I Did 99 Laps and the Trophy Ain’t Won*

I have a love em/hate em relationship with Achievement Points and, now, Playstation trophies. On the one hand, as I’m sure you’ve noticed with my nods to Geometry Wars Evolved 2, I am a very competitive person. Trophies and points are a good measure of that. On the other hand, these rewards feel like artificial extensions for the games they are attached to. There are exceptions. Some are very well designed, getting people to try different things with the game system or awarding them for odd, possibly fun, discoveries or accidents. Those I like. Many rewards, however, are sadistic borefests.

Those unbalanced achievements hurt the entire platform. Their unattainable requirements (or close to it) create a system where the points that you earn are more a measure of how many games have been played rather than how well they were played. One lousy game that provides an easy 1000 points, in mere minutes, has more value in such a system than two great games that take some 60 hours combined to get approximately 500 points in each. In that capacity it’s not even a measure of how many but a tally of how many games with overly generous achievement rewards.

The points don’t have any value, of course, but that doesn’t stop people from competing in this way. Games like Naruto whatever were rented and played many times simply because their 1000 achievement points were super-easy to get. I might be a bit of an “achievement whore” when given the opportunity but I wouldn’t stoop to that level.

If I enjoy a game enough on its own merits then it’s a different story: I don’t mind going out of the way to get some extra trophies for my collection. Crackdown was a prime example. I spent hours (perhaps too many) in Crackdown‘s Pacific City, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, searching for useless agility orbs. It was very frustrating at times, but I liked the game well enough to continue with it. I was also able to maintain the search while in co-op with friends, something I wish more games did well, which made things easier. When I did find that final 300th orb it was not satisfaction I felt but relief; I could finally end that pointless quest and go back to being interested in the core game. WipeOut HD is the latest game to capture me in this trap.

WipeOut HD

There’s a trophy — a gold one, I should add — called “Beat Zico” that I figured was doable. It seemed simple enough: beat a single lap time on one of the easiest tracks on the easiest speed class using a vehicle that you have available from the start. As far as achievements go, this one’s pretty good. It’s a pure skill based award that can be procured the very first time you boot up WipeOut HD, provided you’re good enough. I decided to give it a shot. As a bonus, there was a separate trophy for doing 99 consecutive laps on a time trial. 99 laps, I thought, would be enough to master the course and do a perfect run.

Everything started well enough. On the second lap, I had a new record. On the fourth lap, I beat it again. Then again. In the first dozen laps I managed to shave off a second and a half off my time. Unfortunately, I was still three seconds short.

As the lap tally grew, the records became less and less frequent. When they did come they were improvements of mere hundredths of a second. I was peaking, trying to keep up with my own ghost rather than Zico’s record. On lap 68 I had an amazing run. “Perfect lap”, the game told me, followed by “new lap record.” I was still two seconds off.

Over the next 31 laps that record was never bested. As I crossed the checkered flag, the soundtrack (sadly devoid of the AFX track in WipeOut Pulse) had looped two or three times over — I need to add some of my own music to the custom soundtrack — my hands were starting to cramp and my ass needed a break. The notification for the “99 laps” trophy popped up and nothing more. Zico remained unbeaten.

I was left wondering: why? I wasn’t even half-way through the campaign, where there were new tracks to race and vehicles to unlock, and, in its stead, I opted to fly around in circles trying to get one virtual trophy. Why?

Later, I hit YouTube to see how other people did it. “Aha! I was totally boosting in the wrong spot.” “So you can do a barrel-roll over there.” “I had a feeling that dropping off over here would give a marginal speed increase.” With this deeper insight, I retired to bed knowing that there was another 99 lap run tomorrow.

WipeOut HD

* I’m sorry.

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