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Today a game taught me how to crack an actual safe

Vault 101.

Why on earth has Donlan asked me to write about locks? I don't care about locks. I've got a key that does all the thinking about locks I ever want to do, thank you. Locks are annoying - ask any burglar and I bet they'll say the same!

It's not just any lock he's asked me to look at: it's safes. Safecracking. You know what I mean because you've seen it in umpteen films. The dial on the door, the reclusive safecracker, stethoscope pressed up against a slab of a metal door, and then click-click-clack, they whirl around triumphantly, opening the door. Donlan wants me to do that. Not for any illicit purposes I should add! We're not creating some kind of Eurogamer Crime Club! Imagine that! Ha ha! Nervous laugh!

No no, I'm talking about a safecracking game. Quick question: do safe-burglars (an oxymoron if ever I've heard one) think it's a game? Anyway! The game is Sophie's Safecracking Simulator. Who is Sophie? Sophie Houlden, a rather a prolific game maker. Do they belong to a secret world of safe-crackers? I don't know. Why are they sharing their secrets? I don't know. But they are.

Cover image for YouTube videoSophie's Safecracking Simulator v1.1 gameplay
The safecracking in action. Watch and learn.

Using text and a big 3D recreation of a safe's locking mechanism, Sophie explains every aspect of how it works, and then, how to crack it. You see the nose fall and catch the cam, pulling the lever to open the door. You see the wheels and pins and levers and trenches, which are added to the mechanism to make it harder to crack. And you learn how to line these up either to given combinations or by figuring out your own. It's quite hard. And when Sophie obscures the inner workings and asks you to open the door using sound and dial measurements, it's very hard. But I suppose it would be wouldn't it? Otherwise we'd all be robbing banks!

I just wasn't expecting this kind of challenge from a game. I blame games for that, incidentally. I blame them because they've conditioned me to believe I ought to prevail. I am the all-important player: my fun is paramount. But, um, I don't think real lockmakers feel the same way. I don't think fun is very high on their agenda.

None of this is Sophie's fault. They're doing all they can to help me. They offer me gizmos like audio scanners and dial measurers, even x-ray vision to see inside the safe if I want (though this will affect my score if I turn it on). But still I find it almost impossibly hard. There's a mental gulf to cross and it will take proper investment on my part to do it.

I have turned all the gizmos on for this screenshot. Note the absolutely enormous lock I generated inside, too.

I can see it's possible, though. There's this person on Steam who says it all twigged after two hours. Two bloody hours! I mean, true, that's not much when you consider you're learning a real-life skill, but two hours of staring at a safe door with a dial on? Oh Donlan you rotter. Then I flick through the Steam community page and see screenshots of safe doors triumphantly ajar, gold bullion gleaming from within, and they mock me. They're onto their third and fourth-wheel locks now: well good for them!

I see something else on the Steam page too: compliments to the maker. Not a common sight there I assure you. I didn't really expect to see them. This is a pretty limited, £2 game that I don't think is especially fun. But here are these self-confessed lockpicking hobbyists patting Sophie on the back for a job well done. Hand on heart, I had no idea they existed: I thought we called them burglars! And locksport? New to me until today.

This is what the tutorial looks like. It's pages of writing plus a lock you can play around with. It's a lot to take in.

But the more I learn about it all, the more I appreciate what Sophie has made. It's not for me but that's part of the charm, I've come to realise. Sophie's Safecracking Simulator found its people, and I love the idea that niche projects like it are out there doing that: fuelling an audience, fuelling a maker. Not everything has to be big or to appeal to all. In fact, perhaps it's better if they don't.

Perhaps Sophie has cracked it.