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Why Do We Still Have Exploding Barrels...?

The Following is an In-depth Study into the History of Exploding Barrels in the Games Industry

...or just some words on a page that vaguely make sense! ;o

So why do we still have exploding barrels in videogames?


Anybody know how exploding barrels found their way into videogames?

I mean, I get some stuff about games and why they became a big part of gaming culture like games like Contra being inspired by 80's action movies (and their heroes) and Sonic and Mario being created the way they were because of the technical limitations of the time and the need to have memorable and recognisable mascots for your game (and hardware.)

But why exploding barrels?

It's not like I want to get rid of them or anything, I just find them to be one of those done to death tropes that end up in videogames; when a developer can't think of an innovative gameplay mechanic or something original to fit in a space they just stick exploding barrels there for some reason.

I remember exploding barrels in Doom as a kid, and kind of thinking they were useful but never really wondering whether they made sense in the game (seriously, it was Doom) but we're almost two decades on and having grown up a lot in the interceding years (atleast physically) I kind of wonder why exploding barrels still exist as a thing in games. Not just a thing in some games, but SO MANY games.

I mean they're in Half-Life 1 + 2, Left 4 Dead, Doom 3, Mass Effect, Resident Evil 4, Duke Nukem 3D, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, Alan Wake, Commandos, Uncharted and even LA Noire! And having exploding barrels in some of those games doesn't even make sense. I guess the only consolation I have is that David Cage forgot to put them in Heavy Rain, he did forget, right...? Right?!

So why do exploding barrels figure in all these games? Can it really be that in every case the developer thought:

hey, you know what would fit in our game? EXPLODING BARRELS!'

Is it laziness and just about reusing commons tropes or do they put exploding barrels in in part because they think they really add something to the game and help show off the graphics? Is there the Hollywood factor of 'action = explosions' at work?

If I had to hazard a guess I'd probably say it's somewhere inbetween, maybe leaning towards the latter a little. More often than not with games graphics can be just as important as story, especially so if a game can make a good leap forward technologically. Now, obviously, character design people's faces, animation quality, etc, are important, but the really impressive stuff is the sort of things that you take for granted as just being part of real-life in real-life that are extra work for a game's engine the ambient environment and special effects - the water, the shadows, the fire, the explosions. Granted good effects alone won't blow anybody's mind, but having opportunities to show off those explosion effects that might not ever see the light of day otherwise (unless those dudes you have to shoot happen to be made of TNT) is always an added plus!

Probably a little too overly simplistic an analysis but it's a factor in the mix.

Also, often in games you're meant to be the kickass hero, the guy/girl who can kill hundreds without even breaking a sweat, so most of the time you're up against hordes of enemies, usually with a weapon powerful enough to eat away at them but not powerful enough to make it a five second fight (otherwise it'd be no fun.)

But naturally having lots of enemies onscreen and only one protagonist means you potentially have another problem 'well, what if the player gets bored shooting guys over and over again to clear a room?'

Developers don't really want you to be sat there for an hour 'pew pewing!' at rows of baddies, so they offer you a shortcut (a not so subtle helping hand via environment design) by placing a few barrels strategically just next to where all the bad guys decide to take cover (...oddly enough, negating the whole point of taking cover in the first place! :D)

It's not great, but it's one of those simple things that add some sort of variety to the endless series' of battles a lot of modern games amount to.

That said, it is becoming a 'tad' cliche.

(Kind of understating it there.)

Once upon a time exploding barrels probably did make sense, hey, in Doom they kinda do (atleast as much sense as green haired zombies carrying toys-r-us guns and half-demon half-cyborgs armed with rocket launchers do) but in today's games they don't, atleast nowhere near as much as they used to when games were mostly simple arcadey titles where you ran around shooting stuff in the face or jumping over it.

Gaming today has become much more about realism not just in terms of graphics but also in terms of gameplay we expect people to move around like people, with physics like people have in real life, and to act like people, to a large extent. Ofcourse, in some respects we allow a certain degree of laxity in this regard if it helps a game play better (when was the last time your real health fell below 100, huh?) but bit by bit gaming has become more realistic, with a greater degree of fidelity to the real world and because of that we're more critical when unrealism rears it's head.

'Unrealism' probably isn't the best word for it, it sounds kind of awkward, but it gets to the nub of it without being too flowery.

Ofcourse, this isn't to say there's no room for unrealism in games, infact a lot of games stress their unrealism like Serious Sam, or the Mario or Sonic games. Those games have their own internalised world that makes sense within the context of the game, and if exploding barrels makes sense inside that world then I have no problem with that. I just don't think seeing exploding barrels all over the place in most games makes much sense, because it just seems like a 'me too' thing most of the time where developers put it in to fill a space but never really think about whether or not it makes sense, mostly because everybody else puts exploding barrels all over the shop.

Soo... I guess until developers start putting a little more thought into what does and doesn't go into games, I'm stuck with this:

And this:

Oh and this:

I guess there's always Deus Ex: Human Revolution, that's an intelligent, well-thought out game, there
can't be any ba....


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About Panzadolphin56one of us since 9:54 AM on 05.06.2011

Oh hey!

I'm former male model and celebrity nutritionist Panzadolphin56. This is my blog. I write things here.

...in case the blog bit didn't give that away.

Anyway! To the left you'll find my latest blogs, and beneath this you'll find a fairly comprehensive list of most of what I've written over the years (unfortunately some stuff does eventually get bumped off the list.)

I like to write from a fairly critical standpoint about games, usually analysis or talking about issues that interest me, I also do retrospectives from time to time, talk about games I've been playing, write the funny things that come into my head, and very occasionally do some crappy art.

I hope you enjoy what you read!

I also do Lets Plays (mostly old horror games) so if that's your thing then click here:


Everyone who clicks will not win a million dollars!


A little about me:

I am mostly a story person, good mechanics are good mechanics but button pressing never does anything for me. I like Horror, I like Cyberpunk, I like Neo-Noir (especially crossed with Cyberpunk), I like good art and good writing, I like games that cut against the grain or choose to challenge social or industry norms in some way.

I don't have a single favourite game but I am a big fan of the MGS games, Snatcher, the Forbidden Siren series, Silent Hill 2, the old-school Resident Evils, Advance Wars and Power Dolls, among many, many others.


Critical Pieces:

How ugly should Horror really be?
Of Inventories and Horror Games
Crafting A Good Game of 'The Thing'
Alien(s), Creative license and Borrowed Ideas
Crossing from TV/Movie to Games
Scope and Depth in the world of gaming
Boss Battles - When do they ever make sense?
Survival Horror Essentials
Colonial Marines: Well, that kind of sucked...
Disability, Disease in Games
Blood 2 and Post-Modernism
Topics, Tropes and Atmosphere in Horror games
Realism Vs. Fantasy - Who Wins?
The gradual drift away from the mainstream
Is There Horror in The Ugly...?
The Fourth Wall and taking games seriously
Are You Always Online?
Hype: Aliens Vs. Predator
To shoot stuff or not to shoot stuff?
Character Design and Choice in Games
Culture Vs. Creativity: Where do Stories come from?
Where you go Isometric-Strategy Games?
What's the Point of Games?
Do Horror games even still exist...?
Why are Characters Always so White...?
Choice in Games: Heavy Rain

A Magical Dolphin Plays:

The King of the Wood


Resident Evil Remake
Aliens Vs Predator 2
Sweet Home
Forbidden Siren
System Shock 2

Pick up and Plays:

Call of Cthulhu and the Spectre of Good Horror
Story Books and Nightmares in Rule of Rose
B-Movie Bliss: Extermination
Along for the ride with Michigan: Report From Hell
Some thoughts on Wargame: European Escalation
Skyrim: Impressions

Funny/Less Critical Stuff:

Get Yo Summer Game On
Lazyblog: Box Art
Escaping into the Darkness of Hellnight
Diversity what what?!?: Black Mamba Edition
Why Do We Still Have Exploding Barrels...?


Dead Space 3, in a nut shell.
CROSSOVER: Mario X Siren
Boss: Learning the Tools of the Trade

Front Pages:
Tales from Skyrim: The skinhead shopkeep
Steam ID:Panzadolphin56
Mii code:This is a thing?


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