Steam, Achievements, and Achievement Spam

Over at Kotaku, Nathan Grayson wrote an interesting analysis of “achievement spam” games on PC gaming platform Steam.

Wikipedia defines an achievement as “a meta-goal defined outside of a game’s parameters.” So a very typical sort of achievement for a video game might be a little badge icon once you’ve killed 100 of some type of monster in a game.

Achievement-like systems had long been present in video games, but Microsoft made them a significant part of video game culture by including them on the XBOX 360 platform. This meant video game achievements would show up on players’ XBOX 360 profiles, and gamers could compare their particular achievements and overall completion rate. Other video game platforms quickly followed suit. PC video game platform Steam added achievements in 2007.

One of the things about the XBOX platform is that Microsoft has some limits built in regarding achievements. Each achievement in an XBOX game is worth a certain number of points, and Microsoft limits each major publisher game to only 1,000 achievement points, divided among how ever many individual achievements the developer wants to create. Indie and small publisher games that are sold at a lower price point tend to be capped at an even lower number of achievement points.

Steam, however, doesn’t award points for each achievement. In Steam, you simply see a total of how many total achievements you have earned. It also apparently has no limits on how few or how many achievements a game can have.

Some games have zero achievements, frequently because they were released prior to 2007, but also occasionally because the developer in question objects to achievements or doesn’t want to spend valuable time coding them to work properly.

And, as Grayson’s article points out, some games have thousands of achievements–in one case, just a bit more than 10,000 achievements.

While there are a few games on Steam that have hundreds of achievements that are intended to reward players for completing challenging content, more commonly they are what Grayson calls achievement spam games. The point is to sell a game at a very low price that has thousands of achievements that can be “earned” easily in a few hours to inflate the number of achievements a player has on their profile page.

Another achievement spam game is Blood Feed. The first-person giant insect shooter offers 3,001 achievements, all of which you can unlock in 15 minutes or so by wantonly blasting everything that moves. It’s a “game” in the barest sense of the word. Blood Feed’s developers offer custom achievements, allowing players to go on the game’s forums and request achievements with custom images and description text. Those make for especially fancy feathers in avid profile-decorators’ caps. Blood Feed’s developers know what they’re doing: in May 2017 alone, ANPA.US has released three games with over a thousand achievements (and little else) called Survival Zombies, Machine Hunt, and Dinosaur Forest. These games weren’t popular with reviewers, but they offered custom achievements and actually outsold Blood Feed, which came out at the end of April. Survival Zombies did especially well, managing to move around 40,000 copies, according to SteamSpy.

Not surprisingly, a lot of hardcore achievement hunters do not like the presence of such achievement spam games. Grayson quotes achievement hunter Xeinok who dislikes achievement spam games,

Getting 10,000 achievements for doing nothing in a game for 10 minutes can easily make a gamer who spent dozens of hours working on a single difficult achievement feel pretty bad.

I couldn’t disagree more. Achievements are a major part of the Steam experience for me–I pretty much won’t buy or play a game that doesn’t include achievements. But the fact that I downloaded Blood Feed and 100 percented it in a short time for thousands of achievements doesn’t distract at all from the accomplishment of achieving a particularly difficult achievement.

For example, in a story from 2016, Xeinok notes how he is one of the few people who has received the achievement in Frozen Synapse for beating one of the game’s developers. That achievement is far more meaningful and speaks to Xeinok’s gaming cred than the 3,000 or so achievements I received for playing some achievement spam games for a couple hours.

But honestly, there’s no reason the Steam achievement meta-game should be any different than video games themselves. Many video games give different routes and difficulties so that people of different skill levels and/or interests can play the game in different ways. Why should the achievement meta-game be any different?

Some people want to show off their hardcore gaming skills by earning insanely difficult achievements. Others just want to figure out a shortcut to maximize their total score.

Let a thousand achievements bloom.

Completionist.Me–Steam Achievement Tracker

Completionist.Me is a website that lets Steam users track their achievements and various stats around achievements in general outside of the Steam application.

It’s an interesting tool, though I’m still partial to MetaGamerScore.com which does much of what Completionist.Me does, but for several different gaming sites/systems.

German Steam Store Removes 27 Games

Neowin reports that the German Steam store has apparently removed 27 games,

Although Valve hasn’t issued an official statement yet, it seems likely that the games were pulled by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons in Germany due to most of the games allegedly appearing on the “The List of Media Harmful to Young People”, also known as “The Index”.

These are the games allegedly pulled from sale in Germany:

How to Fix Mafia II Xbox 360 Controller Prompts

Mafia II CoverI recently started playing Mafia II on Steam. When the game was released for PC in 2010, it supported using an XBOX 360 or Playstation controller. That’s good, but the game features a ridiculous in-game system for controller button prompts.

When the game wants the player to press a given button, it uses generic B1, B2, etc. labels for the buttons rather than the actual controller-specific button labels. I’m not aware of any other game that uses such a screwed up system.

Over the years, different people have apparently created mods for the game that replace these generic prompts with the correct prompts for PS3 and XBOX controllers. Since the game is so old, however, none of those have been updated in years and every single one I tried failed to work with the current version of the game on Steam.

A little Googling led me to this thread, however, which included a post from earlier this month where a user tracked down a mod that still works for the PS3 controller. The user then helpfully modified that mod to also work for the XBOX 360 controller.

That mod worked perfectly for me, and can be downloaded here (I’ve also mirrored the file here just in case). After you download that file and unzip it, you want to find this original file in the Mafia II directory

SteamApps\common\mafia ii\pc\sds\gui\gui.sds

and replace it with the modded version (backup the original by renaming it to old-gui.sds or something similar).

Then just restart the game, and enjoy the correct button prompts.

Steam’s Ridiculous Handling of Music Purchases

I had been waiting for Stardew Valley’s release for several months now, and when I finally played the game I was especially impressed with how good the music was. So impressed, that I paid $4.99 to purchase the Stardew Valley Soundtrack on Steam.

Steam Stardew Valley Original Soundtrack Screenshot

 

Okay, so I purchased the music, but how do I actually listen to it?

Well, first I tried clicking “Play” on the screen above, but that simply launched the game itself.

Hmmm. So then I remembered that there was “Music” option in the Steam Library. So I head over there, but there’s no Music in my Steam library at all.

 

Steam Library Music Screenshot

So I clicked on the Music Library settings option, but that screen left me scratching my head. Since Steam didn’t give me any indication of where it might have put the music (and it isn’t showing up in my library), I’m not sure what I need to do here.

Steam Library Music Setup

After a Google search, it turns out that Steam “helpfully” puts music in a subdirectory under the main game installation directory. So, if a game like Stardew Valley is installed here:

/SteamLibrary/steamapps/common/Stardew Valley/

then the soundtrack is located here:

/SteamLibrary/steamapps/common/Stardew Valley/StardewValleyOST/

Eventually my Steam client restarted for an update and it automatically added the soundtrack when scanning at startup. Apparently if I had clicked the “Scan Now” button, that would have likely added it to my library.

This. Is. Stupid.

I buy almost all of my video games through Steam because it is so easy to use and works well at keeping everything organized. My experience buying music from Steam, however, was a visit to frustration-ville.

The product page for the soundtrack should at a minimum include a clickable link that will open up the directory where the music is stored on the local machine, and I cannot for the life of me understand why Steam doesn’t automatically add any music I’ve purchased and installed from Steam onto the music list automatically. I shouldn’t have to restart my client or click through configuration screens to find a button to rescan my music collection.

The Deadly Tower of Monsters – That’s No Assault Rifle

So this weekend I was playing through the excellent The Deadly Tower of Monsters video game, whose conceit is that the game is actually a DVD version of an awful sci-fi B-movie. As you listen to the director’s commentary as you play the game, there are occasional asides about how the props used in the fictional movie were common household items. For example, at one point the director shares that the Tesla lightning gun you just picked up was in fact just an electric shaver.

And then I managed to upgrade the game’s assault rifle to its maximum stats, whereupon the art work for the gun changes to . . . well, lets just say that didn’t come from a gun rack nor is it a shaving accessory (unless your life is a lot stranger than mine).

 

The Deadly Tower of Monsters - Assault Rifle