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Achievement Creation Guidelines

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cirellio
Posted: 16 Oct, 2014 14:00
Last Edit: 22 Oct, 2014 13:11
This community has always been small, but it is ever-growing.
In light of recent events, it appears we need to set some achievement guidelines.

I know I have opinions about how an achievement set should be, but at the same time I know that all developers work on games differently and no two people would ever end up with the same achievement sets. This 'personality' is part of the fun. Therefore what I will be talking about is Achievement Creation Theory, and what is generally more preferred and less preferred. And this is a discussion where all views are welcome, even if we won't come to a unanimous decision.

First, let's talk about Progression-based achievements.

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PROGRESSION
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There are different schools of thought on this.

Some people dislike storyline Progression Achievements altogether, since they are 'freebies'. (In my experience, these people are very few, but very vocal.) Others love them, or even complain if their favorite scene is not represented in achievement form (These people are also vocal).

The most memorable moments in gaming history are often not related to item collection or sidequests, but to specific scenes relating to the story.

Story-based Progression:

Examples:
• First encounter with Pyramid Head in the Silent Hill series.
• Finding out the truth about Darth Revan in Knights of the Old Republic.
• Finding out what will happen in the future in Chrono Trigger.
• Launching the Cow in Earthworm Jim.
• Pretty much any character death.

Cirellio's notes: The thing you have to be extra-careful with here is spoilers. If you catch a progression-based achievement that has a spoiler in it, by all means contact the dev about it. And devs, please be receptive when it comes to constructive criticism! Also, the number and even percentage of these will vary from game to game--The dependance lies heavily upon how story-driven the game is.

Progression/Collection is a common hybrid. Not only are you collecting an item, but it also launches into a memorable (and mandatory) scene.

Examples:
• Obtaining the Master Sword in Link to the Past, which lifts the curse in the Lost Woods.
• Finding the sword on the beach in Link's Awakening, which launches into the first scene where the wise owl speaks to you.
• Picking your starter Pokemon, which happens during a beginning scene, but is a 'rite of passage' for most gamers.

Cirellio's Notes: Achievements in this hybrid category are often more satisfying because they are pulling double-duty. The player is not only obtaining an item, but watching a memorable scene and nabbing an achievement all at once. Quite the rush of endorphins!

Simple Progression:
Progression-based achievements are usually simpler than what is listed above, especially if the game you are doing is nothing but linear stages, or doesn't have much going on in the way of storylines. In this case, let's look at some GOOD and BAD examples of this:

• Good: Clear stage 1.
• Bad: Reach stage 1.

Cirellio's notes: It takes slightly more work to code an achievement where the player is required to clear the stage rather than simply reach it, but it is also much more satisfying for the player, and it is much more professional-looking. It is also less susceptible to problems with players loading save games or savestates for freebie achievements en masse.

• Good: Complete the game.
• Bad: Start the game.

Cirellio's notes: While it is true progression-based achievements are often freebies, it is generally agreed upon here that an achievement to start the game is a bit too easy, and not at all memorable for the player. It's just a formality. The ending of the game, however, is often the most memorable part of a game for a player, and completing a game is definitely an achievement in itself.

• Good: Cleared the ice theme stages, or Cleared the first five stages, or Cleared the first ten stages.
• Bad: Complete Stage 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-200 (all separate achievements)

Cirellio's notes: One of the worst things you can do is create achievement spam. Puzzle games are notorious for these kinds of problems, because the stages are short and often, there are one-hundred of them or more. As a result, the main page feed ends up with a lot of micro-updates, which spams other folks' achievements down and off the front page quickly. The way to come off as more professional in this matter is to space out the achievements a bit more, into groups of stages. For instance, if stages 1-10 are all fire themed, and stages 11-20 are all outer-space themed, you can create achievements around these themes. Be creative.

Next, I will talk about Sidequest/Optional Achievements.

cirellio
Posted: 16 Oct, 2014 15:53
Last Edit: 21 Oct, 2014 15:14
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SIDEQUEST/OPTIONAL
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If your game is only progression-based achievements, not only is that not very fun for the player, but it also kind of shows that the developer who worked on the game was either lazy with the set, or just doesn't know the ins and outs of that game very well.

There are often things the player can do that are confined to the rules of the game, but aren't necessary to complete it. In other words, a challenge built into the game by the original game developers. Usually they are fun. Or sometimes not so fun, but deserve an award because they require hard work and persistence to achieve. (You have to walk a fine tightrope between if dedicated players are likely to do something, vs. if the goal is asinine. People will have differing views over this, so steel yourself. More on this later.) Often times, these types of achievements are even Easter Eggs or things the player never knew existed in their entire lives! Many players adore these types of achievements. I think it's because they learn something new about a game they grew up with, or feel like maybe they were the only ones who knew about a given secret and were excited to see it supported here. It's important for us developers to REALLY know a game inside-and-out before creating an achievement set.

Examples of Sidequests:
• Delivering tails to the Tail Collector in Final Fantasy IV.
• Finding the owner of the Insignificant Item in Earthbound.
• Giving the Jerky to the King in Guardia Castle.
• Anju sidequest in Majora's Mask.
• Learning about Wrex's past in Mass Effect.
• Diplomat/VIP escort missions in Flashback: The Quest for Identity.
• Discovering a secret room.

Cirellio's notes: Sidequests are most often found in RPGs, but especially these days, sidequests are finding their way into just about every genre. Keep your eyes peeled--Even the unsuspecting platformer may have a sidequest or three. The Kirby series, for instance, has many hidden rooms and areas. Often times, sidequests end up awarding an item, which falls under a hybrid: Sidequest/Collection. Some examples of this are already listed above.

As an aside, the reason I keep mentioning hybrids is because studies show when a player earns an achievement for multiple reasons, or even multiple achievements at once, they get an endorphin rush. Studies also show when a challenging achievement pops unexpectedly, but is earned, the player gets an even larger endorphin rush. Viva la Science!

Examples of Optional Dev Challenges:
• Optional bosses.
• Clearing a challenge dungeon (which is a hybrid of Sidequest).
• Completing Expert Mode (which is a hybrid of Progression).
• Completing a secret challenge level.
• Getting an exceptionally rare drop off of a monster.
• Clearing the game with an optional character.
• Getting a high score.
• Completing features only unlocked on a second playthrough.
• Game modes that are only unlocked on multiple playthroughs.
• Optional game endings.
• Codes you can enter during the title screen to make the game harder.

Cirellio's notes: This is the game makers hoping you'll like their game enough to keep coming back for more, even after those ending credits scroll by. They are trying to reward the player for completing their game, and create some form of satisfying re-playability. If the game makers went to the trouble making things like this an integral part of the game, we as achievement developers should recognize these challenges and create appropriate achievements for at least a few of them. Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and Star Ocean: The Second Story are famous for this. The Game Boy Advance Castlevania entries also do this. In fact, many games do this. If you aren't sure if your game has any extra modes or challenges, be sure to do some research and check out some FAQs. Or heck, even ask the community here. Many of us are experts on the games supported here.

Examples of Optional/For Fun:
• Letting the clock hit 99:59 in Valkyrie Profile.
• Interactive backgrounds, such as poking the hanging dead body in stage 1 of Castlevania: Bloodlines.
• Cooking the hamster in the microwave in Maniac Mansion.
• Watching the apocalypse in Majora's Mask.
• Finding John Romero in Doom 2.

Cirellio's notes: Sometimes, game makers add fun easter eggs. They went the extra mile to entertain the player with 'what if's'. Again, it is our job as devs to recognize and support these as much as we can (without inundating the player--As usual, common sense and good judgment rules the day. It is very possible a dev will not support a specific game feature, or maybe they forgot, or maybe they have a very good reason why--Ask them.). And OHMYGOD, people love these kinds of achievements to death.

Sidequest/Collection is a common hybrid. In many cases the whole purpose of a sidequest is to obtain an item or powerup. Optional/Collection is also a common hybrid. Most collection-based achievements are optional, unless the items themselves are MacGuffins, which in that case they would fall squarely under Progression/Collection. (Note I am literally inventing new terms here, and doing my best to cover everything. As of this date, there's not much material on the internet about achievement creation theory.)

Examples:
• Finding the Mickey hats hidden in the background to obtain 1-ups in Genesis Aladdin.
• Riding Yoshi for the first time.
• Finding exceptionally well-hidden items.
• Bestiaries.
• Unlocking an optional character.
• Maxing out Money/kills/stats.
• Finding all the different ways to die in games like Prince of Persia or Shadowgate.
• Opening every treasure chest in a game/finding every powerup.
• All items/Collecting 99 or 255 (etc.) of an item.
• Catching them all in Pokemon (any monster collection, really.)

Cirellio's notes: If the game keeps track of a stat, the game developer is practically daring you to max it out. Now you might be that kind of player, and you might not. You have to ask yourself, as a dev, whether or not other players are likely to get 9999 vampire bat kills, even if you wouldn't. The advantages to this are that people who wouldn't normally do this always have something to come back and work for when they feel like playing the game again. The disadvantage is that other players who wouldn't normally go that far and never would, but also feel like they have to MASTER every game quickly (a rare breed), will complain. If you get enough complaints, you might want to bring down that 9999 to something more reasonable, like 500. At the end of the day, if no one's having fun with an achievement, it's not in the spirit of playing games or making achievements.

Let's look at some GOOD and BAD examples of these kinds of achievements:
• Good: Defeat x enemy.
• Bad: Encounter x enemy.

• Good: Clear time attack mode with a record time.
• Bad: Unlock time attack mode.

• Good: Find the rarest item in the game.
• Bad: Find 99 of the rarest item in the game.

Cirellio's notes: You have to use your better judgment here and think of what the player would enjoy the most. As a rule of thumb, it's better to have a few Sidequest/Optional Achievements than none at all. But with a little extra effort, these achievements can make your list very memorable.

Next, it's time to roll up our sleeves as devs and get REALLY creative. Yep, I'm talking about Challenge Achievements, when the devs themselves challenge the player beyond the rules of the game.

cirellio
Posted: 16 Oct, 2014 16:12
Last Edit: 29 Oct, 2014 20:43
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CHALLENGE
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So let's say you have a nice list of achievements that fit the criteria for the first two posts. Great!

But one thing that you have to remember about retro gamers--and the games they play--is that most of us have played these games a million times before. This is the same old song and dance for most of us, and we often need motivation to do it again. Some of us can clear Contra without losing a single life. Well, now is our chance to prove it!

I mean, think about it: Before this website, about the only way to prove you can do a flawless run of Contra was to invite a friend over, sit him down, and show him, or figure out recording software and make a YouTube video. But even then, a lot of those videos are doctored to look like flawless playthroughs. This site, however, has Hardcore mode, which goes very far to help ensure no one is cheating.

You may have Progression Achievements and Sidequest/Optional Achievements, but if you want to create an achievement list that's truly great, you need at least a few Challenge Achievements. Try to think back to all the games you've played here at this website. What are some of the most memorable achievements? I can almost guarantee you that they were Challenge Achievements. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but the typical player isn't going to fondly recall 'Unlocked the Blacksmith skill', 'Cleared Stage 2-6', or 'Reached Level 30'. They are more likely to fondly remember achievements that made their play-throughs a unique experience, such as...



That, my friends, is what makes this website so special, and what makes achievements something more than just beating a game.

Even the most vocal critics who hate the idea of Achievements may say, "Well, except for THIS one. This one was okay." And I guarantee you that ONE example they're talking about is a Challenge Achievement, something that challenged the player beyond the game itself.

A good achievement developer will keep their eyes peeled, their wits about them, and their senses sharp when developing a game, looking for good, unusual challenges. They may notice something in the game that's a difficult feat. Perhaps they'll challenge you to beat stage 2-3 in under 1 minute. Perhaps they want you to clear a stage with only 1 second remaining. Perhaps they want you to get through the entire game without ever picking up a powerup or coin. Perhaps they want you to defeat a boss without ever getting hit.

Examples of Speedrun Challenges:
• Completing a game in under one hour.
• Clearing a specific stage in under three minutes.
• Leaderboard - Complete the game with the fastest time possible.
• Leaderboard - Complete a given stage with the fastest time possible.

Cirellio's notes: Timers introduce an added pressure players may have never felt before while playing their favorite games. Few things get the heart pumping more than an imposing ticking clock. Add a timer element, and a game that was previously so easy they could beat it blindfolded could suddenly be transformed into the ultimate gaming challenge of their lives.

A dev may want to head out to YouTube or Twitch and see how fast people are finishing a game (And please ignore TAS - "Tool assisted speedruns"). Some pro speed-runners are so fast, the typical player here won't stand a chance at the times being posted, but you should be able to find a happy medium. And if you can't figure out a good time to challenge the players here, that''s what Leaderboards are for--Turn it into a competition! In fact, some of your favorite celebrity speed-runners may come to this very site and submit a time or two.

Another fantastic use of watching speed-runs is that you may learn new tricks about the game you're developing, and you may want to challenge players to discover some of these tricks. AGAIN, good judgment rules the day. Don''t include things that the typical player could never discover. And be sure to drop a hint or two into the challenge achievements you make so the player isn't totally in the dark. Which brings us to...

Examples of Limitation Challenges:
• Clear a battle or even an entire game with all characters of a specific job class. (One famous example of this is clearing the original Final Fantasy with a group of White Mages.)
• Beat a final boss with no equipment on.
• Clear a stage without ever jumping.
• Solve a puzzle in only two moves.
• One-hit KOs.
• Low level games (LLGs).
• No hit achievements.
• Never hit certain button(s) during a challenge.
• Never lose invincibility through an entire Mario 3 stage by finding enough Starmen.
• Defeat a certain enemy without using a certain move.
• Reaching Ganon in Legend of Zelda, sword-less.
• Defeat a certain enemy ONLY using a certain move.
• Stumble your way through a maze while drunk/confused.
• Clear the game with a status ailment.

Cirellio's notes: Community websites built around certain games are a fantastic resource for these kinds of achievements They'll have a good idea about what's possible and impossible, and have likely written up FAQs discussing alternative and challenging ways to play the entire game.

Often times, though, there will be no community. No FAQs. No Message Board. And maybe even no useful videos. In these cases, you'll need to be an idea person to come up with new and interesting ways to challenge the player, and I'll admit these kinds of achievements take a lot of practice, time, and experience to create.

Sometimes I'll come up with a great new way to challenge the player, but then discover due to the limitations in the game's memory (or other limitations), I won't be able to create it. Or maybe I'll even discover it's not as challenging as I thought! So even those of us with coding experience have to crumple and throw our ideas out every now and then. Practice, practice, practice. Make some basic sets, and before you know it, you'll be making memorable, engaging achievements. Even if a few of the Challenge Achievements you've made are buggy and need fixed, the end result is always worth it.

The takeaway here is to BE CREATIVE! And remember to keep it FUN!

A fair warning: One thing we tend to shy away from is glitches. Glitchery. Glitchcraft. I will say this though... I think there are exceptions to the rule. Use your best judgment and remember to take feedback well! Because ~90% of the time, when you make an achievement that is based around a glitch, people will call to have it demoted. Perhaps it's better to take the high road and just protect your achievements against game-breaking glitches.

A few more type of Challenge Achievements comes to mind...

Examples of Score Challenges:
• Completing a game or level with the lowest possible score.
• Complete a minigame with a perfect score (not just topping the CPU leaderboard).
• Leaderboard - Complete the game with the highest score/most money/best kill count/etc. possible.
• Leaderboard - Complete a given stage with the highest score/most money/best kill count/etc. possible.

Cirellio's notes: Not much to say here. This is something hardcore players love to sink their teeth into, and a call to challenge everyone else to step up their game.

Then there's Timer/Pressure Challenges, those situations where the game itself brings up a clock that ticks down to destruction. Metroid is a popular series that does this. Also Metal Gear. A Timer Challenge achievement would add additional pressure to the player, asking them to achieve something while the clock is ticking.

Examples of Timer/Pressure Challenges:
• Undercut the timer by a certain number of seconds.
• Kill 30 vampire bats during the escape sequence.
• Collect 99 bonus coins before the bonus screen fades away.
• Go from point A to point B before day changes to night.

Cirellio's notes: You'll know when you're facing a pressure achievement when your palms are sweating and you find yourself nervously glancing at the timer. Like I said before, nothing screams, "Wake up!" louder than a timer, especially when developers start weaving this kind of achievement with OTHER kinds of achievements (and even leaderboards) during a timed portion of a game. Timer Challenges have an insane amount of synergy with other types of achievements.

Just one more achievement type to talk about: Unique Achievements are your best opportunity to be creative and innovate.

cirellio
Posted: 16 Oct, 2014 16:12
Last Edit: 29 Oct, 2014 20:47
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UNIQUE ACHIEVEMENTS
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This is going to be a shorter section, simply because it's such a broad topic I could talk about it forever. But I'd much rather just offer you a snapshot of what these achievements typically look like and let your creativity guide you from there.

If you thought you were being creative before with Challenge Achievements, Unique Achievements scream creativity from high on the mountaintops. They fall in that fuzzy area of achievement making that cannot be easily categorized.

We're talking about achievements that break the fourth wall with the player, achievements that are just there for comedic timing, mystery achievements, quiz-based achievements, booby-prize achievements that pop only when the player is cheating, and silly achievements that have little-to-no bearing on gameplay but are creative in their own right.

That's not to say they're always humorous in nature, but they often are.

You'll end up with a higher percentage of Unique Achievements if the game you are working on has very little gameplay or challenge to it, and no storyline (Mario Paint, Color a Dinosaur). That's not to say there isn't room for Uniques in other games. For instance...

Examples of Unique Achievements:
• You may notice that you can equip a knight class with a book for a weapon, and come up with the achievement title "Knight and Wordy" (A play on the Weird Al song, "White and Nerdy").
• You may ask the player to name the main character after a famous explorer.
• You may pop up an achievement called, "Konami Man Disapproves!" if a player enters the Konami code successfully in Contra.
• You may even pop an achievement if the player screws up the code, but almost gets it. "Nice Try!"
• You may pop an achievement in Mario Paint if a player has drawn a line so long, the SNES runs out of memory and starts deleting the tail end of your line. "Out of Ink!"
• Jumping through a Wily door in Mega Man. "Know how to make an entrance".
• "Do a Barrel Roll".
• Shaking the whip around for a bit in Super Castlevania IV. "Whip it Good"

Cirellio's Notes: Creativity, folks! There's so much untapped potential here, it's ridiculous. Nothing injects more personality or sense of humor into lists than a fair peppering of Unique Achievements. Of course, you don't want to overdo it--Too much pepper spoils the pot.

Another Fair Warning: Try not to be too obscure with your references if you can help it. Inside jokes with your friends or references to indie films may help your own appreciation of the set, but it won't help other people so much as leave them confused. Also pop culture references that work today will certainly date your achievements 10+ years from now, so be careful and think twice when you go to make that set of 'Lady Gaga' achievements. I also recommend being mindful of people who do not live in the same country as you.

'Why Retro Achievements Matter' is up next, followed by a summation and my personal conclusions.

cirellio
Posted: 16 Oct, 2014 16:22
Last Edit: 29 Oct, 2014 20:49
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WHY RETRO ACHIEVEMENTS MATTER
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Do achievements even matter?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The answer to that question varies from person to person.

For a lot of people, the answer is no. Why have "arbitrary" achievements when the entire game is already there?

And to a certain extent, they're right--
Achievements are not here to provide more than what the game has to offer.

Instead, they allow us to encourage players to have a richer experience with their favorite titles, or help them discover new things about the games from their childhood. It's all about extending the life of our favorite games. Giving us a good reason to revisit our past. And we do that simply by showing what's been hiding in the depths of the gamecode all along.

(Now, I do understand that I'm preaching to the choir here, but if we take a moment to understand why achievements matter, we can better understand how we should go about creating better achievement lists for our games.)

We are tour guides. Our goal should be to give players more than what a typical play-through has to offer. We want players to see what they may not have seen before, explore where they may never have explored, and not just beat that boss, but utterly destroy him. And if it's their first time playing, great! We want to try and show them why we love this game so much, and why they should, too.

Us devs are here to showcase the rich, beautiful worlds that our favorite game developers (for many of us, our heroes) created while we were growing up. Our goal should be to prove that we love the games we're working on. We shouldn't be giving players the five dollar bus tour--We should be helping them climb every mountain, ford every stream, and even let them catch a glimpse of the colorful backstreets (tastefully!).

In the end, we want the player to feel like they've truly mastered the game.

If done right, we make a connection to the player by sharing the game experience with them. Then the player finds a new-found, or even richer, connection to the game. And the achievement list itself becomes greater than the sum of its parts. And--even if just as a footnote--it all becomes part of the game's history.


cirellio
Posted: 21 Oct, 2014 16:36
Last Edit: 27 Oct, 2014 14:22
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PROS AND CONS OF EACH ACHIEVEMENT TYPE
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This is a long section, so please bare with me as we weigh the pros and cons of each type of achievement. This will help us determine how many or what percentage of each type of achievement should be recommended for a gamelist.

*PROGRESSION Pros and Cons
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Progression Achievements are guaranteed to the player on a normal play-through. So why even have them?

Pros:
~~~~~~~~
• A player deserves points for playing through a game! They do! Remember, a lot of folks are playing through these games for the very first time, and most games are quite hard to beat. Why shouldn't we reward players for a good ol' normal play-through?

• Periodic progression awards go a long way to encourage players to complete a game.

• Some scenes are so memorable, they deserve achievements all their own! People who grew up with these games and love them look for these scenes in achievement lists, and it might just warm their heart when they see it was acknowledged.

• Some players are more casual and don't intend to do much more than beat games on this website. Not everyone feels the need to Master every game in Hardcore mode. Many are perfectly happy grabbing whatever convenient side-achievements they can during a normal play-through, and there's nothing wrong with that.

• Progression Achievements help other people on the website gauge how far along a player is in a game, a bit like Rich Presence. We can drop a line to the player and say, "Good luck!" because we know the next section is pretty tricky. It encourages the community to interact.

• Order matters! Progression Achievements can tell us a lot about a play-through just by the order they occurred. If you pop that optional boss achievement and saved up a million dollars AFTER you've already done all the sidequests, that's much less impressive than if you manage to pull it off well before the mid-point of the game. In other words, Progression Achievements allow us to show-off a bit! We can show the world that we can beat that final boss before we've reached level 10, or that we can beat Expert mode on our first go before Easy and Normal. It can even reveal if we've used glitches or cheats to skip certain portions of the game. So, as you can see, Progression Achievements have great SYNERGY with other kinds of achievements. (More on that later.)

• These kinds of achievements are the easiest to code and are generally error-free.

Cons:
~~~~~~~~
• Progression Achievements are 'freebies', to a certain extent. Players don't have to do anything beyond progressing through the game normally to earn these.

• These kinds of achievements are earned on a predictable schedule. It's no surprise to the player when yet another achievement pops up for beating yet another boss.

• Too many Progression Achievements can over-saturate a game with 'freebies', and that's a Very Bad Thing.

• If your entire game has nothing but these kinds of achievements, it's just another boring run through the game for players. Reach stage 2, Reach stage 3, Reach stage 4, Complete the Game. This is a great 'base' for you to start adding achievements from the other categories, but don't leave your list at just Progression Achievements if you can help it. Otherwise you're just rewarding players full points for going through the motions like they've done a million times before.

*SIDEQUEST/OPTIONAL Pros and Cons
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sidequest/Optional Achievements make fantastic supplements to Progression Achievements.

Pros:
~~~~~~~~
• This is the bread-and-butter of achievement making. Chances are, a good deal of your achievements will come from this category. All games have optional things to do. Collect all the coins in a stage! Gain 99 lives! Creating achievements for this stuff is easy, and it rewards the player for their dedication.

• Game makers love appreciative players. They seem to enjoy rewarding folks with optional scenes and bonus modes. They like it when players bother to dig deeper into their games, appreciating their hard work, otherwise we wouldn't see hidden 'fun' things in games like Easter Eggs, bonus scenes, etc. If game makers reward the players for doing it, why shouldn't we? Us devs should also recognize that the player has gone the extra mile. By including Sidequest/Optional Achievements, we are showing that we appreciate that the player went out of their way to get more enjoyment out of the game by beating that bonus mode or segueing into that optional bonus scene.

• Game players love telling their friends when they find something unusual and off the beaten path in a game. With this site, they can show their friends that they did indeed slay the elusive 'yellow frog' rarely seen in the marsh, or found the warp to the 'mystery dimension'. If we include these curiosities in our achievement lists, we show the players that we are 'in the know', which builds confidence that we can competently guide them through the game.

• An extension on that last one -- Players want to show proof that they completed a challenge. (WoT warning ... this is going to get DEEP.) Vintage games, on their own, offer little-to-no incentive to beat a bonus mode, other than that it's something to do on a rainy day after you've beaten the game. Old games didn't have internet connectivity. And they had no social aspects other than ... 2-player mode ... and maybe telling your friends at school that you beat something. The only way your friends would know for sure that you bothered to slog through that bonus stage is if you boot up the game and prove it to them. This wasn't quite such a problem for those of us with siblings, who would often sit down with us and share the experience of playing games together. Well, for the rest of us, the advent of the internet changed all that. Finally, we could talk with other like-minded gamers about the things we pulled off. Here, at this website, the interactivity of the internet has been brought to the next level for vintage games, and it's been a long time coming. Here, we can display our vintage trophies (even though it requires us to redo what we've probably already done many years ago). These trophies are badges of honor. You can look at another member's Challenge Achievements and begin to understand how far they went, how skilled they are. Along with that comes respect from the other members. We socialize, we congratulate each other on a job well done. We feel like we belong, and we are in good company. Yes, in case you didn't catch on, this kind of achievement is deeply rooted in the third and fourth tiers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Belonging and Esteem, respectively. Told ya it was gonna get deep).
tl;dr - Players have deeply ingrained needs to show off what they've achieved, especially to their esteemed peers.

• Sidequest/Optional Achievements give players something to strive for after they've beaten the game. If you are the type of player who hates reaching the end credits of a game you love because it feels like it's all over, these achievements offer more motivation than ever for you to come back and try to pull off what you couldn't pull off before, and discover something new. Thanks to these types of achievements, the game doesn't have to be 'over'.

• These kinds of achievements can often be earned at any time and are not on a predictable schedule. Players feel an extra rush of endorphins when an achievement pops that they weren't expecting, but it was earned.

• These kinds of achievements are usually easy to code, second only to progression-style achievements.

Cons:
~~~~~~~~
• Some players don't care to explore beyond what a typical play-through has to offer, so a high percentage of these types of achievements in a game can leave a player under-rewarded. (Granted, this type of gamer is a bit of a rare bird on a website centered around achievements.)

• Some people may feel a specific challenge is too hard, even if it's something the original game developers included in-game for players to achieve.

• When you create a Sidequest/Optional Achievement for, say, running away from 999 battles (or other stat-maxing achievements), you risk that the people on this website may not feel this particular achievement offers a challenge and is just a 'grind-fest'. Achievements like this may very well end up getting demoted unless they serve a second purpose, like in Final Fantasy V where running away from battles actually powers up a weapon called the 'Chicken Knife'. This has SYNERGY with the game, as opposed to creating an achievement based upon raising a stat that has no other use (More on this later, too).

• If your entire list consists of nothing but Progression Achievements and Sidequest/Optional Achievements, you've got a very strong base. You may even have an almost complete game at this point, especially if you've added rewards for fun things to do in the game, such as Mini-games, side quests, and finding Easter Eggs. But you really should consider adding Challenge Achievements and Unique Achievements, even if just a few! Just a sprinkling, just a dash! Maybe a bit more than that. It depends on the game. Sure, devs can always go the easy route and just code very simple "safe" achievements that are not prone to errors, such as reach level 10, reach level 20, reach level 30, get item x, get item y, get item z. But that would be boring. I strongly encourage you to go further.

*CHALLENGE Pros and Cons
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Challenge Achievements are your chance as devs to challenge the player beyond what the original game developers intended; It's our chance to show players how to play their favorite games in different, unique, and even mind-bending ways. While these achievements can breathe life into an otherwise dull achievement set, you generally only want a small handful of these to be in your final list.

Pros:
~~~~~~~~
• Hardcore players love sinking their teeth into these kinds of achievements.

• If some players are too hardcore, you can find a happy medium by implementing Leaderboards, which satisfies both the casual achievement hunters and the hardcore players all at once.

• This is your chance to be very creative and come up with new challenges for players they never expected. This can be a pleasant surprise and really make your lists memorable.

Cons:
~~~~~~~~
• These types of achievements require a fair amount of creativity to dream up, though there are many ways to research unusual ways to play games by watching things like speed runs.

• May require research.

• These can be notoriously difficult to code. In most cases quite a bit more difficult than Challenge achievements, and they require you to make a lot of code notes, make tons of game mechanic observations, and often times they require bug testing before they even work. In fact, you may not even be ready to tackle achievements like this until you've had a few games under your belt with a set of baseline achievements. Fortunately, Challenge Achievements can always be added later.

• You may come up with one of these and even go as far as coding it out, then discover it doesn't work due to game limitations, tool limitations, or maybe it just wasn't as challenging a goal as you'd hoped, and that could mean your hard work ends up being scrapped. But, as they say, you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.

*UNIQUE Pros and Cons
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Unique Achievements represent your best opportunity to do something unexpected or even quirky with your achievement lists. Typically the percentage of these kinds of achievements per game should be very low.

Pros:
~~~~~~~~
• This is your best opportunity to do things in achievement making that have never been done before. Most achievement innovation comes from this category.

• These can be just as memorable as Challenge Achievements.

Cons:
~~~~~~~~
• They require the most amount of creativity to create of all achievement types. It can be difficult to come up with these kinds of achievements.

• Sometimes what the dev comes up with might be too radical a departure from the list.

• Too many of these can get annoying to the player. You'd typically want a very low percentage of these kinds of achievements, if any at all.

• The player may not have the same sense of humor as you.

• If done in bad taste, these can ruin the moment of a scene, or even the whole game experience for the player.

Just one more section to go! I'd like to share some of the conclusions I've drawn from all of this, and open this up into discussion. From this thread, I'd really like to debate some of the ideas here and ultimately make a separate post that lays out some clear, easy to follow rules.

Thanks for sticking around so far!

cirellio
Posted: 21 Oct, 2014 17:03
Last Edit: 28 Oct, 2014 17:12
*************************
CIRELLIO'S CONCLUSIONS
*************************
Two Things:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
I believe two things: All games are different, and all devs are different.

For these two reasons, we cannot dictate that a certain game needs a certain percentage of each type of achievement.

What we can do, however, is strongly recommend a blend of all types of achievements. If you have created a game and the vast majority of your achievements fall under only one category, I urge you to consider adding at least a few achievements from other categories.

We should also recommend injecting your own brand of personality, humor, and a healthy dose of creativity into the games you choose to develop. We should recommend that devs should only work on games that they know well and love.

Most importantly, though, I think we should recommend 'good coverage'. That is, a game--and the challenges it presents--needs to be well covered by its achievement set.

Note that I didn't say 'full coverage'. Guiding the player to make sure they know how to do every little trick in the game and discover every hidden room and cutscene removes the inherent air of mystery vintage games typically have. We need to leave some room for the player to discover things on their own, especially if a given achievement does not fulfill two or more 'goals' for the player. Games that fulfill more than one goal for the player have good synergy with other achievements, or the game itself.

For instance, if an achievement is not difficult to obtain and does nothing for the player other than offer them a brief bonus cutscene that doesn't affect the plot and doesn't even offer the player an item, the achievement has feeble legs to stand on, and you should consider demoting it. There are other things to consider, such as effort required, rarity, humor, and the fame of the scene. But typically leaving these kinds of things for the player to discover on their own is an integral part of the allure of retro gaming.

We are like tour guides, yes, but even the best guides can't show travelers everything in their respective nations. A good tour guide will pick out the best sights to see, and leave it up to the traveler to discover more on their own. If we represent every nook and cranny of a game through our achievement lists, we run a good chance of boring or exhausting the player, and at the end of the day, we've not created an achievement list so much as a 100% walkthrough. Definitely something players can find elsewhere.

If you create an achievement for everything, the player will never be surprised when an achievement pops up. They know an achievement will pop for every single boss kill. They know an achievement will pop up when they unlock each and every character and the first time they pick up every single item. This is boring. Players want some surprises. They want something unexpected. Don't make all of your Challenge achievements no-hit achievements. Variety is the spice of life. Be creative.

The Law of Diminishing Returns states that with each new achievement you obtain, the return in value on that achievement becomes less and less for that game. This is why we don't want to over-saturate our games with too many achievements. Just because you can make 100+ achievements doesn't mean you should. Now some games, rarely, require this many achievements to have good coverage. But most games don't. Keep in mind the more achievements you cram into a game, the less of an emotional reaction you'll get from the player. For instance in a puzzle game, if every four levels the player faces a boss, they are going to feel a bigger emotional payoff for besting that boss and getting their first achievement than for clearing stages 1, 2, and 3 before that, then besting the boss and getting yet another achievement. That one achievement was more rewarding than four, and can be worth more points since no matter how many achievements you shoehorn into a single game, the point cap remains 400. The only real reason you'd have for abusing this is if you are trying to bolster your stat for the number of achievements awarded to other players, and these kinds of lists are dubious at best.

Oh yes, I believe one other thing: There are always Exceptions to the Rule.

I've stated many times to never code a 'Reach level x' achievement. But what about this?
"Welcome to the Jungle, Baby! - Reach Level 2"
Well, suddenly we have humor here through a reference. Maybe the Jungle stage is really hard, and you want to convey that message to the player. Maybe the game is a Guns'n Roses game, in which case you'd DEFINITELY want an achievement called "Welcome to the Jungle, Baby!". And it would be weird if it popped as you're destroying the stage 1 boss. Indeed, there are always Exceptions to the Rule.

Remember that the things stated here are simply recommendations. And there are exceptions to each and every one of my recommendations. You must use your best judgment. Always. In most cases this means Not Being Lazy. I guess you have to ask yourself whether or not you love the game you're working on to put in the extra effort. Know the game, and prove it.

On Redundancy:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
You should be careful to not create two achievements that do the Exact Same Thing. Ex: Clear Stage 4 and Start Stage 5. I implore you to demote or change one of them into something else. There are rare exceptions to this rule, such as if two plot points happen at the same time in a game, but you don't want to spoil this to a player. But in general, don't do it.

Another thing you want to do sparingly has to do with Sidequest/Optional achievements, especially ones that are presented in a 'series':
Find 10 power-ups!
Find 20 power-ups!
Find 30 power-ups!
Played for 30 hours!
Played for 60 hours!
Played for 90 hours!
A few of these are okay, but they are redundant by nature, and sometimes you're better off just leaving the 'Find 30 power-ups!' achievement and demoting the 20 and 10. I've seen entire lists with nothing but optional sets like this, and these lists are as dull to look at as they are to earn.

Finding a happy medium between Hardcore and Normal players:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
For some people, saving up 9 million dollars isn't enough (Think games like 'Duck Tales' for this example). They know they can clear the game with $99 million and want to prove it. This is where things like Leaderboards come into play. Don't force normal players to save up 99 million dollars through an achievement, turn it into a fun competition with a Leaderboard. This leaves the most hardcore players satisfied while still allowing you to create a reasonable achievement set so a Normal player has a chance to Master your game.

The difficulty of creating Challenge and Unique achievements:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Granted, creating Challenge and Unique Achievements can be far more difficult than a progression achievement.

Let's start with a 'Reach level 5' achievement.
Okay, so you need a line that is probably 8-bit, and checks for, probably '05'.
Easy enough. So if that memory address is equal to 05, grant the achievement.

Maybe the intro screen pops this achievement because it uses that address for animation. So you have to add a second line with ResetIf the title screen is active.
Okay, that's a second line. Resetif 16-bit map value == 0001.

Maybe there's a demo mode that features stage 5. Okay, so now you have to make sure demo mode is off when the 05 appears, so we're adding a third line making sure demo mode is off or not on (00 or 01).

Now that we've got all that, our achievement pops only when we reach level 5. Great ... except usually we don't want to award a player for reaching a stage, we want to award a player for completing a stage.

So maybe we can change the achievement to ResetIf the level value is not equal to 05. This achievement will only be calculated if we are currently on stage 5.

Then we make sure the HP of the boss of this stage must be equal to zero. So we have to be on stage 5 and drain the boss' HP to zero for the achievement to pop. Demo mode doesn't matter anymore, neither does the title screen. So we can delete those. No wait, turns out in Demo mode the computer-controlled demo character beats this same boss.

Now the achievement only pops when we are on stage 5 and have successfully killed the boss. We change the description to 'Clear Stage 5'. Great!

Now perhaps we want to challenge the player to do something more than just clear the stage. Perhaps we want the player to beat the boss with full HP and without ever taking damage. First, we make a Copy of the existing achievement and change the icon, description, etc.

If you think about it, we can't just check to see if the player has full HP when the boss of stage 5 dies, because the player may have used a restorative item during the battle.

We have to find a value that has to be true at the beginning of the battle and set a hit count to (1), then Resetif the player's current HP is ever less than their full HP. This will reset that hit count to (0), so the player can never achieve this unless they try again.

Perhaps the boss has an introduction animation that they never do again. Perhaps a text box pops up before the battle begins. Perhaps the music changes from the Stage 5 stage music to the boss music. Perhaps the boss has a dedicated room and you can detect for the room before. You certainly can't depend on the boss' HP being full, because you could theoretically get hurt by the boss and restore up before you start to harm him. No matter what, you're going to need a value that only happens at the beginning of the boss fight for this Challenge Achievement.

Line 1: We are on stage 5.
Line 2: We are not in Demo Mode.
Line 3: The boss says, "Prepare to die!" at the beginning of the fight. (1)
Line 4: The boss' HP is equal to zero.
Line 5: Resetif your current HP is less than your Max HP.

(Disclaimer: A few well-placed no hit achievements are interesting, but I'm generally against no-hit achievements on every boss like we sometimes see here. We want to make 'hardcore-mode friendly' Challenge Achievements--Remember, not everyone is using Savestates.)

As you can see, things can get complicated very fast. And this is just for a basic type of Challenge Achievement we see fairly often on the website. They often get worse when we start talking about Unique Achievements, and often times the code presents more difficulty, such as using the same memory address for boss HP as it does for normal enemy HP, or even alternative ways to kill the boss without depleting their HP.

However--thinking about what is needed to create an achievement becomes easier the more you create basic achievements. Doing things like this becomes second-nature.

This is why these types of achievements can be added later. They can often be built onto existing Progression or Sidequest/Optional Achievements. If you have a game with only Progression and Optional Achievements, perhaps now is the time to revisit them and see if you can bolster your lists with a few Challenge achievements.

ROM hacks:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
I'm sure you've noticed that you can patch a ROM and it becomes a totally different ROM with a different checksum, and you can create a separate achievement set for it. In general, we prefer that achievement sets are not made for patched ROMs, with the exception of Translation Patches. This may change in the future as we near the 100% mark on a given console.

If you do have your sights set on dev'ing for a ROM hack, you should probably make sure the official unpatched game already has a complete list and that you have at least 5 complete games under your belt. You should also make sure the hack is more than just something that changes the main character sprite, or just injects cusswords into the dialogue. There are a lot buggy, junky hacks out there, and on the flipside of the coin there are some hacks that truly improve the core game. If you really want spend the time supporting a buggy, junky hack, or a hack that's in bad taste, more power to you, but don't expect much support from the community.

ALSO, if you're going to do something like this, you're going to need to make sure that you have an official forum post for that game with instructions on how to patch the ROM, and you risk that the person who created the ROM hack may come out with later revisions which can make your achievement list no longer work. Worse yet, if the .IPS or .Ninja patch file came from some obscure website and is not hosted anywhere else, you can imagine how this could become a problem should that website disappear.

I want to discuss possible new guidelines for becoming a Developer:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Developers that have only 100 or so achievement points under their belts make no sense.

I suggest that in order for a member of this site to be promoted to a Developer, they must have earned at least 2500 achievement points. This will give players a good feel for what kind of achievements we are looking for in lists, and what's possible to create using the RetroAchievements system.

I want to discuss possible new guidelines for becoming an Administrator:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I have seen folks request to become an Admin on their first day here and be granted that wish. Now I know that Scott keeps incremental backups of everything and can restore anything and everything we've got, but having admins running rampant and promoting their friends has already started to get out of control.

Brainstorming:

• We need a way to easily identify if a member is an admin, such as their name being a different color in the chatroom and feed.

• We need folks who become admins to have previously been devs and have shown some level of dedication to the website.

• We need folks who become admins to be members here for at least half a year.

• We need the existing admins to be able to vote on if a member should be allowed to become an administrator.

• We need an accessible list of known admins. If a new admin is added without such a vote, it needs to be scrutinized.

• We need some rules on what constitutes behavior for promotion and demotion.

Where I want this discussion to lead:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I want your feedback. I want to discuss these items with you so that we can create a separate post, a brief, bullet-pointed list of guidelines for devs. I want to emphasize again, guidelines are not hard rules. This will just be a list of what is considered best practice to follow.

Thank you!

mickyt888
Posted: 22 Oct, 2014 05:28
Amazing post man:) I need to follow this more often :P I have only made 1 puzzle game and funny enough its full of level achievements. Though with them the user can't use real cheats to get through each level.

cirellio
Posted: 22 Oct, 2014 13:33
Last Edit: 22 Oct, 2014 13:33
Thanks micky!
Obviously I've been thinking about this stuff for a long time. >.<

Looks like the 'Challenge' post got cut-off in my editing fervor. I'm having Scott restore it (hopefully).

Anyway I'm almost done with the Pros and Cons for each achievement type, which I plan on finishing today. Then I will move on to the conclusions I've drawn from all of this. Thanks for reading!

If you have anything you'd like to add or want to contest something I said, please feel free to post it here--

My ultimate goal is to use this discussion as a springboard towards creating a separate (and more brief) post with a solid set of rules.

cirellio
Posted: 22 Oct, 2014 20:29
Last Edit: 22 Oct, 2014 20:30
nt

Scott
Posted: 25 Oct, 2014 20:45
Last Edit: 25 Oct, 2014 20:49
Awesome

Rewsifer
Posted: 25 Oct, 2014 21:15
Pretty good list of suggested guidelines Cir,

I would love to make more challenge-type achievements, just needs to be the right game though.
And I agree fully with the progression achievements and not to include the "reach level" achievements.

Lately I've been seeing some that are in the same game:
- Beat Level 5
- Reach Level 6
.. which means that you're getting 2 achievements at once.. not really "achievements" at all.

Also not a fan of full achievement sets with no icons, that kind of bugs me.

But props to all devs on here that take the time to add to the site. It's been a really good run so far.

cirellio
Posted: 27 Oct, 2014 14:41
Good points Rew and thanks.

I think some folks look up Pro-Action Replay codes and find series of achievements they can quickly create so that a game can be considered 'done'. Not saying this is always the case, but these are typically the kinds of devs that don't add icons to their achievements.

For instance they find the level value, and at that point it's easy to create Reach level 2, 3, 4, etc. These are one-line achievements. I believe no icons is a sure-fire sign that the player did a rush job and didn't even bother to play through the game. Even if not true, it sends this message to the player.

Worse, if the dev truly didn't play through the game, they may not understand how difficult or even impossible certain achievements are, and may not be weighing the points correctly as a result.

If there are games where players are rewarded for both reaching level 6 and beating level 5, that's redundant in a very silly way. I think the achievement dev should demote the 'Reach level x' achievements in favor of the 'Beat level x' achievements.

I'm actually going to speak on the topic of redundancy in my final post, which I'm working on right now.

cirellio
Posted: 27 Oct, 2014 17:06
Last Edit: 27 Oct, 2014 17:33
Okay, the posts are now complete. I'd love to hear all your feedback, especially on my fifth post where I discuss possible new guidelines for becoming Administrators and Developers.

Thanks all for reading and for all the great support!

Brian
Posted: 27 Oct, 2014 18:15
Last Edit: 27 Oct, 2014 18:15
Very detailed!
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