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Thread: Paradox Achievement Design Guidelines

  1. #1

    Paradox Achievement Design Guidelines

    Hi everyone,

    I've been promising this for a while so now here goes.

    I'm going to give a rare glimpse into how PDX Publishing works with developers on achievements. I'm also just going to show you the same guideline documentation (more or less) we give to devs. I'll hope it'll spark a (constructive) discussion.

    One thing before we head into this. Paradox is releasing about 15 major games this year, 3 of them are major internal titles (V2,HOI3SF and EU3DW). The bulk of our releases are non-grand strategy games - in other words more "ordinary" games.

    Meaning, less depth, more linear, less mod-friendly. So as we have this discussion bear in mind that we're making achievements to work with ALL Paradox games. We can't accomodate all games to a 100% so we'll have to make sacrifices sometimes.


    Here goes:

    ----------------

    Achievements are a tool for adding an additional gameplay layer to a game, making them more fun and appealing. More specifically this is done by doing a number of important things; challenging, teaching, encouraging and rewarding the player to name a few.

    Achievements can also be used as a tool for developers/publishers to gain useful insight into their games. As we track which achievements are, and aren’t, unlocked we learn more about the actual playing patterns of the gamer. This knowledge is useful for future designs.

    For achievements to actually be effective and usable tool they need to be properly designed. A collection sloppily designed achievements can act as a detriment to the game.

    This document outlines the best practices to use when designing a solid set of achievements.

    Design philosophies:
    In essence the primary function of achievements is to regularly affirm and award the player of their progress in the game. The secondary functions of achievements are to communicate with the player about the what, when and how of said achievements.

    As every game is unique, there is no set formula for designing achievements. Instead you will find a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” below. They are not mutually exclusive and will sometimes be contradictory, but remember that it’s more important that your achievement system as a whole is of sound quality rather than that each achievement is perfect. Almost every “do” has an antithesis and vice versa.

    What should be awarded?
    • Besides rewarding the player for natural progression (defeating bosses, advancing the story) the following guidelines can be used to figure out what to actually reward.
    • Mastering of a core game mechanic
    • Something that contains a high skill component
    • Handicapping the player if the new core mechanic of this handicap is still compelling (such as removing high-powered weapons when the low-powered ones are just as much fun).

    DO:
    NOTE: There is a distinction between achievements and the point reward associated with them.
    • Achievements can and should be broken down into sub-achievements.
    • Communicate clearly how the player is progressing with each achievement. Progress bars! (See Gears of War 2, Splinter cell conviction, MW2, Shadow Complex)
    • Achievements should be unlocked at a fairly steady pace.
    • Make sure to reward achievements 2-3 times during the initial game experience (approximately first hour). Get them hooked early.
    • Make a distinction between a “normal” playthrough and “this is my nth playthrough” and pace the achievements thereafter.
    • A “normal” playthrough should yield a substantial portion of the achievements. Depending on the playtime 20-50% is a fair amount of reward.
    • If connected – Compare and display the players progress with his/her friends score. See*Shadow Complex
    • Achievements should overall have a positive impact on the game. Don’t throw in an achievement just for the sake of the achievement.
    • Design achievements that enforce your core game mechanics.
    • Make sure your achievements are in harmony with each other
    • Use achievements to connect with the player and show them that you “get them”. Inside jokes!
    • Use achievements to teach and inform the player about the game. “Oh, you can do it that way? I never thought of it”
    • Design with diversity in mind. Have a broad variety of achievements from a broad number of areas.
    • Acknowledge the highest difficulty on which something has been accomplished. Unlocking “Hard completion” should also reward “normal” and “easy”.
    • “Grindy” achievements are acceptable as long as they enhance an already existing in game behaviour - collecting money for instance. Collecting flags, shooting pigeons and other arbitrary game elements do not qualify.
    • Design your achievements so that they can’t be “broken”. I.e. no shortcuts
    • The hardest achievements should inspire awe and respect, but should not unfeasibly hard to get.

    What should NOT be awarded?

    There are numerous pitfalls that designers need to avoid when designing achievements. The following are a loose set of guidelines on what not to reward.
    • Low skill component.
    • Artificial gameplay.
    • Perfection of a non-core game mechanic that has little to do with the actual game.
    • Handicapping the player if the new core mechanic of this handicap isn’t still compelling. i.e. forcing the player to do something that is less fun.
    • Non-accomplishments; played 50 hours/100 hours.

    DON'T:
    • Don’t be arbitrary in your design – don’t reward nonsensical accomplishments
    • Don’t enforce artificial gameplay
    • Don’t reward achievements that have a low skill component or are luck based.
    • Don’t reward non-accomplishments. Things that are done automatically.
    • Don’t design achievements that enforce gameplay behavior that contradicts your core gameplay mechanics.
    • Don’t reward perfection of non-central game mechanic that isn't overly fun on its own.
    • Don’t punish the player for being better than the achievement. Most achievements should have a “-achieve this or less” clause.
    • Severe punishments for small mistakes after a long period of time
    • Aggressive real-life demands (completing a grueling task within 24 real-time hours, for example), difficult logistics of even attempting a task (such as finding an active multiplayer game)
    • Award dying/failing x number of times. Achievements should not award mediocracy.
    • Don’t close the window of opportunity. Always try to give the player the opportunity to go back and try to get the achievement again.
    • Don’t be arbitrarily cryptic. The player shouldn’t be forced to go online to find instructions on how to unlock the achievement.
    • Don’t have achievements that are so incredibly hard to unlock that makes the players dislike the game.
    • Don’t make achievement hunting feel like a chore, they should be fun.
    • Don’t require the player to collect x number of arbitrary objects that have no impact on game. (see flags in Assassins’ Creed)
    Evaluate the design:

    As a general rule always evaluate the weight and fun of an achievement by the most efficient method by which it is earned. Does it stand up against scrutiny? Does it still seem reasonable?
    • Make sure you have a diverse set of achievements:
    • Are they from all parts of the game?
    • Are they of multiple types?
    • Do they vary in difficulty?
    • Do they only reward one kind of player?
    • Do they punish another?

    General information & facts
    In most cases on Kongregate.com, adding achievements to games caused the user rating to drop! But more people played the games. There are many theories about why this is — the best guess is that there's a difference in psychology between people who play a game just to have fun and people who play a game to earn achievements.

    Let the discussion begin.

    Do you see the design challenges inherent in creating achievements for our own grand strategy games and how much easier it is for a linear game like Magicka?
    Let me know what you think.

    /s
    Chun Li: My father saved his village at the cost of his own life. You had him shot as you ran away. A hero at a thousand paces!
    Bison: I'm sorry... I don't remember any of it.
    Chun Li: You don't remember?
    Bison: For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me... it was Tuesday.

    Twitter: @ShamsJorjani

  2. #2
    Games Player steveh11's Avatar
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    Thank you for taking the time, Shams. Despite the fact that I still believe that Achievements have no place in Paradox' Grand Strategy games I do appreciate the open attitude being shown, and can see, to some extent at least, the use to which they could be put in other games.
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  3. #3
    Lt. General Weijun's Avatar
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    Most of these guidelines sound reasonable. I would suggest adding a mechanic so that an achievement is not lost if there is no Internet connection when it is achieved. Clearly, one needs to get online to have his achievements registered with Paradox Connect, but it would be discouraging if being connected were a prerequisite for earning them.
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  4. #4
    Colonel Seli's Avatar
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    Thanks for the overview Shams, it seems to be even tricky to do well for relatively simple linear games.

    Hope your computer is fully behaving now.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shams View Post
    Do you see the design challenges inherent in creating achievements for our own grand strategy games and how much easier it is for a linear game like Magicka?
    Then keep them out of your own grand strategy games, and only use them for linear games?

    Anyway, I can perfectly see the reasoning behind this -- thanks for sharing, by the way -- but that's not saying I'm a fan of these achievements. We'll see.
    "Hic iacet inclitus Godefridus De Bulion qui totam istam terram acquisivit cultui Christiano, cuius anima cum Christo requiescat. Amen."
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  6. #6
    Games Player steveh11's Avatar
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    A few comments directly related to Sham's original post:

    First up, let me say that this is entirely directed at the use of achievements in Paradox' Grand Strategy titles. If you want to add them in to some platform title you decide to publish, or a shoot-em-up, I'm neither bothered nor interested.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shams View Post
    One thing before we head into this. Paradox is releasing about 15 major games this year, 3 of them are major internal titles (V2,HOI3SF and EU3DW). The bulk of our releases are non-grand strategy games - in other words more "ordinary" games.

    Meaning, less depth, more linear, less mod-friendly. So as we have this discussion bear in mind that we're making achievements to work with ALL Paradox games. We can't accomodate all games to a 100% so we'll have to make sacrifices sometimes.
    I would suggest that one of the sacrifices easiest made and best received is likely to be the abandonment of the idea that you have to make achievements to work with ALL Paradox games. For some, arguably, they can fit. For Paradox' trademark sandbox grand-strategy titles, that's something it's less easy to show. As your own words demonstrate.

    But also, see my final paragraph below.


    Quote Originally Posted by Shams View Post
    Achievements are a tool for adding an additional gameplay layer to a game, making them more fun and appealing. More specifically this is done by doing a number of important things; challenging, teaching, encouraging and rewarding the player to name a few.

    Achievements can also be used as a tool for developers/publishers to gain useful insight into their games. As we track which achievements are, and aren’t, unlocked we learn more about the actual playing patterns of the gamer. This knowledge is useful for future designs.
    So now you're spying on us as well? Way to go on getting everyone on board!

    Quote Originally Posted by Shams View Post
    For achievements to actually be effective and usable tool they need to be properly designed. A collection sloppily designed achievements can act as a detriment to the game.

    This document outlines the best practices to use when designing a solid set of achievements.

    Design philosophies:
    In essence the primary function of achievements is to regularly affirm and award the player of their progress in the game. The secondary functions of achievements are to communicate with the player about the what, when and how of said achievements.
    But in a free-form game like EU, HOI or Vicky, we, the players are the arbiters of progress!

    Quote Originally Posted by Shams View Post
    As every game is unique, there is no set formula for designing achievements. Instead you will find a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” below. They are not mutually exclusive and will sometimes be contradictory, but remember that it’s more important that your achievement system as a whole is of sound quality rather than that each achievement is perfect. Almost every “do” has an antithesis and vice versa.

    What should be awarded?[LIST]
    <CUT LIST TO REDUCE POST LENGTH>

    General information & facts
    In most cases on Kongregate.com, adding achievements to games caused the user rating to drop! But more people played the games. There are many theories about why this is — the best guess is that there's a difference in psychology between people who play a game just to have fun and people who play a game to earn achievements.
    1st response is "Well, duh!"; but reflection causes me to wonder why this is still "best guess" and not something that's been studied to death by the major games companies. Also, I wonder if the lower rating reflects that more people play the game but for less time?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shams View Post
    Let the discussion begin.

    Do you see the design challenges inherent in creating achievements for our own grand strategy games and how much easier it is for a linear game like Magicka?
    Let me know what you think.

    /s
    Thanks again for continuing the discussion.

    May I make a suggestion that might appease both sides, as a useful compromise? Include all the achievements you want - but put them in the game's tutorial. That way, they'll serve most of their main purposes as you outlined, indeed possibly enhancing the utility and interest in that tutorial, without interfering with the actual game!

    Steve.
    "Nature always obeys her own laws"
    - Leonardo da Vinci

  7. #7
    I think some of it depends on what you classify as not enforcing game mechanics. For instance, Halflife 2 ep. 2 had an achievement where you had to carry a garden gnome from almost the beginning to the end of the game and send it up in a space rocket. To achieve this you had to play the game in a radically different way, for instance during a car driving part you had to regularly pick up the gnome, then throw it in front of you and drive up to it (not being able to attach it to the car) all the while being chased by a helicopter. Even though you had to dedicate one playthrough to that particular strategy, it was one of the best achievements of that game imo. It really forced you to think on how to handle a few situations. I think it is good to have a few silly/wild achievements as these. They are optional after all.

  8. #8
    The gnome achievement is really an interesting one. At first it just seems extremely silly and fun. But once you try to get you realize that it's a completely different way to play the game. It actually got me thinking. What if that gnome had been a live baby? It would have some interesting complications to say the least.

    There are numerous other games that do a real crappy job of designing achievements. GTA4 for instance, which in most other aspects, kicks ass but the achievements are pretty bad.

    A few examples of the bad ones and why they are bad:

    One Hundred And Eighty (10 points)
    In a darts game score 180 with 3 darts.
    Comment: Requires perfection of a very trivial game mechanic. BIG source of frustration.

    Finish Him (15 points)
    Complete 10 melee counters in 4 minutes.
    Comments: Large luck component. Can you find 10 people? Do they cops arrive? Doesn’t contribute to the whole in a meaningful way. You end up having to "work the system" to it possible.

    One Man Army (40 points)

    Survive 5 minutes on 6 star wanted level.
    Comment: Great in itself as it required a high degree of skill in a central game concept - staying alive. It is however easy to find a spot where the police can’t reach you and wait it out. Very susceptible to abuse.

    It'll Cost Ya (5 points)

    Complete a taxi ride without skipping from one island to another.
    Comment: Rewards a non-accomplishment. Most players take a bathroom break during this achievement.

    As for EU3. I definitely think there's a place for achievements there. Sure the game is open ended and almost completely un-linear, but there are several that would fit.

    As I was writing this post I went to the kitchen to get me a cup of coffee where I spoke briefly to King about his take on achievements and he said something smart.

    "Achievements in our games could be really good, since they can give players a sense of direction. Our games, especially for new players, have a "what the F*?! should I do now?" element to them that can be overwhelming."

    Not a verbatim quote, but I have to agree with him.

    Having seen the full achievement list Johan drafted I think you'll find a few challenging and others will bring smiles to your faces.


    /s
    Chun Li: My father saved his village at the cost of his own life. You had him shot as you ran away. A hero at a thousand paces!
    Bison: I'm sorry... I don't remember any of it.
    Chun Li: You don't remember?
    Bison: For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me... it was Tuesday.

    Twitter: @ShamsJorjani

  9. #9
    The gnome achievement is really an interesting one. At first it just seems extremely silly and fun. But once you try to get you realize that it's a completely different way to play the game. It actually got me thinking. What if that gnome had been a live baby? It would have some interesting complications to say the least.

    There are numerous other games that do a real crappy job of designing achievements. GTA4 for instance, which in most other aspects, kicks ass but the achievements are pretty bad.

    A few examples of the bad ones and why they are bad:

    One Hundred And Eighty (10 points)
    In a darts game score 180 with 3 darts.
    Comment: Requires perfection of a very trivial game mechanic. BIG source of frustration.

    Finish Him (15 points)
    Complete 10 melee counters in 4 minutes.
    Comments: Large luck component. Can you find 10 people? Do they cops arrive? Doesn’t contribute to the whole in a meaningful way. You end up having to "work the system" to it possible.

    One Man Army (40 points)

    Survive 5 minutes on 6 star wanted level.
    Comment: Great in itself as it required a high degree of skill in a central game concept - staying alive. It is however easy to find a spot where the police can’t reach you and wait it out. Very susceptible to abuse.

    It'll Cost Ya (5 points)

    Complete a taxi ride without skipping from one island to another.
    Comment: Rewards a non-accomplishment. Most players take a bathroom break during this achievement.

    As for EU3. I definitely think there's a place for achievements there. Sure the game is open ended and almost completely un-linear, but there are several that would fit.

    As I was writing this post I went to the kitchen to get me a cup of coffee where I spoke briefly to King about his take on achievements and he said something smart.

    "Achievements in our games could be really good, since they can give players a sense of direction. Our games, especially for new players, have a "what the F*?! should I do now?" element to them that can be overwhelming."

    Not a verbatim quote, but I have to agree with him.

    Having seen the full achievement list Johan drafted I think you'll find a few challenging and others will bring smiles to your faces.


    /s
    Chun Li: My father saved his village at the cost of his own life. You had him shot as you ran away. A hero at a thousand paces!
    Bison: I'm sorry... I don't remember any of it.
    Chun Li: You don't remember?
    Bison: For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me... it was Tuesday.

    Twitter: @ShamsJorjani

  10. #10
    Hehe, finally, the promised post.
    Good guidelines, especially concerning the non-accomplishments and repetitive tasks.
    That's forced replayability. Achievements should serve to guide players to different aspects of the game.

  11. #11
    Meteorsexual Demi Moderator Teurlinx's Avatar
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    One question: is the general idea that a hardcore fan should get all the achievements eventually? It does seem a bit like that with the guidelines posted (nothing rewarded that isn't part of the core game) I don't see issues with rewarding side-quest like things like playing darts in GTA4, fishing in WoW, playing the Lost Vikings arcade in Starcraft2 etc.

    Also some 'non-achievements' like riding a cab wouldn't be bad if they direct players to a previously unexplored part of the game. On two conditions: the achievement reward should be small, and should lead to more achievements: earn $1000,- with a single cab fare etc.
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  12. #12
    Games Player steveh11's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shams View Post
    As for EU3. I definitely think there's a place for achievements there. Sure the game is open ended and almost completely un-linear, but there are several that would fit.

    As I was writing this post I went to the kitchen to get me a cup of coffee where I spoke briefly to King about his take on achievements and he said something smart.

    "Achievements in our games could be really good, since they can give players a sense of direction. Our games, especially for new players, have a "what the F*?! should I do now?" element to them that can be overwhelming."
    So put them in the tutorial where the new players will get the most out of them?
    "Nature always obeys her own laws"
    - Leonardo da Vinci

  13. #13
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    Thanks for the enlightening info. It convinced me though that achievements might be fun in task-oriented games (the garden gnome example is hilarious) but they have no place in a grand-strategy, open-ended game like Eu3. It appears like a forced generalization which does not make much sense - except from a business point of view which sleepwalks in formulaic imitativeness.

    Considering the reasons you give for achievements, they are covered already by the community board and the AARs. You, Paradox, can easily check what we like and how we play simply by skimming the board, and we players get a steady supply of things to strive for in our games though missions, the mechanics discussions in the forum, or the AARs. To name just one recent example of the latter, take PrawnStar's "Rebel without a pause" AAR on staying atop of a horde. Insofar as it explores a somewhat broken game mechanic it is an act of masochism, certainly, but it witty and fun to read - and it gives a lot of ideas to more casual horde players. Sadly, it would not have made the cut of your "achievements" exactly because it is a rather frustrating gaming experience.

    On the other hand, there isn't that much to do or think in Half-life2, so an achievement does a good job in sprucing up gameplay.

    In the end, enthusiastically extolling achievements to Eu3 players is like trying to sell GSM dumbphones to smartphone users. We already have our sources of motivation, tested, validated, public and pretty much alive...

  14. #14
    Meteorsexual Demi Moderator Teurlinx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Herbert View Post
    Thanks for the enlightening info. It convinced me though that achievements might be fun in task-oriented games (the garden gnome example is hilarious) but they have no place in a grand-strategy, open-ended game like Eu3. It appears like a forced generalization which does not make much sense - except from a business point of view which sleepwalks in formulaic imitativeness.

    Considering the reasons you give for achievements, they are covered already by the community board and the AARs. You, Paradox, can easily check what we like and how we play simply by skimming the board, and we players get a steady supply of things to strive for in our games though missions, the mechanics discussions in the forum, or the AARs. To name just one recent example of the latter, take PrawnStar's "Rebel without a pause" AAR on staying atop of a horde. Insofar as it explores a somewhat broken game mechanic it is an act of masochism, certainly, but it witty and fun to read - and it gives a lot of ideas to more casual horde players. Sadly, it would not have made the cut of your "achievements" exactly because it is a rather frustrating gaming experience.

    On the other hand, there isn't that much to do or think in Half-life2, so an achievement does a good job in sprucing up gameplay.

    In the end, enthusiastically extolling achievements to Eu3 players is like trying to sell GSM dumbphones to smartphone users. We already have our sources of motivation, tested, validated, public and pretty much alive...
    But achievements cater to the more casual player by giving more guidance and to some hardcore players by giving additional goals. The role-player like you and me can just choose to ignore the achievements if they don't suit us. I don't like to war in EU:3, I'll ignore all the war achievements and maybe focus on the diplomatic and trade ones.
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by steveh11 View Post
    So put them in the tutorial where the new players will get the most out of them?
    Lots of people hate tutorials, myself included. I occasionally force myself to play through them, if it's a game where I have little to no experience with the concepts or the series, or if I fail miserably for no apparent reasons on the first playthrough.
    I think achievements will do a better job than tutorials, if done right.

    I am all for achievements, just as I like the concept of missions. I mean, you can always choose not to do them. But for a lot of people (and even for experienced paradoxians), they could be fun and enlightening.

    So yeah, two thumbs up from me
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  16. #16
    Part Time Game Designer King's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by steveh11 View Post
    May I make a suggestion that might appease both sides, as a useful compromise? Include all the achievements you want - but put them in the game's tutorial. That way, they'll serve most of their main purposes as you outlined, indeed possibly enhancing the utility and interest in that tutorial, without interfering with the actual game!

    Steve.
    Seriously I think you misunderstand what achievements are. They are not a way of leveling up your EU3 game expierence. It is not like you will recieve in game bonuses for completing achievements. So from that perspective they do not interfere with the actual game at all. You are still absolutely 100% able to play EU3 your way without any reference to the achievements what so ever.
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  17. #17
    Games Player steveh11's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EvilCartyen View Post
    Lots of people hate tutorials, myself included. I occasionally force myself to play through them, if it's a game where I have little to no experience with the concepts or the series, or if I fail miserably for no apparent reasons on the first playthrough.
    I think achievements will do a better job than tutorials, if done right.

    I am all for achievements, just as I like the concept of missions. I mean, you can always choose not to do them. But for a lot of people (and even for experienced paradoxians), they could be fun and enlightening.

    So yeah, two thumbs up from me
    Chuckle. Well, it goes to show that Paradox can't please everyone, I guess.

    Missions have a purpose and a reward in-game, achievements do not. Their sole purpose in life, in a 'real' Paradox game like EUIII-DW, appears to me to be to push players towards playing the vanilla version. But that decision's evidently been accepted at the highest levels of Paradox management and therefore this is a horse that's not only dead, it's been well and truly buried, so I'll stop flogging it.

    Steve.
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  18. #18
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    Thanks for the post Shams Realy great overview of the PI Achivements imo and look really forward to them !
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  19. #19
    Liberté, egalité, fraternité StephenT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shams View Post
    I spoke briefly to King about his take on achievements and he said something smart.

    "Achievements in our games could be really good, since they can give players a sense of direction. Our games, especially for new players, have a "what the F*?! should I do now?" element to them that can be overwhelming."
    This is a good point, and offers an excellent reason why achievements could be a valuable addition to Paradox's grand strategy games. Despite what the nay-sayers claim. Sure, there are lots of ways to complete these games... but I get the impression a lot of people only ever stick to one, which means they miss out on a lot of the gameplay experience.

    For example, I think a lot of people start an EUIII grand campaign in 1399, play for 100-150 years or so, then get bored and re-start the game... so they never get to see the late-game National Ideas or troop types or governments. Offering an achievement relating to them might encourage players to try out that aspect of the game instead. ("We the People" - change your government type to Constitutional Republic, for example).

    Or since a lot of players seem to approach EUIII as a conquest game, then offer achievements for peaceful successes, such as having an income twice as high as the next-richest nation, or being at least 2 levels ahead in every tech category. (Though of course you should have conquest-related achievements as well, to balance it.)

    In short, reward playing the games in different ways, rather than falling into the same old rut every time. Open-ended sandbox games are actually better for this style of achievement, not worse.

  20. #20
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    Thank you for explaining all that for us and laying it out.

    When i look on your Guidelines and on Steam achievements (for example), i can see clearly how many of those achievements fail in delivering anything.
    I think you are on the right track with them, and i am looking forward as to what they will bring to us
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