What Makes For Good In-Game Collectibles?

From Pokémon to Red Dead Redemption, games love to give us things to collect. And as gamers, we love to collect them. But which games do it well? And which do it badly?

Over on the Press Pause To Reflect blog, Daniel Bullard Bates has put together a list of four ways in-game collectibles become "a valuable part of the game experience."

1. They should be relevant to the narrative

2. They should serve some purpose other than achievement points

3. They should be fun to collect

4. It should be something worth collecting

Bullard-Bates cites Alan Wake as possessing collectibles that are both good and bad. The manuscript pages you find, often in out of the way places, are directly linked to the story and flesh out the experience by describing events both in the past and those you've yet to encounter. Its coffee thermoses, however, add nothing to the experience.

Crackdown's agility orbs are enjoyable to chase down, ie. it's fun to leap around the world, and carry a purpose, ie. making it even more fun to leap around the world.

Assassin's Creed II's feathers and treasure chests are fun to find because the simple act of navigating the world is fun. But neither provide a substantial reward for doing so, thus trivialising the effort required to hunt them all down.

Far Cry 2 littered diamond cases across its sprawling maps. Some were easy to spot out in the open, while others were incredibly tricky to locate and often involved some quite risky manoeuvres involving cliffs and precarious tree branches. Each diamond discovery told its own story of a crashed plane, an ambush, a double-cross, or even just a simple accident, fleshing out the world and the game's themes in subtle fashion.

Rockstar has a history of placing collectibles in its Grand Theft Auto games. In GTA III, you could find hidden packages all over the city: for every ten you found, you'd be rewarding with a new weapon permanently spawned outside your safehouse. It wasn't necessarily fun finding all the packages, but the reward was cool enough to make it worthwhile.

In GTA IV, however, the packages were replaced with pigeons. Liberty City housed 200 of the vermin for you to track down and shoot. Trouble was, there wasn't a reward for doing so, outside of an achievement.

For me, one of the best recent examples of well-designed in-game collectibles was in Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Riddler Challenges were exceptional, forcing you to pay attention to the environment if you were to successfully follow each clue.

Do you agree with the above list? What are some of your favourite in-game collectibles? Do you even enjoy collecting things in games?

Collect Everything [Press Pause To Reflect]


    Best game for collectables: Little Big Planet.
    The collectables in this game give you something that you can use within the game and even when creating your own levels and customising your sack boy or girl.

    Always having something new and shiny is addictive and thats why I guess I found myself searching levels three times over to make sure I didn't miss something or to try and find that pesky hidden sticker.

    Worst game for collectables: Assassins Creed 2
    As soon as I started reading this article, one popped in to mind straight away... and then it was mentioned. Not much reward in it apart from a trophy... is that worth spending hours and hours finding the feathers across the whole game? Nope. You can keep the feathers...

    I feel that the whole collecting items just for a trophy to be really tedious because I feel they are just a bit of an afterthought in the game. At the end of the day you do need a better reward for investing that time in the hunt.

      All the feathers get a cloak that makes you instantly infamous, too.
      Kinda pointless, in my opinion. All you have to do for infamy is knife someone in front of a guard.

      AC2 at least tried with the collectibles. If you got all the feathers you unlocked a cape that did something or other (I said they tried, I didn't say it worked :p). The treasure chests contained pages from Altair's diary (unless we're talking about the randomly scattered ones) which helped fill in the backstory and were mandatory for finishing the game.

      That's a lot better than the first Assassin's Creed. A bunch of flags scattered across the map, no reason, they're just there. Collect them and get an achievement, leave them alone and don't get an achievement.

      For the flak AC2 gets over the collectibles, it deserves absolute praise compared to the original.

        ACII got it right with the Glyphs - they were fun to find and fun to solve, as well as contributing to the story. The Codex pages failed for being boring to collect, even if they were compulsory to complete the game. The treasure chests and feathers felt incidental (who needed money? and a cape? really?) and were really only there for completionists.

    I positively agree with the Arkham Asylum clues. I love that game. The Riddler's problems actually made me want to go and find them, not only because of how they reference the mythos, but also because it forced you to admire the awesome environment they made.

    As for AC2, I'm playing it atm, and I only bother to find the chests and feathers if I see a glimpse of it. I only hunt down the glyphs, they're fun to solve.

    disaster day of crisis' soda signs, it just fitted in so well with the c-movie feel of the game. but they were utterly useless.
    seriously: knights in the nightmares' artefacts were used to fill out the story too and challenging to collect.
    metroid prime scans too.

    Fallout 3 bobbleheads. Relevant to the narrative, give stat points, fun to hunt down, look awesome on the bobblehead stand.

      I loved admiring my Bobblehead collection. That was the most satisfying part of the experience for me.

    Yeah batman nails collectables perfectly IMO. It made it fun to find everything and to use your brain to work out the riddles.

    I like Prototypes "consumables". It's good to be running around on buildings then have a flashing icon indicate that someone is nearby that you can consume for extra bits of the story. The orbs, not so much, while i do get a boost to EXP, it still doesn't make me want to actively hunt down these collectables in such a large cityscape.

    Interesting you mentioned RDR, that must be one of the best in-game collection schemes I've encountered.
    Hunting was fun, challenging and beyond the instant gratification of acheivement, you got the mid-range monetary reward, and eventually an upgrade of some sort.
    Treasure hunter rank 10 got you an upgrade to your carrying, Survivalist lets you brew dead eye tonics, and if you complete them all you get an outfit that doubles your dead eye and looks cool.
    And each challenge suited the setting, if not quite the narrative until late in the game.

    The collectables in Ratchet and Clank: A crack in time, were awesome. Not only did they unlock extra items and weapons, but collecting them meant you had to explore every single planet, often filled with cool platforming puzzles. And challenge rooms. Also, you had to collect a certain amount of an item to progress in the story. But it wasn’t tedious; it was actually really fun to track these little creatures called “zoni” down. But, by far the best part of collecting everything was trying to decipher the time puzzles at the end of the game. The puzzles were extremely difficult and the first one took me 2 hours of trial and error. It just made getting that golden bolt all the more satisfying.

    The shards and data collectables in infamous were also quite good. They serve the dual purpose giving you more electrical power/telling the story; and collecting them all would familiarize you with the city. Getting them didn’t really add much to the story, they aren’t really explained beyond “some huge explosion caused these” but it works.

    I agree with the list, except for the first point. Collectables don’t have to be part of the narrative. If anything they should be something outside of the story, right? They should be something I can use to distract myself from the main plot.

    Collectables are just another part in a multitude of reasons why I think Batman:AA is one of the most solidly designed games I've played in thirty odd years.

    The collectables help the player appreciate their surroundings, which help the games atmosphere and over all feel.
    It helps drive the story line right up to the end until you beat the riddler at his own game and it also makes you think a little, as the player is given clues/riddles throughout the game to find the markings/trophies - so the player feels like they have actually accomplished something as the game progresses without the need for achievements or trophies.

    Goes to show that with a little thought and solid design you can make something mundane like collectables an integral part of the gaming experience.

    green statues in GTA vice city. Only like it cause it was the last item i had to collect to get 100% game progress... good times.

    Also bobbleheads in FO3. Already said, just agreeing with the above poster.

    Sucks... Fuel (just everything). Make the largest landscape then ask people to collect all around it. Fun game for a while (I did over 750km) but just too big.

    I have always loved collecting rings & chaos emeralds on Sonic games, and coins & Stars on Mario games - both being integral parts of these games (i.e. platformers). It never gets old, but hey, I'm a platforming fiend from way back! Bring on Mario Galaxy 2 & Sonic AdventureDX XBLA!

      Also Sonic4 and would love another Paper Mario game. And for the record, I cant believe how lame the new Rocket Knight game was - nice character model though...

    The audio conversations in Bioshock 2 were satisfying to get. Added more to the story of Rapture and I just liked that clicking sound whenever it would start.

    Interesting when you compare the points Bullard-Bates uses to a game like Just Cause 2.
    Ticks for all of them, if you consider blowing stuff up and slingshotting across an army base fun,(i do) the reward is the lack of sodiers in completed districts and it is a crucial part of the narrative, because it's something you have to do to advance the story.
    Yet, due to the quantity of collectibles, they lose a bit of the charm.
    Maybe it gets more fun near the end.
    Not sure if the faction collectibles count, but they are marked on the map to avoid frustration.

    Collectibles essentially fall into three categories I think:

    1. Kudos - you can collect them, but there's no in-game benefit to doing so other than a simple achievement. Flags in Assassin's Creed or pidgeons in GTAIV, for example.
    2. Upgrade - collecting these gives you an upgrade of some sort, which improves your character/team in some way, but still isn't necessary. For example, ID Tags in Red Faction: Guerilla gives you the MOABs or Fallout 3 Bobbleheads.
    3. Forced - the plot of the story doesn't progress unless you collect them. I don't think there is a game which enforces this, but correct me if I'm wrong...

    To my mind, I'll collect stuff it is fun and challenging to do so but won't go out of my way. The only game I've played recently where i collected them all was Batman: Arkham Asylum. RDR is heading that way with the fun of the Challenges, especially the Treasure Hunt!

    I'm certainly not going to bust a gut collecting stuff which is ridiculously painstaking or boring, like the 500 orbs in Crackdown or 200 pidgeons in GTAIV. Very, very tedious!!

    Some of the Marvel games have gotten it right with collectable comics and figures to unlock new costumes. The two Spider-man games on the PS1 were best for that. In Incredible Hulk (non movie tie-in) you could earn different shorts.

    I love them, have hunted pigeons, collected orbs and many other things... but my all time favorite would have to be Batman, the riddles/collectibles for that were just brilliant.

    Still i like them, they give you a reason to explore parts of the game that you'd otherwise never visit (open world games that is).

    I am not sure if they are collectables but I gained much joy from the heart containers in the Zelda games. Link to the Past did it best with the mirror world puzzles to collect.

    For FPS titles collect parts for a gun that when all parts are collected it makes the harder playthroughs more enjoyable. For platformers, collectibles that give you extra powers or higher jumps, My 2 cents

    Sadly being a completionist means that I will try and get them all, even if it's not fun.

    As some have already mentioned, there have been some great use of collectables recently, two of which were.

    Batman : Arkham Asylum
    Yes, the Riddler challenges around the level, first of all it was good that some were only obtainable once you have obtained a certain gadget or something like that.

    The best examples though were when you found 'areas' that related back to other villians, etc... The best ones that actually at the time made me have a Keanu Reeves (Whoa!) moment were the environmental Question Marks. The first time in detective mode you see a strange colour marking when you 'think' looks like a question mark, makes you question what the hell is going on and you move around to get a better view. Only then when you get to a certain angle and everything becomes clear.

    Red Dead Redemption
    Treasure Maps, one of the single greatest collectables I've come across (and can remember at the moment), only onto my 5th or 6th at the moment, but searching the landscape for a certain tree or rock formation that has been drawn onto the map is such a simple idea, but it's perfectly executed.

    I would even go on the record as stating that I would buy a game if it was just doing this and only this.

    Rockstar Games Presents : Treasure Hunter
    and also as a single game...
    Rockstar Games Presents : Animal Tracker

    Make it happen! :)

    Fallout 3's unique weapons were a highlight for me, was always fun running through the deathclaw caves for the Vengence gattling laser. Also liked the 101 dalmations you could find in the original Kingdomhearts, finding them all unlocked a secret cutscene if im not mistaken.

    I like Fallout 3 Weapons to be honest :D

    Collect them for better killANG - Especially the Chinese stealth armour + Katana Blade.

    Not exactly collectables but you do go out of your way for them.

    No-one has mentioned any of the Lego games yet. Me and my girlfriend spent hours trying to get %100 on Lego Indy 1 and are on our way to doing the same in Lego Indy 2. Collect 10 red/blue/green bricks in a level, unlock something to buy, just enough to make us want to try to get them all.

    Am I missing something? What made the riddles in Arkham Asylum so great? They were just there. Placed by a character you never even saw and with no real reward for collecting them.

    Sure they were cool, but nowhere near as cool as the 'memories' you collected in AC2 or Prototype.

      Some involved a bit of brainwork to figure out what the Riddler meant. It all fit in with his character & therefore the game universe.

    1. They should be relevant to the narrative

    2. They should serve some purpose other than achievement points

    3. They should be fun to collect

    4. It should be something worth collecting

    Exactly! But I think there should be a few more conditions. If you miss one, you shouldn't have to restart the entire game to get it again (like the bobble-head in your Dad's lab in Fallout 3). Additionally, it shouldn't be available to only one alignment, like the bobble-head you had to break into a house for.

    There has only be one game that I wanted to collect everything in and that was Batman: Arkham Asylum.

    Shocked that Bioshock hasn't been mentioned. The Audio diaries was one of the biggest elements to the game and one of the main ways that the story was propelled.

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