Collecting items of interest is something we all participate in at some point or another in our lives. Whether it’s seashells at the beach or rare coins. Finding objects that mean something to us and creating a collection grants us a tangible reminder of the places we’ve explored and the times we’ve lived through.
In games the process of collecting items can be used for two purposes, to be used later as a resource or as a trophy for an accomplishment. In Monopoly for example the cash gained through transactions and progress is a resource to be used, where as properties are the victory points, the status symbols of our success. We use the cash to purchase and collect a series of properties, then we purchase homes until we collect enough of them to upgrade our structures into hotels.
In simple collection systems like this, there are a few resources to manage and they all scale into each other making it easy to see how our objects become a reflection of our progress. Resource management in games is an extremely powerful gameplay system, it’s no surprise that “game theory” is a financial / mathematical study focusing on decision making between players and the resources they compete for. However it is important to remember that when introducing resources within a game they must serve a purpose that is relevant to the player. The use and collection of resources must be integrated into the player’s experience of meaningful choice.
The Witcher 3 features a robust series of resources to collect and use in a myriad of ways. Some are used in the crafting of weapons and armor, others are used in alchemy, others only serve to be sold for coin, and beyond that the player may also collect foreign currency to be exchanged at a central bank. All of these resources become overwhelming, yes they can be used to create unique items but those items themselves do not impact the game in a meaningful way. The craftable weapons and armor quickly get outclassed by items found, and the consumables made through alchemy only marginally increase the players combat effectiveness.
The shear number of crafting items means that collecting “common” crafting elements may still be limited to a few geographic regions. The process of collecting resources for crafting as opposed to purchasing them becomes an illogical path to crafting. Since herbalists and black smiths are encountered in every area of the game the player could simply sell all of their resources for gold and then buy their crafting ingredients on an as needed basis.
The problem with collecting items simply to craft things with them is that that pursuit means little to the player if it is outside of a core mechanic. Unfortunately, within the Witcher, crafting had such a small impact on the gameplay experience, and such a demanding resource requirement, that it felt like something the player could easily skip out on.
Fallout 4 however, was able to incorporate both the collector and crafter instincts of the player to create a meaningful crafting system. The first thing they did right was making it so the primary way the player gained crafting supplies was through collection. Vendors may have had components for sale but it was more difficult and typically more expensive to acquire resources that way. Second they made the process of looking for resources a mini game of I spy. If the player was looking for screws the player could identify that desk fans and toy cars contained screws, and then calculate weight and value, “the toy car weighs less but the fan has other components I need for my settlement”.
Fallout also packaged the resources in interesting items such as teddy bears which could be scrapped for cloth and leather. The teddy bear itself was a sentimental object that could be kept as a personal treasure or used as a resource.
Since multiple items could be reduced to a few basic resources the game made the experience of resource gathering a learning game, a logic puzzle of analyzing what things are made of. Likewise those basic resources had a lot of uses since the player was crafting not only for themselves but also their companions, their settlers, and their settlements; crafting items and set pieces, utilitarian structures and decorations.
Allowing crafting resources acquired by the player to have a variety of applications creates a greater sense of value in the rarer resources. In Fallout the problem was not one of finding resources but running out of them. This is a quality problem, it illustrates that the player is crafting and wants to continue. Thus when they must go out to specifically search for a hard to find resource it is meaningful.
The key difference between the Witcher’s crafting system and Fallout’s is how they present rarity of resources, and the usefulness of resources. Within Fallout, rare resources are only required for specialty items, making crafting a lot of items early on is an easy endeavor which trains the player to include it into their plans while playing. Whereas in the Witcher, even when attempting to craft a basic item it may become a quest for a single flower that can only be used in one recipe.
Resources and crafting are difficult systems to introduce as relevant mechanics when they themselves are only being added to a game to expand upon its immersiveness. Both The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 feature in depth crafting systems that help to connect the resources the players collect to the game world they explore. However, it must always be considered that if what the player is crafting does not impact their gameplay experience or allow them to express themselves, or their vision for the game world, the action will go from a choice to a chore.