that game. If you have 50 achievements and trophies in your game and 30-40 of them are based on a “by-the-numbers” formula, it’s going to come across as sloppy… and no-one wants that. If you create games in a yearly iterative model, copy and paste achievement and trophy lists are going to show gamers that you’ve really run out of ideas. That, my friends, is a sure fire way to put them off before they’ve even played the game.
7. Don’t be lazy – It speaks for itself, or so you’d think, but so many developers fall foul of this. Whether it’s the aforementioned copy & paste lists that many sports games adopt or the lack of imagination in everything from the criteria, the tiles and the trophy titles. A perfect example of this is Forza Motorsport 3, which is probably the laziest list in recent years. You’ve only got to have a quick glance at it and it’ll make your blood boil. 5 achievements titled “Car Level *insert number*; 18 achievements titled “Driver Level *insert number*; and 6 achievements titled “Year *insert number.* All that from a top development studio as well… It’s simply not good enough.
8. Don’t make gamers grind to get achievements/trophies – If there’s one terrible achievement and trophy type out there, it’s the one that requires you to grind. Grinding isn’t fun. In fact, the whole idea is counter productive and will often leave a sour taste in a gamer’s mouth. Incidentally, it’ll be one of the standout things they take away from your game too. They’ll mention it when the game comes up in conversations with friends and they’ll certainly think about it when the sequel comes around, so no, don’t do it. Take Mafia II’s Jimmy’s Vendetta DLC for example and its ‘Explorer’ trophy, which requires you drive 1,000 miles. By the time you’ve finished the DLC you’ll be lucky to have reached 200, let alone 1,000, so in order to get it, you’re going to have to grind. Know your game, know your audience and reflect that in the achievements and trophies.
9. Do use them to show gamers something cool – Dear developers, if you’re going to spend the time and effort putting amazing Easter eggs in your game, then do the right thing and reward players for seeking them out. Why? Because a.) they’re seeing something that they might not have seen before; and b.) it shows you how much effort you actually put into the game. X-Men Origins: Wolverine had some cool Easter eggs, and what’s even better was that Raven rewarded you for seeking them out. Valve does the same, and so should every developer.
10. Don’t be lazy with your tiles – Nothing screams “I don’t care!” more than copy & pasted achievement and trophy tiles. For one, it’s fugly. For two, it’s lazy. Two things that you should never wanted associated with your game. Not even in the achievement or trophy list. Too many developers are copying and pasting tiles and tweaking them to make them fit. Not cool, folks. Just take a look at the Fallout 3 list, the Borderlands 2 list, the Dead Rising 2 list, and you’ll see how to do it right. You have art guys, use them. Don’t make them an afterthought, treat them as an integral part of the process, which they are. Oh, and don’t use them as advertising tools. That’s a bit of your soul you’ll never get back.
11. Don’t be lazy with your titles – The first thing people see when an achievement and trophy pops is the relevant unlockable’s name. This is your moment to suck them in, make them smile, entertain them, and more importantly, ingrain that moment of your game on their memory forever. FOREVER! I hate to mention Forza 3 again – I don’t, it’s a bland list and should be publicly berated for that at every opportunity so it doesn’t happen again – but seeing “Driver Level 1” will do nothing to get that player to remember that specific moment. Use them as ways to get your tenterhooks into a player. Make them smile. Make them chuckle. Make them tell their friends.
12. Do make nods to other games and pop culture – The tiles and the titles in combination with one another can be brilliant ways to reach a gamer on another level – with nostalgia or association. Bulletstorm is a great example of doing this with a sprinkling of memes dotted throughout. Over the years we’ve seen DeLorean trophies, Bumblebee trophies, John McEnroe nods, developers quoting Shakespeare, and more. If you want to make sure your achievement and trophy, and ultimately, your game, is remembered, then tie it in with something relevant. Don’t use “I’ll Be Back” quotes from the 90s unless you can make them relevant though.
13. Do play to the strengths of your game – If you have something truly unique and cool about your game, then make sure that it’s a big focus of the achievement and trophy list. Do you have dual hidden blades? Then make that a focus. Do you have a dildo that doubles up as a baseball bat? Then shout it from the rooftops by promoting it in the achievement and trophy list. Use them as a tool to publicly tell gamers the aspects of the game you’re most proud of; the areas you innovated in. After all, if you don’t do it with your truly individual aspects of your game, who the else is going to!?
14. Don’t leave the achievement/trophy unlocking down to luck – To achieve something is to apply “exertion, skill, practice, or perseverance” in order to accomplish something. To put that achievement in and base it entirely on luck is just ridiculous. There are numerous examples of this over the year and developers need to recognise that putting the emphasis on luck will do you no favours. Most random acts online shouldn’t have an achievement or trophy anywhere near them, you know, like shooting two players with one Spartan Laser shot in Halo 3. For one, you need a Spartan Laser, and secondly, you have to be lucky to have two players lined up in a row. Then there’s stuff like rewarding players for getting a Royal Flush, the odds of which are around 650,000 to one. That’s not skill, that’s luck, and chances are most of you won’t see one in your lifetime!
15. Do make your achievements/trophies always attainable – It’s perfectly acceptable to want to pick up a game from 2008 and still feel like you should be able to get all the achievements and trophies in it. I mean, why is that such an unfair thing to ask? Now, this is where multiplayer achievements and trophies get tricky with server closures, but there is an out. Take Mass Effect 3 for example: it’s only right that BioWare would want to encourage people to play its newly created multiplayer mode. They spent a lot of time creating it. What the studio did was make multiplayer achievements and slap a single-player criteria on them, so those players who are single-player orientated can still get them and should the servers close, the achievements and trophies remain achievable. That’s how you do it. If not, you’re going to annoy a lot of gamers and open up the floodgates to the outpouring of frustration on your forums and via social media channels. It’s not worth the hassle, so plan ahead.
16. Do reward players for “wow” moments – The second-to-second gameplay moments, the ones that stand out and are likely to cause “wow” moments, those are the tasks that developers should be rewarding. Ubisoft Montreal is great at doing this, especially with the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Take ACIII as an example, the Spit Roast achievement and trophy, where you're rewarded for performing a double assassination with a musket. I don’t know about anyone else, but personally, when that dropped, that was one hell of a cool moment and one I can clearly remember. Making that connection between cool moments and rewarding players for performing them, well, that’s a sure fire way to have a lasting impression of a game.
17. Do use all your allotted amount – You have 50, so bloody well use all 50. If you only use 45, then you’re not fully utilising your allotment, and honestly, it just comes across as lazy. Achievements and trophies are there for you to promote the best aspects of your game, so when you can’t use all of them, it looks like you don’t have enough strong aspects of your game that warrant being highlighted.
18. Don’t make it too easy – Achievement and trophy “whores” will lambast me for this, but making your list too easy will detract from the game somewhat. When I say somewhat, I have to ask, how many of you out there who have Avatar: The Last Airbender on their 360 gamercard actually got past the first five minutes after they had unlocked the full 1,000G? Honestly, I’ve not met one person who did. There is an optimal balance to be achieved when creating a list and making them too easy can be a cardinal sin. You don’t want to be rental fodder, after all. That’s not helping anyone.
19. Don’t make it too hard – Similarly, don’t make the list too hard. There is a possibility that insanely difficult achievements and trophies could put off potential players, not just from even trying to get the reward, but playing the game to start with. It’s not prevalent, but it does happen. Like I said previously, there’s an optimal balance and making them too hard will either frustrate a gamer who’s going for it, or it could even go as far as to intimidate them. People play games for fun, and yes, while there should be a level of challenge involved, don’t steer too far away from that optimal level. We’re talking to you, Japanese developers.
20. Don’t make it too time consuming – Last, but by no means least, the worst thing you can do is make an achievement and trophy list too time consuming. If it takes you 10 hours to complete the single-player campaign, it shouldn’t take you 1,000 hours to complete the list. That’s just ludicrous. Lost Planet 2 was an example of this. We’re not saying make it 10 hours long, hell no. But don’t go too far the other way and make it 1,000 hours. Of course, genres should come into play here and if you’re churning out a title every year, take that into consideration too. Striking a balance is the way forward. Heed our words.
So there you have it, our 20 “Dos and Don’ts” and advice we’ll be taking into the development of the GRID 2 achievement and trophy list. What do you think? Are we right? Are we wrong? Have we missed something? Let us know in the comments.