7 Steps for Better Achievements

Alto's Adventure

I’ve really enjoyed putting achievements in games, and well designed ones can get a great response from players. There’s a dark art to making them both fun and compelling, rather than a forgettable chore. So, here are the lessons I have learned in list-orial format.

7. Give one for something really, really easy. This A) lets players know that this game has achievements and how they’ll be delivered, and B) gives a little positive feedback for them helpfully opening the game/trying the first level. If you think super simple achievements are silly, then you could always give it a sarcastic name.

6. Understand the effects of achievements. For most players, they give a small endorphin kick and increase engagement. They can provide a reason for exploring, or returning to parts of the game to dive deeper. They can even function as status symbols, where only 0.1% of your players are worthy of an achievement.

5. Understand the negative effects of achievements. A segment of your player base will gun for achievements like meth addicts. Players may be stuck in parts of your game far longer than they are having fun, because the reward mechanic is stronger than their self-control. As a dev, it is your responsibility to make the achievements a fun addition, rather than a way to force player behaviours.

“Yeah, hit me with a Platinum, that’s the good stuff.”

4. Space set piece achievements wisely. Far too many games give an easy achievement, and then nothing else until the credits – the rest are tied into completionist challenges or absurd coincidence. I would strongly suggest having progress achievements regularly spaced through the campaign. Many games are divided into “chapters” or “worlds” that make this a no-brainer.

3. Preserve some mystery. I like having suggestive titles that don’t explicitly say an achievement’s requirements, but still give enough to let the player guess. When it has been finished, more information can be available describing the achievement’s exact conditions.

“So, this achievement isn’t in the bedroom…”

2. Make a joke! Not every achievement needs to be serious or particularly difficult. Great examples include “That Guy” from Move or Die after annoyingly running into other players, or even better, the “Click On Door 430 Five Times” routine from The Stanley Parable.

1. Tie in gameplay effects. An achievement system that gives a reward that can be spent in-game will have players caring far more about it. This brings achievements into part of the core gameplay loop, which in the right game is extremely powerful.

With that, “achievements” doesn’t look like a real word any more. Develop responsibly!

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Interview: Sophie Houlden

I had the opportunity to speak to Sophie Houlden, who is a vibrant member of the developer community, with a mountain of games spanning over a decade. Her projects include Rose & Time, Bang Bang Bang, as well as over 40 (!) smaller projects/jam games.

Of your numerous games, which came closest to the vision you had going in?

Sophie: Probably “The Linear RPG“, I had some concept sketches I made and the result looks pretty close. I think the reason is because of the scale, bigger games tend to stray further from an original idea just because I spend more time on them, the idea is going to grow and evolve over time. I think that’s fine to be honest, there’s nothing inherently better about the very first image of a game I get in my head – it’s important to let that develop (or cut away from it – a great idea that is never finished is only ever an idea).

I really liked The Linear RPG – it’s good to sometimes make a small game that starts as one joke. Is humour important when you’re working on a project?

S: Humour is sometimes important, but not always. It just depends on the game. It’s enough if working on the game is amusing for me; it doesn’t need to be explicitly funny or anything. (And to be honest, trying to be funny can be a real chore because it’s often difficult.)

How important are game jams in your creative process?

S: It varies a lot, sometimes I’ll make a game in a jam and then I’ll build on it and release something more robust/polished/bigger – it can be a good way to get a project started quickly without getting caught up in minutiae that I would otherwise worry about. A jam game skips a bunch of early work and either it works or it doesn’t, you’re forced to make all the big decisions early and once the jam is over then what a more polished version needs is apparent, it’s harder to get trapped in hypothetical, “if I do this am I committed to the game being XYZ and not ABC”. On the other hand, game jams are often exhausting and I can’t really do them as reliably as I could a decade ago. When I’m doing new projects, I tend to start in a jam-like mindset once I have the energy myself – rather than waiting for a jam and hoping I happen to be healthy and energetic on that jam’s particular weekend/week/month/whatever.

You’ve been creating games for a long time, now. At what point were you able to become a full-time indie developer?

S: At no point really, and if any, then only in the last year as I got my Patreon set up. I’ve been losing money and having debts grow for a long time, and I still owe a lot of money. I’m only now with the support of my patrons in this ‘neutral’ position where I can just about afford to eat and stay at home without my debt increasing.

Has your process changed much after moving from Flash to Unity?

S: When I first moved from Flash to Unity, the two were actually very similar, at least for how I worked. Although Unity has grown and changed quite a bit over the years so I guess my process has changed along with it? The foundation stuff is always the same though; you get an idea, you experiment with it, and if you think it’s good enough and worthwhile then you grind away at it until it’s done or until you can’t work anymore.

What advice would you give to a new developer starting out today?

S: Accept that you’re not going to make money, if you still want to do it then get stuck in and find stuff that you enjoy working on. If you’re not happy then find something else, that could be a different tool, maybe a different workflow, different kind of project, or maybe something besides games. I think if I did nothing but games I’d have destroyed myself a lot more.

What do you mean by destroying yourself?

S: My point being that working on games is tough, and sometimes it’s really tough. Gotta take breaks or be broken.

For you, is making games a means to an end, or an end in itself?

S: Both (again, it depends on the game). Sometimes I make a game because I think it is a game that should exist and so I’ll make it happen, sometimes I make a game because I need something to work on that I enjoy working on, like it’s a little puzzle for me to solve. If you’re asking if I’m making games as a way to accomplish some other thing in my life; not really. I just make games because I’m someone who makes games.

Thanks so much for the insights! Sophie is doing monthly builds on her Patreon, and releasing “ducksnakes” daily on Twitter.

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Platformer Mixtape 2010

My adorable/nasty game, Platformer Mixtape 2010, is now available to freely play in its final form! Find it on Itch.io, Armor Games, or Newgrounds.

  • More levels
  • Quality-of-life fixes (pause, mute, save games)
  • Tighter controls

If you’re interested in the design and development of the game, see 6 ways to improve 2D jumping, or subscribe as later this month I’ll be blogging my system for pixel-perfect 2D in Unity.

Still easier than filing taxes.
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10 Ways to Prep for a Game Jam

The dust has settled on LDJAM 41, for which I made the rage-inducing Flappy Blocks in 48 hours. I learned a lot, and thought it was only fair to share. So here is my Top 10 List Of Things That You Should Consider Doing To Prepare For A Game Jam!

10. Prove you can export something. If it’s been a while since you used a game engine, it’s well worth putting together a non-game where you can move a basic object, and export it. This is especially true if you need plugins, such as exporting to WebGL from Unity. Make sure everything’s up-to-date and working together, and you could save yourself a lot of pain at the end of the jam.

09. Decide what you’ll eat. I mean, same as any other day, except you want to avoid going to the shops and losing time. Think about what you’ll have for meals, fruit/snacks, and how you’ll stay hydrated.

08. Set up a repository in advance, and use it. Losing work is pain. By setting up a Git repository before the jam begins, and committing every 20 minutes, you’ll never lose work and can easily get back a file you accidentally overwrote! Even better, Bitbucket or Github can backup your repositories online, for maximum safety.

07. Know what you want to get out of it. This could include making friends, learning dev skills, making a game you think is great/different/terrifying, getting followers, or any personal reason you have. By knowing what you want to get out of it, you can be much more likely to get it. Perhaps you just want to try making a game in a jam, and that’s great too!

06. Ask your friends to jam with you. For a weekend like this, it’s so much easier to stay focused if another person can see your screen. I had Joshua beside me, and he was able to help with some of my code issues. In Ludum Dare, it’s possible to work as a team in the “Jam” category, but we chose to make one game each instead. The Jam is very competitive, and neither of us are artists!

05. Choose your tools in advance. Besides your chosen environment/language, you’ll also want to think about how you will make art, sounds, and music. The old Ludum Dare site has a list of tools, so have a play around before the jam begins – it’s easier to learn when there’s no time pressure.

04. Pick an idea you can finish. It’s totally fine to make something simple! This is going to be different for everyone, but getting to the 40 hour mark without the end in sight is frustrating. If you want to challenge yourself, I suggest choosing one area specifically to learn something new; e.g. if you’ve never made dynamic sounds, or worked with pixel-perfect sprites, it could be wise to treat that as the challenge and keep the rest of your idea simple.

03. Add a day. It’s a 48 hour jam, but secretly it’s a day longer. Because on the Monday, you will be splattered and not in the mood to do much of anything. Use this day of rest as an opportunity to rate lots of other games!

02. Polish beats ambition. In Ludum Dare specifically, there is literally no rating for ambition. If you care about ratings, then spending time on polish will beat spending the same time on an extra 5 levels, every time. That said, I love ambitious games, and if it fits the targets you set out for yourself in point 7, then don’t worry about the scores and just do it.

01. Scores don’t really matter. Honestly, it’s much more important that you meet the personal goals you set out for yourself earlier. Game jams are a weird, fun challenge to undertake, and you should always be proud of the result.

In LDJAM, two of us made “Flappy Bird x Tetris” games. And yet, even though we interpreted the theme in the exact same way, our “Theme” rank was 45 places different. There’s no reason for this, besides that different people saw each game and some people are pickier than others! If that’s not a great example of why scores don’t matter, I don’t know what is.

And that’s about it! So, how did Flappy Blocks do after all this? Great! It got top 10 in two categories out of a thousand “Compo” entries, and more importantly for me, helped me connect with lots of new faces on Twitter as I’m starting my gamedev journey. In fact, it could help me connect with you right now!

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