'World of Warcraft' Designer Explains How New Achievements System Differs From 360 And Steam Versions

With the myriad of things to do in "World of Warcraft," it seemed inevitable that the game would include its own Achievement system.

Last week, when I spoke with lead "WoW"designer Jeffrey Kaplan, he told me the inspiration behind it was that many at Blizzard are fans of other Achievement systems.

"We found that players are always looking for bragging rights and recognition of their past accomplishments," he told me in an interview last week. "It's more to feel like you got a trophy for doing something special, but in no way would this increase your character power. We didn't want to force you into weird sorts of gameplay that you wouldn't be doing anyway; we wanted it to more be sort of a reflection of what players were already doing."

While having an Achievements system seemed to be a no-brainer, coming up with a name for it was a different story. "At first we were coming up with other names like accomplishments, goals, medals -- anything to not call them Achievements," Kaplan said, laughing. "We sort of came around to the conclusion that all players call them Achievements. Steam has a great Achievement system, Xbox has a great Achievement system; it's almost just like this weird game at a certain point to not call them Achievements."

"We wanted to focus on getting the user interface in a good presentable form and things that other Achievement systems haven't done a good job of."

Though the name's the same, Blizzard is taking great pains to make sure that their own Achievement system improves on the already existing ones. "A lot of things we've done in 'WoW' are sort of evolving different game systems and making them accessible," Kaplan explained. "We wanted to focus on getting the user interface in a good presentable form and things that other Achievement systems haven't done a good job of."

One example is being able to track your progression on an Achievement. On certain Achievements, players will see a progress bar as well as a list of completed and uncompleted Achievements. "Part of that is a reaction to a lot of Achievement systems that are currently out there, where they ask you to do things but you don't know if you've done them yet," he said. "You'll be playing a game and it'll say, 'Destroy all the billboards out in the city' or whatever. And you think you've done it all, buy the Achievement didn't fire off and you're like, 'Okay, which billboard did I miss?' And the only way to get it is to go back and do it all over again. So we just wanted to give players some visibility."

Another new feature that comes with the Achievement system is the ability to track numerous gameplay statistics. While players had already been able to track certain PvP stats, Kaplan said they've "really blown out the system" and players will be able to see a complete host of stats in different categories (wealth or social, for instance) that are both relevant and irrelevant to gameplay, such as what emotes characters have done, how many rats they've killed in the cities, how much damage their character has ever done or which bosses have killed their character the most.

In fact, because such stats have been recorded, a slew of old-world Achievements from the original game and "The Burning Crusade" expansion will be applied retroactively to characters. Kaplan said one of his max-level characters, who he played "pretty actively," received about 40 Achievements upon start-up for things such as world exploration, professions, dungeons, raids, PvP, reputations with different factions and certain quests. "We retroactively track any quest Achievements or any Achievement for an item which is either on your character or in your bank," he said. "There are a lot of Achievements based on stuff like honorable kills or reputations. We have all that tracked."

However, one important type of stat that won't be retroactively tracked is which bosses players have killed. "There's a quest associated with killing Onyxia, like the turn-in-her-head quest," Kaplan said, citing an example. "We know if you've done that, but the problem is, not everybody who's killed Onyxia has necessarily gotten the head and turned it in. So there's a fairness issue. It's like, 'Well, I raided with these guys but Bob got the head and then he turned it in.' And then when the Achievement goes live, his Achievement will be filled out but mine won't. So there might be understandability issues there like, 'Well, how come he got it but I didn't?' So that's something we're actually feeling out in the beta. I'm torn on that right now."

"We fully expect that people will come up with their own Achievement browsers and comparison systems."

As for cheating, Kaplan said there's no way for players to fire off their own Achievements. "As far as the actual rewarding of Achievements all of that is completely secure," Kaplan said. However, since Blizzard loves their modding community, they kept that in mind when building the Achievement system. "Our [user interface] guys went out of their way to build the Achievement system so that the mod community can completely rip it apart and do whatever they wanted with it -- the look and how the information is presented to you. We fully expect that people will come up with their own Achievement browsers and comparison systems."

The new "WoW" Achievement system will be implemented upon the release of the upcoming expansion "Wrath of the Lich King" with Kaplan hoping to offer 700 Achievements by the time the game ships. And as we reported last week, "WoW" Achievements will be added to an overall Blizzard Level tied to a Blizzard Account that will track Achievements across other Blizzard titles. Until then, players will be able to track "WoW" Achievements with the "World of Warcraft" armory website and see leaderboards throughout the game and for their respective guilds.

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