Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Badge spotlight: Zilch

Fool's Gold (hard, 30 points) -- Earn 100 awards.

Many games on Kongregate have their own in-game achievements, which naturally serve as a convenient starting point for making Kongregate badges, either of the form "earn this particular in-game achievement" or "earn a total of X in-game achievements". However, the design goals for in-game achievements and Kongregate badges are often at cross purposes; the game designer wants people to play their game, so they have incentive to toss in lots of achievements, some of which may be ridiculously long, while Kongregate (as I've discussed earlier) is, I believe, better served by promoting a wide diversity of games, and of course includes the maximum for four badges for every game.

Consequently, Kongregate badges often don't match up to the in-game achievements. There are a few games (such as Arachnophilia and Vector Runner) where the in-game achievements conveniently translate directly to Kongregate badges, and it's not uncommon for there to be a hard (or, rarely, impossible) Kongregate badge for getting all of the in-game achievements, but sometimes some of the in-game achievements are simply unsuitable (usually because they're too long or grindy) for Kongregate badges, and this is a perfectly reasonable outcome too. (It even happens, sometimes, that the in-game achievements are too easy for Kongregate badges, as in the 3 Slices games.)

This brings us to Zilch. Zilch, which I reviewed here, is an entertaining little dice game, which serves as a nice little time-waster. (It is, however, the kind of game which is much better played a bit here and a bit there, rather than trying to sit down and play for two hours straight, which could get pretty tedious. The same is true of the Papa's Fooderia series, which is what I think a lot of the people who complain about those games are doing wrong, but I digress.) It's simple but cleanly designed, and has a good mixture of strategy and luck to keep you playing.

I actually started playing Zilch before it received badges (always a rarity), and enjoyed it, but I could see that the game had many in-game achievements (120 in total), and it was a pretty obvious choice to create a badge which required earning a certain number of the in-game achievements. At the time, it was not long after the badges for Amorphous+ had come out, which also had 120 in-game achivements and had received a Kongregate impossible badge for attaining all of them. So I was quite worried that Kongregate would go down the same path for Zilch; as I discussed in my review, this would have been a bad decision, since there are several extremely long and frustrating achievements (and overall, I felt that the in-game achievements weren't designed as well as they were in Amorphous+).

Much to my relief, however, the Kongregate hard badge ended up being for 100 achievements, which in my opinion hit pretty much the perfect spot. You had to play the game a fair amount and with some amount of skill, and get at least a few of the more difficult achievements, but you could earn the hard without having to do the worst achievements in the game. I think it represented an excellent compromise, and while it (naturally) took flak from both sides, the super Zilch fans who thought that all 120 would make for a great badge and the people who found Zilch too boring (probably because they were trying to do it all in one sitting) and thought 100 was way too many, it really was a very reasonable badge level.

In conclusion, balancing the design of in-game achievements with Kongregate badges is often a tricky act; there are certainly games with well-designed achievements which make a good starting point for badges, but there are also games with poorly-designed achievements which Kongregate is probably better off ignoring entirely. Still, I think that Zilch demonstrates that the balancing act can be pulled off successfully, even if you can never make everyone happy in the process.

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