I need to talk about this.
Okay, so you’re designing a game that involves traversing a big open world, ala Grand Theft Auto, Spider-Man, Brutal Legend. You understand that it’s impossible to make missions that cover every square inch, but you still want the player to have something to do when they’re just sort of dicking around exploring. Plus, you want some way to call their attention to your hard work on that one underpass in Brooklyn. The solution: make them collect junk scattered over the landscape. Whether that means comics, buried metal, secret stashes, whatever. You put 100 X’s in different areas of the map, and keep track of them for the player. Maybe there’s a token reward for getting them all, but it’s not really meant to be anything but an incentive to explore.
I have a problem with this, because I’m a goddamn madman. I need 100/100. I know there’s no reason for that, because you’d have to be insane to actually believe that there’s a reason to do that. You don’t cure cancer when you find all the bing-bongs. The reason this is a problem is because getting 100/100 is impossible.
Okay, maybe not completely. But these sorts of scavenger hunts get harder and harder until once you’re at 99/100, you’re looking for one single purposefully difficult to see object in a city. At that point, it doesn’t matter how good you’ve gotten, you can’t go back and think “okay, now I found 1 here, so it can’t be here, and 2 here… and 98 here”. The worst offender I’ve played was Crackdown. It had 300 “hidden orbs”. The “hidden” part was because these things were visible only from particular places, usually on the ground (which you spent very little time on). Nothing called your attention to them if your camera wasn’t pointed directly at them. I think I found 35. And let’s say I did find 299/300. What are the odds I’d actually stumble upon that 300th at any point?
Again, I know it’s only the brain troubles that make me really care, but I hate how not really fun this method of gameplay extending is. You know what a simple solution would be? Make it hardest to find a given sparkly thing when there are 0/X collected. Maybe give the player a tracker that can find them, but there’s “jangly things interference” if there are too many on the map. That way, causally flipping about the city would reveal enough to get the tracker up and running, allowing those last few stragglers to be discovered. This is basically the method already in use by most players who complete collectathons, because after they’ve found the few that they stumbled upon, they turn to consulting dozens of maps like the above that go into excruciating detail about where everything is.
Another option is to do what Arkham Asylum did, and provide the player with a combination of reasonably easy to discover collectables, as well as reasonably easy to discover maps of further more difficult to see collectables. The fun came in figuring out how to get to them, not in stumbling over the right area. Just please, for the sake of people like myself, don’t just scatter them and make us go to gamefaqs to print out a leetspeak-annotated map. It’s not fun enough.