A point to prove...
For many retro gamers who played when such games weren't retro, the idea of achievements were less a solid and more hypothetical in regards to what exactly it was you were looking to do. An achievement could be considered beating Ninja Gaiden on the NES, or maybe a speed-run of Sonic 2, or perhaps the high-score on Transbot.
Yet the idea of achievements for the younger crowd amongst us reared on the modern gaming of the current and soon to pass generation of home consoles, in many a thanks to Microsoft; achievements are very much a constant, there to increase playability by adding challenges related to a 'gamerscore'. Very shortly after, the same idea was adopted by Sony for the 'Trophy system' on the PS3. They have even creeped their way into the latest and greatest titles on mobile platforms including iOS and Android devices.
But, what if..? What if some mad scientist managed to encapsulate the same idea and reproduce it via a magical time machine, breathing new life into the old games we all know and love? Well, Somebody has done just that. In fact, they have an entire website dedicated to doing just that...And so RetroGameGeeks proudly present to you an exclusive, feature interview with the man behind the project...
RGG: Hi there, first things first; a massive thank you for taking part in this interview with us, as we're all big fans of your site. To get the formalities out of the way, would you like to introduce yourself?
Scott: Hi! I'm Scott, founder of RetroAchievements.org, a site designed to help you play all your classic 8-bit and 16-bit games via emulation on your PC, with the added incentive of earning achievements in these games while you play. The community on RA have been a fantastic asset and are the driving force providing the content, both design-wise and some of the actual code that allows the achievements to exist. It's largely due to the community that we have evolved so rapidly over the past 9 months, and we now have a leaderboard infrastructure, for things like fastest lap times in Super Mario Kart, a lively forum and chat, Facebook integration, a Twitch.TV stream, and we've branched out from Mega Drive to SNES, Gameboy/GBA and most recently, NES achievements.
RGG: As this is RetroGameGeeks, we gotta know - what's your favourite retro system and what games/franchises are the nearest and dearest to your heart?
Scott: My all-time favourites would have to include Shining Force 2 on the Mega Drive - it was the first time I really lost hours in a game, the story-telling is beyond anything else on the system, the lush graphics and sound keep you glued to the screen, and the battle system is as complex and as deep as something like chess. My favourite console is almost definitely the Mega Drive, although if I'd grown up with a SNES instead, I think perhaps it might have been that instead? My cousin had one with Super Mario Kart, Killer Instinct, Super Mario All Stars, and I thought these were amazing too! Naturally I would also go for Final Fantasy 7, but does the PS1 really count as 'retro' yet?? :P
RGG: How important is it for the overall community to get involved to support the ideals that you guys are producing? Do you feel the retro community has been mostly receptive to the idea or...
Scott: The community are the driving force behind RA and the site is nothing without them. I'm far more interested in what the playing/developing community on RA have to say, because they are the guys using the site as players and developers, they are the ones who know what they like, and deserve to have the bulk of the say! Like I said the site is nothing without the community, so if there is ever a decision to be made regarding the future of the site, I ensure it is discussed frankly and openly between everyone on the forums. The only criticism we've had has included a negative reaction to the thought that we might be 'butchering old games', to which I can only understand and say with regret that the 'achievementising' of games in general has been alive and well for the past 8 years, just take the 360 and PS3 for example. However it is a valid point, and I've made an effort to encourage the developers on RA to follow a few of the examples set forward in this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFM4eIAou5M) suggested by user Neora, which describes 'unavoidable, optional and inspiring' achievements. So far we've made an effort together to ensure that we create a fair split of each of these in each game so far.
RGG: Folks are available to go to your site and download the modified emulators as a means to play along in the Retro Achievements world, but what is the tech know how that goes into all this? How exactly is this style of emulation possible?
Scott: The tech is surprisingly simple: the RAM which exists in each of these older consoles is emulated into a block of RAM on your PC. We simply take a look at certain values in this block of RAM to see whether they are set to certain values or not. For example, the RAM value at 0xfe10 in Sonic 1 responds to the number of rings that sonic has collected so far. I can simply add an achievement using the in-emulator dialog to say 'check to see if 0xfe10 is greater than 20'. This gets checked by the DLL every time the screen updates (every frame). So now when I collect more than 20 rings, the achievement will pop! From this point it sends a message to retroachievements.org, and the rest of the code exists on the server for handling things like user accounts, point values, friends, messages, that sort of thing.
And so there you have it, folks. Once again would like to thank Scott from RetroAchievements.org on taking some time out to speak to us here about what he and his fellow RA lot are up to over there. Hopefully you have all found this equally fun and informative, as we like to do here at RetroGameGeeks.
I just want to further push our endorsement of RetroAchievements in their hope to push the evolution of retro-based gaming to the next level. Clearly they have a good head on their shoulders with clear plans for further success. On a personal level, I now have set up my own account there so if you fancy a challenge...why not give it a go? It's extremely easy to set up, just download your emulation software of choice from their site, unzip it, boot it up and open a ROM file. Of course, we here at RGG don't support piracy, so make sure it's with your own backups and/or public domain files that you use on their system. But as retro gaming and retro collecting often go hand-in-hand, I fully expect many of you to have many a title in your collection you'd like to try out this way.
Just make sure you've got a wired X360 controller is my advice! My attempt at playing Sonic The Hedgehog and Zero Tolerance was nothing but a miserable failure when using the keyboard of a laptop. Seriously do not recommend that route, unless you're absolutely comfortable in doing so. But wired X360 controller is the way to go in getting the most out of it.
So when you have the likes of the Fantastic Dizzy programmer supporting RA, why not you, too? It's all for a good cause, of course. The cause for retro gaming. After all, it's what we're all here for. It's why RetroGameGeeks exist. So go out there, sign up and play along. Most of all, have fun..... Oh and Megatron's_Fury officially adores this site!
RGG: [PS1 is deffo retro by our standards!] With achievements being such a big thing within the current gen, when was it you guys decided to adapt this for all the retro gamers of the world? Is that how the site formed?
Scott: The history of RetroAchievements goes back just over a year. I'm a games developer myself, and at the time we were working on Goldeneye 007: Reloaded for Xbox 360 and PS3. During development I was a huge retro addict and loved to play emulation in my (meagre) spare time I had. It was at that time we were also implementing the actual achievements for Goldeneye that I had the thought that it couldn't be that difficult to do the same thing for the Mega Drive, especially considering all GPL emulation software has the source fully available (or should do!). From that point I simply downloaded myself a copy of Gens (http://www.gens.me/), had a play with the source code, and it wasn't long before I had a very simple "message-box" achievement for when you earn a number of rings in Sonic 1! From there it was a simple(!) case of learning PHP and MySQL, renting a server, and building the website from there.
RGG: Currently RetroAchievements.org supports MegaDrive/Genesis, NES, SNES, GB/GBC and GBA - is there plans to increase this base? i.e.: Acheevos for Master System, 2600, or maybe some 32/64-bit systems, etc.
Scott: At current we support Mega Drive, SNES, GB/GBA and NES. It's important at the moment to expand gradually onto other systems, as it would spoil one console if it didn't receive enough attention from the developers (including myself), given that we are very excited to have recently announced the availability of the RANes (NES) emulator, we are currently focussing on making sure that the NES console receives enough 'fully-complete' games with achievements on the site. However we are still looking out for future options on more emulated consoles. With the current method of doing things, we can expand onto any console prior to the PS2/Xbox era: with the difficulties introduced by dynamic allocation of objects in RAM, the PS2/Xbox may be a difficult venture, but anything prior to this era should be manageable, including: N64/PS1/Dreamcast, Neo-Geo, Atari 2600, Master System, C64, PC-Engine, SegaCD, and many more!
RGG: Have you guys heard back from any of the original developers of the games for which your site covers? If so, what have they said?
Scott: Ironically, yes :) when we were working on Goldeneye 007: Reloaded, I worked with the guy who wrote the original code for Fantastic Dizzy port to the Mega Drive. As the site got going, he let me know that he still had the original source code, so one day we went over the code and found the RAM values a lot easier to find, because we then literally had the exact source code to read from! He created a fair few of the achievements himself, so I'd say it's probably safe to say he's OK with it :)
RGG: Is there any goals for the future at this point - how far would you like to see the site, and by extension; the idea of Retro Achievements grow?
Scott: One of the biggest places I'd like to expand RetroAchievements onto is the Android platform. Android phones and tablets lend themselves well to emulation, I myself have recently picked up a bluetooth controller and I have to say I think it's amazing. However playing emulated games just isn't the same without achievements any more! So I think it's time to try and port RA over. Time is currently fairly short though, so I'm learning as much as I can about Android development in my spare time.
RGG: Thank you very much for your time and speaking with us lot here. Any final comments you'd like to add?
Scott: I'd like to add that any gamers or developers who would like to join RA, please do, you're very welcome! Let us know what game you want achievements for, what game you want to show off your expertise at, and we will make it happen! Also I love the way retrogamegeeks.co.uk is built, especially since the top four images (Streets of Rage 2, Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda and Sonic 1) are four of my all-time favourite games (obviously excluding Shining Force 2)
RGG: ...Oh, and one last question: Sonic or Mario?
Scott: As a long-time Mega Drive/Dreamcast owner, I never had a NES, SNES or N64 growing up. However as much as I always thought Mario could be the best gaming hero of them all, he could never beat Sonic in anything. Sonic all the way. I still think it's ridiculous that Sonic and Mario at the Olympic Games has Sonic running the 100 meters, and even then it takes him nearly 10 seconds! For a hedgehog that can run faster than the speed of light, it simply doesn't add up :P