Propaganda Games Talks ‘Turok’ Achievements, Why Killing Teammates Is Out

Game developers just want to have fun.

So when the folks at Propaganda Games were amused by recklessly killing their own teammates during the making of “Turok,” they thought it might be funny and different to include an Achievement for doing so.

They were wrong.

After a backlash from angry Xbox Live gamers late last year, the company recently decided to patch the game on release day to exclude the teammate-killing reward. With “Turok” out in stores this week, I got Associate Director Tim Lewinson on the phone yesterday to talk about the controversial Achievement. Here’s a taste:

Multiplayer: I’m assuming you guys play a lot of multiplayer games on Xbox Live. It never occurred to you that gamers might find that kind of Achievement irritating?

Lewinson: Well, here’s the thing. A lot of folks got uptight about it when the Achievement list was leaked. They were yelling on the forums about how we’re awarding anti-social behavior. Won’t somebody think of the children and all that nonsense so, you know, to our credit we listened to the fan-base, and we patched the Achievement to remove that team-killing portion, so everything’s well in the universe once again. Never let it be said that we won’t listen to the fan-base and if there’s something that they feel really strongly enough about, we’re always willing to go back and take a second look.

Read on to learn more of Lewinson’s thoughts on taking feedback from gamers, how Public Enemy sneaks into the game and what a romantic guy he really is…

Multiplayer: How did you come up with the Achievements for “Turok”?

Lewinson: We wanted to dial back on the good-boy, pat-on-the-head style Achievements where you get points just for bashing through the game. There’s not a lot of skill involved with that. Basically what it came back down to was we wanted our single-player Achievements to involve beating certain levels without using specific weapons, for example, or fighting off numerous dinosaur mauling attempts. When it comes down to multiplayer for first-person shooters, I mean that’s a long tail. That’s where people tend to just spend most of our time, so the majority of our Achievements are slotted towards that, to reward people who are spending a lot of time playing online. And in fact, the attentive player will actually notice some Chris Cornell and Public Enemy shout-outs in a few of the Achievement titles ’cause I’m a huge fan.

Multiplayer: What’s your process for Achievements in general? When do Achievements come into the game design picture?

Lewinson: They kind of come around organically. Achievements, good ones anyway, should come out organically as an adjunct to the process of game design. So if you have an imaginative take on what might be fun and challenging to pull off and then your game has the strength and the open-endedness to support cool, imaginative gameplay styles, then the Achievements can pretty much write themselves.

Multiplayer: What do you think makes a good Achievement in general?

Lewinson: One that has a degree of challenge, of course. I mean if you can figure out a way to work skill and humor to the Achievement, [that’s good.] But you should always have at least one or two hardcore Achievements that take a combination of skill and luck to complete, like the “Pacifist” or the “Primitive Weapons” Achievements that we have. And always some low-hanging fruit so everybody feels like they can get some points.

Multiplayer: What do you think about multiplayer Achievements in general? [Propaganda Games VP] Josh Holmes seemed a little bit ambivalent about them

Lewinson: Yeah, well Josh and I have butted heads on this issue before so… I like them. Not as a way for people to sort of sit around and “Achievement-whore” them out, but sort of reward people who are going to be spending a lot of time playing online anyways. You just create opportunities for people to go out and get these Achievements and get these extra points while they’re enjoying your game. Like I said, for first-person shooters, the long tail of that is multiplayer, that’s where most of the sales come from and most of your key customers come from so you want to make sure that people who are spending a lot of time online have a chance to sort of get a little something extra. You can hit the single-player anytime, but you’re spending a lot of time on multiplayer, and we want to reward that.

Multiplayer: What’s the most difficult Achievement in “Turok”?

Lewinson: Oh geez. Probably a tie between “Multiplayer Master-Class” which is finishing a ranked match with all headshots and at least five kills. And the “Pincushion” Achievement, which you actually have to pin 50 enemies to the wall with a bow during the single-player campaign. It’s not easy.

Multiplayer: Have you done it?

Lewinson: [laughs] I’m about eight enemies in, so I’m still working on it.

Multiplayer: And what about the easiest Achievement?

Lewinson: The easiest is probably “Loud Love” where you can actually kill three soldiers with the rocket launcher at once in the single-player campaign. Get three guys together and just drop it in the middle and watch ’em fly. Very satisfying.

Multiplayer: Let’s talk about the infamous “Grab Bag” Achievement, the one that used to have teammate-killing involved. How did the idea for that one come about?

Lewinson: [laughs] Well, during our multiplayer games just here in the office, people would spam grenades willy-nilly, like try to blow up their enemies and sometimes they’d end up taking out, not just their opponent but somebody who was a teammate by accident. And there was a lot of screaming and cursing and hilarity; people screaming at each other from around the office so it was pretty funny so we decided to make an Achievement for it. Not so much to reward team-killing as just to reflect what was occurring naturally in the game at times.

Multiplayer: I’m assuming you guys play a lot of multiplayer games on Xbox Live. It never occurred to you that gamers might find that kind of Achievement irritating?

Lewinson: Well, here’s the thing. A lot of folks got uptight about it when the Achievement list was leaked. They were yelling on the forums about how we’re awarding anti-social behavior. Won’t somebody think of the children and all that nonsense so, you know, to our credit we listened to the fan-base, and we patched the Achievement to remove that team-killing portion, so everything’s well in the universe once again.

Never let it be said that we won’t listen to the fan-base and if there’s something that they feel really strongly enough about, we’re always willing to go back and take a second look. So that’s what we did in this case and as it turned out it was a change that we were able to make fairly easily so we did it and it’s done.

Multiplayer: Have you ever taken gamers’ feedback and actually changed something in a game before?

Lewinson: No, not really. My career goes back to like 1995 when I first broke into the industry and at that time it was mainly the original PlayStation, Sega Saturn so we didn’t really have the opportunity to [add a] patch. So once the game is on the shelf, that’s it. On PC games that I’ve worked on, like certain RTSs like “Company of Heroes” or [“Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War“], on the multiplayer side, you’re always looking at the forums and “Oh, this is imbalanced, this is too strong, this is too weak” and so that genre sort of lends itself to multiple patches. First-person shooters, yeah not so much. This is probably one of the first times where we’ve gotten this kind of response where we took a look at it and said, “Okay, let’s do something for day one.”

Multiplayer: It seems like you guys wanted to do the “Grab Bag” Achievements because it was different.

Lewinson: Oh, it was different. [laughs] Yeah, it was definitely different. It was just one of those things where we were like, “No one’s done this before.” Well, maybe there’s a reason why no one’s done it before, but when you’re looking at a much smaller group, like I said, it was pretty funny to us and to have it in there and to be honest, we’ve actually gotten a few e-mails from people saying, “Why did you take the team-killing portion out? That was actually pretty cool because nobody else had done it.” But at the end of the day, not that the majority rules all the time, but in this particular one we’re like, “You know what? It’s not that big a deal to make the change, so we made the change.” Like I said, never let it be said that we at Propaganda don’t listen to the people.

Multiplayer: Have you gotten all the Achievements yourself in “Turok” yet?

Lewinson: I’ve earned 29 out of the 42 Achievements in the game, and most of them on the multiplayer side. I just got my hands on the retail version last week so I wanted to get online anonymously and see how people were enjoying the game, hear what they were saying. So I’ve been playing multiplayer almost non-stop. I’ve barely touched the single-player campaign. I’ll track those Achievements down at my leisure but those can wait.

Multiplayer: And what have you been hearing over Xbox Live?

Lewinson: People are loving it. I mean the fact that we can throw these dinosaurs into the mix as this neutral AI that will go after you or your opponents at any time, it just makes things chaotic and tons of fun. And we support all the main tenets of multiplayer so we’ve got death match, team death match, capture the flag, but with our war games, a multiplayer component as well, which nobody else has. I mean, it’s just one more thing that people have come into “Turok” and said, “Wow, this is awesome.”

Multiplayer: Why do you think gamers care so much about Achievements?

Lewinson: I was actually thinking about that, and there’s this author named Stephanie Williams, she wrote this really great article on the need to have, and the nature of collecting and obsession. And there’s this really good quote from there from a Ph.D in psychology named Gerald Pollack where he says that the internet has created more obsessively-driven collectors as opposed to people who collect things. And that’s a huge part of what makes Xbox Live’s Achievement system such a huge success. I mean, you have gamers as a group who are naturally inclined to complete games to 100 percent, then provide a casual way to measure that success, and then on top of that, you put up this global leaderboard where you can see where you stand against everybody else. And it’s ridiculous. It’s digital crack and Microsoft nailed it.

Multiplayer: What are some of your favorite Achievements that you’ve gotten or seen so far?

Lewinson: To be honest, my all-time favorite Achievement is the “Romantic” Achievement from “The Darkness” by Starbreeze, the makers of “The Chronicles of Riddick.” It’s just awesome. It’s imaginative, there’s no killing involved. You’re just sitting down, watching a movie with your girlfriend in this game on the couch. It’s like the complete anti-thesis of the game and of the genre as a whole. I love it.

Multiplayer: I think you should try to incorporate something like that into “Turok”…

Lewinson: Unfortunately, we don’t have any girlfriends or couches or televisions in “Turok.” [laughs] Who knows, we might get people to raise some other questions, and not just about the Achievements. Who knows. Maybe if we do a sequel. You’ll be the first to know.

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Want to know more about the origins of Achievements? We’re trying to find out, one game at a time. Check out the rest of series here.