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Roger Gerald

Game Design: The Art Of Collection

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You can often tell how good a game is by the length of time you play it. Most games will try to prolong your game experience using collectible "items" which are collected by the player. These items come in many shapes and forms from skulltullas and heart pieces (Zelda), dog tags (Metal gear) to shooting pigeons (GTA4): even Xbox achievements and PSN Home trophies could be considered types of collectibles. Trouble is, for this technique to work, you need to reward the player adequately or they simply wont bother. In "Assassins Creed", for example, you can collect flags from each of the different areas in the game which is fun to start with as you jump around the well designed cathedrals and buildings but there is no reward at all (although if you play the 360 version, you get an achievement!): no new combat moves, no new area of the map unlocked, no extras (artwork etc) so what's the point? Where's the initial incentive? Sometimes you get rewarded but the reward is of little value to the player. Obtaining 200 stars in Mario Galaxy takes a lot of patience and time but the reward is the ability to replay the WHOLE game from the beginning to end with Luigi, another character. Umm, no thanks! How about an "unlimited flying ability" or perhaps the ability to change into any Mario Costume (ie "Bee Mario" or "Ghost Mario") at any time you like? That's surely more of an incentive? Beating Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) means you can eat lizard tails and maximize your grip meter until you are finally able to climb to the "secret" garden.... what a letdown to find just a magic fruit which , if eaten, damages yours health permanently ... thank you, how very thoughtful of you! There are thousands of examples of bad "collectible design", most of them seem to be added as an afterthought or quickly glued on at the end of a development cycle. For me, getting collectible design right is crucial if a game is going to be successful. I can think of two great examples to argue my case: (1) Call Of Duty 4: finding all the computers in the game means you can mess around with all the graphical settings, enhance special effects (e.g. explosions) and obtain unlimited ammo. Infinity Ward even took the time to insert a stats item in the pause menu so you could see how many you were still missing from a particular level. Also note that to obtain the rewards didn't mean that you had to collect them all. (2) GTA4 - Rockstar, the "masters of Collectibles", took it to a whole new level. Simple as it sounds , instead of finding a collectible, they made you LISTEN for it as well... a stroke of genius, and so simple. Also, at nighttime, you can see an orange light glowing around the pigeons. And what do you get for finding all 200? Find out yourself, its well worth it, I can assure you! Is it a coincidence that both these games are huge top sellers? I certainly don't think so. It's simply masterful design from skillful, clever and dedicated developers, nothing else. I have to go now. I am off to find some more pigeons to shoot.

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You bring up some very interesting points, but in my opinion collecting items can get very tedious. I do think that if any collecting bonus system is used that it should scale with the amount of things you collect, so even if you only collect 20 out of 2000 golden stars you still get a reward, even if it is only tiny.

Just my two cents ;P

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I think collect goals that are designed into games are extremely unfun. They simply create an incentive to look under every boring nook and cranny in the game world. Who wants to do that? The job is usually so tedious, the reward becomes irrelevant. I don't think I ever discovered what happens when 100 packages were found in GTA III. I have more interesting things to do than hunting for useless icons.

On the other hand, I really do enjoy collecting rare items in games. I've always thought it would be interesting to have a hidden plot arc that stems from obtaining a group of rare and ancient treasure items from different locations. For example, I was hoping for something like this while playing Morrowind and collecting Dwemer artifacts.

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Original post by Appmonster
You bring up some very interesting points, but in my opinion collecting items can get very tedious. I do think that if any collecting bonus system is used that it should scale with the amount of things you collect, so even if you only collect 20 out of 2000 golden stars you still get a reward, even if it is only tiny.

Just my two cents ;P


well, call of duty does this : collecting a certain amount of intelligence items results in bonuses, so you dont feel that you have to collect them all.

Also, collecting is not for everyone but all games should have them because the game needs to appeal to as many different types of players as possible.

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I don't think I ever discovered what happens when 100 packages were found in GTA III.

Same here. GTA collectibles were a pain to get.

However :
1) GTA gameplay is fun. GTA collectibles give useful bonuses. GTA collectibles
gathering is not fun.

and

2) Super Mario 64 is fun. Super Mario 64 collectibles give next to zero bonuses. Super Mario 64 collectibles gathering is fun.

Why is that ? Comparative level size ? Or because Mario collectibles are just the same as the regular gameplay, while GTA is not ?

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thats a good point : mario 64 was perfect but i am not sure i could say same about galaxy, getting 120 stars was just too repetetive?

Re gta , I personally prefer the old system of collecting (hidden packages): everytime you found multiples of ten, you were given a weapon at your hideout.


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I really like collect goals IF:

- the rewards are fun, as mentioned above
- you get the rewards _before_ the end of the game since I'm probably not going to replay it
- the number of things in each set is 20 or fewer and preferable at least cosmetically different, for example there is one of each color, one of each sign of the zodiac, each has a different paragraph of flavor text, etc., none of this collect 100 generic whatevers BS
- you have a checklist for each area so you can make sure you don't miss anything in it before you leave it behind, and if it's in a bonus area you can't get to yet it's not included in the regular checklist for the area
- if you want the player to collect one of each type of fish, don't make the type of fish they get random and some types of fish extremely rare, or at the least let them buy lures that insure they get only rare fish for the next half hour of fishing, or don't give them duplicate rare fish, make sure that if the 1 in 10 fish is rare then it's a different one each time until the player gets them all
- and if you are going to put extra difficult puzzles or challenges in front of the item, make there be 1 free pass the player can use to skip one of the challenges if they just can't do it.

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Original post by Roger Gerald
Beating Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) means you can eat lizard tails and maximize your grip meter until you are finally able to climb to the "secret" garden.... what a letdown to find just a magic fruit which , if eaten, damages yours health permanently ... thank you, how very thoughtful of you!

Bragging rights: I finished the game on it's highest difficulty. Quake's nightmare mode was carefully hidden, too...

Either way, yeah, I like collecting stuff, but I don't want it to be forced upon me. Also, when I sense collecting everything is more tedious than challenging, especially when the reward is just a '100%' mark, then I drop the item-hunt in favor of normal gameplay.

Also, when the scope is too large, I give up on hunting more easily. If I know the amount of secrets I can get on a per-level base, then that's good. If I only see a game percentage, then that makes things less inviting.


In the end, games don't have the kind of priority they had when I was younger. If I can get some fair rewards every now and then, then I'll have a better time playing than if I had to play a game perfect in order to obtain one big reward.

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Everquest 2 had a very interesting collectable system. They put these shiny glowing spheres with a ? on them lying all around the world. Depending on where you are you had different collectable items that you could get. If you collected the entire set of them you could turn it in for xp and cash. you could also then turn around and sell them. In no way did these things impact gameplay and yet they were tons of fun to collect. Why? For myself it was just the fun of something random. I always got something whether it was useful or not. It was an added quest that I could do and didn't actually had to worry about. Also some of them actually had decent rewards for completing it.


Another fun one to me was F.E.A.R. In fear (I'm not typing that stupid acronym again) there were two types of collectables. Powerups and plot elements. The powerups took two forms. One was a health boost and the other was a boost to the length that you could slow down time. There was pretty much 1 of each per level. If you missed them it wasn't that big of a deal either. The other was the plot elements. These were extra parts to the story that could be obtained by going and reading computers or listening to answering machine messages. Neither one were required and yet they added to the gameplay and the fun.

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Original post by Chrono1081
I loved EQ2s collectible system. I usually find collecting things an enormous pain in the ass but I couldnt resist finding out what those sparkles were!


In the beginning my friends and I figured out that if you bumped up one of the settings you could see the things from really far away. We'd yell out "Sparkly!" and race off to pick it up. It was almost a mini-game between us to see who would spot them first lol.

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