I recently finished playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one of many games in recent years that might be aptly described as “excellent, but with occasional, baffling lapses into mind-numbingly awful stupidity.” Anyway, as I was sneaking through bases picking off henchmen one by one, it occurred to me that if I were a villain in a video game I could do a way better job keeping people like Adam Jensen out of my immoral science experiments and illegal weapons warehouses.
So, without further ado, here’s my guide to warehouse design and management for video game villains.
Point 1: Take out all the stuff to hide behind
I understand that it’s tempting to decorate your secret munitions warehouse or chemical plant, especially when it’s located somewhere extremely remote (as it often is). It’s the little touches that can make a place feel like home when you’re stuck there for weeks brewing batch after batch of toxic nerve gas (or whatever). But trust me, those thick marble columns and ornate oak handrails aren’t helping you.
Some Player is just going to sneak in and hide behind them. Probably, your henchmen will never even see him because he’s inevitably got some kind of cloaking device that works for a couple seconds, allowing him to move between cover unnoticed. But even if your boys see him, he’s got a nice thick piece of cover to hide behind and, let’s face it, a Player with cover is going to wipe out all but the most resilient henchmen.
So when you’re designing your warehouse, forget about all the trappings. Go with something like this. Sure it’s boring, but it’s well lit, and more importantly, unless the Player has a battery for his cloaking device that lasts more than a few seconds (a battery that lasts more than a few seconds? Ridiculous!), he’s not going to be able to sneak through here, and there’s no cover for him to gracefully dive behind. Give him this room, and he is well and truly fucked.
Point 2: No giant air vents
We all know the importance of getting fresh air circulating, and we also know that it can get hot as balls in a weapons plant hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest if you don’t have central air. But keep air vents to a minimum, and if you have to have them, do not make them big enough for people to crawl around in. If a human can fit into your air vents, you can be sure sooner or later a Player is going to use them to crawl right into your office and shoot you in the fucking face.
Point 3: Email discipline
Working on a secret doomsday project/unethical genetic experiment/Hitler clone farm can be really exciting! And of course, your workers — and perhaps you yourself — are going to be tempted to share that excitement with others. That’s fine, but don’t use email to do it.
When you use email to discuss secret plans, all that does is make it easier for a Player to figure out what you’re really up to. I don’t care if your system is password-protected, encrypted, or covered in firewalls. He’s gonna burn through your “security” with some stupid connect-the-dots minigame, and then he’s gonna be all up in your shit reading about your secret plans because you left him little notes in everyone’s email accounts.
Similarly, tell your IT guys not to email people their passwords, or other people’s passwords. The Player is probably going to get through your security either way, but there’s no need to hand him a free password every time he runs into a computer. It’s just sloppy.
Point 4: Cameras and lasers
Securing your warehouse with security cameras and lasers is, let’s face it, pretty awesome. And when you’ve connected those cameras to remote explosives or murder robots, that’s even more awesome. Good for you!
Just remember that while it looks really cool to have lights on the camera showing where it’s watching, or to have a tangled grid of bright red lasers, all that stuff does is show the Player where the cameras aren’t watching, and where the lasers aren’t. If you’re not careful they’ll use that to sneak right through your building and confront you without setting off a single alarm.
Of course, no one camera can cover every spot at all times. That’s why I’m a fan of multiple cameras that cover a room from every possible angle. This might sound expensive, but really, if you followed my advice from step 1, you’ve got a big open room and all you need to do is put a camera in each of the four corners with a nice wide-angle lens. There: you’re covered and you should be able to see almost all of the room even if the Player somehow manages to hack your systems and turn off a couple cameras.
Similarly, do not have lasers that turn on and off on a timer, that can be crawled under, or that can be tricked with mirrors or other objects that might be lying around. If you can afford it, have a laser every inch or so, and keep them constantly on. Sure, it’s going to raise your electricity bills, but that’s the price of peace of mind, and anyway, when your project is complete you’re going to have billions/control the world/destroy the world so the bills don’t really matter anyway.
Point 5: Training seminars
Good help can be hard to find. And if you’re slated to appear in the first half of a game, good help is probably going to be impossible to find. But whatever henchmen you end up with, you can drastically improve their ability to protect your project if you have a quick training session to drill home these simple rules:
- Never split up.
- If one of your squad mates dies, someone is there. If you search for a few minutes and can’t find the Player, it doesn’t matter. He is still there. Therefore, you should not turn off the alarm or go back to regular patrols.
- Vary patrol routes so there’s no chance of a well-timed sneak.
- When you know someone is there, do look for them by don’t scream at them constantly. It alerts the Player to where you are and it serves no purpose. (Lookin’ at you, Splinter Cell: Conviction baddies)
- Take a second to aim instead of spraying bullets wildly. As they say, a bullet in the brain is worth three embedded in the ground where the Player was a few seconds ago.
Point 6: Bosses/Monsters/Giant Robots
At some point in the depths of your facility, you’re going to want to have something giant and impossible for the Player to fight. Ideally, you want this to be so difficult that he just gives up and goes home, but even if you can’t achieve that, there are a few things you can do to keep your boys in the game for longer.
First of all, weak spots. Every boss has them, whether it’s your roided-out top henchman or that giant murderbot you built. As everyone knows, it’s impossible to build a boss without weak spots, but don’t paint a target on your back by making them super obvious. For example, when you’re designing the robot, consider: should I make the weak spot a big red glowing area on the robot’s chest? What are the pros and cons? Ultimately, you’ll realize that the best place for a weak spot is inside five inches of solid titanium plating and the best color for it is whatever the color of the rest of the robot is.
If your boss is a human, reconsider if you have the budget. Giant death robots don’t come cheap, but demons and mutants can often be had for excellent weekly or monthly rates if you spend the time to hunt for bargains. But if you really can’t afford anything scarier than a human, at least give him a helmet. A human boss with a bare head is just asking to be shot in the face.
Additionally, be careful that your boss, whatever it is, can’t be turned against you. Remember when Darth Vader threw the Emperor off that bridge in Return of the Jedi? You don’t want that to be you, so give your boss henchmen no reason to dislike you. Pay human bosses well, feed monster bosses steak, and for god’s sake make your giant robot boss unhackable, or at least don’t put a computer terminal that connects to it right in the room where the Player has to fight it.
Point 7: Self-destruct sequences
Probably, the Player is going to make it through your warehouse and confront you anyway. Depending on how important you are to the plot, you may be killed, but if you do have a chance to escape you’ll probably be jumping into a rocket/escape pod/boat/helicopter and setting off a self-destruct sequence. A few tips:
- Do not have a countdown timer. If you do, set the time for zero seconds and detonate once you’re safely away.
- If you must have a timer, do not have a loud countdown announcing how much time is left. If you’ve already decided to blow up the building, chances are you don’t want anyone getting out, so don’t give them a loud, obvious warning that that’s about to happen.
- Do not have the controls for this self-destruct sequence in your office, or in the same room as the boss fight, or wherever the inevitable final confrontation is going to take place. Put them somewhere inconspicuous (maybe under the sink in the janitors’ bathroom), and don’t mark them.
- Consider alternative self-destruct methods. When you set off explosives, that often just blows the Player out the window in a dramatic cutscene, leaving them unscathed and making them look badass for surviving a cool explosion. Instead, consider invisible deadly gasses, liquid nitrogen pouring from the sprinklers, electrified floors (and walls and ceilings), or just plain old fires!
It’s that simple!
Follow these rules and…well, let’s face it, you’ll probably still end up dead. But you’ll live longer and if you’re really careful, the Player may break the controller and ragequit before your inevitably-scripted demise. Good luck!