Exploding barrels. A divisive game mechanic that are either viewed as a method of conserving ammo or a lazy inclusion to most if not all shooters. Game designer Arcade feels they are an expected cliche and serve a valuable purpose in his current game, Bulletstorm, though he and the rest of People Can Fly tried to do something a bit different and found that going against the grain only leaves you with splinters. Over at the developers blog (via Kotaku), Arcade comments on how exploding barrels are easily understandable, you shoot them and they explode. But it turns out that’s got more to do with their colour than anything else: “We made a stab at trying something different, instead of going with the cliché. In the beginning we had green barrels, but people didn’t get it right away. They got completely ignored by the players and no one guessed or assumed that they were explosive. Why not? Because they weren’t red.” It seems that along with the idea that shooting a barrel will cause anyone near by to take a permanent nap, they have to be red in order for players to recognise their destructive qualities. The shape is another important feature with a simple cylinder being a bit too simple.
Now Arcade and People Can Fly are happy with the final design (seen above) but I can’t but wonder if using a model that doesn’t scream “shoot me and I go bang” would have worked in a different way. Sure some players may ignore them and with the amount of action happening on screen in Bulletstorm, having a familiar look to the barrels helps with singling them out but giving them a different skin would make gamers rethink their need. For example, if you’re the type of shooter fan that relies on exploding barrels to make it through a level, having them no so obvious could have opened up the playing field, especially since Bulletstorm is all about varying your kills for maximum points. And if you prefer to experiment with a game’s surroundings, the discovery that these green cylinders result in an almighty explosion would be a pleasing one. But then again, People Can Fly are the experts here and certainly red barrels haven’t hindered the performance of other top shooters. It’s cool to see a developer at least trying to fight the stereotypes of gaming even if they do settle on an established format.