Crates and barrels are 3-D versions of the dots that PAC-Man eats. They’re features of the gaming genre, not only because they are easy to generate, but because we already know what they do.
As gamers, many of us roll our eyes at the clichés that have sprung up within the industry. Every red barrel and goody-yielding crate implies a lack of inspiration on the part of developers. Why so cookie cutter? Why can’t more games try something new?
Yet playtests repeatedly confirm we depend on the very conventions we tend to mock. It’s not that all developers are lazy; some actually work with the tropes in mind and try to avoid them. When it comes time for testing, however, players often end up tripping over their own expectations. The makers of Half-Life originally tried to circumvent the use of crates as common objects in the environment, but playtesters were continually disappointed by the lack of smashable items and the ability to fetch rewards from them. Their crowbars cried out for convention.