Locked Door

By Alec Meer on April 21st, 2009 at 6:23 pm.

Locked door, I hate you.

I hate the way you are resistant to knives, to guns, to sledgehammers, to rocket-propelled grenades, to weapons that rewrite the very laws of physics, to dark unearthly magic, to punches that can knock a man’s head clean off.

I hate the way I could kick or smash you down in real life, with this puny human body of mine. But I cannot in the grand, escapist fantasy of a videogame.

I hate the way you are so often an easy shortcut for developers unable or unwilling to devise more satisfying obstacles and challenges.

I hate the way you so often lead to nowhere, how you are nothing more than decoration for a wall.

I hate the way I’m expected to give up trying to open you when I see the words “this door has been locked from the other side” or “this door opens elsewhere”, as though they’re a command from God himself.

I hate the way you always make that click-click, or clunk or uh-uh noise when I try to open you: the very sound of failure.

I hate the way your key or switch is always so far away.

I hate the way the fate of the world so often hinges upon opening you.

I hate the way the letter ‘E’ has worn off my keyboard because I’ve tried to open you so many times, in so many games.

I hate the way you’ve added hundreds, perhaps thousands of unnecessary extra hours to my lifetime of gaming.

I hate the way you’ve annoyed me so much that I’ve just written 200 words whining pathetically about you.

If you didn’t exist, locked door, videogames as we know them would be radically different.

Locked door, I hate you.

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229 Comments »

  1. SirKicksalot says:

    So you’re excited for Red Faction: Guerrilla too, huh?

    BTW, remember that COD4 “oh you gotta be shitting me” moment? :D

  2. Thirith says:

    This is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read. Sniff.

  3. Duoae says:

    Excellent post… i, too, harbour a hatred of these fantasy facades…. I demand justice! Justice for all!

  4. juv3nal says:

    “A closed door is better than an open door, because behind a closed door can be anything.”

    -supposedly a zen koan, although google doesn’t dig up any attribution.

  5. Doctor Doc says:

    The door opens after you have disarmed the bomb. <3

  6. Mythrilfan says:

    Unopeing wall, I hate you.

    /Wolfenstein 3D

  7. MrBejeebus says:

    i agree mr meer!

  8. Gap Gen says:

    Actually, I haven’t noticed myself searching for doors that are obviously not textures in games these days. Have things got better, or have I just pushed that given gamey unrealistic thing into my subconscious?

  9. Zed says:

    There’s a mod for Fallout 3 which lets you use explosives to open locked doors. Maybe that will heal your E key, or maybe nothing can bring it back from the dead.

  10. Kevlmess says:

    I hate the way I’m able to kick, a splode or shoot most of your kin open in Fallout 2 but in Fallout 3 I can’t.

    (Edit: Well, yeah, there’s that mod and yeah, I have installed it. But I don’t want to spend my precious skill points to explosives just so that I can open a damn door.)

  11. piphil says:

    Here I am, Champion of Cyrodil, an Ox of a man wearing heavy armour. Hell, I even have Nocturnal’s Skeleton Key in my inventory. “This door is locked” my shiny armoured ass…

  12. Hieremias says:

    You have to burn the… er, door.

  13. Sinnerman says:

    Imagine a world without doors. A world without rules where your dreams are only small step away from reality. A world where children can run freely in the streets while laughing at the sun. We can make this world together.

  14. Not Bernard says:

    Half Life 2, I’m looking at YOU.

  15. Meat Circus says:

    Fallout and Fallout 2′s doors weren’t made of indestructium because it hadn’t been invented.

    This material was a new invention by the Brotherhood for Fallout 3.

  16. unique_identifier says:

    ufo: enemy unknown, how i love thee.

    [ edit: completely unrelated yet hilarious thread stemming from latest tf2 patchnotes - http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=844795 ]

  17. The Hammer says:

    “A closed door is better than an open door, because behind a closed door can be anything.”

    Like a better gaming experience!

  18. deadnewbie says:

    I also despise Locked Door, but not nearly as much as its close relative Invisible Wall. LD breaks immersion when you try to interact with it, IW breaks immersion by its very existence.

  19. Psychopomp says:

    Imagine there’s no boltlock
    It’s easy if you try
    No key below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today

    Imagine there’s no locks
    It isn’t hard to do
    No keys to kill or die for
    And no keycodes too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

  20. Locked Door says:

    Don’t hate me, Alec, join me. Lock the comments on this post. Feel the POWER I feel ALL THE TIME.

  21. Frosty840 says:

    Eeeh.
    What’re designers supposed to do? Add FC2′s “wander into the desert and the magic sand-fairies will fetch you and bring you back after you faint” mechanic to everything?
    Gameworlds are finite, and locked doors provide the illusion of less-finite-ness, even if they can’t be opened.
    Walling the gameworld off in any way breaks *some* kind of immersion. I can’t think of any mechanic that would be less annoying. If you want to spend the game doing stuff you obviously shouldn’t, i.e. wandering away from the main quest to go and learn to fish, or something, in a game you bought precisely in order to do the main quest, don’t be surprised when the game’s ability to act in ways it wasn’t intended to act aren’t particularly impressive.
    Gameworlds are finite, the number of ways to seal you off from their finite limits are even more so. Specifically, there are four: “magical energy barrier”, “scientific energy barrier”, “environmental barrier” and “emotional barrier”. The first two require a visible energy barrier and are generally annoying, the fourth requires the computer to take control of the player and play some twee “Must… Keep!… GOING!” nonsense, and the third is the least annoying one.
    Think about it. If your character is on some urgent mission, the ability to go off and wander round the toilets, just because there’s a door marked “toilets” is pointless.
    In real life you don’t feel hungry, head off to the chippie and try every door in the road just because there’s a door in it and you think there might be a chip shop in there.

    What you’re actually complaining about is bad level design, which is a completely different beast, more closely related to “I hate endless corridors full of locked doors, the only one of which that opens is the third one from the end of some random corridor, with no way of knowing which corridor that is.”
    The annoyance of not being able to get through a locked door is no more than the frustration of being unable to shoot your way through a wall that’s obviously made of plasterboard in any action game set in an office.

    Yes, locked doors in games are annoying, but they are such a tiny subset of “bad level design” that to complain about them specifically is to miss the point.

    • khamul says:

      If I can’t open it, don’t make it look like a door I can open.

      Walking down a corridor actioning doors I can’t open because sometimes I can is not a valuable use of my time.

  22. pepper says:

    It takes away from the experience of a game but there is no easy way to avoid it Unless you want to extend development times up to the infinite.

  23. Jeremy says:

    I almost think you’ve missed the point my friend.

  24. Geoff says:

    and don’t you hate how bishops can only move diagonally? I’ve seen bishops walk straight ahead in real life. Silly unrealistic game with its terrible design. Surely it’ll never catch on.

  25. Radiant says:

    I hate the way they look like other doors I can open.

  26. Pags says:

    In real life you don’t feel hungry, head off to the chippie and try every door in the road just because there’s a door in it and you think there might be a chip shop in there.

    I have! But I was drunk.

  27. Alec Meer says:

    I never claimed hatred was rational, kids.

  28. windlab says:

    Yes, locked doors in games are annoying, but they are such a tiny subset of “bad level design” that to complain about them specifically is to miss the point.
    …but locked doors are often the very embodiment of bad level design.

  29. Pags says:

    Doors locked for no apparent reason aren’t really rational either so I think your hatred and locked doors are even.

  30. James F says:

    I have to say that this is the greatest thing I have seen all week, starting last week, if that doesn’t sound impressive enough.

  31. nabeel says:

    I sense much hate in you.

  32. Zyrxil says:

    Terrible rant. ‘E’ key worn off from overuse? Real gamers use ESDF + custom keybinds, none of that kiddy WASD + default terribleness.

  33. 18Rabbit says:

    So which would be better? A) A magically locked door that cannot be opened until you do a specific task -OR- B) A locked door that you can open if you have the skill/strength/etc but that will 99% kill you after you open it unless you have done a specific task before opening it.

  34. Serondal says:

    You can very easily avoid locked doors in your games. DON’T PUT THEM THERE, MAKE IT A WALL!

    Another reason to love Men at War, not only can you blast through doors you can blow the entire building up :P But even it has that annoying fog that the enemy can enter but your forces can not ;)

    There should be a law in this country and others that requires you to put something behind every door in your game. Even if it is a room that says “You’re not suposed to see this” Like they had in the old FPS games for when you used noclip to get some where you’re not suposed to ^_^ Those were the good ol days lol.

    Maybe a message that says “We could allow you to open this door, but you wouldn’t like it”

  35. BooleanBob says:

    The relationship is simple: some (most?) games (Half-Life 2 is an excellent example) rely on taut, tightly-scripted level design and carefully controlled player progression. Some games also want to be set in a realistic urban environment. Such environments typically, in the real world, have many doors.

    Valve seemingly catch endless amounts of flack for this, but what are they really meant to do? They can’t lose doors from the equation or City 17 looks less like a city and more like a concrete maze garden, which harms the fiction of the world and the player’s immersion in the game (I know locked doors also hurt immersion, but I would argue less than a city full of buildings with a notable lack of doors).

    They can’t lose the taut, tightly-scripted player experience because that is what Half-Life is all about (and a building block for the greatness of just about every instalment in the series so far). If they made every door operable, the player suddenly is confronted with an endless number of possible paths, which causes a horrible anxiety for most players about which is the correct path to take, what goodies might be missed in any untaken paths, etc.

    A popular question among gamers at the moment is whether the ‘in vogue’ trend of open world games is really adding anything to the experience, which, without the developer having any control over the player’s progression, can lead to disastrously inconsistent player experiences and leaves the player with the task of ‘making their own fun’, in my eyes a FAR more damning “easy shortcut” for developers to take than daring to decorate their walls with appropriate (if not always logically consistent) miscellanea.

    And they can’t lose the gritty urban environments because then we would just get games comprising entirely of HL1′s Xen levels. Hands up all who fancy that..?

    So damned thricely they are, whether they do, don’t or do but make it look like they totally didn’t. I think a few locked doors is a small compromise price for the gamer to pay if the return on that suspension of disbelief are gorgeous worlds and fantastic fun. Not to mention that expending endless amounts of art resources on an elaborate, grandiose contrivance that the player immediately recognises as a “world-consistent” stand-in for a locked door hardly seems like an improvement to me (see: Fog Monster Village Island, which was a brave but almost psychotically single-minded attempt to solve the invisible wall problem, another (to my eyes) acceptable compromise in game world design).

    Sorry for being perhaps a little too serious (not to mention long-winded) in response to what was surely meant to be a light-hearted post. I’ve seen the complaint from Mr. Meer before, disagreed, and now I decide that no longer will my tongue be held. Behold! I engage in the ancient gladiatorial combat of argumentation!

  36. Jeremy says:

    Zyr, don’t claim to be edgy just because you don’t use the best keybinds ever. I use TFGH, I’m even more hardcore than you. Once… and I hate to brag, I even used YGHJ. I throw grenades with P, open doors with 1 and turn on my flashlight every time I strafe left. It is necessary. I hope this doesn’t become a serious discussion on game design, because.. you know, it’s an ode to locked door hatred.

  37. BooleanBob says:

    Oh but god damnit Frosty840 beats me to it. Succinct and articulate, folks! Let’s hear it for Frosty840. Also, you can disregard the above wall of text.

  38. Wisq says:

    Of course, there’s always Left 4 Dead’s approach, where every door goes somewhere, but you probably don’t want to take every single one because you’ll just end up exploring a closet or dead end while the hordes continue to spawn around you . . .

  39. Lack_26 says:

    Hate is just another form of love.

    *Ducks as a locked door (ripped of its hinges) is thrown in my direction*

  40. windlab says:

    I can accept locked doors in the HL2 universe, but I am still stunned when I come across a locked door in Stalker, it seems weird. But fitting.

  41. Jeremy says:

    In all honesty, I clicked on the link thinking it was going to be an awesome “escape the room” flash game. I am slightly disappointed

  42. Whiskey Jak says:

    I hate locked door too, even more so when their design isn’t different for doors that you can open. But I think what I hate most are a couple of empty boxes that I can’t move, or a simple desk that I can’t jump over it and prevent me from going into a corridor, even if my character is a mix of He-Man/SWAT/Super-Jesus/Zombie-Robot/Pirate-Ninja/Shia Laboeuf A.K.A. The Beefster.

    Also, slopes that shouldn’t be insurmoutable, but since my character can’t use his hands to climb because-they-are-magically-glued-to-the-equipped-weapon, he can’t climb the tiny hill (looking at you FC2!).

  43. Heliocentric says:

    Blowing doors open in deus ex was satisfying for just this reason. Sure, it had texture doors but any door that did open? You had a fair chance it was also destructable. With that laser sword max melee skill and the combat strength aug any destroyable door could be slashed open. I ended deus ex with like 40 lock pick tools.

  44. Ranger says:

    “this door opens elsewhere”

    He-he, Quake.

    At least you can blow up doors in Deus Ex based on a “door strenght” factor.

  45. Serondal says:

    There are more than a few locked doors in half life 2, but I guess not as many as half life 1 :P

    In half life 2′s case they could have been doors that you can open but then there is something stopping you form going very far into the room like a blockade or a character telling you to go lost. They did this in many cases in half life 2 actually for example one door that is open with 2 guards that kicked your but if you tried to look inside.

  46. Cooper says:

    If all the doors in HL2 could open, where would they lead to?

    I suspect identi-kit interiors a la Oblivion – asking your level designers to create an incredibly tight sequence and then add meaningless dead ends seems pointless.

    That being said, HL2 could have done much better than a waggling door handle and an error noise. Linearity I’m fine with, but that’s lazy – could we not have had more boarded up doors, more rubble?

    Anything than -Rattle-rattle “and our survey says…”-

  47. Salem5 says:

    Dont Give up, After I’m going to rule over the world of videogaming, I’ll declare that unpassable doors are bad gameplayelements.

  48. Marty Dodge says:

    Ah yes the famous bouncy door that resists everything…including a rocket that promptly bounces back and does damage to you.

  49. Calabi says:

    When is a door not a a door? When its in a game.

    Nicely vocalised Alec.

    There are surely other methods that can be utilised instead of this paradox and temptation.

    Copy and pasting simple room designs. High fences(even some random guy that rips your face off), would bring across the idea better that you cannot or do not want to go this way.

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