Beyond Good & Evil: Collectibles Review

It’s been quite a while since my last review. I have been planning to do this particular one for quite some time. I would like to discuss a game that has inspired me to think more carefully about collectibles in the first place: Beyond Good & Evil.

BG&E Cute Kid Photo

Useless collectibles. I mean all they do is to empower characters in non-violent ways, reward curiosity and celebrate socio-biological diversity. Pshaw.

The reason why I find this game so remarkable is because the way collectibles are implemented in this game is exceptionally well thought-out. Let me explain what I mean.

Beyond Good & Evil is an average 3D action adventure from early 2000. It’s very similar to titles like Jak & Daxter, Sly Cooper or Ratchet & Clank. It received a lot of critical approval although I don’t think it was always deserved. But one aspect where it was quite outstanding was rarely mentioned – it’s collectibles. They don’t seem exceptional at first. As with most 3D action adventures, “collecting shit” is almost a defining feature of the genre. In Beyond Good & Evil you collect pearls, photos of animals, “Mdisks” and heart containers. So let us take a look now how those 4 collectibles are implemented.


BG&E Jade with pearl

To be clear: I mean the spherical object, not the woman.

Pearls are Beyond Good & Evil’s equivalent to Super Mario 64’s stars. They are items that one needs to collect in order to progress through the game. There are 88 pearls but you need only 71 to finish the game. You are usually awarded with pearls when you complete levels or quests. As you get more pearls, new areas of the game unlock.

This straight-forward mechanic is concealed in an interesting way. Pearls in Beyond Good & Evil are represented as a special form of currency that is used exclusively to upgrade your overworld vehicle – the hovercraft. The hovercraft’s abilities can be used to access new areas. But the upgrades are also useful otherwise simply when fighting enemies. This alone satisfies the qualities of good accessibility control I already outlined in my World Design article. Or to put it simpler – it feels Meteroidesque.

BG&E Mamago

Mamago will pimp your ride Metroid style if you just show them some bling-bling.

But a much more important feature is how the collected pearls are represented in the interface. Instead of having a global count of how many pearls you collected, you can actually browse through a list that contains ALL possible pearls – including the ones you haven’t found yet. Pearls that have been spent for upgrades show in there as well. Each pearl has a unique number. Each entry for a collected pearl includes information about where it was actually found. I remember that this implementation caught my eye back when I played the game on the PS2. It is surprisingly detailed. Because each pearl is distinct and can be identified, it’s much easier to figure out which pearls you have missed and how to find them – especially when using external sources like FAQs or guide books. The interface treats the pearls not as an anonymous commodity but as a collection of individual items.

BG&E Pearl Collection

If it is a collectible, your interface should treat it like one. On this screen, I see where 3 pearls I have collected came from. One other pearl has been already used to upgrade my ship and is crossed out. I haven’t found the greyed-out pearls yet but if I ever have any troubles with them, this overview will help me to look them up effortlessly.

For me, that was an important aha-moment. Sometimes you need to see just one different solution to realize what mistake everybody has been repeating. Most games treat collectibles as an anonymous commodity – as something that exists in large quantities and is not meant to be dealt with on the level of individual items. This happens basically every time when your collected items are represented purely by quantity (”You have 6 power cells”). It makes sense because that’s how a lot of items in games work – coins in Mario, rings in Sonic, ammunition in Doom. Yet, when items are meant to be collected, that’s where you need much more formation that just the quantity. This is when you are start being interested in quality. You don’t only want to know how many power cells you have but also which ones you have and which ones you are missing. The pearl interface in Beyond Good & Evil is remarkable because it does exactly that.

But that’s not the whole story. Besides being able to see which pearls you already have you also need some way to figure out where the missing pearls are. Ubisoft took a waterproof approach here.

BG&E Pearls on the map

A Pearl Detector will show all pearls on the map, significantly improving the mindless-search-to-fun ratio towards the latter. Note the attention to detail. Clusters of pearls are summarized by a special icon.

There is an upgrade you can buy early in the game called a “Pearl Detector”. It shows the locations of all missing pearls on the map. And that applies to every map in the game – the overworld map as well as the dungeon maps. It polished too. If there is a pearl inside a dungeon and you are in the overworld, there will be a pearl symbol in the overview map at the entrance to the dungeon. So you don’t need to scour every dungeon to see if you missed any. It may feel like it’s giving away the secret. But on the other hand, collecting the pearls is always a game in itself. They either hidden in an unreachable spot or there is some sort of quest or mini-game involved. So by giving away where they are, the game simply draws attention to the actual gameplay, rather then the trivial matter of figuring out where to go in the first place.

Finally, there is another neat detail. The game also shows how many pearls have been collected and how many are in total for the current map. This goes down to the level of each individual floor in each dungeon. With features like the Pearl Detector, this may seem redundant. But I find it’s refreshing to see such a solid implementation. Most games fail even at offering that kind of information. And it can help in cases where the map gets visually cluttered.

BG&E Segmentation

Interface Designers take note. It’s not that hard. We do have the technology.

That being said, not everything about the pearls is perfect. Pretending they are a currency may seem a neat cover-up but due to the game’s linear structure, that trick soon feels awkward. There a huge price differences between individual items to prevent sequence breaking. The first upgrade you buy costs 1 pearl. The final upgrade costs 30. At the end of each major dungeon, you gain access to entire vaults full of pearls to let you buy that next, previously prohibitively expensive item. As a side effect, an inflation of value sets in that runs against the notion of collecting. Fighting for individual pearls seems idiotic after you received an entire warehouse full of them.

The interface for browsing the pearls exposes the right information about them but is not very effective at dealing with 88 items. There are some pearls that can’t be found on the map and the pearl detector doesn’t have a way of expressing that. More fundamentally, the individual pearls may be treated by the interface as distinct items, but they look utterly anonymous and don’t feel as well integrated into the narrative as they could be. Why pearls? Why are they hidden everywhere? Why do I have to pay with pearls instead of money in this one shop? That’s something one of the other collectibles in the game does much better.

Animal Photos

BG&E Animal

Ok, fist problem? No Facebook integration.

Beside of pearls you also collect animal photos. This mechanic is introduced right at the beginning. Jade, the character you control, is a photo journalist. So one of your tools is a camera. A fellow scientist asks you for help. She is creating a database of all the species on the planet. You can earn some rewards from her by taking a photo of each animal in the world. There are 56 different animals out there. But every 8 animals you photograph you get an intermediate reward. At the beginning it’s money. Later on you get pearls.

This collectible is treated similarly to the pearls. So there is also an “Animal Detector” which shows you the exact location of animals you haven’t photographed yet. You also get a numerical floor-by-floor breakdown in dungeons.

The remarkable aspect this time is how fun and natural this feels. It just makes sense for Jade to be taking photos of animals – much more than scavenging for some obscure pearls. After all, she is using her camera for other means in the story as well. It’s a mechanic that is unique to her character, something that Super Mario or Jak wouldn’t be doing. It’s fun too. The animal detector is not availible from the start. So just exploring the world and trying to take photos of everything you see is a great way of introducing players to the world. It’s also a great way to draw attention to the amazing details of the Bande Dessiné world of Beyond Good & Evil. A world populated by different anthropomorphic species and crazy animals. On a more philosophical level, it’s also a mechanic that represents variety in nature and multi-raciality in society as something valuable and worth seeking out – a message that meshes well with the game’s overall themes.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any problems with it as well. For example, while it is possible to browse through all pearls in your collection, you can only review the progress in the current batch of 8 photos. You get a pretty nice overview of all animals only when you collected all of them.

BG&E Animals

Sadly, you can review only the current batch of 8 photos. All the other photos you have made are not accessible for most of the game. But I do enjoy how the screen communicates what kind of reward you will get ahead of time.

BG&E All Animals

Oh hello there, awesome overview screen. Where were you back when I was actually searching for all those animals?

By then, it’s more of a memento than a useful interface feature. The overview includes the actual photos you have taken. But that draws attention to the lack of assistance in the camera function. The animals are almost never recognizable due to framing and lighting issues.


BG&E MDisks

I’m collecting MDisks now. Forget BluRay. MDisk is the future.

In spite of the nitpicks, the pearls and the animal photos have some unique features that make them outstanding examples of how to implement collectibles in a games. Sadly, Beyond Good & Evil has even more collectibles. And compared to the first two, they seem like an afterthought.

The Mdisks contain documents that can be reviewed at save-points. They contain various pieces of background story and lore. Some of them include quite vital mission objectives. There are only 14 of them and technically, you don’t need to collect them. In fact you can’t collect them. Because the game provides you with no clues to figure out where they are. There is no detector this time and you don’t get a numerical breakdown either. All you get is an interface to browse through your Mdisk collection similar to the way you can browse through pearls.

You get most Mdisks as part of the story, so in some way it makes sense that you can’t actively search for them. But if they aren’t meant to be collected, why is there an Mdisk collection? Why does this collection show the Mdisks you are missing? Why is there an achievement associated with collecting all of the Mdisks? Why are Mdisks containing vital mission objectives mixed with purely optional pieces of lore?

It seems like an instance of the designers not being clear about what function these items are supposed to have. After covering all the other systems in the game, there were some leftovers. They were wrapped up in an awkward semi-collectible by recycling already established interface elements. An improvised solution that at least shouldn’t have been featured so prominently in an achievement.

Heart Containers

BG&E Heart Container

Hair in the drain, heart next to the sink. I hate cleaning up after guests.

Finally, we have heart containers. A classical concept established in games like Zelda. Players can collect special objects that permanently increase the amount of hits Jade can take. Those feel even more like an afterthought. There is no collection browser this time, even though there is a finite amount of them in the world. There is no detector for them either. Finding them is often just a matter of luck. Yet, an achievement suggests that you should try anyway.

The balancing seems off too. Jade has very few hit points at the beginning of the game. It feels almost unfair. Heart Containers appear like an incredibly valuable upgrade. But later in the game, they become quite abundant. I finished the game with 13 hit points. I was able to fumble my way out of every combat sequence without even trying. But then the very last boss is so overpowered and annoying that I found myself wishing for more hearts after all.

It seems like a tacked-on system that was introduced late to create the impression of character progression. It fails. Jade barely receives any new abilities anyway. The repertoire of her abilities feels pretty static throughout the game. All the heart containers seem to do is to add an imbalance, confusion and frustration to the system. The game would feel more polished if it was designed around a character with a set, ballanced ammount of hitpoints. The achievement that turns the hearts into collectibles just adds insult to injury


One thing that is worth keeping in mind is that Mdisks and Heart Containers became collectibles in the process of adapting the game to Xbox Live and PS3 in the HD conversion. The original PS2 version didn’t have achievements associated with those items, so there was less emphasis on collecting them.

And even though the achievements highlighted less polished features of the game, there is one thing the team of the HD remake did exceptionally well. None of the achievements require 100% of the items to be collected. The achievement for pearls requires 80 pearls even though there are 88. The achievement for animal photos requires 48 photos even though there are 56. The achievement for Mdisks requires 10 Mdisks even though there are 14. The achievement for heart containers requires 10 even though there are more than 13. This is something that surprised me. It’s a humane and well thought-out solution that avoids the frustration associated with finding that last missing item. It is exactly one of the points I made in my previous Red Faction Guerrilla collectibles review.

Speaking of which, looking at the points I raised in that review, the collectibles in Beyond Good & Evil do pretty well – especially the pearls and animal photos. The detectors eliminate the need for proximity feedback. The collectibles are counted for every floor of a dungeon separately so they are very finely segmented. Each item has a distinct identity and already collected items are listed. There are progression rewards and both collectibles are well integrated if not into the story then at least into or the game structure.

Especially, I think there are two key design features in there, that are good staring points for us game designers to think about how to implement collectibles in our own games.

  1. collectibles are represented as an actual collection instead of a commodity in the interface.
  2. collectibles are activities that enrich and resonate with the depicted word and characters, instead of being a mindless chore for completionists.

Together with the points raised in my previous collectibles review, this mindset is something I think we game designers should embrace in order to use collectibles as a tool to convey meaning rather than a shallow gimmick to artificially prolong gameplay.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “Beyond Good & Evil: Collectibles Review”

  1. Marc Manuello (@shiftyweb)

    Really nice article ! I think that a pattern list of known “collectible systems” would be very great. But painful and long to make … Looking for more design articles Krys !

  2. 评析《Beyond Good & Evil》物品收集机制特点 | 游戏邦

    [...] as a tool to convey meaning rather than a shallow gimmick to artificially prolong gameplay.(source:gamedesignreviews) 分享到: QQ空间 新浪微博 开心网 [...]


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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