Level Design: Player Gating

Gating of the player is as old as videogames. In Space Invaders, you were gated by having to clear ALL space invaders to progress, then later, gating went to traversal in games like Pitfall and Prince of Persia. “Gating” the player, is the mechanisms designers use to control how a game is unlocked, usually for character progression and difficulty reasons.

Some games gate in very old-school ways; Devil May Cry for instance, it uses visual RED DEMON BARRIERS to stop the player moving on, where the key to drop the barrier, is to kill all the creatures. Other games use a lock/key mechanism (get specific item to unlock a specific barrier) etc. It’s not bad to gate the player in these ways, in fact some players like very simple, clear obstacles to overcome, but we should be presenting different forms of gating to the player, less visible and or obvious.

CRACKDOWN used the player’s enhanced physical abilities as a gating mechanism; you had to progress your character to a certain level, so you could jump the gap or leap up to the ledge to get to the BOSS, who in turn was the KEY to UNLOCKING a section of the game. This form of gating is much less visible to the player, making it feel more open. Adding to this, players could develop their physical skills by completing sub-tasks (agility courses scattered throughout the city) or sniping from high positions (the target could be anyone, so the player wasn’t tied down a specific path or place).

As games and technology develop, we can start gating players emotionally (induced AI state), verbally (voice recognition & mic), visually (pc & console cameras) or physically (motion sensors). The Wii controller is a good example of a means to gate the player physically. You could base gates on the speed and precision of the player’s actual movement to shatter or break a barrier. You could also measure their delicate; slight of movement to walk over, or shift something extremely fragile in the environment…the possibilities are endless.

Gating players could come from mere observations, and I’m not talking about watching an enemy patrol a set path. I mean listening to an NPC’s voice, seeing their body language and eye movement to plan your next moves or reactions. It’s just another way to telegraph information to the player.

Other ways to gate a player could be via co-operation (necessity on more than one human participant). WoW creates extremely hard missions known as RAIDS where multiple players are needed to complete a task. The Splinter Cell multiplayer modes supposedly use a whole host of interesting forms of co-operative play (I’ve never played them though, so I can’t comment).

This has been a spur of the moment post, written on the fly, but I’d like to expand on this area more in the future, plus my wife is nagging me to come off the computer J


About Haydn Dalton

Creative Lead 30 Years Developing Games

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