Valve Software Responds to 2nd Annual Achievement Awards

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Well guys, we have a treat for you today. Remember when we announced the 2nd Annual Achievement Awards last month? Well, when Valve Software won “Best Achievement List” for The Orange Box we figured we’d fire them off an e-mail. In the e-mail we had some questions directed towards the developers, the people who put their sweat and blood into this game. In the interview you’ll hear from David Speyrer, Kerry Davis, and Jeep Barnett. Now, without further delay, here are our questions, and their answers.

X360A: How does it feel to be recognized by the achievement community for creating the best list of 06/07?

David Speyrer: It's very gratifying that people liked our achievements so much. Our main goal for the achievements was to put more value in the box for players, so being recognized for our achievements tells us that we at least partially succeeded. Since this was our first foray into achievements we were sort of learning as we went and because we didn't get to playtest them much with external players, we fretted about whether individual achievements were too easy, too hard, or too un-fun. Now that we've been through the process once and seen which achievements are popular and which ones are less popular we'll be able to build better achievements in future titles.

X360A: We must ask this, but Little Rocket Man also picked up "Most Original Achievement" in the awards. Where did the inspiration for that come from?

Davis Speyrer: Little Rocket Man started out as a random idea triggered by the old urban legend of the kidnapped garden gnome (there's also a lawn jockey version of the same legend). The story goes that a family found their garden gnome missing one day and figured it was gone forever. Many weeks later they found that the gnome had been returned with a stack of photos showing it at various tourist attractions around the world, like the Arc de Triomphe or the Pyramids of Giza. Since Episode Two always felt to us like a road trip with Alyx, we decided to hide the gnome early the game so people who found it could have fun posing it in their screenshots. We hoped they'd send their gnome travel photos to friends or post them on forums. The idea of creating an achievement around the gnome came later as way to encourage and more formally reward that player behavior. This turned what was initially an inexpensive physics object into a much more costly endeavor requiring level design work and rigorous testing. We might not have signed up for all that work at the outset, but once the achievement won the hearts of the team it became virtually uncuttable.

X360A: What was your favorite achievement out of the whole list?

Davis Speyrer: It's hard to pick just one, so I'll take the coward's way out and choose four! For wacky inside-joke-gaming-culture-self-referential naming: Hot Potat0wned. For comic charm, scope, and sheer effort required: Little Rocket Man. That one also rewards cleverness, which is a nice bonus. For high drama and heartbreak potential as players near the exit of the mines: Get Some Grub. For giving players a reason to replay Episode One as if it was a whole new game: The One Free Bullet.

X360A: A few developers we have spoke to actually incorporated things in to the game with achievements in mind. Did you ever have them in the back of your mind when creating The Orange Box? Will you for future titles?

David Speyrer: We probably didn't think enough about achievements in our initial design, which is something we'll change for future titles because we think the achievements concept is great.

X360A: How did it feel to be the first game to break the 50 achievement mold?

Kerry Davis: We are thrilled that our customers got to experience the full set of achievements as we envisioned them. We didn't know for a long time whether we'd be allowed to break the 50 achievement limit, so we designed two full sets of achievements - one with 50 spread across the five games, and one with the 99 that we wanted. When it came time to pitch our idea to Microsoft, we gave them the two designs so they could compare the two and see why we felt the additional achievements were necessary. Fortunately, the extra work paid off.

X360A: What was the team's approach when writing the list? Was it a chore or something the team really enjoyed creating?

Kerry Davis: We had an initial brainstorming period that lasted a few weeks. Everyone in the company contributed, from the support team to the front office, and by the end we had hundreds of ideas. Then a small team was tasked with distilling them down to a final set that balanced variety, difficulty, and distribution across the five games. It was certainly never a chore - I'd say the hardest part was trying to decide which ones to cut.

X360A: Getting gold on all Portal challenges is no easy feat. Are there any achievements in the list that trouble the team as far as difficulty goes?

Jeep Barnett: We designed the challenge mode for the players that wanted more Portal after defeating GLaDOS. We felt that no matter how much content we could create, some players would always want more. So the gold level challenges are tuned to players who seek perfection in their portal thinking and twitch abilities. But what makes that particular achievement so difficult is that it's actually three very difficult achievements rolled into one. The gameplay in least portals, least steps, and least time lend themselves to different types of players, and it takes someone extra hardcore overcome all three. The 0.1% who achieved this truly deserve a gold plated cake.

We at Xbox 360 Achievements couldn’t have gotten any better answers. Hands down some of the best responses we’ve gotten to date. All of us at Xbox 360 Achievements would like to congratulate all the guys and gals at Valve once again for taking home both Most Original Achievement (Little Rocket Man) and Best Achievement List.


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