Collecting Items and Breaking Boxes

So I recently came upon a block in Psychonauts. As I entered Frank’s favorite level, I found out I needed to buy something. Unfortunately, I was still lacking the correct amount of money, it cost 800, I was closer to 250. This presented a huge hurdle, as now I must stop “playing the game” and start “doing some grinding” in searching for loose change wherever it may be. I found this to be quite disappointing, as I was really enjoying the game.

But this presented a bigger problem I find in games, collecting useless items to progress through the game. I am not talking about collecting integral items, that are usually the reason for an entire level, like in Zelda, but rather having to slog through some crazy long side-quest just to get the jewel to bring to the queen, to get the letter, to get the blacksmith, to tell you to get the metal, to make the sword that is needed to beat the game. Or more importantly in this game, requiring me to find a crazy amount of money, which is annoying to find in the first place, just to continue the game. If I will need something to beat the game, it should be given to me at the appropriate time, like getting the ability to form a shield, just as I need it to beat the boss. If I need an object to progress through the game, GIVE IT TO ME, or at least make it attainable in a friendly fashion. Don’t make me spend hours searching for inconsequential money so I can FINALLY buy it, I might end up putting the game down, FOREVER!!!

This reminds me of the “Crate” syndrome in games. How do you know how bad a game is? When the first crate appears, because by then they were to lazy to figure out anything helpful to put there! I don’t think that is an actual good measure of how good a game is, as sometimes, they are there because when you go to a factory, you will see lots of crates. But requiring me to spend hours searching for coins buried in different parts of every level, just to beat a particular level? That is bad game design. I am not saying Psychonauts is bad, I have enjoyed the game thoroughly until this point, but this means the game will have to wait until I find the time to just look for coins, which doesn’t look good right now.

So what does this teach us as game designers? If you want your player to get something, lead him to it, but don’t tell him to stop playing until he collects enough random points to get it, and only then can he continue. Because he might just decide to stop playing completely.