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Some Exposition/Context if You Care About that Sort of Thing (Safe to Skip)

When it comes to gaming, I'm a completionist. You can tell me to finish all 50 optional levels, conquer a near-impossible superboss, or find all 900 pinecones Korok Seeds scattered throughout the entire open world. I'll do these things simply because you told me to.

However, I was recently playing Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze's Hard Mode, which is reserved for the post-game. And it got me thinking...

Now, in Tropical Freeze, there are two sets of collectibles in every level: the four KONG letters and 5-9 puzzle pieces. The KONG letters are generally left out in plain sight, but are difficult to reach. In other words, they test your platforming prowess. By contrast, the puzzle pieces are generally hidden in places you wouldn't think to look if you were just breezing through the levels. In other words, they test your ability to be observant and thorough.

As a 100% completionist, I had collected all of the puzzle pieces before unlocking Hard Mode. Hard Mode does not require you to relocate puzzle pieces that you've already found in normal mode. However, it does present the challenge of re-collecting the KONG letters, as the risky maneuvers you were pulling off in normal mode to collect them are now even MORE risky in Hard Mode. Double the risk, double the fun, am I right?

Here's the thing, though... with the puzzle pieces out of the way, I could focus exclusively on platforming challenges when I played Hard Mode. And I realized that I like the platforming of Tropical Freeze waaaaaay more than I enjoy hunting for hidden collectibles. In fact, I truly believe that hunting for puzzle pieces damages my overall enjoyment of the game. So, just don't collect the puzzle pieces on future playthroughs, right?

WRONG. I'm a completionist at heart. Knowing that there are secrets that I'm deliberately leaving behind would be like having an intense itch in some place that I couldn't reach to scratch while locked in a room in which every surface was soft and smooth and unfit for scratching.

But, what if Tropical Freeze had systems to enable my completionism addiction without forcing me to engage with all of the game's systems? For example, what if I could exchange 10 Banana Coins for all of the puzzle pieces in a given level? Or something else?

Hacky Slashy: A Hypothetical Design (If You Were Skipping, You Should Stop Skipping Now)

Ultimately, the question I'll be asking here is, "Is it beneficial to streamline the 100% completion process for challenges that deviate from the game's foundational mechanics?"

Let's consider a hypothetical game to which we can apply this reasoning.

We'll call this hypothetical game "Hacky Slashy." Hacky Slashy is a hack-and-slash in which the main quest is just a series of levels. "Beating the game" simply requires that each level's boss be defeated. However, the following additional tasks must be fulfilled to achieve 100% completion:

  1. Receive a gold ranking for each level. For each level, you're given a "bronze-silver-gold" ranking based on how well you complete it (i.e. taking minimal damage, aggressive fighting style, etc.).
  2. Locate and rescue the captured NPC. This is a small escort quest where you have to bring an NPC from point A to point B without allowing them to take damage, lest they die. Assume that bad escort mechanics don't contribute to the tediousness of this quest (e.g. the NPC will keep up with your sprinting speed, can intelligently maneuver around obstacles in the path, will make reasonable attempts to dodge incoming hitboxes, and so on).
  3. Find the hidden Shiny Shard. There is a Shiny Shard hidden in every level. Finding the Shiny Shard involves solving some sort of puzzle or locating some sort of hidden area, but these challenges are unrelated to combat.

Achieving gold rankings falls entirely in line with the core gameplay of a hack-and-slash, as getting a gold ranking does not require players to deviate from hacking and slashing. I would contend that this is good (but feel free to contradict me on this), because my audience will be buying my game to enjoy hack-and-slash gameplay.

The escort quest can fall in line with the core gameplay of a hack-and-slash, but it's also true that the optimal way to complete this side quest would be to defeat all of the enemies in the level, backtrack to the NPC, and then escort them through the empty map. In other words, the player may optimize the hack-and-slash out of this challenge. (This is mostly likely indicative of a different problem than the one posed by 100% completion, but I'll leave it in here in case anyone has any additional insight.)

However, finding Shardy Shards simply does not fall in line with the core gameplay of a hack-and-slash, and thus is at the heart of this question. Again, it is reasonable to assume that gamers who purchased Hacky Slashy did so to enjoy its combat. While there will surely be members of my audience who enjoy both combat and puzzles/exploration, there will also be those who only want to engage in combat-related mechanics. However, it's likely that there will be people in both camps who are 100% completionists. Suddenly, they'll be forced to choose between their two tendencies: Complete all of the game's challenges despite the fact that some of them won't be fun for them, or focus only on the fun challenges while leaving the Completionist's Itch unscratched.

How can Hacky Slashy include Shardy Shards in a way that avoids alienating the completionists who don't particularly enjoy exploration? Are there any games that solved a similar problem in an insightful way?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I expected recollecting the KONG letters would be the problem, but I don't see why seeking for a single time for hidden puzzle pieces would be the problematic. It's the same as the Korok seeds in BotW. As a 100% completionist, wouldn't you actually be more satisfied if you collected them on your own, instead of 'buying' your way to 100%? \$\endgroup\$
    – Steven
    Nov 6, 2020 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you bought them instead of finding them, it would probably leave the same itch of missing out. "Knowing there are secrets that I'm deliberately leaving behind" and "facilitate 100% completion without engaging every single one of the game's system" sounds rather contradicting itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steven
    Nov 6, 2020 at 7:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Should" isn't a question this particular exchange answers well in general. But if you can make this concrete, asking about a specific feature you're designing in your game, rather than a pronouncement about what we think all game designers "should" do, then I think we can tackle that here. See the tag guidance on the game-design tag for some tips on structuring game design questions to get helpful constructive answers within our format. You can also join us in Game Development Chat to discuss topics like this more informally. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Nov 6, 2020 at 9:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Steven I wanted to explain that a bit better, but my exposition was getting too long... but what I was getting at with puzzle pieces being a problem was that the process of collecting puzzle pieces involves stopping and searching for things that are out of the way, while you can often pick up KONG letters without even slowing down if you're skilled enough. The pace of DK and BOTW are different because they're different types of games, so the impact of puzzle pieces on the former is more pronounced for me than the impact of Korok Seeds on the latter. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2020 at 16:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ We're close. Since your question seems to be about how the shiny shard mechanic can be designed to avoid alienating players primarily interested in combat, you should try to identify what player experience you're trying to craft by adding the shiny shard in the first place. That helps constrain the set of answers to ones that still accomplish that goal, rather than redesigning the shiny shard into something diametrically opposite from what you wanted. But if this question is purely hypothetical, you may do better asking in Game Development Chat or elsewhere - the Q&A site is for helping devs make real games. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Nov 6, 2020 at 18:38

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I think this depends on the context, both yes and no can be towards a designers choice.

Some may say the road to 100% completion is not meant to be easy (or even fun). And collecting all items, of finishing the game with every perk/class available is part of the challenge. A hard example on gacha games, a softer example on archievements, Pokémon/monster-collection games or roguelikes that allows you to start with a different perk/character to complete the game in an unique way.

Other games have a similair collectables, but still allows you to obtain it in different ways. Like the Super Smash Bros series, which has a challenge board, but grants you a limited amount of hammers to free these challenges, due to it's limitation, you rather want to save those for the challenges you won't be able to beat by yourself, and keep them for the home stretch.

Though in my view, some completionists could strife for keeping all hammers too.
So the choice to go for them all, or ignore and/or bypass them is up to you.

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