Inaccessible Areas

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Parts of game worlds that players can perceive but cannot enter.

Games are typically set in some world but it is either for gameplay purposes or production purposes seldom worthwhile to let players actually be able to visit all parts of the worlds even if it would be thematically plausible. When players are made aware of parts of the game worlds that they cannot currently, or ever, visit, this makes those parts into Inaccessible Areas. Although inaccessible, it may be possible to affect these areas in ways e.g. by shooting or throwing things into it, and the area may not be inaccessible to other types of game elements that are not under player control or under the control of other players. It may also be possible for the player to enter the area later in the game, e.g. by finding the key to the locked door, and this can be done to structure gameplay. Related to this, game designers may wish to keep certain parts of game worlds as Inaccessible Areas so that players can have surprises or other experiences planned according to some planned storyline.


The area in the middle of Pac-Man levels where ghosts appear are examples of Inaccessible Areas since Pac-Man cannot enter it.

Both Adventure and Computer-based Roleplaying Games use Inaccessible Areas to guide the players through the Game World in a manner intended by the game designers. For example, The Legend of Zelda series contains many areas that are initially blocked by boulders, locked doors, or other obstacles. The player can remove these obstacles after having acquired certain items or abilities, for example, by using bombs to blow away blocking boulders and special keys to open the locked doors. The Super Mario series has similar structures, but mainly restricts access to areas depending on how many stars have been collected or if one has specific keys. Dragon Age II in contrast opens up areas as its story unfolds, and some of these areas (especially those linked to specific quests) are only temporarily accessible.

Many games include Inaccessible Areas in the form of backdrops that can be seen but cannot be visited. Examples of games having this include Another World, Viewtiful Joe, Oblivion (but not its predecessor Morrowind), and the Doom, Crysis, Gran Turismo, and Tomb Raider series.

Using the pattern

There are two typical uses of Inaccessible Areas: those surrounding places to ensure that all gameplay activities take place within this area and those hindering Movement from or into specific parts with within the areas where gameplay activities take place. A special case is making Inaccessible Areas between different lanes to make the use of these lanes necessary in games or Levels with Laning. While Game Boards and Levels can be both surrounded and populated with Inaccessible Areas, they are also a way to create Inaccessible Areas since gameplay can easily be constructed so that one cannot reach certain Levels before meeting some specific requirements that result in an Access Reward (this requirement is most often completing a goal in the previous Level). The same goes for Transport Routes, they can have small pockets of Inaccessible Areas in them but can also be used to create the Transport Routes in what would otherwise be a large area with free Movement. Private Game Spaces are similar to Game Boards or Levels in regards to Inaccessible Areas but here the requirement for other players to enter is typically that have been confirmed as friends to the owning player.

While Inaccessible Areas within gameplay areas hinder Movement they do not have to hinder other types of action. Engaging in Dialogues or Combat are two examples, and Inaccessible Areas allowing the latter can be used to create Sniper Locations. Another, which is appropriate if players can later get access to the Inaccessible Areas, is simply to let players view what is in them. This can provide Traverse goals when this reveals things that are useful for gameplay, e.g. Resource Locations.

A problem with both types of Inaccessible Areas is how to make players aware of the them while at the same time providing plausible explanations why they cannot be entered. Inserting Inaccessible Areas into gameplay areas can readily be achieved through Obstacles, Traps, or Diegetically Tangible Game Items since the Inaccessible Areas simply are the spaces filled, or possibly surrounded, by these diegetic elements. Moveable Tiles can as Obstacles also create Inaccessible Areas but come with built-in ways of making the accessible - moving them. They can also be used as ways of providing access routes to areas that are inaccessible due to other reasons. Obstacles can also be used to enclose the entire gameplay area but may need Cutscenes to make players aware of what is on the other side of the Obstacles - and the players may need to be reminded of this through more Cutscenes. Invisible Walls, as for example for in certain levels of Super Mario Sunshine, can remove the need for Cutscenes but run a far greater risk of breaking Thematic Consistency.

A design choice regarding Inaccessible Areas is if they should be inaccessible permanently throughout game instances or temporarily due to receiving Access Rewards or simply gameplay events occurring. Although maybe frustrating for players, Big Dumb Objects can quite readily be used as permanently Inaccessible Areas since they can be so far away that is will not break Thematic Consistency that the players cannot enter them. The most basic way of controlling access to normally Inaccessible Areas is probably through Conditional Passageways, that can be unlocked through the use of the Switches, more advanced Controllers, or having the proper Tools. While Diegetically Tangible Game Items and Traps can be used to create Inaccessible Areas they can also make other Inaccessible Areas only temporarily so. Diegetically Tangible Game Items can also allow Construction of ways past or into the Inaccessible Areas while Traps can seem to affect whole areas that thereby create Inaccessible Areas while in reality safe passages exist. One dynamic way of creating temporarily Inaccessible Areas is to let Enemies create Conditional Passageways by controlling Choke Points, e.g. those present in Galleries. Sniper Locations and Strongholds held by Enemies can do the same but here the denial is done through control over an larger area - in the case of Strongholds it may be the Stronghold itself. An option more associated with Predetermined Story Structures is to only open up the areas when Quests are active - Instances is an interesting example here since they are inaccessible until created and then only accessible to those that created them. Letting players with specific Vehicles that provide Privileged Movement is another temporary way of letting them visit Inaccessible Areas. For example, if water is used to block areas in a strategy game, it might follow that boat Units can enter the water areas but other Units cannot. This is also an example how applying Privileged Movement on Inaccessible Areas for certain game elements can provide Orthogonal Differentiation. This kind of unit design may also be used to create Safe Havens.

Inaccessible Areas may be the initial location of the game elements but may be inaccessible after one has left them. This use of One-Way Travel is typically used in first-person shooters with Teams - here Spawn Points are placed so that players Spawning cannot be attacked directly at that location and thereby creating Safe Havens. Spawning may also be used to try and give the appearance of entities emerging from Inaccessible Areas into areas where gameplay occurs - this can help provide an Illusion of Open Space in games.

Making initially Inaccessible Areas possible to enter after players have completed goals or demonstrated competences in performing necessary actions is one way to try and create Smooth Learning Curves.

Diegetic Aspects

The primary diegetic design choice when creating Inaccessible Areas is to decide what is blocking the access. One of the most obvious uses is to place Obstacles in the Game Worlds in such way that they block access to an area. Invisible Walls and windows (which functionally are the former) do not block vision but can block all the access from other game elements. Depending on the nature of the Obstacles, actions other than movement can affected by the inaccessibility of the areas, e.g. deep chasms and great height differences can block direct Line of Sight but can still allow players to shoot or throw game elements. Locked or blocked doors, found for example in the Doom and Zork series, block both vision and other types of game elements. Inaccessible Areas may also be inaccessible due to their own nature, most commonly so when they are created by Environmental Effects. For example, areas containing lava, water, or poisonous atmospheres can make it impossible or difficult for Avatars and Units to enter them.

When for some reason the gameplay or storytelling would benefit from letting players know more details about Inaccessible Areas, Cutscenes can provide a controlled way of providing this.

Narrative Aspects

Inaccessible Areas can be used to control the development of narration in games, both through Environmental Storytelling and more traditional presentations of Predetermined Story Structures. Patterns such as Quests and Instances can be used to modulate when the areas are accessible and when they are not.


One main use of Inaccessible Areas is to make Game Boards, Game Worlds, and Levels that are limited in size have an Illusion of Open Space, thereby trying to maintain a Diegetic Consistency. This is however a volatile solution since if the reason for the areas inaccessibility do not also fit thematically the pattern breaks Thematic Consistency. This assumes Inaccessible Areas that surround the area where gameplay takes place; if the gameplay area instead surrounds the Inaccessible Areas they are examples of Environmental Effects. Regardless, Inaccessible Areas restrict players Freedom of Choice by imposing Movement Limitations on players and affect how players can conduct Movement to enact Game World Navigation.

As discussed above, Inaccessible Areas do not ever have to be gameplay areas but simply provide players with an illusion that Game Boards, Game Worlds, or Levels are larger than they are. Those that can be reached through opening Conditional Passageways give rise to Traverse goals, especially in cases players are motivated due to Obstacles blocking the access clearly indicates the possibility for later gaining access to the areas. When Inaccessible Areas are created by Enemies, this gives rise to Eliminate goals. Used in these fashions, gaining access to areas can be used to maintain and unfold Predetermined Story Structures. Inaccessible Areas can, however, also cause player frustration, especially in cases where it seems like a player can later access an area even though that's not the case. For example, having a locked door in an adventure game where there is no possibility for getting the right key will frustrate most players.

Vehicles can be difficult to combine with Inaccessible Areas - at least if trying to maintain Thematic Consistency - since they typically offer more efficient ways of travel and potentially in other mediums. However, having some players be able to enter what is Inaccessible Areas to others due to having Privileged Movement that allows them to ignore Environmental Effects is a way to provide Orthogonal Differentiation and Varied Gameplay. Any Inaccessible Area that can be reached by some and cannot be reached by others are Safe Havens for the first group, and are likely to be Strategic Locations as well.


Can Instantiate

Diegetic Consistency, Environmental Effects, Illusion of Open Space, Movement Limitations, Predetermined Story Structures, Sniper Locations, Strategic Locations, Transport Routes, Traverse

with Enemies


with Privileged Movement

Safe Havens

Can Modulate

Dialogues, Environmental Storytelling, Freedom of Choice, Game Boards, Game World Navigation, Game Worlds, Laning, Levels, Movement, Smooth Learning Curves, Transport Routes

Can Be Instantiated By

Big Dumb Objects, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Game Boards, Instances, Invisible Walls, Levels, Moveable Tiles, Obstacles, Private Game Spaces, Traps

Enemies together with Sniper Locations or Strongholds

Can Be Modulated By

Access Rewards, Conditional Passageways, Cutscenes, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Moveable Tiles, One-Way Travel, Privileged Movement, Quests, Resource Locations, Spawning, Traps, Vehicles

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Thematic Consistency, Vehicles


An updated version of the pattern Inaccessible Areas that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.