The Misery Must End: It’s Time For Ladder Jam

It is time for a moratorium. It is time for all developers around the world to stop working on their current projects, and come together in peace. Come together to solve the greatest problem plaguing the gaming world. Put aside competitiveness, call a truce on the console wars, and unite together to address a matter that affects everyone who plays games. In-game ladders.

It’s incredible, but statistics I’ve made up show that in-game ladders have killed more player characters than grenades, pipe bombs and sniper rifles combined. Whether it’s clipping onto one as you run past, or not being able to get off one once you’re at the top, gaming ladders are a lethal menace, and it’s time for this to end.

Over the decades of game development, we’ve seen incredible technological leaps. From 2D into 3D, from square to rounded architecture, from polygons to nanogons, almost all aspects of games have incessantly evolved. But ladders have remained fiddly madness throughout, and it is Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s goal to see this change.

Since the dawn of gaming ladders, the technology has used variations on what design documents describe as, “sort of a bit maybe glueing the player to the ladder and having them kind of glide up and down but maybe with an animation.” Leaving a ladder’s grip has usually required reaching either the top or the bottom, and then somehow carrying on a bit higher or lower, then eventually falling off to the right or left. And while being able to jump off has been allowable, various EU and US regulations have insisted that this ability be intermittent and unreliable.

So it is that so many of us have seen our characters die while mysteriously entangled in some rungs, and no matter how far back and to one side we lean in our chairs in sympathetic movement, it is here that shall be our grave. This has to stop.

We are calling for all developers to take a week off the sequel/remake of 80s classic they’re currently working on, and to congregate into a communal development “jam”. Ladder Jam. Throughout this week, as the world’s greatest, least greatest and most mediocre coders unite, a shared, open source ladder technology will be created. That’s the dream. Once created, the code will be translated into all modern gaming languages, and adapted for all engines. Ladders in games past will be retrofitted, such that their tyrannical reign over our gaming past and our gaming future will come to an end.

Can everyone do the first week of May?

Top image by Mykl Roventine

This post was funded by the RPS Supporter Program.

61 Comments

  1. amateurviking says:

    I take it the Deus Ex playthrough is going well?

    • Horg says:

      Deus Ex had some of the most forgiving ladders I can remember. If you fell off, you only broke both your legs. It is a merciful ladder indeed that lets you crawl away with your life.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    I’ve got vague memories of a few tolerable ladder-addressing systems. One is a third person game, and you dismount ladders at the top by doing an entirely gratuitous handstand.

    Of course, I’m playing through E.Y.E – Divine Cybermancy at the moment, whose ladder management mechanism is teeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrible.

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      Skabooga says:

      So terrible. I super-upgraded my jump just to avoid having to use them.

    • stonetoes says:

      Wasn’t that tomb raider 2? Of course Lara was gratuitous just standing there.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I think id had the right idea when they made Wolfenstein – all levels in all games should just be flat planes and insurmountable obstacles. Problem solved!

    • April March says:

      I concur. I mean, why even call them ‘levels’ if that’s not the case?

    • try2bcool69 says:

      So, your solution is to just install wheelchair ramps?

      • Premium User Badge

        Bluerps says:

        Well, if you absolutely have to have height differences in your game, then ramps might work, I guess.

    • Rao Dao Zao says:

      I remember a ladder in Wolfenstein — instead of clamping your arc of rotation, looking too far to the left or right made you fall off.

      • PoulWrist says:

        Wolfenstein had no ladders. Ladders were not a thing in games of first person till something like Quake 2 came out.

  4. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION.

    I admit, stealthing into someone’s house to kill mutant space zombies happens very rarely in my real life, twice a year tops. Yet for someone for whom it’s a full time job, I guarantee the use of a ladder is rarely required.

    The point shouldn’t be, ‘why are in game ladders so rubbish’, the point surely; is why do they exist at all? Lazy design must end I say! /wavesWavingStick!

    • yhancik says:

      So is it also time for a counter-jam, the No More Ladder Jam

    • Everblue says:

      Who even has ladders now anyway? When was the last time you saw or used a ladder (outside of perhaps a folding stepladder). They (ladders) are an archaic and outdated concept. It’s like your game having a telephone with wire.

      • Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

        Agreed. My window cleaner uses hover boots for t’upstairs.

    • Mctittles says:

      I’m playing GTAV now and while having fun exploring the city I’ve died quite a few times falling from ladders. The problem is when your game is based on real life architecture, not having ladders kind of changes the game.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    It feels like most of the problems with ladders are either 1) accidentally dropping from a ladder when you don’t mean to and falling to your death or 2) not being able to do much of anything from a ladder except go up and down.

    1 is the easiest to solve as you just prevent players from strafing off the side of a ladder (as FPSes were often fond of doing) or dismounting a ladder incorrectly.

    2 is more complicated but basically comes down to giving the player more flexible movement and/or combat from the ladder climbing state like descend/ascend faster by jumping/skipping steps or sliding down, temporarily strafe/hang to one side without letting go to dodge say projectiles, shoot/melee attack from a ladder with your free hand while holding on with the other or kick down at enemies climbing below you (AC Black Flag actually had this one but there was rarely an opportunity to use it), etc….

    All of those are perfectly feasible to implement but it’s a bunch of extra work, so unless you have a lot of ladders in your game you maybe want to focus your energy elsewhere, though it would be neat to try it… just have a game that’s all about fighting on ladders.

    • yhancik says:

      It feels like most of the problems with ladders are either 1) accidentally dropping from a ladder when you don’t mean to and falling to your death or 2) not being able to do much of anything from a ladder except go up and down.

      “and in the game”

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      Wisq says:

      Depending on the game, there’s actually a much more troublesome third issue: Getting onto ladders from above. This is particularly prevalent in Source Engine titles.

      If you see a hole in the floor and a ladder, and you have access to that hole from all directions, the safe way to approach it is from the side of the hole opposite the ladder, such that your forward movement to get into the hole also takes you onto the ladder itself.

      However, in most cases, a ladder occurs right at the edge of a surface. In this case, you need to move forward to reach it, but having now walked off the edge, you need to very abruply *stop* moving forward to “attach” to it. But your forward momentum is such that this whole thing frequently just turns into “walks off ledge, falls, dies”. Often, it’s safer to deliberately leap off the edge, twisting your flight path in mid-air (how does that even work, anyway?) to return to the ladder in mid-flight.

      • Rich says:

        Safest way was to walk backwards towards the edge and, at the point of dropping over it, quickly pressing forward to stick to the ladder.

        • Premium User Badge

          Wisq says:

          Works when you have the time (e.g. singleplayer), not so much when you’re in a hurry and your life depends on successful ladder usage.

          In TTT, we seem to have standardised on the “jump and twist and return to ladder” approach, whereby doing the jump itself (primarily vertical with only a bit of lateral* movement) gives you more time and distance in which to reverse in mid-air and return to the ladder before you hit the bottom.

          Some maps include a water pit at the bottom (because an inch of water can save you from falling any height, naturally). Of course, that’s just an invitation for jerk players (myself included) to put things at the bottom for you to fall onto and die anyway — shelves, desks, explosive barrels, etc.

          * ladder-al movement? ar ar ar

      • JeCa says:

        On the contrary, Half-Life 2 actually has the best system for handling ladders that no one is aware of! If you simply get close enough to a ladder (from either above or below), and press E, Gordon will acceptingly but silently mount the ladder. Even better, if you want to step off onto a ledge halfway down, you simply climb until you are level with the prefered surface, turn around and press E again to gracefully step out onto the ledge. It actually works decently once you’re aware it exists, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why the game never tells you about it…

        • Twist says:

          Agreed!

          The irony here is that when people complain about ladders in first-person games, I always point out Half-Life 2 as the best solution. But reading here, and reading John’s Half-Life 2 piece a little while ago, I gather many (most?) people don’t know about this function.

        • PoulWrist says:

          I just recently played HL2 with the “Update” mod that came out. Didn’t finish it, but I do remember going “how the hell did these ladders EVER make it through qualitycontrol?” – they’re just absolutely terrible. I had no idea there was a “press E to magically get away” and spent no small amount of energy being annoyed by the way you completely weirdly handle these ladders if you try to navigate them like any other ladder of the time.

        • KenTWOu says:

          OMG, it has so many nuances and works so good and I didn’t know about it.

    • SuicideKing says:

      I think another problem is figuring how to get down from a ladder, as in, how do you let the game differentiate between jumping off that ledge or grabbing the ladder? Approach it forwards or backwards? And how do you know where you’re going if you’re approaching it backwards?

      Halo is an outstanding example of me being unable to get down.

  6. slerbal says:

    Haha! My playgroup were just remarking on this very thing last night after a series of ladder-based disasters first in Arma 3 and then in 7 Days to Die. You know ladders are a problem when a team of hardened (in game) military special forces almost call off a mission because the only decent sniper spot requires a ladder climb :D

    So yes, I thoroughly endorse this call for ladder jam!

  7. liquidsoap89 says:

    I always have a hard time getting OFF the ladders in Half Life 2 and Counter Strike. The sticky climbing is okay, but getting unstuck always proves to be such a hassle. I think the more modern hand animation ladder climbing could be cool if there was a way you could press something to use your weapon whilst mid ladder (or not worry about it at all if it’s not a weapon game).

    I think the stickiness is required though, at least to some degree. I don’t even want to think about the amount of times I’ve fallen off a ladder in Counter Strike 1.6. Curse that game and it’s odd “strafing up ladders goes faster than normally walking up ladders” system!

  8. Sarfrin says:

    Yes! At no point in any game have I ever thought “Curses! Why won’t this game let me strafe off the side of this ladder and fall to my immediate death!”

  9. jezcentral says:

    Dragon Age Inquisition has the best idea. Stop and start whenever you like going up, quickslide down.and, if you are blocked by a teammate, pause and take control of them instead. Obstacle averted.

    • Robert The Rebuilder says:

      But initiating the climb down a ladder in DA:I is very frustrating because the hitbox for the exposed ladder top is too small, requiring you to fiddle with your viewpoint until you can see the whole upper half of the ladder. Most of the time I just jump down.

  10. Bugamn says:

    FEAR would let you grab the stairs. Then Alma would appear and you (not I, mind you) would start hammering the keyboard to release the stairs, before crying of because of fear. Not that I have ever done that. I can’t remember any game that I really liked the stairs, but I find them useful, since they allow to go up to kill enemies (before killing myself by accident).

  11. NathanH says:

    Remember that ladder in Thief 1 in Down in the Bonehoard where you only had about a 10% chance to get on it correctly so you died by falling half a dozen times before you got it right and got to the bottom, whereupon you stepped on a trap and died instantly.

    That ladder haunts me.

    • Horg says:

      …..and that’s how you undo 10 years of therapy for Post Traumatic Ladder Disorder.

  12. Twist says:

    I thought Half-Life 2 handled it well, and I was surprised to read John’s frustration with HL2’s ladders. In Half-Life 2, the Use key gave you an optional way to attach and detach. If used it at the top of a ladder it gave you a gentle push up and over to whatever surface you were trying to reach. If you used when near a ladder at an odd angle, it gently moved you over and on to the ladder.

    If you ever found yourself detached or attached when you didn’t want to be, just hit the Use key and it undid the problem.

    That pretty much eliminated the problem for me.

    Or a developer could do like Arkane and implement mantle and blink to make ladders irrelevant.

    • Museli says:

      Funny that you mention Arkane. I’m replaying Dishonored at the moment, and the chain climbing is worse than any ladder-based shenanigans I’ve had to put up with. You can blink from the top of them, which is cool, but it’s also necessary, as trying to just jump from them is a nightmare.

  13. Rich says:

    Oh, the bloody ladders in Far Cry 3!
    The first few I encountered descended into bunkers and caves, and I was at the top of them. I dropped to my death so many times I came to the conclusion that ladders must only work one way.
    Also, not being able to shoot when on a ladder is a royal pain in the arse!

    • James says:

      Oh god. The flashbacks. And the 3 foot drops that kill you. No… the people who designed that didn’t know what a human was. Humans can grip things, and don’t shatter like glass. I’m just going to hide until the memories go away.

  14. DedlySpyder says:

    On the topic of ladders, climbing speed is also an annoyance of mine. I didn’t finish The Cave because of it taking too damn long to climb a ladder. The level was something along the lines of you have to catch TNT at the bottom of 3 huge ladders, bring it up to each layer and do something with it. You couldn’t jump down the ladder areas, because the fall would kill you, so you have to climb up and down several sets of ladders, and the climbing speed is unbearably slow.

  15. James says:

    ‘Once created, the code will be translated into all modern gaming languages, and adapted for all engines. Ladders in games past will be retrofitted, such that their tyrannical reign over our gaming past and our gaming future will come to an end.’

    Dude – this isn’t modding! I’m just waiting for the next AssCreed to feature ‘new John walker approved ladders!’ as part of the pre-order DLC. Though back in my day, ladders were just verticle conveyer belts made of glue. How gaming has come along.

    • jamesgecko says:

      Assassin’s Creed already features buildings constructed entirely of ladder-like material.

  16. lowprices says:

    I say use the Resident Evil 4 method:

    When you want to go up, press a button at the bottom to mount the ladder.

    When you want to go down, press a button at the top to just ignore the ladder and leap down, regardless of the height.

    • lowprices says:

      Off-topic, but I would also like to see more games adopt Resident Evil 4’s ideas regarding using 2nd storey windows as doors.

  17. Barberetti says:

    I seem to remember the ladders in Rage being good to use.

  18. jonahcutter says:

    Just this weekend I fell to my death off the top of a crane in GTA5, while moving to descend a ladder after a fascinating mission of moving shipping containers.

    Fortunately Rockstar must of known such things were likely and put the save point on the ground, after the ladders. Thus the solution to death-dealing ladders? Just admit defeat at coding them and put save points immediately afterwards.

  19. Kefren says:

    Timely – I started playing Lego Batman for the first time earlier. There’s a ladder above you at the start of the game. I couldn’t work out how to climb it, tried jumping, pushing directions and so on. Got on it a few times, fell off near the top. Left seemed to make me go up, pressing the up arrow made me fall off. And I have nearly 40 years’ experience of playing games. It took Batman around 30 attempts to climb a ladder. He is a shit superhero.

  20. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Speaking of ladders, I always like how Gordon Freeman could fall any distance and take no damage whatsoever providing he landed on a ladder. Made that section where you go back underground via a square shaft with lots of baddies much easier. One can only assume he stole Adam Jensen’s arms.

  21. Spacewalk says:

    I was betrayed by a ladder during the war. You just can’t trust ’em.

  22. LogicalDash says:

    Ummm, am I the only one who actually wants to see what comes out of a game jam about ladders?

  23. bill says:

    Rubbish. Ladders in FPS games were fine, people just got used to playing linear FPS on a single flat corridor with nothing to climb up or jump on.

    then developers started making everything canned animations and people lost their ladder climbing skills.

    I used to love climbing ladders, and the way you could jump from them or to them and actually perform interesting movement and actions.

    The only problem was usually getting onto a ladder from the top..

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Utter balder-twaddle-piffle-tosh.

      Ladders have been a constant in my gameplaying life, without interruption, as has complaining about them. Canned animations? No, even in an FPS where your player model is a cardboard box with a face drawn on the front, ladders still sucked.

  24. Scratches Beard With Pipe Stem says:

    Was Donkey Kong the very first ladder? It worked pretty well, I thought.

    Maybe it’s necessary to go backwards to go forwards.

  25. Sin Vega says:

    This post makes me think of the NPC who stands near the big drop in the player base. You know, that part of the level where it’s too much hassle to run all the way to the ladder or stairs every time you go back and forth, so instead, you just leap off the top floor?

    Every day, that NPC sees you plummet to earth, shatter both ankles, then hobble off, then come back a few minutes later like nothing happened. I always wonder what they think.

  26. Nurg says:

    Ladders should only allow attachment when the use key is pressed. And my pet ladder hate: Arriving at a ladder from the bottom and back. Why doesn’t my character flip around to the front automatically rather than ignore the ladder. Gah! I’m going for a lie down, this has brought back bad memories..