"Don't go here yet." or Extremely Blatant Roadblocks

Jellicoe

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While playing Octopath Traveler, I quickly noticed these signs that just appear in the pathway and cause the PC to think "I shouldn't go this way right now" (or something to that effect). Before playing the game, I had thought that would be bad design, but I actually just laughed at it and basically forgot about it in play. I think I actually like it the more I think about it. There's still plenty of dungeons for the player to explore in this open world game, and I don't think there's any treasure hidden in these blocked off dungeons that's "required" or heavily wanted that you can't get an equivalent somewhere else.

In a strictly linear game I could see it being bad, and I think I'd prefer an in-game reason for it of some kind. But it also doesn't feel out of place, since the characters are part of it by acknowledging they don't want to go there. What are your thoughts? What are your thoughts on how to implement roadblocks?
I think “I don’t want to go there” roadblocks is good. Because it “expands” the game while allowing you to do less work. For example it’s realistically impossible to make a huge world where you can just go everywhere. However you can imply the rest of the world is there and thereby giving you the mental illusion there is more to the world.
 

kirbwarrior

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Most of my own design is simply cave entrances appearing as needed (they don't exist before being needed), paths being cleared as needed (it isn't obvious it's meant to be a path you can traverse until the moment it is cleared), and whole new locations just appearing as necessary (a cave layout changes to show you a new path... a new house goes up in town... etcetera).
I'm not certain I'd go this far, but you can do it in a similar way by setting things up beforehand; Many jrpgs have houses you can't enter and make it obvious which you can, so then making a house "unlock" is an easy way to hide something in plain sight.

On the other hand, Chrono Trigger does this in a neat way that I think could be expanded upon. In one map, the screen just doesn't scroll to show you the path continues on. This can be explained as either the characters are unaware of it, the path effectively wasn't there yet (some has to clear the brush for example), or they just didn't want to go that way and thus never show the player it exists yet.

I think “I don’t want to go there” roadblocks is good.
I love the concept, but I think it works better for games where there's a clear character the player is controlling as opposed to a character that is the player (for instance, sandbox rpgs like Skyrim where the character's personality is whatever the player wants).
 

TheoAllen

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I'm pretty much neutral about it. I don't hate it, I also don't particularly like it either. Most of the time I'm just like "whatever". As long as I know there is something I need/could do in the current area, it's fine. What is not fine is I have no idea how to unlock the area.

A bridge collapsed and the guard told you to wait for a little longer. Who would think that helped a random NPC to kill 5 slimes will fix the bride? that doesn't make sense.
 

Tai_MT

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It depends on how you implement it. It depends on what you use as the triggers for it. A Quest to "clear out a cave" would make the cave appear, but it would be on a return trip through the area. It wouldn't happen after you just left the area. You would leave the area, do some more main storyline, maybe move to the next area... then there's a Quest that says there's a cave that needs clearing and where to find it. So, you come back, you find out that there's a new cave. Maybe there's some lore associated with why it's just now showing up.

It depends on how you handle things. How much time the player perceives has passed between events.

It absolutely does not work in the same instances that the "Roadblocks" normally work. As in, you pass by the road block, do the minor quest thing they want you to do, then come back and it's suddenly open. It wouldn't work in such an instance as it's literally doing the same thing as just having the immersion breaking road block to begin with. However, if you never realized there was a path there, you did some more Questing, a few main story things, and came back into the area... and someone tells you there's a path? It works. Especially if given a modicum of explanation for where the new path comes from.

One of my games uses a different method for it and simply has the world map as "abstracted". You go on a Quest, it tells you the "area", you select it, and sometimes you get a menu of locations to visit from that area. Likewise, it's also abstracted in that sometimes years have passed from the time you first visited a location and you've come back to it (it's a game that takes place in about a 30 year span or so, with the player engaging in large chunks of that time).

I simply prefer the "immersion" to the absolutely silly, "Yeah, it's blocked off until you hit the Main Story trigger to unlock it for you". It feels arbitrary and unnecessary. It feels artificial in a way that you're trying to keep me from breaking your game because you didn't have the foresight to predict a player could break it if you didn't include the roadblock.

Some of the most interesting things I've seen games do is let me go where I want... and then respond when I've "done things out of order". Like, for example, the Deus Ex games. Games that acknowledge you did things "out of order" and you're rewarded for pushing through a challenge despite obviously not being up to doing it.

I simply prefer games that don't obviously road block me, and let me go anywhere I can see. Games that don't tease my sense of exploration. I really hate that, "sigh, I guess I have to come back here later... there's no reason to explore anything right now, since I'll be coming back in like an hour anyway" idiocy of map design. It's something even Pokémon has engaged in with the last 6 games or so. It discourages any exploration by telling you that you'll be back later anyway, so explore later, once the entire path has opened up for you.

It's just not fun.

The only exception to this that I enjoy is a "Metroidvania", but it has to be designed well. That is to say, almost every "roadblock" in the game isn't a main path. It leads to some sort of minor upgrade that you can choose to ignore or choose to pickup later. Each "roadblock" is simply unimportant and is just a means to tell you, "Hey, come back later when you've got X Power". Likewise, these locations offer a small challenge in some way. I like those sorts of Road Blocks. They reward me for remembering the locations exist, reward me by challenging my skill when I find them, and give me a minor inconsequential reward that I can skip if I really don't care.
 

Aoi Ninami

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The only exception to this that I enjoy is a "Metroidvania", but it has to be designed well. That is to say, almost every "roadblock" in the game isn't a main path. It leads to some sort of minor upgrade that you can choose to ignore or choose to pickup later. Each "roadblock" is simply unimportant and is just a means to tell you, "Hey, come back later when you've got X Power". Likewise, these locations offer a small challenge in some way. I like those sorts of Road Blocks. They reward me for remembering the locations exist, reward me by challenging my skill when I find them, and give me a minor inconsequential reward that I can skip if I really don't care.
That's really not how Metroidvanias work. They absolutely do put roadblocks on the main path, forcing you to explore to find the upgrade needed to get past those roadblocks. In Hollow Knight, for example, there's a turning at the beginning with a "Main path this way" sign, but there's a monster blocking it that can't be killed until you get an upgrade. Then there's a roadblock where you need the dash, then one where you need the wall-jump....
 

Tai_MT

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That's really not how Metroidvanias work. They absolutely do put roadblocks on the main path, forcing you to explore to find the upgrade needed to get past those roadblocks. In Hollow Knight, for example, there's a turning at the beginning with a "Main path this way" sign, but there's a monster blocking it that can't be killed until you get an upgrade. Then there's a roadblock where you need the dash, then one where you need the wall-jump....
I've played some of Hollow Knight and didn't really enjoy it's "Metroidvania" aspects. Frankly, I found its world design to be frustrating in the way I described above.

But, games like "Cave Story" do it better... Or even... well... The Metroid games. Super Metroid funnels you down paths without really roadblocking anything. Most of these locations have a few ways through them, even without the proper "upgrade". The "extra path" in these locations serves as the "tutorial" for using the upgrade you just got. There are many paths blocked early on by the Speed Booster, but it's hard to know that right away. You're funneled down a path to get the Speed Booster and then go back through all those paths you had to skip on the way back out. You then recognize every "long stretch of even ground" as a place to use the Speed Booster afterwards.

Hollow Knight, on the other hand, just roadblocks you and doesn't bother "funneling" you anywhere. I actually got lost for over an hour in the early game trying to figure out where to go. Turns out, I had to go to "Green Path" and finish it out. I wandered through "Green Path" and into the Jellyfish land for quite a ways before the game just Roadblocked me. I then tried to use my map to see where I was meant to go, and couldn't figure it out. I eventually just pulled up a screenshot map and went, "Oh, I need to go to this area and then jump up right here to keep moving". It isn't a very good "Metroidvania". It's clear that the highlight of the game is the combat system, which is immensely fun. But, the exploration and Metroidvania aspects are... well... designed pretty badly in my opinion.

The best "Metroidvania" games funnel you into the main path you're meant to take without roadblocking you. You return through any "Roadblocks" you might see as either Tutorial Sections or as branching paths for minor upgrades (health upgrades, disposable weapon upgrades, etcetera). The "Main Path" to get the upgrades necessary is often pretty linear and flows easily from one room/hallway to the next. Deviations from this path are exploration to pick up "sidegrades" and not your "main upgrades".

In my opinion, these are the best designed "Metroidvanias". Ones in which the roadblocks exist as simply a means of keeping you from minor upgrades that are entirely optional. The level design itself funnels you down the main path you're meant to take with very little backtracking.

But, to be honest, I don't play a ton of Metroidvanias simply because they follow the "Hollow Knight" level design philosophy of being as obtuse as possible and hiding the "main route" you're meant to take behind a ton of backtracking and busywork. The main route of these games should be the thing players are taking naturally. It should be fairly obvious that they're on a "side route".

I'll probably finish "Hollow Knight" at some point. I do quite enjoy the combat and Lore. But, the level design is just atrocious and makes me not want to play it without a screenshot map. There's very little magic or intrigue in the "exploring" of games designed that way. It's a chore to even find the right path you're meant to go down. I just don't like that. I don't like the Roadblocks.

I prefer my Metroidvanias more like Super Metroid and Cave Story than like Hollow Knight.
 

gstv87

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Epic Battle Fantasy 4 is laden with interactive objects that require a "key" item to be used (torches that require a candle to light up, bushes that require an axe to chop through, boulders that have to be hammered down, etc)
these objects are part of the scenery all around the game, and are introduced early on as interactive objects, so when they appear *as* roadblocks the player usually overlooks them because they already know a key is required to interact with them, and don't usually mind them blocking the path to what could potentially be a new area.
deep down, the game is strictly linear, because the keys are acquired by completing the current area, but having *the next area* not always straight ahead gives the player the chance to go back and try something else somewhere else before advancing the plot.

and then there's the Need For Speed Underground way of blocking areas, with a big forcefield on the middle of nowhere, that blocks the path of a race car going at 200kmh down the speedway.
......yeah..... *WHAM!*.
 

Basileus

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Aside from Snorlax and Sudowoodo in Pokemon, the other things this immediately brings to mind for me is the beginning of Final Fantasy I and Dragon Quest 1.

FFI started you out in a limited area with a broken bridge to the rest of the continent. Go and rescue Princess Sara from Garland so the king will fix it and you can proceed. Simple. I never was bothered by finding ways to cross the river somewhere else or wondering why they didn't just swim because I was given an immediate goal that took priority.

DQ1 is the reason I am, to this day, afraid to cross bridges in video games. You fight slimes around the castle, level up a few times, and soon you are strong enough to beat the slimes in 1 hit. You explore and you get a little cocky. Then you cross a bridge to see what's on the other side. Turns out death was on the other side. Suddenly looking for things to do on this side of the river seems like a fantastic idea. When the story actually directs you to go somewhere across a river you learn real fast to prepare well before making that trip.

I'm fine with either method. Just don't place invisible walls. If you have to leave a wide open area and refuse to let me walk through it, at least have my characters give a good reason.
 

SweetMeltyLove

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The worse I've encountered were in Pokemon Black 2

Old man in an underground tunnel: "I'm cleaning here. Come back later" (and he just stays there staring at me)
Group of men blocking my path: "Why are we here? Who knows?" they say
Dude standing in front of a cave: "You can't go here"

Yeah ok nice job guys

And I just have to guess when they're supposed to be gone. I came back to the old man in the tunnel 3 times
 

kirbwarrior

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FFI started you out in a limited area with a broken bridge to the rest of the continent.
Dude standing in front of a cave: "You can't go here"
These both remind me of Golden Sun, one with it's numerous broken bridges, two with "I'd like to let you through, but I can't, so you should just turn back".
 

Lornsteyn

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I try to avoid this, and prefer things like broken bridges, military checkpoints or other natural things to block the player from locations he should not visit at this time of the story.
 

kirbwarrior

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military checkpoints
That's a great idea for something that can be easily explained as blocked or not, especially when part of the plot is political issues or tyrannical control.
 

professorbeej

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I actually like the “I don’t think we have time for that, maybe later” roadblock because it makes me really curious about what’s in there and want to push through until I can come back.

I’m also the kind of player who gets super frustrated at lost gametime, so if I accidentally wander into a too-high level and get my head handed to me and lose progression because I haven’t saved in a bit, it puts a bad taste in my mouth, and I become resentful of the game.
 

kirbwarrior

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because I haven’t saved in a bit
I've always been super careful about saving consistently and on multiple saves due to old rpgs, but I'm also glad for everyone's sake that auto-saving exists now.

Aside from Snorlax and Sudowoodo in Pokemon
I really liked that, at least in earlier gens. It's a blatant roadblock but it's also "Ooh, I'm excited for that new pokemon!".
 

LycanDiva

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I like for roadblocks to have a logical explanation. For instance, in the beginning of the practice game I'm working on, the party starts out in a forest. After the opening cutscene and battle happen and the third member of the team joins the party, the player can explore the woods and head north to the monastery. However, the path just a few tiles before the southern exit is blocked by an event where the third party member, who is supposedly leading the way through the woods, points out that that's the wrong way and the player is pushed back two steps. The event is deactivated by a switch that turns on after they meet with the monastery's leader.

I'm not fond of roadblocks that feel artificial and arbitrary, like the ones that appear in the last two generations of Pokemon. I mean, in X/Y, there is literally a path that's blocked to you just because there are two random NPC's standing there talking! The trial gates in the latest games make even less sense. I mean, how are people supposed to get around these islands when every other major roadway is blocked by a trial gate?!

So, yes, roadblocks should be implemented in a way that makes sense in the situation and the world, but also be constructed in such a way that they don't feel lazy and unnecessary to the player.
 

Diretooth

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I try to avoid blatant roadblocks if I can, and if I do use them, I will always try to play it for humor. That being said, in my opinion, the best roadblocks are the ones that you could conceivably overcome fairly early, and for those ones, I would give the player an immediate reward that serves as a 'you overcame X challenge, here is your reward'. While the player wouldn't find anything immediately interesting, maybe some early-game dialogue or access to specific quests that would later on in the game be a form of backtracking, they could still conceivably explore for a bit without being wombo comboed.
That being said, I have used a very blatant roadblock in one game several times, and there is an important plot reason for this roadblock, it's blatant for a good reason. In this, blatant roadblocks can be useful, if it's created by the big bad, it shows they're not just sitting around with their thumb up their butt, they're actively hindering the party.


Though, I am suddenly reminded of Alone in the Dark 5, where a very blatant and annoying one comes up. To access the final game area, you need to have destroyed several 'Roots of Evil', which up to that point, you're not really given any real reason to go out of your way to deal with. Being unable to progress because you ignored what looked like an optional thing is not only blatant, but unforgivable,
 

Fring Frang

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Interesting discussion! I definitely agree that some sort of narrative sense for the roadblock makes it easier to accept.

Coming back to the original post, I think humour could be leaned on more strongly for roadblocks, if the tone of your game allows for it. One of my favourite moments from Thirty Flights of Loving is a roadblock gag that made me lose it (see below). A single stair was glitching/moving up and down. Pretty funny and worked well in the context of the surreal world.

Something I'm trying to do in my current project is have roadblocks be based on knowledge. For example, if you arrive at a beach, that's it, it's a single area to explore. But, once the player gains the knowledge that there is a trail in the woods nearby, a section of the woods in the background becomes clickable, and a new area opens up. So it's been there the entire time, really, even the forest graphic was there, but not interactive until the player character learns the relevant information via NPC dialogue.

 

somenick

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Having entrances suddently appear and new locations coming out of nowhere (or with new paths through them) sounds like the most "playing a video game" thing I can possibly imagine. The local councils and building crews in your games must be really efficient if they get stuff that takes months if not years done overnight. :p The only way I can see that sort of thing feeling natural would be in something like a game set in a dream. Whatever floats your boat I guess.
Well it could also be used as a comedic relief. Have three NPCs claim they are builders and that no one builds faster than them :) 'Lightning Construction, Inc.' or something :p
 

Diretooth

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Coming back to the original post, I think humour could be leaned on more strongly for roadblocks, if the tone of your game allows for it. One of my favourite moments from Thirty Flights of Loving is a roadblock gag that made me lose it (see below). A single stair was glitching/moving up and down. Pretty funny and worked well in the context of the surreal world.
This is something known as 'lampshade hanging', pointing out the obvious mechanic in an effort to maintain some degree of willing suspension of disbelief. This is a useful tool, if used correctly. A character can comment on something weird and then ultimately dismiss it, and if done well, the player can go on with their life without worrying too much about it.
However, this can be overused, and if you continually comment on the oddities of the game world, it can cause immersion to be broken, which can cause the player to be less invested in the game, because even it notes it's a video game. Unless you're going for an out-and-out parody, or a deconstruction of a story, theme, or genre, only occasional lampshading is advisable.
That being said, it can be a useful tool, @somenick gave an example of lampshade hanging that, while it does point out the oddity and pokes some fun at it, ultimately, it works within the context of the game. Similarly, having a character who is familiar with games or stories can point out how a situation is similar to something they heard/read/played. This can open things up so you can either play something straight, subvert it, or even outright avert it just to keep the player on their toes.
 

kaukusaki

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I have obvious roadblocks and the player has means to remove them and explore. Of course they might get chased out by some beast or demon lord because they're underleveled at the moment but the player can return and try it again.
... And get heckled by the demon lord (oh you're back now eh? Ready to get slapped again? Mwahaha)
 

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