Bizarre occurrences have been spotted in video game land. Mulder and Scully were called in, but all they could do was stare into middle distance with concerned eyes. The FBI had run out of ideas. It was time to call in the big guns. In a plume of exhaust and scattered dust a yellow ferrari screams over the horizon, the door opens and heavy cowboy boots crush a wandering scorpion. Ludo is on the case…
Bright smudges indicate the enemy presence. The commando adjusts the infra-red headset. Peering through the skylight, he cautiously traces the guards’ movements. He considers his options. A smoke grenade and a swift descent would get the job done, but there would be a minute of confused and frenetic violence, a stray bullet could take one of his team out. Too great a risk. Better get it done quietly.
A sharp order is hissed into a cackling headset. The team move to the edge of the roof and rig up their harnesses. Another moment and they’ve disappeared over the edge. No sound is heard. In grey urban camo their ghostlike figured descend, bristling and heavy with weaponry. They take up their positions. Silenced pistols are cocked and loaded, targets are tagged.
Two blunt hydrogen coughs puncture the night.
The team completes their descent. They unhook and find cover. The street is open and dangerous, but the objective is less than a hundred metres away. The militants have set up a barricade further down the road, but there is a way around. In well rehearsed formation the team jumps from cover to cover and advances towards a door on the side of the street.
“What’s the matter soldier?”
The commando stands confused.
“Sir … I can’t open it.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Get it open right now, we’re exposed!”
The illusion dissipates like a crowd of disappointed Birmingham City supporters, leaving a very grumpy Ludo in its wake. I hammer the button repeatedly and resist the urge to snap the Xbox 360 controller in two. I turn to my co-op compatriot to ask him a polite question. For the benefit of younger readers I have rephrased certain aspects of what I said, but it went something like this:
“Why the Darwin can’t I open this jolly door?”
“Oh,” he says, “it’s a low-res door.”
The low resolution door. A formless blurry rectangular thing that half heartedly suggests a door, but in fact is just inanimate scenery occupying a space where a door should probably be. It’s one of many mechanics used to constrict gamers’ movements in game worlds. It’s a technique that’s used so commonly that it often passes by unnoticed to experienced players. We’ve just come to accept these incidences. That blurry texture is developer’s shorthand for “sorry, we didn’t make this bit”.
Unfortunately this means that my highly trained heavily armoured crack commando super-soldiers have a weakness for doors that fall below a certain level of visual fidelity. Something about the blurry contours of these not-doors confounds them so completely that all they can do is stare dumbly while militants pepper the area with high calibre machine gun fire. This is perhaps less severe than the fact that they struggle just as much with low barriers, say, a bench, or a low broken wall. Only some walls mind you. Occasionally you can hop over an obstacle with a context sensitive push of the A button but these occasions seem to happen only according on a whim, whenever it suits the level design.
This is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2, a game that, when summarised, reads more like a chemical formula than a military stealth action title, but nevertheless provides some of the most exciting co-operative action available in gaming today, so I’m not going to attack it for suffering from low-res door syndrome because a) it’s not alone, and b) this kind of trickery is required for the game to exist. Not every game is going to be a completely formed open world environment, in a game like R6V2 that would be a waste of time, because the tactical murder-killing is the real focus. The difficulty stems from its glaring indication of the fact that you’re in a fake and created fantasy environment.
However, it’s important to note here that there is sometimes confusion between immersiveness and realism, when in fact the two are quite unrelated. Realism is impossible in a world of health bars, HUDs and low-res doors, and what’s more it’s not in the least bit desirable. If I actually wanted to know what it was like to get shot then I would go and very loudly burgle an American household – but I don’t – because if there’s anything Saving Private Ryan has taught me, it’s that getting shot is a bad thing. And I don’t want to stalk around in real military gear because in reality that stuff is really heavy and I’d just get tired. So instead R6V2 gives us a kind of nonsensical hyper-realism, which distills the reality into an embodiment of the perceived cool of being an actual member of Rainbow.
To put it more bluntly – In a world where I am a badass commando, the occasional low-res door is no big deal.
So I’m prepared to forgive these necessary oddities of design, especially as in recent times developers have become more and more inventive with their restrictions. In the Chernobyl section of Call of Duty 4, wandering out of the set area leads you into a pocket of radiation, which promptly kills you. The borders of Halo 3‘s multiplayer maps have minefields and other devices that dish out the ultimate punishment for daring to try and escape the prescribed game world area.
The Curse of the Low-res door can occur anywhere and take on many forms, so be wary. In the future you’ll know what’s going on when you encounter stacks of furniture piled up against a doorway, or a mysteriously collapsed corridor in otherwise structurally sound building. You’ll know what to think when you fly out of the mission area in a flight sim and the plane banks 180 degrees all by itself.
It’s not a case for Mulder and Scully, just another design habit keeping you boxed in to a prescribed playing environment. Just remember that it’s no bad thing, as that’s where all the good stuff happens.