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Sonic and Achievements

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by AfroRyan, May 12, 2023.

  1. AfroRyan

    AfroRyan

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    I am blown away that mainline Sonic titles have extremely uninspired achievement sets. For a game series that prides itself on speed, one would think there'd be time attack challenges but aside from "technicality" achievements, like for collecting all emblems in Sonic Adventure 1/2, I can't think of any games where they go whole-hog here. Sure, we may see a couple, but it seems like a big waste to include dev times in something like Sonic CD if there's no achievements to reward the player for beating it.

    Achievements have their issues, but I really like them when they encourage novel play, and I generally expect them to cover core progression and aspects of the game. Even Sonic Mania fails at these for the most part. There's no achievement for getting all emeralds with Tails or Knuckles, for example, and while there's a damageless challenge, it can be almost completely trivialized by allowing Super Sonic on that stage. I feel like the drop dash could have really allowed for some unique "don't press left" style challenges, but nope.

    I recently graduated to "Developer" on retroachievements.org and I feel like that community generally understands the potential for creative and rewarding achievements. Not to toot my own horn, but I recently released a set for Sonic Pinball Party https://retroachievements.org/game/5255 that I'm very proud of. While there's room for a few more, like a minimum combo challenge, killing X amount of badniks, or looping the zones X amount of times, I feel like I more or less covered every important element of the game, and conceived a few fun unique challenges as well, like saving a draining ball or only using certain attacks on the NiGHTS table.

    I guess I'm posting this for a few reasons. What hypothetical achievements do you wish were "standard" for Sonic games but generally get overlooked? What achievements should Sonic games avoid? Do you have any novel achievement ideas that RetroAchievements sets don't cover?

    I get if you don't like achievements in general, and if you don't, that's fine. I genuinely agree with many points concerning achievement hating rants (the points mean nothing, I don't like being pressured to play a certain way, etc.). That said, if you don't have anything constructive to add to the topic aside from "achievements suck I hate them and I hate you," it will just be a waste of your time.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2023
  2. Palas

    Palas

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    Achievements suck and I hate them but I don't hate you because I think it's God's work to improve them in Sonic. I do think you could have much better achievement sets in Sonic and weave them into standard gameplay in creative ways. I went to RetroAchievements to take a look at what they have there and, looking at the games I know more deeply, here's what I have to say:

    Generally speaking
    At some point, the reward for something in a game will be "nothing", meaning the game will not acknowledge you saw it or did it. So it must be subjectively valuable and, while I can't speak for everyone, bragging rights or sense of completeness don't do it for me. If Sonic Team themselves were going to do it, I wish they'd do three things abut them:
    • Put rewards behind them: Something neat like a gallery, sketches, music demos or remixes, things that make you feel closer to the game as a cultural product and break the immersion. Post-game stuff. I dislike doing a lot of shit in a game only to be rewarded in the very end with more stuff to play (think Green Hill in SA2 or Amy in Sonic Advance 2). Playable rewards are much better when you can buy them, like in a ring store, because then they become part of the loop!
    • Seek to aggregate: One "Get 8000 rings across the game's 16 acts" is harder, but much less oppressive than 8 "Get 300 rings in [Zone Name]" achievements. Which is why Sonic CD's time attack system is fantastic: in order to get the rewards (and achievements), it counts your aggregate time, not individual times. In a similar vein, I don't think there should be any "get ALL something" kind of rewards. A machine can kill all badniks in a zone for me -- that's just a task. Killing 100 badniks in a zone, though, gives me room to interpret what I can and what I want to do in order to get it. Achievements are better when they celebrate the player for getting them, and worse if they judge the player for not getting them -- because aggregate scores and times leave room for a player to figure out how they want to achieve a certain metric, to the best of their abilities and inclinations;
    • Have them be about the player, not about the game: The worst part of achievements in general is that sometimes they simply project the devs' insecurities. "Find the statue in Wacky Workbench" is a horrible achievement. It's much better as a secret, as something the players feel they did by themselves, as this little treasure they get to keep. I don't want the ghost of a nerd celebrating this kind of moment with me through a little pop-up as if they were expecting me -- no, hoping I'd find it. If a game has a secret or something odd about it, let the players have it! Don't try to have their little moment! Trust your secrets. So no Ashura achievements. So, acknowledging a player's progression, performance or behavior is cool. Acknowledging that the player has acknowledged something in the game is not.
    So. For specific classes of achievements.

    Progression Achievements (achievements for playing normally)
    I think they are okay, and it's important for a game to have them so that the player has a clear roadmap of the game. However, I dislike them tracking my progress like a task list. If I'm going to get an achievement for clearing the game, please don't give me achievements for clearing each zone. I was already going to do it. Getting a good ending (getting all emeralds, most likely) is a cool achievement, but negative progression achievements should be avoided -- such as "get a bad ending". It's annoying to be forced to play the game again, the whole thing, just to play a little worse than I did before.

    So I'd like to see:
    • An achievement for clearing the game;
    • An achievement for getting a good ending;
    • Achievements for key points in the story (but that are named after the story, not mechanically. "Rescue Amy Rose" is better than "Clear Stardust Speedway Act 3");

    Performance Achievements (achievements for playing normally, just better)
    Sonic naturally lends itself to performance achievements, being a game with a ton of performance metrics. Rank system, score system, life system and ring count are all performance evaluators and can be used for achievements, but like I said before, I prefer thesse achievements to give the player some wiggle room. I believe "Clear the game without using continues" (famously 1-Credit Clear) is always better than "clear the game without dying" because the player will engage a lot more with the game if they still feel like they have a chance after failing just a little. They'll be the ones who judge if they still have a chance after losing two lives in, say, Hill Top. Like I said, I also like Sonic CD's approach to "clearing the game or zones fast". But it's fine, I guess, to have the player run against dev times in each act. Not something I'd ever do, but it's interesting -- especially if we're talking about new versions of old games, with new abilities etc. Green Hill used to be unbeatable under 24 seconds, but with the spindash, it becomes very much doable (but still hard)! And you'll be surpassing an old, inexorable world record! Which feels nice. Getting a huge amount of score would probably be my favorite kind of achievement exactly because then there'd be a lot f ways to approach the challenge. Getting 1500000 score in Sonic 1 (Master System) would be better than "get all bonus scores", even though you probably can't get the former without getting the latter.

    There's a way to frame "absolute" achievements that are nice and that's to put them in terms of the game itself. Take Sonic 1 (MS) again, for example. Saying "Carry Green Hill Act 2's shield to the end of the game" is tantamount to saying "clear the game without getting hit", but speaks in term of the game and, evidently, allows the player get hit or even die in Green Hill Act 1. So while there's no practical wiggle room, talking in the game's own terms is a good way to put it.

    So I'd like to see:
    • Achievements for big scores or big ring counts or low times across the entire game, without specifying how to get them;
    • Achievements comparing the player's performance to something specific, like dev times or (in the case of remakes) old/iconic world records;
    • 1-Credit Clears, or clearing under a certain number of deaths;
    • "Absolute performance" achievements, but framed in terms of the game itself;
    Behavior Achievements (achievements for playing weird)
    We can basically do anything here as long as it leads the player to adopt some behavior they normally wouldn't otherwise. Killing a lot of badniks, killing one badnik in a certain way (from below, using the insta-shield etc), killing a boss in a non-conventional way (killing Sandopolis Act 1's boss without hitting it) are all fine, but I'd prefer if they were contained t an act or a stage. "Clear the WHOLE GAME without spindashing" is annoying because there will be like three acts in which that would be an actual challenge, so why not make achievements for these particular acts?
    I also like having achievements for doing things that can only be done, or dne much more easily, in alternative modes ("get 999 rings" in a stage is so much easier in the debug mode, although it can be done if you're REALLY GOOD at the slot machine bonus stage) -- these are all fun. But it's hard to give general examples, especially about games that don't exist. Think-outside-the-box achievements are cool.

    So I'd like to see:
    • Achievements for doing something you'd normally wouldn't and that aren't related to progression or performance: killing an enormous amount of badniks, clearing a certain act without jumping or without spindashing, "lick-your-own-elbow" type of achievements;
    • Achievements for doing one particular thing in a non-conventional way, like killing a certain boss without hitting it (Sandopolis Act 1);
    • Achievements for doing things that can technically be done in regular play, but why would you?
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2023
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  3. kazz

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    My problem with achievements is doing hard/weirdly specific things in a game that you like playing should be rewarding in of itself, and inversely it can make players chase brutal challenges they'd never do just for themselves all for the elusive platinum trophy or whatever. I think SA1 generally already had the right direction here with the field emblems rewarding you for using the physics to get to a hard to reach platform or fulfilling a weird little side quest with a Colonel Sanders statue. IMO that's already a much better 'bronze trophy' equivalent than just a hud reminder and a little gamerscore bump when you do a mandatory thing in the story like we've seen so many times. SA1 is obviously pretty basic in its attempt but point is I think it had the right spirit from the start.
    And as for reward? I'm one of those 'sense of accomplishment' weirdos but on the other hand I always would have loved to see full-on bonus, more-challenging-than-story stages as emblem rewards. Obviously Sega isn't willing since this only ever happened once as the 100% achievement in SA2 but I can't think of a more gratifying reward and plenty of more coherently directed platformers already do something just like this. I don't care about asset reuse or whatever in the stages themselves so I don't think budget would be much of an object OH WAIT SEGA JUST DOES THAT NOW ALL THE TIME ANYWAY REGARDLESS OF BUDGET LOL!
    I think having a stage unlock every 20~ emblems or so functions as an optional yet meaningful long term goal to look forward to instead of a shorter term loop like buying stuff with rings. I like the idea of a ring bank and stuff to buy with them but I think it might be kinda dubious to reward outright new stages just for them. It's something that could very easily be exploited by persistent players. You could just beat the first level over and over again until you have all the rings for all the stages you could want. But eh, this might just be a difference in preferred gameplay styles. That kid playing the first stage over and over again probably should get something for his effort and I know not everyone likes buying chao fruit (unlike myself).
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2023
  4. AfroRyan

    AfroRyan

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    Thanks! I appreciate your input, especially considering you don't actually like achievements much in the 1st place. Everything you said is reasonable, but I have some counterpoints I'm curious to hear your opinion on. Concerning your preference for aggregate achievements, my counterpoint is that while I see nothing inherently "wrong" about it, people's time to dedicate to a challenge varies greatly. To collect 8k rings in a single session will take a single dedicated session of at least a couple hours (or whatever; we'll just say it takes a while). Conversely, having little achievements for collecting 300 rings per stage is a much smaller time investment per achievement, but overall may actually equal more time...the major difference being it doesn't need to be done in a single sitting. A counter-counerpoint is that with modern emulation, why not allow for save states and just resume the 8k challenge whenever you feel like? Well, at that point, cheating the achievement becomes extremely easy, and at that point, it's not really an achievement anymore. RetroAchievements seperates its points into two categories: Hardcore vs Softcore. Hardcore does not allow for save state loading or rewind, while softcore does. You can play the game however you like, but most anyone would agree that "hardcore" points are more valuable/indicative of a player's skill level, though obviously taken by itself, it means nothing; it's just a generalization.

    Another point I want to know your opinion on is achievements for secrets/Easter eggs. While I agree that it is much more satisfying to discover something on your own without any handholding, I also think the time has passed where anything remains secret for long. Gamefaqs arguably already "killed" this aspect of gaming decades ago, but YouTube desecrated the corpse. In any case, I feel that for any "retro" game, secrets are so well known/established within the community that most people feel cheated by *not* having an achievement for it. While the sense of discovery may be lessened if you didn't know about it, it also can help shed light on obscure things. In the Zelda Ocarina of Time set on RA, there's an achievement for talking to the dying guard in the alley after Ganondorf chases Zelda and Impa on horseback. I had NO idea this unique NPC was hiding back there, and the achievement helped me appreciate the game just that much more. On the other side of the coin, if I'm playing a game I've never played before, I like to go in blind. I *may* look up "missable" achievements (which are tagged on RA), especially in super long RPGs, but if it's roughly the length of Sonic or Mario, I don't mind just replaying later, if I even care enough to be bothered by it.

    In general I think achievements enhance the gaming experience if you let them. The points to me mean nothing, but the experience of earning a tough one or playing a game I like in novel ways means a lot; ideally it helps me appreciate a game even more.

    An aside, but for the record I think achievements *should* keep gaming "journalists" more honest, because if they had the cajones to have a public profile, readers could see how much of the game they truly played to reach their final review score. I guarantee the vast majority of them have less than 20% core progress completion.
     
  5. Palas

    Palas

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    Nah man, I think it's cool to there be many different kinds of interesting points about a game, for many different people! It's true hardcore achievements, in any sense of the word, are a testament to a player's skill: you see it, you know just how good a player is. Aggregate scores don't really do that even if you must do it in one sitting, because it'ss hard to determine what the player did. Maybe they cheesed their way to it, who knows? And if being an honor to skill is the angle here, then there isn't much I can contribute in terms of discussing achievements. I get it! I'm just not very much about that.

    I had thought of aggregate score as being a per playthrough basis, not necessarily per sitting. I had the S3&K save system and shmups that may or may not have save systems at all in mind while typing this part, but you had no way to know that, and it very much depends on how each game works anyway. Generally speaking, I think it'd be nice to avoid cheesing like you and @kazz mentioned. Maybe that's not possible at all in certain cases.

    As for achievements for secrets, I don't think it's as much a matter of knowing about them or not as much as it's a matter of getting a sense that something was entirely supposed to happen or not. I like it when the game allows me to do something, but doesn't acknowledge it. I may have known about it beforehand, but there's a certain mystique about something only existing and being talked about in paratexts, in player accounts and urban legends, whispered in private channels and forums. Even if it's widely known, I find there's value in doing it yourself because there's this feeling that the game is coming alive by its cult following. It gets closer to spontaneous, child's play.

    Best example I can give is this little game called Winged Warrior III, an RPG in which there's a supposedly impossible battle, that you must lose for story reasons. You can win it though, and if you do, you get 0 experience and 0 gold. Nothing else happens (the game is very old, so no achievements). I think it'd ruin it a little for me if the game acknowledged that I won the unwinnable battle with an achievement, as if someone was expecting me to do it. In Sonic, you'll not rarely do things that feel like you shouldn't be able or allowed to, and it feels good (even if the devs totally accounted for it, and even if everyone knows about it). I'd like to preserve that kind of feeling, is all. But that's just me.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2023
  6. DigitalDuck

    DigitalDuck

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    I agree with a large portion of this, and I'll spill some beans (minimal information because it's still in development and not officially announced).

    One of the projects I'm working on I'm pushing for a meaningful achievement system. One thing I've done is tied every achievement to an in-game "card" that gives you concept/bonus art, often related to the achievement itself. The other thing I've done is split these achievements roughly equally into three sections; "clear", "complete", and "excel". Playing through the story will give you all of the "clear" achievements (named after the bosses you defeat, unlocking art for that boss). There are sidequests in each area and completing them all nets you the "complete" achievement for that area (unlocking art for that area). Finally, there's a challenge mode which must be completed in one sitting; all of the "excel" achievements come from the challenge mode, either beating it with a certain character (unlocking art for that character), or special requirements like no deaths, no killing non-boss enemies, killing a certain number of enemies (unlocking miscellaneous art).

    What we're currently doing is many achievements of "clear this area", one "beat all the sidequests", one "get the good ending", one "beat the challenge mode", and like six "look we put a reference in". Getting the Easter Egg achievements taken out is my main fight, because if you're awarding achievements for them they stop being Easter Eggs and become required content for full completion; but I'd rather split them more evenly how I proposed with actual rewards and not just Gamerscore.

    I'll let you know if anything actually comes of this, but I'm not holding my breath.
     
  7. AfroRyan

    AfroRyan

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    That's really cool. I meant to bring that point up with Palas as well; I'm in full agreement that achievements (in the modern sense) should be tied to an in-game reward system to compliment the out-game social system. Sure, a tough achievement is fun to brag about, but a tough achievement that also comes with, say, a rocket launcher with infinite ammo (guess what I've been playing lately) is a much more satisfying situation. Good luck on your game! It sounds interesting!
     
  8. Palas

    Palas

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    This is pretty cool. Unlocking the process behind a boss or an area after overcoming them is beautiful. The distinction between "Clear" and "Complete" is more often than not very important these days in gaming too. I hope it turns out great (and they take out the Easter Egg achievements)!
     
  9. AfroRyan

    AfroRyan

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    Wanted to drop in here again and brag that I recently released an achievement set for Sonic's Edusoft. I also wanted to point out that there's a ton of Sonic hacks that also have achievement sets (something I unintentionally left out in my original post):
    https://retroachievements.org/game/8045
     
  10. Clownacy

    Clownacy

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    >Not a single one of my hacks has achievements.

    Good. :U
     
  11. Blue Spikeball

    Blue Spikeball

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    Not to worry, I'll submit some :V
     
  12. muteKi

    muteKi

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    I mean, the main reason that achievements exists is to collect analytics on things like game completion, so the more uninspired, basic achievements are doing their job exactly as well.

    I'm not particularly motivated by achievements for their own sake and would greatly prefer diegetic rewards for the sort of achievement that isn't just progress, or having the motivation be intrinsic in the first place (ie playing a certain way not because it has an achievement but because it feels better, is faster, etc)
     
  13. AfroRyan

    AfroRyan

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    Joking aside, unless the hack fundamentally changes the game, typically by having new level layouts or characters/mechanics, it won't be accepted. Things like bug fixes, sound changes, or palette changes aren't enough to pass compliance on RA (though in some cases, the hack's hash may be linked to the core set, assuming the internal memory isn't affected in such a way that the achievement coding is broken). Even Clownacy's Super/Hyper Sonic in Sonic 1 hack would be a hard sell, since what it is adding makes a fairly easy game even easier, but I'd personally argue it deserves to be added since new speedrun challenges could be fun to experience.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2023
  14. Bobblen

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    I don't like achievements for their own sake (finish the first level, grind this repetitive task for a 100 years, that sort of thing), but a few carefully selected ones that get you playing the game a different way have their place. I liked the Half-Life 2 achievement where you had to carry a garden gnome all the way to the end of the game for example.

    A good one for Sonic 2 which was in the Taxman version, is get through Chemical Plant 2 without touching the chemical. You can do it with some spindash jumps via the normal route if you really must, but it's subtly nudging you towards discovering the hidden top route. Much better than just 'find the hidden top route'.
     
  15. AfroRyan

    AfroRyan

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    Yeah, that's a solid challenge with a hidden agenda. That's partly why I like Sonic Pocket Adventure so much; its hidden puzzle pieces act as an incentive to explore every path for no other reason than to collect all puzzle pieces. It does a good job of rewarding players for engaging in exploration, in a way that a simple extra life or powerup falls short. Probably goes without saying, but the RetroAchievements set for SPA rewards an achievement for collecting/completing all the puzzles.

    I really hope Sonic Superstars finally has a good, well rounded achievement set that both rewards base completion AND has fun challenges. Most official Sonic sets seem so half-hearted, so it'd be nice to finally have one that encourages novel play and rewards engagement.