Even if you don’t love video game collectables, you’re probably going to collect them. They should at least be somewhat worthwhile, right?
This piece originally appeared 6/6/17.
Most modern video games sprinkle small, collectable items around their levels to encourage completionists to explore. Once you’ve cleared the level of bad guys or puzzles, you can backtrack and find all the gems, coins, action figures, CDs, VHS tapes, treasures, little woodland people or coffee thermoses the developers have hidden for you. Collectables can be hard to ignore, because they tickle the part of our lizard-brain that demands we get not just some of the things, but all of the things.
Some recent games have done a great job with optional collectables, but there are still plenty of sinners out there. As we did with PC gaming and video game menus, we have once more climbed Video Game Mountain and come down with a set of guidelines.
10. Thou shalt make collecting interesting.
For anyone can just go looketh behind that crate over there, and that crate over there. For it is not challenging or interesting to simply looketh behind all the crates, and in fact there may be a better place to put a collectable than behind such a crate. For we art here to play a video game, not to play a video game whilst intermittently pausing to go looketh behind all the crates.
9. Thou shalt make collectables emit some sort of sonic or visual clue.
As more and more games replaceth bad collectibles with good ones, our habit of searching behind every crate might fade. Yet thou shalt not assume we hath unlearned our bad habits, and thus shalt not force us to search for collectables without some sort of assistance. Whether by subtle visual guide or audio cue, thou shalt indicate to us that a collectable is nearby.
8. Thou shalt make it clear if a collectable can’t be reached.
Looketh. We liketh Metroid Prime too, and appreciateth the way that game locked off collectables behind abilities the player would eventually unlock. If thou art planning to use that formula, thou shalt do it as well as that game did. Thou shalt make it clear if the player doth not have the proper upgrade to reach a collectable so that he or she doth not waste too much time attempting the impossible.
7. Thou shalt give some sort of reward for collecting things.
For while exploration is often its own reward, thou shalt not ignore those of us who would prefer something a little more tangible. We shalt accept an expansion of the backstory, for worthy Lore is treasure enough.
6. Thou shalt make audio logs play over gameplay.
For if we hath taken the time to dig up an audio log, we wouldst prefer to listen to it while continuing to explore. If thou art forcing players to remain in the menu screen to listen to audio logs, thou art doing it wrong. Furthermore thou shalt provide a written transcript of audio logs for players who might perfer to read rather than listen.
5. Thou shalt be gentle with the fourth wall.
Yes, we art aware that this is a video game. We art furthermore aware that many video games feature collectables. Thou shalt not feel the need to remind us of this by making collectables self-aware meta jokes, nor by having our character remark on the tedious nature of hunting for collectables. Maketh the collectables fun and interesting. That shall suffice.
4. Thou shalt not require the player to slow down during story segments.
We hath still not forgotten the part in Alan Wake where a massive shadow tornado is destroying a bridge and yet Alan must momentarily stop his panicked flight to double back and grab a coffee thermos. We shalt never forget.
3. Thou shalt make it easy for players to track their progress.
For lo, it is true that we live in the age of subreddits and game wikis. And lo, we shalt acknowledge that more online research bandwidth has been dedicated to tracking video game collectables than the majority of infectious diseases. Yet thou shalt still clearly inform us how many collectables we hath collected, and how many remain. If thou art feeling generous, thou shalt even break down each region with its own sub-list. However, if thou art doing this, thou shalt reflect on the fact that perchance thine game contains a few too many collectables to begin with.
2. Thou shalt offer some sort of in-game explanation.
Hark! A collectible appears on the horizon! Is it a book, or a treasure? Or perhaps a small creature, or a coin? Whatever it is, may it somehow tie in with the overarching story and/or may it be something that the main character would actually take the time to collect.
1. Basically, thou shalt not simply throw a bunch of random shit into thine game to make it seem bigger.
For verily, most of us do not require video games to be larded up with empty extra content. If thou art adding optional collectables, thou shalt take the time to make them worth collecting. If thou findest that thou lacketh the resources or bandwidth to add interesting collectables to thine game, thou shalt not be shy about cutting them and moving on.
So it has been written, so it shall be. One day. Hopefully.