I'd just shaken down a wastelander for some extra cash and robbed a whole squad of goodie-goodie NCR soldiers blind in Fallout: New Vegas when something occured to me. While the game kept me interested, I felt totally apatheitc when the "You've lost Karma!" notice flashed up on screen.
See, I normally take the paragon path of super-saintly virtue, minus a few unsaved lapses just to see what happens. My good karma maxed out during Fallout 3, but in New Vegas I ran the table Vegas style. I lied, cheated, intimidated, and took whatever the hell I wanted. Karma? Screw that. Baby needed a new pair of silenced .22 pistols. So I pickpocketed them off some goons and then gave them back…one whisper-quiet bullet at a time.
How much do I get if I just pick off his ears?
That's when something else occured to me. I played Fallout 3 on an Xbox 360, where I gunned for a series of good karma Achievements. My New Vegas experience happened on a PlayStation 3, and I didn't care about scoring any corresponding Trophies (which, it turns out, don't actually exist).
And that's when something major occured to me: even though I'm a mild Achievement whore, I never care about winning Trophies.
Hey, I'm on record as a non-denominational gamer; if it's a good meal, I don't care what plate I'm eating off of. But the mere thought of devoting another chunk of my soul to a second competitive meta-game system just makes me feel tired. By the time Sony pushed Trophies live in July 2008, my gamerscore had a two-and-a-half year head start. No way would my Trophy count ever catch up, so why bother?
If you've sworn undying fealty to the PS3, the Trophy update was a great day. For the rest of us, it came late to the party and danced around the leader too damn much.
Trophies spend a lot of time trying to be Achievements while distigushing themselves as their own thing in self-destructive ways. They dropped key elements like points in favor of an A-B-C-D system that feels a bit inflexable at times, where Achievements can dole out five or 150 points as waranted. The interface isn't streamlined, and notifications are appologetically small. Plus, I have to say "Achievement" actually sounds better. You achieved something. It's an accomplishment, rather than a simple award for good (or deviant) behavior.
Achievement Unlocked: Pretty Cups!
Don't get me wrong…Trophies aren't altogether bad, and the PS3 needed Trophies. The Wii still does. Several third party Wii developers put standalone Achievements in their games independent of Nintendo — NBA Jam and The Conduit, for example. Microsoft guys razz those poor developers relentlessly; "Yeah, but those aren't real Achievements." And they're right. "Faux-chievements" lack true, cross-game integration. It's a patch where Microsoft had their act together on day one.
And if you want to be honest about it, Sony only created Trophies because the competition had them.
That said, Trophies arrived as a smarter package, having watched Microsoft work out all the kinks. For a long time, Xbox 360 games rewarded you for merely playing them. Only Perfect Dark Zero awarded Achievements for how you played. Personally, my favorite Achievements make me alter my behavior in bizzare ways; "47 Kills" in Hitman: Blood Money and Dead Rising's "Zombie Genocider" don't just happen by accident.
If you're assassinated in Vegas, do you stay in Vegas?
Trophies alter my behavior as well. Since I'm not interested in earning them, I'm not concerned about collecting items, locking into a certain personality profile, or doing anything other than playing the game the way I want to play it. It's quite freeing, actually. I sometimes wonder if I enjoy games on the PS3 more specifically because I'm not constantly chasing after the next cookie.
I'll always praise the brilliance of Achievements — they redefined online gaming, offline playing, boosted software sales, solidified partnerships with developers, and made the hardware transition from 1.0 to 360 much smoother than it really deserved to be, all at the same time. I'll always obsessively work up my gamerscore. But it's also relaxing to get away from the hunt and just do whatever. That's a nice oasis to have, whichever system you choose.
For me, Achievements are the treasures I'll relentlessly hunt down even to my own detriment, while Trophies are the feature I can blissfully ignore. Maybe that isn't their intended effect, but I appreciate them for it all the same.