My least favourite modern game design trope (and slowly creeping up to being my least favourite ever) is the ever present, never ending idea of in-game collectible items. Sure, it’s an easy way to introduce some element of replayability and artificially extend the time one plays a game, but more often than not it just feels utterly pointless.
It begs the question: Why do it if you’re not even going to try give some real incentive?
This popped into my head whilst playing DmC: Devil May Cry. The collectibles include Lost Souls (blobs of people trapped in the environment which you kill for red souls, your currency) and various types of keys needed to open the doors to access secret missions (which, in turn, gives you health/devil trigger increasing items). I can get behind that, even if the idea of using keys to unlock them is kinda dumb, but I’d rather that than hunting down the Lost Souls. It’s filler, and there’s little reward for seeking them out.
At a point, I just stopped caring. I was doing well enough that I never needed to seek out the keys or souls, but what drove me insane was the item finder — something you picked up by pre-ordering the game. It’s handy, but it drives you crazy with an incredibly annoying beeping noise whenever there’s an item nearby. It was enough that I actively ignored most collectibles and tried to focus on the main game as much as possible.
In my mind, incentivisation is key. You gotta give me a reason why I should invest all this time combing through your world for these things. Take Forza Horizon. The sole collectible in that game are these signs that you destroy. There’s 100 of these in the game world, and you’ll gain a 1% discount off car parts for every sign destroyed; smash them all and all car parts are completely free. It’s a hell of an incentive, very easy to accomplish, and can be very advantageous in the early game.
Another great example of this is Alan Wake, with the missing pages of Alan’s manuscript you collect throughout the game. What made these so excellent was that they revealed more about the world and foreshadowed events. On top of that, you can’t collect all the pages on the one difficulty, requiring multiple playthroughs on different difficulties. They were much more compelling to collect than those bloody coffee Thermoses.
Though as much as I bemoan the state of collectibles nowadays, they’re nothing compared to platforms back in the late 90s. I speak specifically of Donkey Kong 64, which had an insane amount of collectibles that were mandatory to progress. In each level there are:
- 25 Golden Bananas (required to access new levels, with each of the five characters able to collect five per level);
- A Banana Medal (one per character, all 40 needed to unlock a minigame to access another important item);
- 500 Bananas (100 per character, varying amounts needed to unlock the boss of a level);
- 1 Boss Key (needed to progress through the game and unlock the final boss);
- 5 Blueprints (gives a golden banana per each returned – one characters per blueprint); and
- Banana Coins (various amounts, five types – one for each character, needed to purchase goods).
On top of all this were the Nintendo and Rareware coins — two items you obtained by playing through ports of the original Donkey Kong and Jetpac. These items were absolutely essential to completing the game, because you HAD to. No reason, no rhyme, just because. At least in something like Gears of War, you never need to collect all the items to obtain the actual ending.
If you’re gonna make me invest time in combing through your game world, at least give me some real incentive to do so. Like in Forza Horizon or Alan Wake, give me a reason to invest my time. Make it worth my while. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Come back on Thursdays for more thoughts and views from the NG+ cast and crew.
[Image credits: A&E (via Wikipedia), The Game Effect, Nintendo (via YouTube)]