Invisible Walls

What do you think of invisible walls in games?

I think they get a bad rap.

World Collision data is, by necessity, separate from visible models, except in the case of BSPs. So something visible doesn’t necessarily have or not have collision unless some guy steps in and adds it. So in any game you play, you can make this mental separation between what you see and what the collision area necessarily is. As you feel around objects and the environment more you can build a model of what the real collision data is.

Realistically games need to keep you within a certain area. They can only have so much ground to stand on. They can only have so much content, so many enemies, spread so thin. They can’t go on forever. So they need to constrain you. However if games are just constrained to their play area, then they’d look really dull. So games use invisible walls or tiny insurmountable walls to show you scenery far outside the play area.

If the player is not constrained to the play area then they may end up infinitely far from the play area and not be able to get back to it. They may end up falling into the void beneath the world. They may end up stuck on unfinished geometry.

Invisible walls get a bad rap because people don’t like gamey abstractions that don’t have any type of in-universe justification. If you don’t have them then people can frequently find ways out of the play area. They are the second line of defense after visible walls from players falling outside the play area. While common players lament invisible walls, they also do not want to actually fall into an endless void and get stuck or die. Players secretly know why the game is that way (because it’s not really a portal into a micro-reality, it’s just a bunch of models assembled to look like things in response to actions people programmed), but they do not want to acknowledge that.

From TVtropes
“One of the most outlandish is in The Legend of Zelda Oracle games, where you can walk past trees in winter, but in any other month their hanging leaves form an impassable barrier. The newer games in the series tend to avert this to a greater degree; for example, starting from Ocarina of Time, bushes and pots can be destroyed from the start- using weapons or just bare hands. No Power Glove required.”

It works the way it works. It doesn’t really matter if it’s logical, it only matters that it works, that it’s consistent and understandable. Simple as that. Devs want to come up with a lame excuse, who cares? Mother 3 had an invisible wall in the form of tiny ants that the text box said you don’t want to go past for fear of stepping on them. No one’s gonna complain about that because it’s mildly charming and original even if it’s an excuse to block your way all the same.


2 thoughts on “Invisible Walls

  1. Gilgamesh310 November 1, 2016 / 11:32 am

    Serious Sam handles this in an annoying way. Instead of having invisible walls, it’s designed in a way that if you move past a certain point in some levels, outside of the play area, you’ll get harmed and then killed if you don’t turn back. An uber badass than can kill thousands of monsters, of all shapes and sizes, can be killed by the force of nothing at all.


  2. Finkle November 2, 2016 / 10:49 pm

    I think it’s important to also acknowledge that invisible walls can affect gameplay and aren’t purely aesthetic though. The only time I’ve ever been upset by this stuff is in fallout new vegas and some total overhaul mods for it that poorly map the environment, leading to moments where attempting to move during combat, flee enemies, or avoid radiation gets the player killed when they get stuck on a wall. It’s not very prominently telegraphed and creates inconsistency with other patches of blank space in the environment that are easily passable, although it’s not impossible to predict given that in my experiences it generally appears over geometry like those gray rocks or on the sides hills/slopes. Exploration is somewhat of a focus in Fallout: New Vegas, and as you mention in the article, a part of most games is exploring the environment to learn the actual bounding, but mandating the player progress over every possible point in space before being able to reliably move in the environment is tedious. Being able to rely on visual cues to predict how you are allowed to maneuver and position yourself is a common aspect of many games. It’s because they violate a usually consistent part of the mechanics that they anger some people.


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