Sunday, June 28, 2009

Would you play this game?

Among many others, one thing that sets the Xbox 360 apart from other home entertainment consoles today is the Achievement system. For years past, we've been able to brag about our accomplishments in video games, but there really hasn't been any way to consistently prove this. Computers have screen recorders, but none are very reliable. You can record gaming footage from a console, but there's no way to prove you did it, as opposed to having downloaded that video from the Internet. With the Xbox 360, you have individual profiles; when you use it, you first sign into your profile (or use it as a guest), and your profile keeps all of your information separate from everybody else's, much like an account in Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. Your profile has an avatar, improved upon but nonetheless based on the Mii on the Nintendo Wii, a 3D character of your own creation, which can be made to look sorta like you, or it can be something entirely different. Then you have your gamer picture, a square icon which predates the avatar, but is still used to represent you in a smaller capacity. After that, you have your gamer score.

Traditionally, and though there are exceptions, retail Xbox 360 games come with 1,000 gamerscore that you can "unlock" by doing certain things in the game. This 1,000 gamerscore can be divided up into 1-99 Achievements, set accomplishments which net a predetermined score. Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) games come with 200 gamerscore and must have 12 achievements, no more, no less. Exceptions include a couple huge games which have 1,200 gamerscore, and the expansions to the Rock Band franchise (e.g. AC/DC Track Pack, Track Pack 2, Classic Rock Track Pack) only come with 200/12 as though they were XBLA titles. How a game gives gamerscore depends entirely upon what the developer of the game wanted to do with the feature. Most games will give you a substantial award for completing the main objective. Many will give awards for completing important milestones in the game. Most award you for winning online matches. Some give you tiny awards for losing, as a sort of consolation prize. Many award you for finding secrets or by doing something creatively. For example, in the beginning of Half-Life 2 (from the game The Orange Box), you have no weapons, and you're being escorted through security checkpoints. A black stormtrooper guy knocks a soda can off the rim of a trashcan and tells you to pick it up, and throw it away. This is part of the tutorial. However, if, instead of throwing it in the trashcan, you throw it at HIM, well, he comes after you with a cattle prod. If you can get around him and away from him, you get 5 points for "Defiance". Later, in the course of normal game events, you're given the character's trademark crowbar from the first Half-Life, and you receive an award for this landmark.

Achievements and their associated gamerscore awards have become a point of pride for many Xbox owners. My account currently has 2405. My wife's is around 1800, and her brother has close to 12,500. But that's chump change; some people have 25,000 or more. A quick Google search lead me to a YouTube video showing a gamerscore of 237,355, but it's implied that this was obtained through an exploit in the system. On a given day of Xbox Live gaming, you're likely to see scores in the 40,000 to 50,000 range from time to time, but those are rare. Gamers in the 20,000 range are more common. What my brother-in-law does to get his, besides actually being very good at the games he plays, is, he has that membership at Blockbuster where, for $22 a month, he can rent as many games as he wants for as long as he wants, but he can only have one out at a time. Like us, he owns Rock Band and a handful of other games he plays just for fun, but he gets new games, and he beats them, not for all 1,000 points they're worth, but just to the end of the main story. He has 55-60 games on his profile (it keeps track of every game you play, as well). So that would be 50,000 gamerscore if he'd gotten all 1,000 from each. So it got me wondering: Would Xbox 360 gamers play a game which could take gamerscore as well as give it? This got me thinking, and I came up with an idea:

An auto insurance company and a car company team up to make a realistic driving game focusing on safety. While this game would seem boring, they'd map an entire state (New York or maybe California) and you'd be able to drive anywhere. The game itself could give you missions to drive people around, kind of like a tame Grand Theft Auto. The game's initial appeal would be that a total of 2,500 gamerscore could be obtained by unlocking all 99 of its achievements. However, there's a catch - there are a total of 99 "red" achievements which total NEGATIVE 5,000 gamerscore. Speed through a small town 10 miles per hour and get docked 10 points. The game could feature local trouble, you'd have a chance of getting a ticket and your insurance rate going up, creating an additional challenge to overcome within the game. You wouldn't get docked 10 points the next time you went 10 over, because the achievement was already unlocked, the penalty already imposed, but you could still be punished in-game if you were caught. However, maybe you go 15 over, you get docked 25 points. And so on until every green (normal) and red achievement were unlocked.

If you really went for all achievements, you'd have 99 green ones and 99 red ones, and you'd have 2500 gamerscore less than when you played the game. But, having accomplished this, would you really consider yourself worse off? In other words, is it the number of the score, or is it the sum of the accomplishments of playing and completing the games?

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