Game goal suggestion (Challenge-Achievement-System)

I have been a longtime fan of Cataclysm DDA for years now, counting it as one of my favourite games. While I’m really enjoying the core game and it’s countless great mods and looking forward to every new release of it, there is one aspect of it that I don’t like:

The lack of a real end goal for my character’s journey that keeps me motivated.

I know that I’m not the only one thinking this way.

While I understand that Cataclysm is a sandbox game and lets players choose their own goals, there are definitive benefits of a long term purpose on the horizon that keeps you going, even when you are failing many times, to finally achieve it.

I am fully aware that this is my own preference and not binding for anyone else, but reading in this forum keeps me guessing that there is a number of players, especially new ones, that could be easily driven away by the fact that there is no real end goal besides surviving and no real obligation to scout and brave the more dangerous (and interesting) places of the game world besides curiosity, boredom and a deathwish.

Basic surviving can be done with absolute minimal risks and (from what I’ve read and experienced myself) often leaves players with not much else to do after a while besides setting personal goals for themselves.

Therefore I think the game would improve by a significant amount if there was a given end goal that a player can choose to achieve if they want to and simply ignore and do whatever they want if that is more to their liking.

This end goal should (in my opinion) encompass every major achievement in the game, so every player getting this far can be sure that they have seen and conquered every wonder and horror there is in their version of the game.

There was a mod that tried to do something like this: The Ascension Mod by trelatyraelis / tyrael93

This mod let the player build an altar out of the remains of the hardest enemies in the game (most of them from mods like PK’s Rebalancing) and some other rare objects that could be found in the most dangerous places in the game world.

Getting all this trophies without dying in horrible ways was a real challenge and it made looting, building, training skills and recruiting allies so much more rewarding because you always knew why you were doing it.

Leading a squad of mutants and cyborgs into a desperate battle against a giant hell-mecha-spider to get it’s radioactive brain (if I remember correctly) as the last piece of your altar-of-being-epic was something that kept me going for weeks with the same character without ever feeling lost or demotivated.

This mod was awesome!

I really can’t stress enough what a huge difference that one mod made for me.

The completion of the altar and the elixir that could be created with it did not even lead to an especially rewarding ending (it was more of a joke) but having a reason to prepare epic assaults on deadly monster lairs, with ingame weeks of work beforehand to improve the odds of coming back alive with the trophy, was a reward in itself.

Unfortunately the mod seems abandoned and broken in it’s current state but the idea behind it could make the game so much more rewarding and fun for so many goal-driven players.

My idea for this improvement would look like this:

Give the player the ability to build an altar or something similar, like the one in the Ascension Mod.

The altar is constructed out of different objects that I will call Ascension Keys (ACs) in this text.

There should be different types of ACs to keep it interesting and they have to be indestructible.

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Trophies from very dangerous monsters or even unique bosses (drop chance of these should always be 100%)

  • Special objects from all the different factions in the game (can be obtained by completing their quest lines to the end or, if the player chooses to do so, by anihilating their base and leader)

  • Strange objects that can be found at different lab finales, strange temples, amigara vaults or similar places (as a reward for successful exploration)

  • Randomly generated artifacts as a foundation for the altar (maybe 5 – 10)

There should be no mindless grinding involved in obtaining ACs in order to keep a sense of adventure.

This system would be as modular as the game itself, allowing different mods to add their own ACs into the mix (I think of Magiclysm, Arcana, Xedra and other large modpacks).

The altar a player could construct out of their trophies would really be an accomplishment made out of accomplishments and it’s completion would indicate that they have reached every milestone there is (killing the mightiest foes, doing all major quest lines, exploring all special places and surviving all of that).

Considering the lore of the game I know that there is no real good ending for humanity in the cards, so the ingame motivation to build the altar should not be the reversal of the cataclysm or it’s effects. If I had to choose a reason for anyone even trying to build something like this while the world is going to hell, it would probably be something like creating a small pocket in time and space, where the cosmic powers at work have a kind of blind spot (provided by the altar), which makes the surrounding land more stable, secure and thus better for survivors to build a new home.

This would not stop the Blob or anyone else to continue with whatever they’re doing, it would just make hell a bit more bearable.

Or, you know, one could just show off with it.

This is only a draft of an idea, but I think it would be the most elegant solution to the afore-mentioned problem. The altar would be a checklist as well as a trophy in itself, providing guidance to newer players and preventing them from feeling lost or, even worse, bored. Neither the altar nor the ACs change the core of the game, so they can be ignored by freestyle players that don’t want them. Nobody loses anything, but many players, old and new, would have more purpose and motivation to use the countless tools the game provides towards a fulfilling goal.

I don’t have the knowledge or abilities to make this a reality by myself but maybe there are others that find this idea interesting enough to implement it into the base game or a mod.

Feel free to use and adapt it to your heart’s content.

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Why an altar instead of just achievements?
The main problem with the altar conceptually is that outside the context of a RPG with normalized religious/ cultish overtone, such a thing is very much not fitting in the theme of, “things a survivor would tend to do”.

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The altar-concept is just a remnant of the Ascension Mod, it could really be anything else, maybe a strange nexus of some sort or a machine.
Achievements do something similar, but (as far as I know) they do not cover every aspect of the game (yet) and some of them have descriptions that either give away too much or too less information about the possible goal they could include or are more of a gimmick than a goal.
The Ascension altar was only a list of ingredients that were in the game with no additional information or spoilers, where and how to obtain them.
This made searching for them, even without wiki information or other help, possible as well as motivating, while keeping a sense of wonder for the unprepared.
I guess it is a personal question of taste, but I really liked the trophy collection in Ascension giving a tangible result of your adventures.
Maybe a similar result could be obtained with special achievements that reset with every new game.
All goals in this concept are meant to be game-specific and reached in the same run, while the entirety of all normal achievements can only be collected over several runs because some of them include dying to specific circumstances, if I remember correctly.
Making the trophies tangible was the simplest solution to avoid mixing these two categories of accomplishments.

I don’t know if it is too easy in the game, but building and defending a farm that produces a surplus of food could be a realistic end game goal. In real life that could take years. A faster alternate path could be to take over a farm built by an NPC faction. Either way, the challenge would be to staff the farm and keep everyone happy. If there are rival NPC factions then defeating or negotiating a peace with those rivals would be a reasonable secondary goal. If one of the NPCs is building a museum to display monstrous artifacts and study their weaknesses then it might make sense to collect trophies as the OP suggests. Perhaps new weaknesses will be discovered through research that enable the hero to eradicate whole categories of enemies.

Sounds like an expansion for the Tacoma Ranch or Refugee Center. Even the Old Guard representative missions already have the eradicate part of this mission, not much of the negotiation though.

Maybe could be tied with the Exodii faction? They sound like someone who’ll want specimens often considering the fact that their mode of dimensional travel are not friendly to most organic things. Heck they might even want a brain of one, ya know?

The altar-thingy, whatever it may be, is just meant as a placeholder for storing your trophies and accomplishments as long as there is nothing better for them to do. If there is purpose for them in the world itself (for example a museum or a researcher) that’s even better.
I guess most of the “Ascension Keys” I mentioned above can be converted into a world change or benefit of some sort when faction interactions and NPC behaviour are fleshed out more.

Considering achievements as a “challenge log” and alternative to trophies: Is there a way to define a special type of achievements, let’s call them “Personal Achievements”, that are specific to a single run, for players, who want a challenge with predetermined goals?
Personal achievements could very well fulfill the role of Ascension Keys for the most part and would be much simpler to introduce, I guess.
They would just be a list of everything you can do in the game that is considered a real accomplishment, for example “Kill a Zombie Hulk” or “Explore a strange temple” or “Get the trust of the Old Guard (by completing their quest line) or eradicate them (if you can’t do that or you don’t want to do that)”.
This list would also be a guide for people new to the game or veteran players coming back to it, wondering if there are new challenges for them.
I think the description of the tasks should be rather short and only deliver basic information about what to do, but enough to get an idea of what the game wants from you to fulfill them (also they all have to be visible from the start).
An example for a task in the Arcana Mod would be something like: “Find a Strange Grove and defeat the horror within”.
That doesn’t contain specific spoilers and gives a player a task to work with.
If a task is a part of charcter progression or has a mutually exclusive other task, for example mutation thresholds, I would not count them as Personal Achievements. They fit in the classic achievement list that is not run-exclusive. The same goes for statistical achievements like “Killing 100 zombies” or the gimmicky and secret ones.
Personal achievements should only cover challenges to give goal-oriented players motivation to explore the world (something you really would need a good reason for anyway when the world is collapsing).
Even better, when these goals change the world or the interaction with NPCs.

Speaking of altar, one run i wanted to turn the upstairs of one of the garage variants into a Ninja Shrine.

Candelabras and red carpet with katanas and various collected ninja weapons hanging on the wall. Maybe even having followers if I could force them to only come up into the altar area with full ceremonial ninja gear automatically (which I don’t think is possible). Stored in the lockers downstairs.

((Only magic cosplay underwear up here!!))

Something that would make the 1980s Ninja Magazines and all those cheesy 80s movies look cool.

That is, until I got too cocky and got surrounded and exhausted around a horde.

But that’s the thing about goals. You see, that goal was emergent. It had nothing to do with CDDA. But the nature of a sandbox. There is nothing in the game that gives me anything for making a ninja shrine or creating a ninja coven out of a garage.

Instead of hard coded in things, I would prefer tools that help me create my own goals. Toys and tools in the sandbox. And if this is creating my own Ninja Murder Motorcycle Cult… so be it.

Maybe this should be a mission tied to a hobby? You can already have missions in the start for both professions and hobbies.

Sounds like a more elaborate mission of the “Get a real Katana” mission for the Urban Samurai, or the Cosplayer one. Heck even the Otaku “profession” gets a mission.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with creating your own goals and a sandbox game like Cataclysm is the best place to do exactly that.
There are just some players (including myself) that like predetermined goals and challenges to give a game a satisfying “ending”, even when it doesn’t have one by default.

I’m sure we will be able to do a lot of really interesting roleplay-things when NPCs and their behaviour are a bit more fleshed out and they become real companions with their own goals, motivations and quirks.

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Well there’s no need for any particular special trophy. Just stuff the whole corpse and hang it in your trophy (altar) room. What we really need is taxidermy.

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This approach of coming up with a game mechanic and adding the thematic trappings doesn’t really work, the thing you’re describing is something that doesn’t exist, so it’s quite unlikely that you’re going to be able to come up with something that actually makes sense.

Try not to overthink workarounds for code issues, per-character achievements would be absolutely trivial to implement.

I see where you’re coming from with some aspects of the mechanic, but as far as i can see the thematic issues are insurmountable.

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The more I think about it, the more I like the challenge-achievement-take: special achievements (“Challenges”) bound to a charcter and their faction.
When they are easy to implement that would be the most elegant and simple solution to the afore-mentioned problem, especially for mod-authors, who want to add their own goals and trials.
This system would be easily accessible, modular and does not break any boundries of lore or theme.
You could even expand on the challenges already present in the game (bound to hobbies and scenarios) that only last a short time in the beginning of a new game.

Challenges should include all major accomplishments in the game (hardest monsters, quest lines, exploring interesting places to the core) and exclude parts of character development (skill levels, mutations) or grinding (“Kill 100 zombies”).
When challenges and achivements are both bound to the same goal (for example: killing a certain monster), a player would just get both of them: an achievement for their collection and a beaten challenge for their character and faction.

Regarding trophies, I really like the "Researcher / Museum " - idea that was mentioned.
We now have weakpoint-proficiencies in the game that could be an interesting reward for collecting radioactive brains of giant robot spiders and other monstrosities.
This would eliminate the need for an “altar” and should give players and their characters a good reason to explore the world and it’s dangers without breaking lore or theme.

I really like this approach because it would give every player something to do.
Freestyle sandbox players can still do whatever they want, achievement hunters can still hunt for achievements, goal-driven players can follow a path of challenges to keep them motivated and trophy-hunters can explore the world with a good reason for both players and their characters.
This should make everybody happy and the game much more fun for a wider spectrum of players.

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That’s great to hear!
I’m not an expert on programming in any way, so I can’t judge how easy or hard a feature would be to implement.
My initial idea with the ascension altar was based on the knowledge of what has worked in the past (crude as it was) and that’s why I started there.
With per-character-achievements being easy to implement, the “Challenge-Achievement-System” I described in my last post would be the definitive way to go, in my opinion, as your point of criticism

would be met.

I’d like to hear your opinion of the challenge-system I described above and if you see any weakpoints in it that could be improved, whenever you have the time.

Also, happy Thanksgiving to all, who celebrate it.

It’s less a system and more a concept as described now. It boils down to, “per character achievements” plus “unlock traits/bonuses as you meet the criteria for per-player achivements”.
As far as that goes, I have no problem with the feature, how good it ends up being is entirely up to which challenges you define and the impacts they have on the game.

Rather than making the whole game an unrealistic grind for traits and character achievements I hope some consideration is given to story and world shaping accomplishments. Whether the character is He-man or a janitor like Roger Wilco, neither character should be expected to grow much in the course of a game. I’d rather play the role and meet the challenges of the world that way. People do gain skills, but it’s both easy and time consuming. The easy stuff is just a mater of doing, so why should the game make it tedious? The time consuming stuff is the kind of thing that makes people unique in the real world, but it isn’t fun or educational to grind those things out virtually. People should use their time to gain real world skills. When they play a game, I think people are trying to have a bit of fun playing a role that is already fully formed.

I don’t have time to finish this game as it is. It would be disappointing if I did keep playing it and I found out that there is no way to help humanity survive or to stop the monsters or generally save the day.

The main goal of this concept is a motivation for goal-driven players to keep exploring the world.
Of course a story-driven motivation is better than a simple character-achievement list but as far as I understand the design document there is no way of actually “saving the day”.
Cataclysm DDA is not a heroic story of saving the world but rather a tale of adapting to dire circumstances even if there is no real hope for a happy ending (if I am mistaken here, please correct me).
This might sound disappointing to some goal-driven players with a strong focus on the narrative side of the stories they play (I also like stories with a heroic or hopeful ending) and it is also one of the reasons why i came up with this concept in the first place.
While rescuing the world is not possible, challenging it is (and there is much fun to be had there).
Challenge-achievements are not meant to be grinding work or dead accomplishments but a history of a player character braving hell itself, even if there is no real victory in it.
It is a question of personal taste if this is something for you (and it’s totally fine to not find something like this appealing at all) but as a goal-driven player myself I can say that there is something incredibly satisfying in beating a challenge that was set up by someone else, even if there is no deeper meaning or hopeful ending to it (“beating the game” and everything it can throw at you, especially in a perma-death game). Personally I just don’t get the same satisfaction out of self-made goals when they are all I have in a game.
May the world be grim and unforgiving or even pointless (like it often seems, even in real life), there is still purpose to find in it (in the game itself and outside of it).
A list of character achievements is meant as a chronology of the small and larger things you have done to keep you going and this accomplishments are meant to make a difference in the game world.
Factions and NPCs are still in an early stage of development and the more growth they get, the more intrinsic motivation players will find while interacting with them.
Until then, a list of challenges to overcome the dangers of the world is the best altenative I can imagine for players that like an external reason to keep going (pure sandbox is not for everyone after all).

When I was talking about proficiencies as a reward for slaying monsters I was actually thinking of a NPC
or faction giving you a mission to do so (knowledge about the physiology of alien creatures would be really valuable) in order to develop a better understanding of their enemies and countermeasures against them. It was not meant as a mindless grinding job (I’m sorry if I was unprecise there) but a subtle way of changing the world for the better and keeping track of it via the list.
I’m sure we will see such a faction someday, because it would only be natural and realistic for it to exist in this setting.
Until the world is developed to a point, where this form of motivation is sufficient, challenges are a good substitute in my opinion.
They are meant to show players, especially new ones, that there are things in the game world worth exploring because to some people the phrase “You can do whatever you want” is exactly the same as “There is nothing really to do here” and there are a lot of sandbox-like games where they are not mistaken.
This is the reason, why I think it would be beneficial to show players that there is something to do for every playstyle, even if it is only a list of challenges that don’t have a real impact in the game world yet (some of them, for example fulfilled quest chains, would already do that!).
This will improve automatically when development continues but in the meantime we can still have fun with the game in any way that suits us and this concept is meant to increase the number of ways of doing so.

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A short draft list of possible challenges:

Challenges and achievements can overlap and both can be obtained at the same time (challenges are character-bound, achievements are not).

Fulfilled quest chains:
Probably the most important category because quests have the largest impact on the world.
Every completed “main quest line” should get a special achievement that can be obtained by completing all missions of a chain successfully or (if this is not possible or viable anymore) by just annihilating the faction, their base and their leader (this would be really difficult in some cases, so I count it as a challenge for more “chaotic” players).
Of course the second option is not possible for every (if any) faction in the game (yet) and would need a lot of additional work but could be a viable strategy in the future, when factions are developed more.
“Main quest lines” in the current version would be the refugee center, the hub, the exodii, the bandits, tacoma ranch, isherwood farm, valhalla cult and the new england cult (I think this are the most important ones).
From mods I would count the supersoldiers (cataclysm++) and maybe some vampire factions.
All these quest chains (plus future ones) appearing on the list should give every new player a good headstart on motivation when questioning if there is “anything to do” in this game.

Unique quests:
All quests that are unique in one way or another and not bound to a proper faction.
Arcana Mod has a good example for this category with the old friendly mystic in the strange house (I really like this quests).
The challenge list would also point unexperienced players to such places of interest that could be easily missed otherwise.

Defeating monsters:
Simple and straightforward, these achievements could be easily linked to full-fledged quests from a faction dedicated to study alien creatures in exchange for exotic proficiencies in the future.
All challenges in this category should only count the first kill, because killing your first zombie is an accomplishment, killing your 100th zombie is not.
Easy challenges: First zombie, first triffid, first mycus, ect. (the same as normal achievements to give new players a sense of progression)
Medium challenges: dangerous zombies at the end of evolution chains (hulks, juggernauts, masters, necromancers, ect.)
Hard challenges: for example nether creatures that can easily kill an unprepared player (mi-go, shoggoth, flying polyp, ect.)
Boss monsters: the most interesting and hard fights in the game (hard but still winnable by a high-end character and a squad of battle-hardend allies).
Most of them would be mod-content because there is not really a concept of “boss-encounters” in the core game (yet). Good examples would be the boss monsters of the lairs in Arcana (they are great) or some doom-creatures out of PK’s Rebalancing (which, ironically, need an urgent rebalancing). Magiclysm and other large mod-packs could provide some interesting challenges for this category (dragons, ect.).

Exploring interesting places:
This category encompasses all locations in the game world that could be considered “dungeons” in crude roleplaying-terms. “Exploration” means reaching (and surviving) the end / finale of it. Some of these challenges would be bound to the defeat of a boss, if the location has a guaranteed one (for example the afore-mentioned Arcana lairs).
These locations would include: all unique locations with hard enemies in them (special lab for example), normal labs and their finales, mines and their finales (amigara vault, ect), interesting caves, strange temple, nuclear waste sarcophagus and some places that are important to the lore of the game.

Special challenges:
These are more obscure or extreme challenges that could be added and are meant for players to really push their luck and abilities.
An example would be a successful raid on a forge of wonders (Magiclysm) or reaching a certain level in a portal storm dungeon.

This is only a quick draft to get an idea of what challenges could look like.
If you have additional ideas, feel free to post them.
All challenges are meant to be accomplishments that develop the story of a character in meaningful, small ways, even if there are no hardset consequences in the game yet.
They should all be seen as adventures to keep the game interesting and goals to prepare for, but should not include mindless grinding. Also they all have to be able to be accomplished in a single run.
Of course they are meant to be completely optional and in no way mandatory for any player.

Beating all challenges on the list should mean that a player has seen and experienced the entirety of the game. Of course this system could also be used to easily develop mods with more complex, self-made challenges for players to have fun with.