Museum of Mechanics is a fascinating concept – a virtual hall of exhibits, featuring faithfully recreated examples of one idea (in this case, lock-picking) from games throughout history, alongside the curator’s explanation and analysis of each. The intended audience are game developers, but it’s enjoyable for anyone interested in the history of video games, and how they can approach the same idea in so many different ways. I came away from it with a renewed appreciation for the thought that goes into these seemingly minor elements of game design.
When you reached a locked door in the original Fallout, your character’s stats and abilities influenced a behind-the-scenes dice roll to determine whether you could unlock it and move past. Games such as Skyrim give you on-screen picks that must be rotated in virtual locks. And in Mass Effect, you gained access by playing a hacking mini-game (the distinction between lock-picking and hacking is something that designer Johnnemann Nordhagen is quite preoccupied with, incidentally). All of these are recreated here alongside some much more obscure approaches, such as that of cult-hit Russian plague-game Pathologic 2, or Alpha Protocol’s timed lock-tumblers. There’s a nostalgic interest here for anyone who’s been playing games for a long time – I’d forgotten about all the time I’d spent tentatively feeling out locks in fantasy worlds. Now I know exactly how that little mechanic works, and why it felt so good to use.
The museum itself is pretty rudimentary: a dark hall, with signposted identical locks pointing the way towards Nordhagen’s recreations of lock-picking mini-games. It looks and sounds basic, but the amount of effort, knowledge and understanding of the topic (and of game design and history more generally) that has gone into this mini museum is abundantly evident, from both the exhibits and the text that accompanies them. Like listening to someone talk about the PhD research they’re doing on a niche topic, it might sound boring at the outset, but by the end of an hour, you’ll come away with something you definitely didn’t know before.