When I first discovered the XONE Bros podcast it was exactly what I was looking for in a gaming podcast. The mainstream casts steamed to look down upon the average gamer from their high tower and speak as if they are the end all when it comes to the gaming industry. The Bros changed that and I didn’t think I would need another gaming podcast, honestly, and then David did an interview with Brandon Fream...
Brandon is the host of the Zed to Zed podcast which, to summarize, is an achievement hunting podcast. Now I will be honest, I am not a hunter and I don’t claim to be but these guys made it sound fun and the lengths at which they go to grasp these achievements is mind boggling to me. Whether it’s late night “boosting” sessions with friends or going to the extreme of having six Xbox’s connected to score multiplayer achievements, nothing is too far out there and they are willing to go to any length.
I decided I would try this journey, so I went over to Zed to Zed’s forums and signed up for their “Great Random To Do List”. Seemed simple enough at first, sign up, get 20 random achievements at the beginning of the month and do as many as I could. If I got one I was in random drawing for a prize, if I got the highest overall score I was in another drawing and so on and so forth. I looked at my list and it seemed daunting but I also noticed that is was going to make me play games that I had put on the shelf and would never touch again. This list made me dust them off it made me go back and realize that there may be experiences that I didn’t know where there. For instance, I had started a game called “The Bunker” and five minutes into this game I knew it wasn’t for me. Something about it turned me off and I couldn’t get into it. Looked at my list and saw that I needed to complete the game and choose a certain decision at the end to get the proper achievement. So I installed it and played, and what did I find? It was a story that started to suck me in, I started to fear for the main character and realized that I did like the game. Now, I only played it one time through and may never touch it again but I experienced something I never would have and I have achievement hunting to thank.
I needed to get to the source and figure out what drives the achievement hunter, why they do it. What turns them off hunting and are there things that game developers do that can absolutely drive the achievement hunter crazy. For this I turned to the one guy I knew on the Zed to Zed podcast whom we haven’t heard from. I like to call him the second in command over there, he is none other than the mysterious man from down under, Tarragon.
My first question was simple, “What drives you as a hunter?”
“I love achievement hunting primarily because it forces me to approach games in ways that are different from regular play. A well-done achievement list can make you explore parts of a game you never knew were there, or do things you didn't realize were possible. Another side of it is the feeling of fully completing, fully extracting everything you can out of a game. The achievement list is usually the best place to look to get a feel for what you need to do to complete a game. This can sometimes become an obsession, that feeling of getting 100% of the game. Finally, simply ticking over my score, steadily increasing it over time, ticking over those milestones, comparing myself to my peers on TrueAchievements - all of these gives that little dopamine hit, the same one you get when you hear the achievement unlocked noise. Achievement hunting is just fun.”
So, I had to know, "what is an example of a game doing it wrong? Are you talking about grindy achievements?”
“There are some cardinal sins of achievements. Achievements that require you to grind something out (repeat the same activity over and over again) well beyond what you'd get in normal play are certainly one of those. Excessive and pointless collectibles can be frustrating, although that's not as clear cut because sometimes there is fun in simply going on an Easter egg hunt. Probably the worst achievements from a design point of view are difficulty related achievements that don't "stack" - e.g. there is an achievement for beating a game on Easy, Normal, and Hard, but you need to actually play through the game three times to unlock them all, rather than just play on Hard and have them all unlock at once.”
I was beginning to understand what can drive the hunter crazy, I was reminded of two Zed to Zed cast members, Randy and Proulx, who in the past weeks had been talking about having to complete Perfect Dark multiple times to get difficulty achievements that didn’t stack. I was beginning to understand but we had to dive deeper. One of my favorite games on the Xbox one is “Arkham Knight”. MrMcSpicey has been vocal on the collectible achievements in that game so I asked,
“Are the Riddler trophies what you could call a cardinal sin? Does a developer holding the whole story from you qualify as such?”
“See, I actually don't have an issue with that particular case. The secret ending in Arkham Knight is a reward for doing everything in the game, not just the Riddler trophies. It's a reward for getting 100% in the game, and the Riddler trophies and puzzles, which have been a staple of the series, are just a part of that. I think MrMcSpicey incorrectly associates the secret ending with the Riddler trophies, when there's actually more to it than that. That's a situation where there's actually a reason to collect them all as well - it gives you the secret ending. I may also be in the minority in that I enjoyed the Riddler trophies. For the Rock Steady developed games, many of the trophies are actually linked to little Easter eggs in the game that connect to Batman lore and the comics.”
I had to agree with him on this point, that particular games “Complete” ending makes no sense until you wrap up all loose ends of that game and he agreed:
“Exactly. A better example of collectibles done badly would be the infamous flags in Assassin's Creed, or the feathers in Assassin's Creed 2. In these titles, there was no way to buy an in game map to indicate which ones you'd collected and which you hadn't, so collecting them all was a real pain, particularly if you'd randomly been picking them up as you played through. A less clear example would the the orbs in Crackdown - these actually level up your character, so they have a purpose, although the sheer amount of them and the lack of in game tracking made them quite painful to complete."
"From a design point of view, having secret and non-marked collectibles is fine as long as there aren't that many of them. Once you reach a certain critical mass, the game really should have a way to track them, even if this is unlocked later in the game. I think Mirror's Edge Catalyst does this - once you complete the story, you unlock a map view with most or all of the collectibles, so it becomes less of a pain to keep track of them all and hunt them down.”
I had to clarify a bit, so I asked “Did Black Flag do it better?”
“Yes; every Assassin's Creed since Brotherhood has had a good approach to collectibles, in that you can buy or unlock a map showing you where they all are. They are still ultimately a pointless time waster to extend the length of the game, but there is a certain satisfaction in hunting down everything.”
In listening to their Podcast, it had been said that it can be frustrating when you complete a game and then months later the developer adds an update to the base game that adds more achievements. So, I asked,
“I have heard other folks, i.e. Randy, speak of how they can get frustrated when they complete a game, all achievements collected, and then the developer drops a game update that adds more achievements to the base game. Can this be frustrating or do most hunters look at this an opportunity to go back and play a that game again?”
“It would highly depend on the game I think. With long running and popular multiplayer games such as Destiny or Overwatch, you expect that there will be content drops that add achievements, and that's just an accepted part of the model. For single player games, it becomes less clear from an achievement perspective. Many achievement hunters prefer to play through and complete a game and be done with it, so a surprise title update or downloadable content drop that adds achievements can be pretty frustrating. One case that really burnt Freamwhole was Omerta: City of Gangsters, which unexpectedly dropped a DLC pack a full year after it had been released, taking away his completion. Many achievement hunters also rent games - so DLC being added means they need to re-rent titles and also pay for DLC in order to get their completion back.”
He had more to say on what and what isn’t a completion.
“Completion is an interesting term though; there are several schools of thought about what a completion actually is: some take it to mean the base 1000 gamerscore in a game and ignore the DLC (often referred to as a "base completion"); some treat all gamerscore in a game as part of the completion; others who aren't focused on gamerscore at all will be happy with just finishing the story in a game and call that complete. None of these views are inherently wrong, but it can certainly cause a lot of heated debate.”
While I was wrapping up I couldn’t waste this opportunity to ask about True Achievements. He is a member of their staff after all and when would I get this opportunity again;
“What does a site like True Achievements mean to the Achievement Hunting community?”
“I don't think achievement hunting would be anywhere near as refined without a site like TrueAchievements (also known as TA). It's one of the only real places where you can compare your gamerscore (and their proprietary TrueAchievement score) against like-minded gamers, and the guides, game information and walkthroughs are absolutely invaluable as a resource for the dedicated completionist. On top of this, the boosting sessions (where gamers can meet up to work specifically on achievements in multiplayer games) are a huge boon for people looking for those more obscure or particularly grindy multiplayer achievements. If you have an old game with dead multiplayer, and you want those achievements, they are basically impossible unless you can find some other likeminded people to play that game with. TA enables access to many achievements that would simply be out of scope for most players due to lack of population or lack of information.”
It was truly insightful on seeing what made these guys tick. I noted to him at the end that I used the True Achievement app, snapped, many times while playing a game to try and track down that elusive achievement. At the time of print this was still possible but the Xbox One does have an update that will render this unusable we believe.
There was a bunch more question I had for him. He is the master of his craft and I knew that he would be willing to talk to me for hours on achievement hunting, it was his passion. I also had a burning inside of me, I wanted to become a hunter. I knew I couldn’t start off as an expert but I could be a beginner and with that I needed to learn my own lessons. So I ended our conversation for now and promised that when I fully dived in we would continue our talk. In our conversation, I didn’t realize that I had already taken the first step down this road a year ago, I did what others say is tedious and monotonous, I am one of those that completed Arkham Knight, all Riddler trophies, all villains. I take pride in that achievement and the screen shot I took with it. As I look at that screen shot today I realized, between my talk with Tarragon and my fire to complete this one game, I was no longer the hunted, I was The Hunter and no game is safe from completion.
*Tarragon can be found on Xbox Live at zzUrbanSpaceman that tag; on Twitter as @zzurbanspaceman , and on TrueAchievements (http://www.trueachievements.com/) as zzUrbanSpaceman. He is also one of the hosts of the Zed to Zed podcast for achievement hunters, which can be found on iTunes or other podcast apps, or on our website at http://www.zedtozed.com/.
Lives in South Dakota with his wife, Aneliese, and four children. He currently works as FedEx as a driver and moon lights as a manager at a bowling alley. He writes the openings for the XOne Bro's Podcast and can be found on twitter at @XoneSilence42 and XBox Live at Silence42.