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An Invisibility Flicker is when a Cloaking Device or other form of ability appears to drop momentarily, allowing the cloaked person to be seen for a split second. While Visible Invisibility is another common way to clue the audience in that there is something invisible around, it has issues with not giving much suspense due to the audience already knowing where it is. With an Invisibility Flicker, instead of having some flaw with the actual invisibility, the invisibility will just flicker on and off for a second or two, allowing both the audience and the characters to get a quick glimpse of something that wasn't there before.

The trope has the requirement that the flicker is in universe even if nobody sees it. The most common form is when the invisible object gets hurt, is physically contacted in some way or launches an attack itself. In action sequences, this often happens just before the invisible object does something awesome. Many times, it is also used as a form of balance. While this usage is especially common in games where it would be unfair for one party to be indefinitely invisible, it can also be seen in other mediums with handwaves such as the need to draw power away from the cloaking device to power the weapons.

See also Visible Invisibility. This is another method to See the Invisible.

Examples of Invisibility Flicker include:

Anime & Manga

  • The Tenchi Muyo! Spin-Off Tenchi Muyo! GXP has an episode where Kiriko shows her stuff. She changes into a skintight battlesuit with a cloaking device, which seems to do the traveling blink right after every pirate she kills. This very nicely shows how much blood she's managed to get herself covered in, and just how damn scary her scowling face looks.
  • This seems to happen to the Major a lot in the various Ghost in the Shell properties.
    • Notably averted, however, in the first movie, where for a whole fight scene you only see ripples spreading on the water and the poor sod contorting in painful fashion from blows no one ever sees.
  • In Soul Eater, Black Star, who is quite skilled at stealth, insists on making the biggest entrance possible, thus preventing his sneak attacks from working. On the other hand, when appropriately motivated he is essentially composed of Badass, and doesn't particularly need surprise.


 Scotty "Go to them with WHAT? That the Klingons have a new weapon that is invisible? Raving lunatics, that's what they'll call us!"


  • The Shrike in Dan Simmons' Hyperion novel series did this deliberately in order to intimidate people.
  • The human eye is always moving, but the brain clips out parts of the movement to present a picture without motion blur. This is called saccadic masking. In Peter Watts's first contact novel Blindsight, aliens develop the disturbing ability to time their movements to human saccades, rendering themselves invisible. It takes the heroes a lot of careful video analysis to even realise they've made first contact. And these are really not the kind of aliens you want to discover dancing all around you...
  • Star Vampires. Invisible, chittering creatures, full of bloodsucking tentacles. Once they've drained a victim dry, they will momentarily become visible - and catching a glimpse of one during that moment is enough to drive most people mad.
  • The Cardati Assassins from Eluki Bes Shahar's Hellflower Trilogy use cham-suits to sneak up on their prey and kill them with a quick, precise knife stoke.
  • One of Molly Carpenter's favoured battle tactics in The Dresden Files. That and her patented 'One Woman Rave' spell.

Live Action TV

  • Cloaking devices in Star Trek work on the same principle: you have to decloak, if only for a moment, if you want to open fire. Similarly, the Jem'Hadar on Deep Space 9 have a biological invisibility power which seems to deactivate when they attack. If they're capable of staying invisible while they strangle you, we never saw it.
    • Subverted in Star Trek VI (see "Film") when General Chang develops a bird of prey that can fire while cloaked... proving over the course of the movie that it's good for more than just taking out enemies.
      • Even here, we get a partial blink when Chang fires torpedoes and briefly lights up part of the hull.
    • Subverted also in Star Trek Nemesis with the Scimitar, which can fire while cloaked; there's a whole scene devoted to Picard figuring out how to counteract this.
      • The Countdown comic (prequel to the Star Trek film) shows that this Scimitar was only the first of many. Apparently, the Remans have made at least two more. It is unknown if all of them are equipped with impenetrable cloaks that allow a ship to fire, engage shields, and enter warp without becoming visible. It can be assumed they lack the thalaron weapon, though.
    • This becomes the plot point of an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, where Worf is on trial for destroying a Klingon transport ship. Worf was waiting for a Klingon Bird-of-Prey to do an Invisibility Flicker before raiding the convoy and fired at it as soon as he saw the blink, which turned out to be the transport decloaking. Of course, the Klingons set up an empty transport ship in order to set up Worf for murder, expecting his kneejerk reaction.
  • The Nox in the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Nox" turned invisible, but then would reappear when healing or resurrecting someone.
  • Shadow battleships from Babylon 5 were not invisible but they phased in from hyperspace in a very blink-like manner (every other type of ship needs to open a GIANT glowing wormhole). Sometimes they did it right before obliterating enemy ships thus earning their place on this page.

Tabletop Games

  • In most varieties of 'Dungeons and Dragons, "attacking" cancels out invisibility spells or items affecting a character. But not bashing inanimate objects with a club, or stabbing a willing target, or opening a cage with dangerous things in it. It's apparently a very intelligent spell...though really, how hard is it to detect "directly inflicting harm on an unwilling target"? Anyway, it is the literal truth (in most cases) that A Wizard Did It.
    • Then there's greater invisibility, which subverts the trope - nothing makes it blink until its duration runs out. One gets the feeling a very bruised wizard looked at the invisibility spell in his spellbook, muttered, "Sod this!" and began to touch it up with a pencil. Of course, this version has a much shorter duration, but it's frequently worth it.
    • Which is why some of the Fairy-type monsters are such godawful bastards to fight. Pixies have ungodly dexterity, NPC ones usually carry memory-erasing crossbow bolts, and they can use greater invisibility whenever they damn well feel like it. In fact, the 2nd edition "Book of humanoids" explained that a pixie was naturally invisible. It actually used magic to make itself visible when it needed to.
    • Of course, by the time you get Greater Invisibility, you run into enemies, such as all Devils and Angels, who have true sight. This allows them to see through illusions, shapeshifting and, you guessed it, invisibility.
    • The Psionic version of Invisibility in 3.5 D&D, Cloud Mind, works very much like a Someone Else's Problem field. It only works against a single target by default, but as long as you don't physically interact with the target, you can carry on a conversation with someone right next to him and he'll wonder why his friend is talking to empty air. The target is simply incapable of perceiving you because of the mental block you've put in his mind.
      • There is also a spell in the Spell Compendium called Superior Invisibility, that removes almost all of the round about way of detecting invisibility, as well as lasting minutes per level. You cannot be seen, heard, smelt, detected through heat signature, revealed through flour or like objects thrown around, or even picked up by magical detection or scrying. It even defeats see invisibility and other spells generally used to detect invisible creatures. true seeing, however, can still see through it. Of course, it's an eighth level spell so by the time you're high enough level to cast it, a lot of creatures you should be facing at that level are capable of using true seeing at will.
  • The Amber Diceless RPG complicates the issue by attempting to bring physics into this, postulating that as long as you're invisible, you are also blind, since light "bends around" you.

Video Games

  • In addition to other reasons like game balance or badass visual appeal, some video games may use this effect as video-game shorthand: rather than invisible characters actually becoming visible to other in-game characters, they becomes visible to the * player* to indicate "the enemy has a pretty good idea of where you are right now, enough to shoot at you, because you're doing something that gives away your position".
    • This is like light or sound meters in stealth games: the character usually doesn't have such a device on his person; it's shown as part of the user interface to tell the user something that their character just knows. Such as "Cloak or no, I'm not too stealthy when I'm firing a weapon that can wake the dead".
  • Metal Gear Solid has these for a couple of the main characters. Cyborg Ninja, being a lone ninja out for blood, seems to blink back into view whenever he does anything more exciting than strolling down a hallway. And sometimes even then.
    • Solid Snake not only disrupts his cloaking device, but outright wrecks it during the opening sequence of the second game. He casually tossed his rain jacket aside, lept off a bridge, and made a 10 point landing on the boat below; the cloak completely dies in flurry of discharged electricity. This entrance also made it into Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
  • In Civilization III, certain units are invisible--primarily submarines. On the relatively barren ocean-type tiles, the shortest path usually goes around them, and it's not a problem. But when the game inserted invisible land-based units, such as assassins, it quickly became clear that trying to move onto a space with an assassin would automatically start a fight, even declaring a war when there was none! (Normally in such cases you're given the option not to attack.)
    • Another, worse, problem: The AI doesn't seem to mind declaring war in order to get a unit to wherever it wants as long as the AI SEES no one there. As a result, the AI can declare war because a submarine of his was where the AI decided to move a ship.
    • This was fixed for Civ 4 because Civ 4 allows units from different factions to occupy the same square. Hostile ships float right over your submarine unless they can detect it.
  • Crysis: Even when you have full power, the instant you fire any weapon (or even throw a grenade) your invisibility is disabled. So much for using a sniper rifle with a silencer. Even with cheat mode on you still can't escape the Badass blink.
    • Quickly flipping your suit mode to maximum armour, firing, and cloaking is a good way around this. It takes practice to pull off, though.
    • The above was a pretty common tactic for hunting snipers in the online multi-player part of the game. The counter-sniper could sit prone in stealth for minutes at a time. And this is pretty much true invisibility. So you go stealth, move onto a ridge or building where you can see where the sniper is shooting from, and wait until you find him. Once he fires, you zoom in on him, switch to armour mode, shoot, then back to stealth. You don't waste energy, it only takes 2 shots to kill the enemy sniper, and you are invisible again seconds later.
  • In Halo, attacking while cloaked would cause your cloak to disappear, although ceasing your attack makes it reappear. This has obvious gameplay balance advantages, of course.
    • The cloaking Elites were often terrifyingly effective. They did leave a ripple in the air behind them, and flashy weapons like the energy sword were still clearly visible, resulting in strange fights where a seemingly magical sword would swish its way through the air and slaughter a bunch of the squishy humans you were fighting alongside.
  • The Spy in Team Fortress 2 cannot do anything while cloaked. As above, this is an obvious gameplay balance issue, as a fully cloaked spy is absolutely invisible (his model isn't rendered at all) so long as he does not bump into anybody, and being able to decloak and backstab behind an unaware foe is already a powerful ability.
    • While not quite the same, the Spy's disguise ability masks their presence to enemies much like the cloaking device, by making them appear to be someone on the enemy side. As soon as you attack the disguise immediately dissolves.
  • Mass Effect 2's Infiltrator class can cloak nearly perfectly, until the first shot is fired. This works great with sniper rifles, but leaves you exposed while both working the action on the notoriously slow weapons and waiting for the cloak to cool down for reuse.
  • Starcraft has various units (Ghosts, Wraiths, Scouts, Dark Templars, etc.) that are temporarily or permanently cloaked, i. e. invisible. You may catch a glimpse of an odd ripple where they are if you're lucky (many games, movies, and shows use this, in fact), but your units won't see 'em... unless they walk too close to a building or unit that is a Detector, which reveals them for all to see. (Using certain special abilities on the area also reveals them for a while.) Same goes, of course, for the cases when you're using them. Plenty of base defense tactics involve not leaving yourself vulnerable to cloaked attackers.
    • Unusual in the Protoss Dark Templars are permanently cloaked and can attack (very effectively) without becoming visible. The Dark Templar hero is horrifyingly effective for just this reason, especially as he wields an Infinity+1 Sword. Oddly, in a midgame cinematic, Dark Templar hero Zeratul keeps blinking in and out of cloak while facing off against Zerg Queen Kerrigan.
  • In Eternal Darkness, a vampire-zombie-critter-thing with invisibility magic has this trait, which, combined with its complete lack of strategic ability, makes it pretty easy to defeat even without casting the Reveal Invisible spell.
  • In Battlefield 2142, the Recon soldiers use a very noisy cloaking device. It must be stowed away in order to use any other item, and stops working when you climb a ladder or fall from a good height. The actual blinkery happens when the cloaker is struck with EMP: the cloaking continues, albeit with bright flashes of ultraviolet and static. Or, if a cloaking squad leader forgets to stash his perfectly visible helper drone.
  • Once your cover is blown in any Splinter Cell game, everyone sees you, regardless of how dark the surroundings still are, and anything you do that doesn't involve killing or finding a better hiding place.
    • That's not quite true. In the first two games, yes, enemies develop a magical "see you anywhere" ability. But in Chaos Theory and Double Agent, they'll continue to shoot at the spot you just were at, or somewhere nearby and won't track your movements with superhuman seeing, allowing you to salvage the situation by skulking away and then coming up from behind.
  • This has subsequently become a favored means of balancing stealth spells in video games. For example, in Final Fantasy XI, hitting something (or, if you use the spells unintelligently, being hit by something) cancels all stealth spells, and you must cancel Invisible status in particular if you wish to interact with anything, even doors. Similarly, in Final Fantasy Tactics and its spinoffs, as soon as invisible characters take any action at all other than moving, they become visible.
    • Except for continuing to sing or dance if you were before turning invisible. A Dancer with high Brave and Sunken State is thus essentially unkillable, unless the first hit kills her completely. Meanwhile, she can either be steadily chipping away every enemies HP, or, far more entertaining, turning them all into silenced, blinded, confused, poisoned, slowed, stopped, and sleeping frogs.
  • Likewise, in Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, the "Lurk" and "Move Silently" abilities prevent enemies from seeing or hearing you, respectively...unless you run into one on your own, in which case a battle begins (Either in Melee; closer range and more BP) or you get the initiative (Attack First) and after you win the stealth abilities are no more.
  • The Stealth ability in World of Warcraft makes you invisible until you interact with something (unless the interaction is Pick-Pocketing), or until you get too close to something that's looking right at you.
    • It is possible to still be stealthed while someone is looking at you, usually an enemy mob will attack you right away but other players can be less quick. If you manage to run away before they can lock on to you, it can be funny to watch other players scurry about, shouting about a Rogue in stealth mode while you stand a safe distance away.
    • One up on this is the mage's "Invisibility" spell, which makes you so invisible that you can't even see anyone else. Although once again the spell is canceled if the mage tries to do anything useful, like casting other spells. Not to mention that the mages actually have a spell called Blink.
      • The Invisibility spell actually operates as more of a Phantom Zone situation than anything else; you can see other people who are themselves in your temporary "dimension". Invisibility seems to shift you to somewhere between the normal world and the ghost plane.
  • Stealth powers in City of Heroes work in a similar fashion. But while the stealth ability is "suppressed" when you are attacking, taking damage, or interacting with objects, any other benefits the power has will still apply. The Stalker archetype even gets a massive 'sneak attack' damage bonus for initiating their assassin strike while stealthed, as well as a much higher chance to deal double damage with their other attacks.
    • And any stealth power provides a general defensive bonus and leaves the character at least slightly translucent (vaguely useful against other players at range) even while "suppressed". There are also a very few dirty tricks attack powers which under the right conditions don't break stealth and can be used repeatedly on non-players with little to no risk.
  • Perfect Dark follows this trope. Cloaking will temporarily deactivate when you attack (which includes firing guns, pistol whipping, punching, and throwing things) under the justification that sudden movement disrupts the cloaking field. Shields will also blink occasionally; useful for spotting shielded enemies and seeing the shield strength of allies, on account of shields being color-coded by how much power is left (bright-red for full and dark green for almost gone).
  • For some reason, the Replica Assassins in F.E.A.R. can't seem to stay invisible and punch you at the same time. Although it's less of a badass blink and more of a "pop into existence about 3 inches from your face before smacking you one".
    • Still utterly terrifying, especially when engaging in ranged combat against them as it takes barely a moment after being shot for their cloaking to be restored, making it almost impossible to tell how many you're fighting sometimes as they quite literally seem to be everywhere.
      • Interestingly enough, Bullet Time is capable of rendering them visible.
  • In Deus Ex you can have two different kinds of cloaking, anti-device and anti-human. You couldn't have both as cybernetic implants at the same time, though you could pick up anti-human cloaking devices which worked for a little while. You were free to attack as much as you liked, but the duration of the cloak was very limited.
    • It is perfectly possible to get both, you just have to leave second subdermal slot open and wait for second invisibility can which can be found later in the game.
    • The sequel allows you to have both right off the bat by having the anti-device and anti-human cloaks in different slots.
  • In The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion there were two types of invisibility spells. One was called "invisibility" and made you invisible until you interacted with an object (Like a door), got in a fight, or the spell wore off. The other, called chameleon, made you translucent and refractive in what was probably the most badass effect in the game. However, chameleon worked as a percentage, so it was still possible for enemies to see you even at 99% chameleon. If you got 100% chameleon, however...
    • 100% chameleon also had the effect of making you completely transparent. Much fun is to be had in cloaking to 100%, riding a horse around, and convincing friends that you had turned yourself into a horse.
  • In Bioshock you can get a "Natural Camouflage" plasmid by sufficiently researching a Houdini Splicer, which makes you completely invisible as long as you stand still. Moving or attacking cancels the cloaking, but even machines and cameras cease to see you and even Big Daddies can bump into you without noticing (not that they're really aggressive if you're not provoking them). So you can wait out a security bot alarm safely by just standing still (around 2:30 in the video). Is this awesome ? (Y/N).
  • In Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, there is an enemy who is invisible (but makes a very obvious metallic sound) until you hit them. This is unbalanced somewhat by the combat lock on system still working even if the Prince can't see his enemy, so you can swipe your sword around randomly until you hit them.
    • And this is different from what you could do if you couldn't detect them at all how?
      • If you couldn't detect them at all, your swinging wouldn't automatically be in their direction no matter what. You can't tell how far away from you they are, but you sure know what direction they're in, even turning to follow them if they try to sidle around you.
  • Warcraft 3 has the Wind Walk spell that turns a unit invisible until it runs out of time or attacks a target, upon which it (usually - you can alter the ability on custom maps) deals bonus damage. The Permanent Invisibility passive ability and other types of invisibility also break upon attacking or casting a spell, the former reasserting itself quickly when action ceases.
    • In the custom map Defense of the Ancients there are a few heroes with variations on this
      • Rooftrellen's ability Nature's Guise grants invisibility that does not break when the target uses a spell, but it fades if the unit is not standing near a tree
      • Lanaya's meld ability also grants invisibility, but it has no set duration. Instead, it is canceled whenever she moves.
      • However, Slark's ultimate, Shadowdance, plays with this trope. It grants Slark invisibility for a period of time that is NOT broken by any actions at all, but it does leave a noticeable cloud of darkness wherever he is standing.
      • Mordred the phantom assassin has the skill blur which renders her model transparent (but not technically invisible), making her look invisible. The only way to see her is to notice the faint blur or her shadow. Interestingly, actual invisibility and frost-based slow effects will reveal her full model (until the transparency is refreshed).
      • Rikimaru, the aptly named stealth assassin has a literal version of this trope; he is permanently invisible, but whenever he attacks or uses a spell he is revealed for a period of time (that gets shorter as the ability is leveled up)
  • All stealth units in the Command and Conquer series had to uncloak to fire (except Pathfinders from Generals, who had to WALK for that instead). In the first Red Alert, submarines were handled as stealth units... Never mind that in Real Life, the first submarines did the perfect opposite: As they weren't equipped for prolonged periods underwater, they usually stayed afloat out of battle.
    • In the FPS Renegade, this happens to stealth Black Hand units. Also, falling damage made them blink, too. Usually the people who use them bunny hop away. Note that they're still revealed even when the "falling damage" is zero (i.e. falling from a jump). Also note that bunny hopping in that game isn't actually faster than running.
    • That and stealthed units/buildings in Dawn and Sun can be revealed by getting a unit close enough that they would essentially be touching it. And the force attack (ctrl) command is your best friend for targeting cloaked buildings.
  • The Gleipnir from Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception is explicitly said to need to decloak in order to fire its Shock Cannon, though you can still see a Predator-style shimmer if you're close enough - targeting it through the shimmer is necessary to beat its "first form" without losing any allies. Also brutally subverted with the majority of stealth fighters you fight, as they fade from radar and remain untargetable even after they fire missiles, revealing themselves pretty much arbitrarily.
  • In Global Agenda, the Recon class pops out their stealth all the time when using their abilities or getting shot at.
  • Reptile from Mortal Kombat uses a cloak ability in later games.
  • Happens all the time in the Spiral Knights' pvp mini-game, Lockdown. In the game the player can become a recon. You cannot see a stealthed enemy recon, but you will be alerted to their presence. Remaining near a stealthed opponent will lower your defense. Further, due to the game's mechanics, activating stealth immediately after attacking will cancel part of your attack animation and speed up your attack. So, a common tactic is to stealth near your enemy, lower their defenses, attack, and immediately restealth.
  • This happens in Gauntlet (1985 video game) when a player picks up the invisibility amulet.
  • Escape Velocity: Nova has this for the Wraith, everytime they get close, they flicker a bit, same when they're angered and they attack you. The Polaris gets a cloaking organ but requires you to decloak in order to fire weapons, later in the specific storyline, the Scarab and Raven are upgraded to have a specially modified Polaron (multi-)torpedo tubes that allow you to fire while cloaked.

Western Animation

Real Life

  • The original USAF "Stealth Fighter"'s titular ability is a radar signature that's roughly comparable to that of a chicken launched through the air... most of the time. However, some time ago, they declassified a bunch of its details, including a definite Badass Blink: that radar signature reduction is heavily dependent on the unbroken lines of the aircraft's exterior, which require things like missiles to be stored inside. In order to actually fire its weapons, it has to open bomb-bay doors and stick a revolver-cartridge-like rotating magazine of missiles partially out the opening. Obviously, this thoroughly wrecks the carefully achieved "perfect stealth shape" of the aircraft, amplifying its radar signature dramatically. It's still stealthier than your typical jet fighter, but hardly undetectable to even moderately equipped modern militaries. Pilots are trained accordingly, planning out the details of their shots before they pop the doors, then opening them, firing, and getting them closed again, all as fast as they can, to minimize the blink.
    • It's been said that while the B-2 has a very stealthy signature most of the time, as soon as the bomb-doors open, it shows up on radar the same size as the B-52.
    • Also true of the F-22 and F-35. Not true of the Eurofighter, sadly.
    • To further ameliorate this problem, standard tactics are to change heading before opening the bays, then change back after they're closed, so anything that spots you during the Invisibility Flicker sees you moving in a different direction.
  • Long before stealth aircraft, there were submarines. Modern subs (especially the non-nuclear ones) are holes in the water but in order to fire any of their weapons they have to announce their presence. And "torpedo in the water!" is one giant Oh Crap blink.
    • As long as the sub in question is using passive sonar, of course. If the target has passive sonar too, the sub doesn't need to fire, merely opening the torpedo launch tubes will freak out their opponent.
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