Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 12, 2011
An open letter on treasure hunting

Dear game companies!

I think we had a misunderstanding about my wishes as a customer with regards to treasure hunting in role-playing games. I appreciate your efforts to fill the virtual worlds I'm playing through with treasure, I really do. But I think you've gone too far, especially with recent games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim. I said I wanted treasure, not 270 pounds of brooms.

I think treasure is a lot more interesting when there are significant amounts of it at a few, hard to reach locations, so that the treasure feels like a reward. Having minor loot items everywhere, having 3 gold pieces hidden in every urn and barrel, having every monster drop a common weapon worth 10 gold, and having all dungeons filled up with lootable household items is not adding to my enjoyment of your games.

Instead these games start feeling like a chore, because I need to mouse-over or click on everything to check whether there are important or valuable things hidden among all that stuff. Or I end up walking back and forth between adventure areas and towns, just to haul all that medium value stuff and sell it. I'd much rather get the same amount of gold in one big pile at the end of the dungeon. As much as I like to watch Pawn Stars, I would like to play a heroic adventurer, not somebody searching heaps of junk for valuable bits and pieces.



Treating all items as 'loot' or 'treasure' to be collected and pawned is learned behaviour from a time when only limited items in the game world could be interacted with and all of them had a use. Neither FO3 nor Skyrim require you to do this in order to be successful.

"I think treasure is a lot more interesting when there are significant amounts of it at a few, hard to reach locations, so that the treasure feels like a reward."

I would argue that the real treasure (enchanted weapons & armor from the Skyrim example) is sufficiently well hidden that it is a reward.

Should the game companies remove all the brooms so that you don't have the compulsion to loot them? ;)
Whose fault is it really if you feel the obsessive need to pick absolutely everything up and sell it? :P
On the other hand, scavenging junk and making something usable from it fits very well with post-apocalyptic setting. Hell, there are scavengers stripping copper from abandoned and not-so-abandoned electrical equipment and infrastructure in modern cities.

Choosing what to carry is one of those interesting tradeoffs, but unfortunately it's frequently undermined by the inclusion of fast travel and infinite storage space. If hauling back all of those proverbial brooms meant increasing the risk of getting mauled by a Yao Guai, then I'd be more than happy to leave 'em be.
I wholeheartedly agree that this is supremely annoying. But do you think it will go away? It seems to me that it serves three purposes:

1. It gives people a reason to travel around the world more instead of just clearing the game world from one end to the next.

2. It gives us a natural way/excuse (theoretically) to control our gaming into shorter sessions.

3. It gives the devs a time sink that they can explain away.

Alternatively, it may be Bethesda trying to play their own tune: they want to make things realistic and let us learn the hard way that we don't *have* to pick up everything lying around. I haven't taken that lesson, although since that PA comic I avoided picking up even a single broom.
We are alike, you and I. :) The need to haul em all... is... incredible...
Hi, Tobold, maybe you should try DDO, if you have not already. It fits your description. In general I agree with your post.
Have a nice day!
At least in Fallout it makes sense within the context of the game. You are in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, after all.

Then again, I see where the designers are coming from. If I go out of my way to search closets and non-obvious areas (e.g. where designers typically stash secret stuff) and nothing is there, I find that to be deeply discouraging. If nothing meaningful is in these hidden areas, why program them in?
I've watched many videos of people playing Skyrim and I was shocked to see most of them pick up everything and it's so different from how I play Skyrim (and other games usually) that I just didn't understand...and still don't.

Personally I never bash barrels in games, or look into every little corner to get, as you said, 2 gold pieces. I just go about my business, grab what I need, the sort out among the most "valuable per kilo" items.
In Skyrim, never had a problem with carrying weight and don't think I ever even came close to it's max.
When I run a dungeon, I just grab powerful magical weapons/armor, stuff I'm not sure about (like Deowmer piece, I'll get at least one each, in case), but I'll leave everything else down there.

And despite all that, I LOVE the fact that there are tons of items that are there and you don't need, like the kettles, the brooms and whatnot. To me that's also what makes the Elder Scrolls special, all this non static stuff all over the place, even if I never use it (weird right?)

So overall, what you wrote about doesn't bother me because I don't feel compelled to loot everything, never have been.
My only advise to you and other players feeling the same urge is: don't loot stuff unless they look valuable in a way (and no 10000 brooms do NOT look valuable in any way shape or form!). Resist the urge! :)
Even if you consciously decide not to pick up all the junk, you still need to sift through it, because otherwise you miss the occasional valuable potion, book, or jewelry. It is that searching through every cupboard, barrel, and urn which gets annoying fast.
Couldn't agree more. The urns in Skyrim most of which contain cabbages, tomatoes or red apples, seem particularly unnecessary - Are you really going to go down a dungeon that hasn't been visited for years and find it full of fresh vegetables? If they insist on simulating interactability of objects, they should at least make the contents plausible to the circumstances in which you find them.

Loot in Skyrim is particularly badly thought out - The quests involving some legendary item or equipment have all, so far, turned out to yield items that are inferior to normal or crafted/enchanted items. Part of the problem arises because in order to make smithing/enchanting worthwhile it has to compete with the games loot reward systems; also I find the small number of equippable slots in Skyrim puzzling, in that it restricts the opportunity for interesting items even further (and involves annoying swapping when you inevitably forget to equip your smithing gloves in town or forget to remove them in a dungeon).
Beg to disagree. Game designers, please continue to reflect the actual contents of explorable areas and the personal possessions of inhabitants as accurately as is technically feasible and allow our characters to intereact with them as fully as possible.

Trust us as players to be able to differentiate between dross and gold.

If a burglar felt he had to remove every single luggable item from every house he burgled, he wouldn't have much future as a burglar, now would he? The ability to select items of worth quickly and efficiently and then leave swiftly and unnoticed, carrying only the best of them is a mark of professionalism within the trade.
Roq: Did you powerlevel enchanting or smithing?

I mean, it's one thing if all the rewards are superior to basic crafting goods, but if you have 90+ of either then, uh, well, that's working as intended. You shouldn't sit around power leveling a skill unless you want it to be incredibly powerful
Whose fault is it really if you feel the obsessive need to pick absolutely everything up and sell it?

Exactly. And I've never looked into a barrel and found anything other than a cooking ingredient so I know to avoid them. Just like the cabinets in most rooms that are filled with "fine clothes".

I consider all of these as "desperation stashes" since this is a single player game. I won't come back to find some other player has taken this shovel or broom or the crappy sword still laying on the table. So, if I'm desperate for a hundred gold or ingredients? I know where to find them. The entire world is my bank vault to some degree.
I was just feeling this way last night! Well said.

I found an off in the corner chest that I had to jump a gorge to get to in Skyrim. After I saw it, the whole way there I was thinking "This! This has to be the chest that has something awesome in it!"

10 gold and a garnet.
IMO what would be even better is to give all those bits of flotsam and jetsam some obscure or mundane use.

You want me to sell you this map to the Crypt of Magic Swords? Bring me 50 brooms and build me a broom store! And sweep the porch while you're at it.
This was the way in the old Ultima 6 and 7 (both parts) - the world was full of items that you could interact with .. and potentialy loot and sell, but in most cases it didn't make sense.

This added realism to the game, and I enjoyed it.

At first I tried to pick everything, since I had adventure games background, where you pick everything that is not nailed down, but I quickly adapted.

I disagree. I do not think the loot in Skyrim is badly thought out, I just think it is one area that suffers from the open world of the game.

If I ignore the main quest line until I am level 50 and fully decked out in dragon armor, well yeah, the loot provided during the quest is going to be crappy.

It is really hard to avoid having crappy loot when you cannot determine when players are going to stumble across it.

My first character was a Stealth/Archer build and I went through the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood and I have to say, the Ancient Dark Brotherhood Armor is simply fantastic at the level I got it (around 27), as was the Nightingale Bow.
I decided to level alchemy so I do check all those barrels. Sometimes you are surprised at what you can find, like a daedra heart in some bucket.

And most mobs carry jusnk weapons but every so often you might find a high priced staff or an ebony sword.

If all you did was to save the good treasure for a chest at the end this takes away from the game in my opinion.

Besides one mans junk is another mans treasure.
I think we should focus on how we obtain loot rather than what and how many loot to obtain.

If you think more logically, who in this world would put bloom inside a drawer or non-clothing in wardrobe? Potions in cabinet fine but ingredients all on display? Why not store herbs and eggs in cabinet or a chest? Money should be kept in drawer and cabinet too. Why put them on the table at night? Really want us thief to steal it easily?

For real treasures, the idea of treasure map is great but they should add more to encourage exploration. Not in the form of a map, but populate chests in open world. And add some small caves with 1 room and there's chest in it. It should give a sense of satisfaction because finding unnamed cave and treasure is great fun.
I've found that you can actually generally tell what's in something by the area. Typically, if a barrel is near an alchemy table, or a lot of alchemy ingrediants nearby, I check it and if I see non-food, autoloot it. If it's not near the above, I pass it over.

Same with urns. I know burial urns and the large urns rarely have heavy items, so I usually autoloot them. The only things I usually pick through is bodies and chests. And those I just take anything over Xg, depending on level.

Now, if someone made a mod that allowed breaking down items, that would be amazing and then I'd probably be doing what my fiance says is the real name of Skyrim.

Loot all the things!
@Sine Non "Did you powerlevel enchanting or smithing?"

No. But, enchanting does level pretty quickly, unless one rushes through the content, due to having to recharge weapon enchantments so often.

Skyrim is thoroughly engrossing world, but (IMHOP) Bethesda have never really got their itemisation quite right. I remember, in Arena, pursuing a legendary weapon for hours only to find it useless. It's just in Skyrim (like many other crafting games) good quest rewards are not compatible with the crafting system. What they could have done, perhaps, is to have more equipment slots so that quest rewards don't compete with crafted items.

@Siaer "It is really hard to avoid having crappy loot when you cannot determine when players are going to stumble across it."

Yes, but that rather contradicts your statement that the loot is well thought out!? Gear can be scalable as well as dungeons. But, one reason they can't give you decent quest rewards is that they've only got about eight equipment slots to work with. Hence it's necessary to make existing gear redundant quickly in order to reuse the slots for future rewards (as well the competition with crafting mentioned above). The old party RPGs, such as Wizardry, had a big advantage, in that you had six characters to equip. That enabled rewards to be spread through the difficulty curve more easily.
@Oscella - Someone has already made a mod that allows you to break down items - It's called "Val's Crafting Meltdown" and you can get in on Skyrim Nexus.

TBH I haven't installed it yet, perhaps because I feel it might make obtaining materials easier than it should be, resulting in over levelling crafting skills.
The best part of fighting epic colossal monsters like dragons in Dungeons & Dragons (the pen and paper version) was knowing that victory would reward you with huge piles of gold and magic items. You may not have found anything over the rest of your adventure, but the payoff for that final climactic battle was huge.

The worst part of fighting epic colossal monsters in MMORPGs/RPGs is that they generally only drop a little bit of loot, and you can easily end up getting nothing. You may have been picking up scraps and bits and pieces all day, such that the end tally is the same, but you never get that excitingly big payout. You don't win the lottery, you make an hourly wage.

I remember fighting dragons in Dragon Age 2 and getting . . . nothing. Wtf.
I agree that in Skyrim it did become tedious searching for the good loot within the mass of random fodder, but I think all that fodder added to the immersion of the game. Having said that, I was really disappointed in what was offered with housing and item placement. What's the point of being able to horde a virtual flea market if all you can do it drop it on the ground and not care where it lands. Oh, maybe it does make sense, that seems to be what horders actually do...

My biggest gripe was that the third person camera didn't always hit the items where I was pointing and I'd have to scroll into first person to pick up wraith teeth.

And finally, Hardcore Pawn is much more entertaining that Pawn Star :P
I haven't played Skyrim, but I know for a fact you get more than enough caps in Fallout 3 only looting what you can carry. By this I mean not making multiple trips back to town to sell everything.

I used to be like you with Oblivion where I would sell absolutely everything of value. It could take a week (in-game time) of traveling just back and forth to sell things. Eventually, I realized the games were balanced around you not doing that; one trip's worth of gold is more than enough to get rich quickly.

I don't think they should get rid of all that stuff though. It adds a lot of flavor to the game.
I approve of this message. But then again, there are so many things wrong with Skyrim that this seems like just a little nit to pick
I don't like searching through rubbish either but agree with those who like their game to be full of stuff. Barrels should contain apples or similar produce and shelves should hold cups and plates that you can pick up if you want.

I think this adds immersion to the game as long as you don't have to search through all that crap if you don't feel like it. No hiding critical game objectives among the rubbish and while it might be OK to have one or two valuable heirlooms stuck in an attic most of the good loot should come from more obvious spots like treasure chests or named monsters.

A related bugbear of mine is herb gathering for alchemy. Not only do some games hide vital alchemy ingredients in random forests all over the map they also put a limited amount of certain herbs in the game. Tough luck if you accidentally vendored one of the only three golden star flowers in the game when you later discover that you need it for a potion.
I think the broad request "remove junk" is not a good idea. It really depends on what kind of a game / world we are talking about. If it's a game, it usually needs to be streamlined... if it's a world, it usually needs to be believable.

Skyrim is touted as world (indeed it seems to be a rather mediocre-to-poor game) so in my opinion there's every reason to fill it with lots of 'junk'.

And you really, really, don't need to sift through all the junk/barrels/whatever. There's enough loot & rewards as is. If you feel compelled to sift through junk for the equivalent of 'less than minimum wage', then it's your problem, not game's :)
Well what's the stuff there for if you aren't meant to look at it?

The fact is the devs do want you to look at it, and to sort through it, for whatever reason. Take those Dwemer artifacts you can make dwarven ingots from "bent scrap metal", but not from normal scrap metal. In fact without checking a wiki you really have to tote all that dwemer stuff and its very heavy, back to base to check it out.

Can't agree that Skyrim is a mediocre game though. Bethesda does many things really well. If they didn't counterbalance that by doing some things incredibly badly then Skyrim would be awesome rather than just a good game with flashes of brilliance.
In my opinion the stuff there is "to look at", not "to sift through". It is intended to make world more believable and more fun in certain senses. While it doesn't bother me, I've seen crapload of complaints about 'world not feeling like world / like people live there' (not about Skyrim). Skyrim tries to make world like a place where people could actually live.

So yes, there's value in just having stuff around even if you ignore it. Maybe not for you (for whoever 'you' are at the moment :)), but for some people.

Now if you approach it with adventure game mentality and try to vacuum clean the whole game of any and all items... well, it's not the problem with the game, it's more likely problem with your mentality. IF there was plot critical item hidden in all the junk without any hints -- I'd agree that is a poor design -- but as far as I know this is not the case.

As to Skyrim being mediocre *game* -- Roq, you said it yourself, they do some things incredibly badly -- and unfortunately the 'game' part (as in combat mechanics, lock mechanics, and other mechanics) of Skyrim seem to fall mostly in that category.
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