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Museum of Mechanics: Lockpicking showcasing the lockpicking system from Thief 4. Screenshot: Dim Bulb Games

An unusual new PC game this week features more than two dozen recreations of other games’ approaches to virtual lockpicking.

Driving the news: Museum of Mechanics: Lockpicking, which can be completed in about 30 minutes, lets players move through a virtual museum where each exhibit is a playable lockpicking system.

  • Some parts, recreated from such games as Splinter Cell and Risen 2, require players to fiddle with a lockpick to manipulate a tumbler.
  • Others are more abstract. For example: the lockpicking in 2007’s Mass Effect, which plays more like a circular game of Frogger.

What they’re saying: The interactive museum was created first and foremost to help game developers, its lead creator Johnnemann Nordhagen tells Axios in an interview.

  • "Something like this could help someone, maybe sometime in the future," he says.
  • Nordhagen says developers working on familiar concepts often want to check how older games handled those concepts first.
  • But doing so requires hunting for YouTube videos of the right moments or playing stacks of games. That is time-consuming and makes comparisons difficult.

Between the lines: Nordhagen conceived the game in mid-2020 as he was doing contract work on a story-driven game and found himself wishing there was an easy way to check how older games implemented interactive dialogue.

  • He saw a games journalist float the idea of an interactive museum showcasing various games’ implementation of fishing.
  • He was inspired and decided to make some sort of playable museum in his spare time.
  • "I chose lock picking," he says. "It seemed like there were only a few games that did it." (He’d soon discover he was wrong.)

Making the game with a small team has turned Nordhagen into an unofficial video game lockpicking expert.

  • He can cite trends, like how game designers gradually switched from lockpicking systems geared toward mouse and keyboard controls to ones made for controllers.
  • He has inferred designer intent, noticing that the simple lockpicking mini-game in the classic Thief adds tension by keeping the player exposed and still in a game in which you want to be hidden or on the move.
  • The toughest lockpicking system he’s found may be from 1980s computer game Hillsfar, which involves matching key shapes while racing a fast timer.

A more personal goal: Nordhagen says he is trying to be more relaxed about this game's release, paying less attention to immediate sales and reviews after years of hard work. 

  • "With any game launch, it's unavoidable to sort of have part of yourself bound up in it, and to take it personally to an extent," he said.
  • His previous indie release, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, struggled, but even if it had been a huge success, Nordhagen says, he wanted to change his approach.
  • He wanted to detach his ego from the project, or at least see if that was possible. "Is it possible to sort of divorce myself from my work in a way that shelters me a little bit more?"

What’s next: After toiling as an indie developer for several years, Nordhagen is returning to big budget game development with a job at Ubisoft.

  • He’s unsure if he’ll be permitted to continue adding lockpicks, but he hopes others will make museums of their own or even expand his game.
  • He’s released the source code on Github so other designers can have at it.

Go deeper

The NFL has an extraordinary grip on America’s media diet

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NFL has had a banner season in terms of ratings and engagement, thanks in large part to the return of fans to stadiums, a slew of suspenseful games and of course, some off-field drama.

Why it matters: The 2021 viewership spike has quieted concerns regarding 2020's COVID-related decline, while also justifying the $100+ billion in media deals the league signed with its partners in March.

Momentum builds to ban lawmakers from trading stocks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some progressive Democrats and MAGA Republicans are uniting on a proposal to ban sitting lawmakers from trading individual stocks, although it's unlikely that leadership will bring the bill up for a vote.

Why it matters: Members of Congress have great power to move stock prices, and great financial incentives to do so.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: The Weather Prediction Center said in a storm summary Monday that winter storm warnings are still in effect for portions of the Central Appalachians, Ohio Valley, interior Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, while portions of the Central Appalachians and coastal New England are under high wind warnings.