Locks, Keys, & Obstacles pt.1
Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 2:45PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Level Design

part.1  part.2

Video games are built upon the foundation of interactivity and challenges. The game throws a number of challenges in your way somewhere between the start of the game and the end, and you're expected to be able to overcome most if not all of the challenges. For games that are very linear, to progress to the next level one must get to the end of the current one. In this way, each level functions as an obstacle that's like a lock. And the key to this lock is a combination of basic player mechanics and player skill. They key is execution. The key is the journey. 


For more open games that don't have a simple level progression structure, keys and locks are put to use. Locks temporarily prevent you from accessing and area. Once you get the key, then you can continue. When used poorly, locks & keys can "artificially" extend the play time of a game by forcing the player to "jump through hoops." When used well, locks help create challenges that shape a rich journey. Before we continue, we need definitions. 

Obstacle: A general term for any challenge in a game that the player can only overcome by using mechanics.

Lock: Any object/system that restricts player progression or prevents access to an object/area. All locks must be able to be opened with a key. Locks can be in a locked, temporarily unlocked, or permanently unlocked state. 

Key: Any object or system that can be used to open a lock. 

Pin: Any procedure or steps involved in using a key to open a lock. 


Let's consider the different types of locks. Locks come in all shapes and sizes from gates, to portals, to NPC that just won't let you pass. In fact, a ledge that's just out of reach can be a lock preventing you from accessing a higher area. In this case, as long as you can eventually reach that higher area by, let's say, stepping on a switch (the key), then the ledge can be considered a lock. 




Let's go over the different types of locks: 





Locks are just half of the equation. Keys are the more interesting and versatile part of the set.

Overcoming locked obstacles can easily take up the majority of a game like The Legend of Zelda. A dungeon is essentially a series of locked rooms. Some locks are opened with little silver keys. Others by hitting switches with special weapons. And others still by killing enemies. The Zelda series provides prime examples of how to integrate lock & key design into the core dynamics and gameplay.

In the next article, I'll go over several examples of locks & keys from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Believe me. Locks are the key to understanding Zelda's dungeon design.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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