Teslagrad and Progress Gating
A little story. I was playing and enjoying Teslagrad. And then, unexpectedly, the pathway to the last section of the game appears to be blocked by a door that can be opened only if you have 15 scrolls, which are hidden and tricky to get collectibles. I had only 3, there was nothing indicating that those scrolls are needed for anything else other than a bonus (for example, there’s a secret ending if you collect all 36 of them, which is perfectly fine). So to get the rest I’d have to go back through all the locations I’ve been to and search for those scrolls. That made me quit in frustration. In retrospect, I have overreacted, however I still don’t agree with the design decision. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of locking content behind collectibles (and to a certain audience there’s nothing wrong in how Teslagrad does it), but I want to talk about how such gating can be made less frustrating for a bigger audience.
First things first. Make sure that the player is aware that there’s a game section gated behind collectibles. If I as a player had seen that Teslagrad door at the beginning of the game, I wouldn’t really be surprised and angry, as I’d be going through levels having in mind that there’s this door and paying more attention to possible secret locations, or trying harder to get scrolls I was failing to get (and then giving up on). So even if I wouldn’t have all the needed items when I get there again, I’d be fully aware that’s because I didn’t search hard enough. When you get a scroll in Teslagrad, you don’t really know if it’s anything other than a piece of art. For example in Rayman Legends, while the nature of gating is not the same as in Teslagrad, you unlock new campaigns and levels by freeing Teensies, and you’re aware of that from the get go.
Now, for Teslagrad in particular, I think that would be enough to smoothen the experience. Just have the player see the gate near the beginning so he’d have it in mind. However, I think there are still some good principles to follow when working with gating behind collectibles.
One would be associating new locations and activities with the process, especially if you’ve made a chunk of progress already. If we take Teslagrad again as an example, it is not a very long game (about 4-5 hours). So when I found this door near the end of it, most of its puzzles and locations were still fresh in my mind, and the thought of having to go through all the places I’ve been to again (even with new powers now) for something that seemed like an arbitrary reason was daunting.
Speaking of arbitrary reasons, why they have to be arbitrary? There can be a narrative connection to such gates, providing context. In Teslagrad, I had only 3 scrolls. Maybe they tell a story, maybe they have some meaning, maybe when you collect them all you see what they signify, I don’t know. And why scrolls? It can be anything else, at least seems like it. As a player, it’s important to me for it to make sense as I’m collecting all these things, not after the fact.
Assassin’s Creed II has a similar situation when you suddenly can’t get to the endgame without collecting all the Codex pages. However, collecting and deciphering them is set up early as a work of your father that you are set to complete. About half of the Codex pages you collect via the main game path, and only the rest is collectibles in the game world. Not only each Codex page has lore information, but collecting them all is important to the narrative as well.
And when it comes to collecting, the way the scrolls are placed in Teslagrad levels uses principles, for, well, hidden collectible objects. Which, once again, is fine for things that unlock a secret ending, but then as a player I don’t have any idea that there is any significance to them until it’s too late.
So, all in all, it all comes down to communication to the player. And of course not everybody would be troubled by the Teslagrad gate like I was. But, the way I see it, those who weren’t would also be fine with more clear communication of the scrolls’ purpose, and it would be a smoother experience for other users as well. Thanks for reading, if you have any comments – feel free to leave them in the comment section.