The Achievement Escort #1 – Definitions & Rock Band Blitz

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The Achievement Escort is a column that examines the metagame surrounding achievements. It is not a guide for specific achievements, but rather a commentary on how achievements can alter a gamer’s experience and expose gameplay elements that may otherwise have remained hidden.

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When people see my gamerscore, I usually hear an incredulous guttural grunt cut with a dash of judgment (depending on the person). Personally I feel it’s not that impressive, but I guess I would think that. Regardless, I’m inevitably called to justify the number. I can understand why. Achievements are, ostensibly, the lamest invention in the world. At first glance, they’re nothing more than a hollow incentive to drag out the length of a game. Even worse, those who seek them out are mindless accomplishment junkies needing nothing more than an increasing number to feel good about themselves.

But it isn’t about that. It’s actually a lot more substantial than that. Well, for me anyway.

I find most modern games boring. Modern design typically works in a ton of large-scale set pieces to create the illusion of activity. The perennial example is Call of Duty’s campaigns. Sure buildings are blowing up and nuclear bombs are detonating just outside the invisible cage you’re romping in, but the actual game is just glorified whack-a-mole against brainless enemies through a set of holographic iron sights. The game itself is simple, easy, and worst of all, not intellectually stimulating.

But let’s mix in some achievements. Say that there’s an achievement for finishing a level using only melee attacks. Suddenly there are so many more interesting problems. How much health do I have? Is it enough to run straight at an enemy and just stab him? How numerous are the enemies? How can I use the cover which will be inevitably sprinkled around the level to obstruct line of sight? Suddenly, level design, stats, the number of enemies, and so many more aspects of the game actually matter. The pittance of numbers awarded to me on completing it is irrelevant; the enrichment of the experience is paramount.

And that’s just dealing with one individual achievement. The most satisfying aspect of achievements is a metagame surrounding them.

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Getting just one achievement at a time is interesting but not interesting enough. Plus there are infinite guides and videos on how to get individual achievements so why would you read this for that sort of information? What fascinates me is combining achievements to maximize points gained relative to time spent.

To me, this is the ultimate metagame surrounding achievements and requires analyzing what an achievement wants you to do, how you can accomplish that with the game’s mechanics, and how your personal level of skill enters into the equation. For instance, there might be an achievement for finishing a level on the hardest difficulty. You could do that at the same time as the melee-only achievement described above, but would it be faster to do both at the same time or just play the level twice? Making that judgment call and continuously re-evaluating your approach as you gain more knowledge and skill about the game is a constant metagame that is generally far more interesting than the actual gameplay.

Strategies for achievement stacking is what this column will address, which in turn will provide commentary on the gameplay and structure of any given game.

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Here’s a simple example to illustrate what I mean about meta-challenge and achievement stacking.

Loyal Fan – 10G - Play at least 10 unique songs by the same artist

Decade Decadence – 10G - Play at least 50 songs from the same decade

Genre Diehard – 10G - Play at least 50 unique songs in the same genre

These are not difficult achievements to get, but they are awfully time consuming. The most brute-force method requires playing 110 songs, but surely we can do better.

The stacking strategy is fairly straightforward — if you can find 50 songs that are both in the same genre and decade, 10 of which from the same artist, you get all three in the same amount of time it’d take to get you one. Odds are you don’t have enough DLC to satisfy that requirement though.

Then, to minimize effort, you must find the highest possible overlap between genre and decade, while ensuring that you have 50 or more of either independently to satisfy the requirement. For instance, say you have 40 songs that are both 90s and “rock,” that means you only need to play 10 additional 90s songs of any genre, and 10 additional rock songs from any decade.

Songlist filtering is a vital tool for this. By hitting back / select in the song list, you can filter by decade and even get quick counts for all of your sub-categories. Once you’ve filtered by genre, you can sort by decade, and then count through to find which has the highest crossover.

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Playing Blitz in this way didn’t have a profound impact on the game, aside from my playing a lot of Alanis Morissette and Foo Fighters. Instead, the new experience resulted in a much more interesting problem than simply mashing my way through Cult of Personality over and over. Solving / minimizing this problem reminds me of logic puzzles — the kind that are like “Harry is 2 inches taller than Sally and likes ice cream. What color is Sally’s shirt?”

Another particularly interesting aspect of this problem is that there’s no universal answer for every player. Typically in games you can describe a specific skill or pattern to exploit, but in this case, it depends entirely on the music resident in every player’s game.

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