Probably the most classic way to restrict players, especially in older games, would be invisible walls. God were they annoying! You got used to them after a while but it just felt very unnatural to be able to see farther but not able to go there. Old games simply did not have the processing power to be able to allow players to explore vast areas like we can today. But even in modern gaming we find a variety of barriers to keep us within the playing field.
One of the ways games keep us within the boundaries is by killing us! Such as when we leave an area, a message pops up warning us that we are leaving the “battlefield” and if we do not turn back we are terminated. Battlefield 1942, Farcry 2, and Halo 3 are some examples of this boundary. I found this most frustrating in Farcry 2 when I would drive a vehicle “out of bounds” and when I spawned again, no more car. At least some games give us the courtesy of a countdown, but then that takes away from the effect of immersing yourself into a game. We now suddenly feel like the game developer is trying to physically push us back into the game and it can break the flow of the game. Fallout 3 would be a variant of this boundary still giving us a warning that we are leaving the area, but instead of killing us it simply does not let us go further.
A lot of linear games do a pretty good job of guiding us through a game, even when boundaries are apparent. It could be a first person shooter trying to get through a burning building. There are many obvious boundaries that a game designer could place to guide us through the building such as FIRE (duh). Other games like Uncharted can have a thick forest on the edges of a path to let us know “Hey, it’s probably better to stay on the path, k?” There may be more annoying things like waist high fences that you could easily jump over but aren’t allowed to but at least there is a visual clue that tells you where your boundaries are.
Some sandbox games have boundaries that work out beautifully without breaking immersion. inFAMOUS does this naturally, because it makes sense within the game’s story. The game takes place on an island with the only bridge out being completely barricaded by the government. So what’s keeping you from swimming away? If Cole tries to go into any water he immediately dies. But this is not a random way for the game to keep you in bounds like GTA 3 (why can’t he swim! GRR!). Maybe it’s the fact that your superpower is electricity… wow ok that actually makes sense! Prototype’s way is a bit sillier. When you jump in the water he simply jumps back out, ignoring your control. Well ok, at least you don’t die.
Probably the worst recent example of a boundary that I can think of is Bionic Commando. The boundary they use is radiation. Ok makes sense, radiation kills you. It doesn’t sound so bad until you play the game. The radiation clouds are obviously put in specific places so that you cannot go there. But most annoying is the amount of time you have to get out of a radiated area. Sure if you walk into an area you see the radiation symbol pop up and turn around. But this is Bionic Commando. You mainly use your bionic arm to swing from place to place, pretty fast I might add, and if you mistakenly swing into a radiated area you die, IMMEDATELY. I have never had a more frustrating experience with boundaries in any game EVER. Even the placement of some radiation simply astounds me. I can go around the bottom of this building, but I can’t climb to the top of it!? I was on the top of that building, I figured I could get a better angle on the bad guys from this one… OMG I just died again! I seriously feel that I would have had a much better time playing that game if the radiation boundaries didn’t kill me every 20 seconds!
Boundaries in games still seem to be a challenge for some game developers. Could there ever be a perfect way to go about it? Do you know any games in which their boundaries never got in your way? Or how about some of the most frustrating boundaries you have encountered. Please share!