On If Collectibles Are Any Fun

There’s a fine line in games between collectibles being fun and collectibles being a chore.  I’ve been brooding on this a bit recently as I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a game (like its previous AC entries) with more collectibles than you can shake a stick at.  Between the regular chests, locked chests, Initiate chests, Nomad chests, and cockades, there are almost 400 boxes and doodads to look for in the world.  Actually, I shouldn’t say “look.”  While some do require a little sleuthing, 90% or so are posted on your map and are just a matter of running to the icon and grabbing the item.  The world is big enough that you’ll spend a lot of time just running to get chests.  Like I said, some do require a little work, mostly if the chest is in a big building and you have to figure out which window to climb into, but most are pretty straightforward and when your running from  chest to chest on a seemingly never ending collect-a-thon, the whole task starts to seem a little bit more like a chore than a fun game.  This is a problem.  So what makes a collectible okay and what makes them drive us crazy?

An example of a collectible I don’t mind is the three star coins in each level of recent Mario Games.  These are well hidden, but there’s a certain logic to them that makes sussing out their locations feel like a battle of wits between the player and developers.  Noticing a small indent and finding a secret path and a star coin makes you feel like a genius.  Trying to figure out how the developers are tricking you is fun and when you get all of the star-coins in a world, you unlock a bonus level, a nice tangible reward.  There’s also the nice fact that Nintendo usually balances the difficulty well.  Some searches will have you scratching your noggin, but when you figure it out, you’ll wonder how you didn’t see it coming.  Plus, with the use of collectibles in 2D games, there’s only so much real estate to explore if you’re stumped and just start checking every possible surface. Which brings me to the first of the problems with collectibles.

One of the things that annoys me most with collectibles is when they’re impossible.  For example if you found every collectible treasure in the Uncharted trilogy on your own… you’re straight up lying because that is impossible.  The treasures were tiny dots in huge levels, and they could be almost anywhere.  Sure, some of them are pretty doable.  Go down a less traveled path in the climbing sections and there was a good chance you might find one.  But then they would put a tiny glimmer on the tip of a statue near the roof of a monument in a massive cavern that you have to shoot (and mind you, no in game instruction ever mentions that shooting glimmers is a thing that you should be looking to do).  When you shoot the glimmer it falls to the ground and you can collect it as a treasure.  Given the scale of the game’s environments and the difficulty of noticing on of these glimmers in the games’ lighting, it could take hundreds to thousands of hours of painstakingly combing the environments to find every treasure on your own.  Instead, people do what I did and they use the crowdsourcing resource of the internet so they can get the platinum trophy without losing their mind.  Another game that did something like this was Star Fox: Assault.  There were five S-Flags hidden in each level.  Not only could they be anywhere, but about half of them were INVISIBLE!  You had to shoot them to make them appear.  There were several huge environments in that game and I suspect if some Guide-writing service like Prima Games hadn’t collaborated with the developers (and then had readers put the info on the internet), people would still be looking for those flags; and that game came out in 2005!

Then, of course, there’s the less offensive but still not particularly enjoyable sin that Assassin’s Creed commits of simply having too many collectibles that don’t get you much for the effort (some pocket change level money and a couple color schemes for your clothes), and all without the collecting itself involving any gameplay mechanics.  Part of the reason the Mario Star-coins are satisfying to get is that when one is placed tantalizing out of your reach and you execute a perfect triple jump, wall jump, or sequence of enemy stomps in order to get yourself to it, the game is making you earn it through gameplay.  Most of the chests in AC require the same set of “gameplay” skills that are required to use a GPS to drive to your friends house.  But at least you can do it without help from the internet if you want to.


Comment or e-mail us at thedailydpad@gmail.com if you have any thoughts on collectibles or anything else. Plus be sure to check out Daily D Pad on Youtube.  Till next time!


Indies Vs. AAA for Game of the Year

With the proximity to the Golden Globe awards recently, I saw a discussion about the award ability of long-form TV shows versus short-form TV shows (don’t worry; this will wrap back to games in a bit).  The argument that was made was that the quality of mini-series and those TV shows branded as “event series;” i.e. shows with 6-13 episode seasons rather that the full 22 episode seasons of regular network programs, is almost always superior.  Short season shows move quicker, have denser plots, and often their scripts have had more time to be polished.  Even the best full 22 episode shows are going to have some “filler” episodes in which little of long term importance happens.  Hence, from a critical perspective, short form shows have a higher average quality and are more awardable.

The reason that this discussion reflects on video games is that I have felt for several years that there should be separate Game of the Year categories for AAA games and so-called “indie” games, by which I mean more the genre of short form digital games than technically “independent” games from a publishing perspective.  After all, titles like Resogun and Child of Light are published by Sony and Ubisoft respectively, but are small games developed by small teams.  But I digress.  I think there is a fundamental difference in challenge between developing a AAA game like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed or Final Fantasy, and a small scale game like Child of Light or Resogun or Journey.

Large-scale game development has a certain responsibility to deliver  a certain value.  When a game costs $60 at retail, the consumer expects a certain level of content and polish.  As such most AAA games a certain length, a variety of unique game mechanics and a need to hit a broad enough audience to make their money back.  A smaller game can work on a single excellent game mechanic and simply stop when that mechanic is exhausted, even if its only a few hours of gameplay.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s a very different way of building something from what a large game must do.  When it’s strings hook is worn out, a AAA developer must come up with another to continue the adventure.  There is a reason why the Academy Awards have separate Oscars for Film and Short Film.  The type of experience and story for each is unique and what works for one does not necessarily work for the other.  A game like Journey works on a simple strait forward premise that is short enough to make a distinct impression and then exit before it wears out its welcome.  If Journey were a 30-hour, our even 10-hour game, I don’t think it would work as well.

In a way it may seem I am simply making excuses for AAA developers.  To some extent this is true.  A big game almost always has some part of it that doesn’t work as well and drags things down.  It’s simply harder to maintain quality over a longer stretch of time.  Of course, indie developers have their own sets of difficulties, usually in budget and man-power intensive areas such as graphics and scale.  And of course, games don’t fit as neatly into categories as, say, short films, which for the purpose of the Oscars are defined as film of less than 40 minutes.  Depending on the player, a game may take a range of time to complete.  As such, it would make more sense for the game creators to categorize the game themselves, much how Emmy and Golden Globe submitted TV shows decide whether to run a Drama or Comedy.  With the increasing dichotomy of the game space split between small independent creators and huge, AAA game productions, I think it would benefit both parties to be judged only on their own merits rather than try to compare the scale and detail or AC: Unity’s Paris to something small but beautifully artistic like Child of Light or Transistor.  No matter what though,  with the variety of good games, it’s a good time to be a gamer!


It may have been a long winter break, with my life being a bit busy, but the dailydpad is back and the weekly posts are too.  As always, please follow us and send us feedback at thedailydpad@gmail.com and check out Daily D Pad on youtube.  See you next week!