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scifista42

When and why did games abandon using vivid colored keys?

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Back in the 90s, a lot of games and particularly FPSs used vivid colored locked doors opened by vivid colored keys to bridge progression through maps. I thought the model was clearly understandable and fun. Nowadays, you find them in logic games at best. In majority of games, keys have either vanished, or turned into boring inventory items, lacking an immediately clear purpose or visual distinction. When and why did this happen? I want vivid keys back.

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I think the "why" part is obvious: colored keys are too arcade-like, so developers think that they don't belong in serious, often realistic environments they're trying to create.

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I'm pretty sure the new shadow warrior had them, and to be honest, it doesn't really bother me that there not in many games nowadays I just don't see the thrill in opening a door with a key.

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Let's say that Doom skull keys have some mineral merit for being blue, yellow and red, but the similarly coloured key cards look just garish and sometimes kill the immersion with their ordinary style.

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When did 'vivid' keys disappear?

Were they ever popular? The only games I remember out of hand which had them are Doom, Heretic and Descent.
Even Hexen and Strife gave them names and looks based on their use, not some color-based symbolism.

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I suppose they were lost as part of general game aesthetics turning to a "gritty realism" look.

Seriously, where you'd expect to find such keys? In games such as CoD? Besides, they'd look ridiculous with all that bloom, HDR and motion blur effects on top of them.

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Graf Zahl said:

Were they ever popular? The only games I remember out of hand which had them are Doom, Heretic and Descent.

And Wolfenstein3D, ROTT, Quake, Duke3D, and don't forget all the Wolf/Doom clones. (well OK, not all of them were as vivid as Red Yellow Blue, but they still were)

Right, the abovementioned "arcade x realism" argument makes sense and seems obvious, thanks for the replies.

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The first Duke Nukem (also known as Duke Nukum) has red, blue, green, and purple keys. Duke 3D also has red, blue, and yellow access cards.

Many games went with metals instead of color, like Wolf 3D or Hocus Pocus which have silver keys and gold keys.

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Bright colored keys aren't realistic enough (because we all know just how amazingly realistic Call of Duty is.) People want to feel like they're in the movies not some campy 90s video game.

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A lot of modern games have no need for colour coded keys because having more than one locked door in a single level is too complicated.

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AirRaid said:

A lot of modern games have no need for colour coded keys because having more than one locked door in a single level is too complicated.



Linear games do not need keys because there's only one direction to go, it makes no sense to lock it.

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It's not just about keys. Color coding and other ways of clearly communicating important things to the player have taken a backseat to more realistic and gritty presentation, which is often detrimental to the functionality of the graphics/environment. It's a problem I seem to encounter more and more in modern games.

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I always thought, that it would have been so much nicer, had they made the color-orientation at least more discretely represented. For example, instead of those colored bars along the door frames; there could perhaps be a small computer screen on the door-texture itself, that indicated which key was required.

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Key puzzles provide great opportunities to create multi-directional flow and non-linear level design. Enclosed areas that can be entered after finding the key change the focus from "reach the level exit" to "discover a new area inside the level", which is much more rewarding and interesting.

Newer games abandoned that because the designers often changed the focus from gameplay to "cinematic experience".

You can still have that kind of non-linear level design without using coloured keys. Passwords, objects (e.g. a battery to power up some mechanism) and little quests from NPCs can also have the same function of a locked door/keycard. But often the designers aren't creative enough.

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Tetzlaff said:

Newer games abandoned that because the designers often changed the focus from gameplay to "cinematic experience".


Not only that, but they probably figured that a lot of time and effort was being put into these secret parts of the game that the average player today will never get to experience, because its too hard for them to find.

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Maybe Brutal Doom is another side of the same phenomenon:

Many people who play FPS games want to see blood'n'gore, the more, the better, and anything that requires them to use their brain is counterproductive to satisfying their lower instincts.

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Kontra Kommando said:

Not only that, but they probably figured that a lot of time and effort was being put into these secret parts of the game that the average player today will never get to experience, because its too hard for them to find.


Maybe that's also true, but I wasn't talking about secret areas. I was talking about locked areas that need to be opened with a key and are required to progress in the game. Like your typical locked door / coloured key setup in classic Doom.

These locked areas divide the level space into multiple areas and as a level designer you can create multiple paths to travel between those areas. More than one path between locked door and corresponding key, so you can for example take route A, and after you found the key, you can take route B to travel back to the corresponding door.

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Tetzlaff said:

These locked areas divide the level space into multiple areas and as a level designer you can create multiple paths to travel between those areas. More than one path between locked door and corresponding key, so you can for example take route A, and after you found the key, you can take route B to travel back to the corresponding door.


I agree. I also like it when there are areas that are not necessarily required to complete the level, but are there to at least obtain a powerful weapon, or some other incentive. For example, I only need red, and blue, to complete the level. But the yellow key will allow me to find a BFG.

That way it seems more rewarding for the player who takes the time to look, and more difficult for the player that wants to rush through.

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Tetzlaff said:

Maybe that's also true, but I wasn't talking about secret areas. I was talking about locked areas that need to be opened with a key and are required to progress in the game. Like your typical locked door / coloured key setup in classic Doom.


The only modern game I can think of that uses such a classic Doom-like area lockout/division of a level into sections, is none other than Doom 3.

I really can't imagine the same mechanism applying to any of the 100s of CoD clones out there. About only thing in common they have with Doom is that they are in first person view.

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Somewhere around Halo-ish, I'm willing to say. But then again, that would be talking about abandoning keys altogether.

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Doom 3 got rid of important color keys. They only gave us the pickup sound of Classic days when we picked up the ACO card to access the Administration level. It's like they stabbed us in the heart sometimes. Even Quake 4? What the hell? I'm supposed to walk through all the green doors and absolutely never the red ones unless I push a button but most of the time they are absolutely inactive?

QUAKE 4 HAD ABSOLUTELY NO KEYS

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GeckoYamori said:

It's not just about keys. Color coding and other ways of clearly communicating important things to the player have taken a backseat to more realistic and gritty presentation, which is often detrimental to the functionality of the graphics/environment. It's a problem I seem to encounter more and more in modern games.



So very true.

Do you remember when games had ambushes, secrets and Easter eggs amongst other things which an alert player could discover and be rewarded for their attention to detail. Nowadays many games are counter-intuitive and punish you for doing anything other than reacting to Quick time events.

(Ps I loved Fallout New vegas!)

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MFG38 said:

Somewhere around Halo-ish.


Lots of people like to blame Call of Duty for being the downfall of integrity for FPS, but I would say it started with Halo. I've always hated that shitty game. Granted, I did have some fun when i played it on multi-player at my friend's house. But the story, and aesthetics, are garbage.

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A lot of modern games don't even have vivid environments, especially the AAA ones..

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Kontra Kommando said:

but I would say it started with Halo.


No, it started with Half-Life. That was the first one I can remember which sacrificed well playable levels for a linearly told story with little deviations along the road.

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