Crispy Gamer

Score Slut: An Interview With Achievement Whore Knuckles Dawson

There are sounds that just make people happy: a baby laughing; a sports car's engine; a jury foreman saying "Not Guilty" when you're on trial in a state that believes in capital punishment, even for parking violations. But for 360 owners, few sounds are as sweet as the ping that indicates they've just unlocked an Achievement.

For some gamers, though, the ping doesn't just bring a smile to their face, it satisfies an addiction in a way only heroin or a new episode of "Robot Chicken" can. Knuckles Dawson is one such Achievement addict -- so much of one, in fact, that he unlocked a new Achievement a day every day for the first 681 days that the 360 was available (Nov. 22, 2005 through Oct. 4, 2007), and has since only missed one other day -- which has since brought fame, fortune and this interview to this 22-year-old Vancouver resident known to his mama as David Dreger.

Crispy Gamer: I must admit, when I first heard about Achievements, I thought they'd only appeal to maladjusted 14-year-old boys. My own addiction to them has since proven me wrong. When you first heard about them, what did you think?

Knuckles Dawson: I'm a completist when it comes to games. I'm going to get every last drop of gameplay out of every game I can. I was the guy who'd complete 100% of Vice City. So to have a means to display that -- to showcase for others to see that yes, I did complete 100% of Vice City -- I thought this was an amazing and innovative idea. Well before the system came out I knew this was something I'd be into.

Crispy Gamer: Did this prompt you to buy an Xbox 360 on launch day?

Knuckles: I had already decided to buy all three of the new consoles, and I've actually been on Xbox Live since the day that it launched -- Nov. 15, 2002 -- with the gamer tag Knuckles Dawson, so carrying that over to the 360 was a no-brainer. Achievements were more like the icing on the cake.

Crispy Gamer: Was that the impetus for trying to do the streak?

Knuckles: It was a fluke, actually. At launch, I was 10th in line at a midnight sale at Best Buy. A few days down the road I was talking to a friend, who had gotten a 360 as well, and I told him that I'd unlocked a different Achievement in Perfect Dark Zero every day so far, which he thought was cool, and on my way home I started to wonder how long I could keep it up.

Crispy Gamer: What's the craziest thing you did to keep the streak going?

Knuckles: The way Achievements work is that when you unlock one, the 360 sends a message to the Xbox servers first, which then sends you the notification that you've unlocked that Achievement. So Microsoft technically knows you've unlocked it before you do. If you're not connected to Live, it won't update the server until the next time you are, so the time stamp on it would be wrong.

On Oct. 17, 2006, Microsoft took Live down for maintenance just after midnight PST. I made sure I was on the cusp of unlocking an Achievement in Saint's Row, and I went online and unlocked it at 12:03 a.m. so I could get the time stamp for 10-17-2006. Two minutes later Live went down and it didn't come back online for 27 hours. Had I not done that, I wouldn't have been able to get one in on that date. It wouldn't have been a problem if I lived somewhere else -- if I lived on the East Coast, the servers went down at 3 a.m. local time, so I would've had three hours -- but because I'm on the West Coast, and it started almost at midnight, I just had that few-minute window.

Crispy Gamer: So why'd you stop?

Knuckles: Because I was awarded MVP status by Microsoft on Oct. 1, 2007. I also wanted to show that I was in control of things, that it wasn't in control of me. But then again, when I first started, I was only going to do it for a year.

Crispy Gamer: So on how many games have you gotten 1,000 Achievement points?

Knuckles: At least 30. Well, that's how many on which I've gotten all of them; some games have more, but I've also completed some Xbox Live Arcade games, and those have less.

Crispy Gamer: And how many Achievement points do you have right now [today being March 7, 2008]?

Knuckles: Over 60,000.

Crispy Gamer: Is there an Achievement in some game that, no matter how hard you've tried, you just can't do?

Knuckles: There's one in 2006 FIFA World Cup called "Complete All Scenarios" where you have to complete 70 or so different things -- things like winning a match when you're losing at halftime -- and it's worth 500 points. That's one that sticks out as one that I just haven't done.

Crispy Gamer: How often do you find yourself doing something in a game, or playing a certain mode of a game, just because you want the Achievements?

Knuckles: Given the nature of having to prolong my streak, and the kind of completist gamer that I am, there were plenty of times when I was playing games just for the Achievements, but I also have a very broad spectrum of games that I like to play and I have a high tolerance for games. I'm not someone who says, "Gears of Wars or Bust!"

Crispy Gamer: Do you ever buy, rent, or borrow games just for the Achievements?

Knuckles: Oh, of course. Again, sometimes it was because of the streak, especially at the beginning, when there were only 19 games out. But I don't ever buy crap games, I rent them. Like King Kong -- I probably wouldn't have played that if it weren't for the Achievements. I'm also not into standard sports games because I actually play sports.

Crispy Gamer: Is there a game that stands out as having really good Achievements?

Knuckles: The best this year would be Burnout Paradise. It has a good combination of online and offline Achievements, the online ones aren't based on rank play, it has good introductory ones, and it has some good completist ones, as well.

Crispy Gamer: What about a game where the Achievements are kind of crap? I heard people bitching about the achievements in Guitar Hero III.

Knuckles: I'd agree, Neversoft dropped the ball with Guitar Hero III. Compared to Rock Band and Guitar Hero II, the point distribution in Guitar Hero III is skewed, and some of the Achievements are just laugh-out-loud silly. But the absolute worst would be Final Fantasy XI, because you have to get to level 75 in 18 different classes, which just requires thousands of hours.

Crispy Gamer: That brings up my pet peeve about Achievements: I don't think they should be easy like they are in King Kong, where you get all 1,000 for just beating the game on the regular skill level, but I also don't like how, in some games, finishing it on the regular skill level only gets you 100 or so.

Knuckles: I agree with that. You should definitely get more for beating the game at the toughest skill level, and there should be some for multiplayer if the game has multiplayer, but it really depends on the game. What I don't like is Achievements that unlock when you suck.

Crispy Gamer: Like the one you get in Guitar Hero II if you screw up a song a bunch of times?

Knuckles: Yeah. Sure, it was great when I was doing the streak and needed something right away, but I think they're cheap. I also don't like zero-point Achievements. In fact, when I was doing the streak, I didn't count Achievements if they didn't add to my Gamerscore.

Crispy Gamer: Has there ever been an Achievement that made you laugh?

Knuckles: Yeah, the one in The Simpsons Game that you get for just pressing Start. Gears of War also has some that have funny names. There's one for grenade tagging that's called "Is It a Spider," which is a reference to "Red vs. Blue," and there are some that reference "Brokeback Mountain," like "I Can't Quit You, Dom." I also like the one in Rock Band that you get if you 100% a song on drums on Expert, which is called "Animal."

Crispy Gamer: Finally, if you could add any Achievement to any game, what would it be?

Knuckles: It would be called "That's Moore Like It," and it would be for hitting the guide button twice while you're playing guitar in Rock Band, which is a reference to the Microsoft press conference at E3 where [then Microsoft executive] Peter Moore hit the guide button twice while playing Rock Band. But it would only be worth five points.