Gaming Gimmicks – Lockpicking

Hello everybody! I know I haven’t exactly been regular on here, but I wanted to push out a new series of articles that I think may help me get back into the swing of reviews. Gaming gimmicks are little things that occur in games that sometimes involve mini-games, but in many cases are a simple function of a game that we’ll see repeated time and time again and often differently within different games.

I know, kinda vague, but you’ll see what I’m getting at over time. For each gaming gimmick, I’ll be describing a general overview of what it is, how it actually works (if it derives from real life), how different videogames manage it, whether it works or not in most games, how developers can use it more effectively in videogames, and what my personal thoughts on it are as far as whether it should even be used at all in videogames anymore.

I felt that lockpicking was a great way to start all this, so here we go. What is lockpicking, exactly? Well, to explain that, I have to explain how a standard lock works. Have you ever wondered why a standard house key is flat on one end and grooved with teeth on the other? The flat end holds down a pressure plate inside the lock and the teeth press up the tumblers into their correct spots, allowing you to turn and open the lock.

The diagram above should give you a better idea of what I mean. It’s not always referred to as tumblers either, but you get the idea. How this applies for lockpicking is you take one pick that is simply long and flat to keep the lock open and the pressure plate pressed. You take another pick or possibly multiple other picks to slow work the tumblers into place until you’re able to successfully turn the lock and open it.

Really, I make it sound easy, but keep in mind you can’t actually SEE any of this as you’re doing it, so you have to feel your way. Also keep in mind that you’re working with millimeters here, so you also have to be delicate and dexterous. The basic idea is simple, but the actual act of doing so requires a lot of practice, finesse, and a little luck.

And yes, there will always be weaker locks that can be opened by other methods (credit cards, fragments from soda cans, etc.), but the more traditional method is establishing a couple of picks in order to press down the pressure plate and work the tumblers until click, success! Also keep in mind that this is more from an educational angle and I’m not trying to encourage people to actually go and do it, unless you intend to from a locksmith angle.

How this applies in a videogame can range from simple to complex…to strange. In some cases it’s purely stat based, such as in the Quest for Glory games. All you do is go up to a lock, use your picks on it, and hope for the best. If your stats are high enough, you’ll either get it outright or get it after a couple of attempts. If they’re not high enough, the game may or may not notify you, but you’ll probably break a number of picks in the process.

The problem here is that, while simple, there is absolutely no skill involved and really isn’t that interesting as a result. Of course, having to do it EVERY OTHER MINUTE in a game is equally annoying, so there is that. I’m looking at you, Skyrim. But it also depends on the reason why. Now, not a whole lot of gamers consider “why,” so let me explain this more from a developer angle.

Imagine that a developer is someone who sets up a ride, let’s say a rollercoaster. Why is a rollercoaster fun? Most people don’t think about “why” it’s fun, but a developer HAS to. That’s their very livelihood. Sure, it would be simple enough to make games that he or she thinks is fun, but the game is for an audience, not just him or her.

With lockpicking in games, a developer has to determine if it even needs to be there at all. Why should the gamer have to pick this door? Why not just have a key for them to find somewhere instead? Why not have it where, at the end of a big fight, it just blows open, more enemies flood the room, you fight them, then move on?

Why not have it where it’s just a door that’s there to look pretty and little else, meaning it never opens? These are all possibilities outside of lockpicking for managing doors within a given game. When the developer decides on going through with lockpicking, then they have to decide how exactly they’re going to implement it and how often the player is going to have to deal with it.

With Skyrim, for example, I UNDERSTAND why they felt the need to have so many locked chests and doors and so on, because you need to level up your lockpicking skill. However, that doesn’t make it any less annoying. Equally annoying is when it’s in a game where it really doesn’t matter and isn’t in there enough to justify its existence.

Earlier, when I said “strange” for lockpicking, what I meant was there are games that have you pick doors with bizarre methods such as magic or weird puzzles or whatever. These aren’t necessarily bad, but it’s often just that the deveoper didn’t want to have a traditional lockpicking system and instead wanted something he or she considered to be more interesting.

And sometimes it is. Othertimes…it’s just weird. So what do I think? Well, I think lockpicking minigames, for the most part, are pretty fun. I don’t think it belongs in ALL games, but for more adventurey type games or RPGs, yeah, it’s still pretty fun. I don’t think it necessarily needs to go away, but I think developers need to be smarter about it.

The best example I can come up with for it being done WRONG is Sleeping Dogs. See, Sleeping Dogs is an otherwise GREAT game, but the sheer amount of lockpicking you’re forced to do in the game is ludicrous and the payoff is very little. There’s the type of lockpicking I mentioned earlier for certain doors, but also a new twist on the stethoscope and combination lock method with digital technology.

The second method is often used to unlock footlockers you find in the game, but…well, here’s the problem. I don’t mind using lockpicking to unlock stuff that you would normally not have access to or for stealth purposes. These, I feel, are the correct uses for lockpicking within a game.

However, for most footlockers, you already have to fight a group of enemies, then you have to go through this lockpicking minigame to open the footlocker. Why? You already made me fight a group of enemies…was that not enough? This is what I mean by asking why a gimmick even exists within a game.

It’s done to the point that it no longer becomes fun, just something to artificially slow down the game unnecessarily. The same thing happens in the middle of a mission. You save some girls, then have to unlock a door. Why? You’re not stealth at this point. Why not just bash down the door? Why not go out the window? Why does it involve lockpicking at all?

Of course, I could say the same thing about the karaoke segments…

Sleeping Dogs is otherwise a great game that I find very little fault in, but these segments, I felt, were completely unnecessary and did nothing but slow the game down for no reason. So again, lockpicking is a great gimmick, if used wisely. Otherwise, it’s just a way to put up a wall for a gamer to have to get over and in some cases, for very little reason at all.

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Filed under Gaming Gimmicks, Videogames

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