Collectible items have become standard fare in video games. If you haven’t collected all the flags in Assassin’s Creed or shot all the stars in Resident Evil 5, there’s still some meaningless task left to be accomplished. As irritating as those two examples are, however, it is possible to make collectible items a valuable part of the game experience.
Let’s talk about how:
1. They should be relevant to the narrative –In some way, shape or form, the collectible items being gathered should make sense in the game world and serve some narrative purpose. Alan Wake provides one excellent example of how to do this well: The pages from Wake’s manuscript, scattered around the world, offer details on the characters and situations in the game. Some of them are easy to find, some require thorough searching. Alan Wake also provides a terrible example of collectible items in the form of coffee thermoses. They’re irrelevant, out of place, and clearly just there for the achievement points.
2. They should serve some purpose other than achievement points – Any in-game item or activity which yields nothing but achievement points should be removed. They are distractions from the game. Again, one game gives an excellent example of how to do this well and how to do it poorly. The agility orbs in Crackdown were fun to find and yielded a clear benefit in the form of increased jumping ability. Once you’ve achieved the maximum height, however, they serve no further purpose. So why are there still so many left? At least the blast shards in inFAMOUS continued to be useful throughout the game, even if finding them was tedious and obnoxious.
3. They should be fun to collect – Obsessive collection alone is not fun. Jumping around in Crackdown is; that’s what makes the agility orbs worth seeking. If the actual act of finding hidden and collectible items is not interesting, why would collecting them be worthwhile? There are (many) reasons why Ocarina of Time is so well-respected. Hidden pieces of heart served a purpose and were usually hidden by interesting challenges and puzzles. Plus, they make you more powerful, which fulfills criteria number two.
4. It should be something worth collecting – People do collect rare bugs, and collecting rare golden bugs would be even more lucrative, so that’s a check mark for Twilight Princess. The bobbleheads in Fallout 3 are immensely collectible items; they even have their own collectible item stand. Mario collects stars, which is pretty weird, but he’s a weird guy. I believe it. Soldiers collect dog tags, sure. But seriously, no one collects identical coffee thermoses or identical flags or identical anything. At least make the items somewhat different from one another. The little statues in Assassin’s Creed 2 were approximately 300% more interesting than the feathers in the same game for that exact reason.
That’s it. It’s a short list. All you need to make a collection quest fun is that it be relevant, purposeful, fun, and worth collecting. It doesn’t seem like very much to ask, but another bad example hits the market every week. Let’s forget artificially-extended gameplay and stop breaking immersion. If every game followed these guidelines, collecting everything wouldn’t seem like such a waste of time.