Museum of Mechanics is a fascinating concept – a virtual hall of exhibits, featuring faithfully recreated examples of an idea (in this case, lock picking) from games throughout history, as well as the explanation and analysis of each by the curator. The intended audience is game developers, but it’s nice 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 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 if you could unlock it and walk past it. Games such as Skyrim give you on-screen selections that need to be turned into virtual locks. And in Mass Effect, you gained access by playing a hacking mini-game (the distinction between lockpicking and hacking is something designer Johnnemann Nordhagen is quite concerned about, by the way). All of those elements are recreated here alongside much more obscure approaches, such as that from cult Russian plague game Pathologic 2, or Alpha Protocol’s timed lock cups. There’s a nostalgic interest here for anyone who’s been playing games for a long time – I’d forgotten all the time I’d spent fumbling around in fantasy worlds. Now I know exactly how this little mechanic works and why it was so fun to use.
The museum itself is fairly rudimentary: a dark room, with identical locks signposted pointing the way to Nordhagen’s recreations of lock picking mini-games. It sounds and sounds basic, but the amount of effort, knowledge and understanding of the subject matter (and of game design and history more generally) that has gone into this mini-museum is abundantly evident, at the both in the exhibits and in the accompanying text. Like listening to someone talk about the doctoral research they’re doing on a niche topic, it might sound boring at first, but after an hour you’ll come away with something you definitely didn’t know before.