Feature Design: Achievements

One of the last features I implemented for The Salt Keep was the achievements. It's one I went back and forth on for a long time, because something about it feels almost out of place for a game so focused on immersive narrative. It makes me think of those emotional moments in AAA games where a dramatic cinematic is playing only to be interrupted by a Playstation trophy popping in the corner. Something about it feels almost crass, like it undercuts the narrative by reminding you of the reptile-brain dopamine reward cycle of gaming.

That said, I like the reptile-brain dopamine reward cycle of gaming. Trophy hunting isn't necessarily my primary motivation in games, but sometimes it does call to me, and given that so much of my game dev background up to this point is in browser-based idle games, it's hard to deny that I find it appealing. I like dopamine, and I like rewards, and my brain is reptilian. 

So, I added achievements:

Once I started implementing the page itself, it began to feel natural to include them, and I realized that the only part I really took issue with was the actual presentation of earning one. At first, I gravitated toward a pop-up of the sort you'd see on a traditional console or Steam game -- something that appears in the corner, then fades away -- but given that a significant portion of players for this game (a majority, potentially) will be playing on mobile, I had trouble finding a way to display it without it feeling intrusive. The idea of reading and being interrupted mid-sentence by a pop-up covering some portion of the text felt jarring, no matter how small I made it or where on the screen I placed it.

At that point, I started drifting back to the idea that perhaps there shouldn't be achievements at all. If I couldn't figure out how to notify the player without it being jarring, perhaps that meant the feature itself was jarring.  The more I thought about it, though, the less sense that made to me. Plenty of interactive fiction games have achievements, and it isn't jarring for them. It felt almost like an internal debate where I represented to diametrically opposed points of view: the lizard brain that just wants dopamine, and the game designer that doesn't want clunky UI elements flying around and busying up the limited screen real estate. 

The solution, I found, was to compromise with myself. I added a small icon notification in line with the others that already exist (the numbers that pop up when you have new items or injuries), which fades after a few seconds. It doesn't include any specific information about the achievement, but tells you that there's something new, which is enough information for anybody who's interested to click through and look. For players who aren't interested, on the other hand, it doesn't intrude at all:

All that over-thinking for a checkmark, right? 

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This text has many great thought-out points. Game development really is systematic wrestling with your different kinds of options and needs. Very thoughtful and witty. Thanks for opening your thinking and working process.

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. The internal back-and-forth has definitely been a big part of the process for me - "systematic wrestling" is a good way to put it.


Nice that you liked my comment and the term I coined up, thinking these same things.  Once again, Great Mind Stinks a Like ;-) 
Gotta say also that I really like your way of expressing things and your use of words.  <3