I just spend dozens of hours playing a 20-year-old video game I haven’t laid eyes on in quite some time, all because I wanted to earn the game’s coveted Platinum Trophy.
The PlayStation 4 port of Final Fantasy VII had me trying to defeat Ruby Weapon and acquire one of the game’s most powerful summons for rare gold PlayStation Trophies. These are challenges I completely ignored when I first played Square Enix’s beloved title. All I wanted to do was finish the story. But this new incentive of earning every single one of FFVII’s Trophies let me experience an older game in a new way.
Ever since Sony released the successful God of War Collection back in 2009 (a package that includes the first two entries in PlayStation’s blood-soaked series), the industry has had a torrent of similar HD re-releases. Games like The Sly Collection, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, and Rare Replay.
One of the biggest incentives for people to repurchase or play these HD re-releases for the first time are the PlayStation Trophies and Xbox Achievements. They allow players to complete satisfyingly difficult and engaging challenges they otherwise would’ve ignored. Ever try finishing Resident Evil HD just using your knife? The way these HD collections have been selling is great proof of that. Though the 1080p visuals and, often, 60-frames-per-second cameras are welcomed additions as well.
Resident Evil HD sold more than 1 million copies, becoming the fastest-selling digital title ever. Xbox marketing boss Aaron Greenberg also revealed a few months ago that Rare Replay had succeeded the company’s sales expectations. The game was completely sold out during its first week of release. Similarly, Gears of War Ultimate Edition was the third best-selling game in August, 2015.
Of course, this particular business practice eventually began to get a bit obnoxious. Publishers started to re-release games that were barely a few years old; Tomb Raider and Dishonored: Definitive Editions anyone? But recently, companies have gotten better with the games they choose to re-release.
Mega Man Legacy Collection, Grim Fandango Remastered, Rare Replay, and now PlayStation 2 Classics are a great way for generations of younger gamers to play classics for the first time. These are games younger folks would’ve either ignored entirely or found it difficult to actually buy and play. Grim Fandango was impossible to find for decades, but now kids have easy access to it. And they have a slew of enjoyable PS Trophies to earn as well, like completing the entire game using only tank-controls.
A community obsessed with retro achievements
Retro Achievements, an online community and website obsessed with resurrecting old games, agrees with me. Members of the site can either play Mega Drive or SNES games in the hopes of earning some interesting and challenging achievements, or create their very own achievements. This had led to a thriving website that exposes classic games to a deluge of both new and old players.
Matthew Conley, a veteran Retro Achievements member, says the site “came from the idea that achievements would make a great way for people to re-experience their favorite games from their childhood by playing the games in a different way.”
Conley changed the way he plays games ever since he joined the Retro Achievements community. Before, he would finish a game as quickly possible in order to quickly experience a new title since he didn’t really have any incentive to do otherwise. Nowadays, he loves to finish as many challenges as possible before playing a different game.
“I have gone back and played a few games to earn that 100 percent achievement list, such as Super Metroid,” Conley shared with me. “Before achievements, I always just tried to complete the game as quickly as possible, and would do some sequence breaking with wall jumping. I just recently got a 100 percent pickup rating when I went through the game’s current achievement list here. The two escape sequence speed-runs were also extremely difficult, but so satisfying when the achievement pops.”
Tim Stadler, another veteran member of the site, agrees. Achievements became a powerful source of motivation to either revisit classic titles or play them for the first time.
“There are a lot of games that I’ve always wanted to pick up, but I never really found the motivation to actually play them,” says Stadler. “A specific example would be DuckTales for NES, which I mastered on Retro Achievements back when there was an ‘achievement of the week’ contest. Generally, as I’ve never owned a Sega console, I found some really great games for Mega Drive through Retro Achievements. Also, you can find a lot of hidden gems you probably never heard about. [Laughs]”
However, one issue for Stadler, Conley, and many other players is that the company that has the largest library of classic games does not use a trophy/achievement system. Nintendo has opted out of this trend ever since both Sony and Microsoft introduced their PlayStation Trophies and Xbox Achievements a little over a decade ago, and that’s a shame. Nintendo fans would benefit greatly from having a better and more exciting reason to experience the company’s vast collection of retro games.
“I still pop in Smash for some games with friends, but other than that, my Wii U does not get much usage,” says Conley. “I would love to see our toolset being placed on the Virtual Console, but until Miiverse supports a system for the achievements, then it may never be placed there. We can only hope for the NX.”
Are publishers doing it right?
For the most part, both publishers and developers have been doing a decent job with the types of trophies/achievements they create for their HD re-releases. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a great example, as it forces you to accomplish challenges like earning the Godfather criminal rating. This has you continually causing enough destruction and mayhem in Vice City over the course of your playthrough until you finally become the most wanted and dangerous criminal in the city. But these games also fall into the trap of containing a bunch of lazy challenges, which defeats the purpose of including them in the first place.
Conley believes a lot of it comes down to how it takes effort and resources during the coding process to come up with trophies/achievements that are more than just something you can mine from in-game statistics, like killing 30 enemies with a specific rifle. The way companies add trophies/achievements to older games in the first place, especially with PS2 titles, is similar to how Retro Achievements functions — through an emulator and a system’s RAM.
“Our system watches the RAM in the emulator and sets whether the achievement has been earned at each frame,” says Conley, explaining the process. “Since most retro games were not developed in Object Oriented code like today, the RAM addresses are in the exact same spot each time the game is played. Action Replay and GameShark worked by changing the values in the RAM to the desired value, and we are just watching said values. I have used the codes for both the previous cheat devices to quickly find addresses that I needed. From what I saw of the patent that Sony filed a few years ago, the PS2 Trophies are done in the same way.”
The issues that arise with newer, 3D titles like Vice City is that they use Object Oriented programming, which is a model organized around objects rather than “actions,” and data rather than logic. Before Object Oriented programming, there were procedural languages. These programs were written as one long procedures that looked like large codes containing both data and logic. It was easy to follow. However, in Objected Oriented language programs are split apart into self-contained objects. Each of these objects represent different parts of the application, which in this case is a video game. This Lynda video gives an excellent overview. In Conley’s view, rather than relying on RAM addresses, which are static and easy to follow, following a slew of different objects makes adding complex trophies a bit more difficult.
“The problem with this, though, is that the 3D game consoles started using Object Oriented programming for the environments and models,” says Conley. “This sometimes spilled into the way the game holds player information and can create problems with making sure a certain address was used for a specific item. I looked at the Star Wars: Bounty Hunter trophies, and besides the ‘kill X amount of enemies’ (which may be tracked by the game save itself), the only trophies are completing the main story and the side missions. Only one PS Trophy is somewhat creative, and it is probably easy if the game itself keeps track of it for mission stats purposes.”
In Conley’s view, the solution to this is simple: Publishers and developers should dedicate a separate team to spend more time focusing on crafting well-thought-out PS Trophies and Xbox Achievements. For the most part, studios are doing a good job. But like with everything, improvements should be made. The industry has a clever and great thing going here, and both companies and players are reaping the benefits off of these HD re-releases. Who doesn’t want to introduce a 5-year-old kid to Mega Man 2 or 3? The Mega Man Legacy Collection is a convenient way to do so.
Putting in that extra effort would definitely go a long way in keeping these HD re-releases, which have become an excellent way to preserve older games, commercially successful. Now excuse me, I have to go reach level 99 in FFVII.