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My name is Will Peacock. I'm a long-term gamer, a full-time teacher and a part-time geek. I've been blogging about these topics since January '14.

You can find me writing in the Community area here, or at Kotaku. I'm also on WordPress. If you're feeling really adventurous, you can follow me on Twitter.

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A month ago, I moved into my new home. The house is a big project in itself, with lots of renovation work and plenty of TLC required. Between the DIY and the new school term, I've had very little time to game in the last few weeks. That hasn't stopped me thinking about video games, which is how we've arrived at the vitally important question above.

The home you currently reside in might be your first, or your fifteenth. Regardless, at some point you will have to move. The act of boxing, transporting, and unboxing your entire life will take a considerable amount of time and effort. Whilst the prospect of living somewhere new and shiny is exciting, the act of getting there is not. When this immense event un-folds, you will hopefully have friends and family to assist you, or have hired help.

​Which Game Characters would help you Move House?

Whilst those around you will do all they can to haul you and your stuff from A to B – and you should be grateful to them – let's ponder how moving home would be made easier by employing video game characters. With all their power and might, skills and tools, could these virtual chaps put themselves to good use in the real world? I for one think they could. This would be a very short discussion otherwise…

Peruse my suggestions below. You'll see I've put a great deal of thought/far too much thought [delete as appropriate] into selecting the persons that I would want helping me and those that I feel would make really bad choices. After reading, I hope you'll have a few suggestions of your own.

Who would Help?

This odd little query began to roll around in the chasm that is my brain hole well before the actual move. Between sorting and cleaning the old apartment I would steal the odd half an hour to play Fez. I'm so glad I got around to playing this charming little puzzle-platformer. When I had to put the game down and return to boxing up my possessions, I would mull over all the ways that Gomez, the protagonist, could use his perspective switching ability to benefit me.

I knew that once these boxes were packed and shipped to the new residence, they would need to find a sensible spot to go so that they weren't taking up too much space. I'd also need to decide where all my furniture would look best. Gomez could offer me a unique perspective; I might think that the sofa looks fine facing one direction, but the little cutie would quickly tell me thatthis angle would look better. Add to that the fact that the adorable fellow is quite nimble and no stranger to carrying heavy objects, and you have a very helpful moving companion.

​Which Game Characters would help you Move House?

But let's not get ahead of ourselves; first we need to pack. All of your clothing, books, DVDs, pictures, furniture, family pets*… all need to be packed into neat little boxes ready to be sent off to the new abode. The unpacking can be done gradually, and is usually enjoyable, as you get to plan out where everything goes. Unfortunately, sorting and packing proves to be a more laborious and tiring adventure. I would have liked Steve from Minecraft to help me.

Gamers often question the incredible 'load limit' of game characters. Various characters can carry amounts well beyond normal human limits, and Steve is one of the greatest lifters around. Check out this VSauce video to see what I mean. The weight of everything you own won't even come close Steve's physical threshold. So long as Steve can 'stack' the items you own in his backpack, he can carry them in piles of 64, and he can carry 32 piles. That's 2048 books, or video games, or pairs of socks.**

Even the items that don't stack won't cause any hardship. In my latest move, the most cumbersome and awkward item to transport was my mattress. The act of carrying the overgrown cushion down one flight of stairs, stuffing it into the back of a van and levering it up another flight of stairs was unnecessarily taxing. Steve on the other hand, would have taken a few casual swipes at the fluffy thing, miniaturised the mattress (and bed) in one go, and then popped it safely away alongside a pile of my miniaturised neckties. Simple, effortless and, above all else, really entertaining to watch.

​Which Game Characters would help you Move House?

Just make sure Steve leaves his pickaxe in his own home. You don't want him knocking a wall out.

Steve and Gomez might have the packing and sorting locked down, but they can't really help with transport. They are pedestrians at heart, and I don't see the move going smoothly if we all try riding pigs down the motorway…

We need a driver, and who better than Franklin from Grand Theft Auto V. The logic behind this choice (if we can call this a logical discussion) is twofold. Firstly, Franklin has become so staggeringly awesome that he has the ability to slow down time. Secondly, as with all GTAcharacters, he has the power to disobey all traffic laws without upsetting law enforcement. Only by bumping a police car or an unwilling pedestrian will Franklin incur the wrath of the police. These two attributes combined make Franklin the ideal person to move you and your items quickly and efficiently to your new home.

But let's be realistic. All this talk of miniaturisation, reality bending and time manipulation is all well and good, but we have to appreciate that our world does not yet accept these insults to Physics. So let's pick a more sensible option. Let's see… Ah! Got it. Alyx Vance from Half Lifecould help you move home. And she could bring her Gravity Gun!

​Which Game Characters would help you Move House?

Alyx is one of my favourite deuteragonists of all time. Intelligent, resourceful and incredibly likeable; she more than makes up for Gordon Freeman's reserved nature. Alyx is a pragmatist and has no aversion to rolling up her sleeves to help out. She also knows her way around electronics – very useful if the circuitry or lighting in your new digs need updating. But she'd prove especially helpful if she brought the ZPEFM along with her. Moving the wardrobe or dining table into place would be easy-peasy if the Gravity Gun could be used sensibly. And the ZPEFM in best placed in Alyx's hands; you wouldn't want to accidentally fire your Television across the front garden.

One last suggestion: Snake from Metal Gear Solid would make a good addition to the 'moving team'. This was actually a suggestion from a reader. And what a great suggestion. Snake would be ultimate choice for one job that is often overlooked. When all your stuff is unpacked and in its place, there's still one more thing to do: those empty cardboard boxes need to be tidied away. You could recycle them, try to pass them off to someone else... or you could let the guy with the love for boxes take them off your hands.

​Which Game Characters would help you Move House?

It doesn't matter how many you have, Snake can neeeeever have enough boxes. Just be aware that he may try and prank you before he leaves. If he suddenly 'vanishes', just look for the box that's trying not to giggle.

Who wouldn't Help?

There are lots of friendly video game characters. They would gladly help you move, but that doesn't mean you'd find them helpful. Take Donkey Kong: he'd delight in the task of carry the heaviest boxes to and fro, but I wouldn't trust him with any boxes marked "fragile". You might think about asking the Prince from Katamari Damacy to roll up all your things into a big ball for easy travel. However, by the time he's finished rolling to the new home, he'll have scooped up much more than you'd like. Whilst Link and his gadgets might seem like the perfect way to get the job done, he'll ruin every ornament in your house before you can scream "Hey, Listen! Stop breaking stuff!" and don't get me started on the mess he'll make of your garden...

​Which Game Characters would help you Move House?

Further Thought

Moving home is exhausting and boring. Games are relaxing and fun. Combine those things together, and what do you get? That's right: really confused looks from your new neighbours. More importantly, you'll get the task completed in no time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off buy some plants for my new back garden. Does anyone know where I can buy Peashooter Seeds?

Have you got any suggestions for game characters that would make moving home so much easier? Leave a comment below. I'm pretty sure this will be the most important question you have to answer this week.

You can contact me directly on Twitter @redheadpeak or follow me on WordPress or Facebook.

Thank You For Reading

* Family pets must be packed into boxes with air holes***.

** I do not own 2048 pairs of socks.

*** Air holes must be cut into the box before the pet is placed inside.

Games are fun, but I sometimes get the impression they don't like us all that much. It doesn't matter how many times you have levelled up or how many weapons you have strapped across your chest; the game is in charge and won't hesitate to prove it.

How do Games remind us that we are Weak and Feeble?

The majority of video games entertain us by making us feel awesome. They might transform us into the ultimate warrior or the most resilient survivalist or the greatest sportsmen there has ever been. Games lift us up and allow us to feel superior. However, before that feeling of awesomeness can turn into arrogant smugness, games can always find a way to keep you level-headed.

So the game gifts you with the skills and abilities to perform the exceptional, but it can always bring you down to earth and also remind you who the boss is. You think you're the world's greatest, but boy/girl you are not. Below are some of the ways a video game can remind you that you're only as strong as the game allows.


How do Games remind us that we are Weak and Feeble?

I'm a fan of real life gravity. It's one of the most dependable aspects of my life. Sure, I may curse its existence if I trip up or when I try and to carry too much at once, but it can be relied on to always perform as expected. Video game gravity is less predictable. When the game permits, you can often ignore death from falling by using a glide ability or using another human being as a big squidgy cushion. You can sometimes double jump or super jump your way to higher platforms. In a few games fall damage is ignored entirely. That is, until you fall or leap into an area you weren't supposed to be, and then the game will hurt you.

I've poked fun at Kratos in the past. Never to his face, of course. I thoroughly enjoy the character – no one does "rage-filled" quite like the God of War – but his fluctuating levels of strength and badassery cause me to chuckle. For example, Kratos is capable of leaping from a balcony ten stories up and surviving the fall. If he swings his blades around, Kratos will suspend himself in mid-air for a brief moment, as if gravity itself has stepped back from his spinning, stabby things. Conversely, if Kratos falls of a beam or leaps from a platform that he wasn't meant to, the game will drop him like a stone. A big, angry, shouty stone. You might be playing as the actual God of War, but you'll still follow the path the game has laid out for you.


Furthermore, consider how many games worlds have spikes in them. Not content with pits for the player to fall into, game designers enjoy adding giant metal barbs liberally across each level. This was a point suggested by a reader (Voltaire Crescent) who highlighted that even the blue hedgehog must take care when running headlong across the horizon.

How do Games remind us that we are Weak and Feeble?

I find it quite difficult to believe that these spikes are natural parts of the landscape, especially in the Green Hill Zone, but I also find it challenging to accept that Eggman left them there. Having seen how devastating spikes are to Sonic's progress, I can't imagine why the moustachioed villain doesn't abandon all robot building efforts to begin mass producing the large metal barbs, coating each world with a layer of murdery goodness. The reason why Eggman doesn't do this, is that the game wants you to spend most of your time running at speed and bounding across chasms; the game only wishes to occasionally impale the hedgehog, just to point out who's really in command.

Locked Doors

I once had to break open a door in real life. A roommate had locked themselves out of their room and needed to get in urgently. I rang the (very understanding) landlord and they agreed that I could force my way in providing the repairs were paid for. Whilst I considered trying out the film-favoured, boot-to-the-door method, I realised that probably wouldn't go the way I imagined. So instead I went for the more standard shoulder barge. On the third attempt I popped the latch out of the frame and the door flung inwards. For a brief moment I thought I looked supremely heroic, but I was told later that my expression of gleeful surprise (I cannot believe that I broke open a door I'msoawesome!) ruined my moment of machismo. The point I'm making here is that even I can force a door open.

For countless, mighty warriors the sealed, locked or barred entrance presents an impenetrable barrier. Regardless of physical strength, magical prowess or natural ingenuity, so many doors stay shut, at least until the game allows it. Games often revel in this unseen power by patronising the player, explaining exactly why the player cannot pass. Nope, you can't open that old, possibly rotten wooden door until you have the right key. This door cannot be opened until later on in the game for reasons I haven't quite made up yet. And this door can only be unlocked from the other side. It doesn't matter that your double handed sword could easily carve through it or that your shotgun could take the thing off its hinges; that door isn't moving until the games says its fine.

How do Games remind us that we are Weak and Feeble?

It's a good job Gordon Freeman is mute. If he could speak, I've no doubt he'd be the first to ask why any entrance or exit is closed to him when he his walking round with the perfect tool to prise any barrier apart. How many times must he wobble a door handle, look to his crowbar and then sigh heavily. On the other hand, I may be giving Mr Freeman too much credit. He may be an intelligent scientist, but he'd rather smack a wooden crate until it breaks than simply pull the lid off.

Even in games which bless the player with a lock picking ability, you'll still find doors that cannot be opened for reasons unknown. The door looks exactly the same as any other, but the game delights in reminding you that this particular gate cannot be opened until the appointed time. And in the case of Dead Island, where you are given permission to break down (some) doors, you must complete a button prompt in order to force your way through. Apparently even the adrenaline building up in response to imminent zombie chomping can't get the best of a video game door.


Water in real life is fun. It fills swimming pools and Jacuzzis. It also fills water pistols and balloons. We can keep ourselves and our belongings clean and it keeps us alive. Without rain we don't get rainbows! But in video games, water is not your friend. In small amounts it may grant a small amount of healing, but most of the time it's trying to murder you.

Large expanses of water are usually employed as game barriers. Not content with convincing the player that they must stay on land, numerous games will allow you to swim a short way out before force feeding you to a shark. Even when the lakes and oceans aren't keeping you contained, they are still inexplicably dangerous places. The number of times I have knocked out an unsuspecting shark with a jet ski in Far Cry 3 is remarkable. I'm convinced that there was more toxic waste than clean water in the original Deus Ex. More often than not a game will simply decide that you cannot swim and drown you the moment you even look at water.

How do Games remind us that we are Weak and Feeble?

There's a reason why water levels are hard. They take what in-game skills you've learnt so far and throw them down the drain. You'll get them back once the water section is over, but until then you are going to be splashing around helplessly. First person action games such asDishonored delight in taking away your ability to use weapons the moment you are more than knee deep in a river. And you thought you were being sneaky by taking the low road. And the moment you put your head under the water, you are at the mercy of that steadily falling 'breath bar'. All the physical strength and agility in the gaming world won't save you if you can't find the surface.


This might seem a little obvious at first. Of course grenades will make you feel weak; they are balls of suppressed explosion ready to spread you across the landscape. But reflect on the role of grenades in action games. They prevent you from spending your hours hiding behind cover as your enemies wander towards you. Your plan of attack can be stalled entirely by that bleeping arrow that indicates that a ball of death is nearby. Grenades are also the perfect way to ensure that person who killed you in multiplayer dies too. They are a game changer.

How do Games remind us that we are Weak and Feeble?

More than that, they remind you that your character is not an invulnerable killing machine. The game might allow you to take seventy bullets to the chin providing you digest the contents of a few first aid kits, but a single grenade can turn you into the rag-dolliest rag-doll in a heartbeat. The term 'bullet sponge' is nothing new to gaming; video game characters can absorb a huge amount of damage. The anatomy of a first and third person shooter must be a curious thing to study. Their flesh, muscles and sinews must have the consistency of custard – the surface glooping back into place after something has passed through – but their bones must be more akin to ice cream wafers, barely able to resist the slightest pressure.

Quick Time Events

 Yep, I'm poking this sore spot two months in a row. A while ago I was expressing my respect for the proper use of a good QTE, much to the seething (but very well-mannered) indignation of many readers. Whatever your opinion of button prompts and interactive cut scenes, there's no denying that the "insta-kill" style Quick Time Event puts you in your place. If you miss your cue to tap, mash or twirl the controller, you are dead in the dust no matter what the skill level you've garnered.

It's not just the nature of QTEs that reminds you that you are truly feeble; it's how the game humiliates you afterwards. Should a nasty beasty take your life in the normal areas of the game, the death animation will be swift and decisive, so that you can quickly get back to trying not to die. Death from QTE is much more theatrical. The death animation will last longer than the 'Platoon death scene', with the camera turned to show the gruesome act in the most cinematic way possible. You'll probably have to watch a cut scene again too.

How do Games remind us that we are Weak and Feeble?

 Death in video games is abrupt and clinical. Death in a QTE event is degrading and messy. And you don't get to move on until you have learnt your lesson.

Difficulty Levels

You swell with smug self-adulation as the credits role and reminisce on just how embarrassing that last fight must have been for the poor 'boss'. Then, as the credits subside and the title screen returns, a message laced with patronising tones presents itself:

Well done. Fancy trying it again on a higher difficulty?

It's subtle, but the game has once again reminded you that you are not that special. You just beat the game on normal? Pfft. Everyone is normal. All the cool people play this game on 'Hard Difficulty'. Oh so you've beaten normal difficulty too? Here's the 'EXTREME DIFFICULTY' setting. Try not to cry whilst you're playing.

How do Games remind us that we are Weak and Feeble?

The first (and possibly best) time I realised a game was patronising me was during the first boss fight in Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny. It was also the first time I had ever fought a boss that didn't come equipped with a health bar or a clear way to kill it, so I died quite a few times. After one too many thrashings, the game stopped me at the 'retry/quit' page, put an arm around my shoulder and asked whether I wouldn't feel better trying 'easy mode'. I of course shrugged off the games petulance and battled on. I'm happy to say that a few tries later I beat the boss and moved on, but that same message would appear more than once during my adventures. I'm not sure how, but I'm almost certain that each time "would you like to switch to easy mode?" appeared, the font was a little bit more condescending…

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, games are our friends. They try their best to make us happy. But they don't like to see us taking the powers they bless us with for granted. If are egos become too lofty or our heads become too bulbous, games will take us down a peg. And I think that's important. Challenge is an integral part of any good game, and the more ways a game can challenge us the better.

Thank You For Reading.

If you have any other examples of games reminding us that we are weak and feeble, or you agree/disagree with what I've written, leave a comment below. If you want to you can contact me directly on Twitter @redheadpeak. If you're feeling adventurous you can click to follow my blog on WordPress or give me a like on Facebook.

The hero seeks a new adventure. Every Mutant Ewok of the Decidedly-Evil Forest has been murdered; the Casually Racist Imps have each been forcefully evicted from the Cave of Moaners; the hero has made so many Dragon's Teeth necklaces that they've considered setting up a little jewellery store in the city centre. (It'll bring in a little extra money in the winter when all the big quests have dried up.)

But now the hero sets off for new lands. They clamber aboard their newly acquired sailboat – made from the bodies of two dozen Ents that really did deserve it – and casts off across the ocean. The wind takes the sails and adventure steals our hero's heart!

What exciting new lands will our brave and sexy hero discover? What new monsters will they vanquish in the heat of violent battle? What… erm… what is the hero doing? I think… I think the ship is stuck… on… nothing. Okay then… now the ship is turning back. Well… that's… all praise the mighty hero?

It doesn't matter how open your open-world game is; it needs to accept its boundaries. There's a mountain of games out there that advocate exploration, but you can only ever explore so far. Whether the game in question consists of a one huge, sprawling area or a collection of maps that can be traversed individually, the more open a game becomes, the more convincing they need to be with the 'containment'.

Last week, in Part 1, I gave examples of how linear or more 'straightforward' games are designed within barriers that are either effective and simple, or inspiring and creative. The 'container' a game operates within might seem insignificant compared to what lies within, but the ways that barriers and world limits are applied can have a impact on your ability to enjoy any game. So this week, I am expanding the discussion and the game worlds in question. Here are some of my favourite methods for ensuring You the Player are properly contained.

If you're the kind of person that likes to read things in order, have a look through Part 1 first.

Method #4 – Murder Wall

You: I want to see what's over there.

Game: But there's so much fun stuff over here!

You: Yes, but now I want to explore the horizon.

[Game pulls a gun from its floor-length trench coat]

Game: You're not going anywhere, Sunshine.

Talk about simple-and-effective. If you dare venture beyond the edge of the gaming world, the game will murder you. It sounds harsh, yet it's a method which games have been using for decades. The details change to match the aesthetic of the game, but the message is clear: don't you try and leave this game world.

Both Jak and Daxter: Precursor Legacy and Banjo-Kazooie employed sharks to help remind players that dry land is their friend. Whilst Snacker the Shark from Banjo can be fought off briefly, going out to sea is extremely hazardous. The Lurker Shark from J&D was a different kettle of fish. A bigger fish to fry, if you will. Having played the Precursor Legacy quite recently, I can contest that the rising tension that begins just a few feet out from the shore line, then builds as the controller shakes in fear, is still as palpable as ever. Oh course the moment when the bulbous Lurker Shark attacks is too funny to be scary. Very rare is it that an animation can so accurately be summarised by the phrase "Nom".

A more recent use of the Murder Wall occurs on the border of Borderlands. Rather than boxing the player in, the game creators decided that the best way to prevent players from leaving the designated shooting areas would be to blast the player's character out of existence (temporarily of course). Gun towers fixed along the perimeter face their guns outwards in search of any poor fool who believes in the freedom to go where they please. The gun towers seem quite illogical at times (Couldn't the guns turn round and wipe out these evil bandits now and then? Surely my rocket launcher is superior to an over-blown turret?) but gun towers don't really care about my opinions.

Method #5 – Boomerang Barrier

The Grand Theft Auto series has tried several different methods of containing the player within the gaming world. In ye olden days, you weren't allowed boats and you weren't able to swim. Easy enough. With a rapidly growing ensemble of boats and aircraft more elaborate methods were needed. In the most current realization, all vehicles cut out once you reach a certain distance from the shore, and the sharks take what's left of you. It's like you're living in an extremely aggressive version of The Truman Show.

The mid-point in this evolution of containment is, in my opinion, the strangest and creepiest. I know that the 'Boomerang Barrier' method exists in GTA: Vice City; I'm sure someone else will remind us where else it exists. When you hop into a boat and leave Vice City in your wake, it's seems like nothing will stop you reaching the horizon… at first. But then, without argument or incident, the vehicle is turned 180 degrees. Should you try to turn around; an unseen force will resist you.

I like to put myself in the mind of the player character that experiences this. There are two possible options here. Either they are fully aware that the hand of god holds them back, lifted and turned like a turtle at the end of the garden. Or they themselves are steering the boat back, their minds influence by some unseen power. How did I end up in this boat? Ah well… guess I'll head back to shore now…

Method #6 – Giant Prison

Have you ever seen a country, kingdom or state that was a perfect square? I thought so. There are at least two states in America that fit the bill, but it's not a common sight. Another question: have you ever seen a square island in real life? No you haven't, stop lying. Nature doesn't operate that way. If an island was square for a time, nature would sand those edges right down to… well… sand. Despite this, we as gamers are always willing to accept a countless number of gaming worlds that end in a perfect edge. Why do we do this? Usually it's because the world within the Giant Prison is gorgeous and we are distracted.

I wonder if Cartographers in the various Legend of Zelda kingdoms ever remark on how fortunate they are to live in a land that fits the parchment so neatly. There's no wasted space on much of any Zelda map, especially in hand-held console games. The island from Link's Awakening has four, sharp corners. Perfectly arrange trees or impossibly steep hills, and pizza-cutter straight cliff edges are all employed to stop the distracted traveller. These straight lines suit the nature of these games. The way in which each block of the map is artificially segmented is complimented by the nice neat barrier that the player can follow.

Some maps try to hide the prison walls they have built. Shadow of the Colossus does this by making one edge on the map a mess of scraggly rocks and cliff falls, but the map is a straight as an arrow on three sides. Once again, we have a game that justifies its style of containment. It's a forbidden land, which no one must Wander [giggles to self]. Only low flying birds and tasty geckos are allowed in. The entire area is deliberately cut off from the rest of the world, so it makes sense that the location be walled in. And there's Batman: Arkham Asylum, which is an expansive gaming world contained within a literal giant prison. These games are not just proud of their edges; they've made the 'container' part of the story.

When it comes down to it, the majority of open video game world are square or squarish in shape. The land might finish in a natural, crooked line, but you'll still swim/fly/sail into a barrier that runs flat along the edge of the world. In that sense, games that create a Giant Prison around the wide world are openly admitting their limitations.

Final Thoughts

There is one more method that games can employ to come to terms with these limitations. It's simultaneously the most obvious and the most difficult to generate. If you don't want limits to the gaming world, make the entire world. It's a big ask for any game developer, to create a world of such scale. Many of the earlier Final Fantasy games achieved this.

You can leave the right hand side of the map and reappear on the left, giving the feel of an entire globe (you're not allowed to visit the North of South Poles though). However, these world maps are quite vague and without much variety, though I myself appreciate the effort made to create an entire earth to fly over. In most games where the intention is to save the entire planet, you're not always so clearly reminded that there is in fact an entire world around you.

If you can think of any other ways that games create 'containers' around the player, or good examples for the methods I've suggested, please leave your comments below. Some excellent examples were already contributed after Part 1. If on the other hand, game barriers set your teeth a-gnashing, feel free to vent your indignation into the little comment box too.

Thank You For Reading.

You can contact the author @RedHeadPeak, at Wordpress, or on Facebook.
Photo Photo Photo

A lone hero seeks adventure in a dangerous world. In one hand they clasp an ancient sword made from the devil's weirdest nightmares. In the other hand they hold a giant handgun so powerful that it doesn't need to be loaded to kill from two miles away. From head to toe, the hero is clad in armour that prevents attackers from remembering why they were even mad in the first place. There is so much arcane magic coursing through the hero's veins, that one sneeze can level an entire cinema. Only a 1 or 2-screen cinema, but it's still pretty cool when it happens.

Yet today, the hero will meet their match. No enemy, real or imagined, has ever managed to best this courageous, mighty and inexplicably handsome warrior. Today is the day when the hero faces...a fence which is slightly too high to jump over.

No matter how far a game world stretches, a border must be decided somewhere. Every good game knows its limitations, and over the decades games have shown straightforward, creative or downright ingenious ways to contain the player. This may not seem very important to the overall gaming experience, but consider the alternatives. Either the game has no barriers whatsoever or the game has 'invisible walls' scattered arbitrarily throughout the land. The former sees the player-character floating helplessly out into the multiverse, whilst the latter creates the embarrassing image of the protagonist trotting in place with their nose squish firmly against nothingness.

Today I would like to talk/witter on about the various ways that the player's experiences are contained. In Part 1, I intend to focus on the ways that more linear or directed games contain the player in effective ways; in Part 2, I will turn the attention to more open world containment. In both parts, I will be discussing the effective and inspired ways that games control the boundaries of play. When you've finished reading, I've no doubt that you will be able to recall examples of games that use one/more of these methods. Maybe you will think of other methods that I have neglected to mention.

The truth is that linear or directed games don't need to offer reasons for why the character can't wander off the path – you can't climb jump over that fence because [insert reason here] – and that's fine. It's enough to know a game has properly defined the boundaries. However, I am quite impressed whenever a game designer gives a little bit of thought or artistic flair for the intended 'container' that You the Player are in.

Method #1 – Complete Containment

A player can't wander off if there isn't anywhere to wander off to. The easiest way to do this is by having an indoor game location. Whether the game wishes to direct you along a set path or allow you to explore within a distinct area, you can't go wrong with several lengths of brick wall with doors and windows painted on them. The risk here is that gamers might consider this form of level design to be a cop-out. The player may also get bored of 'walking down corridors', or irritated by backtracking through rooms. But if done right, a player can be funnelled around the entire game without ever questioning why they didn't go outside.

A game that truly hammers home the need for a linear, indoor world is Portal. This is a game that not only ran with the idea of repetitive, near-identical rooms and corridors, but made its indoor environment an integral part of the game. The player shouldn't even consider exploration beyond the white, tiled walls because the facility is buried underground. There's no need for any extraneous corridors or optional exploration because that would waste time during the "tests". Even when Chell [spoiler warning?] escapes GLaDOS' tests, and the player is barrelling down 'random' tunnels and stairwells, the player is still following a strict path [end spoiler?]. We don't mind being contained in this way because the game has justified the game location. Whilst praising Portal nowadays is as unnecessary as stating just how good sliced bread is, I feel that this is a game that proved that linear game worlds can work effectively.

Horror games (and horror movies for that matter) have also formed a long-term bond with indoor locations. The act of restricting a horror story to a closed space works on many levels. Setting the scariness within a close environment generates a sense of being trapped or it can induce claustrophobia. Steering the player down specific corridors allows for set pieces designed to disrupt bowel control. And what's a horror game without a smattering of creaky doors?

There are lots of excellent examples of horror games confined to interiors. Rather than lean on the usual names (I referenced Dead Space and Resident Evil just last week) I will dredge up a more obscure reference: a little game called Koudelka. I have a soft-spot for this decidedly average horror RPG, partly because it freaked me out as a child and partly because it's set in Aberystwyth, which is where I went to university. The game is set within the confines of a wonderfully creepy monastery, and you navigate through church towers, courtyards and tombs. As the game progresses, you open new routes, but the environment is kept within the monastery walls. You are trapped inside with all the Poltergeist-ridden furniture and monsters made entirely from limbs. The whole setting is as sinister and odd as the combat mechanics – Final Fantasy-style combat combined with movement over a giant chess board – and the game uses its creepy container to full effect.

Both these games define their walls rigidly, and don't even let the player see past them. At no point does either game suffer from boxing the player in. What happens though, when a game designed to steer the player along paths takes the player outside? How does a game make you feel like you are outside without really giving you freedom?

Method #2 – Convenient Detritus

If you were asked to describe what a 'city' looks like (I don't know why) you would refer to two main ingredients: buildings and roads. The walls of buildings can be used to define the limits of a game path, but roads are designed to transport people in and out of a city. And we can't have that, can we?

If the urban area in question is post-apocalyptic, or currently experiencing its own personal apocalypse, this can make the game designers work easier. In survival games such as Left for Dead and Last of Us, a well-placed, upturned bus or jack-knifed lorry can give the impression that the road continues on, but prevents the player from wandering off. Both games also use roadblocks and quarantine fencing to good effect. In addition, you can't go inside most of the rooms because the doors and windows have been nailed shut. In the Crysis games, subway trains and skyscrapers are pushed over just to prevent you from being nosey. Next time you're playing a game set within an urban perimeter, have a look round to see what debris and detritus has been used to fill the places you can travel down.

More inventive barriers are needed for towns and cities that are not afflicted by artillery strikes or waylaid by Zombies. People can make nice barriers. Usually people are soft and squishy, but in virtual realities crowds can be quite sturdy, and used as barriers. They can be used to stand in front of pretend exits or fill a seemingly large area that you can only pass through. A few weeks ago I was arguing that the game world from Remember Me would make for an interesting school trip. As I was writing I remembered (Ha, that is funny because the game is called Remember Me!) a moment where I turned a corner to see a flight of stone steps blocked by a small nest of people listening to a preacher. Nilin could walk down a few steps before the backs of the seated audience would stop her. It was a quaint moment, an interesting aside and a good excuse for a game wall; I actually found myself standing with the crowd listening to the preacher for a few seconds before remembering (Ha!) where I was.

This method of creating barriers has also been used successfully when building temporary barriers between sections of a game. Objects can be moved out of the way. Or indeed, exploded out of the way. Detritus may have moved later in the game due to your actions. Pokemon is a big fan of using rocks and trees to block progress early in the game. Eventually you will be allowed to slice your way through those trees or headbutt those rocks. But not the trees or rocks that border the edge of the game world; that way madness lies.

Method #3 – Illusion of Openness

Then we come to those games that boycott the urban environments, skipping freely into the open air. Well… skipping passed the open air at least. Games which direct the gamer through open-world settings have to do a great deal more to disguise their linear undergarments. You might think you are skipping through a thin, restricted path in an otherwise open world, but don't be silly. Look! A pretty flower!

Demon's Souls and Dark Souls pull out all the stops to give the player a sense of freedom and exploration. There are lots of branching paths and connecting areas, but these games still run on fairly narrow paths. It's never actually a problem because of the variety of ways in which the world is presented: treacherous cliff paths; rickety wooden scaffolding; crumbling castle walls; church roofs; dank sewers; narrow caverns. Furthermore, walking on a slim path in Demon's/Dark Souls is as close to blessed relief as you can get whilst playing; if the corridor opens up into a larger area you're probably about to meet a boss. Who minds walking on the little path when the alternative is being reduced to Pâté by a hammer the size of a small car?

Consider how many linear games have paths with sheer drops on one side or pass through canyons. The more rural areas/maps in the Halo series do this a lot. Usually Halo has fairly wide and open areas to pass through, sometimes with more than one path, but now and then the game world thins. This might at first sound like a criticism, but consider the impact these narrowed sections have on gameplay. Firstly, they break up the gunplay, which is usually a good thing for the player. Secondly, when the world opens up again, the contrast makes the wider combat areas seem even more expansive. Plus, if the area is set against a cliff side or raised in the air, there's always a chance that your opponents will fall/jump/get knocked off, which will never ever ever ever get old.

Final Thoughts

In any game where you have to follow a specific path, there is a real risk that the player will become overly aware of "the path" and the barriers that contain them. With the combination of striking scenery, crafty level design and (of course) quality gameplay, the player will forget that they are tightly contained within "the path". In the end, it's such a small part of any game, but it's an aspect that has often been handing proficiently.

Next week I'll move on from directed games and celebrate the ways more open worlds or free-roam environments manage to keep the player contained without detracting from the fun. Even the largest, expansive worlds have to find a limit. Before then, I'm hoping that you can think of other great ways that games keep linear worlds feeling filled-out, and contain the player without annoying them. Leave a comment below.

I could go on to make fun or criticise games that get it wrong, but that's not really me. Returning readers will hopefully know by now that, apart from the occasional cynical jab or a throw-away negative quip, I'm not one to attack games with any real venom. However, if you do have some amusing bad examples, find a particular game 'containment' irritating or disagree with anything I've said above, you should definitely comment too.

Thank You For Reading

You can contact the author @RedHeadPeak, via Wordpress or on Facebook.
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I love Quick Time Events. There, I said it. Don’t worry; I’m aware that bad QTEs exist. After all, gamers often state categorically that they “love video games” knowing full well that bad games exist. Similarly, I’m fond of Quick Time Events despite the fact that many examples are quite awful. Quite a lot of them actually…

Let’s face reality: QTEs aren’t going anywhere, whether you like them or not. We could, as a gaming community, continue to scowl angrily each time an unwelcome prompt appears on screen. Or we can embrace this game-play quirk. Rather than dismissing all QTEs, perhaps we could classify what makes a ‘Good QTE’, and ask for more of that ilk?

Today I’d like to pin down exactly what I think makes a decent QTE. I’ve got some examples that hopefully prove the point. By the end you may agree or disagree with a part of what I’ve said. You may still wish to drop QTEs into the ocean. Either way, I hope I can convince you that not all Quick Time Events are bad.

[Minor Spoilers scattered throughout]

1) A Good Quick Time Event should fit the game

Cutscenes can usually be relied on for a brief respite. Short videos between levels are a game creators way of saying “hey, you’ve killed enough things/got past the thing/played for long enough, have a break”. So whether the footage is cinematic or in-game, a cutscene allows the player to relax.

But what if the game doesn’t want you to relax? What if the game has set itself out to be a thriller or horror game? Giving the player safe moments within the game doesn’t make as much sense. Enter quick time events, stage left. Knowing that, at any moment during each cutscene, a button prompt may appear keeps the player on their toes (or at least leant forward on the coach). If the intention of the game is to retain tension at all times, periodic QTEs can really help to achieve that.

The Dead Space games are gradually shedding the horror vide within each game in favour of action, but each game still retains a chunky layer of tension. In-game cinematics are rife within each game, and the addition of quick time events keep the player paying close attention to what’s happening on screen. A prime example is a scene in Dead Space 2 where Isaac Clarke comes face to face with ‘The Tormentor’, a larger-than-your-average Necromorph, for the second time.

[Source: ThisIsYamishira]

The short cinematic involves button-mashing yourself into a vent to escape the angry bullets of an angry gunship. Once ‘safely’ at the bottom of the ventilation shaft Isaac is confronted with the even angrier Necromorph. The cutscene then throws chaser and chased down a collapsing corridor, during which the player must aim and fire Isaac’s gun at set moments to remove the Tormentor’s arms as they snatch at him.

The scene is exciting enough as a visual event. Without QTEs the player could watch the chase unfold and enjoy the moment. With the addition of QTEs the player is still in the action, and must concentrate on what is taking place. You are part of the cutscene, and the footage is more exciting because of it.

Resident Evil 4 is another horror game that uses QTEs to make sure that the player hasn’t dared place the controller down as the cutscenes pushes the story forwards. One of my personal favourites is the ‘Knife Fight’.

[Source: 9LivesRemaining]

With Quick Time Events removed, this elaborate knife duel between Leon and Krauser would still be fairly exciting. Watching the two combatants attempt to stab the other would make for good viewing. With Quick Time Events included, the player must focus on every moment of the fight in order to avoid a being sliced. You are ordered to be engrossed in the scene, and the moment is more memorable because of it. In both RE4 and DS2, Quick Time Events give the cinematic moments of each game more weight, and prevent player from relaxing in what should be a suspenseful event.

Both of these game series also employ QTEs during actual gameplay. If the player should allow their opponents to get too close, the undead opposition will do what comes naturally – grabbing the hero with the intention of finding out if human neck tastes like chicken. In that moment the player must resort to button bashing in order to protect their Adam’s apple. I really like this feature of gameplay. Whilst some players might find these moments annoying, I feel that the need to rapid-press a button in this instant mirrors the characters inner monologue: getitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoff…

Even the recent Tomb Raider instalment understands that QTEs can help to keep the pressure on the player. Sure, Tomb Raiders Quick Time Events are quite awful, but in a game where survival-against-the-odds is paramount, quick reactions to narrowly avoid death should arise now and then. If done well, those QTEs should have kept the player aware that danger is around every corner.

However, Tomb Raider made (at least) two mistakes with its QTEs (in my opinion). Firstly, they were everywhere. Each and every cinematic moment seemed full of Events; the failure of just one would restart the whole cutscene from the beginning. Secondly…

2) A Good Quick Time Event should be slightly challenging.

There is no chance to train yourself for Quick Time Events. They (should) appear sparingly within gameplay, and once they have appeared, you react once and they are gone. Whatever the nature of the QTEs within a game are, they should be easy to read and respond to. If anyone ever tells you that they managed to escape the first cave in Tomb Raider without being crushed by a rock, then they are lying or fluky. Rather than sticking with the traditional button prompt clearly appearing on the screen, instead we see a slowly shrinking at the centre of which appears a tiny clue as to what button is required. It’s not the QTE prompt you were expecting, hard to follow and difficult to time correctly. The game developers clearly knew that many people would fail these Events; painstaking effort was put into making sure each death scene was as brutal and elaborate as possible. The events are more spectacular than what happens if you survive.

Another QTE which have it difficulty set to ‘Ridiculous’ is the dog attack in the Modern Warfare games. When man’s best friend decides to be unfriendly and go for the throat, the player needs to react fast. So fast in fact, that your best chance of survival is to have pressed the button before you knew the button need to be pressed. Otherwise you’re dog food. This is especially galling when you consider that the average Modern Warfare protagonist is capable of absorbing a wave of bullets and healing at superhuman rates. Dogs are the real danger in modern wars?

This is one of the reasons why The Walking Dead manages to provide an excellent gaming experience whilst Quick Time Events make up the bulk of gameplay. Whether you are choosing a pithy line of dialogue or choose to hack a limb off, the QTEs in this game are patient with you. Furthermore, the game makes it abundantly clear just how much ample time you have to make your choice. In my view, the reactions and decisions you make within the game have more substance because they gave you the time to reply. You were put on the spot, but you still made the conscious decisions to let that person die or remove that arm…

The God of War series does QTEs properly (most of the time). Part of the reason that these Events don’t leave the majority of gamers frothing at the mouth is that they are obvious. When Kratos’ enemies are suitably pummelled senseless, a large button will appear above their heads. The player has a comfortable amount of time to steer the white-and-red rage monkey into position to deliver two or three murderous button prompts. It’s simple, effective and accompanied by a spectacularly brutal death scene for the unwilling participant. What is more, many of these QTEs don’t have to be completed. If you’d rather avoid button bashing, or you miss your chance, most enemies can be taken down with a more conventional beat-down. It creates a little bit more work for Kratos, but it’s not going to cost you that much. Which brings me to the next point…

3) A Good Quick Time Event doesn’t have to kill you.

When you don’t quite press the button or spin the analogue stick properly, Kratos is not immediately flattened. He loses some health as the enemy slaps him away, but he is able to fight on or repeat the QTE. Failing the sequence of button presses results in minor injury and the smallest loss of progress.

When most people present examples of bad Quick Time Events, they refer to those which kill you outright if you fail to button press in time. The majority of QTEs are synonymous with instant death, but they don’t have to be. Some QTEs can make harmless, pain-free additions to the game.

Consider the modest QTE that occurs in the Gears of War games, when reloading your weapon. If you want to reload your gun faster, you must tap a button at the right moment. If you fail, your only punishment is that your character fumbling with their rifle like they’ve never seen one before. Should you ignore the prompt, your character takes a little longer to reload. A harmless, miniscule QTE that doesn’t end with body parts sent to the four corners of the screen.

Another shooter that proves QTEs can be friendly is Bulletstorm. I quite like this game, if only for its silliness. Whilst most First Person Shooters agreed that they should be grey, gritty and authentic, Bulletstorm wasn’t paying attention. Presumably it was trying to see how many grenade pins it could pull out at the same time with its teeth. This game also presents us with one of the most innocent and healthy QTEs ever.

During cinematic moments in the game, ‘Critical Events’ will occur and you will be asked to turn and look at the action around you. Instead of prying control of the camera from your fingers, the game throws up a buttom prompt. Look over there, the game squeaks, there’s a cool thing with guns and explosions!  Should you press the corresponding button; the game will award you additional points. If you choose to ignore the QTE… well then you didn’t get to see the ‘Critical Event’ with all the cool stuff. You’ll live.

Final Thoughts

Probably the most important aspect of Quick Time Events is that they should be there when they are needed. If there is a singular element of gameplay or extraordinary moment in a cutscene that could not be performed using conventional actions, then a button press or button bash session can bridge the gap. Whilst I praise Bulletstorm for its use of a small, harmless QTE, its reliance on a Quick Time Events at the very start  of the game and for the final boss encounter was a little poor. It’s nowhere near as heinous as the falling QTE showcase that is the finale of Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine however. I appreciate Quick Time Events, but less is more.

Many gamers have already decided that all Quick Time Events are bad. It has been argued that QTEs ‘destroy’ games, inhibit development of new gameplay styles, or generally make the gaming world a lesser place. I would agree that many QTEs are awful examples of bad gameplay, but I also strongly believe that when implemented effectively, purposefully and sparingly, QTEs can be used to great effect.  You might disagree – I’m fairly certain many people will – but rather than demanding that Quick Time Events disappear entirely, maybe we should be asking for a higher standard.

Whether you agree/disagree partially/entirely with what I’ve written here, I’d love to read your thoughts.

Thank You For Reading

Contact the author @RedHeadPeak, WordPress and Facebook
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Two weeks ago, I argued the case for an educational visit to Rapture. Last week, I set my sites on Neo-Paris. The third video game location I have in mind would probably make for the best school trip ever.

Practically every subject is potentially covered in this game location. Not only that, but this location is absolutely spectacular; if I could choose to visit any game location, for educational reasons or not, this would be my ideal destination. As with the two previous school trip proposals, this discussion implies that any excursion should be organised before the events of the game in question; it’s just safer that way.

A School Trip to the Citadel (Mass Effect)

Even the best school trips need to be advertised to the students. During an assembly, lesson time or via a letter sent home to parents, young learners may need to be convinced to join your expedition. However, I’m almost entirely certain that when advertising for the Citadel trip, you’ll have every spot filled after the first sentence: “So, this year we’re going into space…”

In the unlikely event that students are somehow unimpressed by the notion of galactic travel, images of the Citadel itself would sway them. The site of the humongous space station (roughly 8kms by 44km!) inhabited by representatives of the major species in the galaxy, should rocket the socks from their feet. This ancient-yet-futuristic structure is also a cultural, political and social hub of the Milky Way. Of course, there is no conceivable way that your students would be able to visit the whole Citadel during their stay; whether your group visits the central ‘ring’, or one of the five attached ‘fins’, would depend on the subject of your visit.

As with Rapture and Paris (I can’t keep calling it Neo-Paris…) this spot in the Mass Effect games is ideal for a school trip even if you don’t have a particular subject in mind. Each part of the Citadel is ordained with a plethora of parks, recreational areas, entertainment facilities, shops and restaurants to keep everyone amused. There’s the daily possibility of bumping into a political or media celebrity, and the views alone are constantly inspiring. Whilst parents might worry about sending their children into space, you can assure them that there is nowhere safer in the galaxy. If any threat approaches the Citadel, the five arms of the space station will close together, safely securing the civilians inside.

The only disappointment that your students may encounter will occur when they try to ask anyone anything about the Citadel – where it comes from, how it works – because no one will be able to tell them anything. Only one species still knows the ins-and-outs, and they are keeping quiet.

Is Neo-Paris relevant to your subject?

Art: The Citadel is beautiful. Whether it’s the architecture of the Space Station or the sculptures decorating the hallways or the variety of decadent clothing styles, finding artistic inspiration is all too easy.

Business Studies: Big businesses on the biggest Space Station in the Milky Way. The chance to witness commerce on a galactic level will also look great on a young person’s C.V.

Citizenship: The major civilizations all colliding and colluding with each other within this star-bound megacity. Students will appreciate just how the laws and ideologies from across the solar systems can operate alongside one another.

Design and Technology:  We might not be able to understand how the whole thing works, but students will marvel at the layout and construction of this almighty monument to an ancient civilization. Just be careful around those Duct Rats!

History: Alongside all the spoken language, there is a planet-load of reading available on the Citadel. Whatever you want to know about any civilization, past or present, the information is stored and preserved in the Space Station. Why study the History of just one species?

Language and Literature: Every species on the Citadel seems to be speaking an Earth language. In fact, what’s apparently happening is the Omni-Tool affixed to the arm of each inhabitant is instantly translating everything. Presumably, it’s also making it appear like the speaker’s mouth parts are moving in time with the words they aren’t really speaking. Convenient plot points aside, a trip to the Citadel will open the minds of all Language and Literature students. Whilst the alien’s words are being translated, the grammar and syntax is often very different. For example, students understanding of how language works will benefit from a long conversation with the Hanar. This one enjoys seeing English being used in odd ways. If the students want to study Alien Languages, they can just turn the Omni-Tool off. Risks include accidentally insulting a Krogan.

Law: Students can visit the Citadel Council and discover how Laws and ideas are created and enforced across the civilized galaxy.

Maths: Currency Conversion and Foreign Exchange Rates are complicated enough on Earth. Let’s see how businesses, banks and whole nations trade on a larger scale.

Media: News Reporters work hard on the Citadel, interviewing politicians and celebrities with the help of a nifty hover camera. Students could accompany these journalists, watching them at work, learning the tricks of the trade, occasionally dodging an unexpected punch from an interviewee…

Science: The whole place exists because of science. It’s built within a Science Fiction world. There are hundreds of Science laboratories dotted around the station. Biology students will find fascination in the study of other species, Chemistry student minds will boggle at how different life forms are able to live, eat and breath in the same environment and Physics students will marvel at how though species actually got there. It’s all there because of science.

Final Thoughts

The Citadel is the number one game location on my list of places to visit. The educational value is a major part of that desire. The space station is an inexplicable, awe-inspiring place that the three Mass Effect games have only partially revealed, and I want to see more. If students can come with me, that’s a big bonus.

If you have your own ideas on what would make a great school trip to video game world, please give your suggestions. If you could organise/embark on a school trip to a video game location, where would you go?  Many readers have already left compelling ideas of their own in the last two weeks and you should definitely give those a read:

School Trips to Game Worlds: Where would you go?

School Trips to Game Worlds: Who fancies a Sci-Fi Croissant?

As Always, Thank You For Reading.

Contact the author @RedHeadPeak, WordPress and Facebook
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