Friday, September 27, 2013

When Collecting Goes Wrong

Sorry, I'm not talking about hoarding, although I guess collecting goes wrong there, too.  I'm talking about collectibles in video games and how they can ruin certain types of games (or at least certain sections).  As I'm sure you're aware by this point, I love collecting things in games.  I love scouring every corner of a world to find all the hidden widgets and whatsits (especially if there's a tracker or some way to know if I've missed any), but I've come to the realization that collectibles lying on the ground can completely ruin any dramatic tension a game may have built up, not to mention any sense of sanity in the playable character.

Say your girlfriend just got kidnapped and you've chased the bad guys into some building.  Being a video game, chances are pretty good that you could just stand at the entrance indefinitely and the bad guys will never leave the building or try to find some other way to ferret away your girlfriend because you were just standing there.  Personally, I appreciate this bit of video game logic since it lets me move the story forward at my choice.  But it definitely kills the mood of the game if it's an intense moment and I stop because there might be some hidden goody in an adjacent room and I have to stop chasing them to go find it.

This happened a bunch during Last of Us where I'd meet someone and they'd say, "Come follow me to safety" and they'd just walk off.  Logically and cinematically, I should immediately follow them to make sure I'm safe.  But I know I can comically just ignore them to wander into all the rooms they should have already cleaned out of useful items to see if I can find anything since the story won't trigger until I reach a certain place and I know enemies won't be coming from anywhere until that point.  The problem I'm talking about is mostly with collectibles in games like Uncharted, Last of Us, and Remember Me.  The fairly linear, cinematic type games where the pacing is very important to the overall experience.

I think collectibles can be done in those games, but it should only be in the sections where you have no immediate goal to rush somewhere.  So, if the collectibles were only found in some kind of rest area, usually found right after a particularly intense part of the game, then it wouldn't really break the pacing much.  If they were consistent about it, then it would also help me to not constantly be breaking the action to scour all the corners of a room to see if I missed anything.  I could play the action sequences like action sequences and the collection sections like a crazy OCD packrat - essentially how I treat collecting in any open world game.  I am either running around in collection mode or I'm moving the story along, but I get to choose when to do both.  Of course, this is all because I can't stop myself from needing to collect everything and hating the feeling that I missed something, so as usual, maybe it's more a personal problem than a game design problem...

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